Christmas, Christmastime is here…

Well, I shall do away with the suspense immediately: I have survived another Christmas Dinner at McMurdo! Thankfully I had today off, so I have slept and slept and slept some more and can now write about it and share pictures with you all.

In the past week, the annual gingerbread house decorating occurred. I realize I missed it last year so I wanted to make sure to get good pictures this year since some of them were really creative!

This one commemorated our Hagglund called Moonraker, which caught fire and had to be scrapped and sent back to the US on our cargo vessel.

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And of course there’s one commemorating the shutdown…

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This one features Canadian penguins playing curling…

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And this one was just super bright and colourful.

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And once again we had some great help from the community in preparing for the big meal. My favorite Wastie, Kate, came in, as did Sharla and Phil Martin and of course Matt and Carrie again and Chris Chen, a grantee, and a bunch of others. Sharla and Phil helped me with my vegetarian entrée for Christmas dinner – I would be doing the Caribbean cakes that I had made the day before Thanksgiving, with a banana curry sauce. They were so popular last month we figured they’d make a nice addition feature on the menu, so after I made up the mix, Phil and Sharla shaped them while I worked on dinner for that night. Meanwhile Julie had decided she wanted to make porcini gnocchi, from scratch, by hand, which had turned into a HUGE ordeal this past month in which bags of potatoes got wasted because they would sit, getting gummy while Julie tried to do all her normal work and still find time to mix, shape, and blanch them. I prayed they’d turn out the way she wanted because she’d worked so hard on them – and had pissed the rest of us off in the meantime by not accepting help until the very last few days.

By the time the VMF party rolled around, I was ready to kick off my shoes and dance… although it turns out not many people I knew even really went this year! At least I left without a can of beer having been sprayed all over me, right?

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Christmas day was much calmer than last year. We started with our production meeting as usual; since we’d still have to put out dinner the next night, we might as well get whatever prep we could done during our downtime today to make our lives easier (also, they’d be one short since I’d be off).  I also used the meeting as an opportunity to pass out my presents – each of the three women got scarves from Viet Nam and Ben got one of the special wooden dragonflies that can balance anywhere. I think Bex might have been more excited by the “real wrapping paper” I had brought down than by the actual present… Then we all moved into the kitchen to get our assigned menu items rolling for that night’s dinner.

Overall, I thought the menu was rather wisely less ambitious than last year’s. It allowed us to really concentrate on stellar execution of just a few items, as opposed to mediocre execution of a lot of items. There would be a carved prime rib at the carving station and on the line there would be lobster, wild rice pilaf with hazelnuts, roasted broccoli and cauliflower, and smashed potatoes. On the vegetarian line, there would be my Caribbean cakes and Julie’s gnocchi. The atmosphere in the kitchen was much better as well since Lisa had acquiesced and said we could, in fact, play Christmas music since today was actually Christmas. Bex accompanied the stereo by chasing people around the kitchen singing carols at them – she loves Christmas! We were all also very excited because this year, we did a “Secret Snowflake” exchange, where those in GSC who wanted to participate wrote their names down and everyone drew the name of someone else in GSC to give a gift to – but it couldn’t be purchased, it had to be made…although parts of it could be purchased. So we all couldn’t wait to see what people thought of their gifts and what ours would be.

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I had drawn Dugan, which made me a little anxious since I knew he didn’t particularly like me. We’d had a few miscommunications in the past and, let’s face it, I’m not the friendliest, chattiest person when I’m working. But he’s an ultramarathoner/cross-country skier type person so I had put together a little “kit” for an Antarctic Marathoner: out of a sock whose mate I had lost in the laundry earlier that season, I made a hot/cold pack by filling it with rice and sewing it shut, then sewing a little pouch for it out of felt from the Craft Room. I used the chamber vacuum sealer that no one ever uses to make little single-serve pouches of jelly beans and Gatorade from my own personal stores. I also included some Vaseline, Band-Aids, and some mentholated cream for muscle aches that I bought from the store. I included funny descriptions on the labels and thought it was a good gift overall.

By the time we got our food, we were all feeling pretty merry.

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We nominated some “elves” from among the stewards to distribute the gifts and while Brandon really wanted to tell Dugan who gave him the gift he liked so much, I insisted it stay a secret. My gift was a lovely box full of numbered packages with a little book entitled “South Pole Survival Guide”. As I read the “Guide”, I was instructed to open a gift by its number and each was designed to be useful at the South Pole:

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I was given three different VHS videos for different moods I might find myself in (romantic, dancing, running), a couple sets of earplugs for when Ben was talking too much, and packets of Emergen-C for when I needed an energy boost. And the inclusion of “pizza love” meant it had to be Jeremy. I was very touched by the thought and effort he had put into it – that really made my day.

And just like that, it was time to get back to work to crank through the three seatings as usual…

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Unfortunately, by the second seating, it was becoming apparent that we were going to be cutting it close on the number of prime rib we had allocated for each seating. Todd, our Culinary Manager, decided that it was going to be too close to let anyone but galley staff carve, so he dismissed our community volunteers to other chores and asked me to step out and help carve, being very conservative with the thickness of the slices. I was happy to help but I noticed by the time the second seating was over that my energy level was plummeting faster due to the need to be “cheery” with everyone that came through the line. When Todd asked me to stay and help for the third seating instead of helping with clean-up in the back, I didn’t feel like I could say no but I’d started to get a headache and was really feeling whipped. So I got Bex to come stand next to me and “be my energy” while I just focused on carving. She sang carols to everyone in line, asked them about their Christmases, and was my cheery little elf. I really couldn’t have made it through that last hour and a half without her.

A bunch of ANG guys came in again and helped sweep and mop and by the time I got back in the kitchen, most of the cleanup was done there, as well, so I was able to stumble home for a change and a shower before joining the crew at the bar for a few drinks – after all, I WAS going to be off work the next day…

So that was our Christmas – overall I enjoyed it much more than last year, I felt much more cheery and celebratory and I think the simplified menu actually went over better because it was so well done and it was pretty much exactly what people wanted.

And as I said today – it’s been a lot of sleep and rest so that I’m ready to hit the ground running when I go back to work tomorrow! Next stop: Ice Stock!!

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