PXL 20211216 224018782PORTRAITDecember 16 was a shock to the system for Virginia…breezy enough for the flags to fly fully horizontal, yet warm—in the 70s. Maybe that should have been a premonition that this would be no normal day.

I started the day without an alarm. That clearly is a treat.

I remembered to put 3 gifts for our 2 kids still at home in the partridge-in-pear-tree box—3 spa-fragranced soaps for the girl, 3 truffles for the guy. (In case my holiday math feels off, we planned for Christmas Day to be the 12th day of Christmas, which requires starting on December 14.)

My plan was to make Chex™️ Mix (a bit of a misnomer, since half of the cereal is Crispix™️). But I was missing the pretzels. I left the ingredients on the counter, as a cue for me to remember to make the mix. Now, making Chex Mix is a bit of a family tradition. Grandma always made hers with one type of nut—pecans harvested from the trees in her back yard. She would place labels on our packages of mix, indicating they were both made and gifted by their dog, Snoopy.

I read over my texts and discovered that one of my interviewees, for a geology book I’m writing about Morefield mine, has passed away; his service will be this week. That has happened two previous times in the past year, but each time it happens, it’s a jolt. I added, “Upload P’s interviews to the website” to my to-do list. I’m grateful I got to meet him, yet sad he won’t be around for the final book, to see his name in print.

The next step was paying some company and medical bills. The former was simple enough; the latter, not so much. The insurance call was not particularly successful. They have billed me about 233% higher than my copay should be for a specialist visit. The 1-hour-20-minute customer service interaction ended with, “Thank you for your patience. I will have to check with our claims review team if claims can be sent for adjustment.”

I’m thinking, isn’t that what they should have been doing in the past 80 minutes??! And so far, they’ve asked me for seven (7!) pieces of verification information.

Without a resolution, I headed for a dental cleaning. They were proactive, chatted with me at the personal level and helped me negotiate some decisions that should be handled in the next couple weeks.

I popped into my local coffee shop, to pick up 2 gifts. When I got to the register, I asked, “Can I get a gift card for any amount? I need one for $11, for the 11th day of Christmas.”

The person at the register looked at the person training her, who shook his head, “Yes, you can get any amount.”

While she rang up my sale, she pondered, “But what if a person buys a card for, say, $2? They can’t even buy anything for $2.”

I laughed. “Anyone is welcomed to give me a card for $2. I would gladly use it.”

Now here’s the crazy part—a man behind me interrupted, “I’ll buy you a drink.”

Now that he walked toward me, I could see—he was a barista named Matthew. “You will, seriously?”

“Yes, anything on the menu.”

“But, why, is it what I said?”

He responded, “It’s just a gift.”

And sure enough, when the drink was made, in the place where my name would have been on the label, it said, * Merry Xmas *.

My hands were full as I was walking out, and another gentleman stepped over and helped me out the door. And I was smiling inside from both of their gestures.

My next stop was a pharmacy, but my medicines weren’t ready. I wandered around the store, picking up a few things family members had requested. Then, that gnawing feeling started…I was going to be sick. I made a beeline for the restrooms (I always know where they are!). And I made it in time—that’s not a given, and I was grateful.

I returned to the pharmacy, almost running late, and rang up my meds with a minute to spare. When I reached the front door, I realized: my keys were missing. I returned to the bathroom and waited a minute or two, but the occupant wasn’t coming out. I walked to the store greeter, who checked—there were my keys. Close call! But now, I was a bit late. I left the store, bundling everything into my minivan.

A few blocks away, I reached for my phone, to no avail. How could this have happened? I summoned my phone using my watch, which delivered up on error message. Losing something a second time? I retraced my route, returning to the store.

There was the same greeter. “I hate to tell you, but now I’ve lost my phone.”

“I’ll check,” he responded; in a minute, he was back, and handed me my phone.

“You have truly done your job today!” I exclaimed. And he grinned, no doubt thinking I had lost my ever-lovin’ mind.

I left, picked up my son, then headed to teach an art lesson. Seeing a 7-year-old student focus on her pastel drawing continuously for an hour—amazing. Seeing my 20-year-old son choosing subject matter and walking a child through granular, ever-more-difficult techniques—priceless!

We returned home, to find my 17-year-old daughter beaming. “Mommy, I’ve earned the Presidential Scholarship from one university, and the Provost Scholarship from another. And I’ll have another interview in January to see whether I could get the Brock Scholarship.” We were hugging, high-fiving, rushing to read the online congratulatory letters on our phone screens. It was the best Christmas gift she could have asked for: not to have to worry about college funding. She’s still waiting to hear from other schools, but regardless, she knows she has some great options.

But it was time for me to leave again. I had one more lesson to teach one of my piano students working on a composition for his family. His great-grandmother and her sister had made up with the song ages ago. He first scored the song on paper, learning quite a few music theory concepts along the way. Last week, he had barely started scoring the song in the new software. Was there a chance he could complete it in time for Christmas?

When I got out of my minivan, I was surprised to see three figures—the student, his mom, and the student’s stepfather! On leave from the military, his stepdad was originally set to redeploy days ago, but logistics changes lent him a few bonus days. It was the best gift they could have asked for: to enjoy sports events, music lessons, holiday events, and all the “normal” things he might otherwise miss during their first married Christmas together.

As we plowed into the software, I could tell the student was moving significantly faster than his last session. When our time was nearly up, he asked how much time we had.

“Why don’t you just keep going? I think there’s a real chance you can get this done in time to share it with your family at Christmas.”

So he pressed forward, and finished a draft. But in testing, we had a few glitches. With his mom playing the piano (who knows, maybe the first time her husband had seen her do so), while the student and I watched the playback of the composition, repairing the few issues where needed. We saved the composition as a PDF, then memorialized his 1st digital composition with a few photos. The three went on their merry way, no doubt planning to squeeze in many more memories in their borrowed time before the redeployment begins.

Tired yet fulfilled, I headed home, stopping at the front of the neighborhood to take pictures of the lovely lighted and decorated houses.

The first person I saw when I got home was my husband. He was in his “man cave,” blanketed, stroking our female cat, Nero. I recounted most of the events of the day, and he shared his.

But then he shared that a member of our community had died. Someone about our age. Loss, like bookends, from this morning, then this evening.

Death. It happens around holidays, just as it does in all other times of the year.







And living. Tomorrow is the 4th day of Christmas.