Golden Book: Savor the seasons as they roll around

‘Tis the Season

Christmas cheer is finally here! Although I plan to travel back home to Colorado to be with my family on Christmas, this year marks the first in which I will be on my own for holiday preparation. Christmas is not an event but a season in my family. It’s the scent of fresh walnut cookies that seems to linger with the first snow and the twinkling of bells that floats on the icy wind. As such, this year I decided to get a head start on holiday spirit. This was a somewhat spur of the moment decision which occurred during my weekly grocery shop the day after Halloween when I noticed scarecrows being replaced with reindeer figurines. I couldn’t help myself. As the shelves were being stocked with ornaments and wreaths and fat little Santa’s, I picked out my very own, mini Christmas tree, a fake one that came prelit. It now stands as a sparkly silver, four foot tall reminder of the festivities still to come. 

Putting the Pieces  Together

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, my family and I construct a Christmas puzzle. The time until Christmas Day is marked by the advent wreath on the coffee table and by the progress of the puzzle in the center of the living room, each piece bringing us one step closer to the happiest time of the year. As the picture comes into view, so does the holiday spirit. It’s an activity that everyone can get into if only to have the satisfaction of finding one more piece. Losing track of time is never better than when you’re surrounded by people you love and enthralled in happy traditions. At least once every year, my sister and I find ourselves waking from the meticulous stupor that a good puzzle brings, only to be shocked that it’s two in the morning. This year in recognition of the time-honored tradition, I completed my own Christmas puzzle, a 1,000 piece Charley Harper. 

The Sounds of Christmas

No matter where you are, there is no shortage of beautiful music at Christmas time. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, every retail store serenades shoppers with “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” set to eternally repeat. Bell ringers set up camp at the entrance to every grocery store. Carolers don their warmest winter coats for expeditions into the neighborhood and every church choir is fully staffed to ensure that the holiday cheer never ceases. It’s a time when schedules are over-booked with innumerable concerts where the harmonies of the season are taken up on trumpets and violins in community orchestras all across town. This year, I sported my own concert attire to play the flute in the Valparaiso Community/University Concert Band annual Julefest concert. Traditional Christmas melodies filled the VU Chapel of the Resurrection on December 3rd. The performance concluded with a singalong medley of well known Christmas tunes which allowed members of the audience to test their singing voices and join in. The celebration continued the following Sunday for Tuba Christmas which was a huge ensemble consisting entirely of low brass.  

Julefest fireworks at the Chapel of the Resurrection

Lighting up the Night

Following the delightful Julefest performance, I treated myself to a romantic evening stroll through downtown Valpo where twinkling lights adorn nearly every tree and lamp post, keeping the holiday cheer aglow. The crisp still night air lulled the world into a reverent hush as couples ambled around the plaza and posed for photos in front of the enormous Christmas tree. Even Orville Redenbacher was dressed in his holiday best in a crimson stocking cap. The sounds of happy chatter and Christmas tunes floated across the street from the Central Park Plaza Ice Rink. All this made for a nearly perfect winter evening, improved only with the addition of large fluffy white flakes drifting down from the sky to settle over the lawn and the bows of the glittering trees. 

Cookies for Santa

Nothing says Christmas like a platter of homemade German cookies fresh from the oven. The baking of the Christmas cookies was always a group activity that would draw all of my extended family to my Oma’s tiny kitchen over the Thanksgiving holidays. There, we would congregate. Us kids drew flour on our cheeks like war paint as we assembled to carry out Oma’s orders on the proper amount of walnut meringue to be applied on each oblaten while others were finger painting the butter cookies with egg yolks. That is what Christmas tastes like and what I attempted to replicate this year in my even tinier apartment kitchen. Although my family is miles away, my mom and I still managed to keep the cookie baking tradition alive as we chatted over the phone while we both put the final touches on my Oma’s butter cookies. 

What are your favorite holiday traditions? Help spread the Christmas cheer by sharing your stories in the comments below.


Golden Book: Cultivate Contentment (Hobbit Life)

Achieving Perfect Hobbitness

Growing up being read tales of elves and talking trees, my sister and I regard much of JRR Tolkien’s work as literary gold. The legendary quests of Middle Earth are considered just shy of Gospel in our family. As kids, we would make up characters for ourselves, people of steadfast quality that young Mr. Frodo met during his travels in the War of the Ring. We always liked to imagine ourselves as wise and immortal elven folk or as being among the viking-like race of the fair-haired horse lords of the Rohirrim. Although picturing ourselves as valorous shield maidens will always be cause for endless entertainment and the source of some truly epic childhood fantasies, the older I get the more I realize that I am first and foremost a Hobbit at heart. The last four years of my life have been spent studying to one day become a successful engineer. However, I tend to prefer the simple comforts of life and have therefore set a new life goal. I aspire to be a happy, healthy Hobbit. 

Taking the Hobbit Challenge

In pursuit of this new dream, this November, I took on the challenge presented in Tea with Tolkien, 30 Days to a Hobbit at Heart. The entire month was dedicated to drinking tea, avoiding fast food and various other objectives designed to boost Hobbit habits. Although I failed to hit every point on the list, I still count November as a huge success. I picked up a few routines which I hope I can carry on for many months to come, including regularly preparing meals fit for a Hobbit’s table. Unfortunately, I failed to bake the magical elvish waybread, Lembas, but substituted chocolate chip cookies which were a huge hit at the office the next day. This journey to perfect Hobbitness even pushed me out of my social comfort zone and inspired me to host a couple casual dinner parties for some friends from work. I will definitely be doing this again, although maybe not twice in one month. 

Channeling Bookish Bilbo

I also carved out time every day to read and to journal which has been especially useful in my creative writing endeavors. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen was my book of choice for the month as I’ve been working my way through all of her books. Establishing these practices as part of my daily ritual helped me to limit my screen time. This lead to the baffling discovery that I have much more time to spare when I’m not spending it mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. With all this newly liberated free time, I managed to make practicing the flute and piano a regular occurrence throughout the week which was particularly rewarding as I can now play a variety of music that my mom is sure to enjoy when I visit her for Christmas. 

A Hobbit at Heart

Although I was unable to accomplish every item in 30 Days to a Hobbit at Heart, it helped me to focus and get in touch with my inner Hobbit. I plan to continue to seek out new ways to make my life cozy, comfortable and content in my quest for perfect happiness and Hobbitness. As Thorin said to Bilbo, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” How do you cultivate hobbit-like contentment in your life? Please share your habits with me in the comments below.