A Merry Little Christmas

I don’t remember, when we were young, if we had a real Christmas tree or a fake one. My mother loved the white synthetic tree with multi colored lights we had when it was my first or second holiday season, but that one I only remember from pictures. I do remember, though, the squat little tree (more akin to a bush, really) that was the centerpiece of my first grown up Christmas.

I had flown to Italy a week or two before Christmas to stay in my future house with my then husband. My first night there we opened a bottle of sparkling wine gifted to us by our landlord and nearly froze to death in our marble floored, stucco walled town-home. We bought the tree-bush the next day. Ornaments were scarce, given that my boxes hadn’t been shipped yet, so we hung whatever odd things appealed to us on the tree alongside one or two actual ornaments. The cork from our inaugural bottle of vino, with a needle and thread from a pocket sewing kit looped and stuck squarely into the center, worked perfectly. I still have that cork and I still hang it on my tree.

Our first Christmas in The States we were going to be traveling, or he was going to be out on the ship. I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember coming home from work when he’d already gone away. There – on the huge vintage chalkboard that hung over our dining room table – was a bare chalk-sketched Evergreen with written instruction for me to decorate it before he got back. I did just that, drawing in red orbs, gold garland, and a star on top, of course.

I don’t think we had another tree of our own after that.

The next tree I remember, I was 100 months pregnant and I went to ACE Hardware on Merrimon and picked just the one. I loaded it into the back of my SUV and lugged it into my house and set it up myself. My son would be born any time between then and Christmas and I wanted there to be a tree (Christmas nesting was the best nesting). I wanted to sit alone (save for my dogs/constant companions) on those last few quiet evenings and feel him in my belly and watch the lights and the glitter and be comforted by this sweet symbol of “home” and “family” in the midst of forging my own version of both. This is the tree in the background of my son’s first family photos. I remember that tree.

I went back to ACE on Merrimon when my son was just shy of two. He picked the tree, we decorated it together and admired our work afterward and every day, really, until we took it down. The next year it was the same, only this time I did most of the decorating by myself. Something about this year was different and Christmas suddenly felt sad. I found myself thinking “I hope this is the last year we do this alone.”

The next Christmas I drew Charlie a chalkboard tree. He was none the wiser to my previous chalkboard tree. He thought it was as wonderful as I had the first go-round.

This year I put off getting a tree for a few days because I get heavy hearted, remembering. Nearly freezing my first married Christmas. Nesting. Determined that that Christmas two years ago would be our last one with just the two of us. After a few days of putting it off, though, I have a tree up in our living room, from ACE on Merrimon although it’s many miles out of the way now. It’s just a little taller than me and it’s full but compact and proportional. The very tallest center branch, though, is spindly and sticks far above the top tier of evenly spaced fir spokes. I cut off the ties and set it in the stand and gave it some time to settle. Charlie came home from his dad’s and insisted that we start, not with the lights, but with the star. (Why wait?)

When he placed the star on that spindly, tall, tree top it fell so lopsided that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I didn’t fix it, or trim the top so it sits upright and centers itself. I just left it, holding my nearly five year old son, giggling together at the Suess-ian tree top. “I like it!” I said, still laughing. “It’s a shooting star! Look!” he said.

These days of “just the two of us” might have their moments that leave me feeling a bit isolated. Longing may linger a bit more than I’d like. If I don’t avoid it and if I can learn to sit with all of the feelings and heart weight that come with the season I might learn something deeper, something more significant about myself. If I can look at my crooked tree top with it’s shooting star and feel absolute joy in it – a purely “just us two” moment – then I think I’m on the right path. At the very least, this will be a year with a tree I remember.




How To (Start A Vacation)

Show up to work early. Must accomplish everything.

Accomplish lots of things, but not everything.

Turn on automatic reply at 8:00pm, proceed to actually reply to next four emails received. Frantically email every potential “loose end” and apologetically explain that you’ll be out for the next three business days. (Still forget at least one loose end.)

Stop at grocery for easy dinner. And dog food. And toilet paper for friend who is dogsitting. And a beer. Just one, but one… yes.

Arrive home, clean up puppy-chewed miscellany bits. Let dogs out. Feed dogs. Sit. Eat. Drink singular beer. Check social media. Check work email. Reel a little more at the thought of all I should have done and should be doing. Should be working. Should be cleaning. Should be packing.


I have no idea how to take a vacation.

“Hey Siri, Facetime Mom.”

The Other Side of Single

In the months leading up to my thirtieth birthday I struck a deal with my divorced, single mama self. Those two elements of my social status struck years apart, and even though I was generally easy on myself about it, my ego still liked to kick me about that detail whenever I was down. So, the deal I struck was this: in celebration of my thirty years I’d countdown my dwindling days of twenty nine by recounting thirty successes, large, small, and in between. I subjected my Facebook friends to updates that told my tale strictly by the highlights. In focusing on the glory, I somehow managed to change the entire story.

With my fresh perspective leading the way, I opened myself to new possibilities. Two months into my thirties I said yes to a date with one of those new possibilities. I’d only been involved with one person in between my son’s father and turning thirty. He was a younger, unreliably magnificent someone. He loved me, I knew… but we were forever on different frequencies with only the occasional overlap. This new possibility someone, though – a handsome police officer – seemed to be on the same frequency. He was divorcing… a single dad to a daughter near my son’s age. He was someone my parents would have liked. A hard working man who was handy and smart and who seemed crazy about me. He seemed it, until he didn’t. Turns out, he would be crazier about an old sweetheart than he’d been about me. Pause for a moment to stomp feet in frustration and vent to willing listeners… and then resume play. C’est la single vie.

I’ve said it before that each love increases your capacity for love from then on. My police officer definitely increased my capacity, but not in the way you’d think. He reminded me of the most significant love I’ve ever known. That love – in turn – led me to the other side of single. The side where I trust that God has this path for me… this path that includes an incredible, humbling, challenging in all the right ways role of mom – this path of a manager who gives bits and pieces of herself to a company that gives bits and pieces of itself in return – this path of a daughter and a sister who is ever more convinced of the value that family holds – this path that includes friendships that ebb and flow and leave sweet deposits and sometimes erode away parts we don’t need. It led me to this side of single that embraces my place. That finds joy in every moment where it’s just my son and our dogs…where it’s just me working on a project… where it’s just me connecting with a friend or with my family. I trust completely that I am having every experience I am meant to have, and that I am taking every hint – catching every clue – that will get me exactly where I am meant to go. I pray a lot. I give thanks frequently. I love this single life… but I love it most because it’s never really me, singular. It’s me – and my God – and my loves, and my challenges, and all the rest that lies ahead.

Love Never Goes Away.

Have you seen La La Land yet? After church last Sunday, post lunch date with a friend, I strolled toward the Fine Arts Theater in downtown Asheville. Kismet that the next showing started in just a few minutes, so I bought myself a ticket. Then, this Sunday, I went again to church… and then back downtown to the Fine Arts Theater where I watched the movie for a second time. It’s one of those movies. Or I’m one of those movie-goers. I’m definitely one of those movie-goers. I saw Blue Crush almost every single week it was in theaters because I was obsessed with the idea of living at the beach and being a surfer girl. (Never happened, by the way.) Not that I’m obsessed with the idea of being Mia (Emma Stone) or even falling in love with a Sebastian (Ryan Gosling)… although… I mean… if there’s a jazz loving, singing, dancing, handsome pianist who wears a vintage watch and encourages me to follow my dreams out there… I certainly wouldn’t sneeze at a date with him.

My very favorite part of La La Land is this (spoiler alert): in the end, they don’t end up together but they helped each other along toward their best selves and digested the bit of sadness that sometimes comes with that. We fall truly in love with people and are shaped and changed by them regardless of whether we wind up living with them til death do us part. Duh… I know. BUT… so many times (if we’re lucky) we love someone, are shaped by the relationship, and then when it’s over that person’s name becomes a dirty word not to ever be uttered by anyone. Ever. Not ever. At all. Or, you get over it, painstakingly. You appreciate it. You cherish it for the gifts it gave and you compassionately extend grace for the needs they just couldn’t meet, and they lovingly do the same for you. They weren’t the be all, end all… but they informed you about things and thoughts and feelings you had that you maybe didn’t realize before. Maybe they fulfilled certain goals or dreams you had… made you a wife or a husband, or maybe they even made you a parent. No matter what you are left with when it’s over, the experience surely served you in a magnificent way. The best thing we can do as lovers who love is be grateful.

Love – at least my love – never goes away. I still think fondly of my middle school boyfriend and get the warm fuzzies when I see his parents back home. (They live down the street from my mom and still get pretty happy to see me, too.) At this point of 31 going on 32, I have a couple of married ex-boyfriends and it makes me happy to see them happy. The same as it has made me sad to see one or two of them heartbroken over the years. When I think of my ex-husband I reflect with grace on our young relationship… and I think of him now, with his fiance and their son, and know that his heart is full because he’s a father and know that he loves his fiance in an even bigger way than he loved me. How wonderful is that? That’s the best part about love. Your bar gets raised with each relationship. Each love is bigger than the last because with each ending your capacity gets fuller and bigger than it has been. And the most amazing thing is that with each experience your life grants you, you grow and expand in other ways too… and your capacity for experience and love becomes even greater. A movie that moves you, a loss that leaves a void, a hope you hold onto. So, when I meet someone who moves me, after loving, losing, being satisfied as is… it’s like leveling up. Having gratitude for all the love in my life thus far has paved the way for a grateful place that will welcome in whatever comes next. I see it echoed in my life, and the lives of my loving friends around me, and in the life of my mother who raised me this way. Love never goes away. It roots itself in you and grows and withers and find a way to thrive again in that same original soil. It’s our gift, our resilient nature. And it’s our gift, as well, to digest the sadness that counters love, and to make something brilliant of that, too. If I ever loved you, then I always will. Always & always.


I was fresh off the plane, having landed only a dozen hours prior. At my husband’s coworker’s place (his wife picked me up from the airport since my husband was working) I’d showered, changed clothes, and put my hair in a ponytail. I looked different in the light of their bathroom mirror, different than in the mirror at my mom’s house, or in the airport bathroom, or even the lavatory on the fourteen hour flight over. It must have been the tired tax of the intercontinental travel, I thought. I can’t exactly explain my nervousness, waiting for him to pick me up. I was waiting, knowing that everything about my life was changed now. I was so happy to see him, and then more nerves settled in as we drove to our townhome. 181 Via Stafetta, Parco Scipione.

We pulled up to the gate and waited as it opened. We drove past floral vines in bloom and a few fruit-bearing trees to our driveway. My husband got out. Unlatched our gate. Parked our car… and there he was. On the porch, timid and curious, stood the biggest dog I’d ever seen – his name was Bruno… and he was, apparently, mine. He stood on his skinny, awkward, puppy legs as I emerged from the car… and he peed all over the porch. He was clearly as unsure of me as I was of him.

That night, my husband at work, Bruno stood in the corner of our bedroom as I tried to sleep. He stared me down, having stubbornly denied my invitation to come get in the bed with me. (Even though I grew up with Dobermans, it had been a long time since I’d been around a dog his size. It was a little intimidating, but I offered the bed anyway.) I drifted off for a moment and when I woke he was halfway between the corner, where he’d stood in fervent opposition to my welcoming, and the bed, where I laid. Still staring but, at least, closer. I dozed again… and when I woke up, there he was – next to me in the bed. The rest is history.

That stubborn, 120 lbs at his best, bear of a dog was part of the first big change in my life. Throughout it, he made me into the best pal and dog mama and tapped into a great sense of loyalty that I never knew I possessed. He traveled with us (along with his “sister,” Dixie) from that porch where he nervously peed at first sight of me in Lago Patria, Italy to Newport News, VA. We ventured from there to Jacksonville, FL, Barlow Vincent, OH, & Parkersburg, WV. He moved with me to Gasontia, NC, Arden, NC, and then into Asheville proper. Seven cities, thirteen addresses, and he barely batted an eye. He had me and he had Dixie, so he was cool. Less cool once my son was born… but he adjusted like the champ he was. He was my co-pilot in my twenties. Something, if you’ve lived through your twenties, you know you need. We saw each other through a lot of change.

In December of 2014 I did the thing that every pet-parent knows they’ll have to do, but hates the thought of… and I had my boy put down. He’d weathered a lot in his eleven years, but after a couple of months of changing meds around and lugging his now 100 lb self up and down our apartment stairs, I knew. I came home one day and he hurt so bad that he couldn’t even get up to greet me. Weeks later, I held his head in my lap and petted him and told him that he’d been the best boy I could ever ask for, and I thanked him for eleven years of sticking with me. I must have told him a hundred times that I loved him. Then I felt it… I felt him go, and I lingered there to take in every last ounce of him that there was to take.

I miss Brun most of the time… & he holds a place in my heart that will forever be specific to him. So does Dixie, our girl, who has been by my side for almost all of what Brun was, too and then some. I didn’t know if I’d ever want to have another dog, or if I’d just have Dixie Do and then take a reprieve – just work and be a mom – after she takes her leave several years from now. Then… I saw something.

I saw this guy: blakeyboy

And he reminded me of this guy:


I figured I’d fill out the adoption application, have my Charlie meet the pup, let the chips fall where they may. If Charlie was in, I’d make it happen. C isn’t one to fawn over anything artificially… he’s pretty pure that way at the ripe old age of three and a half. He was smitten when he met the new potential pup… and me? Once I saw Charlie fall in love I was gone. Dog gone, all over again, just like when I woke up next to Brun or when a sleeping Dixie opened her eyes and looked at me for the first time. We bring our new boy home on Friday and I feel like something that’s been off kilter is realigning. I get to introduce another sweet love into my world and this time I get to share it with my son. Charlie’s only question after we left the initial meeting with our new pup was this: “Is he going to be my puppy for the rest of his life and I’ll never ever leave him?” When I said yes to both he threw his arms around my neck and squeezed as hard as his excited little self could squeeze. He gets it.

Over-Share & Share Alike.

Part of writing – or talking or singing – about your life is walking the line between the unabashed “Dear Diary…” and some meticulously curated presentation of what you think people want to know about you. It’s tempting to manipulate your audience for your own comfort and sense of control. Tempting as it may be, what’s the point if you aren’t telling your brass tacks truth and allowing that truth to resonate?

If you know me at all today then you know me. My innermost feelings are easily decipherable and completely undeniable. I have no poker face at all, and even if I did I’d probably never have the urge to deploy it. My inability to hide my feelings is part of my charm (I hope). Considering, though, this wide-open disposition, I have a hard time curtailing when I write (or talk). I write like I feel. And I feel a LOT. The last time I wrote a blog I eventually drifted to the cautiously curated side of the line, and my writing lost all meaning. It became what I call “lemonade propaganda” for my circumstances, intended to make it look like I was always making the best of what was handed to me. It wasn’t just my writing that had become that way, it was my real life. Another story for another time, but the point is that I don’t actually care for lemonade.

I quit writing that blog & instead I took to singing more to sort out all those floods – a la Noah & the ark – of feelings I’m always having. I started learning more jazz standards and some old country tunes, both of which led me toward re-learning some favorite hymns. I rediscovered how cathartic it is to sing out – to express – what you really feel. I found it comforting that someone else had written into song, ahead of my experience, something that resonated with me right at that moment in my life. Their song may have been born of experiences that broke the writer’s heart or overwhelmed it for the better, but once they put pen to paper (or vox to the track) their personal experience was there for the rest of us to start sharing. In equal parts, the song goes on to belong to those who hear it, sing along to it, retell it, or are touched by it just as it belongs to the writer who brought it to life. That is certainly worth abandoning a certain level of comfort. I have a lot to bring to life. Here’s to sincerely, so be it, over-sharing & sharing alike.

All the things I’ll someday be.

You know that box you have (surely you have one) where you’ve tucked away some precious keepsakes from your life’s sweetest moments? Mine is a shoe box. It used to be an Asics cheer shoe box, from the shoes that came with a dozen colorful plastic discs that you slid into the side to customize them to your school colors. (In a natural progression, I replaced it in my twenties with an Oscar De La Renta gift box.) I have so many treasures in that box. A full diary that my third grade teacher gave me, mementos from school dances, encouraging notes from my favorite OASC (Ohio Association of Student Councils) camp counselors, my tassel from my graduation cap. Concert tickets, letters (because we wrote letters, not texts back then), my Italian visa.  A nautilus shell from Positano, a cork from a vineyard in Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. Tags from the first designer anything I ever purchased. A pin from my first ever trip to the Met. Rifling through this box is like scrolling through old Facebook posts, only in real tangible life, before Facebook memories were even a thing. It’s all so nostalgic and delightful. Most delightful though, is one of just a few photos in this box. It’s my favorite photo of myself – full of hope, love, excitement. Trusting of all the things I held in my heart.

My then-husband snapped the photo one night while we were lying in bed. We were both barely twenty something and living a world away from anyone else who meant anything at all, in Lago Patria. (Southern Italia, outside of Napoli). I was so very in love and it is written all over this photo. You can make out my blurry, beautiful antique style rings on my left hand, coyly hiding my freckled, smiling face. I love this photo because it captured, so clearly, that I was living out exactly what my heart wanted. Not to live in a foreign country (I didn’t know well enough to desire that at 20), but just to follow love. I have always done best when I followed love.


I loved my husband more than anything, so I followed him to Italy. I love fashion, so I studied it. I love dogs, so I worked with them. I love music, so I sought it out in my social life. I love jazz, so I learned it and sang it. I love serving others, so I followed that love to a job that allows me to serve people who serve our community. It’s led me to my sweetest treasures in life… the kind you can’t keep in a shoe box. Treasured lessons learned from mostly rewarding and some challenging relationships, two rescued pets who changed my life and taught me the truth about loyalty, a job that teaches me so much about my capacity for grace, betterment, and perspective every day, a son – a song. Some journeys that brought me to the treasures, and some treasures that are the commencement to the journey.

I’m writing this for the same reason that I go sifting through that box, reveling in that sweet photo, once or twice a year. It’s to remember what I want. What I wanted, what I had… what I lost. What I found my way back to. I was made to be all the things I am – a mother, a daughter, a sister, a manager. A believer. A Christian. Gracious. Full of gratitude. Humbled. A caretaker. An advocate for boundaries. An adversary to conflict. A woman who grows every day, sometimes gracefully, and sometimes not. Someone who softens, and who is softened. And to remind myself, with hope, of all the things I’ll someday be. A world traveler again. A wife, for good. And so much more that I don’t even know.