The Tree

This is a guest post that originally began as a Facebook post, by my husband, Winston Visser.

As 2013’s days are numbered, I reflect on a year of loss, transition and opening to other possibilities: My father died at 84, sadly, after several months of worsening health physically and mentally; the practice of my vocation ended, painfully; and my perspective on future possibilities improves, slowly.

During this season I remembered events past. Once upon a time, sometime between 8 and 11 years of age, I trudged through the snow with my father to the tree lot behind the back pasture. We were searching for the perfect Christmas tree in my mind’s eye. We inspected one sparsely branched spruce after another. None looked like the one in my imagination. Christmas Tree

Then, I saw it, in a small clearing, “The Tree” of my dreams! It was 30 feet up! From that perspective it looked perfect. Dad tried to argue me out of it. But I remained rooted in my choice.

So, with axe and saw, we hacked till, with a crack, it fell to be cradled by the snow. Six feet from the top, Dad cut then set it upright. It no longer looked perfect. It was more “Charlie Brown” than “Country Living”.

Disappointed, I wanted to look some more, but Dad said, “No. We’ve done all that work, plus wasted some 24 feet left to decay in the woods.”

So we dragged it home, set it up in a stand and spruced it up with lights, tinsel, bells and a star way on top. These filled it out a bit, bringing it closer to “The Tree” of my dreams.

Most years of my youth included such “uncouth trees”, natural, not nurtured on a lot, disappointing, yet with some decoration: acceptable.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

It could be seen as the story of your and my life: looking for perfection. Then disappointed because it’s not.

Or it could be that each of us is a Charlie Brown Tree, far from perfect.  But once decorated (“clothed” as the Apostle Paul writes) in Christ, perfect in God’s eyes as we’re ever going to be.

May we have eyes to see self and others as God does, throughout every season of loss, transition and possibility!

Enjoy these last days of 2013 living into the possibilities of 2014 including loss and newness.

Blessings to one and all!

My Reading Pile

Beside my bed is a tall stack. Of books. Some are waiting to be read. Some are too dull to keep reading (like parenting or conflict management), and some have great titles and covers, but I just haven’t had time to start them. By the time I get to my bedroom at night, I have little mental, physical, or emotional energy to engage in reading. And if I do, it is usually a mistake that I deal with the next morning in the attempt of an early rising and heading out for another day of work.

But some books do get regular attention, albeit slowly… I often have 3-4 books in various stages of completion.

One year I took a year to work from home and to concentrate specifically on writing and reading. It was one of the best years of my life. I thrived and read many books, and I wrote and wrote. I read books to write reviews about too. Nothing better than getting paid to read!

I had no dry times when I couldn’t think of anything to write (unlike recently), and I didn’t have trouble finding books either. Good times.

This year I received a Kobo for Christmas, and I have already read an entire historical novel, just for the fun of it. Wow, have I been missing this in my life! I definitely need to get at that pile, and renew my interest in reading and writing. Who knew a little piece of technology could be such an asset?

A Christmas break sure helps too!

Eating Stale Cookies and Other Fun

From the outside, my childhood may appear to have been quiet, boring even. Born to Dutch immigrant parents, I went to church every Sunday (sometimes twice), and often during the week for other programs  or events. The Calvinistic work ethic was alive and well in our home, and money was handled frugally.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun!

Cookies were a big part of my first ten years. Yes, my mother baked cookies- sometimes. But she didn’t really need to, because my father was a cookie salesman. (If my husband sold cookies, I don’t think I would bake them either.)

Dad drove a van all over Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, selling cookies to grocery stores, small gas bars, and even to the ubiquitous Canadian coffee shops named for a hockey player.

He couldn’t possibly contain all those cookies in one van load, so we always had a store of them in the garage.

Biweekly, a big rig from Ontario would arrive at our rural Nova Scotia home to unload the next shipment. There was always lots of excitement in our house the day the truck was coming! (It may even have influenced the course of my brother’s life who is now an Operations Manager for a large trucking firm in British Columbia…)

The Cookie Truck! Can anyone guess what year this is?

We would wait on the lawn while the truck backed up slowly to the garage. We would watch while the cases of cookies slide down the steel rollers. We thought it was cool that Dad could carry so many cartons at once. We were never allowed to carry more than two at a time- a dropped box meant lost inventory. We loved to watch the garage fill up again, to listen to the talk of the driver and sometimes his driver-in-training, to see what kinds of cookies we would get. Sometimes they would unload in pouring rain. I remember the wet cardboard smell to this day.

My brothers by the Cookie Truck many moons ago. Aren’t they cute?

The empty boxes were great fun too. Being Dutch (and smart), Dad didn’t throw empty boxes out, but rather flattened and stacked them. They had many uses, such as a sort of mat that Dad could lay on while changing the oil in the vehicles.

Eventually, we moved to a new home, and most of our belongings went into cookie boxes. Once empty, the boxes still didn’t get thrown out.

Instead, my brothers and I folded them back up into empty cubes, and made elaborate forts and tunnels out of them in the vacant hay mow of our old barn. We put flattened boxes on the floor so our knees wouldn’t get sore. We spent hours up there being active and creative. And getting hungry.

After Christmas, Dad would have to remove all the stale gingerbread men, and the red & green wreath cookies from the shelves. He brought them back home. He may have received credit for them from the company, or it may have been a loss he had to swallow. Whatever the case, they made a convenient snack, sitting unattended in the barn.

The problem was, we would always get caught. The coloured sugar would stain our mouths an unnatural green or a Rudolph red. Somehow this never got past Mom! Which wasn’t great before supper. But the scolding we may have received never really diminished our fun, and more cookies would be eaten again. Maybe Mom didn’t really mind either- hungry kids are not usually happy kids, and besides she didn’t have to bake!

Post-holiday cookies made their way into the house too, and  were not really stale at first. You would think I would have gotten sick of them, but I haven’t. When given the choice in a store today, I often choose the very same ones I ate in my childhood. And often, I smile.

January’s Jigsaw

I got a jigsaw puzzle tradition from my mom. And there has rarely been a year since I lived on my own when I have not followed the tradition.

Every year, after the Christmas decorations are put away, when it is cold and snowy and I’d rather be by the fire, when the sunshine beams in the windows brilliantly, I make a new jigsaw puzzle.

First, I pick out a puzzle with a good image that won’t irritate me when the puzzle-piecing gets hard. Like this:

Then I choose a nice bright place to work in natural light. Usually that means the kitchen table, but given the table’s constant use, it is not always the best pick. (And since I have children, you will notice that the natural light in this photo has long since disappeared). I have to adapt to working on a large piece of cardboard or wood.

I pick out all the edge pieces, like this:

And then I randomly choose a colour or zone of the puzzle to work on next. Right now, it is the sky:

 

 

 

 

 

 

By now, I have most of the pieces sorted according to colour or zone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I continue on this way, picking out areas, placing pieces, until I am all done! This particular puzzle, although only 500 pieces has turned out to be rather challenging because some of the pieces have the exact same cut and will fit in more than one spot. The colour variations and patterns then become the key thing to look at.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How satisfying it is to place the last piece! (Sorry, I just started this one, so no pic).

I have done various things with completed puzzles. Sometimes I break it all up in  haste, and put it in a bag for Goodwill because it was such a miserable thing (think not-interlocking-pieces-that-fall-apart-whenever-you-look-at-them) to work on.

Other times, I put them back in the box for another time. I made a Norman Rockwell puzzle three times, I think. Then I gave it away to another puzzler. I couldn’t handle making it again, great as it was.

Another thing I have done is glue the completed puzzle together and frame it. Then they have memories to go with it. This puzzle was given to me from a dear friend in university. And it was framed by the handyman whom I house-sat for when they were down south in weather like this. It has been on one wall or another for two decades:

The sunflower puzzle was incredibly challenging, and since I am not an expert puzzler, my Mom and brother finished it for me. And my Dad framed it, so I guess you could say it was a family affair!

Here is a close-up of it. Don’t you just love it? It was also a gift…

So, I’m not sure what I’ll do with “Family Picnic” yet, whether it will go back in the box or not, but so far my January jigsaw has been as enjoyable as ever!

Christmas Cards

Christmas cards hang in many places in our house. With my husband’s “high-profile” job, a lot of love comes our way this time of year, and we are grateful. It is adds a lot of cheer and warmth to our home to have all these visual reminders of care right where we can see them. During the year, we sometimes (sadly) forget all the friends we have!

It is always something we talk about at the beginning of the Christmas season- where are we going to display the cards this year? We are amazed at the variety and type of cards that we see- glittery, handmade, gilt edges, from nearby and faraway- rarely do we receive two of the same card in one year.

Last year, I wrote about My Favourite Christmas Card

This year, two of my children did artwork in school that was then reproduced in greeting cards for Christmas. One of our friends sent us a card with the artwork of my daughter (so thoughtful!). I think you’ll agree, it is perfect: