Somehow there is no Christmas without the Christmas parties. In other parts of the world, I suppose they are holiday parties, but here in the South, we still call it Christmas. That's not because we mean any disrespect to those other cultures we keep hearing about, we just assume that we don't know any of those types of people.

Our office party is held on the last day of work before the extended leave of absence called Christmas vacation. That morning, we all show up at the office and goof off for three hours. Being in our twenties or thirties or forties does not prevent us from acting like children on the last day of school. But we are adults, so no one is there to make sure we do any work. We are our own supervisors, and today we do a lousy job.

The party is at a country club far away from the office. We are told to leave by noon to make it there by 12:30; we leave at 11:55, being sure to shut down all computers and monitors and various truck parts. Once at our destination, we make use of our own seat-claiming strategies. Our party of twenty-five or so must be divied up into tables of four, five, or six, and you don't want to get stuck at a lame table. There are some who go ahead and mark a seat by throwing a jacket across the back. Some try to assess the other jackets and make sure they place their own jackets next to a friend, then hope the best for the rest of the table. Some try to wait and see how things settle out, but these are the people who end up sitting with the boss' wife and maybe that smelly guy who can really only talk about how much he hates his relatives visiting.

And it's not a bad party, no matter where you end up sitting, but the truth is, we'd all rather not be there. It's Christmas, or it will be, as soon as we stop being at any place that could be considered a work function. As soon as they pass out the bonuses, we look inside and count the one bill, then look around like dogs waiting to go outside to play in the snow during their first winter.

And I have been released. I'm going to be playing in the snow until after the the new year. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all those goodbye things.


all wrapped up.

While it's been established that I am excellent at picking out presents, I am hopeless at wrapping them. Honestly, I just don't get gift-wrapping. I like the idea of increased anticipation - look, a present for me, and yet I cannot immediately tell what it is by looking at it! That's a great idea! But that's really the only purpose of gift-wrap, to cover something up temporarily. It does not have to look pretty or enticing, because it's just paper. The enticement is that there is an unknown present waiting inside.

Who cares about the paper? I know there are people who carefully open presents by only cutting at the tape sites so as not to damage the paper. I suspect that those people do not understand about gifts. Maybe they're all thinking back to when they were eight years old and their mothers bought a refrigerator, which came inside a giant cardboard box. In that case, the wrapping is the best part, and I'll even extend that case to include items wrapped in bubble wrap. But for the most part, the paper is only the parsley on the plate next to the filet mignon and garlic mashed potatoes. I grew up in a family of tearers - messy and impatient people who want to get inside to the good stuff, recklessly destroying everything that might be in the way.

At some point, I did want to learn to wrap presents properly, because I was giving away presents that looked like they had been wrapped by blind three-year-olds, and all my friends had their mothers do it. So I asked my older sister to teach me, which she patiently did as I took careful notes of her steps. From that point, I knew the approximate steps in wrapping presents, but really only if they were box-shaped. Even then, things still turned out looking like they had been wrapped by myopic three-year-olds. The difference between my wrapping and that done by all those tidy Stepford moms was all in the details. My tape pieces were too long and too frequent, and my edges were crooked. My corners were not crisp, and my gift labels were made from scrap pieces of wrapping paper. That last one was something I picked up from my mother, and I've never seen it done anywhere else. I think that some mothers just set out trying to keep their children from ever becoming socially acceptable.

At some point, I gave on wrapping paper and started using bags instead. These are much easier in that all you do is stuff some tissue paper on top, and you are done. I recycled bags that were given to me and hoped no one noticed that the tissue paper was getting pretty wrinkly. I just hoped that added effect.

By now, I've pretty much given up altogether. I'll still use bags for non-boxy items or gifts with multiple parts. But for the most part, I do the best I can with my myopic three-year-old wrapping skills and am done with it. I use discount paper with no bows or ribbons, and I make labels using scraps from the paper. I take my cue from my dad, who once wrapped cash by putting it in an old peanut can and wrapping it like bubble gum by going around the cylinder with paper and then twisting the ends. In some ways, that's even more effective in wrapping paper's real purpose: I certainly had no idea what I might find inside that crinkly mess, and I was a little afraid to find out.

Life is much too short to spend a lot of time wrapping or opening presents. It's all just another metaphor. Beauty is skin-deep. Don't judge a book by its cover. And finally, stop judging the wrapping job and open the present, already.


red tape and red ink.

I hoped that when I finally started working out in the computer science industry, to avoid two things: customer service and paperwork. For the most part, I've escaped dealing with customers. I do have to talk to the customer every once in a while, but after a couple of years serving dinner to a lot of entitled people, it's not so bad. Now I don't have to worry about snobs so much as people who don't know much about their own jobs and know even less about mine.

But the paperwork, ah, the paperwork, is something that I have not avoided. Documentation seems almost the very essence of professional computer science. And I totally agree that it needs to be done in a lot of cases. We write documents to make sure that both the customer and ourselves understand what the software needs to do. We write documents to thoroughly plan out how we're going to make the software do what it needs to do. We write documents that plan out how we're going to test to make sure the software does what it needs to do. All of those things are good ideas, because in the end, you wind up with a better product because you took the time to think about it before you actually created it.

I just hate doing it.

I just finished up writing a software requirements specification (SRS). This document is the one where we say what we're going to do, the customer agrees, and everyone's happy. It's necessary so that there is no misunderstanding on what the customer wants and so that if they change their minds later, we can ask for more money. It's a tedious task to write one of these, mostly because it gets me thinking about the project, but I'm not allowed to really work on it yet, because the customer hasn't even signed off on the requirements. Writing a software design document is even worse for this, because you have to write down all the technical details of what you're going to do, but you still can't actually do it. Writing a design document made me finally fully understand the phrase "chomping at the bit."

It's not just me. I don't think there is anyone here who likes doing all this paperwork, all this nitpicky detailing about what we're going to do and how we're going to do it without actually being able to do anything. We are eager dogs dancing at the front door while our owner finds the leash and puts on his coat. We're dorks, we'll admit it: we just want to write code.

When a document is finished, it has to be reviewed. This means that several other people who are involved with the project, whether it be on the testing or financial or customer side, have to read it and make suggestions or ask questions to improve the document. Again, I think this is a valid exercise, because you get other viewpoints, and I honestly don't mind reviewing someone else's document. But I dread having my own document reviewed. It's so...demoralizing. It's like turning in a term paper and rather than just returning it with comments, your teacher gets five other teachers and they all pick at it line by line. By the end of it, you just feel kinda worthless.

I can't tell how much of my experience of the review process is because I'm new. I've only written two documents, and each time you go to one of these reviews, you get more of a feel for the things to look out for. My coworkers have always been encouraging and so while I still feel like a completely schmuck, I feel like that's probably okay at this point. It's definitely a learning process, and I try hard to remember that as I endure another verbal red-inking.

Eh, it's better than waiting tables.


thank your local postal worker.

I like to send out Christmas cards, and it's something I privately consider to be very Sandra-ish, because it certainly wasn't something I picked up from my parents, who only minimally noticed that December had arrived. True, lots of girls my age passed out Christmas cards in high school, but I like to think that mine were special. They weren't really, but I still like to think that.

I confess that I fell out of the habit of holiday cards during college. It might have been because I noticed that those boxes of cards were overpriced, or it might have been because I noticed that I didn't have that many friends anyway.

But fate put in a hand and I'm sending out cards this year. Last year, I sent them out, too, because a bourbon company send me a box of free promotional cards that were so awesome I wanted to send them to strangers just to use them all. That was also fate, cleverly disguised as the Maker's Mark Advertising Department. This time, fate was played by my desire for index cards, which led me to K-Mart during Christmas season. There was a small selection of boxed cards near the index cards, and I was sucked in. Darn them and their cleverly-arranged displays of holiday cheer.

I take my cards seriously. I make a list, check it way more times than that slacker Santa, and try to write a few lines in each card that makes it a little more personal than just a token greeting and my signature. Even if a couple of the cards have the same "personal" sentiment, it's not as if the recipients are going to compare notes.

But here is the real difference between my cards and anyone else's. On the back of the envelope, I write one more little holiday greeting, this one to all the hands that take my card from my own to those for which it is intended. I write "Happy Holidays to all the Postal Workers!" It really is a ridiculous thing to do, but I did it one year, probably to impress my mother, who is in that thankless line of work, and even though I decide every single year that it's kinda silly, I can't stop doing it. It would seem like a betrayal somehow.

I don't even know if any of the mail carriers see my message. They're busy right now and can hardly be bothered to read the back of every Christmas card they pass along. But maybe a couple of them see it, grin a little at my goofiness, and then pass it along. Maybe I'm not deluding myself when I think that I might be doing some good.

Who cares? My mother likes it.


i know what i like.

This is a picture of a giant egg next to a giant metal outline of a chicken made of a bicycle chain. It is art. If you look through the middle of the chicken, you will see the GM building in Detroit, a building that I like very much because it's made of cylinders and is so constructed that it can reflect upon itself, making it a very self-aware piece of architecture. While the sculpture was put there by someone else and the building was put there by a completely different someone else, it was my idea to combine them. So in my own small way, I have created art.

I don't know art, but I know what I like: cylinders, reflective surfaces, and giant metal chickens.


i got a bone in my leg!

My dad likes to say that he has a bone in his leg. It's not that he spontaneously goes into anatomy lectures about the tibia or the femur. Usually, he'll say it when he's getting up after a long period of sitting down, like some sort of exclamation his body makes as it creaks into action, "Oh, I got a bone in my leg!" I think it's funny and ridiculous, and I've taken to saying it, just because I want to be like my dad in that I want to be the kind of person who says funny and ridiculous things. Every time I use it, I can hear my nephew earnestly protesting, "But everyone has a bone in their leg!"

My dad injured his leg at a friendly, yet aggressive Thanksgiving basketball game. My mother took him to the doctor, which proved to me that Daddy was in some pain. My father is one of those old-fashioned, stoic types who doesn't trust doctors and avoids them if at all possible. But he went, and the doctor told him that he had chipped a bone.

My mother was telling me this story, and I immediately laughed and said, "He's got a bone in his leg!" Then I felt bad, because my dear, old father was suffering, and I was making jokes.

"That's exactly what he said," my mother responded. "The doctor looked at him like he was crazy."

The treatment plan for a bone in the leg is pain killers and a soft brace. My parents had to go to Kansas this week to see my mother's family while my father was in this hobbling condition. I realized that my father was going to meet dozens of people who would ask him what happened, and I just knew that he would say, "I got a bone in my leg!" as the complete explanation, probably not even bothering to elaborate further despite all the confused looks he would receive. I can just imagine my mother's continued frustration at having to explain exactly what that phrase means in Daddy-speak.

I think my daddy is nuts.