A Tiny Gentleman, or Its Time to Slow it Down

I have been having a hard time throwing on the breaks of my life. I have been thinking Unhurried Christmas thoughts, but I didn’t think it was fair to share them if I wasn’t walking the walk. In the last two weeks, I have been out of the house before the sun and back well after it has set. I confess to eating more granola bars than meals lately and I haven’t done a thing to my house other than putting up a fall wreath on the door. I had meeting requests starting at 7:30 am and going to 9:00 pm. Not exactly the warm, holiday feeling schedule I aim for.
That changed yesterday.
I am working on an assignment on a military base for a few weeks, and I was working faster than my internet could handle. I escaped to a Starbucks on base for high speed Wi-Fi and a really large cup of coffee (see: the hours I have been keeping, above). Amid the rapid-fire clicks of my keyboard I overheard an encounter between a pair of teeny tiny siblings, a boy and a girl, leaving the coffee shop with their mom. The little girl was about two and a small stature for even that. She was wearing a skirt and ruffled top and the smallest pair of maryjane pumps ever created for human wear. She strode around making the shoes make that “bossy girl walking down the hall” noise that, let’s face it, is pretty damn satisfying. As they got to the door, her brother, who was four years old (tops) says, “After you, ma’am.” The little girl was also holding the door behind him while admiring her shoes. She was strong and cute and relishing in the knowledge! He was a gentleman and proud to be one.
In that moment, they were paralyzed with politeness. She wanted to do it herself—because she could. He couldn’t not do this very important thing he was taught to do. She looked up at her mom and said, “But *I* can do it.” And he looked up at his mom and said, “I am holding the door for the ladies.” How she didn’t laugh is beyond me, but I am glad she didn’t. The earnestness in the situation was palpable.
Finally the mom had to step in and take the door for both of them and when she did, they both scampered off in the direction of their car.
I thought about that for the rest of the day. What I came up with, after my heart recovered from melting, was that the mom of those two little ones is awesome. They were both had the best intentions; being kind and strong— and I am sure that is something she taught them. So when it came down to using what they were learning they got stuck. She didn’t shout or hurry them along. She let them have the moment and it was beautiful.
Time to slow down. Time to savor the moments. Time for an Unhurried Christmas (and possibly a pair of pink maryjane pumps).

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Ending the Flurry of Hurry!

 

This is how I feel right now (wait–AFTER the ad).

For the last few weeks, ever since I started to think cozy thoughts about an Unhurried Christmas, something strange happened–every single thing sped up. It was like a flurry of hurry. IT was not cozy. Until today.

Today I finished a project, took an important test (and passed it–hooray!) and as the pressure and responsibilities lifted, I started to SING!

And now I feel like the clip says, I am out of the woods, I am out of the dark, I am out of the night. I am ready to step into the (Christmas) light!

 

This weekend I will share a special recipe, preparation for a Christmas tradition and of course, some quiet moments reflecting on the season and all that it means to slow down and enjoy it!

Join me for the sleigh ride! Sing along!

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. 

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.

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.