A Pair Of Christmas Exchanges

CAROLING WITH CAROL

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The song goes, "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas."

Since the likelihood of obtaining such a beast and it thriving in Payson is slim, I will happily settle for an elephant of the white variety.

Everyone has at least one of these critters in their homes and it can safely be said that white elephants will not be extinct until humans are extinct.

If we ever colonize the stars white elephants may in fact outnumber the humans.

Kings in Thailand may have once given real white elephants as gifts.

The tradition has grown in the sense that more people are exchanging the white elephants, yet the elephants themselves have grown much smaller and morphed into something altogether different.

A white elephant today is a chatchki -- some item you have around your home, perhaps purchased at a garage sale, that you really needed or thought was cool at the time but no more.

Christmas is a time of year when many white elephants are exchanged at office and club parties around America via a game.

All the brightly wrapped elephants are placed in a pile.

Person number one picks one, and opens it.

I have seen small tool kits, unbuilt model kits, a Tom Jones CD, a clock that runs behind Father Time, a decorated tin full of marbles, and handmade coffee mugs exchanged.

"How nice! I have a book of quotations by people long dead," he says, displaying the book for all to see.

Person number two gets a turn. She can choose an unopened gift or steal the quotation book.

"Oh, I've always wanted a matching earring, necklace and bracelet set made of papier-mache beads," she says, upon ripping off the tissue paper and bow, then looking longingly at the book of quotations by people long dead (who may have been wiser than she.)

And so the game goes until the last package is unwrapped, and the "good" gifts have been stolen a few times.

Then person number one gets the final chance to steal.

He might even decide that a white elephant statue that some joker brought is better than a book of quotations.

The other exchange I am familiar with combines soup stock and cookies.

I was living in a 14-foot-wide mobile home in Round Valley the year I learned that soup goes with cookies.

You may believe that soup of any kind goes better with crackers, and it does, for all but one day a year in my life -- cookie party day, cookies go with soup.

Sweet potato soup to be precise.

In addition to baking six dozen cookies for the annual cookie exchange event, I serve this yummy soup topped with sour cream and buttered, toasted pecan pieces.

So each year the words "But you have to make sweet potato soup," ring in my head.

I search through my new Williams-Sonoma Soup cookbook for another recipe that grabs my fancy because it is less time-consumptive.

I realize while looking at recipes for Lamb Stew and Burgundy Beet Soup this is really just my way of putting off peeling 10 pounds of sweet potatoes -- A holiday tradition to be proud of plus I now have a hint of what KP duty would be like in the Army.

Besides, I love the smiles I get when my guests taste the first spoonful.

"Yes Patty and Patti and Paty, I will make sweet potato soup," I murmur out loud to certain longtime guests.

This will be the sixth year I have put on my contribution to holiday spirit for 16 to a double baker's dozen of friends who have exchanged upwards of 6,000 cookies.

Year one, guests were asked to bake three dozen cookies which got me only one or two strange looks.

When I upped the ante to five dozen for year three some of the looks I got would have made great Halloween masks and no fainting was allowed.

Last year, 17 of my friends managed to burn an estimated four calories a minute each while baking. The calorie count does not include cookie dough tasting tests.

Two more friends put Rockin' Around the Christmas tree on the stereo, donned an elf's hat and apron and got so involved mixing eggs, flour and spices and filling their homes with the unmistakable aroma of cookies -- at least that's what I surmise they brought 72 cookies to the party.

We'll give 'em several calories a minute (about the same as dancing) over three hours at least. That's 1,260 calories.

Hey! Follow my disjointed logic to discovery: Baking six dozen cookies must be a healthy exercise.

But sweet potato soup, now that sadly, is full of carbs.

I wonder how many calories rummaging through my house for this year's white elephant will burn?

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