Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas is started!

When I was a kid one of our family traditions was to start getting ready for Christmas on December 1. Sometimes we would sneak in a little listen to Christmas music in late November, but for the most part, we started our Christmas celebrations on the 1st. On the evening of December 1, we all gathered together in the living room. Some of us helped Dad drag our fake Christmas tree up the basement stairs and into the living room, while others pulled out a pile of our favourite Christmas CDs and popped the first one into the CD player. Christmas music set the mood while Dad worked on putting the tree in the stand, and the rest of us went downstairs to bring up our boxes of Christmas ornaments and decorations out of storage. We went through the hundreds - it seemed - of strings of Christmas lights, searching for the newer ones that still worked and had the least amount of burned out bulbs. Then Dad wound them around the tree as Mum organized where to put the different special holiday decorations. Once the lights were on on the tree, we each opened our own box of ornaments, the ones my mum and grandma had given to each of us every year since we were born. Stories and memories flowed between us as we carefully took ornaments out of their boxes and found the perfect places to hang them on the tree. Once all the ornaments were hung, one person was selected to put the gold tinsel star on the top. Dad put the lucky person on his shoulders and leaned close to the tree and he or she set the star on the top sprig. Then, with ceiling lights off and just the twinkling of the coloured Christmas lights to illuminate the darkened room, we would perch on couches or beside the blazing fire and sip hot chocolate all stirred around with candy canes and listen as Mum read us Christmas stories. It was magical. The whole family stopping to take a breath from the busyness of everyday life and all working together to transform the house into a place of wonder and excitement.
Q kids in 1992 or 1993 (Haha, look at me thinking I'm so hilarious wearing my stockings & Bryn trying to copy me!)
The first year I went to college, we had to change our longstanding tradition of starting Christmas on December 1. I begged my family to wait to set up the tree until I got home after exams. They agreed and for the most part, we went through the same wonderful process of changing our house from a fall haven to a winter wonderland. By that time, my younger siblings had grown out of their asthma, and we could again go up in the mountains surrounding our city to pick out a live Christmas tree to cut down. Even though we had an abbreviated holiday time, we still packed in all the same traditions.
Getting our Christmas tree in 2009 (Mum's taking the picture)
The past two years, I haven't had even that abbreviated time to celebrate with my family. I've been overseas, doing interesting work and quite enjoying myself. But always, when December 1 rolls around, I feel like something is missing. That joyous occasion of stopping whatever we're doing individually and all coming together to make Christmas come to life.
Christmas Day 2010 - Bryn and me Skyping the rest of the family from Cairo, Egypt
Christmas 2011 in Cheonan, South Korea - Our first Christmas as a married couple!
This year, I again won't have that, at least not on December 1, but I have been able to take part in Jonathan's family's traditions. We hung the outside lights, we helped take boxes out of the attic, his mom told us stories about the different ornaments they have as she took them out of the boxes. And now the living room downstairs is a little bit of Christmas away-from-home! I love it! And, the best part about this year is that I get to experience it all again in a few more weeks when I go home and help my family put up our Q-Christmas tree. Two starts to Christmas this year! Could I be any luckier?! I really don't think I could be!
Kitchen ready for Christmas
Window ornaments
Hanging stockings
Lighted present (made by Jonathan's grandma)
Pretty colourful tree

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The end of Nanowrimo

So remember that blog post I wrote at the end of October? The one where I said I'd take the Nanowrimo challenge and write an average of 1,666.66 words a day or 50,000 words in the month of November? Then there was that second post I wrote a week into November where I talked about taking breaks between writing. So you want to know the truth? OK, here it is. I tried. I tried really hard for about a day. Then I tried hard for another couple days. Then I just simply tried for the rest of the week. Then I stopped trying and just enjoyed November. And that was the best choice I could have made. Because in the whole month of November I wrote a total of 469 words of the novel I thought I would write. (Hey, that's almost a whole essay, right?) But I wrote a lot of other words. Words in e-mails, words in comments on other people's blogs, words on Facebook posts. And I did a lot of things. Came back from a trip to the southern states where I got to see family and friends I haven't seen for more than a year (or two). Cleaned a church member's house and yard almost from top to bottom in four days. Took more pictures than I care to go through of the family of three deer that frequent the yard. Drove to and from the Orono area several times where we're moving to for Jonathan to take his master's. Went to New Jersey with Jonathan and his mum over US Thanksgiving weekend to help his grandparents clean up their shore house from the damage it got during Hurricane Sandy. Helped Jonathan clean the chimney (actually, he did all the work, I just held on to the rope). Helped Jonathan hang Christmas lights on the house. And today, moved the first van-load of things up to our new apartment!

I don't think I could have done all those things and also written a novel. And I'm not really sad that I gave up on Nanowrimo because if I hadn't, I might not have been able to do all those things and more. Maybe I'll actually do Nanowrimo one year. Maybe I'll actually write a novel or a book or even just write up family stories some day. Maybe. But maybe not. At this point in time, I think I need to spend more time with people and less time with my computer. So I'm not sad that my 469 words didn't turn into a book this month. I got to embrace life in other ways and I want to keep on doing that. Nanowrimo, thanks for the challenge, but it wasn't quite what I needed this year. I'm so glad I started, though, to realize it wasn't my main priority.

Spreading Christmas cheer

Christmas is coming and I'm gearing up for all the coming cheer! I've made my Christmas list and my mind is dancing with gift ideas for my family. I just can't wait to get the gifts, wrap them, put them under that beautiful REAL LIVE Christmas tree, and see them unwrapped on Christmas morning.

But at the same time that visions of wonderfulness are filling my brain, I can't forget the others. Those people around the world who won't have snow and colourful Christmas trees and wrapped presents waiting impatiently for December 25. The people who don't even have all they need, let alone anything they want.

So while I get ready for my first Christmas back in North America again, I think of the past two Christmas seasons. The simple ones I shared with just one loved one instead of my whole family. The ones without trees and multitudes of presents, without excess. The ones that were even more abundant than what some people will ever experience. And I take a little bit of time to do something for those people. And you know, it's that little bit of time that makes this season a whole lot sweeter.

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." Acts 20:35b (NKJV)

Here are some ways you can join me in helping someone else this Christmas
Give a child in Tanzania a backpack and school supplies for $7 - Funds needed by December 10th
Pack a Operation Christmas Child box and donate the shipping costs - Needed by November 19th
Choose from a multitude of gift options on ADRA International's Gift Catalog
Buy an End it Now gift to help end violence against women and girls
Pick out a Christmas gift for a special person on your list from the International Children's Care shop or buy the ICC kids a much-needed item
Buy a cookbook written and designed by a Cradle of Love Baby Home volunteer to raise money for the orphanage and two other charities in Tanzania
Make gift baskets to give out to needy families in the community

How else are you helping someone in need this holiday season?

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Day of Remembrance

Okanagan Valley poppy ~ Photo by Glenda Quiring

Again. Another special holiday with many childhood-and-teenage memories flew past yesterday. Just a day in an ordinary week. But to me, it's another tiny hole in my heart. Another reminder that I've missed a small window for having experiences and making memories that I'll never have a chance to bring back again. Another failed promise to myself.

I looked back through this blog today. The second and third posts in my 'holidays' label are about Remembrance Day. The next year I was using a different blog for a class assignment, and on my Remembrance Day post on there I linked back to my post from the year before. And in the post I said, "So maybe next year I'll actually get to celebrate Remembrance Day again...who knows." And next year has become next year and then next year and so on and so on. Every year I make some kind of proclamation that next year I'll celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day at home or even just anywhere in Canada again. It hasn't happened yet. So I've slowly stopped saying it. This year I simply wrote on Facebook, "Some year I WILL be back in Canada for Remembrance Day. And some year I WILL spend Remembrance Day at Vimy Ridge." Some year. Not next year, but some year. I still have wants, wishes, dreams. But I don't know when they'll come true. So for now, I compile a list of things I want to do again, some day. And I hope that that day will come soon.

Poppies in our yard back home ~ Photo by Glenda Quiring

But I need to live a life filled with hope, not regret. So I'll forget about the tiny heart-holes and focus on the soon-to-come heart-filling. Right now, I'm looking forward with great anticipation for Christmas at home this year. Christmas with my family, my parents, siblings, husband, grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, friends. My first one at home in three years! Maybe I wasn't home for Canadian Thanksgiving or Remembrance Day this year, but come Christmas I'll be in that big pink house on Juniper Rd. that will be filled to the brim with my people. That will be delicious, and I can't wait to savour all the memories to come!

Friday, November 09, 2012

First snow

It's amazing how fast nature can change her clothes. On October 12 dots of soft white clouds peppered the aqua-blue sky, and the westward-edging sun sent a golden glow over the turning leaves outside my window. As soon as Jonathan got home from work I begged him to take the screen off the window so I could get a picture of the glorious fall scene.

Golden afternoon glow on the colourful leaves ~ Friday, October 12, 2012

When I got back from my southern-USA trip, the leaves had deserted the trees, and the woods behind the house looked more open, less dense. Then November 7 came along. The day was dull and Jonathan mentioned before he left for work that he thought it would snow in the evening. I didn't think much about his prediction until that night when Jonathan raced into the room crowing, "I just walked by the window and it's snowing!" I didn't bother trying to pull up the Venetian blinds on the window above my head, but dashed out of the room, Jonathan following close behind me, and tugged on the back door. It opened to a wintry world of flake-dust drifting down to cover the porch and the ground with its white blanket. Winter already?! I couldn't believe it. Winter comes early in Alberta and northern Ontario. Even in southern BC where I grew up, winter can arrive in early-to-mid November. But winter this early in Maine? It's so much farther south... I was definitely surprised that Jonathan's prediction came true, but at the same time, completely delighted.

Snowy morning ~ Thursday, November 8, 2012 (Photo by Jonathan G.)

The snow stayed all of Thursday, although driving rain off and on all day tried to melt it away. By today it was all gone. But that first snow-sighting, it was magical. For two seasons of winter I've been overseas. The only snow I saw two years ago in Tanzania rested on the far-off dome of Mt. Kilimanjaro and, on occasion, the jagged peak of Mt. Meru towering over the ADRA campus. Last winter in Korea we had changed our calendar over to December before the first snow arrived, but by then the weather was already bitterly chilly and the cover of snow on the ground was a relief. We experienced several good snowfalls that year, but I felt that all of them were tainted with the noise, hurry, and grime of the big city. So this year's first snow was special. The pure white covering of nature right outside my window thrilled my soul. Although the snow is gone now, I'm anxiously awaiting more, the kind of snowfall that sticks and stays. The kind that means winter is really here for good. The kind I haven't experienced for the past three years. I'm ready for a real winter this year. And Maine looks quite willing to deliver!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Inspiring photographs

Usually it's Jonathan who blogs about photography. I like photography, but it's not one of my hobbies or passions. But tonight, I feel compelled to mention a feast for the eyes that I have been enjoying recently.

For the past several days, whenever I'm trying to write something for NaNoWriMo all I can think of is "Why hasn't someone else (like my favourite Canadian young adult authors Jean Little, Kit Pearson, or Sarah Ellis) written this story already? I would LOVE to read what they have to write about this subject." And I've realized I would so much rather read my ideas in already-written story form than create the whole storyline myself. Writing a novel is completely exhausting. So I've been taking lots of breaks. And what have I been doing during those breaks? Why, looking at awe-inspiring pictures by photographers from around the world.

Paul Nicklen / Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

Before our recent Southern-USA Trip, my brother posted the message, "This should be right up your alley." on my mum's Facebook page with this link: Winners of the 2012 Wildlife Photographer of the Year. I clicked the link and was blown away by the amazing pictures as I scrolled through the post. In the few days I've been home, though, I've gone farther than that 'This is Colossal' post, and have looked through the full gallery online. If you're at all interested in photography or just enjoy seeing some really great wildlife pictures, I'd encourage you to do the same. (I'd love to post more of the pictures on here, but I'm not able to download them. You just have to go look yourself.) These photographs have inspired me in so many ways. I've especially appreciated the short write-ups about each picture. Where each photograph took place. How the picture came to be. How long the photographer took to carefully set up each shot. How quickly the perfect conditions disappeared, sometimes leaving the photographer with only one amazing shot that made all the trouble worth it. Each story and picture is so incredibly fascinating and inspiring!

Richard Peters / Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

Some of my favourite pictures were in the Young Awards category. Photographers, as young as 10 and under and up to 17 years old, submitted pictures and won awards for their work. They inspired me in a special way because I remember writing stories starting at nine years old. (I thought they were masterpieces; reading them now, I realize they were not.) But seeing something a young person creates, takes the time to think carefully about and loves into existence, that's impressive and I appreciate the efforts these young people have gone through with their photography.

All the galleries have set my travel-instinct alight again, and my soul is filled with desire to see the spectacular settings featured in each picture. But more than that, my heart is aching to do something similar to these noteworthy photographers. To set another person's soul ablaze with inspiration. To light a candle in someone's heart that leads them to learn more about something they're passionate about, to recover a forgotten hobby, to follow a long-lost dream. That's what I'm trying to work on this month with NaNoWriMo. Even if all I manage to create is a short story, a page, a paragraph that inspires someone else, it will all be worth it.

Some of the other great pictures I love (sorry, I just couldn't stop adding pictures):
'Porcupine watching' by Vladimir Medvedev (Russia)
'Last wild picture' by Steve Winter (USA)
'The tourist tiger trail' by Melisa Lee (Malaysia)
'Relaxation' by Jasper Doest (The Netherlands)
'Living on thin ice' by Ole Jørgen Liodden (Norway)
'Hare in a landscape' by Robert Zoehrer (Austria)
'Evening rays' by Claudio Gazzaroli (Switzerland)
'Midnight feast' by Thomas P Peschak (Germany/South Africa)
'Bumper life' by Pål Hermansen (Norway)
'Midnight snack' by Alexander Badyaev (Russia/USA)
'Aurora over ice' by Thilo Bubek (Germany)
'The great Maelifell' by Hans Strand (Sweden)
'City gull' by Eve Tucker (UK)

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Getting started

Remember how I said I was going to do NaNoWriMo this year and write 50,000 words in the month of November? Yeah, so do I. Want to know how many words I've written so far? OK, here it is: 0. ZERO?! Yes, exactly zero words written so far. November 1 was Thursday. That morning I said goodbye to my friend, Shae, and her adorable baby boy and spent the rest of the day driving from Orlando to Atlanta with a stop at the Tanger Outlets just south of Atlanta. I enjoyed watching the scenery change from flat Florida to cotton-covered southern Georgia to metropolis mid-Georgia. I had fun browsing stores that I haven't set foot in for more than a year. I ate more Olive Garden salad and bread sticks than I ever have before, while my family and I talked over the take-out boxes in our hotel room. And then the rest of them watched a Christian movie while I chatted with Jonathan online. It was late (or ummm, really early) when we all finally went to bed. So zero words written on November 1.

The next day didn't fare any better. We all woke up around 5 a.m., took the shuttle to the airport, got our boarding passes, and got through security before saying goodbye and heading to our separate terminals for our flights to Portland, Maine; Spokane, Washington; and Ottawa, Ontario. When I met Jonathan in Portland, we went to a few places, and then ate lunch at The Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro before driving back to Brunswick. I dozed off during the drive home and staggered into bed as soon as we arrived at the house in the mid-afternoon. I slept off and on for the rest of the evening and night, probably about 15 hours in total. No time for any writing in that haze of a day.

Saturday, November 3 went much the same way, writing-wise. Went to church and met my brother, Tyler, his girlfriend, Amanda, and her sister there. Ty's been visiting in Maine while the rest of my family has been hanging out in the south. The give of us hung out for the rest of the day, going for a hike after potluck, then coming back to the house for a small snack (that turned into a bigger snack as Jonathan and I kept finding more food to share with our visitors). Then we drove up to Amanda's grandparents' house for a game night and had a great time and lots more yummy food. Jonathan and I left at 11 p.m. and got back at 11:45. We headed right for bed after a quick stop to take out contacts (me) and brush our teeth.

So today is four days into this month-long writing challenge and here I am, sitting at my desk and staring out at the bare trees that were covered with leaves when I left Maine about a week and a half ago. And I still don't have anything more of a plot for the couple of story ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for several years. Not even a single word written down. Guess today's the day to actually get started. Here I go...