My Grandmother’s Skirt

A tiny crack splintered through my heart when I hung my grandmother’s skirt up in my closet this Christmas.  It’s a red and green plaid skirt that sits perfectly on my hips and floats at my knees, a traveling pants sort of miracle being that I’m 6′ tall and my grandmother was 5′ on a tall day.

The skirt is one of two items I took from her closet when she passed away.  The other was a bland oatmeal sweater that smelled like her.  I kept that sweater on for days after she died, breathing in her smell even as I laid in bed nights, listening to the sounds that felt all wrong in her house.

But the skirt went unworn.  Last year I couldn’t put it on without crying and so it hung at the back of my closet, its red and green merriment lost in a dark corner.  This year I was able to wear the skirt with only the slightest quiver in my bottom lip when I looked in the mirror.

I paired my grandmother’s skirt with a green cowl neck blouse, a black jacket zigzagged with zippers, black tights and tall black boots with the skinniest of heels.  For good measure I added my favorite leather studded bracelet.  I remember my grandmother wearing the skirt, so proper in her heels and nylons and a red sweater on top.  She would have laughed and shaken her head at her modest skirt paired with my hints of edginess.  A thousand times I wanted to send her a photo.  I wanted our pictures to stand next to each other, each of us wearing this magical skirt, her red lipsticked mouth smiling out at my own pale grin.

Every single time I took her skirt out for a spin, I was showered with compliments.  I’m not fashionable or trendy in any sense of those words.  I’m gangly and awkward and when I can find pants that don’t look like I’m readying for a flood, well, that’s a fashion win in my book.

When I stepped out in my grandmother’s skirt, it was a whole new experience.

“I love that skirt.”

That is a fantastic skirt!”

You look radiant in that skirt.  It really brings out the color in your cheeks.”

Needless to say, I felt great in that skirt, so great that I carefully put it in my clothing rotation as often as possible.  The skirt is so unabashedly red and green that the only possible month to wear it is December and so I decided to make the most of my month with my grandmother’s skirt.

I took it to see ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.  I wore it to three Christmas parties.  I wore it to the Christmas sing-a-long on the last day of school.  And finally I donned  it for our Christmas morning church service.

As we read the Communion passage, I held the plastic Communion cup, complete with wafer sealed on top, and swirled the grape juice so that it coated the sides of the cup red.  I thought about how Christ’s sacrifice covers my sins and I thought about how if I peeled back the wrapper on that cup and poured it on my skirt, the red wool would soak it up and nobody would even notice.  For the record, I didn’t pour it out.  I savored the wafer on my tongue and washed it down with the bittersweet juice, running red down my throat.

After church and after all the gifts were opened at my mom’s house, a knot caught in my throat when I hung my grandmother’s skirt up that Christmas afternoon.  I ran my hand over the wool and slipped the skirt back into the recesses of my closet.  I squeezed into Spandex for a Christmas bike ride.  Under a blindingly blue sky and with the taste of Communion still on my lips, I thought of all the gifts I’ve received this past year, both tangible and not.

And I smiled because somehow in spite of her passing my grandmother still manages to give incredible gifts.

In her skirt I felt vibrant.

I felt confident.

I felt beautiful.

And the most magical gift of my grandmother’s skirt is that when I took it off, all those feelings remained.

9 Songs for the Season

The Christmas tree is all a twinkle.  The stockings are hung side by side.  The Nativity set my grandmother brought back from Jerusalem is splayed out on the shelf behind me, wooden Baby Jesus smiling up at Mary and Joseph.  And I’ve got my Christmas playlist doing overtime with some old favorites from last year and some shiny new additions.  In no particular order, here they are.

1. O Come, O Come Emmanuel by the Civil Wars This song is so beautifully stripped bare.  It’s haunting and lovely and my favorite find this year.  Go now and buy it.  Then just try to stop yourself from listening to it on a continuous loop.

2. Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant I know, I know, it’s Amy Grant.  I can actually hear your eyes rolling and your finger tapping on the mouse.  Before you click away, just hear me out.  I know it’s Amy Grant and that putting her on my list again would leave me wide open for ridicule.  Knowing that I’d be mocked mercilessly, I STILL put this song in my  Top 9.  That’s how good it is.  It’s sung from Mary’s beautifully human perspective and I will love it all the days of my life.  If you can get past the fact that it’s Amy Grant, you’ll love it, too.  And if you can’t get past the fact that it’s Amy Grant, then consider this; the next best version of this song is by Jessica Simpson.  Amy Grant’s looking pretty good now, right?

3. River by Robert Downey, Junior This one’s not technically a Christmas song, but I’m the one who makes the rules around here.  I love Joni Mitchell’s version and Sarah MacLachlan’s rendering, but there’s a raw quality to Downey’s voice that gives it a vulnerable feel.  There’s something about a man singing this song that makes me weak in the knees.

4. Peace on Earth by U2  Don’t think that I haven’t noticed your index finger hovering over the mouse.  I have.  But then I go and throw U2 on the list and lure you back into my evil lair of Seasonal Songifying.  Go listen to this song and I swear by the end you’ll be making a list of all the philanthropic things you’re going to do just as soon as the last note sounds.

5. O Holy Night by Celine Dion O Holy Night is my most favorite Christmas carol.  I’m not a Celine Dion fan by any stretch of the imagination, but she sings this song like no other.  A lump rises in my throat as her voice soars over the high notes and pierces straight through my heart.

6. The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole Sometimes the classics just can’t be beaten.  His voice is like a drink of rich cocoa, filling me as it slides down my throat and into my stomach where it settles into a pile of warmth that lasts the whole day and keeps me from feeling stabby when I’m forced to brave the stores.

7. Baby, It’s Cold Outside by She & Him This one is so much fun!  It’s a bouncing give and take that brings a smile to my face every single time.  This one will squelch even the Grinchiest of all Grinches.  Believe me, I know because this girl’s heart is usually full of unwashed socks, but when this little ditty comes on, I find myself singing along and using cutesy word pairings like “little ditty”.

8. Christmastime is Here by The Vince Guaraldi Trio The children’s voices paired with the melancholy piano strikes the right chord every year and brings me back to visions of Charlie Browns spindly little tree.  While I have always loved this song, I’ve never fully appreciated its magical prowess until this year.  My little ones are bouncing off the walls-and we still have A FULL WEEK AND A HALF of school before blessed vacation arrives.  They are insanely excited and THE ONLY THING ON THE PLANET THAT SOOTHES THEM is this song.  I put it on and a hush, a hush I tell you, falls over the classroom.  For just a few minutes we’re lulled into tranquility.  If this song were a person, I’d kiss it on the mouth for the few calm moments it brings to my day.

9. Welcome to Our World by Chris Rice You don’t know Chris Rice?  Well, I’m so glad to acquaint the two of you.  There’s a great line in this song “Hope that you don’t mind our manger.”  Such a humble way to welcome the Son of God.  But the line that stops me in my tracks is “Bring Your peace into our violence, bid our hungry souls be filled.”  Seriously, I found myself fighting back a tear in the bread aisle yesterday when this one came up on my playlist.  But wait, there’s more, because then Chris Rice goes and sings this perfect verse “So wrap our injured flesh around You.  Breathe our air and walk our sod.  Rob our sin and make us holy.  Perfect Son of God.”  By the time that verse came around I was wiping my eyes on my sleeve and assuring the checker that I was fine, completely fine, no really.  I hope you enjoy it and if you’ve got some favorites, give them some love in the comments.


Christmas morning and bicycles will always be tied together in my mind.  I vividly recall stumbling out to the living room in footsie pajamas and seeing a shiny pink bicycle, complete with flowered banana seat, waiting for me by the Christmas tree.  Three years later I found a beautiful, blue Bianchi ten speed with my name on it standing by the tree.  And many, many years after that my husband bought me Frank the Tank for Christmas.

To this day I love going for a spin in my neighborhood just after Christmas to see all the wobbly wheeled kids strapped in helmets navigating the sidewalks on sparkly new bicycles.  This post is in anticipation of all the new bicycles that will hit the pavement for the first time Christmas morning.

There’s something magical about Christmas.  Maybe it’s the carols floating through the air or the scent of cinnamon permeating, well, everything.  Whatever it is, even this glitter-hating, heart full of unwashed socks Grinch of a girl softens up just a bit.

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 Everywhere I look there’s joy and delight.  I’m not talking about the aisles of Christmas accoutrements in the stores.  I’m talking about the moments that cause me to stop and smile for an extra second or two.  Like opening the mailbox and having stacks of Christmas cards spill out.

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Or the smell of the first snow and the glory of a tarnished world turning white before my eyes. Not to mention the pure pleasure of flopping down in the snow and flapping my arms and legs until a snow angel arches her wings underneath me.

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It’s the little things that tickle me most like candy canes hooked over the edges of mugs of hot cocoa or a snowman peeking over his carrot nose.

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 At night the world is all a-twinkle, lights shining bright into the dark, calling up to the stars that sparkle in response.

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There’s joy in finding the perfect tree.  Maybe it’s a spindly Charlie Brown tree you found on a mountain top and cut down with your mittened hands.

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 Or maybe you take home the thickest tree from the corner lot.

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 No matter where your tree came from, pulling the boxes of ornaments out of the attic, turning on your favorite Christmas music and adorning each branch makes for a perfect day.

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 When I was a kid, my brothers and sister and I piled into one bedroom on Christmas Eve.  We’d giggle in our sleeping bags and sometimes always sneak a peek at the presents.  But the best part of the night was listening for Santa’s sleigh on the roof.

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Every tapping tree against the windows and each creak of the house became absolute proof of prancing and pawing hooves.

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We’d crane our necks and cock our ears to the side, convincing my little brother that Santa was hard at work while we squirmed in our sleeping bags.

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In the morning, the cookies we’d baked for Santa were only crumbs left on the plate next to an empty glass of milk.

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Christmas morning began with stockings, the toe of the stocking stuffed with an apple and an orange that went straight to the kitchen fruit bowl despite my mother’s tales of how children used to cherish Christmas oranges.  She had a point, but it was only later in the day when I’d made myself sick by eating my entire Book of Lifesavers that I’d eat the orange.

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 My mother was a master gift wrapper, each gift wrapped in beautiful paper, with military corners and a shiny bow on top.  The presents I’d wrapped were always a rumpled disaster of paper that would never lay down flat and yards of Scotch tape to hold it all together.

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These days my favorite part of Christmas is when my husband and I sit on the couch underneath piles of blankets and read the story of Mary and Joseph and the night they welcomed my Christ to Earth.

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After the gifts have been opened and all the Lifesavers and oranges have been eaten, we sing O Holy Night and hope that God hears us amongst the choirs of heavenly hosts.  We offer our praise in exchange for the gift of his Son.  On Christmas and the rest of the year we are profoundly grateful for God’s grace that somehow makes our meager offerings enough.

Bicycle Heaven by Denise Cottin.

A Few of My Favorite Things

This Christmas I received many gifts that made my Grinch-sized heart grow.  There are a few in particular that stand out.  None of them are extravagant.  None of them are expensive.  They are simple and lovely.  And I am blessed to have people in my life who gave me such wonderful gifts.

1.  A friend made me a beautiful dragonfly necklace.  She used understated earth tones and I appreciate the fact that she took time out of her impossibly busy schedule to create something she knew I’d love.  I gave her a book.  I bought it online.  I am lame.

2.  Our school has a Christmas Boutique where kids can shop for gifts for their families.  One little girl, a blond fairy of a girl, kept shooing me away while she shopped because she had something in her basket I couldn’t see.  The next day she slipped a small box under our classroom tree.  I unwrapped the box and inside sat this precious dragonfly brooch.

“How did you know dragonflies are my favorite?”  I asked her.

“You told me once a long time ago, when I was little, and I remembered.”  She smiled proudly, showing off the window where her front teeth used to be.

I wore the brooch all day and thought of the precious girl, who at the age of six is still little, but already has a big heart.

3.  This giant Hershey’s kiss was from another of my little ones.  He’s an affectionate boy and we’ve had some conversations about how we hug, but don’t kiss each other at school.  He gave me a basket of pansies and then handed me a wrapped box.  When I opened it, he said “This kind of kiss is allowed at school, right?”  The class erupted into peels of laughter and the clever little guy grinned from ear to ear.

4.  I received this angel ornament from another student.  The ornament is sweet and when I hang it on the tree each year, I will remember how tightly the little boy hugged me after I opened it.  He also gave me dish of Hershey’s kisses and repeated the line from the kid who gave me the giant chocolate kiss.  In first grade if a joke is funny the first time, it’s absolutely hilarious the second time around.

5.  I have a friend who used to race bicycles and he always gives me awesome cycling stuff.  This year he gave me a gift card to  My emergency shoe tag was wearing out and so I bought a shiny new one along with a wicking hat for spin class.  There are two great things about this present.  First, if something dastardly goes down on my bike, my shoe tag can help emergency workers figure out who I am very quickly.  Secondly, and much less morbidly, RoadID gives a percentage of each sale to one of nine charities, so upon check out you can choose which charity receives some cash.  Naturally, I chose LiveStrong.

6. My grandmother used to wear White Diamonds lotion.  When she passed away earlier this year, I wore one of her sweaters just to have her scent on my skin.  My aunt wrapped up a tube of White Diamonds for me this year and when I unwrapped it and unscrewed the lid, I was immediately filled with the scent of my grandmother, the scent of all the joyous memories we had together.

7. Okay, when I said none of the gifts I received this year were expensive or extravagant, I apparently had a brain hemorrhage and forgot about the gift Terry gave me.  My hubby gave me a housekeeper for a year.  Let that sink in for a minute.  He gave me an Alice.  Revel with me for a moment here: an entire year of no vacuuming, no dusting, no mopping.  Ladies, I understand that you’re probably swooning.  Put your head between your knees for a sec and breathe.  Yes, he is that good.  No, he doesn’t have a brother.

I hope your Christmas was full of lovely gifts and joyous memories.  And even if your heart was already the right size, I hope this Christmas season made it swell at least three sizes bigger.

Top 10 Christmas Carols

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A few years ago, one of my students made me a CD of Christmas carols and other holiday songs.  He picked the songs out with his family and it is a gorgeous, GORGEOUS compilation of songs.

Today the pouring rain trapped my little ones inside and they were sort of antsy.  And by ‘sort of antsy’ I mean, out of their minds antsy.  We did all the regular things to combat being stuck inside like lots of singing and dancing, but still their little bodies were wiggling and squiggling all over the place.

Until I put on that CD.

They were mesmerized, soothed even, by the music.  I played it quietly in the background and they settled in and even sang along.  It was like we’d taken a collective deep breath.  I looked around the room at my smiling, working, humming, singing little ones had one of those blessed teaching moments where I just stood still for a second and enjoyed being in their presence.

And so, I’m thinking maybe your life is busy like mine.  Maybe you are antsy about some things and are about to wiggle right out of your skin.  Maybe you need a moment of tranquility to stop and enjoy your life and the presence of those blessed to be in it with you.  Maybe you’re like me, in need of a song to soothe your soul, to acquaint you with all that is good and pure and holy.

Here are my 10 favorites this year:

10. River by Sarah McLachlan. I wish I had a river I could skate away on.  Alas, ice skates+me=one very bad idea.  So I’ll just have to listen to the song and dream.

9. The Holly and the Ivy by the Virginia Girls Choir and Ana Hernandez This one reminds me of high school choir, of singing at the Madrigal Dinner.  The members of the Virginia Girls Choir sing with such purity and innocence that it leaves me in awe.

8. The Night Before Christmas by Brandon Heath I love, love, love this one.  I usually have to listen to it several times in a row before I can move on to the next song.  So when you download this one and have to play it over and over again until your family throws things at you to make you stop, just remember I warned you.

7. Ring the Bells by Travis Cottrell featuring Natalie Grant Remember when I said you’d want to play that last one over and over again?  Well, multiply that by 100 for this one.  If you’re feeling blue, this song is the cure.

6. Christmastime is Here by Vince Guaraldi Trio Just put on some feetsy pajamas and snuggle up under a blanket.  This one is an express train back to childhood.  Sit back and enjoy the ride.

5. Silent Night by Yo-Yo Ma I do not know how Yo-Yo Ma makes such rich sounds come out of his cello, but you will love this one by the lights of the tree.  You will love it in your car.  You will love it pouring out of your earbuds in the grocery store as the children behind you in line cry and scream.  You will smile at those children, even if they are your own children.  That’s how great this song is.

4. What Child is This by Andrea Bocelli with Mary J. Blige Okay, get close because I’m going to tell you a little secret.  I don’t even like this song. I’ll probably get one of my Christian cards taken away for saying that, but I don’t like this song.  At least I didn’t like it until I heard this version of it.  Mary J. Blige will break your heart with her raw emotion and then Andrea Bocelli will put it back together again.

3. Winter Snow by Chris Tomlin featuring Audrey Assad From the piano solo at the beginning to Audrey Assad’s earthy voice to the harmonies with Chris Tomlin, this song just wraps its arms around you.  If you need to be reminded of the gentleness of God, take a moment to close your eyes and let yourself fall in love with this song.

2. Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) by Amy Grant As a kid I used to wonder what Mary was thinking with the Son of God, you know, gestating inside her and all of that.  Did she ever think maybe God should have picked someone else?  Did she ever feel alone because she was the chosen one?  This song is sung from Mary’s perspective and I love it because I think maybe Mary wasn’t so different from you and I.  Maybe sometimes she doubted herself, felt alone, and needed the very breath of heaven to help her keep it all together.

1. O Holy Night by Celine Dion Admittedly, I’m not a Celine Dion fan, but that girl can sing and when she sings my most favorite of all Christmas carols, everything else fades away.  This one gives me goosebumps and makes me cry every single time.  It’s Terry’s favorite, too, and let me tell you, when we sing this one in church we are a sight to behold, blubbering and singing and wiping our noses and dabbing at our eyes.  So grab a box of tissue and enjoy my most favorite of all Christmas carols: