Winter Musings 2017

Winter Musings 2017

I will not call this my Christmas letter or epistle or whatever. I am just sitting here on a Sunday night thinking that I should really probably be writing something.

There is this interesting phenomena that I have noticed happening when you disconnect from people. When you are in the immediate circle of intimacy with a person, you know what they do in general each and every day. Their pattern of life is known to you. You share their daily work stories, their relationship ups and downs, and even the minutiae that, at the time, seems unimportant you later realize was exceptionally intimate.

These friends are few and far between and should be cherished.

Once you lose the intimacy, you are left with the occasional hello. The big picture is put into focus through updates here and there. It is the difference between watching 30 seconds of highlights on ESPN versus watching the whole game. I believe this is called, “Keeping in Touch.”

Social media was created with the promise of allowing us to be close with people from around the world. And yes, it does give us that broad picture of some of the people in our giant friend circle. It picks and chooses stories giving us glimpses into the lives of all of these personas with an image here and there to really make it feel real. But it isn’t real or truthful. The general picture we get from the social media posts is just a persona. I often wonder what people must think of me if they just read a post here and there based on my Facebook or Twitter profile? What is the impression you get from me?

More dangerous is that these tiny updates become expectations, replacing actual conversations and intimate moments. Rather than listening to one another, we simply expect others to follow our thoughts on our pages, and sometimes we feel burdened by having to repeat something that we posted. “Just read my feed!” One of my most hated phrases is, “Didn’t you read the email?” Yeah, I read it, but is it so bad to actually use my voice to ask a question? I have been guilty of saying this as a teacher, I am sure. But I have tried to be much more open to repeating myself as often as needed, because hearing a person say something is much more real than reading an email or social media post.

We talk about different learning styles, and I think I am a social learner. I used to think I was a good reader, but I am pretty sure I am awful at it. I go too fast and miss little details. But when I talk to someone about what something says, I get it. I appreciate giving my students chances to cooperate in class. ESL training really taught me the power of this social structure in the classroom. How often must we rely on just ourselves to understand? Are we in a vacuum?

The worst possibility, however, is that we are misunderstood. Sometimes I fear responding to people’s posts because I am so often misunderstood. Sarcasm and humor just do not work well when typed in isolation. A smile or a wink can go a long way to sell irony or a fun idea.

So in this reflection in the darkness of Winter 2017, I encourage you all to talk to one another, and that includes me. Maybe during our mutual Christmas Breaks, we can touch base. One of the patterns that people notice about Americans is our relative insincerity… “Let’s keep in touch!” or “I’ll call you!” we say with a smile, knowing full well that we will not do these things. If there is one thing I try to do it is to maintain a certain sense of sincerity.

Now, some fun observations?


I love the Christmas Village in Riga’s Old Town. I have been through the market 5 or 6 times, and I cannot resist the hot mulled wine or Balsam drinks they serve. The little shops and vendors are wonderful, and, if you get the chance, make sure to get yourself a crepe. Incredible.

I think the dark of winter affects everyone. I notice my students getting smaller and quieter as the sun goes down by the end of the school day. They do not learn well in darkness, and everyone is just a bit tired. It is kind of cool to be caught up in this pattern of life. The weather here and everything is much more gradual than in Nebraska. There are no days when it is 60 and then -10. Here, it is always just around freezing. There have been some windy days, but nothing like the Midwest. We have had a few flurries, but the snow always seems to melt almost as fast as it falls. It is very beautiful while it lasts. Everyone is tired of the grayness.

Many people ask me about the weather, and I will repeat what the locals say. This pattern of relatively warm Decembers has been on the rise. I think that most people here do not doubt that global warming has had a direct and definite impact on the climate. They have become used to it not actually freezing until January and winter really beginning in February. I haven’t done the long term research to confirm or deny their claims, but you will hear it from almost any Latvian you ask. “It just doesn’t snow like it used to.”

I bought Latvian Scrabble. I have only played one game, but it was fun. There are 30 Latvian letters, and I do not know how to spell very many words. I think that if I played regularly, I would learn. I am currently taking Latvian language lessons. I was going to type some Latvian, but it is after 10 p.m., and that is when my brain just kind of stops working so well.


I would love to hear your thoughts on what the purpose of life is. I keep engaging people with this question. I had a nice talk with some Latvian teenagers who were aghast at the seemingly American drive to be happy no matter what the cost. As if happiness were enough. And if it isn’t happiness, then what is it? An accumulation? Good will? Good deeds? Progeny? How do you measure a life well lived?

Maybe it isn’t a question that needs to be answered, but it’s a good way to start 2018. I am hoping to write a Christmas letter at some point, but in the meantime, enjoy a random flurry of photos!

Maybe part of the meaning is just to live to see what Laima unveils when they show us their rejuvinated clock!


I saw Star Wars. It was okay.

You must have something to say...