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