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What is the Holiday Spirit?

(Author’s Note: Yes, I’ve been away too long. No, this break up isn’t permanent. To demonstrate this, let me share with you a reading  I performed that was received quite well at my company’s Holiday party.

Also note – I’ve turned off comments. This is permanent, for reasons that I will gladly share with you. If you feel the need to respond to any of my thousands (!!!) of posts, feel free to e-mail me via the contact form.

- Kate)

All rights reserved by masahiro miyasaka. Used via Creative Commons License.

I’ve been doing Quality Assurance now for fifteen years. It is a very long time to be in that sort of job position, and it really begins to affect the way that one looks at the world.

To illustrate this, I would like to share with you a recent corrective action I wrote.


Dear Santa,

I am entering this corrective action against a feature that you had implemented upon your sleigh long after your initial design had been approved. I can find no documentation surrounding the implementation of your RLD, better known as your Rudolph Lighting Display. As you know, Section 21.93 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a major change as a change that affects fit, form, or function. Adding a ninth reindeer whose primary function includes illuminating a relevant pathway to the aircraft, fits that definition.

I strongly recommend sitting with your  SME/DER to determine your best course of action in light of this finding. Perhaps documenting an alternative means of compliance? Regardless, I would expect at least you to be able to answer a question regarding what is the mean time between failure for reindeer.




I’m pretty sure I’m getting a lump of coal this year.

Before getting too much further into this, let’s take an opportunity to thank the members of the Employee Activity Committee. If you guys could stand up, lets take a moment to thank them for all the work they’ve done here tonight.

In discussing over the entertainment part of tonight with Norma, the initial thought was that I would read from one of my books. I understood where she was coming from, but the idea didn’t seem that…festive…to me.  So I suggested that I could write something especially for tonight. The question though, was what?  I asked Norma, and she said “I dunno, something that puts them in the Holiday Spirit.”

What is the Holiday Spirit?


It’s a simple question, really. One that is often asked in various holiday specials and sung in a multitude of songs found on light rock radio stations after Thanksgiving.


What is the Holiday Spirit?

My parents raised me agnostic, so I was raised under the holiday tradition of bright lights, family get-togethers,  and many awful songs. I didn’t have access to some of the more religious components of the season. When I was a child, I didn’t connect with the sanctity of the season. As such, it has taken me far longer to understand what the “Holiday Spirit” entailed.

As a child, everything I knew of this spirit, I gleaned from the various animated holiday specials that I watched on an annual basis. A Charlie Brown Christmas taught me that procuring a sickly tree was a just reason to be mocked. The Year without Santa Claus taught me that Christmas is best left to the professionals, and, as an added bonus, also  taught me that Global Warming and the Coming Ice Age is little more than a battle between the Heat Miser and Snow Miser. The Little Drummer Boy taught me that everyone digs a drum solo.

Let’s talk about The Little Drummer Boy for a moment, because it was my favorite Christmas Special. Sure, I recognized that the story was about the simplicity of the gift being appreciated by Mary and the Baby Jesus, but what had me enthralled was the fact that the drummer boy was able to connect with the animals with his drumming. The Ox and Lamb kept time! What a conceit!

The only time that I’ve been able to communicate with animals with music was when one time, when I was singing, my cat coughed up a hairball.

Anyways, somewhere in all of these shows resides the Holiday Spirit, but clearly I was too young to figure it out.

My misunderstanding was so bad, that, when in fourth grade, when asked by my teacher  to give an example of what Christmas means to me, I wrote:

 Christmas means to me, that even when someone steals your presents, trees, and roast beast, if you just stand in the middle of town and sing, the burglar will turn himself (and his dog) in, and we will hold a feast in their honor.

Yup, 9 year old me, not only plagiarized  The Grinch who stole Christmas , but I turned it into an adorable story of felony breaking & entering with a touch of Stockholm syndrome.  This was something my fourth grade teacher explained to me later, after I read her note on my homework which read simply “Please see me after class.”

My understanding of this “spirit” became even more confused as I entered my teen years, where I was apparently under the belief that the Holiday Spirit meant that I was to get whatever music I desired, and that the failure to get said music provided just reason to throw an appropriate tantrum. This belief led to the “REO Speedwagon” incident when I was thirteen, the “Night Ranger” incident when I was fifteen, and the “Metallica” incident when I was seventeen.  While at the time I believed the change in my musical tastes illustrated some measure of maturity, in truth, all of the incidents are too similar in motivations to demonstrate any measure of understanding of what the Holiday Season is all about.

I would like to think that I grew in college, and to some extent I did.  Mostly I renounced my material ways, and understood that the Holiday season isn’t really about gifts, either in the giving or receiving. Unfortunately, I painted everyone with the same large brush, mocking anyone who participated in such a gross, materialistic way, and that even a simple purchase of garland or tinsel meant that one was complicit in the great Holiday-Industrial complex conspiracy, and that even humming “White Christmas” meant that you were brainwashed.

Luckily for my family, I spent most of the holidays with college friends, where I attended various anti-Holiday parties with various English and Theater majors of the university I attended, and consumed holiday feasts consisting primarily of Wild Turkey, and Cranberry and Vodka. This was when I first understood what wisdom was. Let me say that if I now have to consider a choice between  going to parties where their primary theme is “No one really understands how miserable the world is but us” against the option of oh, I don’t know….let’s say test witnessing, I’ll choose test witnessing every time. I have truly become older and wiser.

It wasn’t until my first year after college that I started to truly understand what the Holiday spirit meant. I was on my way to a family get-together, sharing a ride with my older sister. About halfway through the drive, long enough, mind you, to demonstrate that she had given full on consideration of what she was about to say), turned to me and said:

“Don’t be a fargle.”

Actually, she said more than that, to which I’ll get to in a minute, but I need to explain the word “fargle”.

You see, my family works blue. We curse, a lot. Not drunken trucker level of cursing, but certainly a level to which it would be appreciated by a drunken trucker. So when I say “fargle” ,  for the sake of decorum, I’d like you to fill in your own obscene gerund and/or  epithet.  The point I want to illustrate here is that my sister called me a fargle.

Actually, what she said was even more profound.  What she said was “Don’t be a fargle.  Christmas isn’t about just you. And…would it kill you to smile for the sake of the rest of the family?”

At the time, I took it as a personal admonishment, which it was. But upon reflection, I realized how much this correction to my behavior was an apt description of the Holiday Spirit.

We live three-hundred and sixty some odd days of misery, of stress, or of indifference to our fellow travelers on this planet. We live in our own tragic routine, a rote application of what we’ve defined to be our lives.  Thomas Hobbes once wrote that the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. But the collective “we” have been able to create this holiday season that allows us to celebrate what we can be – Joyous, Peaceful, and full of friendship and love.

The Holiday Spirit is the embodiment of that understanding.  It’s a feeling where we understand that we’re all in this together, and that we share this planet with one another. And that for at least one day out of the year, we should try to smile with one another, or, at the very least, we shouldn’t begrudge another for striving for an uncynical joy. Because the holidays aren’t about you, or me. It’s about us.

And let’s face it: Our lives in this season would be far better off once we understand that we shouldn’t be such a fargle.

Happy Holidays Everyone! May you and yours have a full day of peace and joy.

Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Cheese-Making : The Salt : NPR

Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Cheese-Making : The Salt : NPR.

 As any cheese maker will tell you, it’s not that hard to make cheese. You just take some fresh milk, warm it up a bit, and add something acidic to curdle it. Then, once it has cooled, you drain off the whey— the liquid part — and you’re left with cheese.

But when did we figure out how to do this? According to a new paper in the journal Nature, at least 7,000 years ago. Since then, the process hasn’t changed much.

Take that, Kraft Singles!

I Feel a Disturbance in the Force

It’s been a while, I know. But bear with me, as movement is afoot.

Stay tuned!

Media Alert: Rick Steves

My interview with Rick Steves will be available this weekend on any Radio Station that plays Travel with Rick Steves (it was recorded back in June of this year). We discuss my book Sweet Tooth, as well as other travel items surrounding candy.


Listen in, and hear what happens when I’m interviewed on three hours of sleep and have a minor case of food poisoning.

So, Where Have I Been?

For the past thirteen years, give or take, I would sit in front of my keyboard and type out items that popped into my mind.  Sometimes I approached this with great determination. Other times, I would do the literary equivalent of throwing pasta at the wall, and seeing what would stick.

Then I would click on a button, and publish the result in order for the world to read.

It’s a strange phenomena that this medium allows us. I could write about anything, and mere seconds later, a visitor from India, South Africa, or Akron, Ohio could consume it and consider it. This was magic made true by programmers and network administrators. For thirteen years, give or take, I took advantage of this and wrote with intent and joy. For the first few years, I wrote on another blog, where I could share/describe a medical issue to which I had to attend.  For the past eight-plus, I’ve chosen to write about food, with a dalliance in travel here and there.

The intent for the first blog was catharsis.  The intent for the second blog, the one you’re reading now, was unashamedly professional. I wanted to  publish a book with a major publishing house.

I’ve been lucky enough to now publish two .

Since then, or, more specifically, since accomplishing my intention, I could not come up with a new reason to write.  And so, I stopped.  I hadn’t just stopped writing on the blog. I stopped writing, period. No quick exercises at home, no notes in the margins of the books I was reading, not even a comment in any of the other blogs I was reading. Beyond a daily e-mail or two for my primary job, I barely mustered more than one-hundred words in the past three months.

What have I done instead? I’ve toiled at the said primary job, and took a week to go to Europe, again (this time to Vienna, Munich, and Prague), and half-assed some research on a beer book. But for the most part, I let the world wash over me, instead of trying to direct its tide to suit my needs.

The reasons for this were many. So many, that it was difficult for me to parse out the why’s surrounding this sudden and uncharacteristic behavior. As near as I can figure out, I should develop some new goals that exceed, but relate to, the previous professional goals. In other words, I wish to have more books published, but wish them to be “better”, for lack of a less-cliched word. What “better” means is an idea that is still being slopped around in my consciousness, and being played with every time something definable appears.

There is the rub. “Better”. How do I begin moving beyond the benchmarks of 99 Drams and Sweet Tooth? Writing about food history is a difficult field to break into, and I can count on my hands the number of people who are doing it well.   It’s just my luck that I have a passion that is the niche-iest of niches.

So, to those of you writing me and asking where have I been? I’ve been here, trying to create a new intent, and trying to better myself, and not really figuring out the hows surrounding it. Not yet, at least. But don’t consider this blog dead. It’s more dormant, until I can figure out where I want to gonext.



The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was initially a secret society, formed in 1848 in London and designed as a rejection of the art academy process. Rejecting the academic painting approach and what it stood for, these group of men ( William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner) instead chose to approach art in the styles of late medieval and early Renaissance Europe. A time that was Pre-Raphael.

What that meant is their art, at first, had a  ”minute description of detail, a luminous palette of bright colors that recalls the tempera paint used by medieval artists, and subject matter of a noble, religious, or moralizing nature”. Their intent was to make art approachable to the common man, through themes and stories that recognizable to anyone, and not through subtext that was unapproachable by most.

They rejected hackery, any idea that showed  ”anything lax or scamped in the process of painting … and hence … any thing or person of a commonplace or conventional kind.” They initially focused on the familial stories of the bible, but soon turned to landscapes, heading out into the world with canvas and paints. This seems obvious now, but before them, an artist would sketch a landscape, take it back to the studio, and then recreate the colors from memory.  What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood did was to capture the colors as they saw them at the time that they saw them. The result? Paintings had more detail than ever before.

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shallot

More than anything else, the PRB moved the art world, begrudgingly at first, out of its traditions of the time. While the diversity of the Brotherhood’s work makes it difficult to tie it to one or two basic themes, what the PRB accomplished more than any other movement was to make the artist the driver of the work, not the ideals era in which they were born. What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood fostered for more than any thing else was that artist had the right and the duty to develop their own identity and styles.  This belief would soon change the art world forever.