Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Great Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mystery

Chapter 1 The Plot

North Pole: Santa’s Workshop

Christmas Eve.


Santa’s sleigh sat on the runway like an overstuffed turkey, creaking and groaning under the pile of toys and presents being loaded on by the elves. High above the sleigh a conveyor belt dropped a steady stream of brightly wrapped packages, dolls, rocking horses, fire trucks, balls and bats, scarves and hats into Santa’s giant red sack. On the shop floor below a fleet of bright yellow forklift trucks scurried around transporting loads of presents.

From his office high above the cavernous factory Santa surveyed the scene through a large window, his quick eye taking in every detail of the operations below.

His concentration was disrupted by a quiet, “Ahem.”

Santa turned, looked down, smiled and said, “Yes, Jon, what do you have?”

Jon was the Littlest elf in charge of Departure Planning. Although Jon was the Littlest elf his job was the Biggest. He must make sure all the presents get into Santa’s sack properly, make sure the sack is lashed down properly, make sure the reindeers are hitched properly and make sure that Santa departs on time.


Jon was a very proper elf even if he was the Littlest.

Jon adjusted his glasses, held up his clipboard and stretched just a little to make himself appear taller, cleared his throat with another “Ahem” and proceeded in clipped tones to read his report.

“Toy production. Check. Loading operations. Check. Weather update. Check.”

Jon paused.

“And?” Santa inquired looking over the tops of his glasses and down at Jon.

“And what, sir?” Jon replied.

“Reindeers, Jon, reindeers,” Santa chided gently, “We need reindeers to fly. You did not say ‘Reindeers. Check.’ “

Jon the Littlest elf blushed, developing alternating pink and purple stripes across is very large nose.

“Uh,” Jon stammered, “Reindeers. Not check.”

Santa’s eyes grew wide. In all his years he had only heard the phrase “Reindeers. Not check.” once before. That time had been a very foggy Christmas Eve, many years ago.

Jon continued with his report. “The reindeers, they’re not ready. They’re upset about something. I think they’re on strike. They’re not going to fly tonight?”

Several things then happened simultaneously. Santa inhaled so deeply that all the air was nearly sucked out of the room. Then, Santa let out a “WHAAAATTTTT?” so loudly that the roof lifted off the toy factory and all the noise from the shop floor below was drowned out.

The roof came down with a WHUMP!

Jon tried to become the Very Littlest elf by crawling into his hat and scuttling towards the door.

It became very quiet.

Breathing deeply Santa looked at Jon, or rather the hat that was scuttling towards the door, and said, “The reindeers. Take me to them.”

Chapter 2 The Plot Thickens

Deep in the heart of Santa’s North Pole Toy Factory was an area off-limits to everybody, the Reindeer Ready Room. This is where the reindeer lived, exercised, trained and prepared for their annual job of hauling Santa’s sleigh around the World to deliver toys and presents to good little girls and boys.

Without knocking Santa opened the door to the Ready Room and walked into a hurricane!

The room was a blur of antlers, hooves, shouting, yelling, fighting and biting.

The reindeer were seriously out of control!

Very quickly, though, the reindeer noticed Santa in the room and all of the antlers, hooves, shouting, yelling, fighting and biting stopped.

Santa stepped into the room and demanded to know, “What is going on?”

The reindeer looked at each other and then starting talking all at once.

“My hat!”

“My scarf!”

“My sweater!”

“My leg warmers!”

“My iPod!”

Santa held up his hand and motioned to the reindeer to calm down.

“One at a time! One at a time, please!” Santa implored.

Dasher approached Santa first. “It’s my hat. My lucky, warm hat that I wear every year. It’s gone! I can’t find it anywhere! I can’t fly with out my lucky hat!”

Cupid was next. “My boots are gone. My favorite boots that give me a good grip on slippery icy rooftops are gone! I can’t find them anywhere! I can’t fly without my boots!”

Then all the reindeer began talking at once complaining about missing stuff and claiming they couldn’t fly without it.

Santa held up his hand again and the reindeers became quiet.

“Hmmmm,” Santa mused aloud, “this looks like a job for Inspector Heather.”

Chapter 3 The Plot Thins

There was a knock on the door. Jon the Littlest elf reached up, turned the great brass knob and opened the door.

Wasting no time, a tall formidable-looking woman with dark, piercing eyes, blonde hair tied back in a severe bun and puffing on a large pipe strode into the room.

Immediately, Inspector Heather surveyed the room and after inhaling deeply on her great, inspector’s pipe, barked rapidly and decisively, “You, you, you and you,” she pointed at four reindeer, “over there. And you, you, you and you. Over there.”

She pointed in the opposite direction.

Immediately the reindeer fell into formation, four on each side of a line with Inspector Heather in the middle. One by one, Inspector Heather questioned each reindeer, quietly and in whispers. All that could be heard was

Pssst! Psssst! Pssst. Psst!

In good time Inspector Heather finished her interrogations, smoked furiously on her pipe for several minutes sending up great billows of grey clouds, and the occasional smoke ring.

Suddenly, she turned and approached Santa thoughtfully. Drawing herself to her full height and staring Santa eye to eye, Heather reached into her coat pocket and withdrew a small note pad.

“Note,” Inspector Heather said, “the following missing items.” And she proceeded to list off each of the items missing from the Reindeer Ready Room.

Dasher: one knitted hat
Dancer: one cashmere scarf
Prancer: one pair wool socks
Vixen: four leg warmers
Comet: one sweater
Cupid: four mountaineering boots
Donner: one pair long johns; red
Blitzen: one iPod

“Anything else,” Inspector Heather asked, surveying the room through squinted eyes?

The reindeers muttered no, no, no, no, no, no, no and no.

“OK, then, righty-o,” said Inspector Heather, “I think I have this case solved!”

The reindeers looked up startled! Jon the Littlest elf looked up startled. Santa looked up startled.

It is safe to say that everybody was startled!

Inspector Heather flipped a page in her notebook.

Clearing her throat she addressed the room. “Ahem, here are the facts,” and she listed them one by one.

Fact: Every item missing is missing from the Reindeer Ready Room

Fact: Every reindeer is missing exactly one item.

Fact: Rudolph the Reindeer isn’t missing anything.

And, Fact, Heather announced with a great flourish, the fate of all of the missing items is right here in Rudolph’s locker!

Heather pulled open the locker door and stepped back as a small piece of paper fluttered to the floor. Picking up the paper Heather read from top to bottom:

1 hat
1 scarf
4 warmers
and so on until the last item
1 iPod

Blitzen winced.

Heather looked at Santa and the reindeers. “Clearly,” Heather announced, “Rudolph stole these items from the reindeer to sell on eBay. Case closed.”

Rudolph the culprit! Who knew!

Chapter 4 Rudolph’s Mystery

As if on cue the door to the Reindeer Ready Room creaked open and in walked Rudolph, his nose glowing red in delight.

“Yo, crew,” Rudolph hailed in bonhomie, “what it do?” Rudolph threw a mock reindeer gang hoof sign for fun.

The room was so quiet you could hear the hairs growing in Santa’s nose.

Rudolph froze in mid hoof sign and looked around. Nobody was smiling. Nobody was laughing. Inspector Heather stood at the end of the room with her arms crossed and her lips puckered as if she had sucked 40 lemons through a narrow straw.

Rudolph, sensing that things were a little tense, started to back out the door but froze in his tracks when Santa shouted, “FREEZE!!”

Frozen like a reindeer in the headlights, Rudolph managed a weak, “Oh, Santa, wazzzzzup?” which sounded pretty weak given the situation.

Santa and Heather approached Rudolph frowning and brandishing the list. Rudolph backed into a corner and tripping on a footstool crashed to the floor. Looking up he could only stammer, “I ... I ... I ...”

Santa cut to the chase. “Rudolph,” the reindeer are missing stuff and we found this list itemizing each thing stolen in your locker! What do you have to say for yourself?”

Inspector Heather leaned closely with her notebook in hand to record every word of Rudolph’s confession.

All Rudolph could manage to say was, “I ... I ... I ... “

Santa turned around exasperated.

Inspector Heather closed her notebook exasperated.

The reindeer stamped in the Ready Room exasperated.

Finally, Santa looked at his pocket watch, heaved a great sigh and announced, “Well, there’s nothing more to do. The reindeer won’t fly. It’s too late to come up with a new plan.”

All eyes were on Santa.

With a heavy heart Santa said the words they all dreaded to hear,

“We’ll have to cancel Christmas.”

Jon the Littlest elf climbed further into his hat until his eyes were peeking out of the little snowball on top. He blinked furiously.

The reindeer stamped around impatiently. Vixen began to cry.

Santa stroked his beard and looked sad.

Inspector Heather closed her book with a snap, regarding Rudolph who sat in the corner muttering “I ... I ... I ... I ...”

Chapter 5 The Mystery Goes Down

“I ... I ... I ...”

“I can explain.”

Everybody looked around and there standing in front of the fireplace dusting ashes and soot off her bright, sparkly gown stood Princess Leta.

“I can explain,” said Princess Leta quietly, as she walked into the center of the room.

Princess Leta stood quite a bit taller than Jon the Littlest elf, but somewhat shorter than Inspector Heather and Santa. She was resplendent in her sequined pink gown, puffed sleeves, glass slippers and diamond tiara. Princess Leta was queen of the elves and all that was good.

Princess Leta looked fondly upon Rudolph and beckoned him to rise and join her by her side. Rudolph did so.

Then Leta spoke.

“Rudolph came to me some time ago with a strange request. He wanted to do something for the other reindeer for Christmas to make it special for them, but he didn’t know what to do. I told Rudolph to look into his heart and think about what was special to each of his friends and an answer would come.”

Rudolph looked sheepish for a reindeer.

“Rudolph fulfilled his quest,” Leta continued, “and I’m here to deliver the goods, so to speak.”

“Dasher, come forward!”

Dasher pranced forward.

“Rudolph noticed that you favorite knitted hat had some holes in it where moths had feasted. Here is your hat, good as new!”

Leta waved her wand and Dasher’s hat appeared on his head, good as new. Dasher broke into a big smile and bowed to Leta. Turning to Rudolph, Dasher said, “Bro, how could I have doubted you. You’re the best.” He gave Rudolph a hoof bump and walked back to his bunk.

“Prancer, come forward!”

Prancer dashed forward and was given a new pair of warm socks.

One by one the reindeer trotted up to Leta to retrieve their personal favorite items, repaired, each one and better than new.

Finally, Blitzen received a new iPod Touch.

“Whoa, baby, check it out! Google maps and email! This is so cool! How can I ever thank you, Rudy?”

Rudolph’s nose glowed even brighter than usual with a combination of pride and relief.

“No prob, Blitz,” Rudolph replied, “it’s all about enriching lives, one at a time.”

Shortly, all the reindeer were outfitted with their gear and ready to fly.

Jon the Littlest elf crawled out of his hat, revised his report, and, clearing his voice with a Very Loud “Ahem” said to Santa, “Mr. Claus, Reindeer Check!”

Santa chuckled a great big “Ho Ho Ho!” and said to everyone in the room, “Well, don’t just stand there, we’ve got Christmas!”

They all started to march out the door when Vixen raised her voice.

“Hey,” she said, “what about Rudolph? I mean, we got all this cool stuff, but Rudolph’s got nothing and I’m not jiggy with that.”

Princess Leta stepped up and looking at Vixen lovingly said, “Oh, don’t worry, Vix, I’ve got that covered!” And with a wave of her magic wand a small package appeared at Rudolph’s feet.

Rudolph picked up the package and opened it with glee.

“Whoa, check it out, guys,” Rudolph exclaimed, “Binford 3000 Night Vision Navigation Goggles!”

As Rudolph was admiring his goggles Santa stood by him tapping his watch. Santa said, “Rudolph, with your nose so bright and your Binford 3000 Night Vision Navigation Goggles, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Everybody cheered and rushed to the sleigh runway.

Santa in his sleigh departed on time and Christmas was saved.

As Santa disappeared into the moonlight, jingle bells fading, Princess Leta sang,

“Then all the reindeers loved him and they shouted out with glee. Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in mystery.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Twelve Two Two Fondue 5

It's that time of the year again!

The cheese, all 16 pounds of it, is bought. We'll get the bread tomorrow so it's fresh. Champagne is on ice. Lights are in the yard. Cats are freaked out.

It's Twelve Two Two!

We'll be broadcasting the festivities on

And we'll also be on AIM at farrell1351, and on MSN and wfarrell on .Mac and wffarrell at Yahoo!

Drop in and say "Hi!"

This is the biggest Twelve Two Two ever with parties planned on every continent and in over 60 countries!

Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Way Down Under

My friend Genevieve works down under.

Way down under.

Way, way, way, way, way down under. And she's not a coal miner, although I wouldn't put it past her.

No, Genevieve works in Antarctica. It's a tough word to spell much less imagine being there.

Ice and cold.


Ice and cold.

Weird stuff in the ocean.

Ice and cold.

Did I mention ice and cold?

Here in Houston it got down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (see, all you Celsius bigots, I used the "F" word)

In Antarctica it gets to a bazillion degrees below zero. On any scale. Doesn't matter. It's that cold.

Here's what Genevieve wrote about ice on her blog Ice Wishes and Snow Dreams:

Even the striations and bumps and streaks of the snow & ice, blown forever in one direction, were beautifully shaped and heartwrenchingly perfect. Nothing was in error and everything was random & impermanent. Some areas were like wood grain, others like cameo images of canals & lakes & deltas, some were like the gentle folds of a pure white quilt on the foot of your fresh made bed after you just climbed into it. There was so much texture I wanted to go out and crawl around on my hands & knees photographing it closely and in detail, forever. It was like the stone beaches in Maine & NZ that make my heart sing for the infinite variation of it. I could get lost wandering out there watching the snow, rarely noticing the view, and not in order to be careful where to set my feet; but in utter fascination at the shapes & colours & shadows of it.

Genevieve is a gifted writer who is in love with the most inhospitable place on Earth. Her descriptions of the snow, ice and majesty of Antarctica are inspiring.

And I think what I find most interesting is that Genevieve works in Antarctica. She's not a scientist studying some arcane crab, rather she's support staff. She makes the community go. She's infrastructure.

She drives her trucks and fuels her airplanes in Antarctica. Pardon the pun, but how cool is that?

This season Genevieve is at the South Pole Station. Literally the bottom of the World or, when the poles flip, the top of the World!

Genevieve sent me a patch because she knows I like patches. I sent her a scarf because at the South Pole can you have too many scarves?

Check out Genevieve's blog and if you feel so inclined send her something from warmer climes. It's surprisingly easy and her mailing address is on her blog.

I don't know about you, but sending stuff to the South Pole is Very Cool!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Lens in the House

Who are you?

I'm a Nikon D40. Now known as the "old camera."

Who are you?

Im a Nikon D60. Now known as the "new camera."

So, aside from 4 million more pixels what's the big deal?

Vibration Reduction.

It's "on."

Friday, December 12, 2008

My People, My Tribe

I am participating in a Global Genetics Project sponsored by National Geographic. For a small fee I was sent a kit and instructions on how to harvest cheek cells (yes, in my mouth!) and send them off for National Geographic to figure out my heritage.

That's the back-of-the-envelope description of a vastly more complicated scientific process. However, my part was easy and I sent my cells for analysis a few weeks ago.

The results are in.

I am Cro-Magnon.

Of course, my wife already knew that and I could have saved some money if I had only listened. But, I learned more about my people's journey across the globe and through time, and the project is continuing, so, who knows what details will be discovered in the future.

My "haplogroup" is Rb1, which is quite common and representing most Europeans. The farthest back I can trace my family is Ireland in the 1700's.

The NG project is not that refined. They're tracking vast groups of people.

Here's what is known so far.

About 80,000 thousand years ago the clan of my earliest known ancestor migrated north and east out of Africa and into the Middle East. They then moved north into Russia and then swung around west into Northern Europe. Following the edge of the ice sheets they were forced south into Germany, England, Italy and Spain.

In the diagram above for my group, the "M" numbers refer to "markers" which are significant mutations present in my very own Y chromosome. Not everybody has my mutations.

Only My People, My Tribe.

The trail so far ends about 35,000 years ago in southern Spain where my people dwelt in caves, learned to weave and to carve and to paint. They raised and protected their kids just like we do.

But, here's the interesting part at least to me. From that earliest guy who set off 80,000 years ago following a heard of game or looking for more food or whatever, from that earliest guy all the way to me, someone survived.

Someone survived attacks by animals, disease, war, starvation and a myriad of things that make you dead. Some lucky bastards ducked and weaved their way over 80,000 years to get to me.

I'd thank them all, personally, if I could. What a trip!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What? Snow?

Snow again!

It snowed two years ago. WTF?

This is Houston, not St. Paul!

Kink has never seen snow, so, I kicked him out into the elements and ...

... he loved it!

Kink ran around and jumped around and tried to eat the snowflakes and had a grand time.

Of course, he's never been dropped in a snow drift.

Baby steps.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Return of the Lady of the Lake

I wrote this originally for Beth Cherry while she was on vacation, but I'm posting it again here by popular request. Thank you, requesters! Both of you.

Lady of the Lake
Some years ago I had an opportunity to take a troop of Boy Scouts to a campsite on an American Indian reservation and to arrange for a storyteller from their tribe to speak to us at our evening campfire.

I’m a Scoutmaster, instructor and camp cook, and one of my responsibilities is to provide meals for the other adult leaders.   Since the theme for this campout was “American Indian,” I did some research to find out the kinds of things indigenous people of this region ate and how they prepared their food.  My research was further complicated by the fact that the tribal land where we would camp belonged to a tribe that had been relocated from their native home in the 1800’s.

In any case, as American Indian history is an interest of mine, over the years I have collected a number of textbooks and tomes on the subject and after some study I felt comfortable enough to produce a few “authentic” American Indian recipes.  I use “authentic” in double-quotes because I can’t reproduce the exact foods from their home region, but I felt I could come close to the spirit of the intended meal.

It was mid-November as I recall because Saturday night was the night of the annual Leonid meteor shower due to peak at 3 A.M. when, hopefully, I would be fast asleep.  I like meteor showers as much as the next fellow, but 3 A.M. is sacred!  I guess that’s why I never became an astronomer.

The dish I chose to prepare combined the traditional and the modern.  The traditional was a winter lamb stew made up of lamb, onions, several kinds of squash and peppers.  I deviated from the recipe slightly by using corn and a corn cob to thicken the stew.  The technique is to cook the corn on the cob in the stew, then scrape off the kernels and corn “milk,” then stew the remainder of the cob.  The corn starch thickens the stew nicely.

The modern part of the meal was “Indian Fry Bread” which is a soda bread that is rolled out and deep fried in oil or lard.  I say “modern” because fry bread didn’t appear in Indian diets until the introduction of processed flour, oil and cast iron pots in the 1800’s.

As I was preparing my meal the storyteller arrived to make her arrangements.  The storyteller was a young woman of 35 or 40, small, with long black hair and very, very grey eyes.  We discussed how she would arrive to our campfire by canoe from across the lake and that she would have about 20 minutes to tell a story before the attention span of the boys was exceeded.  She smiled and agreed that all was well.

I invited her to stay for dinner.  We had more than enough and she would be very welcome.

She looked around the campsite.  And, declined our offer.  Thanks, but no thanks.  See y’all later.

Well, to be fair, dinner wouldn’t be ready for a couple of hours and who could blame anyone from not wanting to eat Boy Scout food?

For the next couple of hours I tended my stew, adding water occasionally, giving it a stir to prevent sticking.  On a whim I decided to roast the squash and corn on an open fire to give it that smokey flavor before adding it to the stew.  I thought that the caramelized sugars would add an extra dimension.  To be true to the recipe I probably shouldn’t have done that, but I did.  Sioux me.  (that’s a joke)

Later, when I deemed the stew was ready and the fry bread had been prepared, I called the adults to the table and we served up.  It smelled great.

Just as we were sitting down to eat, the storyteller drove up, got out of her truck and gave us some last minute information.  She had changed from jeans and a work shirt into a long, buckskin dress and beads.  Her hair was tied back in a long, black pony tail.  We’d have to push the campfire time back an hour to 9 o’clock she told us and I assured her that wouldn’t be a problem.

As she turned to leave, she paused.  I figured she had more to tell us but she just stood there looking into the distance.  She tilted her head up and closed her eyes.  After a few seconds she turned to me and asked, “What is that I smell?”

I was caught off guard by her question but recovered enough to reply, lamely, “Dinner?  Would you like a bowl of winter lamb stew and some fry bread?”

As in a trance, she nodded slowly, sat herself at our table and we set her up with the last bowl of stew (there wasn’t much left) and a small piece of fry bread.

She ate slowly and in silence.

Sensing something different going on, and with a guest present, we all ate in silence; the normal banter abated.

When the storyteller finished her meal she looked up at me and said, and I’ll never forget her words,

“My grandmother made this.”

I took it to mean that her grandmother made the same lamb stew, although as I reflect on that moment many years later, and many reflections later, I’m not so sure.

“My grandmother made this for me as a child.  She roasted the corn which was not the tradition, but she did it anyway.  I remember the smells.  I remember the texture.  I remember the taste.  My grandmother made this.”

Rising from the table the storyteller said her good-byes and told us she’d see us at nine at the campfire.  I recall her eyes cast down as if deep in thought.

As she walked across the grounds to her truck she paused, looked back at me and said, “Thank you.”  To this day I can’t remember if I heard the actual words or read her lips.

We held our campfire at the shore of the lake.  Sang songs.  Performed skits.  Typical Scout stuff.  Around 9 P.M. a torch-lit canoe glided across the water carrying the storyteller.  We told the boys she would be coming and there was much anticipation.

Once on shore the storyteller introduced herself and told the boys that everything she was about to relate was the Absolute Truth.  Ah, the mark of an expert storyteller.  The boys were held in rapt attention for nearly 40 minutes, twice as long as I expected.  The story was about a grandmother and her experiences as a child.  I confess, I got lost in the story and don’t remember the details.

Then, it was over and the storyteller glided back across the lake to her home and her bed and a good nights sleep.

Not so me.

Around 3 A.M. I awoke with a start.  My heart was pounding.  I was sweating.  I had been chased by something, but now I was awake and the something was gone and I was in my tent looking out into the night across the lake.

Whooosh!  A meteor flashed across the sky.  The Leonid meteor shower!  Whoooosh!  Another one even brighter than the previous.  

Whooosh!  The brightest yet, illuminating the entire lake shore.  And, as I looked out I saw an old lady standing on the shore of the lake.  She was very tall, wore a long, buckskin dress and beads.  Her grey hair was tied back in a long pony tail.  

The lady raised her left hand which I saw by the light of a dying meteor.  I raised mine in return.

Whooosh!  Another meteor exploded in the early morning sky into a shower of green and yellow sparks and I blinked in reflex.  When I opened my eyes and got accustomed to the night, the lady was gone.

I watched the meteor show for a short while after that then drifted off to sleep.

The next day we struck camp, packed up and headed back home.  I thought about the storyteller and the lady from the lake.  I was half-awake.  Maybe I imagined the whole thing.  In time I put the weekend behind me.

One thing I can tell you, though.  I’ve never been able to duplicate that recipe for winter lamb stew and I’ve tried many times.  I’ve done the roasting, I’ve tried combinations of peppers and squash and it’s close but no cigar.  Not quite the same satisfying taste, not quite the same texture.  Not quite the same as I remember.

Oh, and one other thing.  I tried to contact the tribe so I could talk to the storyteller and find out more about her and her grandmother and maybe that recipe, and the tribe has been pretty adamant about this:

“We don’t have a storyteller.  We’ve never had a storyteller.”

Monday, December 01, 2008


Tonight the Moon, Venus and Jupiter did a little dance.

In case you missed it, and will have to wait 500 years or so for the next dance, here it is.