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

Oh Holy Night

Weddings. We all have some expectation when we attend one. Usually, our expectations are met. My nephew, Bryan Kingrey, married the girl of his dreams on Saturday evening in Columbia South Carolina. The simple elegance of this wedding exceeded my expectations beyond imagination. It was in an old stable that had been converted into a small hunt club and was very rustic. When we went inside we were greeted by friends of the brides’ mother passing hors d’oeuvres on trays and a bar on either side offering beer and wine. We strolled into the living room area and warmed up by the fire. There were personalized stockings for Bryan and Anna and hung on the mantle. I remember thinking that I had not been to a wedding where I ate and drank before the ceremony. I saw my sister-in-law and she said it was about to start. I ask her where we were sitting and she informed me that we were all standing. Again, I was surprised. We all stood in groups in the ten or so horse stalls strung with hundreds of little white lights. We were welcomed by Anna’s father. Anna walked down the aisle to the lovely sound of a lone violinist  playing, “Oh Holy Night.” The readings were all from the beautiful Christmas Story from the book of Luke. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer together aloud and after the exchange of vows and rings, Bryan proclaimed proudly during his response, “Absolutely, I will.” Everyone smiled out loud. We concluded with singing ‘Joy to the World’ together as they receded. I was tearfully overwhelmed by every part of it…Oh Holy Night, the verses of The Christmas story…which are my favorite Bible passages, sparkling lights, the simplicity of the Manger-like setting and young, true love.  And the wooden sign, hung high and below a cross behind the make-shift alter read: Wise men still seek Him. Undoubtedly, the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever been to.


Bryan and Anna danced their first dance to this beautiful song.


Say Cheese!

I love all kinds of cheese and since I do, I love putting fun boards together for friends and family. Whether it be a quiet evening at home watching a game, a group of friends on the patio for cocktails, our annual parties or polo tailgating, I usually volunteer to bring the cheese.

Cheese Selections For A Fall Girls Night Gathering - Love the coupe champagne saucers I found on sale at Anthropologie a couple of years ago. $3 bargain!

Cheese Selections For A Fall Girls Night Gathering – Love the coupe champagne saucers I found on sale at Anthropologie a couple of years ago. $3 bargain! Photo Credit: Katherine Kingrey

Christmas Cheeses

Christmas Cheeses

Social Hour Cheese selection for our BFF Mike Irwin - visiting from Richmond.

Social Hour Cheese selection…so tasty.  Photo Credit: Katherine Kingrey






Without Daddy – The Thirteenth Year

January 19, 2015, marked the 13th anniversary of the passing of my Daddy. Below was my Facebook post:

On this day 13 years ago, my Daddy passed away unexpectedly. The world lost a charming and charismatic man who never met a stranger and would stop to help anyone in need. Those of us who knew him and loved him lost much more. He taught me so much, the best thing being the power of forgiveness, that I didn’t even fully understand until after he was gone. Though I miss him everyday, my sadness is filled with beautiful memories. Love you forever, Daddy!


— at My wedding rehearsal – 8/26/1988 – Loved his green pants and madras tie.

William Francis Campbell was born on October 23, 1936 in Staunton, Virginia to Sadie Mae Campbell, a young, single mother. Daddy was raised by Sadie Mae and his Grandmother, Cammie. They adored him and spoiled him with love and affection.  He met and dated my Mother, Barbara Anne Cash, while they were very young teenagers. Though a very smart man, my Dad did not enjoy school and joined the Navy, finding out early on that he preferred to be self-educated by life. On a weekend leave on December 8, 1955, my parents eloped to Reidsville, North Carolina and were married by a justice of the peace. Daddy was 19 and Momma was 17. Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine. Even though I was driving, I think I might still have been playing with dolls at 17. Well, no, not really, but who gets married at SEVENTEEN? Barbara and Frankie (as he was called by family) did…and so our story began. I was born on October 17, 1956 while Daddy was still in the Navy. He was stationed in Turkey during the time and they let him come home to see me. I remember a doll that he brought back with him from overseas, she was beautifully dressed. It was at my grandparents house for years, however, unfortunately, I have no idea what happened to it and that makes me sad.

Growing up – I have a sister, and siblings fight, fuss, argue, tell on one another and more. My Dad didn’t like confrontation and encouraged us – first of all – to get along – and secondly – to ALWAYS make up and apologize. He not only encouraged that we do it, he led by example. I can’t tell you the number of times my Dad made me angry, or hurt my feelings – we’re human beings so we’re going to disagree. But whenever he did and regardless of how upset we were, he always apologized and forgave – and he always did so first – before I could even think about apologizing. Of course I didn’t pay that much attention to it when I was younger, but as  you get older and wiser it was a lesson well-learned and something that stands out about him to this day. However, it wasn’t until he passed away that I learned the real meaning of his example of forgiveness. We learned after his death that he had fathered a child with another woman. I was shocked, hurt, angry and disappointed when I found out. After finding out more details, it is said that he apparently didn’t realize he had a son until many years later. He supposedly did not deny it, but was concerned that “his girls” not know. His girls being my Mom, my sister Cindy and myself. We also learned that this boy arranged several times to meet my Daddy, which my Dad agreed to, however, due to meeting changes, conflicts with both of their schedules and ultimately my Dad’s untimely passing, the two never met. We found this out seven years after his death. As I was dealing with all of this and trying to decide how I felt, I realized that this happened when he was a mere 26 years old. And although he was a married man with two daughters, who had served his country, provided for us and knew the circumstances, he was still a very young man. I thought about myself and others at 26, but knowing he never denied his role in this occurrence and that he was so concerned about what we would think of him, made my process of forgiveness easier. I could still see him coming to me through the years with love and hugs and saying, “I’m sorry.” And I remember how warm and loved that made me feel when he did it.  Yes, I’m still confused by the situation, but I love my Dad and have forgiven him. Cindy and I, along with our families, met the son several years ago. I’m glad we did, but ultimately, we decided that we really couldn’t have a relationship with him.


Ice Skating

macarthur-on-iceWhen I was growing up we would order books from a paper flyer known as Scholastic Club. There was one in particular that has stayed with me through the years. I read it in 6th or 7th grade I think. Although I don’t recall much of the story, the points that stand out the most were the following: A young teen romance where the boy and girl “liked” each other. It was set during wintertime and an ice skating pond is the backdrop. At that innocent time in my life I made a correlation between, winter, ice skating and romance – and it has stuck with me through the years. I grew up in a quaint, small town where there was a beautiful park – Gypsy Hill Park – and there was a pond where everyone would go to ice skate. My cousin, and dear friend still today, Sarah, was a couple of years older than me and we would walk from our houses to the pond where most of the kids were her older friends. I thought this experience was just about the coolest things in the world in my twelve to thirteen year old mind. I would see the beginnings of sweet relationships and yearn for the day that I was old enough to get a first kiss, to have someone hold my hand while we skated and to wrap his arms around me to keep me warm. To this day, I love ice skating scenes in movies, novels, songs, etc. My favorite is Robert Downey Jr. singing River in a Christmas episode of Ally McBeal a few years back…and as I type a few years back, I surprisingly realize that it’s been almost 15 years back since that episode – WOW! His voice, his style, his rendition of this song really touches my soul. James Taylor’s voice does it beautiful justice too on his Christmas album. As for movies, of course there is the most handsome man ever, Cary Grant, ice skating with Loretta Young in The Bishop’s Wife. His charm and his style put ice skating romance on the map! The remake of that movie, The Preacher’s Wife, with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston bring that scene into more contemporary times with their chemistry. One last movie is Serendipity, with wonderful skating scenes at Rockefeller Centre. I guess I could go on and on, but quite simply, that youthful time in my life of skating at the park and reading that little paperback book, though not detailed, have made a life-long impression on me. This year, as I was Santa shopping for my sweet Miss Katie, I saw an Alex & Ani bracelet with an ice skate. I bought it for myself, and I love it!



Alex and Ani  Ice Skate

Alex and Ani
Ice Skate

January 2015 – Winter

After Christmas there is such a loneliness that arrives. The beautiful, memory-filled decorations are gently packed and put away, the many friends and family you see during the weeks before Christmas has slowed to a halt, no more late nights filled with classic movies and sugary treats and sleeping in mornings now means hitting the snooze on the alarm for a second time at 6:13 am. Even writing this is hurtful. I’d rather go back a couple of months and capture the pre-Christmas magical moments with thoughts and pictures that I thought I didn’t have time to organize and share. And now, I think I will, for it is Epiphany – the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).