Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas 2008

In 1989 we--Jeanne, Tom, Benares (just entering 9th grade) and Jody (just entering 5th grade) moved to Memphis, Tennessee from Charlottesville, Virginia where we had lived for 15 years. That was the first year we ever wrote and sent out a “group” Christmas letter as we felt quite far, far away from family and friends that first year there. This year is another first: the first time this letter comes to you only in electronic format—AKA no paper letter.

Tom is in his 12th year as director of the Valle Crucis Conference Center. Their budget is balanced, they continue to grow, staff turnover is almost non-existent and those who come constantly remark on the good food, the welcoming hospitality and the physical and spiritual beauty of the place.

Katharyn Jefferts-Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, stopped by the Center for a visit in November much to Tom’s delight.

Tom’s latest project has been the construction of four small hermitage cabins and a chapel. The hermitages and the chapel are stunning places, perfect for solo or small group retreats. However, for Tom, there is also joy in looking forward to 2009 as a year without any new construction projects!

Speaking of construction projects, the renovation is complete (as much as any renovation is complete) on our house in Black Mountain and it is wonderful. Jeanne lives there when in Asheville and we look forward to some day, one day retiring there together. It is very small—a 1927 bungalow—but the older we get the more we fall in love with simplifying and reducing what we need on a daily basis (we still have a LOOONNNGGGG way to go!!) Plus it is just a short walk into the town of Black Mountain.

Jeanne happily continues her work as the Rector at St. John’s in Asheville. There is a healthy balance of challenges and delights. She was supposed to go on a medical mission trip to Panama in August but a flurry of concern that she might have a blood clot in her leg (she didn’t) bumped her off the trip.

She did go to Wales twice this year—once in June and again in September when she led a pilgrimage group there. The June trip was the first time she had rented a car while there (always taking the excellent public transportation in the past). She loved driving on the left side of the road (with her friend Diana as a superior navigator) and was able to explore some places she had never been before. Wales is a treasure, such a beautiful country with kind and lovely people. The pilgrimage group stayed in Lampeter at the University, in Beddgelert in North Wales, and at St. Non’s Retreat Center in St. David’s on the Pembrokeshire Coast.

Jeanne and Tom momentarily paused when they saw airfares to Dublin at less than $ 400 round trip this month—longing to go—but realized that the renovation construction debts had to take priority right now. Because Jeanne’s position at St. John’s is part time she also works a few hours a week at the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis on the days she is back up the mountain. Jeanne became part of the Facebook community and continues to post her sermons and random thoughts on her blog:

Tom and Jeanne traveled to Vancouver in March where Jeanne had a conference and, while she was in meetings most of the day, Tom explored the city through and through, including discovering a wonderful sculpture of an upside down church. A delicious lunch and a lovely afternoon was spent with friends and Victoria residents Herbert and Paula O’Driscoll and worship services at Christ Church Cathedral were attended and enjoyed.

Jeanne had fun reliving her childhood and going to the NC State Fair with her brother Tim, sister Polly and nephew Matthew in October; Tom traveled to Arizona, to Texas and to California (Bishop’s Ranch and San Francisco) for Episcopal Camps and Conference Center meetings (his board term ends in 2009) as well as to Colorado to see the newest grandchild. Jeanne led several retreats this year, having the most fun in December when she and her dear friend Danby Ludgate teamed together to offer an Advent Retreat. Jeanne also enjoyed retreat time herself as she gathered with her seminary friends at Pelican House for their yearly retreat. She is looking forward to going to Colorado in January to visit Jody and family and to Benares’ visit to North Carolina in February.

Jody and Natalie’s family increased by one more when Truth Kamala Eamonn arrived on May 15th. She joins the world’s most adorable grandchildren brothers Cedar (age 4) and Orien (age 2) but is holding her own with her big beautiful blue eyes, her joyful spirit and her red hair (hoorah for Irish genes!). They are still in Colorado, Jody is still a district manager for Starbucks and Natalie is still a busier-than-ever full-time mom. Their lives seem overflowing with children and work and friends and activities—from trampoline bouncing to snowboarding to hiking to preschool to social gatherings at their mountaintop home. You can keep up (or at least attempt to keep up) with their active family on Natalie’s blog:

In August Jeff and Benares moved back to New Bedford, Massachusetts where the jobs are more plentiful, the doughnuts are tastier and their hearts seem much happier. Benares is teaching art at the Dartmouth Early Learning Center (a Reggio Emilia school) and is the Visiting Artist at UMass (which means she has great studio space) . Jeff is back to teaching music lessons and also works as a school photographer and for the Census Bureau. Benares and Jeff released their third CD “When the Sweet Apple Grows on the Sour Apple Tree,” enjoy playing to sellout crowds in New England and continue to make beautiful music together.

We are delighted with the election of Barack Obama. We were in Valle Crucis on election night so followed it all on the radio (we still don’t have television here) and the internet. We went to bed thinking it would not be settled until the morning, then got a phone call from son Jody saying “Wake up! Get up! We have a new President!” I still get goosebumps when I think of sitting and listening to Obama’s speech on the radio—and we were so happy that North Carolina went for Obama. Even though we are aware of the immense challenges of the Presidency in our current world, we are hopeful and also thrilled to be alive for such a historic election and Presidency.

Some books we have enjoyed:
Listening is an Act of Love:
A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project,
ed. by Dave Isay
Revelation by CJ Sansom
Mysteries by Donna Leon, Vicki Lane, Margaret Truman and Martha Grimes
Tom also still reads The New Yorker cover to cover each week
Jeanne has been reading mostly Celtic theology/history this year. If you’re interested in a taste she suggests Journey to the Edges by Thomas O’Loughlin

Some movies we have enjoyed:
Why We Fight
Charlie Wilson’s War
Who Killed the Electric Car?
We are Marshall
The Savages
For the Bible Tells Me So
Son of Rambow
Away from Her
There will be Blood
No Country for Old Men
The Giant Buddhas
The US vs. John Lennon
En Bruges
Shut up and Sing
A Lawyer Walks into a Bar
Batman: The Dark Knight
Young at Heart
The Band’s Visit
The Boys of Baraka
Kicking It

Television Series Favorites (Thanks to Netflix)
Foyle’s War
Inspector Morse

We are always happy to hear from you and we write this annual letter to have a wee chronicle of our personal history and to keep in touch with those we love.

May God make safe to you each steep.
May God make open to you each pass.
May God make clear to you each road,
May you be held in the loving clasp of God’s hands.

Jeanne & Tom

Thursday, December 20, 2007



Our family has been blessed with a wonderful year—filled with joy and filled with challenges.

First the sad news: our dear buddy Garth, the best dog that ever walked the planet, died peacefully at home in February. He had some very rough months in his old age but always managed to wag his tail and find his nighttime spot next to Jeanne’s side of the bed. We still miss him.

Tom is still happily working as the Executive Director of the Valle Crucis Conference Center. He has excelled in raising funds this year to build 4 retreat cabins and a small chapel on the property. He continues to be involved in the local community with conservation issues & nationally with Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers.

Tom watched about 200 movies this year, thanks to Netflix. He also reads, reads, reads. He’s the only person I know who manages to read The New Yorker cover to cover every week—plus his books, newspapers and other magazines.

Jeanne accepted a call to serve as the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Asheville. This meant resigning at St. Mary’s in Blowing Rock and leaving many people she truly loves. She started at St. John’s in July and has discovered there are great folks there as well. She loves it. The position is part time which is perfect, as it gives her time for her studies and her writing. At least that’s the theory! She’s in Asheville 3-1/2 days a week and back up the mountain in Valle Crucis the rest of the week. She’s discovered and downloads books to listen to as she drives.

Originally established in the late 1880's, the current church building was constructed in the mid-1960's and is located in the Haw Creek neighborhood in east Asheville.

Jeanne continues with her postgrad studies at the University of Wales in Celtic Christianity and will lead a pilgrimage to Wales in 2008.

Strata Florida in Wales

Jeanne’s new position motivated a remodeling of our house (a 1927 bungalow) in Black Mountain to give us a home base there. What we thought was going to be a simple two week remodeling turned into a six month gut-the-house total re-do. There’s a book in this somewhere. The good news: we love the final results!

This is the kitchen when it was under construction. We took out the low, low ceilings and tried to add extra windows for more light.

Jeanne’s also had a lot of fun creating a blog where she posts her sermons and other random thoughts and photographs: Take a look:

Jody, Natalie, Cedar and Orien are still happily living in Colorado. Jody is a district manager now for Starbucks. Baby number 3 is due in May 2008 (Cedar will be 4 and Orien will be 2 when the new baby arrives). Both boys are adorable, energetic and brilliant. You can keep up with their family on Natalie’s blog:

Cedar ice skating out in Colorado February 2007

Smiling,happy Orien--with cousin Saeli in the background

Benares married Jeff, a fine young man, on May 12 here in Valle Crucis. A wonderful celebration with lots of music, great food, family and friends was enjoyed by all.

Part of the family gathers for a photo right after the wedding service which was held at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Valle Crucis. This photo was taken by our friend Dale Marie Shelton who is an amazing photographer. Check out her

Jeff & Benares are living in Asheville and playing lots of music.
Benares is also working for the Asheville Art Museum as a resident artist in the schools.

Jeff, Benares and friend Tom from Massachusetts playing at the summer Music in the Park concert series in Valle Crucis.

Tom & Jeanne went to Paris in November to see dear college friend Meredith Mullins & had a grand time touring around Paris & Brittany and enjoying good wine, great food and good times with a good friend.

Day at the Louvre

The Eiffel Tower really is amazing. We went all the way to the top.Beautiful!

Atop the ramparts at St. Malo in Brittany at sunset.

This will be our Christmas blogsite so we hope that you will at least come by annually and check it out.

In closing we pray that your life is full and blessed by the holy mystery of God.

peace & blessings,

Jeanne & Tom

Some books we enjoyed in 2007:
Sovereign-- by C.J. Sansom
The Camel Club—by David Baldacci
Heat—by Bill Burford
Eat, Pray, Love—by Elizabeth Gilbert
Water for Elephants—by Sara Gruen
Animal, vegetable, Miracle—by Barbara Kingsolver
The Bookseller of Kabul—by Asne Seirstad

Other favorite authors this year include Donna Leon, John Lescroart, John Sanford, and Kate Wilhelm.

Here are a few of Tom’s favorite movies for 2007:
Word Play

Jesus Camp
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Gunner Palace
The Lost Boys of Sudan
Thank you for Smoking
The World According to Sesame Street
Pursuit of Happyness
Sunset Story
Vera Drake
Pan’s Labyrinth
3:10 to Yuma
The Wind that Shakes the Barley Free
!0 MPH
Michael Clayton
Amazing Grace
Nobody Knows
Sometime in April

And remember:
If you’re lucky enough to live in the North Carolina mountains,
you’re lucky enough.