Mixed Memories And Our Traveling Tree

Someone asked me if we were decorating for Christmas a few days ago when I was sitting on a stool in our village pub. I responded with an enthusiastic yes, but acknowledged that the house was a bit of a mess and the tree was unfinished. I went on to say that John had dug up our Christmas tree from the front of the house and moved it inside after putting it in a pot.

Living Christmas Tree, Digging Up A Christmas Tree

Even though we’ve known each other for almost four years, this will only be our second Christmas in the house together. I wrote a couple of posts about our first Christmas and the tree in the posts from then is the same one you see here.

I stayed up late last night to put the rest of the ornaments on it so that I could tidy the room and but the box away that holds the Christmas lights and ornaments. Notice how I said, ‘the box’ not boxes? There was a time when I would unpack loads of Christmas decorations for the house and tree, but after moving to the UK, it all fits in one medium-sized box.

The effect of having less decorations for the tree and house makes the holiday season more fun and I’m less rushed to get everything out quickly and assembled. This makes it easier to linger over the memories that come up for me when I unwrap the ornaments.

This year, I was impressed by how many ornaments we already have from our travels together. Most of what hangs on the tree came with me when I moved to Cornwall, but since John and I married in 2009, we’ve managed to pick up quite a few more.

Paris Letter 1862, Christmas TreeThis ornament made from letter written in 1862 reminds me of our honeymoon in Paris. It was a gift from my dear friend David in Atlanta. He sent me home with another carefully wrapped wooden hummingbird when I was in Atlanta for the summer and it was one of the first ornaments I put on the tree this year.

Wooden Hummingbird Christmas Ornament, Crocheted Snowflake, Christmas TreeHere’s the hummingbird along with a crocheted snowflake that my step-mom Cullene gave me from her tree. It’s one of three she gave me that remind me of home. When I put these on the tree I can picture her washing, starching, and ironing the ton of snowflakes that she hangs on her own.

Kiwi Christmas Ornament The Kiwi came home with us from our New Zealand trip last year. It was difficult to find a Kiwi ornament that was not bejeweled and overdone.

New Zealand Sheep Christmas OrnamentThis New Zealand sheep was handmade by a woman in a yarn store in Christchurch and is my favorite of the two we brought back.

Wreath From Kansas Wheat

It’s funny how many ornaments are actually gifts from other people such as this one my sister Margaret gave me of a wreath made from Kansas wheat.

Santa In A GondolaCullene brought this glass blown ‘ Santa in a Gondola ‘ back from Venice. My own stop in Venice was a quick trip to change trains on my way to Greece in 1981 so I’ve not really been there yet myself.

These two are from Scotland, a place I love no matter how rough the weather.

I carried thistle in my wedding bouquet when John and I married.

This came from a trip I took with Miranda to Alaska in 1986 to meet my nephew Sam when he was born. I made this from a key chain that I bought when John and I did the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2008. I thought the St Bernard was a good reminder of our long walk through the Alps. These three combine the land of my birth in America with my new home in England. Miranda and I bought the guard and the Westminster Abby ornaments on our first trip to the UK in 2003. I could not have imagined the life change five years later that would have me living here.

This one is from a trip to Bali which was the longest flight I’d ever been on until flying to Australia and New Zealand last November.

Some ornaments look rather ordinary, but remind me of my resilience such as the one from Aspen, a place where I went snowshoeing only ten days after major surgery. Not the smartest thing I know, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without an attempt.

This one reminds me of my military service and my memories of jeep driving in Grafenwoehr, Germany.

This Christopher Radko ornament reminds me of people living with HIV and the good folks who provide care for them.

This one has a story too long to tell in a blog post, but it makes me smile to see it.

A bird in a nest for John who has increased both my knowledge and appreciation for birds in ways I would not have imagined. The penguin in the background is was a gift from a sweet woman I met when I first worked in HIV. Annie works in Hospice and is the kind of person you’d like by your bedside at the end of your days.

Butterflies always remind me of my dear friend Marty who had a conversation with me before he died while standing next to his butterfly garden that changed my life.

My favorite ornaments are those made by my daughter Miranda as she was growing up. I love the simplicity of the hand colored one above and the sweet one below with her little fingerprints made when she was only two.

 I made the bear angel that sits on top of our tree for Miranda’s first Christmas 24 years ago when she was a few months old. She had a bear theme in her bedroom and I carried it over to the tree that year with bear ornaments and bear garlands. I didn’t plan on it being a forever tree topper, but it’s so connected with her that I love seeing it there every year.

The same person who asked if I was decorating for Christmas also asked me if our tree had a theme and I said that was really just a mix of ornaments and not one based on color or anything else with a common element. Thinking about her question later, I think there is a theme to our tree and it’s more than just travel and pretty colors.

Our tree is a live, slightly lop-sided one that is also recycled in that we keep digging it up. It’s covered with a collection of ornaments that are there because they mean something and it feels to me like a way to have people I love around me at Christmas if only in memory of other moments we shared with together.

An English - American Living Room At ChristmasHere’s what it looked like a few minutes ago. If you’d like to share a link to your tree or any other decorations you have this time of year, feel free to leave a comment and a link below.

Dancing Lessons In The Great Hall In Christchurch

Walking into the building known as the Great Hall, in what was formerly part of The University of Canterbury in Christchurch, I saw a girl onstage doing what appeared to be a ballet jump. She paused for a second when I came in with my camera, but went back to her leaping after I encouraged her not to let me interrupt her dance.

I took photos with and without flash and became frustrated when I could not get the shot just right. You’d think that I would have studied the instruction manual from front to back before going on a seven week trip to New Zealand, but even after having had the camera for three months, I was not ready when an opportunity presented and I struggled to capture her leaping in a way that I thought showed her delight in what she was doing.

I shifted focus to take a couple of photographs of the opposite side of the room and saw that like many of the buildings being used as part of the Christchurch Arts Centre, this one was still being repaired from damage sustained during the September 2010 earthquake.

Turning back to the stage, I noticed the man now in the picture and spoke to him long enough to confirm that he was her father and that it was alright for me to take her photograph. She had given me permission earlier, but I wanted to be sure it was okay with him as well.

We spoke briefly about the beauty of Christchurch, how they were Americans on holiday too and how we both wished we had more time to explore the city. While we talking, his daughter never stopped practicing her dance steps and when I left a minute or so later, she was still leaping through the air.

Reviewing my photos later, I decided the blurred images of her body as she practiced might be a lesson for me, a reminder of just what it takes to perfect a skill.

Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

~ Martha Graham

Updates And Answers From Christchurch

If you read the post I wrote about the terrible earthquake in Christchurch, then you will know that I was hoping to hear some news about the welfare of the woman in the photograph below. I met Vanessa Hardy in Christchurch two months ago and was worried after seeing pictures of the devastation in an area near her shop, Tete-A-Tete.

With no way to get in touch, I checked the internet for news of her or her partner, Warren Chilton and I waited. Coming home this evening after going out for dinner, I was so relieved to see a kind reader had sent me a link to a newspaper article where Vanessa was talking about her experience during and after the quake.

I was also happy to have an email response this morning from Peter from Fortuna Books letting me know that he and his staff were safe as well.

It’s difficult to see my photographs of the city taken before this earthquake especially when the landscape looks so different now. I hope they continue to find survivors and thanks to all who have taken a moment to leave a comment here over the last two days. I hope New Zealanders can feel the love and concern flowing round the world and I appreciate all who have shared their thoughts.

Between The Earthquakes In Christchurch

John Winchurch In Christchurch, New Zealand

Waking this morning to the news of another earthquake in Christchurch, I searched the internet and was sad to see the loss of lives during this most recent quake. When John and I were in Christchurch two months ago there were still many signs of the previous earthquake in September. Our hotel was right around the corner from the cathedral that was hit so hard yesterday in the center of Christchurch. Pictures of the 110 year old ChristChurch cathedral are everywhere showing the collapsed spire and roof damage and I wanted to share with you what it looked like when we were there in December, only nine days before Christmas.

I loved the angels which I imagine were up for the Christmas season.

Also near our hotel was this older building which housed several shops where I enjoyed meeting the owners and making a few purchases. I hope the people I met survived the earthquake.

I searched for them online, but could not find an email link to one in particular. Vanessa Hardy has a wonderful shop in the green building above and I wish I could find a way to see if she and her shop, Tete-a-Tete made it safely through the quake. I had hoped to write about her earlier, but I have not had time to write about my New Zealand experience since we returned so it is only now that I am taking a minute to tell you about her. I bought one of my favorite new (to me) scarves in her shop and we shared our stories about how we met our lovely men. I stayed so long that I had a chance to meet her sweetie, Warren Chilton when he arrived just before closing time.

I also bought the book above in a bookstore on site, Fortuna Books. It feels like a strange coincidence that I happened to be reading that book last night when I went to sleep.

Judging by the time difference, I was reading about pioneer women in New Zealand when Christchurch was breaking up. I pulled it off the bookshelf late last night choosing it over the three or four books already on my bedside table. I had been reading a book of short stories by Tobis Wolf, but last night felt like reading this one instead.

Strange, but true … it feels kind of woo-woo to me now, but John would say it was just chance.

I sent an email off to the bookstore owner and hope to hear all is well in the building since I can’t find a way to check on Vanessa. If one of my New Zealand readers hears any news, I would appreciate knowing that Vanessa and those around her in the other shops in the Green building made it safely through the earthquake.

ChristChurch Cathedral - Christchurch, New Zealand

Dinner For Two At Lake Tekapo

Okay … so it wasn’t really dinner for two. We had dinner lakeside at Lake Tekapo last night with a large group of folks who all pitched in making a big cookout for about forty people. I made my grandmother’s potato salad with John’s help (tons of chopping) and we had a lot of compliments even though it was missing a couple of ingredients.

Here are a few our dinner companions post meal and cleanup waiting for a little Hokey-Pokey ice cream for dessert. Hokey-Pokey is said to be a favorite flavor of travelers through New Zealand and I have definitely become a fan.


We’ve just arrived in Christchurch where I am posting this now from an outdoor café. This is our last stop before we fly to Auckland to spend a couple of nights before leaving for Christmas with my family in Atlanta. It’s been a wonderful trip and Christchurch looks at first glance as if it has enough charm to continue adding to the memories we’ve been busy making.