Christmas for Grown-ups

Every year since I can remember, my mom has hosted a Christmas party for her lady friends at our house. They come over, there’s food and drink and uproarious laughter and chatting throughout the evening, and the centerpiece of the whole affair is the cut-throat Yankee Swap. Some people know these as “white elephants,” though I think that name is weird, lame, and makes no sense, and everyone has their own variation of the rules. So here are the real rules. Take note!

  1. Everyone brings a gift, worth up to a previously agreed upon amount, wrapped and anonymously placed in a pile.
  2. Everyone draws a number from a hat at random, going from 1 up to the number of guests participating. Let’s say 10 for this example.
  3. Number 1 starts by selecting a gift and opening it.
  4. Number 2 does the same; after opening, Number 2 can steal Number 1’s gift, replacing it with their own. Or not.
  5. This goes on for the rest of the people there, up through Number 10, allowing anyone to swap gifts with someone who went before them.
  6. You can choose to have another round of stealing and swapping if you choose. I recommend it!
  7. Poor Number 1, you say, they never have had a chance? Not so! Number 1 gets the final pick of the game.
  8. Swap post-game as well if you’d like–but no bitching about what you ended up with in front of everyone else!

(Also of note, my friend Kim aka Domestocrat wrote up a great guide to Yankee Swaps recently. You should read it! Great suggestions, lotto tickets aside. 😉 )

Our first Christmas tree

As long as my mom has hosted this party, I’ve been not-so-subtlely interested in poking my head and being part of the fun. When I was younger, this included literally poking my head into the room, getting to sit with my mom during the swap and essentially dictate which gift we took that year, and my dad occasionally retrieving me so the ladies could have their fun kid-free. In retrospect, my mom earns her status as Awesome Mom yet again for being so very patient with me for all of that!

The ladies could get quite carried away–none of us will forget the off-c0lor comment made one year about creative uses for a Christmas-themed shower curtain!–and in high school my friend Nicole always wanted us to be at my house when the party was going on because of how ridiculous and loud they got!

Another tradition since forever in my family at this time of year is my dad’s village. This actually started with my Nana, dad’s mom. She had these small cardboard houses with big holes cut in the back, through which big colored light bulbs would be placed. The front windows the little houses were colored tissue paper, and she would set these up on a bed of fake sparkly snow around their tree. My dad inherited this lovely little collection of probable fire hazards and began setting it up across the mantle in our living room, where we have our tree. Over the years, the little houses gained a ceramic population, cars, additional buildings, and eventually began to be replaced by larger ceramic buildings, increasing in size every year until there was a grocery store, a bank (Hallahan Trust!), Santa’s Workshop, an Inn, a Bakery and Cafe, the Old North Church, a greenhouse, a covered bridge,  homes with families, a newsstand, a baseball park, even a snack booth! The 70’s tastic glitter-spattered snow was replaced by softer fluffs of cotton, the tiny trees had taller replacements, the light bulbs in the houses were white and it was overall less likely to cause an immolation that could swallow our home, and there are even working streetlamps.

As a child, I would take the little people and their cars and pets and play with them. As both the village and I grew, I just loved seeing it on the mantle every year, loved finding something new to add to it as a Christmas gift for my dad. It presented the image of this kind of Hallmark card, warm-fuzzy movie view of everything Christmas should be, without being corny or cheesy, but just being lovely and simple.

These are some of the things that signify Christmas to me, and I wish I had more pictures of both to share in this post.

My first Christmas hamlet. Not quite a village yet!

This year, I dropped by the house a few Sundays ago to bring back some borrowed items, and also to mark a turning point to seasonal adulthood. With my nephew being ten months old and suddenly mobile, my dad can’t put the ceramic and very breakable houses down at prime pulling-things-off-shelves-cause-I-can height, so he asked if I would like to borrow some of the houses to make my own village this year. I think I said “Yes, absolutely!” before he was even done asking. To my delight he had five buildings to offer that he couldn’t use, along with a few people to populate the new hamlet. The exchange happened to occur on the same Sunday afternoon that my mom was having her Christmas party–great! I thought. Perfect timing to grab some good food and a glass of wine while I’m there. A winner of a Sunday if ever there was one!

Saying hi to my mom’s friends, who have known me my whole life, they were asking questions about what I was doing, my job, my game, my boyfriend, etc and so on, and when time for the lunch came, swiftly asked me to join them at the table. Happily doing so, my quick visit turned into spending the whole afternoon at the house, sitting in on the Yankee Swap to see what was brought and what the hot item to swap for was this year, and was told next year I had to bring a gift so I could actually take part in it!

At the end of the day, I took home leftovers and ceramic houses, and after 30 years of being the daughter of the woman who hosted the party and the man who set up the village, I was suddenly setting up my own village and being asked into the room to join the conversation and the laughter instead of sneaking in and wondering what the adults were discussing. To top it all off, this year will be my first time of having my boyfriend share Christmas Day with me and my family.

Suddenly this year, it’s Christmas and I’m a grown-up.


Goals in 2011 & Aspiration: Game Designer

I found a post I’d made on my previous online journal about goals for the year 2011. I’ve done okay with these, but not 100%. Some are a little beyond my direct control, but most of them aren’t. But, there are also 4 big fat months of 2011 left yet, so I can make good on as much as possible!

One of these was to finish writing Ghostlight. This I have not yet done, but if I push myself, it’s possible. Now we’re talking first draft business here, not a remotely finished product, but the first draft feels like the hardest part. And though I’m considering changes that range from cutting or adding minor characters to snipping out notions I no longer want in there to wondering about rewriting the whole damn thing in 3rd person instead of 1st person, when I can at least have a final draft completed, start to finish, that’ll be huge for me. In short, this one is still on the docket, and I’m going to work at making it happen!

One of my other goals was to get some chunk of a proposed game script done, of which just about nothing has gotten done, but the game designer landscape is a constantly changing one for me. That game is no longer first or even second or third in the docket behind other potential projects. And that’s a good enough place to talk about another aspiration of mine, game design.

When I was a kid, I discovered Sierra games. Adventure games where you took on the role of a person–a space-age janitor, a spunky princess, a prince-turned-slave, etc–and walked around a world, looking at things, collecting a ton of inventory items, solving puzzles with logic and not with force of arms. I LOVED these games. It was like a storybook come to life, and I loved me some storybooks. Pretty much from then on, a pipe dream of mine was to create adventure games.

Fast forward to 2002, and I’ve just graduated college with an English major, basically meaning I’ve got no job and very few prospects. It was a shitty time for graduating, moreso with a liberal arts degree. I find a website for a fanmade, unofficial, King’s Quest 9, a sequel to the Sierra series that built itself upon myths, fairy tales, and folklore, that I had adored most of my life. They were looking for a staff writer among other things. So hell yes I signed myself up for that! I submitted an application, a trial piece of writing, and over the next few years I was the co-writer on a script that was insanely large and impossible to turn into a game, not that we knew that, because none of us knew anything about creating computer games back then. But between temp jobs and other obstacles in my life at the time, it was a dream come true.

After two cease-and-desists that fans fought vehemently to get reversed for us, last summer, we at Phoenix Online Studios at long last released The Silver Lining, Episode 1 (of 5)*. The dream was reality. We had made a computer game (well, part of one), and we were making it happen. We were game designers, dammit! We’ve released three full Episodes now, and are working on the final two, while also working on turning this non-commercial company into a commercial one. I’m a designer and the PR Director, and I love it. It’s unquestionably a passion for me.

It’s hard to say how much getting this game released meant to me. I can use words, and I will, but the swell of pride, accomplishment, being part of something bigger than myself…it’s beyond just words. If you’ve felt it, you know it. Something we worked on for eight years, something that was almost taken away from us by “the Man” not once but twice, something that enough other people believed in to make the effort to fight for it, for us…it’s something that will always make me smile. I hope this group goes much further and does much more, but knowing we’ve done this much already is kind of astounding to me. I–we–have gotten this far, and that absolutely counts for something.


*Details and shameless promotion! The Silver Lining is a family-friendly adventure game based on the best-selling King’s Quest games made by Sierra in the 80’s and 90’s. It is also FREE! Yes, free! You can play the whole dang thing at no charge. It is only playable for the PC right now, although we plan to have a Mac version eventually, and we have released so far 3 out of 5 planned episodes.