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)

I Was Right and I Was Wrong

Last month I wrote a story titled “Getting Out of the Boat….. Again” in which I shared my thoughts about making changes in my life—being willing to take some risks and trying something new. What I did not share was—I already had some ideas in mind—a plan was forming—and I was getting ready to put it into action.

And then…… I had the legs knocked out from under me….. in a deliberate but kind way…..

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Getting Out of the Boat….. Again

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Almost six years ago, on November 16, 2012, I posted a story dear to my heart – “To Walk on Water You Gotta First Get Out of the Boat”—in which I shared a photograph of my mother, my brother, and me taken 58 years ago in Canada. We stopped at a roadside stand selling small wooden boats and purchased 2 of them. In the picture, my mother is holding one of the boats in her hand.

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Walter’s Story—and Being Challenged by a Simple Gesture

My church, St. David’s Episcopal, offers breakfast on Sunday mornings. They recently started a Breakfast Greeter ministry where a member stays in the breakfast area to welcome parishioners and keeps an eye out for new people. If you stood in the room, you would see many tables filled with people laughing and talking.

But if you are new to the breakfast….. it can be daunting to stand in a room full of people while holding a tray in your hand trying to figure out where you should sit… wondering if the persons at the table would welcome you or want to talk to you.

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Love, Defined, in 6 Words

I recently read a quote that has stayed lodged in my heart and will not leave. The quote, by L. R. Knost, is:

“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.”

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Why I Entered a Dragon Boat Race

Have you ever been asked a question that stopped you in your tracks? That made you go “Hmmm?”

Last month’s story, The Year of “Hands On” Living, was about my decision to live this year “Hands-On” ….. where I would be willing to make a greater effort to be truly involved with life… not just sitting back and watching …..but to be willing to take chances and make a few messes….. and maybe, in the process, to share my heart with those around me.

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Reflections on a Duct Taped Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

The annual tradition of finding my perfect Charlie Brown (CB) Christmas tree began in 2011 when my granddaughter joined me on this quest.  I had moved into a condo after my divorce and had given away my large tree, so I decided to get a small (aka Charlie Brown) tree. She helped me choose the perfect table top tree.

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Being Thankful for Endings that Turn into Beginnings

On Sunday, November 19th, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my son and his family by hosting a Thanksgiving brunch at my home. To add to the joy, my grandchildren (ages 8 and 5) spent the night with me which included S’mores, hot chocolate, and stories before bedtime. It was an evening filled with love and laughter.

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