Well, first I must apologize for not keeping up with the journals. You know what they say about best laid plans. 

To be honest we’ve been really really busy. I’m not sure if this is a coping mechanism or just how things have worked out. But, either way we didn’t have a day over Christmas break where we didn’t have company or some commitment in town. 

I find myself thinking about all the things John has missed….or should I say the things we’ve taken part of or experienced without John. Skating competitions, student of the month, Christmas, and the list goes on and on. 

Traditions…..most people have them…I know a few who don’t love traditions….I could never understand that before but now I do. .I’m realizing now just how many traditions we had together

Over Thanksgiving we talked about Christmas and how we were going to handle the holidays. Gracie and I decided that we were still going to bake all our cookies/candies, decorate the tree and take a Christmas family picture. I didn’t bake one single thing. 

Thanksgiving came and went and there sat the tree. Each opportunity we had to put it up, I’d ask Gracie if she wanted to put it up. I was met with “I’m not ready mom” for weeks. 

My aunt Ginny flew in from California for a few days and while she was here we decided it could be put up. The placement of the tree had already been a discussion with John before he passed. John Dee loved Christmas! So he was already planning in November the tree spot in the new house, exactly which cookies he wanted (since he was really watching his sugar I had decided to not do all the varieties) and what he had on his Christmas list. 

We had planned to put it in the den and rearrange the space just a bit to make the tree fit. So I decided to check out the den around Thanksgiving and measure to see where everything would fit. But, when it came time to move the couch Gracie was visibly upset saying, “we can’t change the den”. When John broke his neck in September he was so limited. That’s when the nightly movie sessions began in the den with him and Gracie. OK so we won’t change the den around to make the tree fit. We can adjust.

My aunt and I decided on a nice spot in the living room and assembled the 20 year old tree while Gracie was at school. When she returned I was able to coax her into putting up the lights. That was once John’s job and in 2019 he taught Gracie the tricks to a nicely lit tree …squinting one’s eye to make sure every inch was covered with lights and all. About a ¼ of the tree was lit when Gracie decided she just couldn’t do it. The last few months have taught us many things, and one of them is not to sweat the small stuff. So we threw the rest of the lights on the tree and called it good. It wouldn’t be a green lit trunk and white lights adorning the tree this year, that’s ok. We had a tree up and that felt monumental. I’d like to tell you the tree was decorated with music playing and festive activities but not this year. There the tree sat….and sat…..for weeks. So I’d turn the lights on until one day it was simply too sad looking. I made the decision I was decorating this darned tree even if I had to do it alone. Which I did. And that was ok.

Our first Christmas as a couple was 2002 and I wasn’t living in the Keweenaw. John sent me a package with a note. The note talked about how he wanted to start a tradition of gifting each other ornaments every year. He said, “the good news is here is your first ornament. The bad news is now you need to go out and buy your man one”. So every year for 21 years we exchanged ornaments. Then when Gracie was added to the Dee clan, she would receive ornaments, including a Texas ornament we picked out before we were matched with her birthmom. The last few years Gracie started to give both John and I each an ornament. So we have alot of ornaments from our tradition that started in 2002. 

Some of you might be doing the math and thinking John passed away before Christmas so clearly that would be 20 years of exchanging.

When I returned from Rochester it took me many days to unload his suitcase. But, one day I just decided if that was the only thing I would do that day, it had to be done. So I turned on one of his favorite songs, Andrea Bocelli’s “Fall on Me” (yep…John started to love Andrea’s music when he was sick in 2021). I cranked it up, gave myself a good pep talk and unloaded his things. I decided that everything needed to be washed. It was then as I was putting his socks away that I opened the drawer and found a white box. My heart skipped a beat because I instantly knew he had already picked out my 2023 ornament. I opened the box and there was a wooden angel ornament. Never….ever…..were any of my previous 20 years of ornaments angels. The last tangible gift John gave me. 

Back to the sad undecorated tree. I knew the tree this year was to be filled with only our exchange ornaments. And filled it was. Filled with wonderful memories. The year John and Al won the golf tournament at Sandy pebbles, our first married Christmas, our new cabin, the year we both waited too long to pick out an ornament and were left scrounging for what we later would look back on as the ugliest ornament ever….. All these little treasures hanging on the tree. One thing I noticed was that once the tree was up and decorated I had a friend in the living room. The first Gracie has spent a significant amount of time in the living room since November. 

Christmas eve we went to a neighbors house for a gathering. I almost didn’t go because I decided to color my hair. Ha…there is a reason you shouldn’t make decisions with a sad heart. I figured it was safer than a tattoo at this point. And nothing a good hat couldn’t cover! 

Christmas morning we had decided to just have the two of us in the morning for presents. Gracie is so sweet that every year she’s always exclaiming, “dad you go…mom it’s your turn to open”! She’s so much like John that way. Loves to receive gifts but also loves to give and bring someone else joy. The afternoon my Aunt Phyllis and John’s brother Jim came over for a few hours and we did some crafts and puzzle building before heading over to a friend’s home to visit for a few hours. 

The 26th brought a deep sigh and the feeling of doing something really big…..relief. We had survived our first Christmas.  Sounds dramatic I know….but, that’s the truth. 

The week between Christmas and New Years was another busy one. The weather was crazy and beautiful. We decided one sunny day to go for a spin. Another tradition….driving the “loop”. We stopped at our friend’s place and took it all in … .Rabbit Bay, the big lake, the sunshine felt incredible! Gracie found herself exploring the beach and left behind a pile of beach glass for our friend Sally. Moments like this fill us up and keep us going. How could it be this sunny and mild on December 29th? Here’s a front yard shot from that morning

On New years eve we had invited our friends over to spend the night for new years. I secretly didn’t want the year to end. As terrible as it was, I didn’t want to start a new year without John. So when our little friend Milli asked if she could spend the night sometime, we thought this was the perfect opportunity. And I’m so glad we did. The kids had a great time. The moms had a great time. We had our traditional fireworks but this time we moved them out to the road. How cool to be in the middle of the road, black night sky and not see a single car. The kids loved it

As I type there are hopes for some snow in the forecast. I sure hope it happens. Not only for all of us snow lovers but for the business owners. I’ve noticed some trailers in town so the lack of snow hasn’t kept everyone away. Usually this time of the year the gas stations are full of sleds filling up, restaurants crowded. It’s a shame to see the area not bustling with folks. I sure hope things turn around. I’ll admit that this mild weather felt like such a gift. The sunshine is such a mood boost and not needing to worry about moving the snow. Sweet relief. 

You know what else is a mood boost? Friends! I have been blessed with THE best! Gracie was out of town for the night with robotics so I had a girlfriend come over for a girls night. Ladies, we need to normalize grown women sleep overs! I mean kids can do it, so why not right? 

I’ve had many coffee dates with one of my dearest and closest friends who either calls or texts me daily and has since November 14th. Another group of ladies came out for the day. We laughed, ate great food, went on a hike, and saw the big lake. Another friend invites us over to her home with her family at Christmas. I’m just so very thankful for all the ladies in my life! 

On another note the AL cam is back up and running. The outside plug seemed to be the issue. I promise I’m not losing it, but when I went over to the shop I said out loud, “OK John Dee help me figure this out”. I think the sunny heart is John’s sign that he was there helping me. 

My brother Joel and his Navy buddy Bryan were here just into the new year. It’s nice to have visits on the horizon and I was really looking forward to having the guys here. They did a few chores for me and I only cooked one meal. I felt a bit spoiled! The nights are still hard and I sleep better when I have my family around. 

As I finish this writing we did get snow! And lots of it. I’m so happy for the local business folks. Gracie and I were in Eagle River WI for the weekend for figure skating camp. While we were there we froze our hindends off, the web site went off line, passed the 2 month mark of John’s passing, Gracie passed her dance test, and we drove home in a snowstorm. The camp took place in the “Cube”. It was -1 on Sunday and the “Cube” was about the same temps! I think we are all still thawing out. It makes me so happy to see this smile on Gracie’s face. We make such great memories with our skating friends. When I rec’d word this morning that school was called off, it felt like such a gift. 

With no school today I knew I had to get out the tractor and do the first plow of the year. Let’s just say it took me 3 times the amount of time it would take John. That includes texting my neighbor to ask him questions along the way… to engage the auger on the snow thrower attachment being the most important. I had a feeling I’d forget something. I had to laugh when I rec’d the text back, “I’d recommend going in low speed only”….haha! I took his advice and all went well. It doesn’t look pretty but it’s a start. The biggest learning curve is keeping it close enough to the ground but not too close that rocks go flying. 

So here we are, a new year…..Our wish for you all is a year filled with great health, happiness and lots of time with those you love the most.