Thursday, December 30, 2004

What John and Mark Did Over The Holiday

December 27, 2004

Just a quick note. OK. Maybe not so quick. Both Mark and I have been blessed with much holiday cheer this Winter 2004.

I suppose things started out early with the holiday angels we made out of bread dough for the Miller side of the Burridge family. When we visited New York for Thanksgiving, we wanted to get some Neopolitain Angels from the MET. But the MET was offering these ugly, badly colored, metallic angles. The photographer for the web and the posters had changed the color tones to make the angels look much prettier than they actually were. They simply wouldn't do; we left New York with Angel Plan B.

I won't claim that the angels that came out of our heavenly workshop (or was that sweatshop?) were Neapolitan... although they did have goofy names (for example, "The Vegas Choir Master" and "The Viper Dress Angel"). We figured that the "Mother Teresa Angel" was the most traditional. I couldn't resist making a Satan angel. We took the whole lot to the "Miller Gift Shove" on the 19th and had a white elephant event; my Cousin Molly got into the spirit of stealing gifts.

On the 23, Mark hosted my 40th birthday celebration at our house. During a planning session with my sister, someone had made the mistake of mentioning the word "throne" and my eyes lit up. So we arranged a (ahem, borrowed) stickly chair (with long, wide arms) in the door to our bedroom and surrounded it with white and yellow Christmas tree lights and backed it with a deep purple throw. I spent most of the event seated on the throne, dressed in black pants and a white turtleneck. A pewter Tiffany dragonfly hung above my head, and my scepter was a very large magnifying glass. I also burnt a little Frankincense and Myrrh (for only about two minutes! I swear!) about an hour before the guests arrived -- of course the first thing Mark said when he came in was, "What stinks?"

Eric Witchy arrived really really really early and in addition to a cool kit of magic crystals in a sodium silicate growing solution, he helped to set up the house.

When the guests arrived at our house they all had a "wow, they weren't kidding about the throne" look on their face. Someone thought I looked like a tarot card. My sister, Julie, had the best look. It lasted about twenty minutes: a kind of stare of disbelief crossed with a gaze of bemused puzzlement. It was almost like I could read her mind, and she was thinking, "I can't believe that you're sitting on a throne at a party for you; I mean, I can believe that it's something you'd do -- but I can't believe that you're actually doing it." I finally had to break down and say (from the throne) a brotherly "What?"

Guests could perform a song or dance, or present a natural wonder or demonstrate a wonder of science. OK, they could bring gifts, too. Afterwards, I would dispense largess in the form of gold foil wrapped chocolate coins (Mark said I'm a real Scrooge because I usually only handed out one coin at a time -- really, I was trying to make sure I didn't run out early). Eric said that the largess he would offer would be advice, so I asked people when they were born and read advice from a giant astrological book of birthdays.

Jay Lake groveled the best. He also presented a gift in a cool fabric bag; the bag has a serial number on the label and a web site where you can see who has gifted whom (and with what). Jay also sang *Happy Birthday* ala Marilyn Monroe, but didn't get close enough for me to place a gold chocolate coin down his shirt.

Bruce, Merrilee, Benjamin and Taniya offered a demonstration of how a Balkan flute worked (there's no whistle, like a recorder, or a reed, like a bassoon). It's a hollow tube. "...And since Bruce, my husband, is basically a hollow tube..." Merrilee said, and then proceeded to blow into Bruce's open mouth and produce a tone. Benjamin presented lots and lots of ballet, and also demonstrated how high a four-year-old can jump into the air.

Kathy and Jerry Oltion performed *Today is Your Birthday*, ala the Beatles, on their electric guitars. They brought a back-up gift in case their song didn't work, but it was really cute.

Brookrod performed *The Rose* in sign language, accompanied by the Portland Gay Men's Choir (on tape). He also presented a lovely red rose. I was frightened at first because Jay had just sung his song and I expected something corny instead of the beautiful performance. Julie Burridge imploded a Pepsi can by boiling a little bit of water in it then immersing it in cold water. She also presented a gift in a lovely bag with a cool spinning snowflake attached to the front. Connie Neuman and Lynn Coats played *Happy Birthday* on recorders for everyone to sing along with.

Mark presented many scientific phenomena -- the effect of a low-friction environment of a balloon's inside on the motion of a nickel was the most popular. But the most dramatic was the demonstration of an unboiled egg's structural strength.

If you take an egg, you will be unable to crush it in your bare hand. But if you are wearing a ring, the unequal distribution of force against the eggshell will crush the egg. We passed the egg (and a bowl) around; Jay couldn't break it, Julie couldn't break it, Jerry couldn't -- no one could. I took off my ring and demonstrated that I couldn't break it. Then I put the ring back on, held the egg over the bowl in my lap. I squeezed and the egg didn't break. I squeezed a little harder and with a gushing crack, raw egg squirted out both ends of my fist. Very little went into the bowl. I had one of those snapshot visions of a yellowish pseudopod of chicken ova gushing over my left shoulder. The look on my face must of been priceless. I had egg all over my (white) sleeve, and everyone was convinced that raw egg must be on the (borrowed) throne -- it was on my (black) pants.

Dianna Rodgers presented a gift and sang a really cool song about the moon. She apologized ahead of time, saying that she wasn't going to sing regular notes because Native Americans sing in fourths, but she sounded absolutely cool.

Heather Thompson expanded my library with a book on Yeats (I have nothing on Yeats, and really, the only thing I know about him -- other than his poem about the widening gyre and the hawk -- is that he was the head of the Order of the Golden Dawn; that he had a complex, philosophical mystic system; and that he and his wife did a lot of mediumship and automatic writing). She also spoke about the properties of Frankincense and Myrrh -- how both are the sap of tree that the trees exude when they've been damaged. I knew they were antibacterial, but I never knew why. She said that it was metaphysically cleansing because it drove out the negative energy. Mark concluded that he must be related to "astrial cooties" because the first thing he wanted to do when he had entered the house was leave. (Mark is thinking of writing a Spiritual Book called "Leave the Cooties Alone.")

Other marvels included a demonstration of the surface tension of water and how soap affects it. Words like polar bonds and hydrophilic were bandied about. We argued if the Pepsi can was demonstrating the relationship between pressure, volume and temperature (PV=nrT) or not. Mark made a Miracle Star by dripping water onto bent toothpicks. I hauled out Portable Stonehenge and explained how it tracked the motion of the sun, moon, and moon's nodes from an earth-based observation point. There were demonstrations in optics, and beat-tones, and carbonation, and heat absorption, and balance (ten nails were balanced on a single nail). Mark prepared fabulous food and most of it was eaten by the time the last guest left. I think the best thing about the party (aside from the lack of black balloons and wheelchairs) was that everyone managed to learn something from the other guests. It was kind of a mix between a feast at Camelot and a science fair.

On the 24th I went swimming in the morning. For lunch, Mark and I went to our favorite restaurant, Marche. The nice thing about Marche is that they are able to blend the tastes of foods together in surprisingly good combinations. I forget what Mark ordered -- we had a delicious salad of pear and gorgonzola. I had salmon and roasted baby beets and carrots in a lemon sauce. I though the beets and salmon together were especially good.

We spent the rest of the day at my folks' house in Corvallis where we visited with them, my sister, and my Grandmother. Grandma is 95 and still walks without a cane. Probably the best card was the card from my folks that said, "This card is worth one free meal." The inside of the card was instructions for using the attached, squashed plastic cockroach at a fancy restaurant. My mom suggested that I save the four and the zero candles on top of my pie for three years when I can recycle them for Julie. Christmas day morning, Mark and I (mostly Mark) prepared a French toast (soaked in eggnog) breakfast for everyone. In a rare roll reversal, I went to wake Julie up with a medium size stuffed Santa Claus. She was already awake and getting out of the shower, so I opened the door, stuck Santa around the edge of the door and said, "Ho, ho, ho; Merry Christmas. Hey! You're naked! Yikes!"

Mark enforced the "once present at a time" rule during the loot-fest under the tree. We got my dad a radio-controlled, battery-powered, flying saucer that flew all the way up to the ceiling. It was probably the coolest gift, but it kind of freaked Julie's German shepherd out. I got Mark an Italian bracelet with jewels (later we sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"). Mary, Mark's mom, was very generous and sent a bunch of gifts; I think my favorite is a sweatshirt pull-over that has flames trailing from the cuffs and a kind of wolf-daemon logo on the chest -- it's like having a tattoo without getting ink done. It looks great with a black turtleneck, and I plan to impersonate a mall rat sometime soon (I'll have to design some tattoo-like designs to iron onto some of my clothing).

We traveled from Corvallis to Beaverton for Christmas dinner at Aunt Joanne's. My cousin Kevin was there, which was cool, because I thought he was on a US Navy destroyer somewhere in the Sea of Japan. Surprisingly, Kevin said that he wanted to write fantasy stories -- so we talked about writing strategies. My other cousin, Laura, was there with her fiancée, Sameer. Sameer's dad, Pratap, was visiting as well.

Laura and Sameer are getting married in July, and Pratap explained some of the traditions that would be happening during the wedding. Sameer gets to ride in on a white horse with his family; we get to receive him as Laura's family. There was some talk of the wedding stick-dance; but Laura said that would only happen during the wedding rehearsal. Some of the wedding will be in Sanskrit, and Laura and Sameer have to take ritual seven steps together. There will be some traditional western ritual as well, and Laura plans to wear a stunning white dress.

I received a really cool silver dragonfly ornament. Mark received a lot of Dame Edna. There was a billiards tournament, which Kevin did well at.

Mark and I drove back to Eugene to make sure the cat was doing well. She told us how much she loved us by running out the front door and refusing to come back in until 4 AM (she still thinks anything we do is a prelude to her going to the vet). The next morning we drove back to Corvallis to continue hanging out with my folks and Julie. I got my Mom a network router with a firewall, and helped her to set that up (along with a USB flash card reader and installing various updates to Windows XP). We played with the Flying Saucer and took Sierra the German Shepherd for a walk. There are wild turkeys living on the hill where the folks live, and I discovered that when they're startled, they really do say, "Gobble, gobble, gobble."

Of course, the Windows Upgrades always take a little longer than I think they will, so we got back to Eugene a little later than I thought we would.

Mark returned to work today (Monday); I'm lucky enough to only have to work nine hours this week. Today is Clean the House Day. And Laundry Day. And Dishes Day. And Send Manuscripts Out Day. And Car Maintenance Day. And Write Day. And Thank You Note day, so... thank you very much for helping to make our holiday very merry.

- John
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