The first Christmas letter, or, the year in review


By this time, you’ve shredded through the defenseless wrapping paper, watched only the endings to the same three holiday movies, devoured food items that you don’t even allow into your own home and forgotten anything of a normal existence.

And I’m sprawled before the fireplace (not like that!), trying to make a midnight deadline.

Many of you are far more disciplined than I, opting to spend the time and money to carefully craft a report of the previous year with a nicely framed photo. You have mailing addresses ready and one of those tree-shaped holders for the pile of cards you get in return. They’re called Christmas cards?

So come with me to January 2014, when the snow was deep and I found myself at the seat of a pipe organ. I’d been a substitute organist at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Ill. for a few months, but each gig came with the fury of Mother Nature. A tornado. A blizzard. This didn’t help performance nerves. My last remaining grandparent, Grandma Hemken, also died at age 87.


February. I keep my personal life fairly private (despite this dumb blog’s history of the opposite), but I officially started dating my longtime friend Katie. She’s made me less selfish, humored my strange tendencies and just made life better. If I’m willing to throw cliches around, you must know that this is love.

Daylight Savings Time came in March. So did a trip to Milwaukee. Whatta town! Their art museum and food scene made it a new favorite city for both of us. Time itself skipped directly to June, when my parents, sister and her husband and my niece came to Peoria. My brother wasn’t able to join us, but we tried to play tour guide the best we could and hope they’ll soon be back.

July. I finally saw “Jaws” on the big screen. My substitute organist career takes a new turn when I traded the ornate cathedral for the tiny farm town of Chenoa, Ill. A trip to Indianapolis for my birthday was a mostly a disappointment, except for a great restaurant themed in Kurt Vonnegut. And I took Katie home to Wichita to meet the family – during a family reunion, no less.

Nobody likes August.

I packed my bags and attended my first “big deal” work conference in September. ONA14 was in Chicago, so it felt like attending a class reunion where everything is familiar yet the social stakes are higher than they ever were before. My brother Nick also made the trip.


October was a big month. Katie ran her first marathon in Chicago, while I galloped about trying to see her on the race route. I was 66% successful, while she was 100%. We also made the trek to northern Michigan for the fall foliage, which were drenched in rain most of the week yet still very beautiful. It was Katie’s first time on Mackinac Island, where automobiles are banned and horses are encouraged to poop with abandon.


Todd Rundgren still performs and I saw him in Peoria with a friend in November. Katie and I spent our Thanksgiving in Omaha with good friends and turkey.

Photo Nov 27, 12 03 19 AM

And that brings us to December. Because Katie had to work the week of Christmas, we took a long weekend up to Chicago. We watched ice skaters (sadly, the line was too long for us to actually skate), shopped at the gigantic Macy’s store, drank mulled wine at the Christkindlmarket and reveled in the spirit of the season. It’s a new tradition that we hope to continue.


That leaves several routine things unsaid. I continued my role as digital editor of the Journal Star, while Katie received a promotion to assistant universal desk editor. We’re both still learning to leave work at work. Not every ounce of fun was documented, so know that we did have many good days off together in the company of friends.

Photo Sep 21, 4 43 38 PM

So allow me to spill a cup of eggnog and wish you a wonderful Christmas (if indeed you participate) and/or a hopeful new year (we’ll all be in this together, God willing.)

Leave a note and let me know how you’re doing? I have officially entered full adulthood with this letter.

(Editor’s note: He cheated and fudged the publication time by 30 minutes 13 hours.)

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