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Seaside Christmas Traditions or Shannon goes crazy at Christmas


Over the years my little family of 8, now 8 plus spouses and 9 grandkids have lived in a little town called Seaside about a block from the Pacific Ocean. When the sun shines, family visits us, coming in and out like the tide.  Then in winter snowy mountain passes keep visitors away.

I want to share some of our Seaside Christmas traditions with you. As a young mother, I wanted my kids to have great Christmas memories and so I chose a few traditions we have maintained over the years. These silly traditions are now part of the glue that brings us back together each year.

Christmas on the Coast

Christmas pajamas from the Elves:

Christmas pajamas from the elves is a tradition I borrowed from my belove Aunt Joann Sappenfield. On Christmas Eve the elves “magically” deliver new pajamas to the kids. They put them in their stockings. This is a brilliant tradition for two important reasons.

  1. The kids get all excited about the most practical gift I buy them – Pajamas!
  2. The kids look great in all the family movies and early morning pictures. When my son Joseph grew to 6 feet tall at age 10 he was sleeping in a onesie with the feet and arms cut off. Boy! I was so happy to see him in pajamas that fit Christmas morning.

Treat Tables

Early in the morning on Christmas Eve I sneak downstairs and set up 4 or 5 little tables around the house. I decorate them all with bright Christmas colors. I make a batch of cinnamon rolls and keep them on the kitchen table.

  • One table has hot Wassil or my recipe for “Stephanie’s Cider,” in the crock pot with mugs.
  • My favorite table has my great aunts Chex mix by the gallon with paper cups.
  • There is a table with veggies and dip, cheese balls and summer sausage.
  • Then I mix in some small tables with homemade sugar cookies, peanut brittle, fudge, and other treats.

The gift to my kids is a whole day and a half without me telling them what to eat or when to eat. The gift to me is letting go. Paper everything and no dishes. The house is ready for friends to stop by and the kids all get their favorites.

Stephanie’s Cider:

  • 1/2 Gallon Apple Cider
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon Allspice
  • dash of cinnamon

Simmer for 20 min – place in crock pot on warm with floating orange slices

The Nativity

On Christmas Eve we open the packages from Grandma Bev and Granpa Jeff, but not before we are grateful. Annually, we dress up in sheets, towels, and wings to act out the Nativity. I wish I could say I sewed amazing costumes, or that we sang in harmony, but this is a Seaside Christmas and we spend our money on wetsuits and kayaks – not costumes.

As the years passed, everyone settled into their roles. Now new generations join in and we have to get creative. A few years ago I heard one of the kids tell the missionaries who were celebrating with us, the only role left was a donkey. And so she rode him around with her doll as Baby Jesus.

The Symonds are a silly bunch, who laugh a lot when they are together. However, year after year, even the toughest of the Symonds can’t help but feel the spirit when we read the Nativity. Even if we wear old sheets and towels. It truly is the greatest story ever told and our testimony brings the brightest spirit to our paupers play.

From Blessings

After our first meager and difficult Christmas, when all the toys were brought by someone else, I realized what a great blessing it was to have Christmas at all. We began my favorite tradition. The toys and packages left on Christmas all say, “From Blessings.” Even though we let the kids believe in Santa, we could never take credit for a single gift under the tree or give the credit to Santa. We recognize where our blessings come from and in our house, Santa does too.

We are grateful

Before we open a single gift Christmas morning we have a prayer of gratitude.

I don’t want you to think we are perfect. We are most definitely not. Over the years some of our little family has had their own struggles. Some go to church and a few choose not to. But they have all told me they recognize their blessings. I am grateful we have kept this tradition. It may not seem like much, but it is my favorite. It is a sweet moment in the midst of holiday chaos.

The Christmas Elf

When we were a new family, we weren’t able to buy many gifts. This tradition began as a way to make the moment seem a little sweeter. One person wears the elf hat and passes out the packages one at a time in order of age, youngest to oldest. The bonus to this tradition is I can actually see what all 6 kids and their kids think of their gift and take a few pictures!


We don’t have a lot, and yet every year we manage to find a small way to serve. This year we are focused on the light the world campaign. I have shared a few giving traditions. But the best gifts, are given in secret. #lighttheworld

804 Chex Mix




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Captured by the sea!


Announcing an exciting new collaboration to illuminate healing from abuse and capture hearts!

What happens when creatives have an idea and they collide? Vikki Downs, Cedar Fort Marketing Director sparked an idea. What if we combined art and writing to bring awareness and hope to survivors and their loved ones?

And what if you could contribute?

That was all it took!

I called Haley Miller of Haley Miller’s Captures Photography. Haley, a true creative listened, was inspired,  packed and here in two days! Driven by the power of an idea and the family van!

Haley had been creating beautiful photographic art like the pieces below.

She dreams of bears
And she dreams in bears


I have long believed in the power of changing one heart at a time.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men in the U.S. have experienced intimate partner violence, rape and/or stalking.

Abuse is a difficult subject.  It is easy to swipe past it on our screens. One-second glance and it is gone. But that same one second of time can be used to touch a soul.

What if every day we all shared one positive thought, we cared for just a minute and we all encouraged the survivors in our world?

That is why I will also be adding a page to my website for Haley Miller’s Photographic art and for you to share your stories. We want to hear about moments that have changed your heart or acts of service you are doing to touch others.

Haley’s art will be traveling with me to bookstores, book clubs, firesides, and events.

Has an act of kindness captured your heart or changed the way you feel about yourself or a survivor you care about? Have you participated in a service project for others?

Please share your experiences and we will share some of ours.

Haley capturing magic by the sea

I hope survivors and the world can walk together towards healing.

Watch for more magic to come!


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Tell the story…

“1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.” NCADV

As a movement, domestic violence and sexual assault agencies and prevention programs are beginning to see the power and value of survivor stories. The National Domestic Violence Hotline web page reads, “Survivors can find strength and healing in telling their stories to others. Their insight and inspiration can save lives.” But that is not true for an Advocate.

I can never tell the true story; the actual story of advocacy and my work with survivors of intimate partner or sexual violence. As an advocate, if I am doing my job right, I will stay up with you all night, side by side in the hospital or with police, holding you while you cry, see you bruised and bloodied, house you, feed you, comfort you, empower you, go to court with you and then pass you as if you are a stranger when we meet in the grocery store to protect your confidentiality. I will carry your secrets with me to the grave, unless you ask me, in writing, to share the story to benefit you or meet your needs.

As an advocate, I live inside a bubble of confidentiality and am committed to never sharing a single true story with anyone, including my spouse and closest friends. That makes for one short end of the work day conversation.

Friend, “How was work?”

Me, “Good.”

Friend, “What did you do?”

Me, “Can’t say.”

Daily, I am a witness. I sit with survivors at some of the worst moments of their lives and take seriously my sacred duty of witnessing, giving assistance and walking beside a survivor in their journey.

As a survivor, I choose to not tell my story. Telling my personal story would impact my children and extended family. Out of love and appreciation for their innocence, I choose to keep my story safe within my own heart, as do many survivors.

And yet, as a writer and an avid reader, I am converted to the power of a story to change hearts and change the world, to open eyes and to create a movement so powerful it cannot be stopped. I also believe that by never talking about violence, we allow the secrets to continue to give perpetrators safe space to live and abuse. I believe education is important for prevention.

As a child I was molded and influenced by the story of Harriet Tubman who escaped slavery only to return and help others escape at great peril to her. I was in elementary school when I stayed up late, under the covers, reading it by flashlight.

Harriet Tubman was a true advocate for freedom. The domestic violence moment to free victims of intimate partner violence, empower them to survive and find freedom reminds me of Harriet Tubman’s work.  Advocates go out in the night, meet victims at prearranged places and drive them away to freedom.

As an advocate, over the years I noticed several issues I wanted to share with the world. I noticed victims often blame themselves and say things like, “It’s my fault. I am not perfect.  I hit back.” I have watched law enforcement struggle to decide who to arrest.  I also noticed parentified children who took on too much responsibility in an effort to keep the peace in the home, or because the adults were caught up in chaos.

I chose to write Safe House to tell the story of advocacy and survival. By writing a complete fiction, focused on characters and issues, I could share with you what it feels like to advocate for survivors, and what it feels like to live in a toxic environment, where someone else has the power and control, without ever violating confidentiality. I wrote a fiction to bring hope to those who suffer and attention to issues inherent in the work.

It is my hope that you will be so swallowed up by the story in Safe House you will forget the issues and care for the survivors. I hope you cheer for the advocate, worry for the children, laugh with the locals, taste the salt air of the coast and fall into a whole new world, the world of the Advocate.

Are you ready to tell your story? If you are a survivor of domestic or sexual assault, remember, you are not alone. There are advocates worldwide who want to help. Here are some additional resources and survivor stories:

The Story Center: “We create spaces for transforming lives and communities, through the acts of listening to and sharing stories. Since 1993, we have partnered with organizations around the world on projects in StoryWork, digital storytelling, and other forms of digital media production. Our public workshops support individuals in creating and sharing stories.”

North Carolina’s Survivor to Survivor: “Video stories by survivors for survivors:  Their mission, “To provide survivors of domestic violence and their loved ones with a web-based, documentary-style resource guide that serves as a visual toolkit of help and resources available in North Carolina.”

Let go… let peace come in foundation:  Their mission, “We need nothing short of a sweeping shift in “social consciousness” making it okay to talk about sexual abuse…it’s essential! This is how we will help the children to speak up and this is the way we’ll have adult survivors enter the recovery process to learn how to live again!”


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