Sunday, December 8, 2019

Season's Prepping

We’re gearing up for Christmas and it’s December so I can’t even complain that it’s too early to do that anymore.

Yesterday Kim and I went out and got a Christmas tree.  We’ve been hemming and hawing about whether to buy a new fake one, since our old one has been deteriorating for a while now, but we decided that this was something we could wait another year for.  Maybe next year we’ll get one of those Lucy Van Pelt trees – a bright shiny aluminum mid-century-modern monstrosity with enough lights on it to land an airplane.

Or not.

How about not?

Having made the decision to get something made of actual wood, then came the question of how such a tree might be obtained.  When Oliver and Lauren were little we’d go out to the local tree farm with our saw and, in the spirit of Christian love and fellowship, kill one ourselves and drag its corpse back home on the top of our car before setting it up and watching it decay underneath all the festive decorations.  Christmas can be kind of morbid if you think about it too much.

 But this year it was just us and we’re getting a bit long in the tooth for the whole cutting things down routine, so we found ourselves one of those local lots where someone else has already done that and we picked the one that looked best.

It’s a balsam fir, which means it smells nice.  The cats are fascinated, of course, since they now have another water bowl in the house.  So far they haven’t tried to climb up to the top of the tree to see what’s there (answer: more tree), and I’d be surprised if they did.  They’re pretty low key about these things.  Also, old.

We’ll let the branches drop a bit and then perhaps decorate it later this week.  Or maybe we’ll wait until Oliver gets home from Small Liberal Arts College and we’ll all decorate together.  We’ll see what people want.

I also spent much of this morning putting up the lights on the front of the house.

We don’t put up much, really – just enough to say we’re in for the season.  One strand of blue lights along the bottom of the roof, all the way across the front.  The problem is that our bushes out front keep growing and our ladder does not, so every year it gets just that much harder to reach the roof to hang these lights.  Perhaps next year I will invest in a larger ladder.  Or smaller bushes.

In the near term, however, I will likely go back outside and flip the little dial that turns the lights on when the sun goes down.  The sun has been down and the lights are not on, and I’m hoping that the easy solution is the one that works.

I’m all about the easy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

News and Updates

1. It is now December and I will therefore acknowledge the existence of Christmas.

2. We had a lovely Thanksgiving, thank you very much.  In fact we had two.  On the actual legal holiday we went up to my brother- and sister-in-law’s house and feasted with Kim’s side of the family.  It was the usual swirl of food, family, and conversation, and it was a good reminder of why we have an entire holiday set aside to be thankful for the things we have.  We ate one of Lauren’s turkeys, expertly prepared, and generally had a grand time.  And the next day we continued the tradition of Friendsgiving that Lauren and her friends started last year (hey – we’ve done it twice on purpose: it’s a tradition).  Lauren herself is out of the country, of course, but her friends came over anyway, bearing food.  We made another turkey and we all hung out at the table for a couple of hours talking and laughing.  There were many rounds of Just Dance on the old Wii, and at one point they all ended up in Lauren’s room making music.  It is a lovely thing to enjoy the company of your child’s friends.

3. The day after that we celebrated Kim’s birthday, because it’s always good to celebrate the birthday of someone you love.  There was cake and good food, and if we’re not getting any younger at least we’re doing it well.  Happy birthday, Kim!

4. Lauren actually got her friends to get a birthday present for Kim for her.  That was really cool.

5. Program change: the part of Tabitha will now be played by Oliver.  Please make a note of it. 

6. The problem with all that lovely family time, of course, is that you have to go back to work afterward.  Now, I like my job.  I like the people I work with.  But I also like hanging around the house with nothing more pressing to do than read books, drink tea, and watch whatever hockey, soccer, or other sporting event might be floating by on the television at the moment.  So Monday was a bit of a shock, is what I’m saying here.

7. We’re in the middle of getting trained for Yet Another New Software Platform down at Home Campus, which effectively means that nothing I was using when I started my advising job in 2016 exists there anymore.  And since, as a friend once told me, technology is what doesn’t quite work (“when it works all the time, it’s an appliance”), this means that we have spent the better part of the last month working around all of the improvements in order to get things done.  We are, in fact, getting things done, but the next time some engineer wants to upgrade something that already works they can go pound sand.

8. I’m not much for watching shows these days, but sometimes Kim can get me to do that.  If you get a chance, I highly recommend Killing Eve.  Sandra Oh is wonderful and Jodie Comer deserves All The Awards and you should go see this show right now.  I’ll wait.

9. I have spent the better part of this evening with “Mambo Italiano” running through my head and I can’t tell if this is a win or not.

10. I can remember when the WKRP in Cincinnati Thanksgiving episode was only remembered by a handful of people old enough to have experienced the 1970s firsthand.  Now it’s become a touchstone meme.  And you know?  I like that.  Good things should be popular, because there is enough crap out there to drown a small planet and the good things need all the help they can get.  So let the turkeys fly, fellow babies, and have a happy … Thannnnnnnnnnnks … giving!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

In Memoriam - A Guest Post

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you know Lucy as a regular around here.  It is only fitting that he gets the first ever guest post.


We walked into the classroom on that first day of school, expecting to once again spend a year learning about the Mayflower. And the Revolutionary War. And the War of 1812. And the run up to the Civil War. Again. Every other year, it was the same thing: U.S. History this year, and in the intervening years, World History.

But this time, something was different. On each desk was a Sunday edition of The Salt Lake Tribune. The teacher introduced himself, and welcomed us to U.S. History. “We’re going to start with yesterday, and work our way back to where you left off the last time you took this course,” he explained.

We spent that hour studying the front page of yesterday’s newspaper. The next day, we covered the same stories as reported in The Deseret News, and the rest of the week learning how the same facts could be interpreted differently based on your point of view.

During the following weeks and months, we studied local, national and world news. We studied protests. And song lyrics (‘There’s somethin’ happenin’ here ...) We learned about the Viet Nam Conflict, and its complex causes. We studied the Korean War, and its causes. Then, WWII. The rise of the Nazi Party. The Great War (the War to End All Wars, WWI). Somehow, we also got to cover all the other stuff like Civil Rights, the politics of the Fifties, Prohibition, & Women’s Suffrage. And, how all of that is woven together in an all inclusive Tapestry of Human Events.

By Easter, we were studying the ‘Winning’ (theft) of the West.’ (Hint - How The West Was Won is NOT how the West was won ...) Reconstruction. And finally, for the very first time, we found out in an actual classroom, officially, who actually lost The Civil War. (And why Gone With the Wind is not very good as a Historical Drama.)

James Witucki did not just teach about History, he taught us to love History. He wore his passion about History on his sleeve. He also taught us to view History with a healthy skepticism based on the Historians’ bias (never trust a single source). He taught us how to research, and how to debate.

He was just nine years older than his students when I started in his class that autumn in 1970. He changed the manner in which we viewed History, and made a significant impact on my life personally. I Honor him, his memory, and his legacy, as does (and I am dead-assed certain about this:) anyone who had the Honor of sitting through one of his classes.



From The Class Website:


James C. Witucki

Nov 4, 1944 ~ Nov 13, 2019

"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield" Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Well, my picture is in the obits, so I must be dead. I departed this world on 11/13/19. I, James Charles Witucki I, was born to Ernest A. and Mary T. (Kopczynski) Witucki on November 4, 1944 at 6:06 A.M.( I was fond of double numbers!) in South Bend, Indiana.I attended St. Casimir's Elementary School and Washington High School in South Bend. I attended the University of Utah after I moved here in 1962; I received a B.S. in 1965 and an M.S. in 1967 in History. I married my college sweetheart, Monika F. Hood at the Fort Douglas Chapel on July 27th, 1968; 51 wonderful years. She was the joy of my life and together we raised 3 delightfully bright and charming children: Theresa (Matthew) Brown, Houston, Texas; James II (Sheri) Salt Lake City, Utah; and John Paul (Kirby), Las Vegas, Nevada.


I taught History/Sociology at South High (1966-1982) and East High (1983-2001) for 35 years. I enjoyed teaching and felt that is how I left this world a better place. I also served in the Utah State Legislature from 1983-1985 as a proud Democrat. I loved learning so I attended 13 colleges and universities including Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame and Whitman College.

I loved to travel; I visited Europe at least a dozen times. I also traveled to China, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Peru (Machu-Picchu), Ecuador (the Galapagos Islands), Cuba, Croatia, Slovenia, Canada, Mexico and 45 of the 50 States.

My greatest joys were my darling wife, my family, my friends, my flowers, my walks, the gym, and leisure and pleasures.

My services will be held at the Cathedral of the Madeleine on Monday, November 25th at noon. A visitation will precede the mass.

In lieu of flowers please give to one of the many worthwhile programs at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, St. Jude's Hospital, or the charity of your choice.

Take time and really focus on the ones you love, forgive those who hurt you, and raise a glass in celebration of Jim's life.


Monday, November 25, 2019

Two Dozen

One of the things that often surprises people about historians is that we’re not really that good with dates.

That’s why there are reference books, after all.

We’re good about the order of things – what led to what which led to what else, that sort of thing – but remembering the actual date of anything is always a bit of a trick.  That’s one of the reasons why I don’t get too caught up about dates on my exams.  Tell me which one came third; tell me what led to what.  Dates are just a way to keep score.

This is often true in my own life as well.  Often even when I can remember a date (“Joe’s birthday is the 13th … ”) I will have no clue as to what the actual date is today (“ … and that’s not until … um … last week.  Huh.”) which can be interesting, especially around Joe.

This is especially true when I have attached specific events to movable dates.  Easter.  Spring Break.  That sort of thing.  Then I have no idea when things are actually happening.  I figure I will be informed.

All of which is essentially preamble to the discovery that I made sometime this afternoon that it is my wedding anniversary today.

In my head, my wedding anniversary is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which isn’t for another five days yet.  We planned it that way because we are academics and that’s when our friends could come out for the festivities, and that is more or less how I remember it year after year. 

But it really is today.

It’s been an eventful two dozen years, really.  I got my PhD.  Kim got tenure.  We had two amazing children.  We bought a house.  We’ve had cats, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, hamsters, and more than one pig.  We’ve taken trips and had friends and family visit us.  We’ve cycled through a number of cars and computers.  It’s been a time.

And we’ve been through it all together.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

AMA? Isn't That the Doctor Group?

I’m trying to avoid grading these days and doing far too good of a job of it to be honest. 

I’m not that far behind, all things considered.  I’m actually caught up in four of my five classes right now, and only one assignment from being caught up in the other one, which is pretty good for the twelfth week of classes.  It’s just that I really cannot deal with another online discussion post no matter how well written it is (and most of the students who are still turning in work at this point in the semester have pretty much gotten things down by now).  It’s been cold and grey and unusually wintry this month and mostly I just want to climb under the nice warm covers and not come out until some indeterminate time in the future and then only to make more tea and continue reading my distinctly non-academic book.

This does however conflict with my desire to retain my job and continue paying my bills, so grading it is.  Most of the time.

The rest of the time I find other things to do, such as randomly plink around the internet looking at articles that are scientifically designed to rot my synapses.

No, not the political ones.  Those are scientifically designed to enrage any thinking patriotic American and spur calls for the wholesale removal of the squatter regime currently metastasizing all over the capital, preferably on a rail.  If anything that sort of thing sharpens the mind, which is why I don’t have much patience for the der Sturmtrumper’s defenders.  I don’t put up with Stupid much these days, and I have never responded well to sleaze in the first place.

No, the brain damaging things are all pop culture or random memes or some such.  My favorite meme this week involves someone who tried to use a food dehydrator to dry out some catnip and invented a kitty vape that left all of her cats stoned out of their minds because I have cats and I can just see this happening here, particularly if I go out and buy a food dehydrator which I am now tempted to do.

Somehow this evening I found myself on one of those click-bait aggregators looking at photographs of some of the artists attending the American Music Awards, which were apparently held sometime not that long ago.  All these attractive young people in their frighteningly ugly clothing!  My, but high fashion never changes that way, does it?  Those poor beautiful people would have been better off just showing up in their jeans and sweatpants, really.

There were maybe two dozen photographs of such people, smiling gamely for the cameras – people who are, in theory, famous enough to justify being invited to an awards show and having their pictures taken in their fashionable frumpery.  I scrolled down to find people whose music I knew.  Then I went back to see if I could find people whose music I had ever heard of.  Finally I gave up and started looking for people whose names I recognized from any context whatsoever.

There was Taylor Swift, who seems to be ubiquitous these days and should probably be running for office with that kind of name recognition.  She'd probably win.  I'd pay money to see the State of the Union Address she gives, if only to watch the faces of the Representatives in the audience.

There was also Selena Gomez, who last I saw was the witch on Waverly Place.  She seems older now.

And then there was … um … well, mostly there was just an ever-increasing amount of evidence that I am old and out of touch with the youth of today despite having created two of them.

I suppose I should not be surprised by this, since it pretty much confirms everything I already know about myself.  But still.  It is kind of a drag to have it pointed out so definitively on a nice Sunday evening.

Perhaps I will climb under my nice warm covers now.

Saturday, November 16, 2019


Every summer we look into our kitchen cabinet and ask ourselves, “What is the deal with all the mugs?”

And every winter we respond, “Oh, right.  That’s the deal.”

I like mugs.  They are probably my favorite type of cup, and one of the many reasons I know for a fact that I am no longer young and interesting is that I have a favorite kind of cup but I am okay with that since I was never exactly the life of the party even when I was young.  I like mugs.  What can I say.

Someday I may just build a little cubby thing and display them.  Not sure where, really, and given my carpentry skills this may just be an invitation to disaster.  But perhaps.  We’ll see.

For a while when I was a kid it became a thing in my family to give each other mugs at Christmas.  This was back in the 1970s.  I liked it as a thing, but it didn’t last long.  There are only so many mugs people need, really.

One of the first things I got from my undergraduate institution was a Campbell’s Soup mug.  It came in the Standard New Freshman Box (male version), along with a stick of deodorant, a couple of condoms, a few pamphlets on mental wellness and the perils of drugs and alcohol, and a Kurt Vonnegut novel.  And, as I recall, a can of actual Campbell’s soup.  I don’t know if they still do this sort of thing anymore – certainly none of my current students have ever heard of Kurt Vonnegut, let alone read any of his novels.  This is a question I do actually ask them when I teach my class on the atomic bomb, shortly before waving around a copy of Slaughterhouse Five and launching into a description of the firebombing of Dresden.  I think it would be a shame to let that tradition die out.  The New Freshman Box thing, I mean.  Not the firebombing.

I still have that mug.

I have mugs from my mother’s former place of employment – several of them in fact.  One of them is cobalt blue and says “Title Person” on it, and there are precious few of us left who get that joke anymore. 

I have mugs from several of my own places of employment, some of which technically no longer exist.

One of the things I did to treat myself when I was hired as a full-time adjunct five or six years ago was splurge on a Doctor Who mug.  I’ve got a couple of them now, as well as a Game of Thrones mug with my favorite bit from the series on it (“And what do we say to the god of death?”)  I’ve got a mug with a map of Klatch on it.

In our cabinet there are mugs from Sweden, painstakingly carried across the ocean in our carry-on bags.  Mugs that we got as wedding gifts.  A mug from the bed and breakfast Kim and I got engaged in.  Several mugs with the Philadelphia Flyers logo on them, and one with the Sons of Ben logo – perhaps the coolest sports-related logo around.  I’ve got one with a Lincoln quote (“Folks who have no vices have very few virtues”) that I picked up at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield.  There are a couple given to me by my children, purchased at those little pop-up Christmas Gift Shops that spread stuff out in a big room in the elementary school so the kids can buy things for their parents.  Another with the Bill of Rights on it where your rights disappear before your eyes every time it gets into hot water, sort of like living under a GOP administration.  A Phillies World Series mug.  At least one random mug that was left behind somewhere and claimed by us rather than tossed.  And so on.

A lot of mugs, in other words.

In the summer this seems like overkill.  You can get by with maybe two mugs total in the summer, since there are only so many hot beverages one is likely to consume when it is cooler inside your body than outside of it.

But in the winter – which we seem to have entered here even though it is still more than a month before the solstice proper – it is amazing how many mugs you can go through.  Tea.  Coffee.  Cocoa.  Repeat.  Instant muffins.  Lauren would make homemade mac-n-cheese in them.  They are the perfect kitchen implement.

The cabinet empties out.  The dishwasher and the sink fill up.  We start to run low on mugs in a way that seemed impossible when we were wearing short sleeves and cranking up the air conditioning.  But winter is made for staying inside with a warm beverage and a good book, and if the book is too often work-related the tea is still warm.

We have a lot of mugs.  I suspect this will not stop me from adding to the collection.

As vices go it’s relatively harmless.