Finish Each Day and Be Done With It

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There is so much more to write about this Unhurried Christmas season. The last weeks haven’t been rushed, but they have been packed. Tonight is an exception.

As I sit here finally at home, in front of the fire, listening to soft music and the sounds of something delicious being made in the kitchen, one of my favorite quotes won’t leave my mind. It seems like the perfect sentiment to send off this year…

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” -Emerson

Wishing you fond memories of 2013 and a beautiful 2014.

Christmas Eve in the Air

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Today we are flying back home. My heart is happy and heavy–I am so glad I got to spend time with my Mom, Dad and my brothers, but leaving is always so hard.

I am hoping for a safe flight, an easy ride home, and a quiet but festive Christmas Eve. If only I could shrink the world some times, it would be so nice to have my family and my work around the same corner.

Hope you have a place to lay your head tonight and I hope the sugarplums you dream of tonight are big enough for this big guy! Merry Christmas Eve morning.

A Very Tuba Christmas!

2013-12-23 12.32.54This afternoon we got to see a little bit of Austin. We drove through the corridor of quirky shops on South Congress to our first stop: the Capitol Building. We actually rushed over once we read about a concert happening there today–a TUBA concert! 

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It was hard to tell how many tubas or people were there but is was a wonderful event. There were shiny new tubas, ones that had some stories to tell, some in the hands of kids in band jackets and others on the broad arms of men with beards and salt and pepper hair. Every tuba was bellowing out hymns and Christmas carols while people sat in the grass and kids played in the sunshine. A little research revealed that this concert happens all over the country and has for the last forty years. It might have been the first flash mob. See if there is a concert in your area here.

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We listened for a while then walked thought the lobby to see the incredible dome and pictures of all of the Texas governors through time. I had T stop to reverently tip his hat to George W. Bush.  After we picked up this year’s Texas Christmas ornament, we met my parents at Kerby Lane Cafe for some local color, cinnamon roll pancakes, and great conversation. On our way out we were caught in the middle of a disagreement between two friends. After one friend stormed out yelling, he apologized to us in the parking lot. Austin is still weird but everyone is so polite; Texas is such a mixed bag.

After that, we went back to South Congress for some treasure troving. We sifted though Peruvian pillows and Mexican trinkets, bells from India and paper stars from Texas. I held land grant documents from 1910 and old mah jong tiles. We saw ancient books and old advertisements, typewriter keys, and even a box for face cream touting it’s magic ingredient: mercury. My Dad bought me a parachute man, you remember the kind–you wrap them up and toss them in the air. We tried on crazy hats, wooden shoes and crazy glasses at Lucy in Disguise.

There is so much pressure to make everything perfect, or at least make every moment good or at least “count” in some way when you are with family you don’t get to see every day. This day started out with the unexpected and then went to the silly.  It was so hard to leave one another at the end. In short, we had a great day. I hope your family time is going the same way.

Merry day before Christmas Eve. 

The Gift of Christmas

Christmas Yawn

This is my brother on Christmas morning sometime in the 80s. There was some debate as to whether he was screaming or yawning at the pants he opened on Christmas morning. I took it right to the source yesterday and he said, “What are those made of? They’re shiny.” Then he confirmed he was indeed yawning.

From there we went in to talk about the ornaments on the tree that we have given each other over the years and as we laugh an joke and make fun, it’s increasingly clear that the gift of Christmas is sharing it. The Christmas presents are a yawn compared to the people you spend it with. I should also mention while I’ve been writing I’ve been wearing neon orange springy pig tales and no one has said a word. This might be one way you know you’re at home with the people who get you 🙂

I have to get back to the fun, but I’ll leave you with this from Dr. Seuss:

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Mail Mail it Never Fails…

Well, we have done it. All of the Christmas presents are sent and all of the Christmas cards are mailed!

In the last few days we have gotten so many great notes from friends, pictures of new babies, new slippers, and a heavy box of homemade rum balls and other surprises that really touched my heart. The mail is a wonderful thing. For less than fifty cents, you can get a message to anyone in the country in a day or two. Think about how nice it is to open the mailbox and see a non-bill: a letter, a note, a card, and on really lucky days, a package.  It’s wonderful to open the front door or the mail box and see familiar handwriting.

Flat E whAt Christmastime last year we had a really special visitor arrive in the mail. Flat Ellaleigh came to visit from Tennessee. She wanted to see what life was like in Washington, D.C. so she could go back home and tell the real Ellaleigh about it. Flat E, as we called her once we became friends, took us on adventures all over town. We saw the White House in lights, we went to see A Christmas Carol at the Alexandria Little Theater and to a Washington Wizards game. We took her to the Botanic Gardens to see trains and trees and to the art gallery where she briefly got lost, but thankfully was found. When it was time for her to go, we packed her up with pictures and postcards and we sent her back home.  As a single piece of mail, Flat E connected family across miles. That little flat girl brought a lot of joy and fun on this end, and I would imagine she did the same when she arrived in the mailbox back home. She gave us a reason to spend a frost bitten evening glove in glove taking pictures in the lights. She put smiles on the faces of those who passed us posing and angling her into photos. You can’t do that with an email.Flat E

This year, more than ever it seems like the days of daily mail delivery may be numbered. Canada, a bastion of all things polite, is already getting ready to say goodbye to mail . And before too long Amazon is planning to skip mail delivery all together with drones  that remind me of The Jetsons.  But this year, you still have time to connect with someone by taking a minute to reach out to with a card or a note. Let someone know they are special enough for you to send them a letter. I for one, would love to hear from you and I am sure there are so many people who would like to hear from you too!

Photo Credit: Donielle Scherff

PS: Unhurried or not, I am glad not to have to go to the post office again for a while. Just remember when you are there–Santa is watching. Be nice.

“ONE dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.

ONE dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.”

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That is how the story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry begins. My memory of this story is being in a long flannel night gown with my mom and her big Norman Rockwell Christmas story book. Even today I get caught up in the story– the lovelorn feeling of wanting to give the very best to the one you love when your pockets and purse are empty—especially when you forget that the very best you can give is yourself.I still love to get caught up in the bustle of the season and purity of the love between Jim & Della. I hope you will too.

You can read the whole story below, or you can download it to a reader for free by clicking here.

ONE dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends—a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying a little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two—and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again—you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice—what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you—sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Sing Choirs of Angels: Enjoying Trinity Choir from Home!

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When I was 20 or so I was an apprentice at the world-renowned Spoleto USA arts Festival and it was a pivotal experience for my life and my career.For a handful of jam-packed months I rode a rented bike all around the Charleston peninsula ferrying keys to festival artists and  taxi-ing myself to all of the incredible events and performances that I got to attend for free.   I got glimpses of dressing rooms and the hidden corners of historic theaters and performance spaces I was in the midst of beautiful parties, astounding talent, and the inner workings of America’s preeminent performing arts organization. I learned from the very best teachers at the top of their careers how to expect perfection and make it happen. This has served me well and I look back on the experience so fondly.  

My wheels were complete with a bell and a basket.

My wheels were complete with a bell and a basket.

I would return as an apprentice the following year and as a patron for many years after that. One of the most special part of the experience were the friends I made–some of them have gone on to  dedicate their lives to their art. One such blindingly talented person is Luthien Brackett. When we met she was a member of the Ryder College Westminster Choir.  Today, Luthien and a legion of other powerful, angelic voices now make up the choir at Trinity Church in the financial district in Manhattan.

Through the power of the internet, you can get swept up in what really sounds like a choir of angels singing while enjoying this very snowy day. I know I am.

Click here to hear the Trinity Choir performance of Handel’s Messiah.