Friday, November 21, 2014

How to Enjoy the Thanksgiving or Christmas Holiday with a Dysfunctional Family

Enjoying family gatherings for Thanksgiving or Christmas with a dysfunctional family can be a true test of patience and understanding. Dysfunctional family holidays are a taste of reality that is a far cry from the idealized family holiday gatherings that we have been conditioned to believe the norm for all family gatherings – a happy, smiling family gathered together around a table laden with a beautiful spread of a golden turkey and all the trimmings - hands clasped in fellowship and heads bowed for grace or blessing. Unfortunately, most of us didn’t just step out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and most family holidays are not such portraits of familial bliss.

With my family being an exception, many families have one or more family members who are just eccentric enough to contribute to an air of dysfunction in family gatherings. Do you have a peculiar grandpa who refuses to stop burping because he insists that suppressing gastric functions can have deadly consequences? Do you have a spinster aunt who complains about everything from her aches and pains to the turkey being too tough? Do you have a family member who is always known to imbibe in a few too many cocktails at family gatherings? Perhaps you have a brother, a cousin, or an uncle who persists in arguing loudly about everything from politics, religion, and race to the state of the economy and foreign affairs. And does he always insist that he’s right and the world is all wrong? Perhaps your family gatherings are punctuated with a few children running around who are either fighting or whining. If this is a more accurate portrayal of your holiday family gatherings, then you need to learn how to have an enjoyable Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner despite familial dysfunction. This article will solve your dysfunctional family holiday dilemma.

Step 1:
Preparation of the holiday meal:
Everyone at the gathering should have a hand in helping in some way with providing for or preparing the holiday meal. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are usually such elaborate feasts that no one member of the family should be saddled with all the responsibility alone. Though there is something to be said for keeping the holiday meal simple and easy. In one of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strips, Woodstock, Snoopy and the gang enjoyed a blessed Thanksgiving of toast and popcorn.

Step 2:
The Seating Arrangements:
Try to seat everyone at one table, if at all possible, avoiding the peripheral and infamous card-table seating. No one wants to be the one who has to sit at the card table with the children. Not even the children want to sit at the card table. Allow each family member to gravitate to a seat of his own choosing. If family members are allowed to choose their own seats, they will naturally avoid seating themselves next to anyone with whom they are not compatible. Incompatible family members seated side by side are like a ticking time-bomb that could explode at any time. Diffuse any tiffs at the table that you may sense emerging by reminding the combatants of the occasion and that they should demonstrate some decorum and dignity or take it outside.

Step 3:
Diffusing the Alcohol Problem:
If the temptation to over imbibe in alcohol is too great for any family member, either serve no alcohol or limit the alcohol to a single glass of wine for a familial toast at dinner. You will be less apt that way to have to witness Aunt Polly take to the piano to perform an inebriated and melancholic rendition of “Send in the Clowns.”

Step 4:
Football Viewing:
Viewing football on television, a Thanksgiving Day tradition, should be postponed until after the family dinner. Don’t even allow the television to be turned on until after the dinner. Aesthetically, soothing music in the background would be more pleasing than the cacophony of sounds from a televised football game in the next room.

Step 5:
The Blessing or Prayer:
By all means say some kind of grace, prayer or blessing. It’s not necessary to have everyone clasp hands because, after all, Norman Rockwell is no longer among the living and will not be painting your holiday family portrait. But some kind of blessing will assist with fellowship and peaceful bonding.

If the “family clown” insists on saying a prayer before the meal and he is known for his sarcastic wit, you may get a blessing that will resemble the following credited to The Joy of Tech by humorists/cartoonists, Nitrozac and Snaggy: 

“We thank our forefathers who came to this land and displaced the natives, spread diseases and looted this land’s natural resources so that we can now enjoy this great bounty while ignoring our colossal, mounting debt. And may we continue our tradition of destruction to our entire planet, polluting our air, land and water for these short term benefits that we now enjoy. So let’s overeat and glutton ourselves, and bestow a heavy burden of epidemic proportions on our already struggling health care system. Amen.”

Amusing as it may be, that is the type of blessing you must avoid as it seems to mock a sacrosanct custom and sets a negative tone, even if parts of it have an acerbic ring of truth.  A blessing penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson would be more suitable for a loving occasion:
“For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, For love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends. Amen.

 My personal preference, however, is the following Irish prayer, suitable for any holiday gathering:
“May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, The rains fall soft upon your fields. May green be the grass you walk on, May blue be the skies above you.  May pure be the joys that surround you, May true be the hearts that love you. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

Step 6:
After Dinner Relaxation:
Hopefully you will have gotten through the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with little or no drama. Now you can turn on the televised football game for your guests and just sit back and wait for the turkey’s tryptophan to take effect, lulling your guests into dreamily dozing so that you can relax and breathe for the first time since answering the first doorbell ring.

Picture credit: Bing via


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Fear Epidemic and the Politics of Fear

In the United States, the fear of contracting Ebola is greater than the chances of one getting Ebola. This is partially due to some media outlets using the Ebola scare for ratings. However, it is mostly due to some politicians who are using the Ebola scare for their own political agenda. Capitalizing on such a scare is fear mongering, and that is tantamount to a form of terrorism.

The United States Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Within this definition, there are three key elements—violence, fear, and intimidation—and each element produces terror in its victims.

Though politicians and media are not using violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear, but, by sensationalizing the scare with what is often misinformation, they are successfully inculcating fear among the American people. Participating in such fear mongering for personal or political agendas is unforgiveable and can only negatively impact the well-being of the American people.

When decisions are made based upon fear, rather than science, such decisions are often not sound ones. It is important that we stay informed with facts and not opinions. Decisions regarding the health of our citizens should be made based upon science and not irrational fear.

Here are some facts:

There are about 36,000 flu deaths per year in the United States. This number includes people who die from the flu itself and those who develop complications from the flu - such as pneumonia and then die from that illness. The CDC estimates that between 5 and 20 percent of the country's population gets the flu each year.

The CDC and state public health laboratories have documented 691 cases of enterovirus D68 in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Five patients who died had the virus strain, even if it's not certain all of them died because of it.
Currently, only one person in our country has died from Ebola. For more information about this please read my web article, “Ebola vs Enterovirus D68: Which is a GreaterThreat?” 

Picture credit: Bartlomiej Stroinski