The Ornaments of Christmas Past

In the early morning hours when I cannot sleep, I love coming downstairs, snuggling under my Christmas blanket, and sit in the warm glow of the Christmas tree. The blue lights hung around our front door and palm tree outside shimmer through the frosted windows. We have a new gold star as the crowning glory of our tree, casting just the right amount of light. Wrapped around the base of our tree is a gorgeous hand quilted tree skirt I received as a wedding shower gift.

As with many families, our ornaments have memories attached to them. There are ones we have purchased at each new place we traveled to, ornaments celebrating Matt and my first dating Christmas(1985), first married Christmas, Sara’s first Christmas (23 years ago!), and some ornaments from close friends, such as one that I received (from close friends of my parents- that now celebrate Christmas in heaven) when I was 8 years old(I will not say how many years ago that was) 😊

Each year Matt hangs ornaments that he actually painted as a child. Unfortunately, I have very little ornaments from my childhood. The one ornament I have is of gingerbread angels and gingerbread men. It is peeling and probably made with lead paint, but I treasure it just the same.

(Matt’s painted ornaments)

When I look at it, I’m reminded of the very first gift I chose and paid for all by myself. I was in first grade and our school library had a small craft fair. I remember being so proud that I bought my parents a gift with my very own quarter (yup that’s what it cost). My treasure of a find was a small glass snowman with a black hat and a green scarf. I remember how happy and surprised my parents were when they opened it. They hung it on the tree every year. I loved how it sparkled when placed just so in front of the string of tree lights. Sadly, I no longer know where it is since circumstances prevented me from having the ornaments from my childhood.

This Advent season amidst the waiting, the hope and joy of the Christmas season, there’s also loss and hearts needing to be healed. I will of course be missing my mom and my Godfather (who I can’t believe have been gone 5 and 6 years respectively). It’s only 7 months since my Dad passed away and a few weeks ago, we unexpectedly lost someone very dear to our hearts. She “adopted” my family nearly 12 years ago when she learned we had just moved to NC and I was so far away from family for the very first time. Her family(her husband and daughter-my bestie) then became family to us as well.

To be honest, I’m grieving and the idea of having merriment eludes me at times. I try to hide it, but I’m clinging to my faith- sometimes grasping at it so tightly, hands clenched, white knuckled in prayer (at least they would be if my hands were better). Yet, I also feel guilty because there are some wonderful possibilities opening up for me, so I should be rejoicing in that. But if I’m rejoicing, shouldn’t I be grieving? My emotions love to play this ping pong match with my heart. I have been trying to think about how my loved ones would have reacted to these future possibilities, and that makes me smile. I’m hopeful when I recognize the joy in these grace filled moments.

Although I may not have all the physical ornaments of my childhood, I do have memories of them boosted by some blurry pictures of the Christmas tree from my childhood. But, more importantly I have memories of my parent’s smiles when they opened that messily wrapped snowman package (those of you who know me well, know that my wrapping skills have not improved and I can’t even blame RSD for that). 🙂

Snowman circled in blue near teddy bear

I know that no matter what gift may be under the tree or hanging on it- like my precious quarter bin snowman ornament – a physical present can never replace a person’s presence. So, tomorrow I will delight in sharing my fond, loving memories of past Christmas celebrations with our loved ones. I hope I can be the peace that someone else may need with my presence as we grieve, reminisce, and smile together on Jesus’ birthday.

Wishing you & your loved ones a blessed, joyous holiday season, enjoying each other’s presence, along with a healthy, peace-filled New Year! I look forward to sharing my November experience at the United Nations and other exciting news in 2020! 

Homeward Bound

Bittersweet yet blessed describes my trip back to my hometown in Rhode Island for my dad’s memorial service earlier this month. I’ve been reading a lot about letting go in order to receive. I finally had to let go of my anxiety about traveling as well as letting go of the vice like grip I had on avoiding my feelings of grief. Grief not only in missing my father, or at realizing I’m an orphan, but also mourning my wishes that the relationship with him went differently after my mom passed away. I needed to let go of the anger that things didn’t go the way I planned/hoped. Once I loosened that grip (I still have a hold on it, just not as tight, but it’s a first step), I could begin to receive the comfort from my memories.

One way I indulged in these memories- visiting special, nostalgic places that my daughter and I associated with my parents. My husband patiently drove us to each one. Thankfully RI is a small state. 😊 I realized two things: 1. That visiting these places, didn’t make me sadder, but actually gave me a sense of contentment by reliving the happiness of being there with my mom and dad, and I could talk about these memories with my husband and daughter. I could allow these feelings associated with the memories of my parents to be forever imprinted in my heart. 2. A lot of these places involved food. Come to whatever conclusion you wish with that. 😊

A must have for me when in RI -NY style wieners(oddly enough never ate one in NYC)

I found joy in visiting the same grocery store (Stop and Shop for you New Englanders out there), that we shopped at many times with my parents. One special purchase there was Social Tea Biscuits (ones that we cannot find down south), which my mom always had in a crystal container on the kitchen table. Somehow physically purchasing them there to bring home, made them taste even better than when someone would be kind enough to send them to us. Now not everywhere we wanted to go involved just food. One place we had to visit was family owned Wrights Farm Dairy and Bakery-okay, it had decadent baked goodies, but there is more. My parents took me there when I was a child and I loved the greeting from the dairy’s mascot at the time, a friendly St Bernard. When Sara came along, they would take her there no matter what season, not just to buy the sweets and fresh chocolate milk, but to visit the cows (her favorite animal as a child) that provided the delicious milk. Going there was always a happy event, that just happen to end with yummy treats!

We also visited Newport, where my husband and I had taken many beach trips while we were dating. We also brought my parents there on day trips, many years ago we found out we were pregnant during a long weekend visit there, and once we had our daughter, we’d drive there, pick up a pizza (you knew food had to be involved somewhere), and sit in back of our station wagon facing the ocean and enjoying the sunset at Breton Point Park.

The family and friends that were with us at the memorial service, made a very difficult day easier because they filled it with love. Everyone at the service had known my parents for a very long time, so they could share special memories of both of them as well. I truly felt my parents being with us every step of our trip. All the anxious and fearful feelings I had about writing a eulogy for my father, how my body would or would not hold up during the trip, were replaced with a sense that I could let healing begin.

Military Honors for my Dad at the funeral home.

Military Honors for my Dad at the funeral home.

Of all the places we visited, there was one I could not even drive by-the house that I grew up in, that Sara spent most of her childhood visiting. Interestingly enough, it was right around the corner from the funeral home where we had the memorial service. Although I found it oddly comforting to know my parents’ home was nearby, I just didn’t think I could have handled seeing different cars in the driveway or different people living there. I just wanted to remember my mom at the front door holding their pet Shih-Tzu, Fuji, while waving goodbye with his paw. And to remember my dad in the driveway waving both hands and smiling at us, but especially at my daughter until our car turned the corner.

So, by letting go and leaning on the Lord, the love of my family, and friends (also now family) in RI, I gained the energy to push through, take in the moments, let the memories come and the inevitable tears fall. By letting the feeling of their love overtake any feeling of anxiety, anger, or guilt, I left RI feeling wrapped in a blanket of peace and contentment.

Last pic on way to airport (stopping for lunch,of course, in Wickford)

Returning home, I realized it will still take a while to heal physically and emotionally from this trip. I’m still on my grief journey, but I have taken more steps down this road and now know that I do not have to travel it alone. It’s okay to talk about the memories, and not hold it inside or worse, push them away.

**Three Extra Items(Most important is Number 3)**

1. While I was in Rhode Island I had the opportunity to be interviewed for a Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation podcast and was very grateful that they posted it on August 6th which is a very important day for me to honor my mom, my family, and all the atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima(and Nagasaki on August 9th).

2. This month of August happens to be the third anniversary of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM being published!!! So, to celebrate I am holding a Rafflecopter Giveaway of a signed copy of TLCB and all this adorable swag pictured here along with a 45-minute Skype visit to a classroom for two winners that will be picked at random on September 1, 2019.

You can enter at this link:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

3 I’m a little behind from traveling, but I do want to thank all of the people who have read my blog, TLCB, interviewed or invited me to speak, blogged about TLCB as well as all the teachers and librarians that have used TLCB. Because without all of you, my mother’s and atomic bomb victims’ stories would not be getting out there to our future voters. Thank you for helping me find and to be proud of my voice. ❤ 

Also sharing this post at Welcome Heart