Day 21: The Time After

I woke up this December 26th thinking about the aftermath: the piles of boxes and torn wrapping paper, the dirty dishes, the no-holes-barred-celebratory calories quite literally encircling my waist.

Even my heart felt heavy, the realization coming fast: Today my girl heads back home, to Atlanta.

It’s come and gone too soon, I thought. All those weeks of planning and preparation, and now Christmas has gone too soon.

Then I remembered these words from writer and minister Winn Collier, who put it like this:

Good news to all who woke a bit blue this morning. Christmastide is here! Christmas is a season, not a day. Advent asked us for many days of watching and waiting. Now Christmas asks us for 12 days of joy. Party on. Take time and eat well. Enjoy the ones you love. See good movies. Take walks. Give the kids a little extra space. Pray for peace and goodwill the world over. Save a little gift for a surprise later. In all, thank God for all the joy.



Light has come.

Let us rejoice and be glad in it!



30 Days of Joy


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Day 20: Merriment and Awe

FIRST COLLEEN ARRIVED, our sweet New York friend here to spend the holidays with us.

Then we dashed through the soft rain to Lisa and Joe’s for some merriment and a house so beautifully decked the Biltmore would stand in awe.

I mean, this is their tree.


Yes, it is fifteen feet tall. (And about that wide.)


It was a glorious night filled with twinkling lights, cranberry champagne and friends who love each other so dearly laughter rides the air room to room, conversation to conversation, hearts touching in a communion so lovely it fills your soul to the very brim.

Or even overflowing.


Trying to corral this crowd.


How grateful I am for these bonds, for the love, for the joy of treasured, trusted friends.


Colleen and her loves: Ayden, Josie and Julian


This right here is all Joey P.




AND NOW HERE I AM, on this beautiful Christmas Eve morning, waiting for my dearest love, Eliza, and her sweet love, Preston, to arrive from Charlotte. I send you my heartfelt wishes that your day is filled with all the people you love most, and that this holy holiday brings you the deep peace that comes as we wait in wonder for the Christ child. I leave you with this photo I post every year–and the awe I experienced all those years ago as I made my way through the house turning out the lights late, late on Christmas Eve. I walked in to find our cat, Tiger, had somehow gotten up on the table and positioned himself among the animals at the manger.


A Christmas miracle, indeed.


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Day 13: Bringing Christmas

It is one of the great joys of my life to sing in the choir at Providence Presbyterian Church. But this year, due to an out of town wedding, I won’t be here for our annual Christmas music program.

Tonight I went to rehearsal anyway. But instead of sitting in the choir loft with music and pencil in hand, I moved to the back of the church where I sat and listened.


my beloved choir


What joy it brought to get to experience the gift of the Advent promise from there.

Here’s a tiny little snip snip for you. (Please pardon the recording quality since at the last minute I decided to grab it as a voice memo on my phone!)



30 Days of Joy

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Except where we are. IN FLORIDA. During the most exciting snow event EVER.

Still how can I complain? I spent the six-hour drive south yesterday watching every snow video and clicking through the snow photos from every person I love and every person I follow all across the interwebs.


And then this morning, as I sat here looking out at the cold, wet Palm Trees, these beauties arrived on my phone from my lovies, Emily and Eliza, in Atlanta. They’d foregone their beloved Sleep-in Saturday time to get outside and PLAY.



That there, my friends, is some December snow joy!


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Day 8: Just Exactly Perfect.

It’s a lovely and mind-boggling thing to watch your children become people–and by that I mean grownups with lives all their own, often lived in faraway cities. You feel great pride in watching their growth, their maturity, their learning to deal with all the incoming of daily life as they stand independent from you.

But it’s also a weird thing to spend much of the holiday season simply waiting for them to return home.

(Now I understand my own mother’s sentiments when I’d walk in her door after making the long six-hour drive to Virginia. “You’re here,” she’d say. “Now Christmas can begin.” Internally I’d roll my eyes a little, thinking she was being just a tad dramatic. I mean, there were 4000 Santas in her little den alone. Clearly Christmas had taken up residence.)

Oh do I get it now.

Still the point I meant to make as I sat down to write Day 8 is the joy my heart felt when this photo scrolled by on Instagram.



This is Maddie’s tree. Sweet, sweet Maddie, a dear friend of Eliza’s who lives in a tiny, tiny one room apartment in the city. I looked at this little tree with its white lights and star and felt the joy of simple things, of small spaces and kind gestures, of how awesome it can be when there is, in fact, less. Not more.

It’s just exactly perfect, this tree. Don’t you think?

About the time I hit the LOVE button on Instagram a ping popped on my phone. My own Eliza had sent a video of her three roommates running across a gigantic intersection with a long skinny bundle under their arms. (You have never heard such giggling.)

We just bought a real Christmas tree! she wrote.


Hanna and the star


I don’t know where they got the ornaments, or the tree skirt, or the star, but I know it makes me immensely happy that those four lovies have brought the spirit of the holidays to their apartment. It was a well considered decision, I am quite certain, as living in Atlanta requires each of them to budget well.

And so all of us–all the Moms and Dads and Grands and Aunties and Uncles–all of us are waiting, watching, counting the days until the planes land or the buses stop or the cars pull in the drives, counting the moments until those we love most come home.

And then it will be Christmas.



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Day 7: Cheers!

We found ourselves at home together, on a Monday afternoon, with much decorating left to do. Tim had been traveling, and I’d made some progress, but still there were the windows, the porch, the banister, finishing the tree.

Christmas music! I suggested, something that seemed a little aggressive for a regular old workday. Then for better measure, and a cocktail!  (It was not yet 4:00 and I must admit there was more enthusiasm than I expected as this spur-of-the-moment thought came out of my mouth.) Still I pressed on.

With bourbon! I said.

I have never been a bourbon drinker, I must tell you, but at a writing conference this summer, kind, new friends shared with me a splash of their aged Knob Creek. The taste warmed me nearly as much as the generosity of the offering. (Kristi and Matthew, I’m talking about you.)

Old Fashioneds, I smiled, something we’ve never made, my imagination serving up a vision of the gorgeous copper color, an orange peel curling in the glass. But alas an inspection of our cabinet revealed an absence of Bitters. And so Google brought us this, with just three on-hand ingredients: lemon, honey, and bourbon. The Gold Rush.

Oh my.

So it’s only Monday. Turn up the tunes!


3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 1/2 lemons, juiced, about 4 tablespoons (2 ounces)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) bourbon

Mix honey and water to make a thin syrup and let it cool. Add this, along with lemon and bourbon, to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake, shake, shake for 10 seconds or so. Strain over big ice cubes in a rocks glass.

(Can be refrigerated until ready to serve.)


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Day 4: hello, december


I find it astounding how each and every season offers its own joy.

It strikes me, particularly, as we make the slow turn from fall to winter. How difficult it would seem to leave beloved autumn, with its soft light and golden colors and picture-perfect everything.


But then December dawns with its own glorious rewards.

Soft misty sunrises over the lake.


The splash of camellias, prolific and bright.



The faithful cardinal.



Oh, December, here we are marching headfirst to the quiet of Advent,

through the bustle of the holidays,

toward the grand promise:

the coming of the light.




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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.


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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!


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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

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