I’ll Be Home for Christmas

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” That song brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it during my long “Christmas Music listening” season. Growing up in Staunton, Virginia and celebrating Christmas is a vivid memory for me. From planning our decorations with trips to the garden centers, Woodrow Wilson Gift Shop, The Emporium and Small’s Hallmark with Grandma Miller, to listening to Momma’s classic Christmas albums – Andy Williams, Walter Brennon, Johnny Mathis, Elvis & The Statler Brothers – and watching “White Christmas”, to planning our meals with holiday cooking and baking. Delicious fudge, sugar cookies decorated just right and the country ham with brown sugar and cloves. The hustle and bustle of running around to get everything done, the Christmas parade, shopping in the great little boutiques downtown. Those images remain in my mind, in my sense of smell and best of all in my heart.

I started traditions with Miss Katie early on in Richmond. The paper Noah’s Ark garland that we purchased at the James Centre during the annual lighting ceremony downtown on Cary Street, a sugary candy garland from the Christmas Shop at Westbury Pharmacy, and continued with us in Grand Rapids with special ornaments from the Nutcracker after the performance at DeVos Hall downtown. Every year we add something from one of our favorite spots, even as minimal as the perfect cocktail napkin.  

I think I was longing for those early moments and thought Christmas, at home in Virginia, would provide for me what I remembered. It wasn’t until this year, Christmas 2015 that I realized that “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” now means, MY home, with MY family, specifically Daryl and Katie, along with my special and unique pets, Miss Muffin, Socks, and Tinkers and the traditions that I recreated for us based on what I grew up with. Not to mention all of the special friends in our lives who have become like family to us. Starting in November, with all of us getting the house decorated, planning our menus and events, Bing Crosby and other Crooners always in the background, a houseful of people either just stopping by or specific parties, Christmas movies galore and the weeks of Advent. None of that happened this year. Instead, we were away for Christmas for the first time in eight years to enjoy family and friends in Virginia. We did celebrate Advent and Christmas Eve Mass between all of our stops – Grand Rapids, Columbia, SC and Staunton – and that keeps us focused on the important things along with our family bond.

Ahhh, The Eve, haven’t even touched on that yet. Eve’s are our thing. The Eve of any event is celebrated enthusiastically in our home. And ALWAYS with popping and woos of the champagne bottle. To quote one of our favorites, Lilly Pulitzer, “Let’s have a party, let’s have it tonight,” is our motto.  

Starting with Thanksgiving Eve the beautiful season begins for us. With preliminary prepping and cooking, the perfect music, hor d’oeuvres and an artistically created – if I do say so myself – cheese board, champagne of course, and a holiday favorite of either “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” or “Miracle on 34th Street,” we’re ready to celebrate! The latter is a favorite because of John Payne being a Roanoke native. We get up early on Thanksgiving and have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade playing in the background. We never watch a lot of it, but it’s ALWAYS on. Usually a breakfast frittata and mimosas for early brunch and then the cooking continues with football in the background. We try to have dinner early, but at our house, it’s tastefully Dinner at Eight for many reasons, mainly our lively conversations and stories throughout the day. But after Dinner at Eight, Christmas officially begins.  

Except this year. Because of Daryl living and working in Virginia, along with Bryan’s wedding the week before Christmas, our being home for Christmas, we opted out of everything that was familiar to us. No decorations, no Christmas tree, no parties. We missed it. The wedding was gorgeous, meaningful and special. After that, I thought, Okay, the wedding was the perfect kickoff, we’ll just accept this as a transition year and enjoyed Christmas in Virginia.

Christmas to me? This was always Christmas to me. Listening to these classics in our home.

Lyrics, by The Statler Brothers.



Death of a Classmate


Saturday afternoon before a snowstorm in Michigan. Not just a snowstorm, but the snowstorm after a very unseasonably warm and dry winter. This was the first one of any significance and a foot of snow was expected. And so, uncharacteristic of Michiganders, the grocery stores and roads were packed. As I’m waiting for Katie to pick up a few more items, and I’m standing halfway back through the store with over 20 shoppers in front of me, I decide to check Facebook to keep me entertained. The first post in my newsfeed was from Mark Goff, a dear classmate and friend. His message: Just in case you haven’t heard the news – our classmate Susan Pleasants (Sue Batt) passed away – she was at the reunion – I just wanted everyone to know – gone too soon!

I was in complete shock! I was overwhelmed with emotion and tears were streaming down my face. Although we were not particularly close friends in high school, as many of us were not, I had just seen her,  and had spent time talking with her at the reunion and during the planning. How could this be? Like others, I wondered if she had been ill based on a couple of indicators. But there was no discussion of it in detail on Facebook or in our conversation that beautiful July weekend in Virginia. I was on the planning committee for our reunion and from the time we announced details to the time for the event, Sue had sent me numerous notes letting me know how excited she was to join  all of us for the festivities. Her first note read: Hi Dana..want to come to the 40th..how do I pay…best wishes, Sue Batt Pleasants. After a couple of months of correspondence, I found her last note to me prior to deadlines, the most interesting. Ok gonna pay soon.. Anxious about seeing who is no longer alive…thanks.

My greatest memory of Sue as a classmate was that evening and how much she wanted to dance. She asked me several times when the dancing would begin. She enjoyed catching up with everyone. Her date was a handsome gentleman that she introduced as Nelson. Sue’s obituary in the Richmond Times Dispatch, painted a loving picture of a life dedicated to her beautiful daughter, her friends and family, and helping others as a nurse. Our classmate Paul, shared old pictures of Sue that he had held in his memories from 1976 when he and Sue dated. Most of us probably weren’t aware of their brief, post-high school relationship, all of which now allows us to know Sue more personally.

Many have said that our reunion weekend was magical. For reasons and memories like this, it truly was. So much so that we are planning another Lee reunion for this coming summer. No, Sue and some others in this special class won’t be joining us in person, but I know they’ll be looking down on us and we’ll be reminded that our Robert E. Lee High School class just might be the most exceptional group of friends to ever grace those historic hallways on Churchville Avenue.




Sue Pleasants –   Picture courtesy Richmond Times Dispatch

The Salmon – It Tastes So Good

I needed to spend a little time in the kitchen since it helps me wind down after a busy work day. Miss Katie and I headed to the store and found salmon on sale. I had the seafood specialist at D&W cut the beautiful salmon into filet strips. Katie wanted her favorite…pasta! I found a couple of recipes for sauce and decided to combine a couple of recipes to hopefully give me the taste combinations I was going for. And here is the end result – Pan-grilled salmon over ravioli – (I did not make the ravioli from scratch though). A balsamic cream sauce was the perfect finishing compliment. I must say it was incredible and restaurant worthy!

Pan-grilled salmon with balsamic cream sauce. Photography: Katherine Kingrey

Pan-grilled salmon with balsamic cream sauce.
Katherine Kingrey