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Love at the Table {a tribute for Grace Table}



Posted by on Nov 20, 2016 | 1 comment


I still remember the first time I met her, emerging from the shadow of her garage to meet us at the car. Her eyes were the same piercing blue as his; or rather, I suppose, his, hers. I think I told her so right then.

I don’t know if he and I were in love yet but we were headed in that direction. He brought me home to meet his parents, after all; obviously, something was simmering.

Three decades are sandwiched between then and now but I can still recall two things about that weekend: initial introductions and Sunday lunch.

A college sophomore subsisting on starchy dining hall fare, I had come to deeply appreciate home cooking. It was a thing a kid takes for granted if they’re fortunate enough to have a family that gathers for dinner more often than not (I was one of the lucky ones). Sarah’s table was beautiful, set with Haviland china, sterling, and crystal. Platters and bowls full of comfort covered every square inch. Everything looked – and smelled – delicious. It wouldn’t take long to find out every dish delivered what it promised.

I wasn’t shy about helping myself to seconds, and Sarah declared how glad she was for her son to bring home a girl who would eat. I was a little embarrassed at her observation, but I took it as the sincere compliment she intended.

That was the first of dozens (hundreds?) of  meals I’d enjoy around my in-law’s table. Sarah’s recipes account for a substantial portion of my own culinary arsenal. Her fried chicken is magical, her sour cream pound cake might well be the best in the world, and Thanksgiving isn’t the same without her dressing. Her hand-pressed butter mints are magical.

Sarah’s life has preached hospitality without her ever needing to say a word; she’s a There you are! person from the moment you step through her door. Around her table, there’s always room for one more. Her whole life has been an offering poured out in service to others, most often through her oven.

She has always understood that something special happens when family and friends gather ’round a table. Frequently using her china taught me not to wait to use my own. Sarah recognized that extraordinary moments are found within our ordinary days.

But with Thanksgiving next week and Christmas just around the corner,
I’m acutely aware how life has changed….

* * * 

I hope you’ll click to complete reading Love at The Table over at Grace Table. Grab tissues….

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Why Clemson is STILL #1



Posted by on Jan 13, 2016 | 8 comments

1981 Freshman Clemson picture

Why, yes, I have Big Hair. It was the 80s for heaven’s sake!

Looking back through my lens as a parent, it’s difficult to understand why my father allowed it–


Me going to an out-of-state college four years, especially in light of what influenced my decision:

It was only 90 minutes from home.

I loved the Tiger paws dotting the highways leading into campus.

It was not where my sister – 16 months my senior with a shadow that shrouded me for 18 years – went to college.

Oh, sure, I probably gave a more intelligent explanation when asked, but those were the real (now mortifying) reasons. Of course, my Grand Plan included me returning to my hometown to attend the University of Georgia my sophomore year, so it’s not like I set out to break the bank.

Daddy had wanted me and my siblings to have a “true college experience” away from home our freshman year, and apparently I wanted him to pay dearly for it. It’s not like we were spoiled – it was rare for us to ask for extras, and we all worked as soon as we could to earn spending money – but I still can’t believe my gall to think it was okay. At best I was insensitive to the cost differential between in- and out-of-state tuition, and at worst, invoked some sense of entitlement.

My collegiate decision had nothing to do with academics. Clemson didn’t even have the major I was interested in so I had to chose something close.

I can think of no other more shallow or immature decision made my entire life.


My husband is quick to remind me it worked out pretty well, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Monday night in a ferocious contest, Clemson’s #1-ranked, 14-0 football team, played for the National Championship. Though they didn’t come away with the win, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of or happier for my personal association with the school. From underdogs to wonder cats, Clemson has endeared us all.

In full disclosure, I’m not a general football fan; it’s team specific and I only care about a few. Having grown up in Athens, GA, I can’t ignore my long-standing affection for the Georgia Bulldogs, and with my youngest there now I, once again, have a vested interest (I’m still incensed they ran off Coach Mark Richt; he is as fine a man as they come, concerned about developing his players as good men as much as he cares about winning…but that’s a rant for another time).

Here’s why the Tigers are still #1 to me:


1)  Quarterback Deshaun Watson. J’adore a good story, and that’s exactly what Deshaun brings along with his cool composure under pressure, wicked passing precision, and the Eye of the Tiger when reading and running the field. Of course, I’ve got near-family affection for this guy–he’s from the same hometown as my sister and her family, and they’ve long lauded his talent and character. There’s great reason former Clemson standout Steve Fuller graciously unretired his number 4 jersey for Watson (a story worth reading), and when you learn why Watson partners with Habitat for Humanity, you might just cry. As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t become a fan of this kid, your heart might just be stone cold.

2) Dabo Swinney. I’ll be honest–at first Dabo’s wiles and ways didn’t win me over. Dork came to mind. We laughed and squirmed at those daffy dance moves. He seemed to wear an unattractive chip on his shoulder when interviewed, and lordy, the things that spilled out of his mouth made me shake my head. “Bring your own guts?” Seriously?

But while I was busy being all judgy, a catch-phrase was birthed in great affection. And the man and his team kept winning. Defying all the naysayers, mucking through rain, and despite the odds, Clemson. Kept. Winning. And then I bothered to learn more about Dabo’s remarkable story and he won me over. Don’t skip this one–Dabo leads by amazing example, and all parents would be privileged to have their football-playing sons to play under his leadership. He loves his team. He shares his faith. He means it when he says #ClemsonFamily, and I’d love to know him as friend.

3) Team Play and Resilience. Less than four minutes into Clemson’s season opener, leading receiver Mike Williams caught a four-yard pass, scored a touchdown…and suffered a small neck fracture when tackled and rammed into the goal post. Thankfully, it wasn’t a career-ending injury, but it wouldn’t be the last injury to an impact-player. Regardless, Clemson’s team rallied game after game, and everyone, together, found a way to win.

What is particularly exciting is how young this team is–as many as nine offensive starters will be returning for the 2016 season; we’ll lose a few more defensive players to the NFL. Going all the way back to pre-season, this was not the year Clemson was expected to do anything great because of its youth; next year was supposed to be The Year. Cannot wait to see!

4) Worst of Times, Best of Times. Didja see (or at least hear about) Andy Teasdall’s self-decided fake punt during the ACC Title Game against North Carolina? The only thing uglier than the punter’s bad decision was Coach Swinney’s post-play tirade. But in a beautiful tale of redemption, a fake punt play was called by coaches in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma, and this time Teasdall delivered beautifully.

5) Coaching staff. I don’t know a lot about Clemson’s coaching staff, but the stories I do know make me proud. “The incredible underdog story of Clemson’s Tony Elliott” is an inspiring, heart-wrenching must-read whether or not you like football, sports, OR Clemson. And you’ll love this true tale of two Notre Dame midnight hitchhikers and their providential meeting with assistant coach Robbie Caldwell. Thankfully, it has a happy ending.

6) R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I know I’m showing my age, but I kept thinking of Rodney Dangerfield of the “I don’t get no respect” fame early in the Clemson season, what with all the predictions of “Clemsonning,” that somehow, some way, the Tigers would find a way to lose. But I’ll be darned if they refused to give in to all those haters by shutting them up win after win and re-defining Clemsonning. Clemson fans were treated to something very special this season–we saw a team finally come into its own and earn play by play and game by game the respect it deserved.

My husband and sons will totally roll their eyes that I’m writing a football post, but I have the pedigree: a) I grew up in Athens during the Dooley years, cheered with his daughters, and went to our high school homecoming dance once with his son; b) I was one of the first Georgia Girls, back before there was a former program or any kind of scandal…. c) I can remember sitting on The Hill, long gone now but a great memory for those lucky enough to experience simpler times. I can still remember the scent of sweat and alcohol, probably before I even knew what I was smelling.


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Heart-shaped :: A Valentine’s Day Feature at {in}courage



Posted by on Feb 14, 2015 | 1 comment

A blessing to women

Valentine’s Day isn’t about romance or passion to me. Instead, it’s a blur of fizzy affections tethered first to grade school then later to a woman of valor.

I grew up in a Mayberry-esque town before the internet or big box craft stores were born.

They were halcyon days, when a teacher would hand out construction paper, scissors, glitter and glue, then light a creative match and set our imaginations on fire.

We’d transform our cereal or shoe boxes into treasure boxes. Then, we’d snake up and down the rows of desks, slipping our Valentines into bedazzled boxes, eager to sift and analyze our own.

Simpler times.

When I got older there was a season when Valentine’s Day took on a shroud of romance, but even when I started dating the man who would become my husband, I never liked the idea of a retail-imposed, gift-giving mandate. Except that one time in college, under Valentine’s Day pressure but totally broke he came up with my favorite gift of all time — that was true love.


When my firstborn was three years old, Valentine’s Day changed. It happened when my mother-in-lawlove (MIL) asked if we could have a Valentine Tea. My husband is one of four boys and my in-laws had been waiting for a granddaughter for almost 30 years. They had ideas.

Our mother-daughter tea evolved over time. Initially I hosted the tea. Our menu: heart-shaped PB&Js, strawberry Jello Jigglers, and Valentine M&Ms. For the moms: chicken salad and strawberry cream puffs. In those early years we’d make a craft, plus a card for the dads, and read a special book.

Our Valentine Tea Party became a much-anticipated annual event growing larger each year. When it outgrew our dining room, I raised the white flag. That was the year we moved it to my mother-in-law’s house and it became a family event — the four girl cousins inviting their very best friend (and her mom), my sisters-in-law, my MIL and her best friend.

We’d sit around the dining room table for hours, three generations at school in a sacred space, no one in a hurry to leave.

Three constants remained over the 16 years we hosted our Valentine Tea: a darling invitation, Noni’s famous butter mints and surcies for the girls and their mamas.

Valentine Tea Party Essentials

When we had our Valentine Tea in 2012 — a little late because it was the year I was living abroad — I had no idea it would be our last….




Please click to continue reading Heart-shaped over at incourage,
a very special personal story.

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I believe in magic (& I bet you do, too!) :: Traditions & Sacred Space



Posted by on Nov 24, 2014 | 1 comment

The kitchen table is a special place - by Robin Dance


With all my heart I believe in magic. Oh, how I hope we’re the same, you and me.

Not rabbits out of hats or the dark and mystical, only in the sweetest sense of the word. The things that steal my breath, explode my heart, and make me want to burst into an ovation of gratitude; seriously, those closest to me know I clap (or jump) in the presence of magical delights– How a bird gathers twigs and twine and puzzles them into a home…

The way a firefly strobes on a warm summer night…

Rainbows after storms, skies striped in lightning, a wave’s thunderous applause…

And what happens around my kitchen and dining room tables.

mag·ic (‘majik)
noun: quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life,
especially in a way that gives delight,
something that has a delightfully unusual quality. adjective: wonderful; exciting

It doesn’t matter if we’re with family or friends, time is suspended when we gather at a table

We eat, we drink, we give and receive, and for those few extraordinary moments, we’re removed from a sometimes harsh world in a way that wholly celebrates life.
A table is a special place, a sacred space, where heart, soul and body are nourished. It is home alter and first classroom, where we learn to serve and be served.

Thanksgiving is within spitting distance and Christmas is right around the corner, both when traditions scatter deep and wide.  I love that about the holidays, don’t you? The older I get the more I appreciate the value in our family’s traditions, the practices my people have learned to expect year after year. I’m convinced traditions aren’t just important, they matter for a lot of reasons. It’s never too late to begin a new tradition, and the holiday season seems to have many anchored right around the table.

gracetablelogoPlease click to continue reading On Magic, Traditions and Sacred Tables over at Grace Table today! I’m thrilled to be part of this incredible, beautiful online community where you’ll be immediately drawn to a collective heart for hospitality. What you’ll find is that doesn’t always look like what you think. Today I want to hear about your family’s traditions, which may or may not be about the upcoming holidays–and be sure to share your favorite recipes! I’m still looking for a few new things to add to our Thanksgiving meal!!

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Giving (a piece of) yourself away



Posted by on Dec 7, 2012 | 1 comment

One of my favorite things to do is to gift someone I love with something I know they'll love:

Surcieslittle love gifts, the value of which is seeded in the thoughtfulness of the gift, not its pricetag.  It's why giving a giftcard or cash is  s o  v e r y  h a r d; for me, gift-giving is an intimate, personal expression of my relationship with the recipient and not just anything will do.  Overall, gift giving is the least of my love languages because if you don't give to me (or I don't give to you) it doesn't mean I'll feel unloved or I don't care or love you; in my crazy head, Nothing itself is better than a hollow something (am I even making sense??).

One of my least favorite things to do is to give out of obligation or because a day on the calendar mandates it.

This is the part of the Christmas season I struggle with, excess to those who don't need a thing and a culture that shouts bigger is better and more is never enough.  Even in Christian circles, lovies.

I admire those who are smart enough, crazy enough, restrained enough or counter-culture enough to disassociate gift-giving with Christmas within their family, and instead give to those who have materially little to nothing.
I do hope you hear me:  I'm not saying that Christmas gift-giving to family and friends is bad or wrong; but based on the time invested in shopping and the amount of money spent from Black Friday through Christmas Eve, sometimes our focus is skewed.  Again, even in Christian circles.

It's simple and yet so complicated.  We give because God gave.

Thinking on Jesus' humble, magnificent, unimaginably difficult, astonishing birth stills my soul's thrashing during the Christmas Season and helps me to align giving with joy–


Please, please, please continue reading Giving Yourself Away at incourage today; I've asked you to share a piece of yourself (but you'll have to read to understand that fully).  


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Posted by on Feb 14, 2012 | 5 comments

“Not necessarily better or worse,
just different.”
~ me

It’s Valentine’s Day.

It’s Valentine’s Day, but it doesn’t f e e l like Valentine’s Day, and in fact, little feels like it always has.  Gone is routine.  Familiarity vanished.


Try to imagine landing in a place where e v e r y t h i n g is new.  You’re seeing people, places and things for the first time ~ all the time ~ so there are no touchstones, no landmarks, to remind you of where you are.

Except you know where you are, but that’s about all you have to hold onto.

Well, that, and GPS, God’s greatest invention for Me-and-My-People who can’t find our way out of a bucket.

The converse side of all that is people are people, places are places, and things are things–not better or worse, just different.  So in that sense, all these new things ARE familiar. 

And, this, my friends, is why my husband would tell you I’m complicated. 

It’s Valentine’s Day and it’s snowing...a first for this ol’ Southern gal who still has a few Michael Simon heart-embellished sweaters in her closet.  Back home.

For 16 years, I’ve co-hosted a Valentine Tea Party with my mother-in-law, Sarah, and daughter.  What began as a timid suggestion by Sarah has flourished into cherished tradition for the women in my family and a few close friends. 

Five thousand miles Almost eight thousand kilometers between us makes this year’s Valentine Tea an ImpossibiliTea.  And this, this of all things, is my first taste of homesick.  Bitter on tongue’s tip.  Ache in my heart.

Distance between Chattanooga and Burghausen, Bavaria (Germany)
For me, Valentine’s Day isn’t roses and romance (though we usually go out for or cook a candlelight dinner); instead, it’s a day to candy and treat my children, and to celebrate the women in our family…three generations strong

We brunch.  We eat off my mother-in-law’s delicate fine china, pink Depression glass and gorgeous sterling silver.  We tell stories.  We laugh.  We listen.  We hear.  We “please” and “thank you” and restrain ourselves from licking our plates clean, because manners matter no matter how good the raspberry mousse is this year.  I mean that year.  We’d exchange surcie’s ~ little love gifts ~ and some of us have been known to clap approval and squeal with delight.  ~smile~

S i g h.

I can’t seem to crack time’s code.  Monday, Tuesday, Friday–does it matter?  Not really.  My laptop clock remains set on Eastern Standard Time; it orients me to what my children might be doing without having mentally to calculate the difference.  The wall clock strikes Bavarian time, orienting me here

Because here is where I am.

So, today no Valentine Tea tradition.  Instead, we’ll practice hospitaliTy to strangers–we’ve invited three young work associates of Tad’s for dinner; translators from America and Great Britain and a German intern. 

People around a table, talking, listening, and hopefully laughing.

See?  Not necessarily better or worse than my 16-year Valentine’s tradition.  Just different.

I’m beyond thankful to be able to say I love being here; Skype, Facebook, emails and Twitter keep me connected to family and friends back home and allow me to SEE and talk to my babies.  I even like the challenge of living outside my comfort zone.  But, still, my steps have an uneasy traction, sliding on ice instead of skating on steel blades.  And the language barrier–I feel like I’m living in the shadow of Babel’s half-built tower(Though I should add many Germans speak at least a little English and everyone I’ve met has been gracious to extend kindness not condemnation when I shyly stumble over my words.)

It’s 14:00 CET (Central European Time) on Valentine’s Day and snow has been falling for almost seven hours; I think the highest temperature we’ve seen since arriving two weeks ago is -4°C (25°F), and the snow hadn’t yet melted from last week!  In less than three hours my husband will ride his bike home from work.

Believe it or not, he’ll likely say about that, “It’s different but better.”

blink blink.

* * * * *

In April, I’ll head back to the States; in May we’ll have a mother-daughter tea with our family’s newest addition, Miss Abigail.  Our Valentine tradition will move into Spring (at least this year), and again we’ll circle around a table with everything that’s necessary.

Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

Which I’m beginning to see is more than fine.


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