Alvin McEwen opined this week that it’s okay to feel exhausted by the year, and that it’s okay to be angry—because despite being exhausted we aren’t totally beaten down, and our anger is righteous anger. (If, by the way, you don’t follow Alvin’s blog, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters you should check it out! He’s doing good work there.) He’s right. It’s okay if all we’ve done is survive. Because the first step in fighting back against the darkness is to be here, ready to fight.
And as I finished that sentence, I finally figured out what this year’s wish is:
Don’t look to others for hope. Be hope.
There have been times when other people gave you hope. Now it’s time to pay it forward. Be hope.
You can be the hope that changes the world. Show up. Remember that exhaustion, and be kind when necessary. Harness that righteous anger, and be resolute and unyielding when it is called for.
Even when you are afraid, be hope.
I’ve had a variant of that conversation with myself on about 128 work days since going into quarantine, and virtually every time I correctly knew what day it was when I was barely awake. Yet, at later moments in each of those days, I would feel a confusion about what day it was. Which seems like a contradiction. But human minds are messy things. Our consciousness is processed in or through our brains, but those brains are not neatly and precisely designed microchips, with an organic melange of neurons and neurochemicals intimately entwined with our endocrine system and all the other messy imprecise organs and organelles evolved for various purposes that may not always be apparent.
When I said that my waking up process involves one part of my brain asking itself, I wasn’t merely speaking metaphorically. There really are multiple systems involves in making up this notion we have of our mind, and they don’t all function the same way. There is clearly a logical, verbal part of my mind that can respond to that question of what day it is by checking memory and finding out that yesterday was Wednesday, therefore today much by Thursday. But other parts of the system use different criteria and inputs to perceive and understand the world. It’s those systems that become confused with our personal routines are disrupted.
I’ve started quarantine on February 17, before our state had it’s first stay at home orders because I woke up with a persistent cough. I didn’t think it would be a big deal once the actual orders came out, because I had worked from one two-days each week for a few years at that point (and any time I got sick but was well enough to work, I’d work from home for longer stretches). My husband still works outside the home, getting up each morning at a godawful hour to commute in, yet he also has these moments of confusion about the day… because the routines around work have also changed.
I don’t feel free to just pop off to the store anytime I want an ingredient that we don’t have for a particular recipe. I should limit the number of times I go out and get exposed to other people, right? And if I am going out, I have to make sure I have my mask, have washed my hands, and have a plan on what I’m picking up so that I minimize the time I’m inside any buildings other than home. While there I have to pay attention to how close I’m standing or walking past someone. And that doesn’t even get into keeping a wary eye out for the fuckwits who refused to wear a mask or have it pulled down so their nose is hanging out, et cetera.
So familiar stores are no longer the same kinds of place they were, because how I behave there, how others behave, and so forth has changed.
It’s strange little things that sometimes get to me. For instance, in the before times, I tended to handle one of my weekly chores (putting away the recently washed laundry) while listening to a particular conference call (with my mic muted) on work-from-home Tuesdays. Sometime during quarantine I just stopped doing it. I stopped having the automatic thought—after logging into the meeting, greeting the other early joiners, and then muting myself when enough people were there to start the business part—that now it is time to go deal with the laundry.
I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because every work day is a work-from-home day, therefore Tuesday doesn’t feel like Tuesday any more?
The way the pandemic is going, we’ve got a lot more of this to get through. And even when we do, the new normal isn’t going to be like the before times. We can’t predict what that new normal will be, exactly, but I know that some things are just not going back to the way we used to do them.
That is one of the reasons that, while I’m happy to see 2020 end, I don’t feel much like celebrating the arrival of 2021. I’m not going to be cheering, “We did it! We made it through that hellish year!” Which gets to the second reason I’m not feeling the celebration: not all of us made it. At least 333,000 Americans didn’t survive 2020—and a whole lot of them ought to have, and could have, if certain someone’s hadn’t made the politically calculated decision to abandon plans for testing and contact tracing and so forth.
I’ve got some posts started, but I figure since so much of the Weekend Update was about one story where there have been major new developments, I should comment on that:
So we know who the bomber is and we know he died in the explosion. If it was just a suicide it was a rather elaborate one. Particularly the part where he appears to have set up the camera that filmed the explosion and also uploaded it to the newly created twitter account. At least it’s consistent with the neighbor’s recollection of the “the world is never going to forget me” comment he made about a week before Christmas.
The internet is rife with theories about his motive. And just as I said Saturday, I don’t think we have enough information to deduce anything other that, he wanted his death to send a message, but not yet what that message was.
Meanwhile…How Trump caved on the coronavirus relief bill. “Getting a cranky, stubborn President Trump to belatedly sign the COVID relief bill, after unemployment benefits had already lapsed, was like being a hostage negotiator, or defusing a bomb.”
This was just so stupid. The bills he was refusing to sign had been negotiated by his administration. Refusing to sign it and making strange demands that he could have made while negotiations were in progress show he isn’t and hasn’t been paying attention to anything but the headlines that he rage-tweets about day and night. We already knew that, but he continues to find new lows to sink to.
And he’s still making threats about the election, of course. One of his latests gripes is being angry at the Michigan Attorney General for pursuing sanctions on some of the fuckwit lawyers that have filed the 59+ losing court cases to try to overturn the election. The Attorney General had a good comback: Michigan AG returns fire on Trump: ‘You’re not our type’ – President Trump takes to Twitter to criticize Michigan AG Dana Nessel.
Many of us are looking forward to January 20th not just because the grifter will out, but also because various states that are already investigating his shady business deals and charity fraud can start prosecuting. Remember, even if he pardons himself and courts hold up the self-pardon, presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes. They will have no effect on any state charges. Also, they have no effect on international courts: Trump Shouldn’t Be Tried For Tax Fraud, He Should Be Tried For Mass Murder – Trump deserves to be taken to the The Hague and tried before the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity.
We can dream…
It’s been three weeks since my last Weekend Update post, and not because there hasn’t been news that didn’t make it into each week’s Friday Five that I might want to comment on, nor news that broke after I’d finished that week’s post, nor big updates to stories I’m commented and/or ranted on before. All of those things were happening, but my energy (particularly my writing energy) was all directed elsewhere.
Since this is the final weekend in 2020, I am tempted to make it an epic one in some way. There were certainly a few stories that have been frequent targets of my commentary (and sometimes snark) that had some big developments toward the end of this year. But first I’m going to jump in a story that fits the category that made me create my very first Weekend Update post: a bit news event that would have been in the Friday Five if it had happened just hours earlier!
Okay, so early Christmas morning several 911 calls came in reporting gunshots in a particular part of downtown Nashville. By the time police arrived, loud speakers inside an old RV parked on a street started broadcasting a warning to evacuate because I bomb was going to explode soon. Police started evacuating people from nearby building. The bomb squad set up a perimeter, and then approximately a half hour after the recording started playing, the RV exploded.
The next story is worth skimming, but the headline falls into, IMHO the “water is wet” category: Expert weighs in on Nashville explosion, says bombing ‘not a spur of the moment thing’. Obviously. Building a bomb takes some time. Installing speakers and some sort of either timed or remote-controlled recording device to play back the message. One (and only one) news article I read said that the voice in the recording sounded like it was electronically distorted. Since the only place I have found video that includes audio warned that the video also includes the explosion, which I don’t particularly want to watch, I can’t say.
Anyway, all of those details were known immediately after the explosion, and one doesn’t have to be an expert to deduce that this wasn’t an impulsive act. All of that takes some planning and work beforehand. Then there is this: Mysterious Twitter Account Posts Video Showing Nashville Bomb Warning and Explosion
. Someone created that twitter account on the day of the explosion, and the only thing the account has uploaded is a single video recording that captures the recording message and the explosion. If this was done by the person(s) who made the bomb, it’s more evidence that this was planned.
I’ve seen people ask if this is terrorism, and the pedantic answer is, “probably.” But that’s because the definition of a terrorist attack is “the calculated use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular objective.” An explosion is violence, and by itself might create fear. But when you add in the gunshots (or gunshot sounds) leading to 911 calls to lure police to the area, the recorded announcement, the posting of the video, and all the other details, those are the parts that show a calculated attempt to create a climate of fear. Without those elements—if the RV had just blown up, we could be debating for a long time whether the bomb had been meant to detonate at that time and place, for instance, or if it was just some fuckwit who was transporting some poorly-built explosives somewhere (perhaps to sell to another fuckwit) and the RV exploded on accident.
Unfortunately, for a lot of people, the word “terrorism” is applied only to acts of violence preformed by specific types of people, so if what you mean when you ask is it terrorism is whether those heretics in a particular nation or whatever are responsible, that’s completely unknown at the moment.
On the other hand, the time and place chosen, plus the warning, may indicate the bombers probably didn’t want to kill any innocent people. The bomber may have been inside the RV, and the bombing was less about creating a climate of fear and more about a person committing suicide and wanting that suicide to make a statement.
Now, people are looking for more RVs: ‘Suspicious RV’ spotted in Cincinnati forces cops to close streets after ‘Nashville bomb’ – but ‘no incident’ found.
I have been careful not to link to any posts or articles or op-ed pieces that speculate about the specific motives of the bomber, or identifying the person(s) involved with any particular political or idealogical group. Because I remember back when the DC Sniper was terrorizing the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area that a number of very smart people (some personal acquaintances) proclaimed very emphatically that the sniper was associated with particular foreign groups and obviously had to be operating out of a sophisticated set of safe houses previously set up. Which was all absolutely and categorically wrong.
One of the reasons a lot of the commenters got it wrong then is because after the first few incidents, police would talk about how quickly they got each area cordoned off and set up check points, but still hadn’t caught the responsible parties. Relying on that information was a bad idea for several reasons: 1) there was no way to know if the police really got each cordon set up before a person could have driven away, 2) there was no way to know if the cordons had really closed off every road, and 3) the police were all looking for the wrong thing.
Note that on number three I don’t say “the police might have been looking for the wrong thing.” Because we now know there was no maybe about it. Because several people reported a white van or box truck driving rapidly away from one of the first shooting sights, cops were looking for people in a white van or truck. And even though they stopped and talked to the drivers of all the other vehicles, each cop was looking for whatever he or she defined as suspicious. And apparently no one’s definition of suspicious was a 41-year-old ex-marine driving a 12-year-old blue Chevy sedan.
Anyway, back to the Nashville bombing: CBS News: Person-of-interest identified in Nashville bombing and FBI at home of possible person of interest in Nashville bomb. This person who lives (or lived) in a Nashville suburb owned an RV that was at least similar to the one that exploded. A Google Maps image from 2019 shows that the RV was parked on the property at the time. AP reporters note that the spot the RV used to be parked in is empty, and the investigators are searching the house and grounds.
Even if it was this guy’s RV (and there must be thousands of RVs out there of the basic make and model, so who knows), we don’t yet know if he was involved. Maybe he put the RV up on Craigslist some time ago and sold it, for instance.
If he was involved, did he pick the neighborhood to place the bomb because of a personal grudge rather than a political reason? Was he inside it at the time? Did he set up the twitter account that posted the video? At this point, we don’t know. I hope we do know, soon. And I hope the authorities figure it out before anyone else gets hurt.
Now let’s look at things that I decided to leave out of the Friday Five.
Trump puts dead Confederate traitors ahead of pay raise for troops because of course he does. The man is totally incapable of any empathy, and he cares nothing about anyone who is hurt by his actions other than himself.
And lest you forget that the pussy-grabber is not an anomaly, he’s not the only one putting a personal agenda above the duty to serve the public: Congress scrambles to avert shutdown after Trump’s stimulus demands – House Republicans broke with the president over providing $2,000 in stimulus checks to Americans.
I apparently can’t escape 2020 without at least one more update about Jerry Falwell, Jr. I’ve written about Falwell’s sex scandal and shady million-dollar real estate gifts many, many times. And I’ve tried most of those times to point out that the reasons those things are worth paying attention to is that as part of the scheme to get rid of a blackmailer, Falwell agreed to endorse the pussy-grabber for President, swinging evangelical support from other Republican candidates to the grifter-in-chief just before the crucial Iowa Causcus, as well as the fact that these multi-million dollar deals he has gifted to the pool boys and trainers involved in the sex scandals are subsidized by taxpayer money (just as his private jet and lavish lifestyle is subsidized by taxpayer money) because it all comes as part of compensation from the various religious non-profit organizations he had, until very recently, been in charge of.
And we have a bit more evidence to back that up: A Trump executive order set the stage for Falwell’s political activities – By discouraging investigations of religious organizations, Trump appeared to clear the way for Liberty University to spend millions on his own causes.
The article is worth the read. I really hope that this executive order is one Joe Biden’s list of those to reverse right away. If the IRS started investigating all the rich conservatives that they have been ignoring, it would almost certainly bring in far more money in unpaid back taxes and tax fraud than the investigations cost. And maybe we’d send some more of these awful people to prison.
I can dream can’t I?
I want to end this on something very silly:
KFC launches game console that keeps your chicken warm. That’s right, Kentucky Fried Chicken teamed up with a hardware maker to manufacture a gaming computer that is sorta kinda maybe if you squint shaped like a bucket of chicken and has a compartment where you can theoretically stick a piece of chicken in to keep warm while you play.
I foresee absolutely no downsides to this idea…
Rainbow Xmas 2020
(To the tune of ‘We Need a Little Christmas’ from the musical. Mame)
‘Cause we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Egg nog by the fire,
With rum and brandy in it!
Yes we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
My lyrics may be getting slurry,
But Santa dear, we’re in a hurry!
So fling ’round the glitter!
Put up more twinkling lights than the whole Vegas strip!
No need for fruitcake,
I’ve got a great big platter of deliciousness, here!
Cause we’ve grown a little rounder,
Grown a little bolder,
Grown a little prouder,
Grown a little wiser,
And we need some loving kindness,
Even over FaceTime,
We need a rainbow Christmas now!
Fill every wine glass,
Then raise a toast to full lives, and each other and
Join in the laughter,
Because our joy can push through masks and distance guides each day!
‘Cause we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Cocktails in the morning,
With brandied cherries in them!
And I need a toasty lover,
Snuggling by the fire,
I need a rainbow Christmas now!
Yes we need a rainbow Christmas now!
Earlier in the month we celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. Barely. By which I mean that it was the day before the anniversary that either of us remembered it was the anniversary1, so while I made a slightly fancier meal than usual for dinner that night2, it was something we had already planned to make at some point that week. We did manage each to have a gift to give each other, but even that had more than a bit of serendipity to it.
To tell this tale properly, I need to back up even earlier in the month. On the previous Saturday our usual gaming group gathered on line to play the next installment in our current game. We play on Saturday afternoons, chatting on Discord. And we take breaks throughout the day so every one can get fresh snacks, and/or refresh their drink, and/or take a bio break, right? And three of us in the group are into making cocktails, so frequently part way through the afternoon at one of those breaks I will assemble a cocktail instead of making another cup of tea, and we share photos of how the drinks come up.
So, I headed into the kitchen and I was already planning to make an Aviation with Empress 1908 gin3. I had run the dishwasher earlier that day, and my cocktail mixing pitcher was in the dishwasher, so I pulled it out, set it next the the bottles of booze, got a lemon and retrieved the lemon-squeezer from the drawer, right? And then I pulled a handful of ice from the freezer and dropped it into the mixing glass. I was cutting the lemon in half when I heard a distinct CLINK CLINK sound…
Enormous cracks was appearing all around my faux cut crystal cocktail mixing pitcher. I dumped out the ice and set the pitch in the sink, half expecting it to shatter any moment.The pitcher had felt warm in my hand when I got it out of the dishwasher, but I hadn’t thought it was hot enough to have an adverse reaction the the ice. Oops4. I had to share a picture of the cracked glass with everyone. Even though it didn’t shatter, I figured that it’s likely to break anytime, now, and even if it doesn’t fall apart you might get tiny glass fragments in your drink. Clearly, it isn’t made out of tempered glass, and is not up to having ice dumped in it when it has been heated. Good to know.
Now, you don’t need the fancy cocktail pitcher to stir drinks in. I have a large glass shaker that can be used for stirring instead of shaking. You can also mix cocktails in a double-rocks glass, or a pint beer glass. So while it is sad to lose the pitcher, it’s something I can live without for a while. I went ahead and mixed my drink in another glass and strained it into the glass I intended to drink it from, and went back to the computer to tell the tale.
Because we’re in Gift Embargo7 Time, I went into my Amazon wishlist, found the pitcher (or one very much like it), and added it to my list. I can’t buy one for myself until January, but this way if someone was looking for something to buy me, and this was in their budget, I’d have one sooner, right?
I didn’t realize that Michael had, while I was telling the story, gone online and ordered me a new cocktail pitcher, in a gift bag, with the tag reading, “You need to open this early. Love, Michael.”
So it happened that the cocktail pitcher arrived in time for our anniversary. I had to duck out in the late afternoon on the day of the anniversary to pick up a present8 and some roses and an anniversary card. But it all worked out.
My second accidental physics lesson happened this week. Some years ago Michael gave me an aluminum seltzer bottle for a Valentine’s Day gift. So whenever I make drinks that require soda, I can make my own9. So I used up the last of the seltzer in the bottle the other night, and went to refill it to stick in the fridge so there would be cold seltzer whenever I needed it next.
Another present Michael got me for another Valentine’s Day is a cream whipper. So I can make my own whipped cream. Now the cream whipper uses little cartridges of nitrogen, and the seltzer bottle uses cartridges of CO2. You must not used CO2 with the whipper, because the carbon dioxide triggers a catalytic change in the heavy cream, causing the whipped cream the comes out to taste like very rotten milk. Not a good thing.
So I rinsed out the seltzer bottle, filled it with water, screwed the top on, put the cartridge in the chamber, and tightened it. The gas shot into the water, but the sound was… odd. pulled off the cartridge chamber to toss depleted cartridge into the recycle… when I noticed the cartridge was the wrong color. I had infused the water with nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide.
I didn’t know if that was a bad thing, or not. I mean, since the nitrogen is safe in cream (and some other things you can put in the whipper), it ought to be okay, but I didn’t want to go research it right then. So I held the handle down and expelled all the water down the drain, unscrewed the seltzer bottle top assemble, made sure I had a CO2 cartridge this time, reassembled everything, put the cartridge in the chamber, screwed it down, and listened tot he carbon dioxide flood into the pitcher.
And when it did, the sound was wrong, but this time in a new way. As soon as I lifted the seltzer bottle I realized the new problem. I hadn’t filled it with tap water after emptying it of the nitrogen-infused water. So I laughed at myself, held down the handle and sprayed out the CO2, and unscrewed the top assembly.
There was a strange, white foamy/powdery substance on part of the mechanism under the top assembly that I didn’t recognize. When I tried to touch it, it just evaporated. That’s when I realized the top assembly was a lot colder in my hand than usual. So clearly the white substance was dry ice, which had formed inside the bottle while I was expelling the CO2. I since holding the top assembling was mildly painful from the cold, but didn’t actually burn my skin, I assume that I hadn’t gotten the interior of the bottle cold enough to freeze carbon dioxide13 under normal circumstances, but under the heightened pressure14 that had existed in the bottle temporarily had combined with the cooling effect of expelling first the nitrous-infused water and then the over pressured air16.
Eventually, I did get the proper combination of water and CO2 into the bottle and stuck it in the fridge.
Compared to other things going wrong in the world, this was more amusing that anything else.
1. This isn’t the first time that the anniversary has snuck up on at least one of us. Part of the issue is that the date of our wedding wasn’t exactly of our own choosing. We held the ceremony on the first day that same sex couples were legally allowed to marry in our state. But I also blame the fact that the pandemic has turned time into a fog.
2. Beef stroganoff, which is something that I make almost once a month. It’s one of those recipes I can almost do in my sleep. It’s really good and it sounds complicated, and it is a little more work that what we often put into a work night dinner.
3. The Empress gin, instead of being a clear liquid like most gins, is a deep indigo color. And when you mix in citrus of any kind, the cocktail turns a really lovely shade of lavender. It makes for a very cool looking drink.
4. Part of the issue might be that I think I grabbed the glass with my right hand, and never touched it with my left hand. I have extensive nerve damage in the right hand because of an accident when I was a teen-ager. One of the things I can’t reliably feel with that hand is heat5.
5. Yes, I had sometimes grabbed hot dishes without potholder, and the reflexes of my left hand immediately drops it, while my right will hold on and make a nice sizzling noise.
6. I should explain the physics lesson: when an object is heated, not matter what it is made out of, it expands (physically gets bigger). When it cools, it contracts (gets smaller). Glass object does not have a high internal thermal conductivity. Normally we like this, because acts as at least a bit of an insulator between our hands and the food/drink contained inside. However, in the case of a glass object—such as a cocktail mixing glass, becoming heated because of the hot water in the dishwasher, and then staying heated because of the heating coil the helps dry off the dishes after the wash cycle is complete—and then being cooled rapidly by either the addition of cool water or cold ice, the surface exposed to the cold object contracts faster then the interior molecules of glass, causing stress. Glass is hard, but it is also brittle. That means it isn’t flexible to deal with that stress, and so instead it cracks.
7. Some years ago my husband had to scold me for buying myself some DVDs and books not long before Christmas. And of course, it turned out one of our friends had bought me one of the things I bought myself, and handed me the pretty wrapped package at the Christmas party that year. Anyway, the rule now is that started a few weeks before my birthday, through Christmas, I’m only allowed to buy myself things like food, certain types of clothing, and medicine.
8. I got him a wok. We used to have an enormous wok, and Michael used it for cooking all kinds of things, not just stir fry. But it was more useful back when we were regularly hosting at least two group get-togethers every month, but he was reluctant to use the big thing when it was just the two of us. So when we were getting rid of things we seldom use prepping to move a few years ago, the wok was donated, and Michael said we could get a smaller one if we decided we needed it.
9. So, rather than having to keep bottles of tonic in stock in order to make gin & tonics, I can keep a bottle of tonic syrup and then use the seltzer bottle to turn a small amount of syrup into a large amount of tonic. Then there are Aperol Spritzes, Whiskey and Sodas, or Rock n Rye and Sodas10 and so forth.
10. I still need to do a post about how I started making homemade Rock n Rye to open at our Christmas Party every year, and then the drinks I have invented that use the leftover Rock n Rye11 when I don’t feel like straight shots.
11. It’s kind of fun, and you never know exactly how it’s going to taste until it is done.
12. At this point, I should probably have decided that just before bedtime after having two Rock n Rye and
Sodas might not be the best time to accomplish anything but super simple tasks, but…
13. Which is -109 degrees Fahrenheit or -78 degrees Celsius.
14. Higher air pressure lowers the freezing point of any substance15.
15. Well, if I am to be pedantic, the temperatures we humans usually list as freezing and boiling points of various substances assumes exactly one atmosphere of pressure. So if the air pressure is either lower or higher than one atmosphere, then the freezing and boiling points change.
16. When a gas expands, it cools off, this is why, for instance, either the nitrous or CO2 cartridges turn very cold after as you empty them.
My husband pointed me to a twitter thread by a Muslim American who has never celebrated Christmas, before, who is letting his Quarantine Roommates teach him how to have his first proper Christmas. It’s a funny and relatively short thread that has some good commentary on the way Americans tend to observe Christmas. I like his first characterization of Christmas as being a part-time job from mid-November to the end of December. I’ll link to the thread at the end of this post.
A proper Christmas means different things to different people, and I think that’s a good thing. I remember a few years ago when I was discussing this topic with a couple of friends, that one explained that what she liked about Christmas was that she could put up pretty lights and ornaments. The other friend interjected that what he liked about it was that you get to decide what “pretty” is, and if other people comment unfavorably on whatever outlandish or silly decorations, you could just gasp and claim that this is how your family always did it, and the person was socially obligated to accept that that was your tradition (whether it actually had been a family tradition or not).
It got me thinking about what sort of informal family traditions my family had observed. Most were pretty mundane, and some were the result of other circumstances. Unless there was an overwhelming reason, we always spent Christmas morning at my paternal grandparents’ house. Sometimes Dad’s sister’s family was there, too. Because Dad’s oil field job was nomadic, how far we had to drive to get there varied most years. If we got to the town where my grandparents lived early enough on Christmas Eve, we’d get to go visit my maternal grandmother and great-grandparents this evening. Otherwise, we wouldn’t get to see them until after Christmas dinner1.
By the time my great-grandparents died, my maternal grandmother was living 1200 miles away. But then my parents divorced and Mom, my sister2, and I relocated to the same part of southwest Washington, where I found out that grandma hosted a Christmas Eve open house every year, attended by relatives, in-laws, old family friends, and others. So for the next many years one of the traditions became you’d see all the extended family on Christmas Eve3, then Christmas morning would be each individual family opening presents together.
All the Christmas trees put up by my extended family were a bit chaotic. Everyone seemed to have some special ornaments that had been passed down from earlier generations, as well as an eclectic collection of glass balls and the like. The trees would thus have a whole lot of different colors, and since any kids in the home had done part of the decorating, there often wasn’t any sort of design involved in the placement of the ornaments, other than the star or angel4 always went on top.
I think I was nine when I saw my first non-chaotic tree in the home of someone I knew. I can close my eyes and still see it: a flocked white tree decorated with dozens of identical blue satin balls and blue satin ribbons, with a blue and silver angel on top. I was really shocked, and couldn’t imagine why someone would do that. A few years later another family I knew had a tree where the ornaments were red, green, and gold, and the mother of the family had very strict rules about which size of ornaments went how high on the tree6, and that the three colors had to be as evenly distributed as possible.
Of course, many years later Ray and I did trees all in a fairly simple color scheme… but even then there was a bit of chaos, because either of us could pick any “favorites” to go on the tree no matter what the color scheme was. Just as this year’s tree at our house has mostly purple and pink ornaments, but some of the traditional ones I put on every year7, and then just about anything I could justify as being gay.
I find that I am more concerned with food at Thanksgiving than at Christmas. I have certain favorite dishes that we always had at Thanksgiving when I was a kid that I crave on that day now, but Christmas food doesn’t get me quite the same way. I don’t know if that is because as a kid that the big part of Christmas was the presents and everything else was secondary, or if the family dinners were just more flexible at Christmas. I mean, as far as I remember, anything that was an accepted side dish at Thanksgiving could appear on the Christmas dinner, so you would think I’d always have a strong craving for some of those things.
Michael and I have had the tradition since our first Christmas that we make a nice dinner for Christmas Eve, as well as a big dinner for Christmas, and a nice dinner for New Year’s Eve. And we start planning the three together a few weeks before the holidays. But we don’t do the same things each year at those three events. Mostly. I mean, New Year’s Eve is often beef… unless we had decided to do steaks for Christmas Eve or something. At this point we’re a few days out from Christmas Eve/Christmas, and the plan is that we’ll pull either the ham, or the turkey breast, or the pork roast out of the freezer for those, and the small prime rib roast I found at a not entirely outrageous price we’re saving for New Year’s… maybe9.
When I started this blog post, I thought I would vamp for a little bit on some odd traditions, and then start talking about one very specific tradition I started about five years ago. But I see that the word count of this entry is getting up there, so maybe I should save that for later.
In the meantime, you should read the whole twitter thread if you haven’t yet.
1. When I was very young, this just seemed to be the way things were. It wasn’t until I was about 10 or 11 years old that I realized that Dad’s parents (specifically his mother) always got priority over everyone else, or else.
2. My half-brothers and half-sister remained with Dad and their mother, of course.
3. And you could use Grandma’s party as an opportunity to deliver gifts, but generally opening presents that night was frowned upon.
4. Almost everyone had either a star or an angel. I mostly only saw the spire or steeple style tree-toppers in stores or on neighbor’s trees. As an adult, for a while it was always either a star or one of the spires. Until we started getting more creative. This year, for instance, we have a flying fairy5.
5. It is most definitely not an angel.
6. Largest at the bottom of the tree, medium sized in the middle, small one near the top.
7. I have three small glass ball ornaments—one red, one pink, and one green—which belonged to my great-grandmother. I have three sets of crocheted bells that were made by my grandma. We have a pair of December Diamond Goom Mermen that were a present from a group of friends on the occasion of our legal wedding on the first day we legally could in our state—which happened to be in December. The two of them go on the tree side by side no matter what the theme is8.
8. This year they just happen to fit the Gay part of the theme.
9. I an totally blaming the pandemic on why we are less decided on the meals at this stage than usual10.
10. I mean, we’ve also got a beef brisket in the freezer, and we were talking about doing in on New Year’s… and then the prime rib could get shuffled to one of the other days11.
11. And I still need to run to the store before the holiday because I know we’re missing some ingredients for some of the side dishes we’ve discussed… and I might find something on sale that would completely change our minds on the other possibilities.
Part of the issue, I realize, is that things at work went super intense because we had an outlandish3 number of software releases scheduled to push out to customers before everyone goes into holiday hiatus, so I was working late several days of every week, and found myself so exhausted I needed to take naps a couple of nights each week.
I’ve been taking at least one vacation day every week since August because of some draconian changes in vacation policy. Which seems really nice until you realize that part of the draconian bit is that despite forcing most of the work force to take time off, the corporate overlords are insisting that none of the previously committed delivery dates can be adjusted. Which means that we’re still working just as many hours, but squeezing them into four work days a week instead of five.
And no, when you’re classified as a salaried and exempt employee that isn’t illegal, even though it ought to be4. Moving on.I had Friday off, and I had worked very late two nights before that, but I managed to get up, moving, and out to do the shopping at a reasonable hour. I finished the Ghost Story in the wee small hours of Saturday morning6, as I almost always do. I always end up in a state where I’m spinning my wheels, ditching scenes and writing replacement scenes no matter how early I start the story.
I got the story finished and practiced and we were both in a good, rested headspace when it was time to log into the virtual party and start being social. I did not finish the story in time where I could both practice reading it aloud a few times and record the performance in advance to upload to either my Patreon or Youtube channel as I hoped7. I may still try to do that. We’ll see9.
Besides not getting to see people in person, another thing that was a bit disappointing about the virtual Christmas party is we didn’t have the usual gift exchange. A couple of people were willing to open presents on camera because they had received presents from some of the people on line, but it’s not the same. I could have, obviously, decided to open any number of the presents that I’ve received. But the truth is that my favorite part isn’t opening presents myself10, it’s seeing other people open presents and react to them. That’s where a lot of the laughter at the party occurs. And you get to thank the person who gave it to you right then. And you can hear the story about how the person who gave you the present found this thing and why they thought of you, when appropriate it.
So I wasn’t really chomping at the bit to open any of mine.
For the last few years Christmas day has been just Michael and I, whereas it used to be like that only on alternate years. We started this after barely getting through the first Thanksgiving after the Grifter-in-Chief was elected without punching certain relatives in the mouth12. It was a very unpleasant holiday, all right?
So for December 2016, ’17, ’18, and ’19 I have driven down to southwest Washington a few days before Christmas to drop off presents with my Mom, one of my aunts, my sister and her family, and my grown niece and her family. It’s always a day that I have off but my husband has to work13. Then we have a day or more to ourselves before the actual holiday plus Christmas Day itself.
I have to admit I kind of miss getting to do that trip this year. I like seeing everyone in person, and for whatever reason17 when we’re not down there on the actual holiday they talk a lot less about the various unpleasant topics. On the other hand, given the way the weather has been this week, which would normally be the time I’m most likely to take the trip, I’m just as happy not being on the freeway.
So I’ll just keep working from home for the next couple of days, enjoy gazing at our Big Gay Christmas Tree™, and keeping counting down until Santa arrives.
1. I did make my word count goal, though I didn’t exceed the last few years’ word counts as I had managed to do a few years in a row until now.
2. The annual tradition I’ve followed since 1995 is that I write an original Christmas Ghost Story to read at the party, and challenge other folks to read something they’ve written—or otherwise perform something. We’re had people sing, play a musical instruments, all sorts of things.
3. It really is edging up into the impossible at this point…
4. It is amazing how many times when I have mentioned something like this online, how many randos feel obligated to chime in to say this sort of thing is illegal. It just reminds me how many people don’t work in the sorts of industries where everyone qualifies for the IRS’s definition of exempt employee and therefore assume that hourly working regulations apply5.
5. It’s particularly amazing at how many of them don’t understand that virtually every company that has managed to get most of its employees thus classified does these sorts of thing to exploit their employees.
6. Sort of. I mean, I reached an ending by about 3:30am and then promptly crashed for a few hours. After I woke up I kept thinking about it and didn’t like how I’d ended it. I mean the very ending, yes, but the way I’d written the story and the fairy tale tropes I was using had prompted me to write a long denouement that a short story typically has nowadays. So sometime shortly afternoon I deleted most of the denouement, replacing it with a single sentence, and then I was much happier.
7. I need to upload things to both far more often…8
8. Given my activity thus far this year, by “more often” I really mean “at all.”
9. I’m not sure how much appeal there would be to hearing a Christmas Ghost Story after Christmas, so if I don’t manage it in the next few days…
10. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy getting presents. That’s fun. And trying to guess what’s inside and then opening it is also a lot of fun. I particularly love those times when someone finds something I didn’t even know existed, but if I had known I would have put it on my own wishlist11. That’s just amazing.
11. In the realm of books and music, my friend Mark is incredibly good at this.
12. The cliche usually mentions the racist uncle—the problem goes deeper than that. The homophobic relatives who don’t believe they are homophobic, the relatives who repeat white supremacist talking points from Fox News without thinking, et cetera, et cetera. That’s part of the reason we instituted the old rule of we would visit them for one of the big holidays each year, then stay home for the other.
13. I always got asked several times why Michael wasn’t there. They accept that I get more paid time off than he does, but I keep expecting them to start accusing me of keeping him away from them or something14.
14. I’ve mentioned before that I strongly suspect a bunch of my extended family on that side like Michael more than they do me. Which I’m perfectly happy with, because I think he’s awesome, and given how many of the family perceived my late husband, Ray, as some sort of evil person who surely must had done something diabolical to me to turn me gay15, them all enthusiastically liking my husband is a decided improvement16.
15. I have been gay for as long as I can remember, I just didn’t have words for it when I was younger, and then because I feared all the homophobic people around me once I realized what was going on after puberty hit, I hid it from them.
16. One of his reasons for not accompanying me on these trips during those years is that he doesn’t want to use up one of his more limited number of vacation days for that purpose, but also because he winds up biting his tongue a whole lot more than I do when they start parroting Fox News.
17. There are two reasons I can think of. First, there’s something about having a bunch of people together for several hours on a holiday that seems to make some folks feel obligated to fill any moments of silence with something, and so they are just more likely to spout off as the day goes on. Second, since I tend to be dropping off stuff at each individual house, and they know I have other people to get to and so on, they think of it as a visit with me, rather than a general group get-together. So topics remain focused on the social visit and catching up on our personal lives, rather then discussing world events, the coming apocalypse18, and so on.
18. I’m not exaggerating, here. The kind of Bible-thumping evangelical fundamentalism my extended family adheres sees every single world event as either a direct attack by demonic forces, or a sign that Commando Jesus is going to descend from the heavens soon, kill all the unbelievers, and take the true believes back up to rule in heaven.