I have a mixed history with Christmas. I need my alone time and the holidays are filled with people and activities and socializing and more people and travel. Thankfully, this year the travel was done pre-Christmas so I didn’t have to go anywhere more than a few miles to my sister-in-law for the morning to view the ceremonial small child unwrapping presents.
Which we did and had am excellent breakfast there as we played Headbanz. It worked pretty well and showed how hard some of us guessed at very easy items. The premise of the game is you put a card on your head which you can’t see and ask yes/no questions to figure out what it is.
I learned that I overthink the answers and need to keep it to simple things. Example cards were Giraffe, Train and Sandwich.
I struggled mightily with butterfly after determining it had wings and flew, but was not a bird or a bat, or Fly (another card we’d seen earlier).
The main event is of course, the Christmas Dinner. This year we hosted and my wife worked up the menu including a broccoli salad (very fresh and not filled with mayo), roasted potatoes (because the Big Potato mandates their inclusion at every holiday meal) spinach dip with fresh veggies in a sourdough loaf bowl (because you need fuel to prepare the rest of the meal).
The main course would be a double-header of grilled salmon and grilled turkey legs.Grilled SalmonGrilled Turkey Legs
It was my second time grilling turkey legs and my first time grilling salmon. I largely winged the salmon and focused on not over-cooking it. My key to any properly cooked meat is to remove it from the grill about 10 degrees before it hits the recommended temperature. It’s still going to cook inside and instead of dry, tough meat, you have a juicy, moist meal to enjoy.
We set the table. Complete with plants and a small child.
Christmas was a success. We sat in front of the fire and played some more Headbanz and visited as adults who have eaten too many delicious foods do on holidays.
Are you excited about all the new gifts you’re going to receive this year? Take a moment and think back to last year. What did you get? How much of it do you still use? I have a gift guide won’t end in buyer’s remorse. My holiday gift guide to you is a mostly a collection of free things I like. I think you’ll like them too. We don’t buy things, we buy into things.
Read at your leisure
Instapaper. It’s a free service that lets you save things to read later. It isn’t the only one but it’s simple and I’ve used it for years. Whenever I run across something I want to read, like a long article, interview or just something I can focus on during my subway trip home it goes into Instapaper. I’ve started forwarding some of the newsletters to Instapaper because it’s a nicer way to read them. The app is not free but the service is, so I’m still counting it.
But what about books?
You need a Book Gorilla. Go to the site and choose genres you like to read. Then the gorilla will send you a daily email with deeply discounted or free Kindle books.
I look forward everyday to receiving a list of things I might like to read for free or at least cheaper than usual.
It’s Instapaper for audio. But I’ve never used any of the social features of HuffDuffer and today I found Latr. It has a sparse web page that once you sign up provides the same thing.
Add an audio file. It will create an RSS feed you can then add to iTunes or your favorite podcast player and it will update with new things you put there.
I’ve heard about podcasts but how do I find ones I like?
iTunes is still the biggest and best place for new podcasts. Head on over to the podcast section and look at what’s popular or search for things you’re into. I guarantee you whatever you love, someone else does too.
If you’re into computers/comic books or related things, I highly recommend the good people of the 5By5 Network There are a ton of shows about working from home, movies, web design, pens, android and quitting your job.
Another place to look is Huffduffer. Since it’s a collection of saved audio, search for what you like and see where it leads you. It can be less overwhelming than iTunes.
Can’t you just give me some recommendations?
Sure can, there’s a few shows that I listen to as often as they’re released. I tend to be geeky so a lot of mine are about tech what else did you really expect from me?
Do you like radio dramas? Remember those old-time radio shows? I used to listen to Gunsmoke in the car with my dad on Sunday nights. If you love radio dramas, I can’t recommend this first one enough.
It’s a story of survival that begins in California right after the zombie apocalypse. The voice acting is superb, as are the sound effects and music. The tale follows our survivors through their struggles and triumphs. Before you recoil at the thought of zombies, it’s far more about the people surviving than being eaten.
I’ve become attached to the characters and each time we lose one of them I feel a little sad. It’s a wonderful story that I can’t recommend enough.
Where to start: Episode 1. You have to start at the beginning of the story.
The Support Ops Podcast interviews people working in the trenches of customer support. Chase writes:
Customer support is not a hard concept. Someone has a question/problem and it’s your job to fix it and make them happy. Not just satisfied but happy. And if you do it wrong, it can leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Customer support is everyone’s job. Even if you don’t work in support, you could learn something from those who do. Those fine people who deal with angry customers and impossible situations. If nothing else, remember there are other people on the other side of that phone line, email or twitter handle.
This show had an identity change as the hosts tried to figure out what the show was. But I recommend starting from its beginning. There are some great episodes about technology with kids, being the IT guy in your family and even some great travel tips.
Myke Hurley, who founded and ran the 70 Decibels Podcast network until it merged with 5By5 has a way of putting his guests at ease and asking great questions. You can tell the man does his research. He knows who he’s interviewing and has a way of getting good stories out of them. No matter who the guest is, the show is a joy to listen to.
Where to start: That’s like asking your favorite flavor of ice cream. There’s so many so here’s a few to get you going.
#44: Apple and Education, with Fraser Speirs is a good talk about just what it says. Fraser has a deployment of 1:1 iPad to student at the school where he works. He talks about the successes, challenges and joys of such a deployment. He is doing really interesting work with technology and education and co-hosts his own podcast Out of School.
Special mention: The Enough Podcast
Enough deserve a special mention. Even though the show recently ended, it was the one show I eagerly looked forward to every week. Even though it has ended, there is an archive available.
Each week was a conversation between Patrick Rhone and Myke Hurley about what is Enough. Enough is different for everyone. Enough is also a book. I recommend. For some people it’s a big house and fancy cars. For others it’s a backpack and an airplane ticket. Enough is personal. Enough is individual.
Every episode would teach me something. It would change the way I saw people. It would help me find things in my life I could change. It made be a better person for listening.
It helped me find Enough for myself. Enough was not a destination but a journey. And while this chapter of it has ended, the journey goes on.
My eyes hurt from using the computer late at night.
You need f.lux. F.lux, as well as being a clever name, will warm the colors of your screen after the sun goes down.
This will give your screen less of a white/blue glow and more of an orange glow that’s easier on the eyes. I use it on all my computers and wouldn’t work without it. It has a setting to disable it if you’re doing work where the color matters. But for me, when I’m typing words on a screen, color doesn’t matter.
Give me something new and interesting to read.
You need the pastry box project. Described as 30 People Shaping The Web. One Thought Every Day. All Year Round. Sugar For The Mind I’ve always enjoyed reading it.
There is something new from someone new everyday. Some articles I like, some I ignore, but the rotating cast of writers keep things fresh and interesting.
Sssimpli, “a conscious approach to geekery” is always filled with something new and interesting. If you’re interesting in automating your web there’s a pile of goodness for you. I keep a book journal in Evernote that’s powered by GoodReads.
I love a good email newsletter!
The Listserve is a fascinating idea. There are now 24,886 people subscribed to the list and everyday, one of them is chosen via lottery to write to the list.
Everyday, I receive one email from the list. The emails are wildly different. Some talk about a cool project or charity. Another could be a heart-wrenching story and tribute to a grandparent. Another could be a list of advice.
The writers are young and old and from all over the world. Recently, I recall seeing people from San Francisco, Iowa, London, Paris, and The Netherlands. It’s an interesting experiment and experience. All submissions are sent from the creators so you won’t be spammed, nor subjected to hate speech or other nastiness.
What about something shorter?
I love 3 Things from Sid O’Neill. Every one of them has three things. There is a sample letter on the site when he mentioned a great iPhone app, an article about keeping your day job and a new project called WritingMusic which is a collection of music to write to.
Everyday it’s different and only three things long so it’s a little burst of interesting for your day.
Do you have a good news roundup?
Next Draft is the news, everyday. You can download the iOS app or simply receive it in email as I do. Here’s a taste of the most current newsletter. It truly is a collection of news from across the web about anything and everything.
I read it everyday and always find a couple interesting things in it.
Prepare yourself, this is what you’re going to hear out of the mouth of every family member, friend, sales clerk and stranger for the next few months.
But it’s not a happy time for everyone. A friend on Facebook recently posted this,
It’s important to remember that not everyone is surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us have problems during the holidays and sometimes are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us.
Many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. We all need caring thoughts and loving prayer right now.
The holidays are not happy for everyone. Especially for those who have lost family and friends during this time of year, the incessant holiday cheer can be grating.
So today, I am going to share with you a secret. It’s one I’ve used successfully and without remorse.
via Unsplash.com / By Ilham Rahmansyah
It’s ok to opt out of the holidays.
The time I played Saints Row for Thanksgiving
I did that a few years ago and it was the best Thanksgiving I ever had.
I tend to get really down over the holidays. I get depressed. Christmas time is usually the worst, but that year it was hitting me really hard over Thanksgiving.
I didn’t want to spend hours in the car, through some of the worst traffic in the country to be with family. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and both sets of parents. I love seeing them and spending time with them.
But the idea of driving to see them was too much for me to take that year. So I didn’t. This was shortly after I had graduated college and was working on an IT Support contract. I didn’t have any paid time off, so I had to work if I wanted to get paid.
I didn’t want to spend my few precious days off sitting in traffic and dealing with the stress of travel. I would have no relaxing Thanksgiving holiday. It would be spent sitting in traffic, battling other drivers and the weather on I-95.
So I hatched my plan. I told both sets of parents I was going to spend Thanksgiving with a friend who lived out-of-state. I didn’t get to see him much and I said he and his family had invited me for Thanksgiving and that’s what I was going to do. ((I was too nervous to tell either of them I just needed a year off. I just needed some time to myself. It would have taken more energy to explain this than to just say I had made plans elsewhere.))
But instead, I never left the house. I went to the store to get some food for the next few days. I think I ordered a pizza or two. And I spent the next three days on the couch.
I slept in patches throughout the days. I played late into the nights and early morning. Then crashes for a few hours, awoke refreshed anda did it all over again. I played Saints Row with a group of online friends. There were enough people who I regularly gamed with in enough time zones there were always a few people online and ready to play.
So I’d fire up my Xbox, put on my headset, crack open a fresh Mountain Dew and lose myself for hours in the world of Saints Row.
I laughed so hard. I was in bliss. I wasn’t sitting in hours of traffic. I wasn’t in the bad weather which I knew would only make my travels more stressful. I was warm, inside my apartment, all alone, talking and laughing with friends. And when I was done, I turned the Xbox off and I was alone, in quiet and solace.
It was the alone time I craved. I needed to recharge my batteries and unwind. I needed less stress, not more of it. And after my gaming binge holiday was complete and I returned to work, I felt like a new person. I was repaired.
The depression had lifted. The clouds over my head had cleared and I felt good. It was the Introverted Holiday I had craved and made for myself.
My Saints Row character at the time.
The holidays can be hard. There is an expectation to always spend it surrounded by family, not matter what it takes to get there. It’s meant to be a joyous time.
I needed to be strong enough to say no and opt out. I needed time for myself that year. I needed to be alone. I needed to repair. I needed to take some time off work for myself. I needed that time to heal and be a healthier, happier person.
By the time Christmas came that year, I was in better spirits and I enjoyed the time I spent with my family. And it was all because of my Thanksgiving alone.