The theme for Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #180 is Favorite Images of 2021
The year 2021 was a roller coaster. There were many excitements because we could resume doing things after being restricted for a year or longer. Those moments seemed serene yet felt like wanting to shout for joy. Those were my favorite images of 2021.
My younger granddaughter was born on March 22, 2020. California reinforced the restriction on March 14. I canceled my flight at the last minute to be with my daughter for her childbirth. By March 2021, the restriction of traveling eased a little. We wanted to be there for Nora’s first birthday. I booked the flight with premium seats so that we didn’t have to pass by many passengers. We were so thrilled to see Nora for the first time.
We spent Mother’s Day with my daughter every year except the year 2020. In 2021, we were with my daughter for Mother’s Day and had a wonderful time having three generations of girls together.
The summer of 2021 was my first-time raising Monarch butterflies and there were some casualties, but 20 butterflies made it to adulthood.
I booked a trip to Banff, Canada in August for our anniversary, but the border was closed. I canceled the trip, and we went to Santa Barbara instead. It was the first long trip since Covid.
We also wanted to take day trips to the beaches, but many beaches were closed during the pandemic. We eventually made a trip to Laguna Beach in September.
We missed Autumn’s 3rd birthday in 2020 but we were excited to go to Autumn’s 4th birthday party in September last year.
Last but not the least, we had a white Christmas with my daughter’s family and had fun watching the grandkids playing in the snow and making a snowperson in the backyard. Autumn helped to put the pebbles on to make the eyes and buttons and put the carrot on for the nose. Nora gave the snowperson a big hug.
There are three more hours in the year 2021 PST. I’m writing this post torecap our Christmas.
My daughter Mercy is my only daughter. When she was a small child, she received Christmas presents from us as parents and from her paternal grandparents. She also received presents from a few of our friends. Most of my family members are in Hong Kong and they don’t have the tradition of sending Christmas presents. In another word, there were few presents for Mercy to open. Her paternal grandparents sent one large present and several stocking presents. I did the same thing–had some large presents, and several small presents. Mercy had fun opening all the presents even though they were not from many people.
This Christmas, my husband and I spent Christmas with my daughter’s family. My granddaughters received so many presents from grandpa and grandma, aunts and uncles, parents’ friends. They opened some on the morning of Christmas day. We had to ask the girls to take a break, then opened some more in the afternoon. It took longer for the younger one, Nora, to open hers. She had to open some of them the day after Christmas.
Last year, when Autumn was three, she wanted to play with the new toys right after she opened them. It took longer for her to open all of them. This year, she wanted to keep opening them. It took longer for the two-year-old Nora to take off the wrapping paper. After she took the wrapping paper off, she had fun playing with the paper.
Several presents from Amazon came with gift bags tied with strings. Mercy and her husband Will only helped the girls to loosen the knots but let them untie the strings. The girls were eager to open the bags to see what they were inside. At some point, there were three pairs of hands trying to get a hold of the knot. Autumn was good at helping her little sister to open the bags but let Nora take out the presents.
The adults were sitting on the couches and on the floor while Autumn went under the Christmas to take out the presents. She handed the presents to the individuals to open them. For a while, the living room was full of wrapping paper, strings, bags, and boxes. New clothes unfolded and toy boxes opened. The excitement and laughter filled the entire house. During the lunch break, Mercy and I picked up the wrapping paper for recycling.
Whenever we visit my daughter, I offer to put Autumn to bed. On three nights, she asked me to read her five books, then colored four pages on her coloring books. The night before we left, Mercy and Will went on a date night. Autumn asked me to read ten books to her. I told her we wouldn’t have time to do coloring, and she was okay with it.
My husband, Lynton, and I arrived in Portland on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. It snowed overnight. We woke up to a blanket of snow on Christmas day.
After we opened the Christmas presents in the morning, they put on snowsuits and snow boots. My husband and I only had regular pants and boots on. There is a school across from Mercy’s house and we walked to the school playground to play in the snow. By the time we got there, some kids with their parents were there already. There is a slope from the upper playground to the field below. Kids and adults had fun going down the slope in their sleds. After they got home, they built a snowman in the backyard.
I didn’t do it on Christmas day because I didn’t want to get wet. But I went down on the sled the next day because it may not have a white Christmas next year.
It continued to snow for several more days. Many airlines canceled the flights to and from Seattle and Portland. They canceled hundreds of flights two days before we left. We have scheduled to leave on December 29th. We wouldn’t know if our flight was on time until the morning. I woke up every two hours to check the flight schedule, and the airline showed it was on time.
We had to leave around 6:00 a.m. I tried to call Lyft ride services to take us to the airport. I didn’t get a response for half an hour. Finally, one driver accepted the request and said he could pick us up in 19 minutes. It was reasonable, so I confirmed the request. When 19 minutes was up, there was another message showing the driver would be there in 21 minutes. We couldn’t wait any longer or we would have missed the flight. I woke up my son-in-law Will and let him know the situation. He got dressed in less than 5 minutes and took us to the airport.
What an exciting trip and fun Christmas we had. As soon as we came home, I booked our next trip to see them in six weeks.
“O Holy Night” (also known as “Cantique de Noël”) is a well-known Christmas carol.
Back in 1843, in a small French town, Roquemaure, a man named Placide Cappeau was known more for his talent at writing poetry. A priest asked him to write a poem for Christmas Mass. He took his request seriously. Placide Cappeau began thinking about the birth of Jesus. With that inspiration, he wrote “Cantique de Noel.”
Placide was so pleased with how the poem came out that he decided it needed to be a song. Since he was a poet but not a musician, he turned to a friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, to see if he would set his poem to music. Adolphe was a famous classical musician who had composed many works all around the world, but he agreed to come up with music for his friend’s poem.
In 1843 or 1847, according to two different sources, he composed music to go with the beautiful words, and the song was performed a few weeks later at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
The song was premiered in Roquemaure in 1847 by the opera singer, Emily Laurey.
In 1855, an American writer, John Sullivan Dwight, saw something in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name, all oppression shall cease.” This verse mirrored Dwight’s view of slavery in the South. He published his English translation of “O Holy Night” in his magazine, and the song quickly found favor in America, especially in the North, during the Civil War.
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Our church performed the Christmas Concert one year. “O Holy Night” was one of the songs at the concert. I was privileged to sing this piece. As part of the concert, I sang the first verse of the song. A friend sent me the mp3 of the music and I made it into a video.
I want to thank Robbie Cheadle, who inspired me to make this video. When I posted the information about my Messiah performance last year, she mentioned she would like to hear me sing.
I also want to thank Diane Wallace Peach, who created the trailer for my poetry book, Song of Heartstrings: Poems of Gratitude and Beatitude. She inspired me to use PowerPoint to create to presentation and insert the music to create this video.
Staci Troilo invited us to have a Virtual Cookie Exchange and share our recipes on Thursday, December 16, 2021. My recipe, along with many recipes from the friends in this blogging community will be there. Please be sure to visit her tomorrow when she shares all the goodies with you.
My husband used to have a sweet tooth. I don’t bake cookies for him anymore because he is watching out for the sugar intake.
During the last two visits to my daughter’s family, I made cookies for the grandkids. I made chocolate chip cookies with M&Ms on top. Autumn doesn’t have those cookies regularly. She doesn’t do many things regularly such as watching two movies in a row, only when grandma is there (I tried so hard not to be a grandma who spoils the grandkids)!
Hubby and I will be visiting the grandkids for Christmas. I wanted to make some cookies for them. I wanted to make some chewy cookies, so they’ll stay soft until we get there. These are oat, fruit, and nut cookies.
I did a variation on the ingredients. Let me talk a little about the ingredients first.
Vegetable Shortening – I used vegetable shortening instead of butter. Butter contains milk solids, fat, and water. Butter can cause steaming while baking which can dry out the cookies. Vegetable shortening is made up entirely of fat that melts at a higher temperature which gives the cookie batter more time to rise.
Egg yolks – I double the egg yolks and omit the white of each egg which tends to dry out when baking.
Brown sugar – I used all brown sugar with no white sugar. Brown sugar contains more moisture. You can use half white and half brown sugar.
Nuts – I used mostly pecan for nuts because they are softer.
Temperature – I baked in 325o F instead of 350o F.
Here are the photos of the baking. The recipe is below.
Oat, Fruit, and Nut Cookies Recipe
Prep: 25 minutes
Bake: 10 – 12 minutes
Stand: 1 minute
Total: 36 – 38 minutes
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
½ cup vegetable shortening (or butter)
⅔ cup packed brown sugar (or half brown and half white)
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 egg yolks (or 2 eggs)
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup dried mixed fruit bits, dried cranberries, raisins: and dried apricots, snipping the large pieces
¾ cup chopped walnuts and pecans
Step 1 In a large mixing bowl beat vegetable shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat on medium speed until combined. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla until combined.
Step 2 Sift in flour gradually and beat with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon. Stir in oats, mixed fruit bits, and nuts.
Step 3 Roll dough by hand into balls and place them 2 inches apart onto a greased cookie sheet.
Step 4 Bake in a 325°degree F oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let cookies stand on the cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Christmas is an annual festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25th each year. Christmas is both a religious and cultural celebration observed by billions of people around the world, both Christian and non-Christian.
The observance of Christmas occurs in 160 countries worldwide and celebration varies by country. Some countries celebrate on Christmas Day or December 25th. Australia, New Zealand, Bolivia, South Africa, Argentina, and Madagascar celebrate Christmas in another month other than December.
Christmas celebrations around the world can vary greatly in Christmas traditions. They usually involve setting up a Christmas tree with lights, hanging Advent wreaths and stockings, candy canes. Churches and families set up nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Families also send out Christmas cards, exchange gifts, and prepare a Christmas feast to share with their family or their extended families.
I have practiced the following traditions most of the years or done it in a different way as time changed in the recent years.
1. Send Christmas Cards or Letters
I wrote a Christmas letter one year to print it on the Christmas stationery. After that, I switched to sending photos. I picked photos that represented the major activities or events of that year and included descriptions of them. The first couple of years, I made a collage of photos with Publisher, saved it as Jpeg, made 5”x7” prints to send them out. Then I switched again to order the 5”x7” Christmas cards from Costco. For the last two years, I ordered two-sided cards.
2. Exchange gifts
My husband came from a large family. In the early years, instead of giving gifts to everyone, members of the extended family drew a name to be the receiver of the gift. The members of the immediate family, of course, exchanged gifts on their own. I bought gifts for my immediate family and wrapped them and put them under the tree. For the last five to seven years, I no longer bought gifts to send to my daughter’s family. Instead, I asked them what they would like to have for Christmas, then ordered them on Amazon, Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, REI, or Sierra. The stores sent the gifts directly to them. If the clothes, shoes, or other items are not exactly right, they would return them, and I would order the right size until they’re happy with them. I don’t wrap Christmas gifts anymore.
3. Have a Christmas Dinner
Our extended family used to have the Christmas dinner on Christmas day around 1:00 p.m. After dinner, some members would go to visit their in-laws from another part of the town, or another state. After the children are grown and married, most of the members spend Christmas with their grown children and grandchildren. We don’t meet as a large family.
I have been going to Portland, Oregon for many years to spend Christmas with my daughter’s family and enjoy our time with the grandkids.
4. Advent/Christmas Countdown Activities
One friend brought a 2’x2’ wooden Advent calendar with drawers to a women’s meeting to share her tradition with us. She used this calendar for years during the growing-up years of her kids. She had age-appropriate activities for her four children. Another friend who was a teacher brought a 2D calendar to share what she did for her second-grade class for many years. Ideas such as filling 24 drawers with notes, candy, small toys, or keeping special ornaments in each box! For a 2D calendar, each day can be a window that opens to show the activity for that day.
5. Decorate a Christmas Tree
We’ve had a Christmas tree almost every year ever since we live in a house. We only have the artificial tree, though. When I first decorated a tree, I covered the entire tree with garlands and ornaments. Several years ago, my daughter inspired me to do it with minimal decorations. I like it. It leaves so much room to show the green. My daughter and her husband pick their tree either from the national forest or tree farm. People can get a permit from Recration.gov to purchase a permit. It cost $5 for a permit of each tree plus $2.5 for the online processing fee charged by the website.
I think they got their tree from a tree farm this year. Autumn and Nora had a great time helping to pick one.
6. Start a Holiday-Themed Collection
My sister-in-law collects snowmen. She hosts Thanksgiving dinner for many years. She put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving to make the event festive. She decorated the entire house with snowmen, from ornaments to wall hangings, stuffed snowmen, snowman candles, to a ten feet tall figure. I collected Santa, angels, and nutcrackers, but didn’t go too far before I stopped.
7. Attend a Christmas show or see The Nutcracker Ballet
I have done both. We bought the season tickets to see the Broadway shows at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater for many years. The Christmas show is always a heartwarming story of Mr. and Mrs. Santa. The last song is an invitation for all the kids to come on the stage with the help of the elves. Mr. and Mrs. Santa would pick the youngest kids to sit on their laps when they sing the last song.
When I was teaching, I took my students to see The Nutcracker ballet every year as one of my field trips. I teamed with another class to go to share the cost of the school buses. I also took my daughter to the theater to see The Nutcracker. When I stopped going to see it in the theater, my daughter and I still watched the DVD at home.
On Saturday, December 11, 2021, my daughter Mercy took her older daughter, Autumn, to see The Nutcracker. They’ll start a new tradition.
8. Watch a Christmas Movie
My favorite Christmas movies are White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Polar Express. There are many newer Christmas movies. I don’t watch too many movies and I like these old ones so much that I seem to watch the same ones all the time.
9. Visit Christmas Lights, before or after Christmas
Since 1932, each house on Peacock Lane – Christmas Street, in Southeast Portland Oregon, has been decorating for Christmas. The residents of Peacock Lane are happy to share that they will display their lights from December 15th – December 31st. For safety reasons, the Portland Police may shut down the Lane to motor vehicle traffic. My husband and I joined my daughter’s family to stroll up and down Peacock Lane one year. Each house had themed light decorations. The address is SE Peacock Lane, Portland, OR 97214.
For the last four years, except in 2020, my husband and I went to Newport Beach to take a cruise to watch the Christmas Boat Parade.
10. Build a Gingerbread House
One year, our church fellowship group had the Christmas catering dinner at a retirement facility. Every year the chef starts months before the season to use his own time to build the Gingerbread Village. He built one house at a time, and the trees, the decorations, and put them in the freezer. Right after Thanksgiving, he would set up the village and add the operatable train. The residents and visitors admired this creation with wonder.
My daughter built a Gingerbread house with Autumn. I know many families do this activity with their kids.
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You may have practiced some Christmas traditions for years, but you no longer keep them because of life changes. You may still keep some, or you want to start a new one. How about traditions your parents had? How about traditions your grown children have with their families?
Please describe them and share them with us in the comments. Thank you!
In November, I took a semi-blogging break to quiet my spirit and be mindful of all things I am grateful for – big and small. I also spent more time with my family. It is mind-boggling to see things fall into place in an amazing way. I couldn’t have orchestrated them any better no matter how well I organized them.
In the second part of the Thankfulness post. I focused on two such amazing things.
The Glitz started 30 years ago. It’s the annual event for our church fellowship group. The purpose is to raise funds to gift the Christmas gifts to several of our class-sponsored missionaries.
We’ve tried to make the fundraising evening fun while doing the silent auction and verbal auction a pleasure. Until several years ago, class members signed up to set up and decorate a table of six. The rest of the members came in the event’s evening and joined hosts of the tables. Some people decorated their tables with the best China. We dressed up in the festive spirit. It was a glamorous evening second to the Christmas party. I decorated a table for many years.
Members offered game nights, breakfast, items to sell for the silent auction. More elaborate items, such as a weekend at a vacation condo, or a steak dinner at a restaurant, were for bidding at the verbal auction.
In 2018, I offered my book Songs of Heartstrings to sell and raised about $400. In addition, I bid for events and purchased silent auction items.
Because of the pandemic, our class didn’t meet in person for the last three years. On the night of Glitz, 2021, we texted or email to pledge our donations. I published my children’s book, Tina Lost in a Crowd, in April 2021 and offered to sell the book for fundraising. The first in-person meeting was right after the Glitz. The leadership asked me to bring in the book to pass around, let people look at the book, and make their orders.
People were excited about meeting in person again. The attendance at the first two meetings was very good. I had people order the book during the meetings. Again, I raised about $400. Yay! It benefits the missionaries, and many children will be reading the book this Christmas! How exciting! (The attendance slowed down after these two meetings because people were on the road meeting with families for Thanksgiving.)
I was thankful that people were enthusiastic about my book, even though some of them don’t have young grandkids. Several individuals told me they bought the book to give away as Christmas gifts to the little ones.
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My first performance of Messiah was when I was in Hong Kong. It’s my favorite Christmas music.
After I came to the US, I sang it several times in the 1990s.
I didn’t sing it again until 10 years ago. I’m currently a member of a Messiah group with members who have sung with the same group for 40 years.
Because of the pandemic, we didn’t perform in 2020 and 2021. I was somewhat disappointed. But I received a group email on November 21 about a Messiah sing-along in the following week. I was so excited. I called my friend who is in the Messiah group to give her the information. She wanted to go. We made the car pulling arrangement to Richard Nixon’s Library on the day of the performance. We sang our hearts out. One other friend joined us at the concert.
What a wonderful way to start my Christmas season!
This year, my husband and I cancelled our trip to be with my daughter’s beautiful family. I know this social distancing is a temporary condition.
The State of California is in a worse than ever situation at the present. Many hospitals ran out of ICU beds. The news on Saturday, December 19, said that if someone had an accident or heart attack, the hospitals may not treat them because there were no rooms in the ER. Many families will suffer the losses of their loved ones to this horrible disease. We remember them in our thoughts and prayers.
The United States on Monday, December 14 administered the first shots of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to health-care workers, marking a pivotal moment in the country’s long march to bring the virus under control. Initial shipments of the second vaccine Moderna authorized in the U.S. left a distribution center Sunday, December 20 and the first shots were administered on Monday, December 21. About 20 million of people in the US will receive vaccination by the end of the year. Combining the two vaccines, there will be 400 million shots for 200 million people available by the end of July 2021. Help is on the way!
We look forward to a better, healthier, brighter, and shiner 2021!
Here are two more of my favorite Christmas music.
Winchester Cathedral Choir performed For Unto Us a Child Is Born from Handel’s Messiah
O Holy Night. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir
Stay safe and enjoy your beautiful holidays wherever you are!
Winter solstice 2020, the shortest day of the year and the official start of winter, is on Monday, December 21.
The science and timing behind a winter solstice
The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the sun appears at its most southerly position and the beginning of summer, whereas in the Southern Hemisphere in places such as Argentina, Australia, and South Africa. There, the December solstice marks the longest day of the year.
What causes the winter solstice to even happen?
Because the Earth is tilted on its rotational axis, we experience seasons here on Earth. As the Earth moves around the sun, each hemisphere experiences winter when it’s tilted away from the sun and summer when it’s tilted toward the sun.
Many cultures and religions celebrate a holiday — whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or pagan festivals — that coincides with the return of longer days.
Ancient peoples whose survival depended on a precise knowledge of seasonal cycles marked this first day of winter with elaborate ceremonies and celebrations. Spiritually, these celebrations symbolize the opportunity for renewal, a shedding of bad habits and negative feelings and an embracing of hope amid darkness as the days once again begin to grow longer.
Many of the ancient symbolsand ceremonies of the winter solstice live on today or have been incorporated into newer traditions.
On the night of December 21, the two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, are coming closer together than they have been since the Middle Ages. They appear so closely aligned in our sky that they will look like a double planet. This close approach is called a conjunction. It’s happening just in time for Christmas — hence the nickname of the “Christmas Star.”
Through December 25, they will become even cozier. Look for the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction low in the western sky for about an hour after sunset each evening during this time.
How to watch?
“On the evening of closest approach on December 21 they will look like a double planet, separated by only 1/5th the diameter of the full moon,” Hartigan said. “For most telescope viewers, each planet and several of their largest moons will be visible in the same field of view that evening.”
While these two planets may appear close, they are still hundreds of millions of miles apart, according to NASA.
Live events around the conjunction
If you miss this conjunction and want to see the planets with the same proximity, just higher in the sky, it won’t happen until March 15, 2080 — and then not again until after 2400.
In case weather conditions in your area aren’t agreeable to witnessing this celestial event, several livestreams will be available.
The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, will host a program beginning at 7 p.m. ET, showcasing live views through its telescopes. The stream will be on the observatory’s YouTube page.
The Virtual Telescope Project in Rome will also share live views on its website.
This week, as we are approaching the end of 2020, Amy invited us to share some of the precious moments we have had, before or during the pandemic.
I love travel. I know I won’t return to many places I had been and always treasure the experiences of being there and seeing those places. Yet if I must choose between travel and spend time with family and friends, I choose the latter. It is the relationship that makes the moments precious.
Our family photo which was taken in 2006. One young girl on the left got married a few years ago and now has a baby daughter. The other one on the left just got married last month. The three little ones are in college. Lynton’s dad, second from the right, died 12 years ago.
Eight years ago, we took our family trip to China and stopped by Hong Kong to see my family. Seven of us were in the middle of this photo, with my siblings and their families on the left and right sides. Will’s mom (behind Will, in green) died three years after the trip. My sister, third from right, died last year when we were in Hong Kong for my nephew’s wedding.
This is a group of my lovely lady friends celebrating Christmas in 2019. We missed each other tremendously.
“The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.” — Elisabeth Foley
Many of my friends and I were in this chorale last year singing in the annual performance of Messiah. The past weekend would have been the usual schedule for the performance. It didn’t happen this year.
“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” – George Moore
This precious photo was taken with my daughter Mercy and granddaughter Autumn last year. We cancelled our trip this year because the Covid cases were worse than when it started.
When I was teaching, my Christmas field trip was taking the students to watch the stage performance of The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. After I left the classroom, instead of driving to see the performance, I kept the tradition by watching The Nutcracker movie at home.
All the ballet pieces in The Nutcracker are beautiful. I chose two versions of the following dance.
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker (The Royal Ballet 2017) 2:39 minutes
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker (Bolshoi Ballet 2010) 3:31 minutes, the dance finished at 2:47 minutes