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Family valued - 12.21.05

Saws and snowballs

Say what you will for finances and household chores, but nothing challenges newlyweds quite like holiday celebrations. Traditions have to be meshed. Other people's feelings need to be considered. Family members whom you did not marry need to be given their due regard. And people never make you talk about it before the wedding, like they will about children and religion and doing the laundry. Sure, it may come up if you're doing the mixed faith thing, but the sparkle in your eyes is too bright for you to focus on such minutiae. And then you're blessed with children and matters only get more complicated as you seek ways to pass along your important traditions without running hog-wild over your spouse's history.

This is what I was thinking about while our family chopped down our Christmas tree.

I was a teenager before I visited a cut-your-own farm, at the behest of my brother who had been seeking a way to meld his ideas of the holidays with his wife's. Somehow I fit into the plan, probably as convenient labor.

Off and on over a decade of living in Rochester we have patronized the same farm out on Route 104 where the houses spread out and the industrial buildings sprout like mushrooms. For the first time in a long time, our entire family was in attendance. Maybe it's not a "tradition," but I liked watching each of us take a turn at the saw. And I loved tossing the tree into the car, turning, and being engulfed in a different sort of tradition: the family snowball fight.

--- Craig Brownlie

This week for families:

ChabadLubavitchCenter Mon, Dec 26: Svoboda Freedom Celebration for newly arrived Russian Jewish immigrants, 7:30 p.m. | Wed-Thurs, Dec 28-29: Chanukah Family Fun Fest, 2 p.m. | Fri, Dec 30: Family Shabbat Chanukah Dinner, 5 p.m. Register | Sun, Jan 1: Chinese Chanukah, 6 p.m. | 1037 Winton Rd. 271-0330

Kwanzaa Family Day Thurs, Dec 29. Art activities, storytelling, Bush Mango Drum & Dance performances.MemorialArtGallery, 500 University Ave.4-9 p.m. $1. 473-7720, www.mag.rochester.edu

MenorahLightingCeremoniesWashingtonSquarePark, Clinton and Court Streets. Sun, Dec 25, 4:30 p.m.; Mon-Thurs, Dec 26-29, 4:15 p.m.; Fri, Dec 30, 3 p.m.; Sat, Dec 31, 6:20 p.m.; Sun, Jan 1 5:20 p.m.

Model Train Exhibit Tue, Dec 27-Fri, Dec 30. EdgertonCommunity Center, 41 Backus St. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free. 428-6769

Rochester Museum and Science Center657 East Ave. Fri, Dec 23: The Night Before Christmas, RMSC Players, 2 and 3 p.m. | Tue, Dec 27: Kwanzaa: Celebration of Family, Eisenhart Auditorium, 5:30 p.m. | Hours: Mon-Sat 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun 12-5 p.m. Closing at 3 p.m. Dec 24 and closed Dec 25. $6-$8. 271-1880, www.rmsc.org

Ujima Kwanzaa Celebration Wed, Dec 28. Phillis Wheatley Library, 33 Dr. Samuel McCree Way.3 p.m. 428-8212

Family Valued gift guide

Linda Kostin recommends museum gift shops for cheap, cool gifts for the kids. She's raided MAG and the Eastman House this year, and plans a trip to RMSC to check out some Ein-o's box kits, science-themed activity kits for just $6.95. She also points out that $15 at Archimage will stuff anyone's stocking.

The Wilcocki like to plunder the bargain books sections at the big book stores; most of that stuff stinks, but you'll find one thing for each kid for a pittance. We also like the small, cozy feel of Hobby House Toys at Southtown. Oscar, our 3-year old, reminds us that it's about giving, not getting; but curiously, he isn't giving anyone anything.

Corey Keyes recommends One World Goods in PittsfordPlaza. You'll find good deals on brilliant, unique gifts, and simultaneously spread hope, peace, and sustenance to artisan cooperatives in emerging nations.

Craig Brownlie's shopping got a little easier when he discovered that Hammergirl Anime has pre-printed forms to have your manga/anime fans fill out. He also thinks it's worth schlepping to Eastview Mall where you will probably have to double-park near the new restaurant enclosure (looks like the down slope from the Ascent of Man); run into the Lindt store and load up on truffles. Lastly, he can't help but add that Media Play is going out of business and the lines aren't too bad at the registers.

Do a 180 from the Xbox 360

The Xbox 360.High definition. Better graphics. Pure catnip for adolescent boys everywhere.

Especially at my house. "It's so awesome! I mean, you can mow down Nazis and punch T-rexes with a regular Xbox, but it doesn't have the same feeling of power because the def's not as good."

My 12 year old tried one at a store on a flat screen HD TV. We, however, have a vintage 1997 Sony. I wonder if that levels the playing field for the Nazis and T-rexs?

In reality, our old TV's just a scapegoat. The main issue is price. You can't just drop $299 on the core system --- BestBuy.com's list price --- unless you live in a bubble and have no desire to play your old games. For features like backwards compatibility and the ability for more than one mind to go blank at a time, you need a system upgrade, memory card, and extra controller. Now you're staring down roughly $500. But hey, at least they throw in a game.

For all that money, the thing will be virtually obsolete by the time my kid graduates from middle school. It'll be time to drop a mortgage payment on the next system.

I don't have anything against gaming. My kids' test scores prove it. But if you're looking to drop something like $500 on your kid, consider buying a computer system instead. Don't do it for the Nazis' and T-rexs' sake. Do it for your kid's brain cells.

--- Linda Kostin, www.junkstorecowgirl.com