God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

We’re approaching the end of the holiday week, with family dinners and gift exchanges already a distant memory and New Year’s Eve merriment on the horizon. A rarely mentioned highlight of this time is that for many of us, work slows down. The luckiest are off completely, either because their organizations are closed or they’ve taken vacation time. And except for retailers and others with year-end pressures, little is missed by being off this week.

I couldn’t help but think of this when hearing the Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” over the past month. “Rest” opens the song and “Tidings of comfort and joy” are repeated in the refrain, which has been sung for nearly 200 years. Not a bad message.

Slowing down a bit at year end gives us the freedom to better enjoy the holidays and the people we celebrate with. Yes, I guess that’s the “tidings of comfort and joy” bit. And a little time away from our daily routine translates to some “rest.”

However you’re spending your time, wishing you rest, comfort and joy.

Happy holidays!

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Go Pokemon Go!

There is nothing like the tempting allure of a cultural phenomena. Whether a major sporting event, celebrity gossip or the latest fad, you can’t help but pay attention. Over the past two weeks, Pokemon Go has swept the country – and many other international locations where it’s being released on a staggered basis. Initially, the references were infrequent but within days, every news outlet was filled with stories and videos of Go gangs chasing rare Pokemons.

I downloaded the app last weekend, but poor timing, as it coincided with a visit to a remote area of Maine. Without PokeStops you can’t access free Pokeballs, so it was impossible to catch Pokemon. I had better luck when I got back to the city and multitasked playing Go while running errands. PokeStops were everywhere, and I caught a few Pokemon while waiting in line to pay at CVS. And it wasn’t just me. Summer brings tourists to town and as I continued on my errands, I passed a visiting family chatting in German. The only word I understood was their continual reference to “Pokemon.”

Apparently, there have been over 15 million downloads so far, with users spending more time playing the game than browsing Facebook or Snapchat. So why Pokemon Go?

1. Augmented reality is the critical hook. This is the first opportunity to readily engage with the technology we’ve been hearing about — and it’s pretty cool.
2. Downloads are free so no cost to participate.
3. Unlike most games, you can play alone or with friends.
4. No real skill is involved so anyone with a smartphone can play.
5. Succeeding is easy. With limited effort or playing time, you quickly advance levels and earn “rights” to join a team and set your Pokemon to spar at the Gym.
6. Nostalgia is powerful. Many remember the Pokemon trading cards or cartoon series.
7. And importantly, you can join the water cooler or social media chatter because you’re an insider.

Whether Pokemon Go will be more than a summer fad is hard to know. My guess is that hard-core gamers will remain loyal, while most samplers will find another distraction come fall. Regardless, these events are a great reminder of the power of mass appeal. Hats off to Nintendo for continually figuring out how to stay relevant. And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited to see what else comes along that uses augmented reality.

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Smile for the Camera

I’ve been spring cleaning lately; not because it’s the season, but we’ve decided to sell our home and move closer to the city. Purging drawers of kids-meal toys and soccer tournament patches is straightforward, along with packing long-forgotten clothing for the donation bins. What has taken far longer is wading through my daughters’ stacks of photos (and which were somehow always printed in double quantities!). Thanks to these treasures, I’ve revisited their early years, ranging from school trips to family holidays. It’s been a happy trip down memory lane.

However, this look-back also clarified what we memorialize. We amateur photographers only chronicle happy moments — whether capturing ourselves as tourists, playoff champions or birthday celebrants — we like to smile for the camera. There may be no better proof that we are optimists than our tendency to happily pose for group photos.

I’m not disappointed by the absence of more unfortunate images, as events that were hard will never be forgotten. It just made me think a little about our inclination to filter our camera lens a bit.

Today, most photo images are digital, which means we’re viewing them online or if you’re highly organized, perhaps in a digital frame slide show. Yet as I cleaned drawers and closets, I couldn’t help but feel a bit more engaged as I had to physically touch and sort through those printed images. Was it simply nostalgia or something more? I don’t have a ready answer but I will admit to having saved 80% of those pictures. Yes, they will move with us and maybe someday get sorted and even organized into an album or digitized for eternity. And on those occasional moments that we’re inclined to look at them, I’ll be happy to focus on the good times.

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You’ve Got that Familiar Feeling…

Is there a more elegant welcome to spring than blossoming trees and shrubbery? Whether it’s the cherry blossoms or dogwoods, those canopies are just begging us to step outdoors to enjoy the warming weather. In our yard, we have a lone – but substantial – lilac bush that climbs over our deck and peeks through the window overlooking the kitchen sink. We can’t take any credit for the perfect positioning, as it was here when we bought this house. The best part about it, however, is what it rekindles. My early childhood home in Oregon (yes, we lived there before it became trendy) had a wall of lilac bushes that may have been the extent of our landscaping. And just one look at our blossoms each spring takes me back to my early self, marching around our backyard and pulling on those lilac branches to smell the flowers up close.

Nostalgia is an interesting emotion. It doesn’t necessarily suggest reliving a moment; it just lets you step into a memory. For me, it’s typically something simple that triggers that feeling. It comes unexpectedly or in anticipatory moments, such as vacationing at the same destination or attending a school or family reunion. It’s an affirmation of what we experienced and a reminder of how far we’ve come.

I think I finally get what Yogi Berra meant when he famously quipped “It’s deja vu all over again.” Nostalgia isn’t a once and done experience. For me, as I enjoy those lilacs over the next few weeks and remember my Oregon youth, it recycles what I’ve thought about each May we’ve lived in this home. Maybe this year I’ll even cut a few branches and bring those memories indoors. Lilacs

Brand X(tinct): Remembering CDs

On a recent Friday afternoon, I found myself trapped in my car creeping along with weekend-getaway traffic. If I’m driving alone, I can typically entertain myself with NPR programming and singalong radio. However, NPR was pretty stuck on covering the prior evening’s Republican presidential debate and “Shut Up and Dance” was seemingly the only song on most stations. So I decided to do something I hadn’t done in years – listen the the CDs I threw in the car when I bought it five years ago.

I don’t know about you, but Spotify is the only way I consume music. CDs seem so quaint, but has it really been that long ago since they were our main music source? Given that most of these CDs were personal playlists, I had no idea what I was in for. My musical surprises included my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding playlist, lots of U2 and workout pop tunes. Slipping the CDs into the player and scrolling through the recordings filled me with nostalgia, not just for the memories associated with each song, but for the reminder of the evolving styles of music listening over the years.

From boom boxes to 5-foot tall speakers, to CDs and walkmens, iPods, and now streaming audio, it’s all about the love of the song. And sing along I did — and eventually, I drove out of the traffic jam and got to my weekend destination — and plugged in my Beats Pill wireless for more music.

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