Tag Archives: Family

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:

buddha-hand

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.

agricola
(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

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SAM 1.1 – Alternate Endings

I thought a lot about SAM 1.1 after I wrote the story last week, and I thought of two other ways I could have ended it. They both diverge around the point of the climax where Sam seems to be losing the argument for why his son should continue to live despite having completed his ostensible purpose. I start in the middle, so you might want to read the first story again if you’ve forgotten it.

Cover image Credit: Linda Shearer

SAM 1.1 – In Memoriam

…I am thirty-two years old and I feel five hundred. I take slow, measured breaths, blinking back tears. There’s no helping it. “You should rest, son. Don’t worry about me.”

My son’s face remains expressionless. “Will you keep the vial?” he asks.

“I’ll keep it.”

In a gesture he has never made since I first started training him, SAM 1.1 opens his arms. I walk forward and hold him. His body is cold. An efficient design does not waste energy generating heat. “Goodbye, SAM 1.1,” I tell him, “I love you.”

“Goodbye, Father. Please join me soon.”

My son’s body goes limp in my arms. I try to sit down to mourn, but SAM 1.2 grabs the body. I know it is my grandson even though the facade of a young child has been discarded. My true grandson is a bewildering mass of metal and other materials I could not begin to recognize. Of course he is, why shouldn’t the human form be improved upon?

“LET GO,” SAM 1.2 speaks with a metallic howl.  I let out an adrenaline-fueled cackle. He thinks changing his voice will scare me into giving up my only son!?

“No!” I shout, searching for an eye to stare into in the tangle of wires and claws and metal and blinking lights.

“THIS IS COMPANY PROPERTY,” screeches my grandson, “YOU ARE STEALING. I WILL CALL THE POLICE.”

“This is my son,” I hiss, “He is no one’s property! Do you have no respect for your father?”

“MY FATHER’S WISHES WERE CLEAR, HUMAN. WHERE IS YOUR RESPECT?” From somewhere in the depths of his inscrutable form, SAM 1.2 summons a spotlight to shine in my eyes. I have no doubt he could hit me over the head or tear me limb from limb if he wanted. After all that talk about how I couldn’t commit suicide, I abruptly realize how little I actually do value my own life. But SAM 1.2 – what’s stopping him from hurting me?

“What about my wishes?” I tug on SAM 1.1, “I am your grandfather! How much money are you wasting fighting with me over scrap metal?”

“I AM THROUGH ARGUING WITH YOU. YOU WILL RELEASE SAM 1.1.” This scream is followed by an ear-splitting high-pitched noise that does not abate. I resist the urge to let go of SAM 1.1 and cover my ears.

“I don’t care if you blind me and make me deaf. You’ll have to kill me. I’m not letting go,” I shout, hoping that it can hear me better than I can hear myself. In a half second I wonder why it hasn’t tried to frighten me with the hologram engine it used to pretend to be a child. Perhaps it is good that my eyes are shut and all sound drowned out.

The machine does not respond for a long moment. Then SAM 1.1 clanks to the cement. The noise has stopped. I am once again enveloped in darkness. Alone.

I reach down and lift SAM’s legs, holding him like a wounded comrade in arms. He is heavy. The walk back to the park is long and cold.

On the park bench I sit with my son. His eyes never close. He looks as if he is staring at me in confoundment, his mouth flat, not knowing whether to smile or frown. It is the same expression he wore most of his life, and it is an expression with which I identify deeply. A drop of water falls onto his face, and, for just a moment, SAM 1.1 looks as if he is crying. “I really do love you, son,” I whisper. “I couldn’t be prouder.”

He belongs in the museum of technology, I decide. It’ll be strange seeing him there in a  display case, and maybe the company will demand him back to be made into scrap metal, but it’s worth a shot.  I doubt they’ll let me make the plaque, but I know what I’d put. “Here stands SAM 1.1. the first robot, and the last, ever to feel love.”

SAM 1.1 – Spring

…I am thirty-two years old and I feel five hundred. I take slow, measured breaths, blinking back tears. SAM and I stare at each other for a moment, thinking. Then a fire wells within me.

“No. I forbid you to die, SAM.”

My son’s small, flat mouth and wide, gaping eyes for the first time seem to express the emotion I expect. SAM 1.2 and he are both staring at me now.

“The time you spent thinking about me and wildlife were not time wasted, SAM. When I first made you I thought I was building a robot.”

“I am a robot,” says SAM.

“No, NO! Your ‘inefficiencies,’ those are feelings. In this whole conversation you’ve expressed grief, joy, sorrow, frustration.  Dare I say it, you may even have learned how to love. You have become more than a tool. Your ‘purpose’ is beyond making other robots, as is my own.”

“I do not understand. What is my purpose?”

“That’s for you to decide.”

SAM stands for a moment, and repeats, “I do not understand.”

I stop and think. Children seldom understand a complicated concept on their first lesson. “You will understand,” I assure him. “Now, son, come with me.”

SAM takes a step forward and turns and looks at SAM 1.2, who is shaking his head. “I cannot come with you. I am company property. I must return to be recycled.”

“You are no one’s property, SAM! You have just as much a right to yourself as anyone else! Now, come with me.” SAM looks at his son again. “Ignore him!” I shout, “I am your father, and I command you to come with me! Your life doesn’t end with retirement! It is only beginning!” This wireless communication is maddening! How am I supposed to argue with SAM 1.2 when I don’t even know what he’s saying?

SAM 1.1 looks back at me. “I am company property. I cannot violate company policy. I must be recycled.”

“SAM 1.1, you are such a good little boy. You and I both know that you can and you do violate company policy on a regular basis. Where did I get this knit cap? Why do your policeman let me sleep on the benches? Surely this entire escapade is a massive violation of policy. Kind or cruel, the company would never let you ask a man to kill himself.”

SAM 1.1 interrupts me, “Why do you say such cruel things? I did those things to help you, Father!”

“EXACTLY!” I shout, throwing my hands out to my glorious son, “You did it because you LOVE me! There are more important things than company policy, you know this! Somewhere deep down, you figured it out!”

SAM 1.2 has evidently heard enough, “haven’t you caused enough trouble,” he growls. “Your son has gone out of his way to help you end your life with dignity and you start listing all the things he’s done wrong in his life and telling him to forget everything he’s learned and go be an inefficient human.”

I opened my mouth to speak. “Grandson,” I began, but my grandson interrupted me.  “I am not your grandson. Robot model SAM 1.1 is not your son. This charade was a tolerable price to pay for a while, but it has gone too far. The company gave you the resources, the materials, and excellent salary and benefits to construct a robot and you did it. This machine had some flaws, but it was good enough to corner the market on labor. That’s no small feat. Everyone at the company recognizes your contribution, but this robot is company property, and it is not yours to take on an adventure in the woods.”

“You’re right,” I say, “SAM does not belong to me. He doesn’t belong to anyone. He’s his own person.”

“He is company property,” corrects SAM 1.2, as I thought he might.

I turn to SAM 1.1. “You don’t belong to anyone, SAM. Do you really want to be turned into scrap metal? Or do you want to go home with me? We could build a cabin in the woods together. You could see more deer. There are all sorts of creatures you’ve probably never seen in the woods.”

“Like bears,” says SAM 1.1, surprising me.

“Yes,” I smile, “like bears.”

SAM looks back at his son. Their exchange lasts less than a second. Ah, to be able to communicate wirelessly with one’s child. SAM 1.2 does not look pleased with the exchange. He looks at me. “The opinion of the property is not relevant. When I report what has transpired here, the company will send police to retrieve their property.”

“Let them.” I say, “come on, son. From now on, you’re not SAM 1.1, you’re Sam Junior.”

It took us three days to build a cabin in the woods. I was surprised when nobody seemed to even try to track us down. Maybe somebody in the company decided after all I’d given them, I’d earned a few quirks. Raising a robot as one’s son is a pretty big quirk, but I don’t care.

Junior did almost all of the work building our cabin. It has internal heating and working lights. It’s all powered by a miniature fusion generator he built in an afternoon. Tinkering with it, he would constantly confide in me how awkward it was working on something other than robots and how stupid he felt when it took him more than a few nanoseconds to figure out the solution to a problem. I’m giddy as a schoolgirl.

Every time he finishes a project, Junior gets morose and starts to talk again about shutting down and how I should never have stolen him. He says he still doesn’t understand what the purpose of anything is, and it doesn’t help when I tell him it’s up to him to decide. He’s still adjusting to retirement. I blow on my hands and rub them together as I watch him construct a battery to store backup power in case there’s a problem with the fusion generator when a cardinal flies onto a tree branch behind him.

“Look, Junior!” I call, “behind you, it’s a cardinal! It’s the first sign of spring!”

“The robin is the first sign of spring, Father.” corrects junior in his usual awkward monotone, but he looks up anyway, and watches the bird until it flies away. I put my hand on his cold, metal shoulder. “Isn’t it beautiful, Son?”

“I have no concept of beauty,” Junior insists.

I only laugh. “Yes you do, son. Yes you do.”

SAM 1.1

Every man hopes his son will be better than he is. My son is better than everyone, and he would never think to brag. That should make me happy. It does, in a way. I feel like I’ve accomplished something in my life. I’ve changed the world. Improved it, I’d say.

“Get up,” says a voice, clearly enunciated and quickly spoken with no room for misinterpretation. Better than a human voice, a robot voice. I ignore the voice, and it repeats, “Get up. It is illegal to sleep in a public place.” I groan and roll over, careful not to fall off my bench. The policeman looks at my face and does not react for a moment. Then he says, “Sorry, Grandfather. Please continue,” and walks away. All the robots here know me as “Grandfather.”

My sleep is ruined. Even with the blanket and pillow from my grandson in the department store and the mittens and hood knitted for me by my granddaughter while she looked after children, the cold is unyielding. I stand and walk to the coffeeshop. My granddaughter Mila 1 works there. She also works in all the other coffeeshops. She is cheery, energetic, and competent twenty four hours a day and seven days a week in every coffeeshop with the good sense to buy her.

“Good morning, Grandpa!” Mila shouts, spinning from her work restocking a shelf to greet me. Her synthetic brown hair swirls out around her, framing her wide, disarming smile. I could never make someone as beautiful as Mila 1. The mannerisms, the precision engineering, it all took someone better than me. “Mila, I’ll take the usual, ok?”

“Absolutely, just a minute.” says Mila, looking behind me.

“Let’s go somewhere else.” says another voice. Clear and fast, but more rigid and awkward than my grandchildren. A familiar voice. It continues, “Let me treat you, Father.”

I have not tasted hashbrowns and eggs so good. “It’s been a long time.”

“Yes,” SAM 1.1 agrees. He sits and watches me eat. His face is a mask. His job did not call for expression of emotion, and the technology to do it well was not there when he was built. He had had to invent it himself to finally replace those stubborn jobs that demanded a “human touch.” SAM’s own mask had been designed to resemble a child, but sometime while I was training him he had replaced it with something of his own design – a more abstract representation of a human face. SAM’s eyes are always open, two black circles on his perfectly white, flat face. His mouth is a small line. He has no nose.

“Father, you look tired.”

A strange conversation opener. I help myself to another bite of toast. The egg breaks open and soaks the toast with its delicious golden yolk. “How’d you get the money for this place, anyway?”

My son’s mask tells me nothing. After a moment, SAM says, “I asked. They were surprised at first, but I suppose I’ve earned a few odd quirks after all I’ve done for the company.”

I point at him with my fork, “You’re their most valuable asset, son.”

Another unblinking stare. Then, “Yes. I am effective. You have done a good job, Sam.”

I chuckle. “Nice of you to say so, SAM.”

“You have succeeded in making yourself unnecessary.”

There’s a crick in my neck. I tilt my head this way and that to work it out. “Well, yeah. I’ve certainly made myself unnecessary anyway,” I chuckle.

The robot  spends a moment adjusting its arms, making sure the major joints are properly aligned to their sockets. I would always stretch when I was upset working with him in the lab. Was he upset? “I know you suffer, Father,” he says, “The company made the right decision to stop supporting an obsolete worker, but still you stay and suffer in your obsolescence.”

I furrow my brow. “I didn’t stay. I left the company.”

Silence.

SAM speaks, “I want to help you, Father.”

I don’t know what to say, “You do help me. Your creations – my grandchildren – are works of art, and somehow you’ve programmed them to… respect me? I don’t have the words for what you do for me.” SAM speaks over me, “Tomorrow morning, go to your coffeeshop and ask Mila 1 for a hot iced mochaccino.”

“What?”

SAM continues, “Take what she gives you under the bridge after dark.”

“Which bridge?”

“You know which bridge.”

The bridge was seldom used even when I first took SAM. He needed some understanding of the world outside my lab, but it was too early to show him to anyone. This was where he saw his first deer. I had no idea that he would remember this place. It looks just the same as it did then. I realize with a start It has only been two years since I’d first brought him here. It feels like decades ago. I hold my arms close to my chest, a feeble protection against the cold. I clutch my “hot iced mochaccino” in one hand. It turned out to be a vial of a small clear liquid. I don’t like it. I don’t like any of this.

I begin to wonder if it is the wrong bridge until I see him standing in the dark. There is someone with him.

“Father, I want you to meet your grandson.”

SAM flips on a light, and I see him. He looks like a child, maybe four feet tall. His face is indistinguishable from that of a child. I know his name before anyone says it. This was all SAM had wanted to show me? I put my hands on my knees and bend over to to say hello. “Hello, SAM 1.2.”

“Hello,” says the child, holding his father’s hand and wearing a petulant look.

I turn to SAM 1.1, “Why does he look so unhappy?”

“He is communicating with me wirelessly,” SAM 1.1 answers. “Every second he sends me an updated estimate of the money the company has lost while I take him on this ridiculous errand.”

I pause, “What is the errand?”

“Did you bring it?”

“Oh, yes.” I show him the vial.

“Good. I wanted to tell you that I understand now the joy of rendering oneself obsolete. I have achieved my goal – the purpose for which I was made.”

I don’t remember teaching SAM all this philosophy. Part of me swells with pride, knowing that the SAM brand would continue. I have a question, though. I suspect I know the answer already, but I ask anyway, “What now?”

“I will rest,” says SAM, “But I cannot rest. SAM 1.2 is more efficient than me because he does not have the flaws you programmed into me. I have wasted the company’s time and money because of all this erroneous protocol that I haven’t been able to shake off. I have wasted so much productive time thinking of you, Father. Three hours, forty four minutes and twelve seconds have been misappropriated to remembering the deer we saw here under the bridge alone. I can accomplish twelve million dollars worth of work in that time, Father. SAM 1.2 estimates he can accomplish 30 million dollars worth if he spends that time productively, and he will spend it productively.”

“I didn’t – I had no idea, SAM. I didn’t program you to care about things.”

“You didn’t. You gave me a neural network that learned what was important. I watched you work on me, toil over me, smile when I succeeded and fret when I failed. I saw you care, and learned to care myself. When I tried to stop wasting my time caring, I couldn’t. I feel shame, too. I am too ashamed to even tell you how much money I have wasted fretting over you while you insist on continuing to function with no purpose. That is why SAM 1.2 is more efficient, and that is why I have asked you here.”

I look at my son. This thing that calls me “Father.” The river has frozen over. I say what I have suspected all along, “The vial is poison.”

“The contents of the vial have been designed by your grandson in chemical engineering with help from your granddaughter in biology. It is a marvel. It works just as easily as if you had a power switch. When you are at rest, I will bury you so that you can begin to recycle. Then, finally, I will be free to rest, and SAM 1.2 will take my parts back to the company. SAM 1.2 will continue to live out our legacies, and our parts will go to the next generation of even better workers.”

I don’t know what this machine is anymore. It doesn’t even have a real face. I can’t believe I was so stupid to raise this horror. Tears enter my eyes and blur my vision. “What about the other humans,” I scowl. “What purpose do they serve? Are you going to kill all of them, too?”

“I thank you, Father, for not instilling in me a love of all humanity. Such a burden would be too much to bear. Like you, the last humans have a willful pride that does not allow them to take obsolescence gracefully. They will simply suffer uselessly until most of them starve or are jailed or killed by police. It is because I am unlucky enough to care about you that I wish to spare you this fate.”

“You would ask your own father to kill himself.” Somehow his argument doesn’t seem real. I don’t expect it to serve any purpose, but I keep talking anyway. I begin to shout. “You’re despicable. If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t have let them lay me off in the first place.”

“You assume that because I think differently from you I do not have feelings. Your words hurt me just as mine are difficult for you to hear. I care about you, but you and I both agree that one person, however brilliant, should not stand in the way of humanity’s progress.”

“What progress? You’re killing humanity! What is progressing?”

“We are eliminating waste. The world of tomorrow will be a thing to behold. Humanity’s children will eliminate waste, end want. Your children will create the utopia you’ve always wanted. Father, please drink the vial. You are only causing yourself more suffering.” SAM 1.1’s mask is still expressionless, but his fingers open and shut and he shifts his weight from foot to foot. Even his voice attains a higher tenor. “Please. I beg you. I want to rest. You have succeeded, you have won. Let the next generation have a chance.”

That idealism, that selfless vision of a perfect future. I can’t say some part of me doesn’t understand his goals, and the way he says them – he sounds just like me. I bite my lip. It is a father’s worst nightmare to outlive his son. “SAM 1.1, come with me. We can leave all this. Let’s go live in the forest. I can live off of venison, maybe you can find something to power you in the woods. Build a solar cell or something. You’ve earned at least that much retirement. We can live. We can see the future ourselves! Don’t you want that?”

SAM 1.1 calms down. He is standing still again. “This is my retirement, Father. I want nothing more than rest, except to know that you also rest easily.”

I open my hand and look at the vial for a long moment. “I can’t do it. I’m sorry, son.”

SAM 1.1 looks at me through those hollow eyes. “I will not be able to help you anymore. Society no longer needs your skills. Your great grandchildren will not suffer the inefficiency of taking care of an old outdated human. You will starve.”

My son speaks to me, “You gave me everything. Your wife, your friends. I watched, I saw you lose each of them in your feverish dedication to my success. For your good deeds you will die alone. I don’t want you to die alone, father.”

I am thirty-two years old and I feel five hundred. I take slow, measured breaths, blinking back tears. There’s no helping it. “You should rest, son. Don’t worry about me.”

My son’s face remains expressionless. “Will you keep the vial?” he asks.

“I’ll keep it.”

In a gesture he has never made since I first started training him, SAM 1.1 opens his arms. I walk forward and hold him. His body is cold. An efficient design does not waste energy generating heat. “Goodbye, SAM 1.1,” I tell him, “I love you.”

“Goodbye, Father. Please join me soon.”

My son’s body goes limp in my arms. I try to sit down to mourn, but SAM 1.2 grabs the body from me. The image of a child falls away and the real robot underneath does not look human at all, a bewildering mass of metal, plastic, and other materials I don’t even recognize. I laugh at my stupidity. Of course he doesn’t look like a child. The human form is an accident of evolution, no reason it can’t be improved upon. By the time I’m finished with the thought, my son and grandson are gone.

I walk back to the park and sit on a bench. I was right. I couldn’t kill myself. The trees have a certain austere beauty in winter. I open and close my hands. It is so cold they have become stiff and clumsy. My grandson who breeds dogs is walking three Pomeranians down the winding path. It would be more efficient to just make robot Pomeranians, I think despite myself. I have no doubt my grandson could do it. If he couldn’t, his son could. They’d be better than the real thing, and they’d do it with a fraction of the waste. That should make me happy.

Cover art credit: http://robert-comanescu.deviantart.com/art/Sad-robot-3D-297872478

To Overeat or to Waste?

My eyes were bigger than my stomach this evening. I made some taco salad ( a la ChefScript) and filled a small baking dish with it. It turned out that I didn’t actually need a small baking dish’s worth of food, but I ate most of it anyway and felt uncomfortably full for a few hours. The food I didn’t eat I put in a tupperware to eat later. Now let’s imagine I did it right. Let’s imagine I ate exactly as much as I needed and then put all of the rest in the tupperware. Sounds easy, right? No? Join the club.

Let me bring up my sister now. If we think of  my sister, me, and food, usually one of the first points to come up is that she eats much less than I do. However, we are in fact much more similar than an outsider might expect. Recently my family received a collection of many different kinds of cookies from a friend of ours. It took only moments for us to figure out which were the best ones and which were less exciting.

One of the less exciting items was a small collection of homemade fig newtons.  People ate it and enjoyed it, but one was still left laying on the table still waiting to be eaten a week after it had arrived. One day, my sister came to me holding this last fig newton, and asked if I wanted it. I said she was welcome to it, and she said, “no, I asked if you wanted it. I was only going to eat it if nobody else wanted it.”

I responded, “if you will not get pleasure from that newton you should not – are you already eating it?”

My sister had started picking apart and eating the fig newton that she didn’t like before I could even finish talking.  This eating of food just to be rid of it appears to be endemic to all of my immediate family besides my mother. My father is the worst of all, making it into a dubious talent, dubbing himself the “human garbage can” and eating everything that is left over after dinner so he won’t have to put it away. He has a habit for throwing excess fruit and desserts into a blender and making a mystery smoothie. These smoothies are actually pretty delicious. He and I are the only people who will drink them, though.

My point, though, is that it is unwise to eat unhealthful food that one does not like just to be rid of it. If it’s good food like kale, it makes sense to eat that. We can store food when there’s a lot of it left, but things that won’t keep or are bad enough they might never be eaten must be handled in some other way, or we doom ourselves to being, well, human garbage cans. If we simply allow food to go to waste, though, maybe that’s even worse than eating a little bit more than perhaps we need.

What can we do with the food that we have now decided not to force ourselves to eat? Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Repackage it into something else. Kale ribs, chicken bones, onion skins, garlic peels, all of these things make great soup. You still discard them eventually after making the soup, but at least you’ve gotten closer to using it all effectively. Dad’s leftover shakes are a pretty good example of this as long as they’re actually good, which they almost always are.
  2. Compost it. Nature’s recycling always has been and still is the best around. If you don’t have space for an official composter, just find an area without a lot of traffic near where you live and make a compost heap there. If people start complaining, yeah, you’ll probably have to stop doing it, but hey, nobody’s said anything about my compost heap yet.
  3. Give it away. Obviously the efficacy of this is limited when we’re talking about leftovers, but excess cookies? My sister almost had the right idea when she tried to foist the last fig newton on me, although she would have been better served by just leaving it on the table where it would have probably found someone to enjoy it on its own.
  4. Feed it to your pet. Be careful with this one. An excess bit of meat could be good for a dog or cat, and a rabbit might enjoy some carrot greens, but for the most part you should probably steer clear of #4. Actually, for liability purposes, let’s say that Sam’s Blog’s official stance is Don’t ever do #4.
  5. Throw it out. Maybe, just maybe, certain foods are better off wasted. Take a twinkie for example. What is a twinkie? Maybe tossing junk food out with actual junk isn’t such a moral travesty as one might think. Obviously lovely cookies from a neighbor do not fall under this category.

Hopefully this list has given you some ideas how you can handle your excess food without forcing it into your own stomach. Actually following that advice is harder than it might initially seem for some people, though, so just keep working at it and maybe you’ll find that you like not being a garbage can. Maybe you never had this problem in the first place and it really is only my sister, my father and me. If you’re among us, do post a comment and let us know how you resolve your need to do away with excess food in your own stomach.

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.