Tuesday, December 30, 2014

21 Key Components to an Amazing Christmas

1. Make sure you have two or three weeks of vacation time. 

2. Get a sweet girlfriend and convince/coerce her to come home for the holidays with you. The sweet girlfriend that I got was Ellen, and the home I convinced/coerced her to go to with me was Rock Rapids, Iowa, where my mom and dad and portly cat reside.

3. Get picked up at the airport by your parents and as many siblings as possible. My sister Christina was the only sibling possible; she took the whole week off and joined my parents in grabbing Ellen and I from Joe Foss Field. A few days later, my sister's lover Rune also joined the madness.

4. Visit an amazing place immediately after arriving (especially if you have to wait for your sweet girlfriend's sweet misplaced bag to arrive on a later flight from Chicago). Our entourage paraded through Falls Park, which is - unless you count John Morrell's slaughterhouse - the coolest highlight in the greater Siouxland area. Lots of lights, lots of water. We also went to Burger King.

5. Take a lot of pictures. You could surely have guessed that this was an integral part of the 2014 Haggar Christmas experience, and it's true; we completed this in spades. There were at least three people armed with cameras or smartphones at all times. Every meal was photographed at least twice. The cats went temporarily blind because of photo flashes. Michael even took a picture of a big poo he did. The best picture that was taken is below; it is of two lovely women and one stoic man slaving over the second wave of Christmas cookies that we produced.

6. Surround yourself with cats. This we also did quite well. There was Hamm (who hid from us all the time), there was Ollie (who was pretty snobby but who seemed to like Ellen a lot), and there was Simon (pictured lethargically below). They were everywhere, all the time.

7. Make Christmas cookies, preferably more than once. This is the first wave. I didn't wash my hands before we started decorating. And I saw Christina putting boogers on some of the cookies, too.

8. Go to church. It's Christmas. Make it happen. First Reformed Church in Rock Rapids was, of course, my family's go-to for both Sunday morning and a Christmas Eve candle light service, the latter being my favorite church service of the year, bar none.

9. Watch "Home Alone."

10. Watch "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York."

11. Change that passive verb voice from #2 into an active verb voice in #11 here by picking up any other necessary siblings from the airport. My brother Michael and his special lady friend, who is named - are you ready for your head to explode? - Christina (although she fortunately has different middle and last names than our sister Christina), flew into Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls on Christmas Day, and we grabbed 'em. 'Twas the busiest I'd ever seen that airport. By arriving, Michael provided the final missing pieces to the Haggar family puzzle for the 2014 holiday season.

12. Violently rip down and unpack stockings. Probably in my whole life, I'd never seen so many big socks hung up for Christmas at the Haggar house. There were nine; eight human ones and one feline one. I like that, in the picture below, my dad's stocking is in a paper sack; maybe something was leaking from it?

13. Open all the gifts that were heaped all around the Christmas tree. Again, there probably have never been so many gifts under and around the Haggar tree, due to the fact that never before have so many individuals descended on the Haggar household for one holiday celebration. And so many cats. It took at least four hours to for all the presents to be given, opened, and appreciated.

14. Make your big cat a festive bow tie out of a shirt you wore for your senior pictures. After being held down (we almost had to use a tranquilizer) and outfitted with said festive bow tie, Simon fit in well with my father and I, who had also donned bow ties for the special four-hour gift rave. Below are some complementary photos.

15. Play some sweet games. In truth, Ellen provided us with a variety of these; she received the ever-popular game "Loaded Questions: Travel Edition" from my sister, which we played late into the night at least once, and she also provided the app seen below that requires cultural literacy, the ability to guess bravely based on verbal clues from the other game players, and a smartphone. Game on.

16. Witness snow falling all around, blanketing the world in a lovely white layer of happiness. This snow descended during the final throes of the Christmas present carnage. And, this is not my house.

17. Eat Pizza Ranch pizza...since we hadn't already packed on enough excess weight from my mom's amazing enchilada casserole and waffles, among other things. There were no pictures taken at Pizza Ranch, so I have included a close-up of the traditional and delicious lasagne that my mom made for Christmas dinner.

18. Visit extended family members. We visited my Grandma Schoon multiple times, to eat meals together, to open presents, to work for a few moments on the puzzle at Good Sam where she lives, and to just see and spend time with her. We also showed up at a massive and scrumptious gathering at my aunt and uncle's house - Mary and Larry's. Sioux Falls has never seen such good people. Or such a ridiculous picture; is Grandma adhering to the instructions of, "Okay, crazy picture!" or is she simply alarmed to be surrounded by so many yahoos? We'll never know.

19. Make sure you get enough rest. Some of those nights got late, staying up making cookies 'n' things, so sometimes naps were not optional. This picture was taken during one of our several gift opening binges; Christina S. looks on in horrified dismay, undoubtedly thinking, "What kind of family is this?"

20. Make dumplings. Truth be told, only Ellen and my parents and I actually partook in this incorrect-holiday tradition; the others all had to go back to their jobs and lives. But we made enough beef and carrot 饺子 for at least sixteen people, and six cats (or one Simon)(maybe). The process was slow and ugly at first, but as Ellen patiently instructed us Midwesterners, we gradually got the hang of it; soon our production rate, our appetites, and the degree to which our dumplings looked attractive increased. Then we gorged. Later on, after Ellen and I had quit Iowa, my dad texted us pictures of himself finishing the leftovers.

21. Just be together. Parts of the week were crazy and not much of it was particularly relaxing, at least in the way that I experience relaxation and rejuvenation. But all of the food preparation and clean-up and consumption and the transit from here to there, and of course all the events...all of it was done together. Laughter over things that no one else understands, questions about things that no one else is concerned about, and deep connections that cannot be found between other folks...that is why I wanted to be home for the holidays, and that is why I wanted Ellen to experience my family, and that is why it is the best and most wonderful time of the year to be home.

What? You didn't see #5? Look again! Here are some bonus photos from the time in Rock Rapids. Boo-yah.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Is Coming

The lights are up and on in my apartment,
Christmas cookies have been baked,
No non-Christmas music has been played or heard since December 1,
Christmas is coming.

Snow has been prayed for,
Stress has accumulated,
BICF's Christmas banquet has been consumed,
Christmas is coming.

The Christmas story (Luke version) has been read aloud,
Flights have been booked,
Snowflake-themed ties have been worn (though you can't see it in the photo, since I chose to flaunt my bum instead of the tie),
Christmas is coming.

The lights are up and on in my classroom,
Christmas parties have happened,
Gift ideas have been brainstormed,
Christmas is coming.

Packages have arrived,
A flurry of planning e-mails has been sent,
Reindeer scarves and cute Christmas socks and Santa-themed ties have been put on,
Christmas is coming.

The Beijing Google office party has been jammed,
Santa hats have been spotted,
Milk and cookies have been put out (and eaten by 8th graders),
Christmas is coming.

Lights have gone up in my office,
BWYA's December Talent Show has been rocked,
Jokes about meeting your mom beneath the mistletoe have been made,
Christmas is coming.

Christmas trees have been put up, 
Christmas music has perhaps worn out its welcome
Gifts and cards - Secret Santa-style - have been exchanged,
Christmas is coming.

Christmas is coming.

Christmas is coming.

Christmas is coming.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Beijing Sunrise

Over the past couple weeks and months, these things have been true: (1) the wind has made Beijing a lot colder but also a cleaner in terms of air quality (2) I have gotten up and made it - on bike - to school quite early, where I sit in my desk looking out the window from a fifth-floor classroom. The combination of these things has allowed me to watch all manner of wild colors and jaw-dropping shades of sunrise. Below are some photos from the past few weeks.