December 16: As Jeremiah and I sipped beers at Audacious Aleworks (“Hey, Jeremiah, I think we have a local bar!”), he said, “Mom, I have a delight for you.”
Jeremiah then recounted an incident at One More Page Books, where he is a passionate purveyor of Noble Laureate literature (and other books too). A teenage girl approached the counter to buy a hardcover book for her sister, but froze when she realized it bore an Adult price of $29 rather than a Young Adult price of $17. With dismay, she moved to return the book to its shelf. A customer on her way out overheard and returned to the register. “I’ll buy that book for you,” she said. The teenager demurred, but the woman insisted and eventually the astonished girl left with a two-fold gift.
Jeremiah and the customer watched her go. Then Jeremiah invited the customer behind the counter. “Please look at our reserve of free books; I’d like to give you one,” he said. The customer demurred; Jeremiah insisted.
In those 90 seconds, three people changed the universe just a little by giving or receiving a filament of tiny, spontaneous kindness.
Bonus: One of the bartenders came over to our table and placed a pint in front of us. Calling us by name, she said, “We poured this by mistake and thought you might want it.”
December 17: About 10 years ago, when Nate and Jeremiah were teenagers, I decided we had outgrown a particular holiday tradition and didn’t buy tickets for the Christmas Revels. My boys were horrified, I rectified my mistake, and the tradition has grown.
Tonight, we had it all: an amazing, lingering, cocktail-to-dessert dinner for 10 at the Founding Farmers restaurant; dear friends enriching our family circle; Kathy’s beautiful soprano voice ornamenting the Revels sing-along; our whole group flapping wings and twirling at our seats during the manic interactive “Twelve Days of Christmas”; and Jeremiah leading Nate and the rest of us in a long line of smiling friends (and strangers) as we sang and danced to “Lord of the Dance” at intermission.
Each year, the Christmas Revels uses voice, dance, instruments and storytelling to spotlight the music and traditions of a particular culture. Over the years, we’ve travelled to Renaissance Italy, Scandinavia, Tudor England, Ireland, Thrace, Andalusia, Romania, Appalachia, Canada and more. Tonight, exhausted with revelry, we travelled through time and eventually landed in the arms of family and friends. As the Revels would say (I mean, shout): “Welcome, Yule!”
December 18: “See you in two hours,” I told Kathy yesterday as I climbed out of her car. Although we would “revel” that evening, Kathy invited me to visit the historic village of Occoquan for shopping and sightseeing. Traffic was light, the sun was bright, and we landed in the 19th century mill town ready for adventure. Kathy bought a Christmas present, I bought art and we settled in for a delightful lunch.
The restaurant proprietors — who had opened for business in January 2020 — found a way to turn a tiny outdoor deck into a brightly lit, warm, cozy, and curtained “tea room” of sorts (with 80 choices of beer, thank you!). The pandemic robbed us of so much; I gladly accept outdoor winter dining as a tiny apology.
December 19: Did I mention on Friday that I baked six varieties of cookies? Christmas blossoms, chocolate and vanilla pinwheel cookies, nutmeg snaps, dream bars (layers of coconut, walnuts and chocolate), brown butter salted chocolate chip cookies, and the family favorite: triple chocolate cookies with cacao nibs. Did I mention on Saturday that I baked cheddar cheese and pecan thumbprint cookies with jalapeño jelly? Or on Sunday that I made coffee rum balls and spicy almonds?
Well, today, I invited five neighborhood children to our house to bake and decorate gingerbread cookies. Jeremiah wisely went Christmas shopping; Kevin worked; and Nate wandered in from coaching JV basketball to find the house two notches shy of pandemonium. (The fourth graders were great; the two second graders were LOUD.)
The children eagerly cut out snowmen, stars, trees, dinosaurs, angels, Santas and sharks. (I added a few of my favorites too.) With small paint brushes I keep for this purpose, we applied brightly colored icing to our cookies, seven dozen in all. At the two-hour mark, I cued up a Christmas video so I could clean up. (Thank you, television.) Then someone appeared at the front door: “It’s Libby from school!” Oh dear.
Why not? I went to the door to welcome her in. No, thank you, she said. “I just want to know if you’d like to buy Girl Scout Cookies.”
Bonus: And, today, I cooked a meal for 14 for our local homeless shelter. I dashed out the door carrying my feast (and still wearing my apron) at the tail end of my delivery window. I arrived just as a patron approached the shelter door. He gladly helped me unload and, with another man, ferried my offering up the steep flight of steps. After the first man and I exchanged the smallest of greetings, we stood for a moment silently in each other’s presence, blessing each other.
I resolved to sign up again for another shift.
Double bonus: You can listen here to the story of the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.” The song concludes, “Ye, who now will bless the poor / Shall yourselves find blessing.”
Triple bonus: And, to make an exhilarating day just a bit more festive, Santa drove through our neighborhood on his fire truck, accompanied by our town’s fire fighters. Neighbors spilled out of their houses and greetings filled the air. Perfect.
December 20: Happy Birthday, Kevin! I celebrated by relaxing (completely). But really, I was thinking how grateful I am to share life with you.
December 21: “I think I would have flattened that curve, but, wow, this just works!” For several minutes I eavesdropped on two artists as they studied an interior by John Singer Sargent. Then I did pretty much the same thing as I compared two Sargent paintings of the same street scene. (I think one became magical when he erased detail and established more of a curve.)
The National Gallery of Art’s exhibition recounts Sargent’s seven trips to Spain. With deft and lively strokes, he painted pomegranates, sun-drenched courtyards, even fishing boats. But his portraits breathed life into the room. And me.
December 22: I finally went to the post office to mail a few packages and to buy more holiday stamps. All out, I heard the clerk tell a disappointed customer. So I turned to scan the display for alternatives. Marine sanctuaries? Nice. The Mighty Mississippi? You bet.
More stamps: Flowers. Peace. Love. Mariachi players. Then I noticed a small boy transfixed by an array of stamps pinned at his eye level. I leaned forward to see. Of course: Buzz Lightyear.
Bonus: As I was about to hit the “publish” key, Jeremiah walked in the door with our take-out Thai food — and a gift from the restaurant to our family. We are indeed a small kind town near the big city.
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