Eight Short Stories | December 14, 2022

My sister and I recently surprised our dad with “the gift of our presence” by crashing our family chaos into his Austin birthday weekend getaway with my mom.  I love me a good Hallmark/-adjacent movie for the same reasons as everyone else – the snark, and the final kissing scene – and so I watched Apple TV’s The Eight Gifts of Hanukkah on the way to Texas.  As expected, it was a magnificent dumpster fire (at one point I laughed so loudly that my son, sitting three seats away across the aisle, shushed me); in part because the overall premise is that the main character falls passionately in love with a mystery man who sends her eight INCREDIBLY PERSONAL gifts, including “chocolate” and “a non-descript watch.”  In honor of Jewish girls everywhere aggressively vision boarding a scenario where a rich Jewish contractor (oh fer sure), a rich Jewish tech genius (more likely), a rich not-Jewish-but-supportive celebrity chef found on Tinder (a statistically improbable meeting but fine), and a rich Jewish partner in a law firm (I’m offended by this accurate stereotype) are vying for her affection, and in celebration of Hanukkah starting on Sunday, I would like to offer you eight of my own INCREDIBLY PERSONAL stories from the past few weeks.


To keep ten people – including four boys ages 11, 7, 5, and 1 – occupied between meals, we sought the services of Pioneer Farms, a multi-acred living history museum in Austin.  At one point, I found myself at the 1886 Bell House with my own seven-year-old and my five-year-old nephew.  The Bell House was filled with volunteers in traditional Victorian garb, and one of said volunteers called the boys into the parlor.

“Hello, sirs,” she drawled.  “Would you like to hear a short story?”

“Sure,” Seven said, never one to turn down a good plop onto a vintage couch.  His cousin obediently joined him.

Once she was sure they were settled, the volunteer spread out her hoop skirt, positioned herself onto a wicker rocker, opened a time-worn version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” – and began to read the slowest version of that story ever told.  The boys sat there patiently and silently for approximately 186 years, after which the volunteer gently closed the book and asked the boys if they had any questions.  Five raised his hand.

“Yes?”  She said, patting the book.

“Do you have any graham crackers?”  He asked.


My eleven-year-old was recently given the chance to write his holiday wish on a paper ornament and place it on a Christmas tree. Nestled amongst the “A puppy” and “An Oculus” wishes was Seven’s request: “World Peace, Hockey, and Deez Nutz.”


We took my dad to the Austin Museum of Ice Cream on his birthday, which was appropriate since I’m still not totally sure my dad likes ice cream.  The Museum of Ice Cream plays fast and loose with the term “Museum,” as it’s really just a giant pink+pink box (Blush and Bashful, for Steel Magnolia fans) of rooms for eating ice cream and taking pictures for Instagram.  The ice cream is, obviously, the centerpiece, and when we walked into the second room (the first room was where we got to name ourselves something related to ice cream and so Kyle picked Vanilla and we almost got divorced right then and there because the #1 thing Kyle and I argue about is whether Vanilla is a flavor – his contention – or an ingredient – mine) the hostess (whose real or ice cream name was Sweetie) said while pointing to an ice cream counter,

“There are four ice cream stations throughout the Museum, and you can eat as much as you want!”

Seven, the foremost expert in the Titanic and ice cream (unrelated), was first in line to get his ice cream.  As noted, we were there with several children and adults, and so by the time everyone got settled with their own scoops (minus my dad, because I really don’t think he likes ice cream), I looked around and realized Seven was missing.  We found him back at the counter, tucked into his second dish.

“What are the chances he pukes before he gets out of here?”  I asked my sister.

Well, he didn’t puke IN the Museum, but my dad – who, as noted, may or may not like ice cream – got to spend twenty minutes of his birthday in the bathroom outside the Museum with a grandson who had filled himself up with too much happiness.


Seven has recently started playing goalie.  At one of his most recent games, he took a puck to the face mask that came in so hard that it took off some paint.  Seven was obviously upset; and so, after he calmed down, Kyle told Seven that if he needed him for any post-injury reason, to call him over.  About a minute later, Seven beckoned to Kyle, who rushed across the ice to see what was the matter.

“Um,” Seven said.  “I think there is more land on Earth than water, since there is land UNDER the water.”

“Sounds right,” Kyle said, as Seven got himself back into position.


We flew home from Texas on the same plane as my parents.  My parents sat up in First Class – deemed a gift for the birthday boy by his adoring wife, who coincidentally loves so much to board and depart a plane as early as possible that we’re thinking she will become a jet bridge agent in her retirement.  Eleven was fascinated by the fact they were in First, and so my mother announced to him that she would let him sit in her seat for part of the trip so he could check it out.

With forty minutes left to go in the flight, the attendant came back and communicated that my mom was ready for the switch.  We had just gotten our snacks (we were basically sitting in the bathroom), and so Eleven felt the need to completely consume every last bite of cookies and every last drop of ginger ale before heading up to the front.  My mom came back with twenty-two minutes remaining.

“I’ll give him a bit to take in the whole experience, and then I’ll switch back because…” she searched for a reason that wasn’t ‘Because I want to get off first,’ “My suitcase is up there.”

“We’re going to be descending in thirty seconds,” I said.

“No,” she said, as the captain came over the speaker to announce our descent.

The seatbelt light came on.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, pushing past me.

She hustled up to the front of the plane.  Five minutes later, she was back.

“Dad’s going to bring my suitcase,” she said, and then, “He was having too good of a time.” 

“That’s nice,” I said.


Last month, as we were flying back from my grandpa’s funeral, I noticed Kyle was staring off into the distance, deep in thought.  I reached out and held his hand.

“You okay?”  I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“What are you thinking about?”

Kyle sighed.  “My rink,” he said, in reference to our backyard hockey rink, which was, at the time, a few ice pours away from being skate-ready.


Every year, Kyle and I sponsor gifts for a family with the local domestic violence shelter.  I took Eleven with me to the Dollar Store to get a gift bag and some toiletries.  I told Eleven what we were doing there as we were walking in, and he was quiet as I loaded items up into the basket.  As I walked up to the checkout counter, he went sprinting off to one of the aisles – returning with two tiny packages of cocktail forks (like the kind you’d put into a tray of cocktail meatballs) and miniature dessert spoons.

“This family probably doesn’t have much,” he said to me.

“Probably,” I said.

“Well, they are going to need silverware,” he said, putting the forks and spoons in the basket.

“Yes, good point,” I said.  “Maybe we should get them regular-sized silverware, then?”

“But I thought you said they were kids?”  He said, deeply earnest.  “So they need little stuff.”

“Oh,” I said, putting the basket on the belt, imagining the next day when I’d deliver a bag of gift cards, shampoo, and cocktail forks to the center.  “Okay, sure.”


In addition to historic structures, Austin’s Pioneer Farms was home to a number of barnyard animals, including several donkeys.  The boys were FASCINATED by the donkeys, and spent ten-plus minutes feeding grass to the donkeys (who were standing in six-inch grass in their pens).  As we were putting the boys to bed after returning to Grand Forks, Seven began to wimper.

“What’s the matter, buddy?”  I asked.

“I’m worried about Austin,” he said.

“Austin, Texas?”  I asked.  “What are you worried about?”

“Who is going to feed the donkeys?”  He cried.

The photo above is of my sister and me at the Museum of Ice Cream.  We are sitting in a pool of plastic sprinkles, naturally.

In Minot, members of 17 law enforcement agencies took 128 “awesome” (quotation marks not needed) kids shopping for Christmas. (Minot Daily News)

And in Dickinson, 17 law enforcement agencies shopped with 51 more cool kids. (Dickinson Press)

Bismarck’s Emersyn Decker is now the proud owner of a camper (plus s’mores supplies, pillows, and sheets), thanks to Make-A-Wish. (KFYR TV)

The University of Jamestown Jimmies are the 2022 NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Champions! (Facebook)

There’s one day left to “Stuff the Bus” in Bismarck in support of Aid Inc. (KFYR TV)

Sydney Menne, a student at the University of North Dakota, is one of only 40 students to receive the prestigious Marshall Scholarship for study at the university of her choice in the United Kingdom. (Grand Forks Herald)

Watford City’s Saiorse the dog is being celebrated for saving her family from a house fire. (McKenzie Counter Farmer)

Hot diggity dog – the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile is coming to Minot! (KX Net)

An anonymous donor in Stanley paid all of the student lunch debt right before Thanksgiving – and, as you can see from this article, there is still time to help in other districts. (Williston Herald)

Let’s Be (Official) Pals!

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Christmastime for the Jews, by Amanda

I am Jewish.

“Oh, are there a lot of Jews in North Dakota?” You may wonder. Let’s put it this way: we could throw a party for all of us at my synagogue and still have room for everyone to bring a friend.

I really like being Jewish in North Dakota, in part because I’ve always found non-Jewish North Dakotans to be interested in and enthusiastic about my religion. This is because 1) people here are nice, and 2) I’m the only Jew a lot of them know. As a result, our family’s annual Passover Seder had as many Christians in attendance as there were Jews. It was standing room-only at my Bat Mitzvah. We regularly had a guest at our Friday night services. And then, in exchange, my family would get invited to Easter services and Confirmations, and it helped me understand their religions as much as it helped them understand mine.

This kind of interfaith intermingling was a big part of my childhood. Back when you could do this sort of thing, my mother would come to my elementary school with a menorah and a bag of dreidels and she would tell the story of Hanukkah and the kids would ask all sorts of questions (such as my mom’s favorite: “Do Jewish people only drink Diet Mountain Dew?” – to which the answer is no, we drink lots of beverages) and then we’d eat our weight in chocolate coins, and it was a great time.

A few days later, my teacher would make the world’s most delicious cookie wreaths made of corn flakes, marshmallows, green food coloring, and Red Hots, and we’d watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and it was a great time.

Which brings me to the point of this story.

On Christmas Day, as the Christian world prays and eats and opens presents, the Jews have a tradition of our own: Chinese food and movies. Eating moo goo gai pan and sitting in a mostly-empty movie theater is as synonymous with the Jewish culture as serving bagels and lox at a Sunday brunch.

However – and I feel like I need to whisper this – my dad doesn’t like Chinese food. Also, there were only four movie screens in town when I was in elementary school (not including the dollar theater) and they typically showed all the same movie, and chances are we had already seen it by the time December 25 rolled around.

So, my family had a Christmas tradition of our own: we spent Christmas with the Christians. Specifically, the Episcopalians.

My dad grew up with a guy named Bob, who moved with his wife, Sally, back to Grand Forks right after my parents did the same in the mid-1970s. Sally and my mom were pregnant together with their eldest children (ta-da!), and thus was the birth of our surrogate family – and, more importantly in this case, what we named our ChrisHanukkah celebration.

Said celebration actually began each year in early December with the ceremonial decorating of their Christmas tree.

How long does it actually take to decorate a Christmas tree – thirty minutes? Less if you don’t have to string the lights? We managed to stretch it out into several hours.

Before we arrived, Sally would transform their house into a Christmas wonderland, with garland and lights and poinsettias and Santas and probably a hefty dose of magic. Even the little wooden ducks in the living room wore red bows around their necks for the occasion. And, of course, the centerpiece: the tree, which Bob would cover in enough lights to simulate a fireworks finale. As my family’s idea of holiday decorating was to stick a jack-o-lantern on the front step at Halloween, even just showing up at their house was an event.

It would take my dad and Bob twenty minutes to put on Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas album, because it’s apparently impossible to turn on a CD without a litany of dad jokes first. Then, with “Deck the Halls” at full volume, we’d decorate. Sally and my mom would unwrap the ornaments, the kids would hang them, and Bob and my dad would make fun of us.

Once the tree threatened to tip over from the weight of the decor, we’d run off to play (in our teenage years we’d sit and roll our eyes at how embarrassing our parents were, obviously), and the moms would “fix” all of our hard work before going to make dinner. I don’t know what the dads did; they may have gone out for beers for all that I know.

Sometimes Christmas tree decorating happened to fall during Hanukkah, and so my mom would fry up latkes and we’d sit in front of that big, beautiful, sparkling tree and light the menorah and play dreidel. And if it didn’t happen to be Hanukkah, I’m pretty sure we played dreidel anyway. Chocolate is chocolate, you know.

Then, filled with ChrisHanukkah merriment, we’d say goodbye until Christmas Day (symbolically, I mean, because we lived down the street and we saw them all the time).

If the house felt charmed during tree decorating, it was downright enchanting by December 25. Beyond the fact that we were going to a house that had just been filled with new toys, Christmastime for me was defined like a lot of Jewish holidays: by the meal.

We sat in the dining room, which was decorated to look a lot like the tree with fairy lights, garland, and the spirit of holiday. The big kids got to have a tiny glass of wine, and we all usually got a Christmas cracker, because there’s no better way to keep a child in a seat for a meal than with the promise of a paper crown and something you can shoot at your dad. And the food! My two favorite dishes were these creamed onions with flaky breadcrumbs on top and some kind of handmade noodle dish that was bathed in butter and deliciousness, and if you told me tomorrow I could eat them on a daily basis without fear of a heart attack I’d open Sally up a restaurant because her #1 customer is hungry.

The holiday season has changed over the last decade or so – we have a whole end-cap at the Grand Forks Target with Hanukkah decorations and just about every store sells “Get lit on Hanukkah” sweaters – and my family’s ChrisHanukkah tradition has been paused now that we are all grownups with kids of our own. But the spirit of ChrisHanukkah lies on. So if you are a Jew who doesn’t feel like moo shu this year, find yourself your own Christians for some holly jolly merriment. I’d highly recommend it.

Merry Christmas!

By Amanda Silverman Kosior, (c) 2018