Posts Tagged 'joy'

A Different Kind of Joy

It is no secret that I love Christmas. I think I have blogged about it before, but I have noticed that this year, what brings me this joy is different.

     I used to think this joy came from the magical poems and stories like The Polar Express and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. But as I have grown in to my adult self, I still smile when I hear these stories, but they don’t enchant me as they once did.

     I used to think it came from the baking. I still smile as I lick chocolate remnants from bowls and eat our special cookies, and still plan to this year, but this year, the idea of baking no longer consumes me with joy to the point where I can hardly sleep or concentrate on anything else during the month of December, which baking once did.

     I used to think my unusual joy came from the Christmas songs on the radio, but just this year, it seems as though most of the songs are stupid, and the overplaying of songs like Santa Baby epitomizes everything wrong with Christmas in America.

     I admit I am still a little enchanted by the Christmas tree. The family tradition is to go to a Christmas tree farm each year soon after Thanksgiving and cut down a real fir tree! Frankly, the spectacular enormity and complexity of so many branches, and the heavenly aroma of fresh pine leaves me baffled as to why so many people settle for unfolding an artificial tree from the attic. I am the only child still living with my parents, and the only one who still enjoys bringing home the Christmas tree, but as I saw my parents struggling to figure out how to hold the tree, carry it to the car and tie it to the roof, feats of strength for which I am not equipped, for the first time this year, I felt a little guilty.

     It’s kind of fun to open presents on Christmas morning, and I appreciate everything I am given, but since I am too old for toys now and learned long ago that there isn’t a Santa Claus, it no longer enchants me and keeps me up all night Christmas Eve. Besides, the commercialism which I never paid attention to as a kid is pathetic to me now.

     I love when the whole family comes home and we spend the afternoon playing board games, but two of my siblings live far away and could only make it home for Thanksgiving this year, and the one who lives locally usually doesn’t come until dinner time. I will still enjoy playing board games with Mom, and possibly Dad if we can talk him in to it, but with the house being so quiet in recent years, it just isn’t the same.

     I apologize if I am bringing you down on this most wonderful time of the year. I admit I am mildly depressed and not in the holiday spirit that I usually am. Part of it could be due to some stressful medical situations in my family which have us all a little worried. In addition, the scarcity of jobs, and a total absence of passion for the job postings I have seen has been discouraging. But this same discouragement has caused me to think about my life from a more spiritual, not just economic perspective (more on that in my next post). But maybe this pull to think more spiritually is why there is still one aspect of Christmas that enchants me: in fact it enchants me on a deeper level than the commercialism that I thought was so magical as a child. Actually, it is not a Christmas tradition, but a beautiful choir memory. Just thinking about it melts all depression and anxiety away.

     I know I haven’t written much about my passion for singing in this blog. I don’t know why. I guess maybe in college I was just so busy that it was easier to write about Gilbert and college life than find the inspiration to describe my passion for singing with the beauty it deserves. But now with no responsibilities, I am ready to try.

     I started singing in choir as a fifth grader in a school chorus that rehearsed during the lunch recess, and sang every year through high school. In seventh grade I also joined a community choir, the Milwaukee Children’s Choir. Unfortunately in college, my classes were so demanding I burned out and couldn’t motivate myself to join choir every semester, but I sang with the college choir two semesters and performed with a really cool women’s barbershop chorus one semester.

     All of these choirs have given me beautiful memories to associate with all seasons of the year, but Christmas, a season defined by music brings an abundance of special memories, especially in high school.

     My sophomore year of high school, my community choir had the opportunity to sing a piece called the Christmas Sweet, arranged by Mark Brymer in Carnegie Hall. The whole trip was magical; the excuse to get out of school; the chance to experience New York City, the largest city in America that is romanticized in so many television shows and movies; and of course the chance to sing in Carnegie Hall, the dream of every musician. But singing that piece was the most spectacular moment of all. It was beautiful when we rehearsed it with only the piano for accompaniment, but when we sang this piece with a professional orchestra, it was stunning! The orchestra brought the piece to life as we sang about everything that makes Christmas beautiful. In the first movement when the beautiful voice of an adult soloist sings “When the frost starts to glisten / And the nights blush with cold / And the streets shimmer gold / It’s Christmas” and the orchestra accompaniment is soft and light, I could just imagine that beautiful image, despite having no memory of being able to see. When the children (who were as young as ten and as old as 17) came in, I was transported in my mind to a cozy livingroom and imagined a child looking out the window and seeing the images we sang of with awe and wonder. In the third movement called Rejoice, the soloist sings “Rise up shepherds and follow,” and when a soft drum accompaniment that sounded both excited and urgent follows this solo and then us children sing “Follow! Follow! Rejoice! oh Israel!” I remember thinking how perfectly this song depicted the excitement and sense of urgency that was probably felt by the shepherds two thousand years ago. In the fifth movement, Snow, I remember being transported to childhood days of playing in the snow. It began with the orchestra mimicking blowing and drifting. Then the younger children sang “snow, snow!” soft and slow as if they had just woken up and looked out the window to see the first real snow of the season. Then different parts of the choir shouted back and forth “SNOW! SNOW! SNOW!” mimicking that child we all remember who can barely contain themselves as they are so excited to go out and play in the snow. Then there is fast joyous singing and accompaniment as the kids play in the snow. But just like in real life, the end of the piece is soft, as the children are sleepy and glad to be back in their cozy home. “All the world is safe tonight / underneath this quilt of white…Look around and know, the wonder of snow.”

     It is easier to write about the wonder of snow than the wonder of music because the beauty of a melody  or the spectacular harmony of voices and instruments is beyond words. To fully appreciate the beauty of this piece, you will have to find a recording, but take my word for it that it was absolutely enchanting! I wasn’t able to get a recording of our actual performance, but I have an old recording the choir produced before I had even joined, and every year since then, hearing it would enchant me anew as it would bring back the memory of what an incredible experience singing it onstage with a spectacular professional orchestra in front of us was. But this year for some reason, while I smiled at some of my favorite parts of the piece mentioned above, it didn’t enchant me to the point that I had to stop what I was doing, stand transfixed by the stereo as the magic came flooding back to me, which it used to.

     Two years later, the fall semester of my senior year of high school, school was rough for me. I was in the process of applying for college the next year, and meanwhile, to prepare me for college, the aide that worked with me wanted me to be better at thinking for myself and being independent, so she raised my expectations and I wasn’t doing a very good job of meeting them. On top of that, Math concepts covered around Thanksgiving were so hard for me to grasp that it took me hours every night to get my homework done, so I had to take a leave of absence from Present Music, an annual concert featuring unusual pieces from modern composers which the choir participated in at that time, which required extra rehearsals. But to my relief, things lightened up just in time for the holiday pops concert with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, which that year was conducted by award-winning screen composer Bill Conti.

     I had the privilege of performing with Doc Severinsen four years earlier, but unfortunately, I couldn’t fully relax and enjoy it because I had been sick most of that week and had to miss school, and thus I dreaded the mountain of make-up work that awaited me when I got home from the concert. But if that holiday pops concert was marred, the joy of this concert four years later was double! It was absolutely enchanting!

     For one thing, instead of traditional risers, this venue uses bleachers onstage so that singers can sit during instrumental pieces. But the Children’s Choir was supposed to climb up to the back rows of bleachers and my choir director agreed with my mother that I had no business climbing up bleachers, so I got to stand in the front row with the adult choir! I loved this choir, and the director accepted high schoolers, but it did skew young, so what a thrill it was to be surrounded by power-packed full-grown voices! In addition, there were a couple songs where the children’s choir had limited parts. For example, in The Twelve Days of Christmas, the children’s choir was only supposed to sing “and a partridge in a pear tree”, but I wanted to sing with the adults around me so bad, and figured it would look silly if one person wasn’t singing with everyone else around her, so I quickly learned the adult parts of that song, and all the versus of Jingle Bells! Oh what fun it was indeed!

     And just like in the Christmas Sweet, the stunning accompaniment of this community’s outstanding professional orchestra transported me and reminded me of the childhood magic of Christmas. I will especially cherish the children’s choir solo piece Candles in the Window. Played on piano I never noticed this, but a professional orchestra can play notes with such emotions that when combined with the words, especially “all of the music, all of the magic, all of the family home here with me,” it was all I could do to keep my composure and sing. It was so beautiful and magical it was all I could do not to cry. And the sound effects for Santa Claus is Coming to Town were so awesome it was all I could do not to jump for joy like I did as a child on Christmas morning!

     I don’t know if it was the fact that I was sitting with the adult choir, or even the knowledge that this would be my last holiday concert of my legal childhood, or just the fact that school had been so stressful lately that I was starving for joy. But I am not sure I had ever smiled so big for so long before or since. I savored every moment and would have loved that experience to last forever.

     I’m sure the other singers were smiling too. How could you not? But when we were in a room backstage between songs, while the other kids moved on, talked about unrelated things or played cards, much of that time I was in a trance-like state. When I did manage to speak, it was to tell anyone who would listen how much I would love to join the Symphony Chorus next year (forget college choirs) and have this joy every Christmas for the rest of my life!

     I was not able to get a recording of this performance. Part of me now wishes I would have had the nerve to break the number one theater rule, you know that announcement made before any professional performance that “recording equipment of any kind is prohibited.” My choir uniform had deep pockets, and I had a really small tape recorder I used for student newspaper interviews. Just kidding. As a musician, I understand why this rule is in place. If everyone recorded performances, and a few people pirated them, musicians might no longer have jobs. Why pay to see future holiday pops concerts if past ones are readily available online? But sometimes, I think memories are even more beautiful without a recording to spark them.

     The announcement that Mom had bought two tickets for this year’s holiday pops concert conducted by Doc Severinsen was all that was needed to bring these magical memories back to life. But while the concert was beautiful and Doc Severinsen was an exceptional trumpeter and entertainer, the concert just didn’t live up to my memories of 2007. To be fair, there could be many explanations for this. For one thing, the children’s choir wasn’t in the concert this year, and perhaps for that reason, none of the songs that so enchanted me were in the repertoire. It was beautiful, and I can understand the reasoning behind changing it up every year, but I am a traditionalist and was surprised and disappointed that I didn’t hear the cute orchestra arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas, Candles in the Window or Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. For another, being in the audience is a lot different than being onstage because in the audience, you are far removed from the orchestra, so it is possible that had I been onstage, this year’s songs would have enchanted me, and if the old songs were played, they would not have been as powerful as they were onstage. Or it could simply be the fact that since I was so stressed by school back in 2007 and was starving for joy, the emotions of that concert were magnified beyond normal. But either way, by the next morning, my mild depression and lack of holiday spirit had returned.

     But the one memory that has cut through my blues this year started out as a much simpler affair than the grandeur of a symphony orchestra. It was November 2006, my junior year of high school.

     At the beginning of the year, the choir director told us we would be going to Minnesota to sing with the Saint Olaf College in their annual choral festival, along with a few other high schools from Minnesota. I was excited because the Saint Olaf choir came to our area the year before for a concert and their choir is fabulous and their director well-renowned in the choral world. But as we rehearsed the songs, I didn’t have the degree of eager anticipation that I had the year before singing the Christmas Sweet because the only accompaniment for these songs was going to be piano, which is of course a beautiful instrument but not as magical as a full orchestra. And as we rehearsed our songs, especially Joy to the World, the finale of the festival that would combine all of the choirs (which I would find out on the day of the festival meant a total of over 1,000 singers), I just wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit of that song. It could have been because even by choir standards, we were rehearsing Christmas songs unusually early, or it could have been the fact that drilling notes, even for students who love choir is tedious. Since choir was the last hour of the day and I had a very full schedule that semester, I was usually already spent before choir even started. But in retrospect, I think the biggest reason for my lack of spirit was that I honestly had no idea how joyful Joy to the World could be.

     Our church sang it every Christmas, and it was a pretty enough simple carol, but in church, it just never really moved me. It could have been that at my church, the organ player played really loud and drowned out the congregation singing, but also as with any church, a lot of people don’t know all the words to the songs and still more are shy about singing, so even though the church easily had over 1,000 people in the pews (and aisles on Christmas Eve), the carol always seemed a little lackluster. Somehow, it just never registered with me that I wasn’t in the company of shy church parishioners anymore. I was at a choral festival with over a thousand people who loved to sing, rehearsed the words well and weren’t shy at all. It didn’t register that is, until the first chord “joy!” rang out. It was loud and confident and joyous beyond words! Because our group was too large to fit on a stage, we sat in rows of folding chairs in a gymnasium, which almost made it feel like I was sitting in a church congregation. When a small choir sings onstage, the sound is still wonderful but because the choir is much smaller, and the traditional arrangement is to be crammed on to small risers, the sound is more crammed too. But in a church congregation kind of arrangement with a thousand singers spread over a whole gym, there is sound everywhere, as if the whole world were singing! Oh was it heavenly!

     In fact, a year later, my grandfather passed away and at his funeral, a cousin who I don’t see very often sat next to me and we started talking. One thing led to another and I think I told her about my involvement with choir. That’s when inexplicably, that finale of the Saint Olaf festival flashed in my mind. Many accounts of heaven I had heard talked about a choir of angels, and it occurred to me that if true, it was possible that at that moment, my grandfather was singing songs with the same joyful sentiments as Joy to the World with a choir of potentially billions. If an earthly choir of a thousand people in a gym can fill me to bursting with joy, imagine a heavenly choir of billions of souls, free of earthly distractions and self-consciousness! I am kind of a stoic person. I was sad when both my grandfathers died, but I just am not the type to cry openly at funerals. But the beauty of that image that flashed through my mind almost made me tear up.

     Of course, our worldly life has a way of distracting us, and as I plunged back in to the school routine, I forgot about this image. But around Christmas when my mom finds the recording I was able to purchase of this festival, that image comes back to fill me to bursting with joy again and makes me want to live a holy life so I might join a heavenly choir one day too.

     As with the Christmas Sweet and the Bill Conti holiday pops concert, that finale left me in a joyous trance as I got on the bus to return home, but unlike the other concerts, this memory has yet to lose its luster, and something tells me it never will.

     The summer before I started high school, my mom and I went to Rome with my children’s choir, and of course when we weren’t performing or eating delicious Italian food, we were touring all of the famous Roman landmarks, especially the Vatican. It was in the Vatican that I remember my mom commenting to another mom something to the effect of, “all this marble and artwork is beautiful, but it’s a far cry from a little baby in a manger in Bethlehem isn’t it?” Maybe it is the same feeling with me and music. The thought of singing with an orchestra in front of me is still beautiful. But a lot of what we were singing related to the commercial elements of Christmas. Add to that the fact that the orchestra instruments are man-made and very expensive– (I once was told in a talk given by members of this orchestra that one violin costs a million dollars)–and I also realize that performing with an orchestra is in its way a far cry from the sentiments of a baby in a manger.

     As I mentioned earlier in this long post, the lack of jobs in general, and the absence of any passion for jobs I have seen has caused me to think more spiritually about my life. I know so many people who are in jobs they don’t like, but stay with them because “they pay well.” Having money to buy fancy toys may bring you happiness for awhile, but eventually the novelty of a new toy will wear off. I know it will because the man-made joys of cookies and toys were beautiful for awhile, but the novelty wore off as I matured. But the simple beauty of a whole bunch of people in a gym making full use of their God-given musical instruments, their voices, and singing a song that epitomizes the true meaning of Christmas which is Christ’s birth, that is the one element of Christmas joy that remains as magical as ever.

     I know that every moment of life is not meant to be bursting with joy, but I cannot help wonder if the fact that this song continues to overwhelm me with joy all these years later is a symbolic sign from the spirit that a prestigious title or great paycheck in a man-made corporation whose only goal is profit might be exciting for awhile. But like a simple song in a simple setting, it is the simple life with a career devoted to a higher purpose that will foster a life that is joyful overall because joyful moments created by God never fade.

Another Merry Christmas

Hello readers. I hope you all enjoyed, or if you are still on vacation, I hope you are still enjoying this holiday season. I sure am! (College semesters may be demanding, but since my vacation started December 14 and I don’t have to go back until January 18, I cannot complain)! Anyway, the day after posting my Lj Idol entry about the wonderful brouhaha of Christmas, my parents and I went to Indiana to celebrate Christmas with my mom’s side of the family, which is always fun, especially since a couple years ago, we started a tradition of exchanging white elephant gifts. For those of you who may not have heard of this tradition, white elephant gifts (also known as gag gifts), are gifts that are simply silly, and they are exchanged by having everyone draw numbers from a hat and pick from a pile of presents in the order their number was drawn. Some of the laughter in this tradition comes from the gifts which are stupid and hilarious no matter who gets them, like the pooping panda (the poop is in the form of jelly beans). Some of the laughter comes from the context of who gets the gift, like my boy cousin who got a girly fairy wand one year. Fortunately for him, once all of the gifts are passed out, trades are allowed. This year was especially funny because a couple weeks earlier, my grandma on my dad’s side said she was at Walgreens and saw little bags of coal that could be bought as a joke, and my mom and I both agreed that would make an awesome white elephant gift. But what made it even better was that since the craziness of preparation for Christmas was starting to get to my dad causing him to sound like Scrooge, my mom rigged the drawing so that my dad got the coal! He couldn’t help laughing about that in spite of himself. But besides cheering my dad up a little, the other advantage to him getting coal is that we can recycle it for next year. So our family will once again hold the power to determine who has been naughty or nice! (smile) I originally got playdough, but the same boy cousin that got the wand a couple years ago got a candle this year, so I traded with him. Of course, in addition to the joke gifts, the tradition of receiving giant bags of candy from both my aunt and my grandma was carried on, as well as the tradition of overeating, especially when it came to Grandma’s cookies and cheesy potatoes. These traditions combined with the simple joy of visiting and filling the relatives in on our busy lives added up to a wonderful celebration and happy memories for all.

     On December 22, we celebrated Christmas with my grandma on my dad’s side by going to an Italian restaurant that according to the sighted people, is decorated beautifully every year for Christmas, and then went to Grandma’s house to eat cake and exchange gifts which by tradition, always means clothes since this grandma loves to shop for clothes. Privately I complain about this tradition since my closet is bursting at the seams with clothes she has gotten me, and I would like to simplify my closet to make it easier for me to pick out my clothes. But I really do appreciate this generosity, and my mom says the clothes she picks out look nice on me, so I am not one of those people who returns clothes after Christmas like I hear a lot of people do. For my gift to Grandma, I sang her a song because she loves my singing more than the material gifts I have given her in the past.

     Then the next day, my dad took me to the mall to buy gifts for my mom and sister, both of whom said they would love having some bath jell from Bath and Body Works. Due to my mom’s work schedule and some nasty weather on the days she was off, I never had time to go shopping alone with her to buy a gift for Dad, but that was not necessary since Dad recently started a tradition of buying his own Christmas gifts and putting our names on the to/from tags because he hates seeing us kids spend our hard-earned money on stuff he doesn’t need or want. So this year, Dad got himself a miniature radio he could use when he works out at the YMCA, and we all got a good laugh on Christmas morning when he pretended to be surprised and thanked me saying “This is exactly what I wanted!” My mom and the rest of the family prefers to be genuinely surprised, but we let Dad have his way because after all, Christmas is not about the gifts but the time with family and the making of memories, and my dad’s fake surprise is certainly a fun memory to have.

     Anyway, when it comes to clothes, I hate shopping because wrack after wrack of pants and blouses that all feel the same gets old pretty fast. But Bath and Body Works always has so many wonderful things to smell that I don’t mind shopping there. This trip to Bath and Body works was no exception, however I will always remember this shopping trip as the trip where the wonderful aromas were overshadowed by my first case of sticker shock!

     Alright, here’s the story. Every year from second or third grade through high school, I got to participate in a really fun annual event where all of the vision teachers in my area would pull all their blind students out of school for a day at the mall. We were always asked to bring $5 for a secret Santa gift for another student, gifts that were exchanged over lunch in the food court. Then the rest of the day, the teachers would help us find gifts for our families. Since I was an unemployed child back then, I depended on cash donations from my parents for these trips. My parents typically would give me $30 or $40 so I would have $5 for secret Santa, $5 for lunch, and $20 or $30 for other gifts. So I would always tell the teacher helping me up front how much money I had to spend for the day, and she would steer me toward the items in my price range, not mentioning the many things that were not. I generally tried to only spend around $5 a store so the money would last the whole day. This price range generally meant a small candle for my mom, cheap candy for my brothers, an inexpensive book or pretty ornament for Grandma, and often nothing for my dad or sister. So after these trips, I couldn’t help apologizing that I didn’t have enough to buy gifts for everyone in the family, and the gifts I did buy were nowhere near as nice as the ones the rest of the family always got me. My parents always responded by reminding me that the purpose of this trip was to have fun not to worry about buying elaborate gifts. Still, I dreamed of the day when I would be grown up so I could have a job, make my own money and spend as much of it as I wanted on Christmas gifts for everyone. This year with my job answering phones for the college switchboard, a summer job that I was able to continue during the school year, that dream had come true. Eventually, I know a large portion of my earnings will be eaten up by adult responsibilities like groceries and rent, but since I live at home and thus don’t have these responsibilities yet, my bank account is pretty flush! “Life is good!” I thought to myself with a smile as I jumped out of the car in the mall parking lot, shiny debit card in hand.

     When we got in to the store, a saleswoman showed my dad to the bath jell section and told us they were “buy three, get three free”. I had no reason to worry about saving money, but I was still excited about what I thought would be a good bargain. I only needed two bottles of bath jell, but the others could be saved in case we forgot about someone and needed an extra gift, traded out if my mom or sister didn’t like the scent I chose for them, used as gifts next year or I could use them myself! I love all those fragrances, so why not?

     So my dad and I had fun walking around sniffing each kind of jell for half an hour until we settled on six of my favorite fragrances. Now I should mention before I proceed that I knew bath jell from a fancy mall store like Bath and Body Works would cost more than the Walmart jell we usually get, partly because at fancier stores, you are paying for the fancy brand names, but also because the ingredients required to produce these exotic fragrances probably cost more. I also knew since I had received jell from Bath and Body Works as a gift in the past, that Walmart’s bottles are easily three times the size of these bottles. Even so, I just about dropped my debit card in disbelief when the cashier rang up my items and said “that comes to $33.11.”

 

What! Did I really hear that right? I thought about saying something, but not wanting to make a scene or make my ignorance about how much things cost known, I just quietly gave her my debit card to swipe. But I made sure the receipt was in the bag, and when we got to the quiet parking lot, I whispered to my dad, “before we get in to the car, do you want to check the receipt? I wonder if the cashier made a mistake and charged me for the three free bottles.” If that had been the case, then each bottle would have cost about $5, which seemed like a reasonable price to me. But I will never forget the way Dad cleared his throat in that “you have so much to learn” way and said “um, sweetheart? The three bottles were $10 each.”

     When he saw my jaw drop, he laughed and said “I suppose I should’ve told you how much they were.”

     “That’s alright,” I said laughing in return “mom and my sister are worth it.”

     But in all seriousness, it really wasn’t his fault for not telling me how much they cost. For one thing, like many Americans before me, I fell in to the trap those financial experts on television always warn you of, the trap of letting your guard down and spending more than you would if you had used paper money. But there is also the fact that from the time sighted children learn to read, they start becoming aware, at least subconsciously of how much things cost when they see package labels. But my inability to read labels means that I have no idea how much things cost, a realization that I think gave him a hilarious wake-up call of his own.

     Anyway, don’t worry. That shopping excursion didn’t send me in to financial ruin this time. But it made me realize that perhaps before I venture out on my own or get married, a commitment that would require buying gifts for two families, I should invest in one of those special portable scanners for the blind that reads store package labels, compare prices on the internet or at least leave the dangerous plastic money at home and pay with cash!

     From there, Dad took me to Taco Bell, where I used some cash made from selling my textbooks back to the bookstore to buy $10 gift cards for my brothers. The rest of the evening was peaceful and quiet, the perfect evening for my traditional viewing of the Dr. Seuss Grinch cartoon I mentioned in the last entry.

     Christmas Eve was a happy quiet day at home where I just enjoyed listening to “An American Christmas” a special radio program hosted by Chip Davis, a member of the band Manheim Steamroller, and helping my dad wrap presents. A word of warning though in case you might have been thinking about asking me to help you with this tedious task some year: I am good at wrapping if all you care about is that the present is covered up, which fortunately is all my family cares about. But if you want the job to look perfect and pretty, you better ask someone else (smile). Then, when my mom and brother came home from work, we carried on our tradition of feasting on the delicious dinner of spicy shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, summer sausage, chips, salsa and guacamole for appetizers, and a main course of steak, baked potatoes and salad that my dad prepares every year. Because we weren’t stuffed enough after dinner (smile), and because my mom’s new work schedule meant we only had time to bake a couple of the many kinds of cookies we usually baked, and because these cookies were dwindling since we mailed a lot of them to my other brother who couldn’t get home for Christmas, I helped my mom bake peanut butter cookies with a Hershey’s Kiss in the center of each cookie. And let me tell you, they are delicious, especially when you eat them right out of the oven before the melted kiss has hardened! The rest of the evening was peaceful, with Mom wrapping a few final presents that Dad forgot about, and me watching a choir Christmas concert on public television.

     Christmas Day was bittersweet for me since I am prone to migraines and had the misfortune of waking up with one on Christmas morning. Actually, I had a bit of a headache on Christmas Eve, but figured it would go away with a good night’s sleep. Instead, it was worse by morning. With a dose of excedren, it eased pretty quickly, but my parents decided not to go to church because of it, so we missed the beautiful Christmas mass our church does every year. Hopefully, I will have better luck next year. The rest of the day was wonderful. We enjoyed a brunch of hashbrown potato pie which is a delicious breakfast casserole recipe my mom found that is a favorite in our family, but something we don’t have very often since it takes a long time to make, and the rest of the year mornings are often too rushed for such an involved breakfast. For dessert, we had a wonderful cinnamon coffee cake that was a box mix my dad saw at Trader Joe’s. Then of course, we opened presents. I got a Panera Bread gift card from my brother, and from my mom, a really cool pair of gloves where there are holes in each of the fingers accept for the thumb so that you can have full use of your fingertips if you need them, but then when you are walking and don’t need your fingers, you just fold this piece of fabric over them! What an awesome find Mom! For years, Mom has chastised me for coming in from the school bus or standing outside on my college campus waiting for my ride without gloves, but I always hated wearing gloves. I think it is because since I am blind, my fingers are like my vision, so the annoyance of wearing gloves must be a close equivalent to the annoyance sighted people talk about when their vision is blurred, since when I wear gloves, the feeling of objects is blurred. I am still able to function when I wear gloves. For example, when I get out of the car when my dad drops me off on my college campus, I am able to find the handle to open the door of the car, and able to pick up my guide dog’s leash because I can still distinguish the shape of these objects through my gloves. But since I don’t have direct contact with these objects when my fingers are obscured by gloves, it always seems to take my brain a fraction of a second longer to realize “oh yeah, that’s the door handle, or that’s the leash”, and this delay always drove me crazy! But now, when I go back to school, I will be able to keep my fingers warm, and have full use of my fingers when I need them. Whoever said you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too? (smile)

     My parents also gave me a bowl for popping popcorn in the microwave and a bowl for cooking pasta in the microwave, gifts which I had asked for because I would like to start cooking more independently, but the microwave is my preferred method of cooking since standing by an angry sizzling stove stirring scares me. I also got a pair of headphones you can put around your neck instead of on your ears when exercising at the YMCA since I have always found ear headphones annoying, as well as a Lee Greenwood CD and an Allen Jackson CD featuring a duet with the Zach Brown Band, a band that my mom and I have wanted to have on CD for years since they are fantastic musicians. Oh, and my sister mailed me a wonderfully soft sweater that I am wearing right now actually, and my dad “surprised” me with a set of peppermint hand lotion and soap that I picked out at Bath and Body Works. But believe it or not, after all of the gifts had been opened, my mom apologized to me and my brother, saying that she wanted to give us more, but with her new work schedule, she didn’t have as much time to shop. You know I suppose there may have been a time when I was younger when fewer presents would have seemed disappointing, but I am finding that as I get older, gifts are becoming less and less crucial to the enjoyment of Christmas. Since I am no longer a child playing with toys, there are really no material things I absolutely MUST HAVE, so anything I get is appreciated of course, but I honestly think I have reached a level of maturity where I would be fine with it if my parents decided some year not to give presents at all. I think the best gifts truly are the time with family and the happy memories made. Anything else is just a bonus.

     And there definitely were happy memories made this Christmas, a day of snacking all afternoon, watching two movies, one of them being our family movie we watch every year, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, having ham, scalloped potatoes and chocolate pudding for dinner, and playing a game of Scrabble.

     Sadly, although Christians believe the Christmas season doesn’t end until January 6, and although my mom always does a good job of keeping Christmas alive by leaving the decorations up and baking any cookies we didn’t have time to bake before Christmas, for all practical purposes, Christmas is over. The radio went back to playing regular music on December 27, and as Garrison Keillor says, the twelve days of Christmas are used simply to teach children how to count (smile). But though I hate to see this season of joy wind down, I know I will always have the happy memories made this season, memories I can use to keep Christmas alive in my heart all year.