Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Joy to the World. Merry Christmas, my friends. I hope you are in peace and comfort and surrounded by friends and family.
This is my favorite night of the entire year as I feel the peace of the Savior descend into my heart and can easily imagine "angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold."
If you have a minute, I think this video clip will be worth your time. It's my hero, Jimmy Stewart, in a Christmas movie made by my Church many years ago. He plays a lonely old widower, a custodian in an apartment building alone on Christmas eve. It brings tears to my eyes every year and I cry like a child.
I'm putting the clip below, but if you want to watch the movie in it's entirety (about 30 minutes) go here, here, and here.
Okay, I am a pretty simple guy. Little things can bug me. For example, right now I have 379 people who "like" my Facebook author page and 49 people following me on twitter.
To my simple brain, having a number like 379 or 49 is aggravating and unsettling. Being a mathematical dunce, I like nice, easy round numbers--like 380 or 50. I know that might sound compulsive but it's how I am. Failing round numbers, I at least like easy numbers like 385 or 55. This is no doubt a holdover from my terrifying days in 1st grade math. Those days are best forgotten.
So, here's the deal. I am hoping to get at least a few more people to like my Facebook page or follow me on twitter. Make sense?
So, here's the deal. I am going to have a contest for a $20.00 iTunes gift card.
You can enter the drawing by:
1. "Liking" my Facebook page. (leave a comment below and tell me you did it).
2. Following me on Twitter (leave a comment below and tell me you did it).
3. Mentioning this drawing on your blog (post the link in a comment below).
4. Tweeting this drawing (post the link in a comment below).
5. Mentioning this blog on Facebook (mention it on my Facebook page).
You get 1 entry for each of these things that you do, so you can get multiple entries.
Hello to everyone from balmy Houston! We drove here in 15 hours straight and I drove almost that entire way myself. I'm feeling pretty tough right now. My posting may be quite spotty for two reasons. A) It's Christmas and B) I have spotty wireless access because I am having connection problems with my in-laws's wireless. However, their neighbor died a few days ago and his wireless is still on. It's not password protected and I feel like he won't mind if I use it. I hope that's ok.
Being here at this time of year brings back a rush of potent memories. Eighteen years ago, I left my parents's home on Christmas Day and flew to Houston where I was reunited with my fiance and met her family.
I still remember how beautiful she was and how much I missed her over the days between the end of the semester and our reuniting. I didn't think I would survive the separation.
Once here, we spent long hours together, walking through the beautiful neighborhood (Houston is quite lush) in the balmy weather. We were intoxicated by a heady combination of young, fresh love and grand visions of the future. We held hands--which still made our hearts beat fast--and wandered through both the neighborhood and the contours of our future. What would we do? Where would we live? How many children would be wave and when would they come? Passionate blood pounded in our veins, providing fertile ground for our dreams to grow.
Now, we are back. This morning, I went jogging--ok, jog/walking--through the same streets we walked before. Eighteen years, five children, three states, one major illness, three college degrees and nearly two decades of highs and lows, joys and woes (what musical is that from?) later, we are back. In fact, our questions have moved from "When will be start our family" to "Where will our oldest go to college?" and "To what high schools will our 8th grader be accepted?"
Many things have changed. Our dreams, extravagant and unfettered then, have been tamed and modified by the realities of life. They have been mellowed and if not all of them came true, then we are now wise enough to see that it's probably good they didn't and content enough to be happy with our lives.
Our love is not quite the trumpets-and-fireworks passion of young love. But if it is not as flashy, it is stronger. It has been tempered by time and trial, and the mutual experience of laughter and tears, conflict and reconciliation. And so, if the love doesn't burn quite as hot, it glows much deeper and with a warme. I love her more--infinitely more and in more ways--than I ever could have dreamed then.
One thing has not changed: Houston is still beautiful, and so is she. Even more so, in fact. The years have not changed that.
So: if I could step back in time on my jog and run in to my younger self, I would have on message: "Be happy. It won't always work out how you planned it but it will work out. There will be some dark and difficult times. But hang in there. You are a lucky man and when your youthful ardor mellows you'll realize you are getting an even better wife than you think you are now!
Note: Every year, I deal with the rigors of teaching by spending the first three days of the break sleeping. A. Lot. In recognition of that fact, I have given the large staff here at bradenbell.com some extra time off. Between my sleeping and their time off, things might be a bit light around here for the next bit. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas (or that you had a Happy Hanukah, a Refreshing Ramadan, and a Jubilant Kwanza!) Seriously, whatever your holiday, I hope this time is wonderful and meaningful to you. And for all of us, here are thoughts and prayers for a peaceful, prosperous Happy New Year! --Braden
I'm 39 years old and I believe in Santa Claus. I really do. Let me tell you why--and then maybe you will also.
I didn't always believe in him. In fact, while I was growing up, I didn't believe in him. My sweet mom really wanted the focus to be on Baby Jesus (and rightly so), consequently Santa just wasn't a big part of our celebrations.
I was never anti-Santa, I thought he seemed harmless enough, but he just didn't play much of a role in my life. Until I was married with children.
A lot of you know the first part of the story. While on a mission for my church, I became quite ill. I managed to struggle along through the complete two years, but I came home severely weakened and exhausted.
Still, I fell in love, got married and we started our family. Then I relapsed and the sickness came back with a vengeance. Those years are a blur for me. For basically three years I could do nothing but lay in my bed and sleep. On good days I was able to watch a little TV. I had to drop out of school and it was impossible to work. My poor wife was essentially a single mother of two little boys--in addition to taking care of a sick husband. It was terribly, incredibly, perpetually bleak during those years. There was not much to cheer us as we trudged through the soul-numbing bleakness that was always there.
Eventually, miraculously, I was healed. But after three years, we were in a pretty deep hole--financially and emotionally.
Christmas came the next year. We were grateful that I wasn't sick any more, but there were residual effects. I was way behind in school, we had no money, and Christmas was going to be fairly sparse for our kids--and now there were three of them. That was ok. We weren't miserable or anything--but it wasn't exactly terribly festive, either.
Then, one night we heard a noise outside. Someone left a beautiful artificial Christmas tree on our doorstep. That was followed by decorations and some other things. That really brightened our holiday.
Then, several nights before Christmas, we heard the distinct sound of bells outside. I opened the door and went to see what it was. I opened the door and Santa Claus walked in.
I'm not joking. Just like that. He brought in several laundry baskets full of gifts, all wrapped beautifully. The new tree, by the way, is in the background. There were lots of gifts for all of us--things we wanted, things we needed, and everything was in the right sizes, too.
Of course, the gifts were nice—wonderful, in fact--but the greater gift was the way our hearts were lifted up and the love that was so clearly manifest. To this day, we aren't sure who was behind this. We racked our brains and went over every possibility. But we never found out. And they made that Christmas for us. We remember--and relive this--every year.
And then I realized that we didn't need to know. Santa Claus was behind it. He was responsible. That was when Santa became real to me. And what is Santa? I believe that he is the embodiment of the kindness we show each other. He is the name we give to the urge to do something nice for someone else. He is the incarnation of all the good will that we feel during this time of the year.
At this time of year, we celebrate miracles—the miracles of a lamp that burned for eight nights in a time of darkness, and the miracle of a baby in a manger. But as we celebrate these miracles, there is another miracle I love to think about. It is the miracle of human kindness—the miracle that happens when we reach out and show love and concern to those around us. And when we do, we embody the spirit of miracles. And to me, that is who Santa is—the symbol of our best intentions and kindest actions. And that is why I believe Santa is real. That is why I know Santa is real. I met him many years ago on a cold night in a small apartment in Provo UT.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Oh my goodness! I have the most generous students (and parents). This entire week has been a crescendo of generosity with gifts showing up on my desk each morning. It really means a great deal and helps refill the bucket. I'll be writing thank you notes individually, but I know some of you read this blog so I wanted to acknowledge your kindness.
School is out! The table is full, and the family is gathered around the Wii playing classic Pac-Man. Life is good.
Even the fact that I had two more agents reject me is not coloring the holiday cheer I feel! Tonight is the stake council Christmas party and then, I can just hibernate. Until we go to Houston. But then I can hibernate. And write more queries to more agents.
Last night was our winter holiday concert. It went not too badly. The 8th grade was quite good. The 7th grade, which is the least musical age in all of human lifespan had a few rough spots but did reasonably well by their lights. Except the last note of one Hanukah song that was off so much that I started laughing--which made the kids all laugh. The 6th graders were quite good, too. Poor 7th graders. It's such a rough time for kids and that shows up in their singing. The boys' voices are all changing and the girls all want to be as quiet as possible and not stand out. Good times.
I really liked the music was sang--we did some Hanukah songs, a Turkish song, and then some secular Christmas songs, like "Sleigh Ride" and "Winter Wonderland" as well as more sacred selections, like "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "Carol of the Bells."
Here at bradenbell.com we are tireless in our efforts to improve the quality of your lives, so I want to report on an experiment. Yesterday I posted a piece featuring some things to do and not do when you give a gift to your child's teacher. My last hint was to tell them that part of the gift was that they were not to write a thank-you note and just enjoy the gift.
I took my own advice. So, yesterday, when I delivered our plates of cookies to all the teachers, I stipulated that they were not to write a thank you.
I was unprepared for the magnitude of the response. One teacher said "THANK YOU!!!" and nearly burst into tears. She teaches a lot of students and was already feeling overwhelmed by the thank you notes she needs to write over the break. Several others sent emails saying the same thing. A few told me they'd do them anyway. Still, I believe I am on to something here.
I thought it would be a nice thing to do, but I didn't realize just how excited it would make people. So, dear readers, I am passing this on to you in case you want to really make someone's season bright.
Well, Hanukah is just over and Christmas is right around the corner! What a wonderful time of year. A big part of this season, of course, is the giving of gifts. And, with that comes wondering and worrying about what to give to various people in your life. Your husband, wife, boss, neighbors, and your child's teacher.
I can't help you with the others, but I can give you some tips on what to give your child's teacher. I have some expertise in this since I am a teacher, so I have my own experience as well as hearing the reactions of all my colleagues over the years. So, based on that, let me give you some thoughts.
DO NOT feel obligated to spend a lot of money, especially in this economy. In fact, you can spend no money and give an incredibly memorable gift (see below).
DO acknowledge the fact that your child's teacher does a great deal. Yes, he or she is paid. However, he or she is not compensated anywhere near the amount of time he or she invests and is not paid for any of the emotional energy given. I can't overstate how demanding and exhausting teaching is. Wonderful and rewarding, yes--but also exhausting. It's very much like being a parent. A thoughtful gift can really help teachers fill their bucket. Here's the most sought after gift I know: a sincere note written by a child that is detailed in expressing gratitude. These are treasured. This is what teachers want. I'm serious. It's also wonderful to get these from parents. Most teachers teach to make a difference. Knowing you are achieving that objective is powerful medicine. If your child is problematic in class, I would especially encourage you to do something.
DO NOT give a gift to one teacher and not another (if your child has multiple teachers. Someone did this last year and it hurt my feelings deeply. I know that wasn't the intent, I know I shouldn't care, blah blah blah--but teachers are human with feelings. If you must do this, and I can see why there would be occasions to do it, then give the gift discretely so no one else will see.
DO think of those who will be left out. Every school has a few popular teachers that everyone loves. They get tons of stuff. But the less popular teachers work hard, too. It's not their fault they are not as charismatic, etc. Be thoughtful. You might also consider the custodial staff, etc. A plate of cookies for them would be very thoughtful.
DO NOT feel pressure to be endlessly creative or clever. If you don't want to follow my advice and do a nice note then it truly is the thought that counts for most teachers. A list of my favorite gifts over the years would reveal no pattern beyond thoughtfulness.
If you are super busy and want a quick idea, go for a gift card. Teachers don't have a lot of disposable income and having a gift card to Target or Wal-Mart, even in a modest amount, makes me feel rich and give me a chance to buy something fun for myself or my wife without having to worry about budgetary impact.
If you want to do something more personal, then you have a little more work. Scented candles are always popular--you might want to discreetly find out if there is a scent they love. Finding out their favorite restaurant, spa, etc. is also a good idea. One year, one family got some movie passes since there was a movie they knew we wanted to watch and knew it would be expensive for our big family. The kindness and thoughtfulness in that still warm my heart. Another family gave me some really amazing, high-end toffee and candy one year and some homemade treats the next year. Some families have special recipes for hot cocoa or cookie mixes--the list goes on and on, but all of this warms my heart to equal degrees because I know they spend time and effort--which is what I've done for their children.
I'm telling you, you do not have to spend lots of money. It truly is the thought that counts. If your child attends a public school, there might be instructional or classroom supplies your teacher would love that are not in his or her budget. Talking to the room parents or the teacher is a good idea there.
One last idea:
DO tell them explicitly that you do not want them to write you a thank you note. This is one of the most thoughtful things I've experienced from parents. I am, of course, happy to write thank you notes, but when someone tells me not to worry about it, it is a true gift, saving time and some money.
Note: All of my current students and parents who I know read this blog do a great job at this! I wouldn't have posted this otherwise.
The house is quiet tonight. I'm here alone. My family is all at the Titans game (thanks to the generosity of two separate friends). I had a Church commitment, so I didn't go. (Hello to Dorothy, by the way!)
I'm sitting in front of our Christmas tree, listening to my beloved Manheim Steamroller Christmas album. It's peaceful and warm. The lights are out except for the tree and some little Christmas village pieces. I just squinted at the tree, because I like the way it makes the lights blurry. Doing that reminded me of another time I squinted at the lights.
If my life were a movie, the camera would show me in the living room, then it would show me looking at the tree. Then it would zoom in on the tree and the lights would get all blurry as I squint. It would zoom back out and poof! It's a flashback.
I'm in a small, dingy apartment in New York City squinting at Christmas tree. I'm skinner, less gray and less happy. It's about nine years ago. I'm sitting by the tree typing. But I'm not checking emails or writing blogs or books. I'm frantically typing a term paper for my History of Education class. I'm hurrying because I still have to do papers and exams from American Theatre, and Dramatic Theory and Criticism. If memory serves, I will type around 70 or 80 pages between final exams and term papers.
I'm working full-time, going to school at NYU in the evenings, and trying to fill a demanding Church assignment.
The house is quiet because my family is off somewhere having fun.
I'm fighting depression and pretty major anxiety. I'm exhausted and fatigued, feeling overwhelmed with financial, academic and personal challenges that I won't go in to here. I can't describe the pressure and stress I feel. It wouldn't make sense to anyone else. But to me, they were terrible.
The camera zooms back out. I'm in my own home now. I have a wonderful job that I love. My degree is finished, bringing a sense of accomplishment and security. Finances remain a challenge, but things are more stable than they were then.
I'm typing for fun and enrichment, not on a deadline, and I'm typing using wireless internet!
I don't know what future Christmases will hold--what memories will be there when I squint at the Christmas tree next year and the next. But I am grateful for the peace and happy circumstances this year. Things aren't perfect. They never are, and never will be. But, I am grateful that they are better than they used to be!
Wherever you are, I wish this for you: that this Christmas is happier and brighter than last, and that next is happier and brighter than this year
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking "Wow! Braden is such a great guy. He keeps giving us these amazing recommendations in order to make our Christmas brighter." Yes, you are right. That's because I care deeply about you, my blogging friends.
(By the way, if my student who plays Glinda, the Good Witch is reading this, hello!)
My fourth gift to you is another movie recommendation. It is a delightfully unusual movie that defies easy categorization. In my mind, it's more of a movie that happens to take place at Christmas than it is a Christmas movie, but it is interesting and compelling. Cary Grant and Loretta Young and David Niven star in "The Bishop's Wife", available on Netflix here. Yes, this was the original on which they based the newer "The Preacher's Wife" (Why must they do that! One of my biggest pet peeves). The supporting cast is fantastic as well.
Here's a question to which no one has yet provided a satisfactory answer: why did my grandparents's generation get Cary Grant and we're stuck with Leonardo Di Caprio? Seriously, that is so unfair and really points to our cultural poverty today.
P.S. Please remember to vote for Debbie here! This is the last week of voting.
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