Tag Archives: Christmas

I’m dreaming of a -4 degree Christmas

My family traveled to Maine to visit our extended family this year and we were treated to a white Christmas. We were treated to spinning car wheels, to literally digging our cars out of the driveway, to shambling through frigid snow to the beach, turning around early when our feet started to get frostbite.

Our holiday cheer involved hiding in the house from the cold. When we did go out, we enjoyed a series of mini-hydroplanes on the icy highway. When we drove more slowly we were nearly run over by an impatient tractor trailer.

Every move between indoors and outdoors took ten minutes of donning and doffing our coats and gloves. Thus, we did very little.

We got to spend time with beloved family members old and new. We cooked and ate hearty meals, played games, and watched movies in the warmth of each other’s company, and I’m glad we did.

Nevertheless, I don’t think I need another white Christmas for a decade.

Image Credit: http://www.westernplows.com/qbin/files/pro-plus-snowplow-tv-spot.jpg


That’s the twenty-ninth of December in layman’s terms. The day before the next to last day of the year. Ok, not really. In fact, it’s the plural of “antepenultima” which is a term in poetry referring to the syllable before the next to last syllable of a word. Let me explain the reason I would offer such a silly fake definition of an obscure word…

‘Twas the night before Antepenultimas. Dad, Alice, and I were discussing Christmas. Alice noted that Christmas is short for “Christ’s Mass.” There were many such masses dedicated to saints, Dad explained to us, holidays such as Michaelmas. I wondered what other ancient Christian holidays ended in “mas,” and so I looked it up. The result was utterly uninformative, but did lead to me making up a holiday for December 29th wherein ancient Christians celebrated St. Antepenulti, the patron saint of the day before the next to last day of the year. In addition, this led to a wonderful game one can play in the car or at home.

Allow me to demonstrate:

“What is the ancient Christian holiday celebrating the patron saint of movie theaters?”

Answer: Cinemas (be sure to pronounce the “mas” as in Christmas)

“What is the ancient Christian holiday celebrating the patron saint of bedclothes?”

Answer: Pajamas

“What is the ancient Christian holiday celebrating the patron saint of mid-sentence punctuation?”

Answer: Commas 

“What is the ancient Christian holiday that in modern day has become known as ‘Mother’s day?'”

Answer: Mamas

“What is the ancient Christian holiday celebrating the patron saint of large, curly-haired animals?”

Answer: Llamas

I played this with Alice and Dad. The mas list requires a little searching to find recognizable words among all the obscure medical terms, but was such a hit that Alice insisted we play it again with her mother Carol and brother Geoffrey. Let me say right here, Alice’s mother Carol is astounding at the mas game. Once she understood the rules, I don’t think she missed a single word.

For your convenience, here is a list of generally recognizable words that you can use for the mas game.

  • mamas
  • limas
  • pumas
  • comas
  • llamas
  • aromas
  • kormas (I didn’t know this one. Geoffrey asked it of Carol and she got it, though)
  • enemas
  • dogmas
  • commas
  • magmas
  • dramas
  • karmas
  • pajamas
  • stigmas
  • plasmas
  • schemas
  • enigmas
  • athsmas
  • panamas
  • cinemas
  • miasmas
  • traumas
  • diplomas
  • grandmas
  • dilemmas
  • dioramas
  • melanomas
  • charismas
  • panoramas
  • anathemas
  • penultimas
  • docudramas
  • emphysemas
  • melodramas
  • antepenultimas

Cthulhu Fruit and Musical Farmsteads

My mother encouraged me to indulge in impulse buys when I went shopping for the Christmas holiday, and so I came home with the following:


This is known as a “Buddha’s hand,” and it is mostly rind. Fortunately,  my mother is ever the improvisateur. She was making mulled wine, and decided that she would take advantage of the buddha hand’s best feature, its outrageous shape, and use it as a garnish as our contribution to a friend’s Christmas Eve party.  It didn’t emit light when cooked, despite what the photograph may suggest.buddha-hand-in-mulled-wine

That evening, my cousin Eddie contacted me with a list of games that he wanted to try during the Munk Christmas party, and I was eager to encourage him. We had two of the games on his list: Pandemic, a game about saving the world from various diseases, and Agricola, a game about running a farm.

The next day was a typical Christmas in North Carolina, green, blue, brown, everything but white. The weather that in the evening calls for a light jacket. My father’s first action upon arrival was to set up an Agricola game. Eddie, Dad, Eliza, Raymond on a team with KeShaun, and I each started a farm.

(From left) Eddie, Eliza, Tom, Carson and Raymond play Agricola

This was no ordinary game of Agricola, though. In order to manage a game demanding such commitment with so many distractions, Dad employed his trademarked technique: shared farmsteads that can pass between owners on the fly. First, he invited my sister Rachel to help run my farm, but she decided that was not likely to end well, so she left to socialize. KeShaun got bored and left, then came back. My uncle Don came with not one but two sports tournaments and repeatedly demanded that people join until he managed to pull his son Raymond away, at which point Dad had to take over their farmstead. Fortunately we’d gotten Carson involved by this time, so he ran Dad’s old farmstead. To his credit, Eddie repeatedly rebuffed and fought with his father Don rather than leave the game he had asked us to bring. Eliza vanished for a while and we recruited Eddie’s friend Drew to briefly run her farm before she returned again. Notice how even with all this chaos, we made it through a whole game. That in and of itself was an achievement.

Mom never did manage to get a tree smaller than ours. Her enormous tree still dominates our living room at the time of writing

Craft Brunch

I managed to get well enough from my flu to come to a craft brunch at my parents’ house. It featured culinary creations in their usual display of radical acceptance. They live their short lives with defiant, sugary smiles that belie their inevitable violent ends. Let me share some quotes to recognize these brave pastries and candies, because I think we have a lot to learn from them.

“With no mouth or arms or legs I merely stand still, bright red and staring through my tiny black eyes. I am thankful for these eyes, through which I may see the world during my brief stay upon it.”

“My beard is made of sliced bananas and my marshmallow-blueberry eyes point in different directions so that for my temporary existence I will never see clearly. Nevertheless, I am at peace with what I have been given.”

“I fear my body has not the constitution to survive this cocoa bath, for it is much too hot. My pretzel-stick arms have no joints with which I can push myself out, so I instead change my perspective. Soon I will join with the cocoa. It welcomes me into its embrace.”

This blog post is dedicated to my aunt and uncle.

The crafts are the work of my mother, my sister, and my aunt.

Junk Redistribution Systems

Christmas is a time where we all come together with our friends and loved ones to share each other’s company, remind ourselves what’s important in life, and distribute junk. Distribution of junk is part and parcel with Christmas. In it is bound up the joy of sharing and the familial desire to show one’s love by providing for one’s loved ones. The junk itself is commonly understood to be less important than the act of distribution itself. As they say, ’tis better to distribute junk than to have junk distributed to one’s self.

The conventional method for distribution of junk is to purchase it from an organization that manufactures junk and then give it to a friend or loved one as a surprise. This method forms such an important part of Christmas that in the United States alone there are hundreds of organizations dedicated to it. Junk distribution is so important to these companies that some of them even run a loss for most of the year only to make it all up at Christmas.

Is this the best way of distributing junk? Certainly the element of surprise is valuable, as is the joy of receiving just the right junk for you. To know someone has thought carefully enough about you to give you the perfect gift can be a wonderful feeling. There’s nothing so terrible about a mismatched gift, either, so overall it’s great, right? Just the act of opening a present can be fun, even if it turns out just to be junk.

After Christmas, however, the warm glow wears off, and what happens to distributed junk? What percentage of the junk you receive would you say are such good matches that you cherish them for the rest of your life? Let’s make a generous estimate and say that 75% of gifts are pleasant to receive in the first place, and that 10% of gifts you receive remain always valuable to you, will never become junk.

So there are two questions, really. Is there a better way to give gifts to increase the percentage of gifts that get matched to an ideal recipient, and what should we do with leftover gifts, gifts that are no longer of value, or never were of value, to their recipients? The simplest solution is to lift the ban on re-gifting, or as I would like to rename it, junk redistribution. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and if we can get the excitement of distributing junk using junk that’s already been distributed, well, that’s only a win, isn’t it?

So, to review, we’ve introduced the concept of junk distribution, an umbrella concept referring to all forms of giving and receiving items of varying worth among friends and family. The most common form of junk distribution is found at Christmas, where each member of a group gives his or her hard-earned money to finance the fashioning of raw materials into junk and then gives the resulting junk to other members of the group. Because of strict rules on the repurposing of gifted junk, much of the distributed junk ends up after some amount of time surreptitiously placed in garbage bins, and the next year the cycle continues.

Now I will present some alternatives methods of junk distribution. The first is already rather well-known – the white elephant gift exchange, henceforth known as a white elephant. In white elephant, one wraps one’s pre-existing junk in wrapping paper and places it in a pile in the center of the room. Each person who brings a present selects a different one at random from the center pile or steals one from a gift that has already been unwrapped. In this way, we can combine the mystery and surprise of secret gifts with a certain amount of self-selection that improves the matching of gifts to people. Wrapping it all in a silly game allows people to let go of the expectation of fancy presents, so there’s no concern with reusing old gifts laying around the house.

The next alternative is one of my own invention: the community stocking. The community stocking is even simpler than white elephant, and is aimed mainly at satisfying children with the forgotten junk of other children. It is inspired by another American tradition: Halloween candy. I used to think I would never miss Halloween candy because as an adult, I can buy whatever candy I want. However, as I learned when my co-worker dropped off the extra candy from his children’s last halloween plunder, no experience compares with rummaging through all the bit-o-honeys and smarties to find the one hidden box of nerds. The community stocking presents the opportunity to experience the joy of rummaging during Christmas as well as Halloween, and it’s dirt cheap and dead easy.  Take a bag and let everyone place whatever child-appropriate junk they have in it. Then children may line up and each select something from the bag. If the bag is full of things no one wants, that makes it all the more exciting for each person to find that one perfect gift for him or her hidden among all the useless junk.

My extended family doesn’t give gifts to adults anymore. With white elephant and the community stocking we can distribute junk and spread Christmas cheer with a fraction of the waste, and let everyone, even those without disposable income, join in on the fun.

Cover image credit: catpix.com

My Cousins Once Removed

Ok, I’ve separated the ChefScript out into its own blog. Now I can take some of the pressure off of this blog to be consistently interesting to strangers. I’m going back to writing about whatever I happen to think of, and some things may interest the wider world while others won’t.

As many of you probably know, Christmas happened not five days ago. I probably don’t need to inform you that the day before Christmas is Christmas Eve. The day before that my mother asked me to take some time to look after three of my first cousins once removed. One is technically closer to a step first cousin once removed, but on my father’s side family is more defined by who shows up at the gatherings than any kind of blood relation. I feel no less close to her than to any of my other cousins. Just as a reminder for those of you less familiar with advanced familial relationships, a “first cousin once removed” is the child of a first cousin or the first cousin of a parent. So, if I have a first cousin Frances, her son Martin is my first cousin. If I have a father Elizabeth with a first cousin Xander, Xander is my first cousin once removed. These first cousins once removed are all the children of my cousins, and they are three beautiful girls, ranging in age from eight to fourteen.

I was mostly thinking of my work when my mother asked me to take care of these three and I only knew one of them very well, so I was at first reticent to dedicate my time to them. Eventually out of a sense of obligation I conceded, and once they arrived it took very little time for me to realize what a terrific decision I’d made. Here are some of the highlights.

When we were in the car, one girl wanted to listen to the radio. My sister turned on the radio and asked what station. She couldn’t think of it, so the eight-year-old on my lap said she knew a station she wanted to listen to. My sister asked what the number was, and she said “Q-U-E-I-T dot seven.” Most of the occupants of the car agreed that, although she misspelled it, it was a clever way to say she wanted not to have the radio on.

When I told everyone that everyone would be going to the Christmas Eve service, and the question was whether they wanted to go to the music beforehand, the eight-year-old raised her hand to her face and looked at it quizzically. I didn’t understand what she was doing until she said “before… hand?” Then she told me “You talk all ‘Sciencey.’ Nobody talks like that but tall, beanish people.” I still haven’t figured out what she meant by “beanish.”

My family is taking care of some large, white rats that we like to let climb around on us. The youngest child let us put a rat on her, but neither of the elder two would. The middle child was willing to touch it just to say she did, but the eldest refused outright even the slightest contact.

After some time in my company, it got to the point that I could say almost anything and all three children would erupt in laughter. My sister was also not immune to this treatment. She had a little giggle that everyone wanted to repeat to much merriment. Once I stood and hit my head on a low-hanging lamp. That nearly did them in. I look forward to seeing more of these cousins of mine in the future.