Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Traditions: Strange Music

It's no secret that I enjoy off-beat music, and when it comes to Christmas carols, I enjoy an array of songs. You might even say I have an eclectic taste in holiday music. Mixed into the 12 or so hours of Christmas music on my iPod, I have everything from Fall Out Boy to The King Singers, Brandi Carlile to 98 Degrees.

Here are a couple of my favorite Alternative Christmas songs:

"Winter Wonderland" by Phantom Planet
"Snowfall Music" by Carbon Leaf
"I Won't Be Home for Christmas" by Blink 182
"Oi to the World" by No Doubt
"Christmas Only Comes Once a Year" by MxPx
"All I Want for Christmas Is You" by My Chemical Romance
"Yule Shoot Your Eye Out" by Fall Out Boy
"Alone This Holiday" by The Used
"Let Me Sleep" by Pearl Jam
"Ex-Miss" by A New Found Glory

And my new favorite CD is Let It Snow Baby...Let It Reindeer by Relient K. Well, this CD has been out for a couple of years now, but I just discovered it last week and I can't stop listening to it.

What are some of your favorite holiday tunes?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It doesn't show signs of stopping

This is the sight I woke up to yesterday. I thought I was back in Idaho or Utah or Illinois. But no, this really is Virginia. You can kind of almost see my car parked across the street. I didn't get home until late last night after the snow had already set in, and because I live on a hill, I knew there was no way I would be able to park in my usual space in front of the house.

But don't you worry--it proceeded to snow for 14 more hours after this picture was taken.

I had gone out around 1 p.m. to dig my car out as I was supposed to go to a friend's house last night. I had to force the front door open and then stepped into a pile of snow that came up to my knee. It took me about five minutes just to get across the street to my car, and after two hours or scrapping and shoveling, my car was even more stuck than when I first started.

I ditched the car and decided to shovel the walk. They were all sold out of shovels, so my kind neighbors let me barrow theirs. I had to shovel my way from their front porch to mine, not an easy task in 20 inches of snow. But along the way I talked to sledders and skiers and snowboarders and even one mom on foot whose 9 month-old baby was so snug in her blanketed carrier she was sound asleep.

One of the craziest things about all this snow is that it's not really that cold out. Even being outside for two hours, I wasn't cold, just very, very wet. And though my car is once against buried from sight in all the snow that fell in the evening, everything is already melting. I can hear the icicles on my roof drip, drip dripping, and underneath all that powdery white is a good inch of nothing but slush.

I feel like I'm in the middle of a Christmas song. Pick one about snow, and there you have my front yard. Can I please be dreaming of a green Christmas?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Weeping in the Night

I've been trying so hard to keep my blog upbeat this past month. It is the holiday season, which means joy should fill the air. As snow blankets the country and family gathers near, I want to focus on good things--happy memories, hope for the future. But things aren't very happy this holiday season.

Ashley isn't doing well and wants to go to Heaven now. She's so tired. In so much pain. Ready to go home. You'd think I'd want her suffering to end so she could be at peace this holiday season, but I can't help but think about the pain her passing will bring. I wish that I was selfless enough to understand her desire to be done with all of this, but I'm not. And it gets even worse because I don't feel this way because I hate seeing what the thought of losing her is doing to her family--it's because I don't want to let her go, at least not yet.

I want to see her again, even though I know it wouldn't be like when I saw her this past summer. She wouldn't be laughing and having fun with her cousins. She wouldn't be able to tell me stories or help me make dinner or read me her favorite book. But I want to hold her in my arms one last time and tell her how much I love her, how grateful I am to know her, what a source of joy and love and learning she is in my life.

Yet a part of me knows I won't get that chance. I keep telling myself I was blessed to be able to do this last June when I saw her. I should be grateful for the time I've had with Ashley and the wonderful blessing her family has been in my life. But that just isn't enough. I don't know if anything will ever be enough.

And as hard as it is for me to relinquish any kind of control, this really is in God's hands. I have said my goodbyes and now I need to be at peace with that. Though my heart is braking, I need to trust that everything will be all right in the end. Things in life always seem to work out, and now I just need to have a little faith that even this will work out, too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Traditions: Christmas Adam

Because most of our family still lives in the Chicago area, there are a lot of extended family gatherings around the holidays. But when all of us kids started moving away from home, my mother began to insist on having at least one dinner--just the five of us--around Christmas.

Thus was born Christmas Adam, or the night before Christmas Eve.

It's really a no-frills holiday tradition filled with non-traditions. We eat some food, tell some jokes and make Mom wonder how all of us ended up with our dad's sense of humor. The dinner fare is always different, and sometimes we do it at my sister's house rather than my parents. Dad gets excited about the bubble lights on the tree, and Mom cries either because we're all together or because someone is missing.

Oh, yes, and we watch While You Were Sleeping. And the three of us kids spend the night together curled up on my sister's bed talking--even when we all lived together, it was always my sister's room.

P.S. I changed the title of my novel from a boring working title to a title I actually like. Thanks Melissa and Tom for the help!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Traditions: Stories

The other night I was talking to my sister about all the great Christmas movies we used to watch when we were kids, like One Magic Christmas starring Mary Steenburgen. And then my friends over at the PBS Booklights blog mentioned The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket, a short story I read and loved a few years ago. So that got me thinking about some of my favorite holiday stories from years gone by.

You really can't go wrong with a classic, and you can't be any more classic than the poem by Clement Clarke Moore "A Visit from St. Nicholas." It has been re-told everywhich way, from Tim Burton's ghoulish masterpiece to the Cajun version I was interoduced to while living in Louisiana years ago. But it is the version of the poem I had as a child that stands out in my mind more than any other.

When I was really little, we had this pop-up version of The Night before Christmas illustrated by Michael Hague. Because it was the only pop-up book we had, it would get read all year long. We read it so often I had it memorized from the time I was about four, and to this day I can still say the poem verbatim.

As mentioned above, I am a sucker for family Christmas movies. I cried like a baby the first time I saw The Family Stone on a plane trip from Salt Lake to New York, and nothing gets me laughing like While You Were Sleeping. But my very favorite Christmas movie isn't really a Christmas movie at all.

When I sit down to watch Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis, I know it's Christmas. Because I have missed a few Christmases with my family, the song Esther sings to her little sister Tootie about Christmas being more about who you have loved than where you are has a special meaning to me.

One of my best memories from high school is the Christmas play I was in. It was a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol in which Scrooge was a self-centered rock star bent on driving himself to an early, lonely grave complete with the dreadlock-sporting ghost of Bob Marley and a tofu turkey for the hippy Cratchits. I really wish I could remember the name of the play, but it was too long ago and I can't find it in my old journals either. Oh well.

I didn't have a big part, but I did have this really dramatic fainting scene at the beginning when the kid who was supposed to catch me wasn't paying attention and I hit my head on the stage. I don't blame him, really. I tend to fall and hit my head a lot--I've even knocked myself out a couple of times. But getting back to the topic at hand...

I LOVE Christmas music. Seriously, I have about 12 hours worth of Christmas music on my iPod. Everything from the King Singers to Fall Out Boy. And all of that music tells a different story of Christmas, whether it's a depressing story of love lost and loneliness, or a song totally focused of the miracle of a baby born in a stable.

To me, one of the most beautiful hymns of the season is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. That song encompasses everything meaningful about the season. It speaks of tradition and peace, past and present, hope and fulfillment. The imagery is also so moving: "Still thru the cloven skies they come / With peaceful wings unfurled."

There is something so distinct about the stories written about Christmas. This is the time of year when everyone suspends their disbelief for just a moment and believes that magic and miracles and goodness really do exist in the world. We stretch our imagination and make ourselves a little vulnerable to feeling the spirit of Christmas, no matter if we believe in Christ or not.

And new stories of Christmas are still being created every year. Snowmen at Night by Mark and Caralyn Buehner is the perfect example of this.

What are some of your favorite Christmas stories? Are they books or songs or maybe even memories? Maybe it's a story a parent read to you or something you discovered one Christmas when you were far from home. But in this season of glad tides, I hope you are able to find joy and happiness in all your Christmas stories.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

And boy are my arms tired

No, I haven't done any flying. But along with colored lights and mistletoe, the holiday season also means music. Yesterday my Christmas bell choir had our first performance in Old Town Alexandria, and today we had a two-hour rehearsal for our big performances next week. I also lead the congregational music and the music for the women's meeting at church today. Between hefting those bass bells and waving my arms in the air all weekend, my shoulders and elbows and arms ache. I really need to work out more.

I'll try to post some pictures of the Bells at Mt. Vernon, but for now, enjoy this Christmas music from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I was at the concert where this was recorded a few years ago, and while a YouTube recording can't compare to the live performance, it's still beautiful. Plus, my friend Carrie was one of the dancers, my old clarinet teacher played in the orchestra and I know a couple people in the choir. Not being there for the Christmas concert this year makes me kind of miss living out west.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another year older...

I love birthdays. They are a time to celebrate being alive and all of the things you have accomplished in the past year. And I'm lucky enough that my birthday falls in the middle of the holiday season when people are already thinking about new beginnings and good memories.

It's odd to think that at this time last year I was moving to a new city and starting a new job. I hadn't yet received my first rejection letter, but I hadn't gotten my SCBWI WIP letter. I was missing my old Salt Lake City writers' group, but I hadn't met me new Virginia writing friends. I was living closer to my family than I had in nine years, but I was father away from my best friend as well.

The problem with new beginnings is that it's also a time of endings. But the great thing about endings is they allow you to start fresh, set goals, do something completely different. So here is to endings that aren't really ending at all, but new beginnings in disguise.