For many years, families have made a tradition of going into the city to see the department store Christmas windows.
We don’t live in a big city, or near one, but shop windows decorated for Christmas have become popular out here in the country, too.
Tonight we had the unveiling of the Christmas windows at the local hardware. They made an event of it, added in some competitions and games, and generated a lot of interest among the community. A good number of community folks turned out for the event, and there was a lot of excitement and chatter among the crowd.
The Christmas windows at H Hardware in Cobden, Victoria.
The windows, each decorated by a different staff member, are fabulous. They all show creativity and a sense of humour, and they are sure to be a feature of the Christmas lights viewing in town.
“Why would you live in Cobden?” is a question I get asked from time to time. My standard response is, “Why wouldn’t you?”
An evening like this is just another reminder of just a few of the reasons why my town is a really great place to live.
Yesterday, as I was unpacking and sorting the Christmas decorations, I discovered a keepsake that I didn’t even know I had.
It seemed odd at first when I found one of last year’s Christmas cards tucked into the bag of tinsel and other soft decorations: my elves from Canada, Morris the Rainbear which my sister gave me decades ago, some plush toys in Santa hats, and all the tinsel. And when I say “all the tinsel”, I’m not kidding. There’s a lot of it. I love that stuff.
The thing is, I don’t usually keep Christmas cards. I usually give them to the pre-school or school, where the kids use the pictures on the front or, in the case of the beautiful cards made by my very clever sisters, the whole fronts of them to make cards for their families and friends.
When I opened the surprise card, realisation was followed closely by tears welling up in my eyes: it was the Christmas card my father gave us last year.
I don’t know why I kept it.
I didn’t know then that it would be his last Christmas with us, or that it would be the very last thing I had with his handwriting on it.
When I saw his handwriting, all those mixed happy/sad feelings came rushing back. Tears from missing him so profoundly were mixed with laughter at how bad his handwriting was.
To say that Dad had lousy handwriting was no exaggeration.
If practically illegible handwriting alone were enough to qualify someone as a doctor, Dad could have been a professor of worldwide renown. It was a problem for as long as I knew him, and there were times when even he had no idea what he had written. More than once, he found that even though he had written a shopping list, by the time we got to the supermarket he had forgotten what was on it and neither of us could read it.
So, my attempt to transcribe what Dad wrote on this card may be inaccurate, but I think it says, “Jesus who came to suffer in our stead to the glory of his Father. For so was his wish.”
It’s such a classic Dad thing to do: just casually pop a little mini-sermon into a Christmas card. It’s such a lovely reminder of his love for Jesus and his desire for us to put our faith in Him, too. Among all the glitz and glitter and parties and feasting and end of year rush and revelry, the reminder of the true meaning of Christmas is as timely and important as it ever was.
I can tell you now, I’m keeping this card forever. It is on display on my grandfather’s bookshelf next to my chair, safely nestled in the lap of Teardrop, the bear who cuddled me throughout the afternoon and evening of the day Dad passed away, and mopped up more than a few tears along the way. .
It is an unexpected bonus having another souvenir of my Dad on display in my study this Christmas.
Today I put the Christmas tree in my study and decorated it.
I know. I know.
It’s not December yet, and I usually have a very firm rule about that.
2020, though, has not been renowned for playing by the rules. In a year of so much heartbreak, social isolation, separation from family and friends, reinventing careers, and widespread misery, it seems to me that we should celebrate what we can, when we can.
I also have a rule about waiting until the exams are marked and my reports are finished and submitted before I can be ready for Christmas. I finished the marking on the weekend and finalised my students’ reports yesterday, so at least I managed keep that rule intact!
So, given that it’s the 25th of November, I decided this morning that a month from Christmas was as good a day as any.
Besides, I needed something to do. Abbey the Labby was at the vets having surgery to remove a lump, and while the vets had told me it was most likely completely benign, I wasn’t altogether confident that 2020 wasn’t going to take that as a challenge. Anxious as I was, staying busy was a good thing to do.
Just after the tree was finished, the vet called and told me Abbey’s surgery went well and that he is really happy with the outcome. When we picked her up, two vets and the nurse all told us how beautiful and well-behaved she is. They commented that she is she is in excellent health and the perfect weight for a Labrador. They congratulated us on taking excellent care of her.
I’m calling that my first Christmas gift of the year.
I won’t be playing any Christmas music untilDecember 1st, though. I don’t want to push my luck.
This Year, It’s Not Too Early #ChristmasIsComing #Christmas2020 #November25
Anyone who knows me well enough to be in my front yard knows how much I love my maple trees that I have carefully and lovingly grown as reminders of my beloved Canada. I can’t get there anywhere near as often as I want to, so the least I can do is have a bit of Canada in my own garden. It’s not too much to ask.
Today, though, someone who was in my front yard — unbeknown to anyone who lives here, of course, heartlessly ran down one of my maples.
Yes, it was a fairly small tree. That is irrelevant, because it was on its way to being big. Big maples cost lots more than smaller maples in Australia, and small ones cost more than enough. More importantly, it was my tree.
The only notification they left of the destruction of my tree was the tree itself, now horizontal rather than vertical. No note. No phone call or text. No apology. No identification of the culprit.
I am so sad. I’m sad for the loss of a tree that actually meant something to me.
I’m also sad that whoever is responsible felt it was okay to not be honest with me.
If I knocked over someone’s tree or broke something that belonged to someone else, I would be guilt-ridden and desperate to replace it.
Apparently, not everyone I know is quite so principled.
Fortunately for them, I have absolutely zero clues as to who is responsible.
Unfortunately for me, that means that my already cynical INFJ mind will not just go “oh well…” and let it go. Self-destructive as it may be, a little voice in my head will wonder ‘Was it you?’ every time I see people I should be able to trust. The question will probably never come out of my mouth, but it will be there, nevertheless.
The group of people in whom I have absolute trust was already a very small group indeed. And people wonder why.
I’ve been working on a beautiful jigsaw puzzle over the past month. I chose it in honour of Helen, because she and I often did puzzles together. In fact, this was the first jigsaw puzzle I’ve done without Helen in probably twenty years. I also chose it for my dad, who would have loved both the map and the fact it was created by a Dutchman.
The image is an antique map of the known world, complete with solar systems and representations of the four elements; highlighted with gold embellishments. It was created by F. De Wit in Amsterdam in 1663, and the puzzle was produced by Hinkler Mindbogglers. Boy oh boy, did they get that branding right!
It really was a mind boggling challenge. Intricate lines, many pieces that still looked almost the same, and corner and edge pieces that were almost identical to one another made putting this puzzle together quite the labour of love.
Piece by piece, though, it started to happen. It is no understatement to say that I felt a profound sense of achievement when I finished a section and could anticipate how beautiful the whole thing was going to look.
Doing the puzzle in honour of Helen and my father gave me purpose, but the concentration it required and the distraction from other things in life gave me a sense of mindfulness and peace that really helped me in my day to day life.
Dealing with my grief and managing tasks related to Dad’s estate were somewhat complicated by the challenges of teaching online again during Victoria’s second major Covid-19 lockdown, but working from home also gave me the space I needed to do those things and start to heal.
In many ways, that puzzle became an allegory for my own life. I was putting those pieces together too, seeing how things fit and getting an idea of how things would look. I too have intricate lines and a complex design that needs to be observed carefully in order to achieve the desired outcome. My life is full of pieces that fit together neatly, and it’s up to me to make sure I get that right.
So, while the puzzle on the table is complete, the puzzle that is me is still a work in progress.
Today marks thirteen weeks since my dad graduated to heaven. Thursday marks the same interval for Helen.
Three months seemed like an appropriate goal for completing the puzzle, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction at having done so.
This week, I will make arrangements to have it framed.
When it is hanging on my wall, it will be a daily reminder that doing life well is a process, not an event. It will remind me that every piece matters. And it will remind me of my love for Dad and for Helen, of their love for me.
I am so blessed to have known and loved them both, and to have been loved by them. The pieces they contributed to the puzzle of my life have helped to make it a thing of beauty. For that, I am very, very thankful.
I know that as the pieces of life continue falling into place and fitting back together, my grief will remain present, but it will change. It will transform to become a part of the bigger picture, while keeping its own shape and character. In time, it will be differently painful, but the picture of my life would be incomplete with out it. In its place, fitting in with the pieces that represent joy, achievement, love, and hope, it adds its own detail, texture and embellishment to the canvas.
They are beautifully made and delightful to hold, and their faces are so expressive!
Some of my bears mark special occasions. Others are rescues, having been adopted from other people who no longer want them. As I keep telling my husband, our home provides an important service as a refuge for orphaned bears. And others, I have bought because I just fell in love with them when I saw them.
If you’re interested in seeing my bear collection, there are photos of them all on my Pinterest board titled ‘Bear Collection’. There are some that are not Charlie Bears, because I already had a small collection of other bears before I discovered Benson, my first Charlie Bear, in a shop and was forced – forced, I tell you! – to bring him home with me and love him forever.
In additional acts of service to teddy bears, I’ve inspired my cousin and my sister to start collecting Charlie Bears. Between us, we’re saving the world, one bear at a time.
And in case you were wondering, the collective noun for teddy bears is a hug.
Yesterday, I wrote about completing thef tasks I needed to do after my father’s passing. That included rehoming a number of his things, including two bookshelves that have been in our family longer than me, the art prints that Mum and Dad loved to have on their walls, and personal things like his bed and his walker.
I don’t know how many times I told my siblings that I wasn’t sentimental about giving away things we didn’t need, or selling the things worth money, via buy/swap/sell groups on Facebook. There are people out there who needed them more than we did. That was mostly true.
I have kept Dad’s hat and his walking stick. I don’t need them, but they are so iconic of him in the last few years that they are deeply meaningful to me. Those are things that he held and wore most days. They identified him at any distance, and had become part of his identity to everyone who saw him when he was out and about.
These things are my souvenirs, tangible holders of memory, and valued physical symbols of my no-longer-present, much loved father dad.
Today’s important task was to finalise the wording for the plaque on Dad’s half of the headstone he shares with Mum, so that we could order it and have it done.
Most of the inscription was easy enough – name, dates of birth and death, and “loving husband of Anne”.
The challenge for my brother, sisters and myself was which bible verse to include. We knew Dad’s favourite passage was Romans 8, but that was way too long, and far too complex, to include or even simplify. We’re limited to 10-12 words, so it needed to be short but still meaningful, and reflect Dad’s faith as his final message.
There were some really good suggestions made.
This morning I texted my siblings a list of the “top eight” for their consideration and vote.
As it turned out, the decision almost made itself when my sister asked, “Why don’t we just continue the verse that’s on Mum’s?”
The simplicity and beauty of that idea took my breath. Mum’s side of the plaque has the first line of Isaiah 40:31 “They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength”.
It was the verse that Dad chose for Mum’s inscription, so we knew Dad would have approved. It was a way of embracing their unity, too. They shared 58 years of marriage, they shared five different homes in that time, and they shared four amazing and super-talented children. Now, their earthly remains share a final resting place while their souls share eternity in heaven. Sharing such a beautiful Scripture on their headstone seemed to be a lovely reflection of their shared faith.
Still, it was another reminder that Dad is gone, another challenge to meet head on, and another emotional hurdle to overleap.
Feeling the weight of the moment, I went for a drive to one of my favourite thinking places: on top of Mt Leura, overlooking Camperdown and the volcanic plains and lakes of the area, where I have sat and thought, or taken photos, or walked, or written, or listened, or prayed, or rested, or had dinner before a theatre company rehearsal, at least a hundred times.
I typed up the text of the inscription for Dad’s plaque, ready for ordering. I knew the words, and I am pro at typing, but still, that was hard.
“Maybe I shouldn’t be on my own right now,” I whispered to nobody but me.
I got out of the car, and walked the short distance up to the top of the lookout.
And then, for the first time ever in all the times I have been there, a wedge-tailed eagle flew overhead, soaring in the sky above me.
It was there, and then it was gone. I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t even manage to get my phone out of my pocket in time. I so wish I had, though.
I’m not the biggest believer in coincidences. In that moment, I accepted it as a sign: a reminder that although I was by myself, I wasn’t actually alone at that point in time.
Hm. I think there’s a poem in that.
On Eagle’s Wings. #TrueStory #MyLife #grief #coincidence #eagle #personal #blogpost
In my endeavours to work and teach from home, I am supported by a highly competent and very specialised team. It’s fair to say my home office environment would not be the same without them.
Human Resources Manager: Scout
Scout’s vision is to head an organisation that exists to serve. Not one for sitting on the fence, she is unashamed about demanding efficiency and expecting 100% compliance. She is an expert manager of her Human Resources and is proficient at making them do exactly what she wants them to. Current levels of isolation and social restriction have made little difference to her management style, and she continues to dispatch any unwanted guests of the smaller variety with impressive alacrity.
Scout started here as a junior in July, 2006, and has leapt from height to height since then. She proudly acknowledges that she is, in fact, the cat’s whiskers around here.
Office Manager and Head of Security: Abbey
Abbey has a range of responsibilities, but dislikes being described as a ‘general dog’s body’. She oversees security, makes regular inspections of the yard and monitors all entrances and exits with careful attention, Abbey takes motivating all team members almost as seriously as ensuring that every meal and snack is thoroughly Lab tested. Abbey consistently demonstrates a level of loyalty and commitment that goes above and beyond the call of duty. She is also a most excellent listener, and regularly provides great counselling and support.
Abbey started here as a junior in November, 2007, stepping eagerly into the role sadly left vacant by her predecessor, Chiara. At this point in time, she has no plans to retire, and we embrace her presence here for as long as she is willing and able to stay.
These wonderful team members have a very strong rapport and consistently demonstrate genuine mutual admiration and respect. They work really well together, each bringing their unique talents and abilities to the job and complementing one another perfectly.