Archive for December 26, 2008

Christmas Eve

December 26, 2008 Leave a comment

In my post Gravy: A Thanksgiving Tale, I described my Thanksgiving experience helping Gail in the kitchen of the residential treatment center for women where she cooks on Wednesdays and Thursdays. This past Wednesday, Christmas Eve, she cooked lunch and dinner as usual. We — Gail, me, Jessica, and Joel — then met at a nearby Mexican restaurant in Seattle for our Christmas Eve dinner so that we could be back at the residential center in time for an evening program the director had asked Gail to run.

In preparation for the program, separate from the regular meal preparation, Gail had baked four cakes at home the night before: two yellow cakes with chocolate icing and two chocolate cakes with white icing. She also heated a giant pot of apple cider with cinnamon and spice. On her return and our arrival at the center, we cut the cake and did the final organizing for the program, which began at 7:00 PM. About half the residents showed up in the dining/meeting room for the program, along with about a half-dozen young children and another couple of babies. (The residents are all either mothers of young children or pregnant. Part of the center’s purpose is to provide them with skills to be effective parents.)


Gail designed the program to be simple, ecumenical, and brief, acknowledging the day and the season but not prolonging the occasion. There were three parts: a Chanukah observation, a Christmas Eve celebration, and social time with the serving of the cake and cider. For Chanukah, Gail had brought in one of our menorahs. She told the story of the Maccabean revolt against Syrian rule in Judea in the second century BCE, culminating in the Chanukah miracle — the oil in the temple lasting for 8 days — which leads to the observation of the 8 days of Chanukah and the lighting of the candles. We then lit the candles representing the fourth day of Chanukah as I sang the two candle-lighting blessings. In the background, Chanukah songs played on a little boombox, from a holiday mix CD that Gail had prepared the night before.


Next up was the story of Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ, with Joseph and Mary returning to Bethlehem for the census and Mary giving birth. After Gail told the story, we distributed candles for everyone to hold, formed a circle, turned off the lights, and lit the candles counterclockwise around the circle while Silent Night played on the boombox and those who wished to sang along. Gail made brief but poignant remarks about the women having come to the center to change their lives, to choose life, for themselves and their children. We then turned the lights back on, blew out the candles, and let the music play on as cake and cider were served.

It was an evening of strong and mixed emotions, or at least that was my sense. As I wrote in my earlier post in the context of Thanksgiving, clearly this is not the Christmas of any resident’s dreams. Yet it may be better than the alternative. And it is Christmas within a community that addresses their needs. I felt privileged to be part of it.

Categories: Family, Life

FedEx At Last

December 26, 2008 Leave a comment


In Still More Snow, I wrote about FedEx’s inability to get a package to the house by this past Wednesday (Christmas Eve) that had arrived in Seattle last Friday evening. But wait, there’s more. That was just my package, with presents for Gail and Joel. It turns out that Gail was waiting for two more packages from FedEx, with presents for me. And I had ordered yet another package, with food I hoped we would have for Christmas, but I never got a tracking number with notification of shipment, so I didn’t know whether it had shipped or who the shipper would be.

With three, or possibly four, packages buried in the belly of FedEx, I called their customer service number this morning (the day after Christmas) to see if we might go to their Seattle facility to pick up the packages. The woman I reached said yes, FedEx hadn’t delivered anything in Seattle all week. I gave her the three tracking numbers, she confirmed that all three items were here in Seattle, and she said she would send a message asking them to hold the packages. I also called the food company to see if they had shipped our food, with the thought that I could get the fourth tracking number if the shipper was FedEx and pick their package up too. But no one answered. I might have called too soon, at 8:59 AM.

I was excited by the prospect of taking control of the situation, getting the packages once and for all, and not having to worry about FedEx’s problems. Plus, as a bonus, I realized that the FedEx facility, on Alaska Street just off Airport Way in Georgetown, was near Stellar Pizza.
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Categories: Family, Food, House


December 26, 2008 Leave a comment


Vice President Cheney’s recent interviews have once again brought his defense of waterboarding into the news. In a post at the beginning of the month, I expressed my dissatisfaction with a lot of mainstream press coverage that doesn’t call torture torture. Here is an example from yesterday’s NYT, in which Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes that

Mr. Cheney, by contrast, is unbowed, defiant to the end. He called the Supreme Court “wrong” for overturning Bush policies on detainees at Guantánamo Bay; criticized his successor, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.; and defended the harsh interrogation technique called waterboarding, considered by many legal authorities to be torture.

How can we still be debating whether waterboarding is torture? If one wishes to debate whether our military or CIA should engage in torture, let’s have that discussion. But let’s not refer to outright torture as a “harsh interrogation technique.”

Let’s review, if we must. From Wikipedia:

Waterboarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilizing a person on their back with the head inclined downward and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. Through forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences the process of drowning and is made to believe that death is imminent. In contrast to merely submerging the head face-forward, waterboarding almost immediately elicits the gag reflex. Although waterboarding does not always cause lasting physical damage, it carries the risks of extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, physical injuries (including broken bones) due to struggling against restraints, psychological injury, and, ultimately, death, which may be caused by one of the many possible conditions—not only drowning—that are triggered by this behavior. The physical effects of waterboarding can come on even months after the event, and the psychological effects on the victims can last for years.

Mind you, what we’re talking about is a variant of a form of torture used by the Spanish Inquisition:

A form of torture similar to waterboarding called toca, and more recently “Spanish water torture”, to differentiate it from the better known Chinese water torture, along with garrucha (or strappado) and the most frequently used potro (or the rack), was used infrequently during the trial portion of the Spanish Inquisition process. “The toca, also called tortura del agua, consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had the impression of drowning”. [Scott, George Ryley, The History of Torture Throughout the Ages, p.172, Columbia University Press (2003)]

See also the discussion of waterboarding and torture at

The NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof is in Cambodia with his family this week. He wrote a blog post this morning entitled What do the Bushies and the Khmer Rouge share?
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Categories: Politics, Today's News