Reflections on Christmas 2016

I was hesitant to fully engage in this holiday season. There were noticeable absences in our recent family photos. I forced myself to decorate. I forgot to download my Christmas music. I let Costco do my baking. The festivities that I had always embraced so naturally didn’t feel the same as they had before.

I continued putting one foot in front of the other. Faking it until I could make it. I knew that Richard noticed. Of course he did. He was doing the same.

And then it snuck up on us. In small increments at first. It began with friends and neighbours. Some came to call. Others invited us out. Understanding, empathy, and connection are deeply seeded needs of the human experience.

It then continued with our children. Spending time with our sons and their wives/partners brings pure contentment to my soul. Adding in grandchildren is a joy that I can never adequately describe. Reunited, we told familiar stories. We laughed at tales that had been retold a hundred times. We slipped into the comfort of not having to pretend. We luxuriated in the warmth of family. Our shared experiences continued to bind us more tightly than ever.

We hung our stockings near the fire. This year we hung not only our current ones…but also the stockings of loved ones who are no longer here.

During one family gathering, Richard and I looked at each other, simultaneously overcome by emotion. We both deeply felt the presence of those who could not be seen. The feeling was unmistakable. We now recognize that day as a turning point toward healing the pieces that have been taken from our hearts.

It is said that at the end of our lives it is not our careers, our money, or our possessions that we reach for. Instead, it is the gift of family that we yearn for and hold most dear. That gift, Richard and I have received in abundance. For this, we are most deeply grateful.


This post has been written in memory of our loved ones who have so immeasurably enhanced our lives. It is especially dedicated to our first granddaughter, Baylee Jade Kailuweit-Wageman who was born October 28, 2016, and sorrowfully passed away two days later. Rest in peace beautiful Baylee. You have enriched our hearts profoundly, as only an angel could.

Thursday Doors: Christmas on Vancouver Island






I’ve been looking more closely at doors lately. Inspired by Montreal blogger, Norm Frampton, who hosts a weekly link up called Thursday Doors, I’ve begun to see the entrances to buildings in a brand new light. These shared posts, by bloggers from around the world, have taken me to new and intriguing places. They’ve also returned me to familiar places with fresh eyes. My favourite door posts so far (here, here and here) have done just that and have provided rich and intricate details of my own country’s architecture.

I became absorbed in these posts and wanted to join the collaboration. Several weeks ago, filled with enthusiasm, I went bounding outside with my camera ready. On that first outing, I came away empty-handed. It wasn’t as easy as I had thought. Many of our town’s most interesting buildings tend to have Home Hardware-like doors. I sucked back my initial disappointment. Silently I have continued my lookout. That door post remains a work-in-progress.

This holiday season has offered a playful spin on my endeavor and has provided me with much latitude for experimentation. It has also allowed me to give you a small teaser of some of our mid-Vancouver Island buildings (plus a couple of shots from Vancouver snuck in for good measure)!

Doors offer or deny access and connection. Welcoming or excluding they make a definite statement about their interiors…and about the people who dwell inside. In the spirit of the season, I kept my eyes focused on entrance ways that were festive, colourful and joyful. I looked for doors that simply or elaborately sent positive vibes and made me want to explore their buildings further.

In order of appearance (on the side column), here are my top picks. Vancouver Islanders – how many of the buildings do you recognize (without reading below)?

Crown Mansion Boutique Hotel, Qualicum Beach, BC. Originally built in 1914, and graced by such visitors as Bing Crosby, John Wayne, and the King of Siam (source) much effort has gone into preserving this home’s original grace and beauty. If you are in the vicinity, its restaurant, Butler’s, offers a first-class dining experience.

Tigh Na Mara, Seaside Resort, Parksville, BC. Founded in 1946, its name is Gaelic for “house by the sea.” This luxury resort with 192 handcrafted log guestrooms and cabins has evolved from humble beginnings of a single tent. Its spa was named number one in Canada (source).

Hospice Society at Oceanside, Qualicum Beach, BC. This 1913 home has been used by our local hospice society for over twenty years. Whenever driving by, this building makes me want to stop in and volunteer…especially at Christmas time.

Bear Lodge, Mount Washington, BC. In the 1970’s, Mount Washington became the first comprehensively planned ski resort in British Columbia. The resort village has continued to expand since then while remaining relaxed and affordable (as ski resorts go!). This pic was taken early morning when most other skiers were still fast asleep. Don’t the warm lights make you want to step inside from the cold?

A Bute Street Residence, Vancouver, BC. The next two photos stray slightly from my Vancouver Island theme. When walking down Bute, a residential street in Vancouver, I was immediately captivated by the elaborately decorated doorways of several houses in a row. This supports my deep belief that the spirit of the season is contagious…and that our neighbours do influence us more than we sometimes realize. This first Bute Street home shown is one-hundred and fifteen years old.

Ashby House Bed and Breakfast, Vancouver, BC. Also on Bute Street, this heritage-designated house was built in 1899. Converting this home into a bed and breakfast (1986) has allowed the owners to restore and preserve many of the home’s original features (source). The colour contrast between the building and its lighting quickly caught my attention and has put this B&B on my wish list of places to stay when in Vancouver.

Milner’s Garden, Qualicum Beach, BC. The piece-de-resistance of our area, and the feature photo of this post is this heritage house surrounded by 60 acres of woodlands and ten acres of garden. Visited by Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Lady Diana, Milner’s Garden (since gifted to Vancouver Island University) has quite the history. Every December, the gardens and its buildings are transformed into a winter wonderland (with festively-lit trails, a Teddy Bear’s cottage, and Santa’s Den) bringing out the inner child in all of us.

Be it with a simple wreath, or more elaborate lighting/ornamentation, have you decorated your front door to welcome in this holiday season?

Wishing you warmth and peace this Christmastime and the whole year through.

Thursday Doors is a blogging/photography challenge hosted each Thursday to Saturday by Norm Frampton at Norm 2.0. If you are a blogger/photographer why don’t you join in?

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A Christmas Card For You

I’ve been rethinking my Christmas traditions this year. A bit like closet cleaning, I want to ensure that I thoughtfully keep what is meaningful, retire what no longer fits, and make room for new traditions that will add value and substance.

When thinking about Christmas cards, I researched the history of Christmas card sending. (Why? Because I’m me!) The first printed Christmas card, 1843 (shown above) depicted the importance of generations of family celebrating together, service to others, as well as symbols of eternity (sprigs of holly ) and of faithfulness/God’s path (ivy). Source I love the timelessness of this message. After all, isn’t this what the core of this holiday season is all about? Okay, okay…you looked closely! So, the card also depicts a child being served wine (while the other children dig into their plum pudding). Maybe this just means that we should never take ourselves too seriously. Or maybe the controversy caused helped to sell more cards! Either way, the timelessness of the message remains.

For many, many years I sent out handwritten cards with personalized greetings. Despite my best efforts, there were always people that I missed…and despite me sending early, there were often mail delays. For a few years, I tried e-cards. They did allow me to reach more people (and on-time), but every year several cards were left unopened. (With all of the confidence that I can muster, I am hoping that this is a statement of e-cards themselves and not of my friendship with those individuals!) Short of smoke signals, carrier pigeons or an insanely large banner in the sky, I tried to find a creative and heartfelt way to get my message out to you. You, who are so generously keeping in touch.

I wanted the perfect message. A message that would fully express how much I appreciate you. A heartfelt thank you for your extra efforts to keep in touch (and for following this blog!). And finally, a message that sends positive thoughts across the miles. I also wanted to send along some goofy Christmas photos…Yup, I dragged Richard out for another Christmas photo shoot….this time with a twist!

It was a tall order. My search through the internet at first trapped me in the ‘terrible toos’. The sample verses that I found were too general, too corny, too mushy or too artificial. Unlike many Christmas messages or letters, I don’t need to fill you in on key events in my life for this past year. By virtue of scrolling down, you have this information at your fingertips!

I then came across the following writing by Oren Arnold, novelist and journalist (b. 1900 – d.1980).

Christmas gift ideas / suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.

Arnold’s words completely resonated with me. They so eloquently stated the core of what I wish to express in this post.

And so, I have wrapped up Oren Arnold’s powerful message in my own heartfelt words. I send them with sincere wishes of peace, love, and gratitude across the miles. May we all be more like the Whos down in Whoville — loving life, rejoicing in what we have, overlooking insult and joyfully celebrating community. Our vision becomes filled with what we put in our focus. If we all keep our visions fixed on these values, we CAN tilt our world towards peace. Undeniably.

Thank you for following along with me during 2016. I greatly look forward to remaining in touch in 2017! And now for those photos…

Sources:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1336459/Worlds-Christmas-cards-London-1843-arrive-auction-NY.html
https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/first-christmas-card
http://mentalfloss.com/article/26650/first-christmas-card-was-sent-1843
http://www.signology.org/religious-symbols/xmas-symbols.htm
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-christmas-card-180957487
http://www.thefactsite.com/2009/12/why-do-we-send-christmas-card.html
http://www.victoriana.com/christmas/card1st-99.htm
http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/cards.shtml

Featured Photo – Image of the Firstchristmascard. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Remaining photos are from Donna & Richard’s 2016 Christmas Card Photo Shoot!

Meeting Gideon Sock Puppet

I follow a delightful blog called “Dr. Sock Writes Here” by Gideon Sock Puppet. Immediately, I was intrigued by the name (which I never could figure out)! Once inside, I found intelligent and whimsical posts ranging on diverse topics of writing, painting, researching, teaching, skiing, gardening, cooking, hiking, literature and turning points…to name only a few! I was hooked and began regularly following along. I especially loved the author’s wonderings on retirement. Not yet retired, Dr. Sock was definitely flirting with the idea. I actually think back fondly to that stage. My foot firmly planted in two different worlds. Could I? Could I really? And if I really could…should I or shouldn’t I?

Dr. Sock is Canadian (another instant connection) and currently lives in a province that neighbours mine. In a recent post, she mentioned that she was spending the month of December in my small island town. Now that’s pretty cool…not many people vacation here in the winter! So, after my successful get-together with Janis from RetirementallyChallenged I sent Dr. Sock an invitation for coffee. She graciously accepted. We had our meet-up last week.

Once again, meeting a virtual friend in person for the first time felt uncannily like I was meeting an old friend that I had known forever. (Other than my initial embarrassment when the restaurant host asked me what my friend, who I said I would be meeting, looked like. Honestly, I had no idea! She never posts photos of herself!)

Dr. Sock also goes by the name of Jude. Almost instantly, Jude and I talked non-stop about family, passions, joys and fears. We, of course, spoke about blogging, work, and retirement (viz. should she or shouldn’t she?). We shared personal stories that I could never have imagined telling someone whose face I had not seen previously. But I had already seen her artwork (featured above), knew details about her family and could easily recognize her writing style. It’s a strange feeling knowing someone so well, who you truly have never met.

Jude and I have already planned to get together again. If you are looking for an engaging read filled with insight, joy, wonder and inspiration, you can check out her blog here.

Oh, and if you are wondering about her blog’s title (as I had been for months), Jude revealed that it actually means nothing at all. “I never actually intended to be a blogger,” she began. “I needed a quick blog for a course that I was doing. I give it no pre-thought. At the last minute, I realized that it needed a title. Earlier in my life, I had a sock puppet named Gideon. I have no idea how that idea came to me at the time. It just did.”

I am delighted that Jude has maintained her “quick blog” for over eight years. I am equally pleased that she has kept its original title. Fun, quirky and playful, this name hints perfectly at the unexpected adventures that you will surely find inside. Give it a try. I bet you won’t be disappointed!

The Power of Comments

I initially began this post not to write a full entry, but simply to thank readers for so generously commenting on my last write-up. The personal stories and advice that you shared got right to the heart of the matter. Your words were deeply motivating. So much so, Richard and I went straight out to our local tree farm, selected our treasure, and our holiday spirit began to pick up from there. Some of you suggested Christmas music/wine/appetizers by the fire. I must admit, that did work wonders! Many of you wisely advised not to get caught up in the stress of the season but to remain focused on what matters most and to let go of the rest. These words helped me to refocus. They also significantly brightened my perspective.

As I began to write this thank you, I realized something about blogging that I hadn’t really understood before. The main point isn’t actually the writing, or the posts, or the photos or the research. It’s the exchange–the dynamic interaction. It’s the debate and new ideas. Most significantly, it’s the connection and the deepening of relationships–both old and new.

It’s a bit of a conundrum to be a relatively private person with a public blog. (Duh to me, I know…but I believe that there are many others like this). Writing is cathartic for me. Pressing ‘publish’ is a leap of faith. As I sit and review the comments received in this past year, I am humbled. For each risk that I have taken in sending out my words, I have gained a hundredfold. Each post has been written for a different reason. On the lighthearted ones, we’ve shared a laugh. On the new discovery ones, you’ve shared your own adventures. On the difficult, most heartfelt ones, your outpouring of support not only comforted me but equally provided strength to Richard and my family.

I know that it is a leap of faith also to write comments. When I first began to read blogs, I never commented. EVER. I was new to the blogosphere, and I wanted to read anonymously. I preferred just to lurk. And lurking is okay. But as I ventured into both commenting, and receiving comments, a whole new world opened up to me. There is definite contentment in being a ‘regular,’ whether it be at your local coffee shop (where the barista begins to prepare your drink the moment that you walk in) or be it at a blog. As Julie Neidlinger of CoSchedule Blog so astutely wrote, “regulars can turn a blog from being a sequential posting of articles into something organic that references itself.” Regulars, and all commenters, help to create an extra layer that make a blog what it is. I am aware that there are numerous blogs that do not allow comments. There has been a heap of controversy regarding whether bloggers should disable their comment sections or not. For me, to remove comments from my blog would be like removing N-O-R-M from Cheers, or at least Uncle Leo from Seinfeld (not that any of you are Norm or Uncle Leo…but you get the idea)!

Energized by my new realizations on blogging and commenting, I tried to jazz up my comment section a bit by installing WPdiscuz. This plug-in allows commenters to edit what they have written, even after they have pressed ‘publish.’ It also offers an option for readers to give a ‘thumbs up’ to comments that they particularly like–sending the love to where it truly belongs! That and the promise of reduced spam sounded like a great step forward. Right? Wrong! I did have reduced spam. I actually had no spam…and no comments at all. According to people who have contacted me by alternative means, the ‘captcha’ feature completely blocked their comments out. If you use WPdiscuz (or are simply a whiz at this kind of stuff) and have a solution for my over-active captcha, please let me know. In the meantime, I have gone back to my regular comment layout (boring, I know)!

Thank you for reading, connecting, commenting and staying in touch. Your words and warm vibes have been greatly appreciated. And for readers who have never commented before, go ahead and give it a try. I would love to hear from you!

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In Need of a Little ‘Christmas Inspiration’

I’m in need of some serious Christmas inspiration. And I have chosen you, yes you, to help. Somehow it seems that when I wasn’t paying attention, all of the other Christmas decorations in our neighborhood went up. Lights, trees, ornaments…the whole shebang just suddenly appeared. Quietly and overnight…and early! Seriously, I hadn’t even removed our pumpkins yet!

So I waited (read here, stalled). “Later,” I said to myself. “I’ll put them up later….at a more traditional time.” But then I realized that I didn’t really know when that “more traditional time” was. Perhaps this is because I had lived overseas for so long that I have lost perspective. Or maybe there was another reason. When did we put our tree up last year? I couldn’t remember. But I was now trapped in my overthinking and my procrastination.

So, I asked Siri. She’d know for sure. With her usual perky tone, Siri led me to a page that declared that December 24 was the ‘traditional” time for many Christians to put up their Christmas Trees. Hmmm, I’m pretty sure that most of the decorated trees in our neighborhood will be ready to be taken down around then. And I’m positive that there will be no trees left for purchase anywhere on this entire island. But, Siri’s recommended site seemed to suggest that early decorations shortchanged advent (and focused on the heathen…or at least the commercial side of Christmas). I then glanced at a few other sites. At best, they contradicted each other. Some suggested putting up your tree twelve days before Christmas, others favoured the third Sunday in Advent, while others were set on the second Saturday in December. Finally, some sites endorsed the first day of Advent, while the British Columbia Tree Growers’ Association recommended December 1 (both these dates have already passed). Seriously this was quite the date range….and no real help at all!

As I continued to browse the sites, I began to find more questions than answers. Once we did find a date, we would need to decide on what type of tree —artificial, or real like we had last year? And if real, should we go with precut from our local supermarket, or fresh from a nearby Christmas Tree Farm? What was the best environmental choice? At least once these decisions were made, the question of tree decoration would be easy as I have collected keepsake ornaments throughout the years. That moves me on to Christmas cards and gifts…where I am in urgent need of creative (and earth-friendly) suggestions!

Aggghhhhhh! How had this all become so complicated?!

So, as promised, I’m turning to you. What have you done regarding Christmas Trees, decorations, cards and gifts for this year? What are the traditions that you have maintained….and are there any new traditions that you have added? I look forward to being inspired!