And Now, What You’ve All Been Waiting For… Christmas 2012

Christmas lights all blurry
Christmas lights all blurry

Okay, so apologies for the delay in getting the Christmas 2012 blog going.  With work being busy, and Noel and I having a gazillion things to do lately, one or the other of us has been dragging our feet at one time or another.

All the Christmas decorations are up that will be up for this year.  We have quite a collection of Christmas decorations and things, and every year we miss a few here or there.  This year, we’re missing our Santa with a snowglobe (with a list of who’s naughty and who’s nice), our Christmas train for around the tree, and other little bits and pieces.

Our traditional Christmas tree
Our traditional Christmas tree

Noel and I have built up our Christmas collection over the years.  In our front living room, we have a traditional Christmas tree (pre-lit) with red and gold ornaments.  We skip the garland or tinsel because we have two rather rambunctious cats who would get the tree on the ground in about three minutes flat by tugging on the stuff til the tree couldn’t take it any longer.

Alas, I digress.

We also have a large light-up reindeer that sits in the window next to the tree.  It has Christmas lights through its antlers to make it look like it’s a bit clumsy.  It reminded Noel of Jenah so, of course, he had to have it.

The piano has a Christmas carol book open on it (this year: “Joy to the World”) and a small Christmas tree with white lights.  This year, Noel has added a menorah for Hanukkah, sitting on our relatively new hall table (right beside the front door).

Christmas wreath on the front door
Christmas wreath on the front door

Outside, we aren’t as garish as some of those houses with 9 gazillion lights, but we decorate what I think is tastefully.  Noel (who is less afraid of heights than me) climbs the ladder every year to put them up and take them down, and nice enough to put up with what he calls my OCD to make sure the lights are all on solid and not different random patterns (it irks me!).

This year, Noel brought out one of his super-duper cameras and took a picture of our house as the sun was almost fully set.

The house as the sun sets
The house as the sun sets

The funniest thing is that, this year, we seem to be the only house on our block to have such a display up, so people slow down and admire it pretty much all evening, which is lovely.  Glad that we can bring at least a little cheer to other people in what’s been a very topsy-turvy last two Christmases for Christchurch and the Canterbury region.

You might recall I said “our front living room” before.  That’s right.  We have two living rooms.  It’s rather typical in newer New Zealand houses.  The front living room is what I’d like to think is similar to where visitors were first received in old English homes.

The back living room is connected to our kitchen, with a breakfast bar and dining room, in an open plan.  We place quite a few Christmas knick-knacks around the place in that area.  The main Christmas feature, though, is our white Christmas tree.

White Christmas tree
White Christmas tree

Jacqui’s mother Ann bought this tree for under $5NZ at Farmer’s, where she works, a few years back.  It’s been an extremely durable tree and been well worth the investment.

This year, Noel and I bought new lights for it.  The first lot of lights were strings of 25 LED lights (blue) that had sparkly tinsel on them.  We would still be using them if they hadn’t been so short!  So we raided TradeMe and found 3 10-meter, 100 LED light strings; the above is the result.  I think it looks stunning.

While I realise all my friends and family are not Christian, and they know I respect them for whatever or whomever they believe (or don’t believe) in, Christmas is a very special time for me.  There is something in the story of a father who loves those under his care so much that he sends his own son to be sacrificed to save those under his care.  For me, though, I have very good memories of Christmas (for the most part), of fun with friends and family, and that’s why Christmas is so very special to me.

Happy holidays!

Christmas lights and ornaments
Christmas lights and ornaments

Christmas Shopping

Christmas Presents
Christmas Presents

I hate Christmas shopping.

It’s not that I begrudge buying presents for other people.  Noel would tell you that I try to be a very giving person (and I hope I succeed).

It’s that I worry about if the other person will like the gift and also if it is too much / too little to give them.

These are pretty stupid things to worry about, I am sure, because I try to be the type of person who is gracious in accepting gifts, even if they aren’t exactly up my alley.  People are giving me gifts out of the goodness of their hearts, and I take them in the spirit that they are given.

To be honest, I’d rather have someone come out and say, “I’d like item A, item B, and/or item C for Christmas.”  It makes it a lot easier to get the item or even get some inspiration from that.

Noel is very hard to buy gifts for.  He’s kinda the guy who has everything… So when I get a flash of inspiration on what I can buy him, I’m always nervous he’s going to buy whatever I’ve bought already, or buy the only gift idea I have for him.  (You might laugh, but this does happen sometimes.  I try, as gently as I can, to steer him in a different direction.  One year, I actually told him, “No, you don’t want to buy that.”  He did get the hint…)

I kept getting upset about buying him a Christmas present this year because I had zero idea what to get him.  Every time I asked him, he’d say, “Oh no, don’t buy me a present… You paid for us to go to see your family this year” or something similar, and inside, I’d be getting more and more upset because that answer wasn’t helping me figure out what to get him for Christmas.

So, in the last few days, there have been a few flashes of inspiration, and I finally chose the gift I wanted to get him.  I did have to shift around some cash to make it happen and got some advice from a good friend.   Noel’s present is paid for, wrapped, and hidden somewhere safe… Phew.

Now, for the next lot of gifts for other people…

PS.  I did promise that I would show you our Christmas decorations for Christmas 2012.  We were waiting on some new lights for one of our Christmas trees, and they arrived Tuesday.  Noel put them up, but I haven’t had time to put the decorations up… I’m doing that this afternoon.  Hopefully my next blog will be to show you all the pretty things we do with the house for Christmas in our own modest way.

Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47): The Sequel

The Tertiary Education Commission
The Tertiary Education Commission – one of the most inept government agencies in New Zealand history

I have some follow-up information to add to my blog a few days ago “Bureaucracy is Bad (Part 47)“.

As you may recall, I received an email from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) late on 23 November 2012 with regards to a data cleansing exercise they were doing on their data warehouse.  They were going through their records to find out which components they felt were not science-based, and they were seeking input from Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs).  The Excel spreadsheet they sent me had 2 components we offer out of 34 science-based components.  I asked them why there were only 2 components on the spreadsheet and not all of them.

To my surprise, I received a reply back within a week (turnaround time is obviously improving…), but it has not improved my opinion of TEC in the slightest.

TEC responded that they were only putting components that might not be science-based (or they believed were not science-based) in the spreadsheet, which is why there were only 2 listed.

Their official response was:

We have 34 science classifications listed on our site. The two classifications we sent you were identified an anomaly,  as the name of the course did not appear to relate to science. The data cleanse is to ensure all the Science classifications are correct.

What we want to know is do they fall under the science classification and if  they don’t then what classification do they fall under.

The problem with this scenario is this:  Both of the components are the same (but for different intakes) and they are both entitled, “Anatomy and Physiology for Manicurists”.  It seems pretty straight forward.  This component will teach manicurists and nail technicians the anatomy and physiology they need to know.

The same spreadsheet has another workbook on it called “Science Classifications”.  It basically lists all the subject areas TEC considers science-based.  And, you probably guessed it, number 2 on the list is… “Anatomy”!

What is frustrating me is this is a total waste of taxpayer money, TEC’s time, and my time.

All I could think to write back was…

I’m not sure how they can be “anomalies” considering their title starts with “Anatomy…” and, according to the list of science-based courses listed on the “Science Classifications” tab, the second field down is “Anatomy”…

Has anyone really thought any of this through?

Obviously not?

Your tax dollars hard at work, people.

Ghosts of Christmas 2010 and 2011

On 4 September 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck near Darfield, New Zealand.  It was felt far and wide, and, even though Christchurch (where I live) was 40 kilometres away, the earthquake reinvigorated faults throughout the region.

By the time Christmas 2010 rolled around, we had had a few moderate aftershocks (in the 4 and 5 ranges), but the planet below us seemed to be keeping quakes to those levels.  We set up our trees and decorations, celebrated the Christmas holiday, and counted ourselves lucky the September 2010 quake hadn’t done more serious damage.

Read Ghosts of Christmas 2010 and 2011

My Memories of World AIDS Day 1995

December 1 is World AIDS Day, a day in which people around the world raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic, think about those living with HIV and AIDS, and remember those who have passed away from AIDS.

I only have been involved in World AIDS Day once, in 1995.  I was attending Elmhurst College, and a few classmates and I decided to attend the service taking place in the main student centre.  Elmhurst College had actually been able to secure a section of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and, besides all of us wanting to see it, we felt we could support what we were being taught at Elmhurst College — to embrace diversity and support your fellow humans — by actually doing something, however passive it might be: a show of solidarity with our brothers and sisters who had HIV or AIDS and with people who lost loved ones to AIDS.

1995 had been a rough year for me.  I’d finally broken up for the last time with my first ever boyfriend, I moved away from NIU because my family and I could no longer afford to pay room and board, and, with the ever-helpful and insightful advice of my best friend Anne, I discovered that NIU wasn’t offering me the opportunities and academic challenges overall that a smaller, private university could offer me.  I had been extremely impressed with Elmhurst College, and there’d be less room and board costs if I lived at home (I’d only have to pay for petrol, which I had to pay for anyway), so I’d upended my university life and moved to a new school for my senior year.

What I lost at NIU, I made up for at Elmhurst.  All the students I was in class with were friendly and supportive.  The teaching and support staff members were always helpful, caring, and compassionate.  They actually engaged me, and I could feel my critical thought processes blossoming like a flower under a gardener’s tender care.

Back to loss:  breaking up with your first ever boyfriend/girlfriend can be traumatic.  For me, it’d been love at first sight, but we had to be discrete about things.  I wasn’t out; he wasn’t out.  The difference was that I was willing to come out: my love for him was that strong.  I made the commitment to him, but, looking back on things, that commitment didn’t go both ways.  I honestly don’t think he knew what he wanted, and I honestly do think he loved me (“but not enough” as Arnold says in Torch Song Trilogy) so I left.  To this day, I honestly don’t know if he ever loved me as deeply as I loved him.

Being suddenly single again makes you think, and my thoughts were that I wanted to be alone for a while and maybe being without the one you love was better than being with someone you didn’t love enough.  So, at Elmhurst College, being the new kid on the block, I found myself cautious in befriending people.  Part of me just wanted to be left alone, but most of me secretly enjoyed everyone being so nice to me, and, for the most part, not judging me for who I was.

Back to Friday, 1 December 1995:  We arrived at the service.  It was very sombre.  I remember looking at the section of that quilt on the wall and wondering, “Who were these people?  Did their loved ones still ache for them?  Did dying hurt?  Will anyone remember me or immortalise me with such a wonderful act as this?”  It was a lot to take in.  I was struggling to keep my emotions in check.  One of my classmates started crying, and my hand instinctively rubbed her back and shoulder to calm her down.  I think that impressed my other classmates because I also remember looking at one of my male classmates with tears gathering in my eyes, and I think he was so moved by me reaching out in compassion to someone I didn’t know extremely well (but nevertheless liked) that he put his hand on my arm and gave it a squeeze.  That was just the type of people I went to Elmhurst College with.

In the 90s, HIV/AIDS was still something we were all coming to terms with.  My Mom, a nurse, was working for an orthopaedic surgeon in the early- to mid-90s, and I remember one of the doctors or nurses lending her this book about HIV/AIDS.  To be honest, to this day, I can’t believe my Mom fell for some of the weird stuff the author wrote.  One part stated that by 2000, HIV would have mutated enough to be transmitted by sneezing or coughing or just through the air itself.  The author also said we’d all have to live in higher altitudes because HIV’s transmission would be greatly reduced due to air being thinner.  If you’re thinking, “huh?” by this time, so was I.  I remember saying to Mom that I didn’t think a virus that could only survive outside the body for a very short window of time would suddenly mutate to survive outside the body for a much longer period of time within a few years.  The whole premise seemed a bit far-fetched to me, but this was the paranoia we were living with back then.

My Mom also got upset when I was applying band-aids to friends who had cut themselves at various times.  I might’ve done it four or five times for the same number of friends when we were at NIU or wherever.  Mom (post-book, if I remember correctly) was worried that one of these friends potentially could have HIV or AIDS and I could become infected by putting a band-aid on an open wound.  Again, I brushed her off; it was a band-aid I was applying, letting the gauze go over the wound.  It wasn’t like I was rubbing my wound over that wound or whatever.

I’m hoping that we have evolved in our understanding of HIV/AIDS and people who are infected with HIV or AIDS.  We live in an age where most people with HIV can manage their condition through a cocktail of medication, and so perhaps this has caused many of us to become more accepting of people with HIV or AIDS.  We understand how it is transmitted and how the virus itself acts (for the most part), so HIV/AIDS is “less scary” than it used to be.  Not having many (if any) friends or family with HIV or AIDS, I can’t tell you outright about how things have changed (if they have), but I personally feel they have.

Maybe some day there will be a cure: hopefully sooner than later.  But for now, we should use World AIDS Day to think of and pray for the approximately 34 million people living with HIV or AIDS in the world today and the approximately 30 million people who have died from AIDS, and to educate ourselves and others about HIV/AIDS.

Lessons from the Holocaust

The Lion of Judah cover
The Lion of Judah cover

Thursday night, Noel and I watched the very moving documentary called The Lion of Judah.  The documentary follows Leo Zisman, a Holocaust survivor now living in New York City, and his journey with several young Jewish men and women to visit Auschwitz (including Birkenau) Poland.  He uses the opportunity to explain his experiences to the group, and the filmmaker takes the chance to interview younger Polish locals, other Jewish visitors, and a Polish historian, as well as the non-Jewish videographer who accompanied the group.

To see some of the sights this group experienced is sobering, and Zisman (I feel) is very good at explaining his experiences in ways that everyone can relate to.  It is a documentary I would recommend people watch because, as Noel pointed out, the last Holocaust survivors are becoming fewer and fewer; thank God we live in an age where their experiences, wisdom, and insight can be documented for all time.

One of the interviewees, a Colombian woman who recently converted to Judaism, accompanied Zisman and his group to the concentration camps and memorials, and a statement she made stuck out to me: we see pictures of these places, like the gas chambers at Auschwitz, but they really don’t impact us until we are really there.  Originally, I said to Noel that pictures don’t do a place justice sometimes, but reflecting more on this now, I realise that there must be such a strong aura or presence of sorrow, dispair, and death these places hold that pictures cannot capture either: only the more sensitive of us can pick up on these things.

The Holocaust primarily impacted Europe’s Jewish population, and their suffering, deaths, and losses should never be de-emphasized or marginalized.  But there were other groups affected by the Holocaust as well.  Gypsies, dissenters, Soviet prisoners of war, the mentally ill and physically disabled, Poles, Slavs, Serbs, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals, just to name a few, were all victims of the Nazi ethnic cleansing movement as well.  While Jews were made to wear a yellow Star of David, homosexuals were made to wear a pink triangle, which the homosexual community now uses as a badge of courage, in a way.

My great-grandmother, a Russian woman who married a German man, grew mentally-ill with (I think) was some form of schizophrenia.  The Nazi regime took her to the Hadamar Clinic (now, years later, officially revealed as the Hadamar Euthanasia Centre), where she and approximately 14,000 others were killed or starved as a part of the Nazi’s T-4 Euthanasia Programme.  Even typing it makes part of me very angry and another part of me extremely sad.

Watching The Lion of Judah, Noel kept asking, “How can people do this sort of thing to one another?”  It’s a very good question, and the Holocaust wasn’t the first or last time humanity has seen this sort of campaign.  Post-Holocaust: The Killing Fields in the late 70s after the Cambodian Civil War.  The Bosnian Genocide during the Bosnian War in the 90s.  The Rwandan Genocide in 1994 as a part of the Rwandan Civil War.  The Darfur Genocide during the War in Darfur in the early 2000s.

And this year, there’s Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law, which would see some gays and lesbians killed through state-sponsored genocide and others face life in jail; this can easily pave the way to state-sponsored genocide.  Nigeria appears to be following suit with anti-gay legislation.

So, we swing back to the lessons the Holocaust can give us today.  In The Lion of Judah, the focus of Zisman and the filmmakers is predominantly on teaching younger Jewish people about what happened.  Personally, I would have rather seen Zisman and the filmmakers take a diverse group of people (black, white, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, gay, straight, et cetera) from various nations to Auschwitz and Poland to speak about his experiences and encourage the diverse group of people to celebrate their differences and stand-up to violence against any group.  Let them learn through living history.  These people could be ambassadors of sorts, spreading the message of tolerance and acceptance to others in their communities and government, so humanity can at least try to prevent something like the Holocaust happening again.

(The big questions we need to ask ourselves as the human race right now is… Why are we not fighting harder to stop Uganda from passing this Anti-Homosexuality Bill?  Why can’t we force Syria to stop the bloodshed?  Why can’t we make Israel and Palestine sit down at a table and make them find a workable solution to their conflict?)

If we don’t learn from our past, it’s doomed to repeat… And one thing we should be striving towards as the human race, whether you personally like a certain group of people or not, is ensuring everyone has a good shot at having the best lives they possibly can, without fear, hate, bigotry, violence, prejudice, segregation, or intolerance.