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.

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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. 

Happy St. Nicholas Day!


2012-12-13 18.42.59Happy St. Nick’s Day!

When I was in elementary school I remember coming back into our warm classrooms after eating lunch and leaving our little shoes in the long, marble corridors (this only works in arctic climates, like Buffalo, NY where kids reach for boots instead of their shoes to go home) . We would walk to our desks in stocking feet and full of excitement. We giggled about being barefoot at school. The boys slid across the slick floor when they thought no one was looking.  When were ready to go home at the end of the day, all of the girls were sent to the coat closet to get their things. Then all of the boys. And as we all wiggled our feet into moon boots or plastic bags to waterproof our feet before stepping into rain boots, there was a murmur of anticipation. Did he come? Did St. Nick come to SCHOOL? It was almost more than a six year old could stand. When we were buttoned into our coats with hats on our heads and mittens on our hands we were lined up in two neat lines at the door. And Miss Pat, my intensely stern first grade teacher waited for our silence. She opened the door, and let us out to our shoes! They were filled with treasure from St. Nicholas: Jesus stickers (the kind you had to lick to make sticky), an orange, two foil wrapped chocolates and a (be still my art supply loving heart) a can of Play-doh.  That still feels like the magic of Christmas to me.

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Who wouldn’t want to find chocolate in their shoe? Well, as long as it is wrapped, of course.

At home, my Mom took on the role of  St. Nicholas, filling our whole family’s shoes every December 6th that we all lived at home. And now, I carry it on in my house.  St. Nicholas Day is is also a special day for my family another reason–it’s my Dad’s Birthday. My Dad, like St. Nick, helps everyone. If you are stranded with a flat tire, my Dad is the person you want to drive by. I won’t embarrass him here by listing his kind acts, but there are many and I am so glad for me and for the whole world that he was born.

A lot of different countries claim St. Nick as their own. I am not sure where it started, but the legend is just about always the same, a man of God who gave to those in need; and he did it in secret to preserve their dignity and to their surprise.  You can be St. Nick to someone today. It could be as simple as Jesus stickers and an orange or as huge as making dinner and emptying the dishwasher. Give of yourself in a way that makes everyone feel good. Think of the smiles you will create.

The picture above is from the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA (sorry to the artist, I couldn’t find a signature). You can look for it at the Torpedo Factory’s Holiday Open House tomorrow night. The event is free and open to the public and they are giving away thousands of dollars in prizes–including art and art supplies!

You can learn more about the history of St. Nick at the related articles below.

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving….while we still have it

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T just walked in and for the fourth day in a row, let our paper hit the floor with a “thunk.” Yesterday it came in two packages, a slim volume of news in a plastic bag, and an enormous tome of ads, fliers, and enticements from every retail outlet within a one-hour drive from here. It has been this way for days.

As we were enjoying being home, and reminiscing and writing :), other people were having a very different Thanksgiving weekend.

I am a big proponent of people following their own way to happiness. That is the beauty of this great country we are fortunate to live in, but I am sorry people had a choice last week.

Black Friday has been an extension of the Thanksgiving celebration for people for a while, but that wasn’t enough; retailers wanted our Thursday too. I am sorry that there was even an option for people to skip a day when more or less everyone can be free of deadlines and responsibilities. Those days are hard to come by. The clocks just keep rolling back, taking away more and more of our holiday, until it is just another day.

  1. In addition to robbing us of the time we have to do nothing—to find the dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) as the Italians call it—I have a problem with stores robbing the world of some calm. The constancy of the rush is overwhelming. We went out to return a movie at a grocery store the night after thanksgiving and we reveled in the ghost town that met us. For once, it was quiet. There was barely a soul out and that made me exhale and embrace the peace of it all. I bet the streets and stores and traffic lights can use a break too, as silly as that might sound.
  2.  In America, where we work longer days and with less vacation than any other first world nation, this one, completely American holiday stood out as a semicolon in a sentence; a pause before heading into the typical rush of the Christmas season. A day of football or board games, or long conversations, and naps. Now it is just another day, albeit with a big dinner—and for what? Christmas presents? It makes me sad that kids don’t get to spend long days in their footie pajamas on a regular basis, so to take away the days that is possible, seems almost criminal. And speaking of criminal…
  1. I love Christmas. I love surprising people with presents, but I don’t understand how that motivates people to behave like a pack of wild animals over something electronic. Especially when it is to give a gift on a religious holiday marking the beginning of the most selfless act in history. Someone loses their life every year at a Wal-Mart, and this year knives were brandished and shotguns were involved. No one should die over a Christmas gift, no matter how good the door busting deal is.

You don’t see people this worked up to go to the polls on Election Day, or to the blood bank when they’re running low. We don’t see people busting down barriers to get to friends or family in need. In fact, I can’t think of anything else that motivates this kind of frenzy today. Ironically, for most of us, I bet if you presented your loved one with the option to have a new TV and lose you, OR  have you but get no new TV, they would pick you (and if they don’t they go directly to the naughty list and don’t deserve a new TV). And for the life of me, how do people over look one tiny, lifesaving option: the Internet? Shop Cyber Monday, get what is on your list and save the possibility of bodily harm.

When you have the choice, I hope you choose peace over hurry. I hope you cho0se calm over hectic. I am wishing you pajama days, nights by the fire and the ones you love and short lines when you have to hit the stores. And lest I come off as the Grinch, please know I am wishing you presents too–ones with pretty bows and filled with love.

This has been a rant from my holly bough-draped soap box. I will get back to the fun stuff now–thanks for indulging me.

Let There be (Christmas) Lights!

2013-11-29 18.03.28HAPPY DECEMBER!

Two nights ago we kicked off the season of light here in Reston. Big white stars led the way to the dark Christmas tree where a sea of people–our neighbors–gathered. There were kids in Santa hats and teenagers in scarves and reindeer antlers. There were people holding hands and holding hot cocoa; ice skaters spinning and babies squealing. Dads had kids on their shoulders and everyone had a red nose and rosy cheeks because It. Was. COLD.

Everyone waited. The brass band was silent on their risers and the Reston Chorale stood tall and still holding their sheet music.   Everyone waited. At six o’clock on the dot you could hear a clip-clop in the distance. The crowd hushed to hear the jingle bells on Santa’s horse-drawn sleigh.

It was the perfect metaphor for the season:

The anticipation.

The lights in the darkness.

Those stars leading the way.

And a moment later, the tree was lit to a round of cheers and shrieks of delight. The lights seemed to strike up the band and the chorus!

This year's there were stars!

This year’s there were stars!

The family next to us sang along for the first three carols and then the woman I assume to be the mom said, “Ok, ready to go?” and started removing kids from their high perches when an older voice said, “No, I want to stay for my favorite Christmas carol.”  Grandpa sounded like he was from New York and he was wearing a well broken in Santa hat. So they stayed and they kept on singing until I’ll be Home for Christmas was through. And they smiled and sang along and their grandpa’s voice boomed and his smile beamed.

This made me think. What makes the moment is a cheerful giver. I imagine there were bunch of people in the tree lighting crowd who would have rather been on the couch watching football, or across the street at Best Buy elbowing the crowds to a discount computer, but they were there with the big and the little ones who really wanted to sing Silver Bells and see Santa and bask in the Christmas lights. And just by being there, by giving their time with a smile, they made the moment even better for the people they love (and I bet for themselves too). The same proves true in less fun moments. Its better to grit your teeth with a buddy who you can laugh with later than to not be having fun AND have to deal with sour people on top of it.

Another benefit of not being hurried though Christmas is being able to take the time to be a cheerful giver.

For me, there wasn’t a place in the world I would have rather been. Divine intervention stepped in for me to enjoy the moment with the one I love. You can see 100% of the pictures I took here. A minute after the tree was lit, my phone went dead, so I could just enjoy the season without putting a screen between me and the festivities. I am so glad it did, because the thing about moments is that you don’t get them back to do over. Sure you can make new ones, but why not make the most of the ones we have, while we have them. We could hear the Gloria all the way to the car. It was a wonderful night.

So long Thanksgiving. Hello Christmas Season!

Now where did I put my Advent wreath…

Giving Thanks by Sharing Dinner

Mmmmm! Thanksgiving Dinner for Everyone!

Mmmmm! Thanksgiving Dinner for Everyone!

When I was working at Crabtree and Evelyn in Charleston, SC all of those Christmas seasons ago I remember meeting a dashing older couple who tried to explain to me, a born bleeding heart, why it was important not only to help people with time, but also to do the best I could for myself so I could have the wherewithal to donate money to the causes important to me. I think this was my first interaction with members of the GOP 🙂

I think of that couple often. It was good to get a new perspective. While I took their advice (in a round about way) and I could write a check, I am going to put a little more heart into my Thanksgiving this year–because I have the time!

A lot of people are in need every year, but this year, soldiers coming back from war, people out of work, and reductions in the food stamp program might mean more people in need–and many who haven’t needed help before. I am going to help my neighbors in the small way that I can.

If you are in Northern VA, you can also commit to providing a Thanksgiving Basket for a family in need by signing up here (by November 18th),  and if you are having a hard time dropping off, let me know.  I can pick up your basket and drop it off with mine!

If you aren’t in Northern VA, you can use the Feeding America website to find your local food pantry and make a Thanksgiving donation there.

I am getting our dinner basket ready. This is a list of what each basket needs to provide a hearty Thanksgiving meal for a family:

  • 3 cans assorted veggies (please no green beans)
  • 2 cans fruit
  • 1 bottle olive or canola cooking oil (~ 24 oz.)
  • 1 box instant potatoes or macaroni and cheese or stuffing
  • 1 box rice or a 2-5 lb. bag of rice
  • 1 box biscuit or muffin mix
  • 1 snack (pretzels, chips, nuts, etc.)
  • 1 box of dessert mix
  • 2 lb. bag of flour
  • 2 lb. bag of sugar
  • 1 $25 gift card (Giant/Safeway/Shoppers) for the purchase of a turkey/ham entrée (We do not have the capacity to store or accept perishable items.)

Collection Site: 
St. John Neumann Church, 11900 Lawyers Road, Reston, VA 20190

Collection Dates & Times: 
Thursday, November 21st: 1 PM- 5 PM
Friday, November 22nd: 9 AM – 7 PM

If you can’t get all of those things together, consider donating something to Reston Community Center. They are collecting food and supplies to feed our neighbors. Here is a list of what to give and where to drop it off.

Now tell me what you are doing to give back this Thanksgiving. Do you have a tradition or are you starting a new one? I want to know!

Movie in the Middle of the Day!

A movie in the middle of the day sounds like just the thing for an unhurried Christmas! Check out this showing of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Alamo Drafthouse DC Area. 1:05 on Monday, November 18th and they will make me warm cookies and cocoa while I watch. Cozy!

Let’s see who I can get to play hooky with me.

PS- if you miss it, it shows again on November 24th at 7:00 pm.