Unwrapping the Best Christmas Gift

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I made a mistake recently—but it was a simple one…

My brother Joe was planning a pre-Christmas gathering for family. He had rented a house in the Asheville North Carolina area.  The thought of experiencing Christmas-like cold weather was very attractive to him as he, his wife, and two adult children live in Miami and his daughter and her husband live in Texas.

After all, who wants to fix a mug of hot chocolate if it is 85 degrees outside.

He invited me to join them. My mistake was that I discussed this with him on the phone in front of “the children”.

Ah yes….. by that I mean Beasley and Mr. Lion. Their ears perked up and the conversation went something like this:

“hey—was that Joe on the phone?? THE Joe??? THE UNCLE JOE?  The Uncle Joe that we went to Oregon with in July? Where we hiked and had lots of fun?  He wants to go to the mountains for Christmas? Can we go??? You said we were going to start going on adventures and since last July all we have done is sit on this shelf in your family room…… What’s up with that? Can we go? Can we go please?? PUL—LEZZZ?”

How could I say NO to a small bunny and a lion who has lopsided eyes?

Which explains why last Saturday I loaded up my car with food and supplies and all sorts of things …. And…..  oh yes…. my two traveling companions.

And once again, as with our July outing, I had no idea what I was getting into and how this trip would touch my heart.

You see, there was one thing I was not prepared for….. and that was the house he rented and the effect it would have on me.

Well…. the truth is….. it was not a “house”. It was a home with an incredible and inspiring story which is why it touched my heart.

Wintersun Inn, as it is known, was built in 1995 and it was the vision of two retired women who wanted to build a place that could also serve as a retreat center for non-profit professionals. It flourished as a retreat center for two years where “inspirational but tired professionals would arrive on Thursdays looking a little gray, and leave on Sundays with light in their eyes. It was a great time.”

However, their accountant noticed a slight problem…having to do with, of course, finances and finally had to ask them “Would you rather go bankrupt sooner or later?”  As they thought “later” was the correct answer, it was decided (without any benefit of market research or prior experience of such business) to turn Wintersun into a bed and breakfast inn—which they ran as such from 1997 to 2009. At that point, they decided to list the property for vacation rentals.

Wintersun is a large English County estate on 130 acres. It has 5 bedrooms (each with its own bathroom and fireplace); a beautiful living room; a formal dining room; a family-kitchen gathering area; a front porch that overlooks woods and a pasture…. and there are trails and small bronze sculptures and a stream on the property.

I walked about the rooms….. looking at the unbelievable artwork; the lamps; mirrors; books and knick-knacks in the bookcases. It was elegant yet inviting at the same time. They were more than just “beautifully decorated rooms”….. it was deeper than that….. you could sense this home was a true labor of love ….. and a feeling of grace and inner peace permeated my soul.

It was the perfect setting for this family gathering—as we filled those rooms with love and laughter.

Yet there was still time for quiet reflection.

I was so inspired by these two women. They still live on the property. I met one of them when she was horseback riding—I do not know her age but she retired in 1995 which was 23 years ago. She was a delight to talk to and as she rode away, I simply stood there in awe.

I also spent some time walking outside or sitting on the porch and letting my mind wander…. savoring quiet moments where I gave thought as to what I want to do next in life.

Earlier today, I regretfully left Wintersun and returned to my lovely but quiet home. As I unpacked tonight, I felt compelled to stop and share my thoughts while they are rattling around in my mind.

I could not help but reflect on what I experienced these past 5 days… not only the love of my family but the beauty, peace, and strength I felt while there…. a sense of renewal.

It has truly been the best gift I could have received.

My wish for you is that you too can find such a gift this Christmas season …. one you unwrap slowly and leaves a lasting impression in your heart….. a gift that contains love and hope for the new year.

Merry Christmas…..


In my feeble attempt to capture the joys of the week, I asked Beasley and Mr. Lion to assist me with some of the photos….and I hope you will be able to sense the magic of Wintersun as well as the joy I experienced being with those I love.

Beasley and Mr. Lion are ready for our Road Trip

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Welcome to Wintersun- Beasley and Mr. Lion just had to climb over the gate!

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The Gathering Room

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Beasley and Mr. Lion sitting by the fire in the living room

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Happy Janet

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Beasley and Mr. Lion Hanging Out

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Getting Ready for our Family Christmas Brunch

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Beasley and Mr. Lion enjoy a cup of coffee on the front porch

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Mischief in Action

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Beasley and Mr. Lion loved playing on the staircase

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jfh and Bro-Joe

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jfh and nephew

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jfh and neices

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Beasley and Mr. Lion (on the window sill) enjoying the fire in our bedroom

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Headed back home

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(And for those that are new to the Blog, Beasley’s story is here: The Return of Beasley)

15 thoughts on “Unwrapping the Best Christmas Gift

  1. Wow Janet, what a beautiful family you have and what a beautiful place to spend time with them. What an encouraging blog. Spending time with family is truly the best gift of all. You look fabulous. I hope you continue to have a blessed Christmas season.

  2. Dear Janet,
    What a lovely story; thanks for sharing it. The photos are also wonderful. (btw I have the same red vest 😘). See you in 2019.
    Much Love,

    • Thank you very much. It was a joy to write this story and I am still reflecting on the thoughts that this Christmas trip has placed in my mind. Merry Christmas to you also. jfh

  3. Oh my! Just from the photos, I feel the peaceful presence of this home. I told Virgil to start packing his bags; then he reminded me that we are retired and on a budget!!!!

    What a wonderful retreat with family. Wishing you a blessed Christmas. Love you, H&V

  4. I know exactly how you feel, Janet. We have always had a soft spot in our heart for the Ashevile area. We lived in Winston-Salem for years and made many a visit to Asheville. Montreat in Black Mountain for church retreats, the Grove Park Inn for meals (couldn’t afford to stay there), and of course Biltmore mansion, former home of William Biltmore, the Commodore’s son. Any time spent in those mountains is spiritual, but having your family around is icing on the cake. I love your photos, very professional looking.

    • It truly was a spiritual and emotional experience for me. And it was easy to take great photos as the subject matter was beautiful. I am still working on improving my iPhone photography skills….. trust me when I say there were a lot of deleted photos! HA

      Merry Christmas to you and your wife and your family. …..Janet

  5. What a magical place, Janet! It’s decorated so beautifully for Christmas – – an amazing combination of elegance and hominess. How could anyone not have a wonderful time there? And your pictures are outstanding. Adding Mr. Beasely and Mr. Lion to the trip really makes it special.

    Your brother, neices and nephew are all so attractive. You’re lucky to have such a loving family.

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