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"I was introduced to Looney Labs by a friend in my gaming club in September 2003. I played Fluxx then, and enjoyed it enough to buy my own deck. Now, I've since progressed beyond Fluxx into Chrononauts, and then Icehouse. I love the Icehouse pieces. Being able to cram dozens of deep games into a single drawstring bag really aids in keeping me and my friends entertained." -- Joshua Thompson's rabbit bio

Thursday, December 30th, 2004
by the Writer's Guild of Wunderland

What's New?

What's Going On? Christmas Stories

Yeah, yeah, I know I announced last week that I wasn't going to do an update this week. So what. This is National Play Week, and one of the rules of National Play Week is that you get to do what you want, and this is what I felt like doing. Maybe I'll take next week off instead. Today, I feel the blogger's urge to write.

Anyway, we're having a wunderful Christmas time. Corny as it may sound, the gift I got this year that I will cherish the most was simply the chance to get together with everyone at my parent's house for the traditional Christmas dinner. There were several issues working against us this year, including the fact that my dear mom has been suffering with persistent and severe chronic pain for a depressingly long time now, and therefore, quite understandably, wasn't feeling up to the Herculean task of feeding the small army our extended family has become. Fortunately, my brother Jeff volunteered to becoming the temporary host, and he marshaled the rest of us as assorted members of our different households prepared the various parts of the feast.

And what a feast it was! Since Jeff & his family were running the kitchen, the dinner was a mix of traditional favorites with some new specialties he's developed. I was particularly delighted to sample their roast emu, a meat-eaters treat I'd yet to encounter, which has become a traditional Thanksgiving favorite at the Charlottesville-Looney's home. It was delicious!

Rash used Mom's recipe for world famous dinner rolls, and they were very yummy. I have to admit that they weren't really up to the usual standard set by Mom, but then again, she set the bar quite high. Everyone knows her rolls are difficult to make... I think that's part of their allure. On the other hand, Alison's mincemeat pie, featuring Mom's recipe for pie crust, was reportedly just right. (I of course passed over the non-chocolate desserts in favor of the bountiful cookies...)

After dinner, the twins demonstrated their emerging musical abilities...

... and then it was time for the usual exchanging of gift-wrapped objects. There were plenty of gifts for all, but of course, the younger kids got the most, which is really how it should be, in my opinion. I'm delighted with all of the gifts I was given!

To descend again into the corny, the coolest object I received as a gift is this old photo Rash gave me, which he found somewhere among one of our grandmother's lingering artifacts. It's a photo of me, taken in the early seventies, and it's amazing how little about me has changed. There I am, wearing my favorite bathrobe (featuring wonderful colorful atomic age blobs), playing my favorite card game at the time (Rook) while sitting at a low-slung, game-themed table, with my beloved cat (our family's first, named Mat) close at hand. At the same time, it's obviously fascinating to consider how much things have changed since this photo was taken, in the very same room as the 3 photos above it.

And all of that was just one of the Christmas celebrations we've had! We also spent Christmas Eve with Kristin's parents, and we'll be spending New Year's Day with Alison's parents (who by then will be back from Florida), and in between we've had, and will be having, several other parties with friends. Plus we have yet to decide where we'll be at midnight on New Year's Eve... We plan on keeping the celebrations going for the full 12 days of Christmas... the tree must always stay up until Jan 6th. We're having a jolly good time! Here's hoping you are too.

Of course, no Christmas season is complete without Christmas shows on TV... I really enjoyed a special I caught part of on cable called "The Christmas Special Christmas Special," which of course told the story of the evolution of the Christmas Special. Naturally this got me thinking about all the various holiday specials I've seen and all the different stories they tell...

I bet you'd get a lot of different answers to the question, "What is the story of Christmas?" Many of course would recount the tale of an unwed mother giving birth to a remarkable baby in humble shelter, visited by angels and wise men with gifts. Others would describe a fat man in a red suit giving presents to good children everywhere. Some would mention a ghost story about a miser who learned to be kind and generous by being shown the reality of how others perceive him. A few might describe a snowman who came to life, or a reindeer who saved Christmas because of his shiny nose, or even a mean green grouch who stole everyone's gifts and then gave them back because they reacted to the theft unrealistically. Someone would certainly mention a guy who got to see what the world would have been like if he had never existed. There are many stories of Christmas, ranging from the earliest of pagan rituals (which cause us to install small trees in our houses during these, the shortest days of the year) to futuristic tales (like the infamous Star Wars Christmas Special, which I saw during its original broadcast but haven't seen since). Which one is your favorite Christmas story?

For me, it's the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. It is, after all, a time travel tale (and you know how much I love those)! The ghosts of the past and future are time travelers, who take Scrooge on some life-changing journeys of the sort I'd love to embark on myself. How could I not like it best?

Moreover, the moral of this story is as powerful as any Christmas message ever penned. Like the spirits who didn't give up on Scrooge, I believe it's never to late to look in the mirror, see what sort of person you really are, accept your faults, and seek to improve. As one who believes strongly in cultivating my ability to my change when I'm wrong, I consider this the most perfect Christmas story.

But then the question becomes, what's the best adaptation of A Christmas Carol? Of course, I'd recommend everyone read the original text someday, if you never have... it will always be the "best version." But after that, which one to choose? There have been so many... I've seen the story told on screens both small and large (I remember seeing Mickey's Christmas Carol new in a movie theater), on stages both tiny and famous (we went to NYC one year and got terrible seats for Captain Picard's one-man stage version), and in incarnations both accurate and wacky (I really liked the Northern Exposure episode that translated the story into Hebrew, so to speak, as a series of Yom Kippur visitations upon Joel Fleishman). I'm partial to many, like the George C. Scott movie and yes, even Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, but of course, some versions are just plain bad and certainly one can get tired of seeing the same story told over and over again.

All that said, my favorite adaptation remains the 22 minute animated version produced by Richard Williams in 1972, which I saw for the first time on ABC at about the same time that old photo of me was taken, when I was as old as James and Sharon are now. (Incidentally, I fondly remember wearing that bathrobe on more than one Christmas morning...)

The Richard Williams version is a bit obscure but it's worth seeking out. It features excellent animation -- Chuck Jones was executive producer, and they used a woodcuts-in-motion style that suits the material wonderfully -- and Scrooge's voice is done by Alastair Sims, a voice known to many as the "real" Scrooge because he famously performed the role in a black and white film adaptation made in the early fifties. And while the Richard Williams version zips right through the story, it's delightfully complete and faithful to the original. I make a point of watching it every year.

To me, the lessons of generosity at the root of the Dickens classic are really what this holiday is supposed to be about. If I had to choose just one Christmas special to anoint as the one which best answers Charlie Brown's question, "Can anyone tell me what Christmas is really all about?" that's what I would choose. (Runner-Up: "Karl Bertie Jonsson's Christmas Adventure.")

Happy New Year!

PS: Congrats to 'Becca (and Dan!) on the baby! Welcome to the world, Nicholas!

Thought Residue
There actually WERE Olympic games held in 1944 in Poland! It's not just a wacky alternate reality I thought up! The story was suppressed for decades, but apparently 6000 prisoners of war, including former members of the Polish Olympic team, held their own 22 day series of Olympic competitions *inside* their prison camp, in Poland, in June 1944. Wow.

The current edition of the Rubik's Cube, now under the Milton Bradley imprint, has an incorrect alignment of colors! The 6 colors are the same, but they're in the wrong places on the cube! It may not seem like much to you, but it's a bummer to anyone who's intensely familiar with the cube, like Kristin.
If you don't realize just how willing the "Just Say No" warriors are to exaggerate, distort, and even outright lie in their campaigns to suppress certain activities, consider the recently-revealed untruths being taught in "abstinence-only" sex-ed programs. A new report by congressman Henry Waxman concluded that $170 million federal tax dollars were spent this year on falsehood-laden programs intended to "overstate the negative consequences of sexual activity." (Children are being taught that any genital contact can cause pregnancy, that HIV can be spread through sweat and tears, and that condoms fail 31% of the time.) When authority figures are obviously lying about sex, why should anyone believe their claims about drugs? (They probably hate rock & roll, too.)



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