Tonight, we lit our first Hanukkah candles.  We lit four menorahs–one for each member of our family.  The fourth menorah, Micah’s, was lit to brighten the corners of our hearts darkened by his loss earlier this year.  It was lit to give Micah’s light a chance to shine on us during this difficult holiday season.

Perhaps the greatest highlight of this day, aside from the glows on my wife and daughter’s faces when they opened their first Hanukkah gifts this evening, was spending lunch with friends.  We discovered last week that one of our favorite Chicago pizzerias, Giordano’s, opened their first Arizona restaurant in Peoria this past week.  Giordano’s is known for their fantastic stuffed pizza–thick layers of cheese and toppings on top of a substantial crust.  We asked Christy, David, Micaylee and Carson, friends of ours that live close to the new restaurant, to join us for lunch.

One thing that’s important to understand about stuffed pizza is that it takes quite a bit longer to bake–45-60 minutes on average.  So, this is not your average sit down, talk a little, eat, talk a little, leave, kind of meal.  You have to be willing to actually to converse with those whom you plan to share your meal.  We chose well.  The conversations at times involved all seven people sitting at the table, on topics from education to child-rearing to electronics and gadgetry to — well, pretty much everything except in-depth politics (sorry Micaylee, another time… 🙂 ).  Cynthia had never really sat down with this family before (they are friends initially from the hockey world), but afterwards wondered why we had not done so sooner.  Smiles, laughs, good will and positive feelings were bountiful (as was lots of cheese) throughout the two-hour meal.

Having friends that you can sit down with, enjoy a meal with, but more importantly, simply enjoy the company of–truly a blessing.  I’ve made no secret of how difficult this season has been.  Spending time with friends like this provides much needed respite from heavier thoughts…

After our long lunch, we had one very important stop to make on our way home.  Over the past week, we have started infusing more music into our lives.  Last night, for example, we more-or-less fell asleep sitting up in bed, reading and listening to relaxing music.  I think the recent purchase of turntables for our living room and bedroom, and LPs to go along with those, has made us appreciate music so much more…  So, back off to Zia Record Exchange to further build our vinyl collection.  By the time our 40 minute visit came to an end, we had added about 15 new albums to our collection.  My choices included a number of early Billy Joel albums (listening to Songs in the Attic right now), ELO, Jim Croce, Neil Diamond (much to my wife’s chagrin) and even the soundtrack to the original Muppet Movie.  My wife added a couple Sade albums.  My daughter added Pentatonix and Melanie Martinez (still scratching my head over that one).

After a brief stop to get some donuts (a Hanukkah favorite), it was time to light the candles, open a few gifts, and just spend time together listening to our new music.  My wife’s gift of the evening was yet another LP: Prince’s Purple Rain.  Yes, that was the first vinyl on the turntable.

Now I sit, contemplating all of this, as I watch my daughter playing on her laptop, and my wife sleeping on our big “Lovesac”.  Peace.  Quiet.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all.