Christmas

As a scientist I love learning about some of the crazy quack medicines out there.  One interesting bit of quack history is this “Memorandum and Account Book” put out by R.V. Pierce, one of history’s patent medicine gurus.  It was designed as a clever advertising gimmick.  It has pages set aside for notes or as an account ledger, but interspersed within are pages full of advertising for Pierce’s quack tonics as well as “testimonials” of the wonders he had performed.

The cool part about this book is that someone actually used this copy – it’s filled with carefully handwritten notes as well as a few mementos, such as a thin sheet of mica someone tucked into the pages for safekeeping.  Most of the notes aren’t anything out of the ordinary, just records of lumber purchased or where and when sheep were put out to pasture, but they span the years from 1877 to 1884.  They are the daily ins and outs of someone’s life, despite the pages of blatant advertising.

It seems to me that my experiences of Christmas seem to be very similar.  There is a lot of rampant commercialism, along with the craziness of the season – the hectic schedules, the last minute changes in plans and trips to the store for batteries.  And yet interspersed between all of that are the special memories – racing away from a neighbor’s door after secretly dropping off gifts, the joy on my daughter’s face the first time she saw us turn on the Christmas lights, the Christmas Eves spent gathered at my grandparents’ house playing games and laughing with family, the baptism of the Bonilla family on Christmas Eve at a little chapel in McAllen, my first Christmas with my amazing wife.

My Christmases through the years have been filled with love and joy, tears and laughter.  There have been times when I have been far too consumed with consumerism, but there have also been sacred times when I have been privileged to feel the true spirit of Christmas.  For all those times and all those memories, I thank all of you who have filled the pages of my life.  Merry Christmas!

Supersaturation

One of my favorite chemistry demonstrations involves a supersaturated sodium acetate solution.  I usually do it in a beaker in the lab, but you can do the same thing at home with a reusable hand warmer.  Basically it’s filled with some water that contains more sodium acetate than it should be able to hold.  The solution is unstable and all it needs is something to begin the crystallization process (in the reusable hand warmers you do this by clicking the little metal button).

Instantly the crystals begin to form and within a few seconds the entire thing has crystallized.  In the process it also produces quite a bit of heat, which is why these are used as hand warmers (and not just cool chemistry demos).

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The holidays always seem to make my heart feel a bit like a supersaturated solution.  Thanksgiving is a time when we slow down and actually take the time to show our gratitude for all we have.  And then comes Christmas with the joy and laughter and peace on earth.  We’re constantly reminded of the birth of our Savior and even the crankiest among us feel the need to share what we have with those around us.

It’s during this time that my heart is full of so many emotions it’s a bit hard to contain them.  And then something comes along that starts the formation of all those crystals of emotion.  That’s what happened to me a few day ago…

My family and I had gone out to dinner together at our favorite restaurant.  It was a nice relaxing evening – the food was great, the kids were behaving, and everyone was happy.  When it came time to pay for the meal the waitress informed us that someone had already paid for it.  It wasn’t a busy night at the restaurant and looking around we didn’t recognize a single person.  An unknown stranger had paid for our meal out of pure kindness.

I was shocked and I have to admit I had tears in my eyes as we walked to the car.  We’re thousands of miles away from relatives and sometimes it’s hard, especially around the holidays.  It was so nice to be reminded that even total strangers are our brothers and sisters and deserve our love.  It has certainly helped my family – we immediately started talking about what we could do to show our love to others during this Christmas season.