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Christmas Letter 2011
Christmas Letter 2010

Christmas Letter 2009
Christmas Letter 2008
Christmas Letter 2007

Christmas Letter 2006


Christmas Letter 2010

December 16, 2010

Merry Christmas form Marion Station. While I neglect the shopping, the bills, unreturned calls and unanswered emails, there’s a magical scene outside my office window. The first snow of the winter (in a place where it rarely snows) covers the magnolia and crepe myrtles. Beyond them the grass, the road, the mailboxes and the telephone wires all have a layer of snow covering up any harsh imperfections. Though there’s only a sliver of daylight left, a few juncos are still flitting in and out of the bare branches of the pecan trees, and these thick flakes falling from the sky at twilight generate a sense of urgency in me to celebrate Christmas and remember all those who make our lives so rich.

Snowy scenes like this move me to remember … good times, winters past, friends and family, those no longer with us to celebrate, my little children playing in the snow, my grandchildren talking of Santa, and Christmas music that subtly plays in the background – music on which all the memories rest. Just as snow covers up all the imperfections in the landscape, Christmas paints our past with memories of everything we’ve ever loved. Our Christmas card this year has a photo I took in Crisfield during last December’s snowstorm. It’s a crab shanty in a place known as Ape’s Hole located on the Pocomoke Sound. It’s a along an old dirt road traveled only by the owners of the shanties and nosey people like me who want to take in humble scenery uninterrupted by too many things man-made. It’s a barren place. It’s a thin place.


This year was an exciting year for travel. Dan and I sold our pop-up and bought a new teardrop style camper (with a bathroom, furnace and air-conditioner) so we could extend those trips we love to take into the less temperate months. We enjoyed short trips this year to Cherrystone, Swallow Falls, and Charlottesville. In the summer we spent two days in Salem, MA scoping out history and all things “witchy.” We camped on Winter Island next to an old WWII airplane hanger with views of Salem harbor, Marblehead and the Winter Island lighthouse. We camped right next to a witch-fortune teller who had her own UPS-style truck (painted psychedelic blue) with a fortune-telling office and card reading table inside. It also had a sofa, a chair, coffee table and twinkling lights laid out on top of the truck - living-room style - for evening conversations, complimented by speakers that played soothing, new-agey music. One accessed the truck-top terrace via a built-in ladder on the back. It kind of reminded me of an artsy Beverly Hillbillies truck. The morning of our last day there, she packed everything inside and drove away. The Salem waterfront was beautiful, the museums remarkable and seafood fabulous. One night we went on a ghost tour. I asked the tour guide what people in Salem do for fun. She said, “They go to Boston.” She continued that the town was cursed and all who move to Salem become miserable and then circumstances beyond their control will never allow them to leave. This compelled us to permanently cross this town off our list as a consideration for a retirement location.

After Salem we came into Dan’s home state of Maine and we met up with my cousin Katie and her partner Robin. They live in a log cabin on lots of acreage in Sidney near Augusta. From there we loaded up our twin Subaru Foresters and headed for the North Woods where the roads are unpaved, privately owned and there is no electricity or cell phone towers. For four days we camped on the north banks of Moosehead Lake with our campsite right on the shore. The campground was at the end of a 35-mile dirt road – north of Rockwood. Generators were flipped on at mealtimes only. All other times, campers roughed it without electricity, cell phones or the Internet. The wild scenery was worth all the lack of creature comforts. Wildlife was abundant, and landscape nearly untouched. What I noticed most was the sound of quiet, except the occasional boat or seaplane. I asked the campground owners what they did when they wanted to see a movie. They laughed and said, “We wait until we go to Florida for the winter.” Dan taught Katie to fly fish and the three of them fished and fished and fished. What did I do? I talked to anyone who would listen, wrote a lot of notes, and took about a thousand photographs. What fun it was to spend time with my childhood soul-friend, Katie. Though we’d only seen each other once in the last twenty years, it was as if no time had passed, and conversations ran the gamut from childhood memories at our grandparents’ house, to our shortcomings, our crazy family, and the aches and pains of growing old. I can’t wait to see her again.

After our stay at Moosehead Lake, Dan and I followed the Golden Road from Canada to Millinocket, past Mount Katahdin and North East Carry and took in much of the Maine landscape that Thoreau wrote about. We ended that vacation in our favorite spot in Maine – the Burgoyne homestead in Carmel where three generations of Burgoynes live. As always, Dan’s brothers and their wives and children, and Dan’s sister, Kathy, and all the nieces and nephews were so welcoming and the time seemed too short. We miss them soon as we leave.

Dan had surgery on the broken disks in his back in April. I swear his doctor looked all of 19 years old. I was ready to become the inquisitor and test this doc’s entire medical competency and maybe even request another doctor. How much experience could someone that young have? Apparently a lot. Turns out he did his neurosurgery residency at Hopkins and co-founded the Baltimore Neurosurgery and Spine Center. So he’s a real young looking smarty. The doctor says they won’t be able to tell much about the success of surgery for a year. Dan copes daily with quite a lot of pain, but he still has time to take care of the animals, and the house, and listening to me go on and on about my day. He’s the only one who can make me laugh when I’m miserable. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

I’m still writing Thin Places: Celtic Doorways to the Otherworld. Hopefully it will be done before I’m ready for the nursing home. To help keep me inspired, I’m taking a group to Ireland May 15-24th. We’ll be covering much of the south. If you know anyone who wants to see some spectacular sites in Dingle, Kinsale, Cork, Kildare, Kerry , Tipperary and Dublin – with an excellent tour guide who talks non-stop, please invite them to come on the Thin Places Mystical Tour.

Our six children are well, and scattered across five Eastern states. We’re a little sad that Albert will not be home for Christmas. He’ll be somewhere under the surface of the sea in a U.S. Navy submarine defending our country. Please pray for him and for Ruth and Bailea who will be spending Christmas apart.

An early Christmas gift and the highlight of the year was the birth of a new grandson – Tristan. Lara was due to have him on Thanksgiving Day, but he didn’t come until December 2nd. I was lucky to be there for the birth. For those of you who get the chance to see your grandchild be born – I highly recommend it. Forget what they say about it being messy and gross. That’s a minute factor in the setting. When you see that new little life come forth from the hidden womb, your very existence is dwarfed by the greatness that is that child. The mess is like leftover wrapping on the floor at Christmas. It has to be picked up or pushed out of the way, but never overshadows the thrill of the gift. And the only thing rivaling the experience of seeing your grandchild be born, is watching the your own child morph from baby girl into mother in one seamless act of reaching out her arms and drawing that newborn to her chest. There are simply no words. Suffice it say, it’s a life changer.

If you know you’re in love when all the songs make sense, then you know the meaning of Christmas when you witness a child being born. Everything is made new again – a perfect little being comes into the world with no faults, no grievances, no sorrows, no fears – like some great shining promise of good things to come needing only to be nurtured, guided and protected in order for the promise to be fulfilled. My Uncle Tony sent me an email Christmas card that was an animated slide show of cities around the world all decked out for Christmas. While Silent Night played in the background, images of Paris, Seoul, Dublin, Beijing, Budapest, Vienna, Beirut, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Red Square, New Delhi, Hamburg, Lima and Perth flashed across the screen – each city with its own unique Christmas trees, lights, stars, and celebratory decorations. I couldn’t help but wonder how the birth of one baby so long ago could impacted the world, cross faith barriers and unite so many people around one common theme. I’m guessing it isn’t the birth of Jesus that had the impact, but more the birth of the message he delivered. It stuck.

I’ve often thought every world leader, regardless of his or her religious affiliation, should read the Sermon on the Mount every morning, just to keep focused and balanced. Lots of good leadership wisdom there … Love and help others less fortunate than you… Don’t be too impressed with yourself… Don’t use your power to exploit those who are weak … Use your power to lift others up… Don’t cry, because things will get better… Recognize and identify a lie when you see it, even though it may make you instantly unpopular, and cause you to pay a price, maybe even the ultimate price… Don’t hide your talent. Let your light shine, and know there is a special place in the world for that only you can fill. .. And remember, nothing is more important than love. It is the ultimate gift. And love endures past this life into the next. There is nothing stronger and nothing can extinguish it.

I’ll get down off the soapbox now and stop trying to fulfill my secret desire to be a priest (hee hee). Christmas always gets me thinking. Writing is my natural progression for letting those thoughts run loose. Please know how special you are to us. Know that we are thinking of each one you this Christmas, and we wish you happiness, health, and prosperity in 2011. We pray that all your prayers will be answered.

God bless you and those whom you love.



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