The End, but Not Really

Well, Christmas is over. So is this blog, pretty much. It’s time to take down the holiday decorations, and soon to lay this blog to rest.

Last year on Christmas, I had this to say:

For those of us who live far north of the Equator, Christmas comes and goes in the freezing darkness of winter. The holiday season is like a candle flame, burning bright and warm, extinguished in a moment. We clear away the wrapping paper, take down the Christmas trees, and resume our ordinary little lives. The nights, no longer lit by colored lights, are still long. Without the excitement and bustle of the holidays, the cold seems ever more oppressive. Winter loses its charm. The warm feelings of Christmas disappear like last week’s snow.

Christmas isn’t the end of all good things. As Relient K reminds us, “No more lights glistening. No more carols to sing. But Christmas—it makes way for spring.” The bitter cold and long, dark nights give way to warmth, green leaves, and sunny days. Heck, even the very first Christmas was a beginning. It wasn’t the ultimate fulfillment of divine grace and salvation. It merely promised that they were on their way.

I’m a little sad to see TMTF end this week. For all I know, its end may leave you a little sad, too. That’s okay. This blog shall give way to new things, and they will be different, and that’s perfectly fine.

This is the end, but not really. It’s the beginning of something new.

The Moon Leads Nowhere

As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same.

~ G.K. Chesterton

Do you know what’s nice about stars? Stars stay. They’re fixed in the night sky. Although they seem to move slightly as our planet spins, stars are heavenly fixtures.

I often think of a particular star during the Christmas season. Most of us know its story. Wise men followed this star until they found the infant Christ, whom they worshiped, and to whom they gave kingly gifts. It’s a familiar image of the Christmas season, often depicted on holiday cards and remembered in carols.

Figure A: Wise men

I like the wise men. In a world that seemed dark, they followed a star in a quixotic search for truth and meaning. My own world can seem bleak. I love the idea of a guiding light, untouched by darkness, proclaiming salvation and hope for anyone willing to follow.

It’s a good thing stars don’t move around, huh?

Just imagine if the wise men had followed, say, the moon. They would never have found the Christ, unless by accident. The moon moves across the night sky. It regularly changes shape, apparently unable to decide upon one it likes. The wise men would have found neither hope nor truth following the moon. It leads nowhere.

I recently reread G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which I once reviewed for this blog. One of Chesterton’s criticisms of contemporary worldviews is how constantly we change them. “We are not altering the real to suit the ideal,” he declared. “We are altering the ideal: it is easier.” Frequently changing our ideals makes real progress almost impossible. Quoth Chesterton, “This, therefore, is our first requirement about the ideal towards which progress is directed; it must be fixed.”

Figure B: Wise man

Reform requires fixed goals. A traveler can spend all day walking, but if he chooses a new destination every five minutes, he won’t make much progress anywhere. He needs a fixed destination. If the wise men had followed the moon, they may never have found any hope for their broken world. Fortunately, they followed a star, and found it.

They found him.

C.S. Lewis, an admirer of Chesterton, had this to add:

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.

If our beliefs, goals, and ideals change with our moods, we may as well be following the moon—we’ll get nowhere. We must find fixed ideals, and we must stick to them.

We must follow the stars.

494. Almost Done

This blog is taking a one-week break, and shall return on December 12 with its final round of new posts.

This blog is almost done. Today is December 2. Typewriter Monkey Task Force shall end on December 30. Four weeks remain.

Obligatory Majora’s Mask reference. (I can’t help myself, and I’m not sorry.)

Before TMTF staggers ignominiously to its end, I must make a few quick announcements.

TMTF is taking a one-week break

December is a busy month, and I need some extra time to catch up with personal commitments. TMTF shall return on December 12. There will be no updates until then.

My plans for post-TMTF projects are not yet clear

I have not yet decided whether to start a personal newsletter after TMTF bites the dust. I will definitely work on my story project, but may possibly write a couple of short stories first. Speaking of which, I never did get around to writing that last Gabriel Green story for this blog. I apologize.

If you’re interested in following any of my future projects, you can find me on Twitter, on which I plan to share any future news or announcements; my Twitter handle is @coffeeologian. You can also reach me via this blog’s Contact page. It will remain active even after the blog ends.

December is a great time for charity

Around this time every year, I give a shout out to the Advent Conspiracy.

The Advent Conspiracy is awesome.

This Christian movement encourages everyone to spend a little less on Christmas consumerism, and to give a little more to charity. The Advent Conspiracy has a particular emphasis on clean water projects, which save lives, prevent disease, and improve quality of life in impoverished areas.

If you can spare two and a half minutes, I recommend this video explaining the Advent Conspiracy. I don’t even like churchy videos, but this one is rad.

It’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to support the Advent Conspiracy. It’s a cause near to my heart, and you probably have a cause near to yours. Please consider supporting your cause this month. Christmas is a time for giving.

Besides, to quote my favorite video game that I’ll never actually play, the world could always use more heroes. You can be someone’s hero this month, and I hope you will be.

Coffee creamer makes a great hair product

A couple of days ago, I had a little accident at work, and it’s too funny not to share. I spilled some coffee creamer on my head—long story—and tried to wash my hair with a wet washcloth, spiking it up on one side. However, I couldn’t wash out all of the coffee creamer. When my hair dried, the spikes remained, stiffened as though with hair gel, and smelling pleasantly of caramel macchiato.

It was quite a look: business on the right, party on the left. The incident amused me so much that I, upon returning home, did something I don’t recall ever doing before: I took a selfie.

Spiky.

I’m too lazy to style my hair; I keep it short so that I don’t even have to comb it. My one day of accidental style was neat, but I don’t plan on ever buying hair gel… or coffee creamer, for that matter. (I prefer my coffee with milk, thank you.)

Well, I think that wraps it up. Speaking of which, I still have a gift to wrap… and blog posts to write… and other stuff to do. Bah! Humbug!

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back.

490. TMTF’s Top Ten Ways Autumn Isn’t Horrible

I don’t like the fall season. It’s cold, dark, and flavored like pumpkin spice. Leaves fall. Flowers die. Everything turns brown. Worst of all, here in the American Midwest, autumn happens every single year. It just ain’t fair.

However, autumn isn’t all bad—mostly bad, yes, but not quite all bad. It has its charms. Here are ten reasons why the fall season isn’t totally awful.

Bundle up, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Ways Autumn Isn’t Horrible!

10. Daylight Saving Time Ends

On the first Sunday in November, the time is set back one hour at two o’clock in the morning. In practical terms, I gain an hour, provided I remember to set back my clocks. An extra hour of sleep? Yes please.

I happen to be a big fan of sleep.

Of course, the time is set forward one hour when Daylight Saving Time begins in spring, costing me a precious hour of sleep, but I’ll not worry about that until March!

9. Snowfalls Are Gentle, Gorgeous, and Mercifully Brief

Snow is beautiful when it’s falling or freshly fallen. It softens everything and gleams with an infinity of tiny sparkles. Then it quickly becomes a nuisance. Heavy snow becomes slushy, crusty, or muddy, and always wet and cold. Autumn sometimes brings light snowfalls, but they never overstay their welcome. They last just long enough to be pretty, and no longer.

8. Winter Blockbusters Begin to Arrive in Movie Theaters

After the October wave of horror films, end-of-year blockbusters start to trickle into movie theaters.

Aw, yeah.

We have Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Disney’s Moana this fall. Last autumn brought The Peanuts Movie, which surpassed my cynical expectations, and the one before gave us Disney’s Big Hero 6. I may not like the fall season, but it brings some great movies.

7. Triple-A Video Games Are Released

The final months of each year often bring not only good movies, but also great video games.

Aw, yeah.

Triple-A is the classification given to games with big budgets, which is often (but not always) an indication of high quality. Game developers often save their triple-A releases for the holiday season. I play mostly older games these days, but still enjoy watching trailers and reading reviews for brand new ones.

6. Leaves Turn Bright, Beautiful Colors

As summer fades, leaves change from green to brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Clusters of leaves become clouds of fire.

Colors like these are the only warm things about autumn, I’m afraid.

Apart from the trees, autumn is a season of drab grays and murky browns, so the fiery colors of leaves are a welcome change… until they die, turn brown, and fall to the ground, of course. Ah, well. Beauty is often a fleeting and fragile thing.

5. Thanksgiving Day Arrives

I poke fun at the Thanksgiving holiday, but it’s actually one of my favorites. I love the idea of setting aside a day for family, food, fellowship, and… well… thanksgiving. Unlike Halloween or Christmas, Thanksgiving demands no elaborate customs or decorations: no costumes, no trick-or-treating, no carols, no presents. It represents not the busyness of Martha, but the peace of Mary. (It’s just a shame about Black Friday.)

4. The Christmas Season Approaches

It’s against my religion to listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. (It isn’t really, but seriously, guys, wait until after Thanksgiving Day.)

Christmas is coming!

I’m a little cynical about the Christmas season, but only a little, and colder weather is a reminder that Christmas is coming. Autumn is a dreary season, but it promises brighter things. I appreciate that.

3. Fresh Apple Cider Becomes Available for Purchase

I like apples. really like apples.

How ’bout them apples?

For just a few glorious weeks every year, a local Amish market sells fresh apple cider: unpasteurized, unadulterated, with no preservatives or additional ingredients of any kind. It is glorious, and available only in early autumn.

2. Colder Weather Enhances Enjoyment of Warm Things

I hate cold weather, but appreciate how it increases my enjoyment of warmth. Hot food warms as well as satisfies. My sleeping bag becomes a haven of perfect warmth and comfort. (I don’t own a bed, because beds are for sensible, well-adjusted people.) However deeply the cold may settle in my bones, a hot shower always drives it out. Coffee, which is a refuge and strength at all times, keeps away the cold. Heck, even washing dishes becomes kind of a treat.

1. Autumn Brings Duster Weather

I actually like cool weather; it reminds me of Quito, where I was born, and where I spent many years. Even when the air turns painfully cold, I don’t despair, for lo! I have a duster overcoat.

I couldn’t find a photo of myself wearing my duster—selfies, like Christmas music before Thanksgiving, are against my religion—but my overcoat looks just a bit like the Tenth Doctor’s, minus the sparkles.

Since it appeared mysteriously in my closet a few years ago, I’ve taken a geeky satisfaction in wearing it when the autumn air turns chilly. My duster makes me look a bit like a khaki canvas tent, but it makes me feel awesome, and also warm.

What do you like most about the final months of the year? Let us know in the comments!

412. Christmas Fallout

Another Christmas has come and gone, leaving behind a mess of crumpled wrapping paper, empty boxes, and those tiny strips of green plastic from artificial Christmas trees. (Those fake evergreen needles are a pain, man.) Here on TMTF, I have post-Christmas problems of my own.

Santa camAs much as my typewriter monkeys deserved coal for Christmas, they received fire extinguishers instead. My monkeys are notorious pyromaniacs, and fire extinguishers are usually less flammable than coal. However, I didn’t foresee the potential dangers of giving my monkeys cans of pressurized chemicals. Ah, well. Live and learn.

(After reading TMTF’s Christmas poem last month, my dad drew the picture above: a screenshot from one of Santa Claus’s many hidden cams. Saint Nick apparently puts the NSA to shame with his surveillance systems. “He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake,” indeed.)

Yes, Christmas is done. A new year has begun, and I’m thankful for another nine or ten months before I even have to start thinking about the holidays. The older I get, the busier I become during the Christmas season. I say this not as a complaint, but as a statement of fact. The holidays are a busy time of year, and they end so abruptly.

After months of holiday music, planning, shopping, gift wrapping, decorating, baked goods, baked bads (I’m looking at you, fruitcake), church programs, television specials, and peppermint-flavored everything—Christmas simply ends.

Granted, New Year’s celebrations do provide some sort of epilogue to the holiday season. It’s as though we all share an unspoken understanding: “Well, Christmas is over. We might as well just end the year and be done with it.”

At last, the holidays are over… for another week, at least. The stores will soon start running ads and selling stuff for St. Valentine’s Day. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

411. Operation Yuletide Reached Its Goal!

You did it again, you beautiful people, you.

Operation Yuletide reached its goal!

Operation Yuletide

Operation Yuletide, this blog’s 2015 Christmas charity fundraiser, reached its goal of $700 USD. Thanks to donations from a few generous donors, Living Water International can help provide clean water to more impoverished people this year. Once again, you did it, guys. You made this happen. You made the world a better, wetter place.

Thank you. On behalf of every single person whom your donations will help this year, thank you so much.

For Operation Yuletide, I promised rewards to donors. I wanted to use my creative gifts (such as they are) to encourage donations, and especially to thank donors. A few awesome people supported Operation Yuletide, but only one person admitted to it. The other donors remained anonymous.

To you mysterious donors, I say this: Thank you so much, whoever you are. I would love to thank you personally, but I will respect your anonymity if you prefer to remain anonymous. If any of you would like any of the donor rewards for Operation Yuletide, please let me know via social media or TMTF’s Contact page. I owe you those rewards, and if you’re interested, I’m more than happy to provide them!

To the one person who donated openly, the ever kind and supportive JK Riki, I say this: Thank you so much for being generous, supportive, and generally awesome. (To everyone who isn’t JK Riki, I say this: You should check out his his blog on creativity.)

Now that Christmas is over and Operation Yuletide has reached its goal, I suppose I should retire the fundraiser’s mascot, Oswald Grimm the disgraced Christmas elf.

Oswald Grimm

Grimm spent the fundraiser sitting in a corner of my kitchen, muttering to himself and occasionally swigging from a little black bottle in his pocket. He gives me the creeps. As long as I’m on the subject of Grimm, is anyone, um, interested in adopting a Christmas elf? He may not be any good for the Christmas season, but I bet he would be great for Halloween. At any rate, I need to do something to get him out of my kitchen.

Operation Yuletide could have succeeded without Oswald Grimm, but it could never have reached its goal without you wonderful readers. You guys… you did a really good thing. You did something awesomeThank you for your generosity and compassion! God bless you!

Days Gone By

This song comes from a girly cartoon about rainbow ponies, and it may be the loveliest I’ve heard all year.

This beautiful arrangement of “Auld Lang Syne” has new lyrics and a deft fusion of two styles. The Irish flute and tin whistle give the song a Celtic feel, while the banjo and southern-accented singers add an acoustic country flavor. Celtic and country music come from separate continents, yet have much in common as styles of folk music. (I wish someone would mix Celtic or country with traditional Andean music… I think Irish flutes or banjos could blend well with pan flutes and charangos.)

I generally frown upon rewriting old songs, but this one’s new lyrics are pretty good. Its message—thinking of family who can’t be here and smiling at good memories of days gone by—strikes a chord with me. Many of my loved ones are scattered across the world, and my quiet Indiana life seems far from my adventures growing up. This song is a celebration of good things past, and it hits me right in the feels.

Happy New Year, guys.

408. Christmas Is Not the End

Today is Christmas. (I mention this in case, y’know, you hadn’t noticed.) This day finds each of us in a different place. Some of us are rejoicing. Some of us are burdened, lost, hopeless, or heartbroken. Some of us are drinking a fifth cup of coffee and thinking about The Legend of Zelda. (All right, that last one might just be me.)

I like to think I’m pretty good with words. Whatever my faults—and they are many—I can generally think of something funny or clever to say. It’s on days like this one, when words matter most, that I can’t seem to find the right ones. Anyhow, I can’t seem to express my feelings without sounding like those insincere messages printed in holiday cards, which is one of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a writer.

Today is Christmas, and even if it means sounding like a generic holiday card, I want to say just a few things.

Still not relevant

This photo is hardly relevant to this blog post, but I’m adding it anyway because it’s adorable.

To those who are rejoicing today, I say this: I’m happy for you. I hope your Christmas is full of nostalgia for the past, contentment in the present, and hope for the future. May your day be filled with laughter, loved ones, and cookies. May the year ahead be the best and brightest you’ve ever had.

To those who are grieving today, I say this: I’m sorry. May you find whatever joy and comfort you can this Christmas, and may the year ahead bring you healing, peace, happiness, and hope.

Christmas tree

Wherever you are today, may your Christmas be bright.

All right, I’m done with the holiday card stuff, but there’s one more thing I want to say.

For those of us who live far north of the Equator, Christmas comes and goes in the freezing darkness of winter. The holiday season is like a candle flame, burning bright and warm, extinguished in a moment. We clear away the wrapping paper, take down the Christmas trees, and resume our ordinary little lives. The nights, no longer lit by colored lights, are still long. Without the excitement and bustle of the holidays, the cold seems ever more oppressive. Winter loses its charm. The warm feelings of Christmas disappear like last week’s snow.

Relient K puts it well: “No more lights glistening. No more carols to sing. But Christmas—it makes way for spring.”

The celebration was brief when Christ was born. Then it was back to a time as dark and bitter as any winter. God seemed to have abandoned Israel. There were no more prophets. The Roman Empire ruled over God’s nation with disdain. The first Christmas was over, and it was back to life as usual.

In the end, Christ gave his life for us all, and then promptly took it up again in history’s greatest miracle. A new age began. The church grew and spread. Winter was done. Spring had come.

002

Colored lights and ornaments are nice, but nothing makes a tree more beautiful than spring.

Wherever you are today—happy or sad, rejoicing or grieving, surrounded by loved ones or far from home—I pray that your own winters end quickly. May the life, light, and warmth of spring be never far from you, and may this Christmas be a hopeful prelude to something even better.

God bless you, dear reader.

The Most Epic Christmas Song

Christmas music has been rearranged for nearly every conceivable genre, including grittier ones like symphonic rock and heavy metal. “Carol of the Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” are popular choices for edgy arrangements, but one song manages to be epic without dubstep wubs or electric guitars.

“Fum Fum Fum,” as performed by Mannheim Steamroller, is a fusion of rock and Renaissance styles. It’s pretty tame for the first minute, and then heats up with a woodwind (I’m guessing a tin whistle) carrying the melody over light synths and some solid percussion. This is my all-time favorite instrumental Christmas tune.

Christmas is nearly here, guys. Prepare yourselves.

407. Christmas Poem

Click here for a reading of this poem


’Twas the night before Christmas, and there in a heap

Lay my typewriter monkeys, unkempt and asleep.

At long last, thank the Lord, they had started to snooze.

They lay chattering faintly and smelling of booze.

And so I, much relieved, at my desk sat to write

On that bright, peaceful, glorious, holy, cold night.

When the silence was broken—a sharp, noisy tap!

On the door some odd stranger had started to rap.

I expected that raven, but there stood a man

With a snappy red sport coat, a neat beard, a tan,

And a trim, slim physique! His thin figure was slick,

But was this dapper fellow the ancient Saint Nick?

“Santa Claus? But you can’t be,” I wondered aloud.

“I am trying to fit with today’s younger crowd,”

Said the man. “Would you tell me now, if you will, please,

If it’s you who look after twelve naughty monkeys.”

“I’m the one,” I admitted. “I’m sorry,” said he.

“They have earned tons of coal. I won’t bring it, you see,

For they start many fires, and black coal is a fuel!

Such a flammable gift would be foolish and cruel.”

“Then what did you bring them?” I inquired, quite depressed.

“I brought twelve fire extinguishers—seemed like the best

Of replacements for something as risky as coal.”

And with that, he set twelve presents down. “Bless my soul!”

He exclaimed. “And I almost forgot! Here for you,

A small box! My dear boy, there’s a gift for you, too.”

And with that, old Saint Nick snapped his fingers and rose.

No more reindeer for him, but a jet. “There he goes,”

I declared as the jet roared away in the night.

To my desk I went, then, and flipped on a soft light.

What nice gift in my box had the kindly elf hid?

A brand-new coffee cup, and a note: “Good luck, kid.”


Do you know what gift would be even better than a fire extinguisher? A donation to Operation Yuletide, of course! We’re raising money to help people this Christmas. There are even rewards and stuff! (As an added perk, Santa Claus* will put donors on his Nice list.) Check it out here!

*Santa Claus does not exist. Any and all claims involving Santa Claus are intended jokes, and thus legally nonbinding. Please do not sue me, my family, or my cat.