Day 3: Putting Up The Dern Tree

It goes like this at our house.

  1. Annual conversation about how tall tree should be even though we have been in the house 10 years and have put said tree in same spot with same ceiling height Every. Single. Year.
  2. Eliza and Tim head out the door with rope and straps and all manner of things required to attach a big Fraser Fir to the top of a big SUV.
  3. Dynamic duo returns home flushed and joy-filled with a big Fraser Fir properly attached to the top of the big SUV.
  4. They unbind it.
  5. (I hear grunting. And laughing.)
  6. In a flurry tree is unloaded and hauled into the living room.
  7. I am called in to oversee proper tree placement and straightening.
  8. (It is clear these two jokers think they can achieve perfection on their own but have come to the conclusion–misguided as it may be–that I represent an impossible standard and it is better for everyone if I am simply humored.)
  9. They string the lights.
  10. I leave them to it as they string the lights.
  11. I go to the kitchen and leave them to it as they string the lights. All the while I visualize the web of wires that will crisscross that tree horizontally and vertically and diagonally and horizontally again by the time this exercise is complete.
  12. They come to the kitchen, delighted. We return to the living room, together. I praise, praise, praise their glorious work.
  13. (I wonder how we will ever manage to place a single ornament lest we hang it from the green light wires.)
  14. They smile at each other, then exit the room.
  15. Where are you going? I ask.
  16. Our part’s done, they say.
  17. No! I say. Decorating is the best part! Come back! 
  18. They ignore me.
  19. Please? I say.
  20. (Silence.)
  21. I’ll make White Russians.
  22. They return but refuse to even lift the lid of ORNAMENT BOX #1 OF 4 until they are each, in fact, holding a White Russian.
  23. Ornament hanging commences.
  24. Dogs Barking Jingle Bells plays in the background.
  25. I itch with every ornament hung.
  26. (Everyone knows the big, shiny balls go in the big, empty spaces and delicate angels go higher on the tree. Plus those precious birds and the yarn basket and the pretty gourds and the sand-in-the-clear ball Suzann made in 1997 go right in front, where I see them from my desk.)
  27. These people.
  28. Twenty minutes in Eliza pronounces That’s enough ornaments. Don’t you think, Mama?
  29. Tim shakes his head agreeably.
  30. I open my mouth to scream IT’S A WONDROUS TIME OF YEAR then spot a Little Drummer Boy who is, in fact, hanging from the lights.
  31. Yes, I say. Yes. You guys go on and I’ll just clean up a bit.
  32. They head for the kitchen and the big oven tray of Party Mix.
  33. I reach for the lid.
  34. ORNAMENT BOX #2 OF 4, here I come.

 

30 Days of Joy

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!

Day 2: Real.

We were on the road and in need of a quick, late lunch, landing me smack at the front door of the Weaverville Ingles. Hanging right there so festive were long lovely winds of fresh greenery, twists of white pine and fragrant cedar in coils 10 feet long.

I kept walking–my mission grab-and-go from the deli–but I also kept thinking about that garland. It has been my practice to drape the mantel in our keeping room with a pre-lit catalog version I’ve had for many years. There are a thousand reasons: it’s well designed with perfectly placed little bundles of fruit; it is clean and manageable and just the right length; it will not dry out, drop needles, make a mess.

Still something about this possibility took hold of my heart.

Real, live greenery for the mantel.

I grabbed two.

 

 

How pretty it looks. How pleased I am!

 

30 Days of Joy

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!

Day 1: Gathering

And so it was his birthday, my sweet husband’s, the big 6-0. And his greatest wish was to spend it at our mountain retreat, 5,000 feet of altitude and 200 miles from our regular, beautiful lives.

But we’ll be all alone, I reminded him, something that suits the introvert in me just fine but that might not be what his big extroverted heart actually desired.

And before you knew it our dear Richmond friends agreed to come for the birthday and the holiday, and our precious mountain neighbors said yes to an invitation for turkey dinner, and Eliza and her sweet beau agreed to make the long drive from Atlanta, and Tim’s brother, John–one of the Island Monettis–made plans to fly from Florida to Asheville creating the greatest, most joyful birthday surprise of all.

It has been one beautiful week, that’s my point, one of those times in which you can hardly hold it all, the gorgeous moments coming so fast and furious.

 

Proof John can, in fact, find sunshine anywhere

 

our giddy Thanksgiving crew: Doug, Jim, Tim, Preston, Jessie, Vickie, me, Eliza

 

And then we had this sunrise, one I want you to see and feel and experience with me, one that took my breath away.

 

 

AND SO DAY ONE is a big one, bursting at the seams–a cumulative, week-long celebration of the best things in life: love, and family, and friends, and food; of God’s great reminder, new every day, that every moment offers the chance for great, surprising joy.

30 Days of Joy

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!

 

 

30 Days of Joy v. 3

In years past I’ve chronicled bits of my holiday season here on The Daily Grace, with two things in mind.

One: To experience this holy season with greater intention.

Two: To bring the joy and light of its sweetest moments into sharper focus.

My heart is pulling me in that direction this year, and it is my hope you will join me as we travel these last days of 2017 together. Here we go, 30 Days of Joy, III!

 

XXOO,

Cathy

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post. Just leave your email here!

On Thanksgiving and Tradition, redux

I wrote this post in 2011 and repost it every year in tribute to my mom, who passed away in February of 2013. (It has become my Thanksgiving tradition, I guess you would have to say.)

Wishing you every joy of this blessed holiday.

~~~

The past three nights I have had dreams of my mother. In each, I was the age I am now, living my current life. But her age changed—early 40s, then 80s, then some age in-between.

I know these dreams came to me because it is Thanksgiving and I will not see her. She and Dad live in a retirement community in another state, and for health reasons, no longer travel. We are staying here because it is my daughter’s first holiday from college. She needs some “home” time, and she will spend Thanksgiving day with her Dad and his family. Those grandparents, who face debilitating health challenges of their own, will be filled with joy to have her there.

It is the right decision.

Nevertheless, my mother is heavy on my mind. My dreams mark that small, tight space in which I live, wedged between aging parents and maturing children. I want more time with both, and still the demands of our lives—mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s—pull us in three radically different directions.

Here is what the dreams were about. In some pretty obvious ways, and some veiled, the situations represented traditions my mother established when we were a family of six: Mom, Dad, my three brothers and me. While “tradition” infused all aspects of our family’s life, from sports superstitions to station wagon vacations, the most vivid to me are still the holidays.

Thanksgiving at our house in Virginia was exactly the same every year. My grandmother lived next door, and my brothers rolled her wheelchair down the tiny hill that connected our yards to bring her to dinner. La-La wore fur in the cold mountain air and brought with her a green cut glass bowl of homemade cranberry sauce. She also made pineapple fritters, a treat reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom roasted the turkey, always in a brown-n-bag (70s) which meant it could not be stuffed—a choice about which my father expressed disdain year after year after year. Still, he was the carver, and I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday “testing” bite after juicy bite in that formica-countered, wood stain-cabineted kitchen while my mother instructed my oldest brother, Sutton, on the finer points of making giblet gravy.  (“Stir like hell!”) When we were seated, and Mom complained once again about not making the dining room big enough when they built the house in 1965, my brother Randy would ask of the table:

I wonder if next year we’ll remember asking this year if we would remember asking this last year?

 

In my family today—the one in which I am the mother—we have no such traditions. Instead, Thanksgiving is a surprise every year. In the early days I made my way back to my mother’s house, first as a single girl, then married, then divorced with a small child in tow. Then the small child learned to dance and Thanksgiving week was filled with an endless schedule of Nutcracker performances that kept us bridled to South Carolina.

 

Eliza, in blue, a Party Girl in The Nutcracker

 

I married again, bringing another branch to our beautiful, complicated family tree, and our celebrations diversified once more. I especially loved the years Tim’s mother, Dorothy, joined us for Thanksgiving. I can still see her in the kitchen, making the Monetti family’s traditional creamed onions—a novelty to me. One year, just after a break with the ballet company, we found ourselves with no Thanksgiving plans at all. Along with our dear friends, the Coles, we hopped a plane for New York City and the Macy’s parade. I ate pumpkin ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner; it was divine.

 

at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade

 

And so, you see, my daughter has grown up rather traditionless. Instead, her life has been filled with a cornucopia (forgive me) of holiday celebrations. And I ask myself why it is that I now regret this? Why has this thought invaded my dreams? I think it is that space that we find ourselves in, we Mothers Squeezed Between The Generations. Guilt lurks on either end. I regret that I haven’t established the traditions of my childhood in my own home, for my daughter; I feel guilty not abandoning all for the mere opportunity to be with my parents—a remarkable blessing in itself.

And so tomorrow will come, and Eliza will head out the door toward her Ellis family. I’ll pull the big turkey from the fridge, overstuff it with dressing, and load it on my Williams Sonoma roasting pan. Then while I watch my husband carve the big bird, sneaking bites every chance he gets—I will smile and stir the giblet gravy.

I will remember, Mom, to stir like hell.

 

 

I’d love to send a little note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

Life, shared.

When I look over the many grace-filled moments of life, I count these among the most holy: the time spent lingering around a dining room table after a lovely dinner. Candles are burning low, a last splash of wine has been poured. Conversation flows easily, joyfully, the topics having moved to things that matter, treasured memories, dreams for the future, deeper questions of life. Inevitably there is a moment in which someone leans back and looks around in the soft light, and with no words at all acknowledges the glory of this communion.

How grateful I am for dear friends. How grateful I am for life, shared.

XXOO

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: September, October

What a great couple of reading months it has been. I hope my recommendations serve you well and bring you some happy, happy book moments.

SEPTEMBER:
Of Mess and Moxie, by Jen Hatmaker
I’ve got a huge girl-crush on Jen Hatmaker, a woman who speaks her mind with a healthy dose of honesty that’s wrapped in so much love it’s disarming. She is also a Christian leader who believes in — and fights for– inclusion. This book, which has this subtitle: Wrangling Delight Out of this Wild and Crazy Life, made me laugh, made me cry, made me think hard about my days and how I navigate them. I enjoyed via audiobook (which is delightful and powerful read by Jen), then I bought the hardback because it is THAT GOOD. I want it around, physically, and not just on my Kindle. Love, love, love.

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
This is the book that popped up everywhere I looked as autumn approached, one of the most anticipated of the fall crop. I was familiar with Ng having read her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, earlier this year. (I wrote about it here.) Little Fires is beloved by critics and authors alike which you will see on its Amazon page, which notes of the story: a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. If you enjoy contemporary family dramas (which happens to not be my favorite genre I don’t know why I keep choosing it), I think you will like.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate
What a surprise this book was to me! It’s another that kept insisting itself and when I discovered I was #25 on the library’s waiting list I immediately ordered my own copy on Kindle. It is right up my alley: Based on the true-life scandals surrounding the notorious Tennessee Children’s Home Society in the 1930s, Wingate weaves a thought-provoking and complex tale about two families, two generations apart. (My local friends will be interested to know much of the story takes place in Aiken, South Carolina.) I must say the cover of this book is not a great indicator of the rich story within, so don’t let that fool you. A really good story very well told.

Braving the Wilderness, by Brene Brown
I think this is the most profound, powerful, important book I’ve read in the last 10 years, or maybe ever. EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. Brene makes a compelling and immensely readable case for “true” belonging and the courage to stand alone. From Penquin Random House: Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” I listened to this via audiobook which I loved because Brene reads it, and her personal storytelling is just so powerful. By Chapter 2 I had already run straight to the bookstore to buy a copy. I HAD THINGS TO UNDERLINE AND REMEMBER.

Get this book. Seriously.

THE MAGNOLIA STORY, by Joanna and Chip Gaines
Like a hundred billion other people on the planet, I love Chip and Joanna Gaines of the HGTV show Fixer Upper. Like the hundred billion I have that feeling they are family, or at least really good friends. Still I wasn’t standing around waiting to read this book. They felt a little overexposed to me, and this seemed like just another layer of all that promotion. But then there it was available immediately via audiobook from the library, and Tim and I were going on a road trip, and it seemed like an okay choice…and so we queued it right on up. We really enjoyed it! Chip and Jo Jo do the reading and while I liked their familiar voices they are NOT great audiobook narrators. But we found their story really interesting, particularly from a business standpoint, and found ourselves caught up as the miles flew past. Worth a read, I’d say, if you’re a fan or if you’re looking for some entrepreneurial encouragement.

NEWS OF THE WORLD, by Paulette Giles
I love a tale about unlikely characters thrown together in unusual circumstances and this is a great one. Amazon says: In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction hat explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust. Beautifully written–one of my favorite books of the year. I read this in actual book form and suggest that format because it is small and beautiful–a delight to hold and look at.

PRESENT OVER PERFECT, by Shauna Niequest
Amazon says: Written in Shauna’s warm and vulnerable style, this collection of essays focuses on the most important transformation in her life, and maybe yours too: leaving behind busyness and frantic living and rediscovering the person you were made to be. Present Over Perfect is a hand reaching out, pulling you free from the constant pressure to perform faster, push harder, and produce more, all while maintaining an exhausting image of perfection.

I’d had my eye on this little book for quite some time then found it on sale on Kindle. I snatched it up and curled up with it in bed one night. I read it in one sitting and think it is a good recommendation for anyone who feels life has gotten away from them, anyone who wants to learn to be present in the midst of messy life. Particularly a good go-to for young women trying to balance it all–which, thank heavens–is no longer me. I did love Oprah’s interview with Shauna on her SuperSoul Conversations podcast. Good stuff.

 

If you have thoughts or other book recommendations, please share in the comments. I’d love to know how you feel about my selections or any suggestions you have!

XXOO

Amazon has offered The Daily Grace an affiliate partnership and will give a little financial reward for any purchases made from the links provided here. That’s not my motivation in writing this post, but since it doesn’t cost anything extra if you click and decide to purchase one of these books, I thought it might be a good way to help with the hard costs of this labor-of-love blog. I do want to fully disclose, however. I greatly value your trust as a reader. 

I also share great book deals on my favorites via Facebook. If you are interested, be sure to like my The Daily Grace Blog Facebook page and select “see first” (under “following”) so it will show in your newsfeed. Oh, those crazy algorithms.

it’s always there

IT’S ONE OF THOSE TIMES that makes you realize you never really know the joy life will bring, one moment to the next.

First there was the fact we had a slew friends staying with us in the mountains for the weekend. Then others were to arrive late Saturday afternoon, our plan some happy time out on the deck, followed by a big, casual, family-style dinner.

Then Jessie called.

“You can say no,” she said, “and I will totally understand.” She totally meant it, too.

But I said yes, and that’s how it came to be on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in October I was standing, camera in hand, just up the way in a lovely mountain meadow photographing the prettiest wedding I’ve ever seen.

I am not a real photographer, let me be clear about that. Plus there were three or four guests intentionally snapping away–each of us aware the professional had cancelled at the last minute and that surely–surely between all of us there would be enough good shots for a proper album.

Still. It was a wedding.

None of this is even the point of this post. I merely want you to understand how it was I found myself in a meadow on a mountain on a picture-perfect afternoon in October, a witness to the sweet, sweet wedding of a couple I’d never ever met. And I want you to feel the surprise that experience–unexpected as it was– brought to me. Turns out it was one of the most love-filled, light-filled, joy-filled afternoons of my life.

 

FIRST MY FRIEND and soul brother, Jay Coles, was visiting and offered to give me a ride up to the wedding. He knew I was anxious (!!!) and graciously agreed to hang around, bringing his camera as a backup. The two of us fussing around getting our “gear” ready so tickled our crowd that someone demanded a photo.

Thank heavens I am not sporting a camera in this shot!

 

Then Jay and I arrived and went to work, doing our best to capture each thoughtful detail.

 

IT’S AN ODD THING to attend the wedding of a couple you don’t know, even more so when it is an intimate gathering of family and dearest friends. I felt removed but also all up in it, every unknown face coming to me through my camera’s zoom lens. It gave me the opportunity to look and see and experience the color and shape of every emotion in a heightened and powerful way.

There was so much love.

Sister and sister.

Mama and daughter.

Father and bride.

Brother and brother. And brother.

Bride. And groom.

Oh, this bride and groom.

Their joy overflowed in a way made manifest, I swear, by the wide open setting, the colors of autumn, the October sky. They blushed; they laughed; they cried. As did the Justice doing their marrying (who I think may have been the groom’s brother). As did everyone else in attendance (but for those ADORABLE children).

As did I.

I stood there, my lens trained on the love-filled faces of these strangers, and tears rolled down my cheeks.

 

LOVE IS ALL AROUND is the point I’m trying to make, love is present and moving in a hundred trillion ways you never see or even know. Love is flowing, good and strong and remarkable, all across the globe, in every country, three states away, just a little ways up Ogle Mountain.

Even when we forget it. Even when forces divert our attention elsewhere, and we’re unaware.

Love is all around.

 

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a little note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

When It Dawns On You

I’ve placed this photograph in this blog post I’d say…oh, 10 times or more. I’ve taken it out. I’ve put it back in, smaller, taken it out. Put it back in, made it larger, made it smaller, walked away.

And here it is now. Large.

Why the angst, I wonder? Why the need to get it just right?

Perhaps it is because the moment I snapped the photo felt so right, so perfect, so awe-filled. Perhaps what I want is for you to be there, too, to step with me into the early morning cold, the world dark and still, the mountains starting their glow. I want you to feel and see and know, as I did, in that moment.

 

 

My dear friend, Jay, is there, too. He doesn’t say a word, just stands there with me while I take it all in. Then he says, oh so quiet, See the star? I look again. I look closer.

Sure enough there it is, up and just to the right. A star.

 

 

I turn to the left. West, toward my beloved Mother tree.

There is this.

 

 

Good heavens, I think, how beautiful is the gift of another day.

How awesome it is to be reminded in such a beautiful way.

 

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a note each time there’s something new on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!