Discovering New Holiday Traditions Through Loss and Self-Reflection

My blog is about home, garden, and life in the Pacific Northwest. But today I want to share my personal thoughts about the Thanksgiving & Christmas holidays, traditions, and living life to the fullest.

my daughter and I at Pike Place Market in Seattle at Christmas time

Our Past Holiday Family Traditions

My daughter, Katie, and I had some amazing holiday traditions. Here we are at Pike Place Market in Seattle, WA.

metal turkey centerpiece on Thanksgiving table

Our family would enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. But the next day was “game on” for all that the Christmas season had to offer.

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decorated Christmas tree

It was like a switch was flipped once Thanksgiving day was over.

The first Christmas holiday tradition was to hunt for the perfect fresh Christmas tree.

Then once we were back home we would set the mood. Christmas music was turned on. Fragrant holiday candles were lit. Gingerbread cookies were eaten. Hot cocoa was served with a cute little candy cane and LOTS of marshmallows. And, of course, the Christmas decorations would finally come out.

We would then spend the next few days transforming our fall home into a Christmas wonderland.

That’s how my Nana did it, that’s how my mom did it. Really…I didn’t know anything different. The thought of decorating for Christmas BEFORE Thanksgiving was not even in our minds.

child with dog at Christmas
My daughter Katie with her dog Lady and her new Christmas PJs.

So Many Changes Over the Years

But many things changed over the years.

My daughter and only child, Katie, would grow up. She was busy and consumed with her own life now. I found myself decorating for Christmas on my own. What used to be a festive and fun holiday tradition was now a chore.

Our trips to downtown Seattle to see Santa and ride the carousel was a thing of the past. No more hot cocoa with the candy cane and marshmallows.

The Worst Thing That Could Happen to a Mother

The phone rang at 6:30 AM on an August morning 3 years ago. I was told that Katie had passed away.

She would have been 30 years old this last October.

Any family traditions we still had pretty much fell apart. And the grandkids I hoped to one day start new traditions with would never be.

Christmas tree ornaments


I now dreaded bringing out the Christmas decorations. It was more like torture. And the memories. So many memories that I really didn’t want to remember.

I will say it’s getting easier as each day goes by to see Katie’s childhood ornaments, the old dresses she would wear to visit Santa, and to remember her as a sweet and excited “Kid at Christmas”. But I’m not quite ready to create one of those memory Christmas trees with her handmade ornaments yet.

Maybe someday.

greenhouse decorated for Christmas with twinkle lights

The Role of an Influencer

Shiplap and Shells was created on Instagram almost 3 years ago. The blog followed a year later.

To say I didn’t know what to expect from these platforms is an extreme understatement.

I only started an Instagram account in hopes of a magazine one day finding my account and wanting to feature my home and garden. There were no other expectations at the time. Being an “influencer” was never something I knew about. It just happened.

Christmas ornaments in wooden vintage crate

But as I learned very quickly, Instagram, and then the home decor blogging world would become a stressful reminder that holidays and upcoming seasons needed to be showcased a month or more before anyone else realistically even started on their own home decorating.

And let me tell you…I struggled with this concept. Especially because I AM NOT NATURALLY AN ORGANIZED PERSON! I try…but the effort is REAL. Is anyone with me?

So I went from loving everything the Christmas season had to offer to struggling with the loss of those traditions. And now I had the added feeling of overwhelming pressure to get holiday posts out early.

I literally lost the true meaning of Christmas and the joy of living and enjoying life to the fullest. It was an empty place to be.

family photo with 3 dogs

Living Through My Pictures

This has been a year of self-reflection.

What I’ve learned about myself is that I have an “all-or-nothing” personality. I put EVERYTHING I have into what my focus is at the time with no regard to anything else going on around me.

Thinking back to how my SHIPLAP AND SHELLS journey started for me, I now know I was looking for something to fill my time so I wouldn’t have to think about what had happened to our family, or the void of my daughter.

Emotionally, I have missed life as it has passed me by for almost 3 years. But there are PLENTY of videos and pretty pictures that I can look back on.

on the boat with dogs

There Was No Longer a Balance in My Life as I Once Knew It

I wasn’t even aware of the empty life I was living. I was purely documenting how I thought life should be in the eyes of my subscribers and followers.

It was consuming.

I needed to accept the fact that things needed to change.

holding up the wreath I made

Creating New Holiday Traditions is a Work in Progress

I’ve been stepping back a bit on the blog and social media. I still love to create posts but it’s really more of when I WANT to share something… and not because I HAVE to.

My blog is now a work of joy and not dread. It’s where I can share my creativity and love of decorating, gardening, and boating.

I did start decorating for Christmas last week…yes, BEFORE Thanksgiving. But only because I’m not hosting the Thanksgiving holiday this year and I WANTED to work on Christmas, not because I had to. The timing was right for me. I can’t wait to start sharing it with you next week.

friends toasting

So with this new Christmas season upon us, I am starting a new holiday tradition… to enjoy and celebrate all that life has to offer with my husband and friends.

We don’t have to fit into a perfect holiday mold that we think people expect from us.

I have plans to watch the lighted boat parade in our community, make wreaths, sing Christmas carols, bake, sit and stare at the twinkle lights in my home, and so much more! And I can’t wait.

I look forward to spending more time living the holidays and truly remembering the reason for the season, and less time just going through the motions.

What about you? Drop me a comment below and tell me what you are looking forward to this holiday season and what your favorite holiday tradition is.

Until next time,

Happy Holidays!

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  1. Dear Kim,
    I too lost my daughter unexpectedly She died on Easter Sunday of this year. Everything is a first, the first birthdays without her, the sixth month anniversary of her death and now the holidays. I know you know the grief I am going through. Your post gives me hope that it will get better. It will never be the same, but it will be different and we will adjust.
    Thank you.

  2. Hi Kim
    Somehow I ended up here on this post while searching for information about drying hydrangeas. Thank you fir sharing about your beautiful daughter and I just want to say how sorry I am. My heart is hurting for you all the way across the country at that moment in upstate New York and I am praying for you as you embark on the season and all you feel that you need to do or that is “expected”. I love your instagram. I truly do and I hope coming year that you find joy . – Sandy

  3. Oh Kim I remember reading a Mother’s Day post where you mentioned your daughter. Now seeing this post, of you and her at Pike Place, can’t help but tear up. Thanks for writing about your journey. It’s a reminder to all to enjoy the present, whatever that may be. I am so glad you’re finding joy again- you deserve it! You bring so much beauty to the world. Big hugs to you.

    1. You are so sweet, Marie. It has been a struggle but it feels so good to start living life again. Blessing to you and your new baby. And hugs right back.

  4. Dear Kim I came by earlier this morning Thanksgiving Day, and I read this post. I’ve thought about you all day and wanted to leave you a note. I, like so many of us had no idea what you’ve been through and my heart just breaks for you and your husband. I’m just going to say you’re in my prayers and I’m so glad that you have found some peace. Thankyou for sharing your heart with us. I always love coming by your blog and so enjoy your greenhouse and gardening. I pray you have a blessed and happy Christmas season. Debra

    1. Your message means so much to me, Debra. I thank you for your prayers and for reaching out. Each day gets easier and I find myself thinking more about the happy memories rather than being sad about our loss. Hugs!

  5. Beautiful – you, your daughter, your home, every raw, emotional word. I am in awe of your strength and bravery to be authentically you and share your story. I wish I could take the hurt away my friend, I wish you had never experienced this loss. I’m so sorry. And I’m cheering for you as you embark on this journey to embrace life every day and allow yourself to choose to do things your way. You are a positive inspiration in so many ways. Hugs.

    1. Thank you, Tanya. This message means so much to me. So glad you will be cheering me on as I start to take back my life again. Hugs back sweet friend.

  6. Kim, thank you for being brave and obviously your post touched a lot of us…I know the grief of sudden loss so well…and I also know about the healing that comes. I’m so glad you are up to celebrating again and have chosen to take us along for the ride. Your little fur babies are precious. I love your blog. I used to live in Gig Harbor and then Fox Island and had an herb farm business there. I loved the Kitsap Peninsula and Poulsbo was a favorite. My husband and I moved to Montana for work and bought a house with a tiny yard on the shady side of the street so herb gardening and wreath making became a thing of the past. But the beauty of the mountains and wildlife makes up for it and this past twenty years has been wonderful in many ways too. Thanks for sharing your life and your beautiful home and garden, and generously sharing other blogs with us. God bless!

    1. Hi Linda! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you following along on the blog and I’m so glad you enjoy it. Thank you for your heartfelt message. Hugs! Everyone I know who has moved to Montana absolutely loves the beauty there. You just went from one beautiful place to another.

  7. Kim, I had no idea! I’m so sorry for your loss. I know what you said about starting your blog and Instagram when Katie passed. I did the same thing when my mom and dad passed away. My daughter, Carly got me involved in Instagram and starting a blog. It really helped me get through that period of time with grieving. I put my energy into our garden and it has helped tremendously. I really admire you and you are such an inspiration to me. So happy I’ve met you in the Instagram world!!?Love you, Jody
    P.S. I have a daughter Katie too!❤️

    1. Thank you Jody for visiting my blog. Instagram and the blog really were a distraction as you can relate to. I’m glad it helped you at a time when you were grieving for your parents. I love that we have become garden buddies on IG. You inspire me so much. Love and hugs.

  8. Hi Kim,
    It was so good of you to share your love, loss and pain because by doing that I pray it helps you and others struggling in the same way, especially this time of year. Such an beautiful child! I know your story helped me to realize what is most important in life. Thank you for sharing your life experience and I hope you are able to make a relationship with Katie where she and you are now. I know it sounds odd to say but she will always live in your heart and through things she loved and traditions you shared. May you and your family enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years! Love your blog and looking forward to your Christmas tour, absolutely adorable house and breath taking garden and yard!! You are amazingly talented so enjoy those gifts and keeping sharing, WILL YA!!

    1. Thank you, Linda. I do agree that Katie will always remain in my heart through the things she loved. Wishing you many blessings and much love during these winter holidays. Thank you for the compliments on the house and garden. I can’t wait to start planning for the next gardening season very soon. I’m so glad you reached out.

  9. Dear Kim,
    Thank you for sharing your journey as I know that others will draw comfort from it. My sincere condolences to you on the loss of your daughter. They say that grief never leaves us, we just try to adapt and learn to live with it. And your resilience is proof of that! I lost my oldest child, my son Ryan, to leukemia two years ago at age 41. It’s hard to find the joy in holidays since then! Christmas was his absolute favorite holiday and he loved decorating his house inside and out! His wife and 11 year old son continue the tradition and I know that he’s smiling down on them as they put the finishing touches on everything!
    Wishing you peace and joy at Christmas and always.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Maureen. I can’t tell you how sorry I am for your loss and for your daughter-in-law and grandson. You’re right, grief never leaves us but we do eventually find a way to deal with it and to start living our life again. I wish you peace and joy at Christmas and the new year ahead. Sending you hugs and lots of love from one mother to another.

  10. Kim, Thank you for being brave and transparent, and sharing your grief and struggles. It’s hard to pull back the curtain and share what’s really been going on. You’ve experienced an unimaginable loss, losing your beautiful daughter. So many dreams unfulfilled; my heart aches for you. There’s no time frame for healing from grief. But creating beauty is definitely a healing balm for you. We, your loyal followers will enjoy whatever you have to share; no pressure!

    1. Thank you, Lora. I didn’t know how people were going to respond to this post. I always try to be nothing but positive when writing my posts so this was a real change of pace. But you all have been so incredibly kind and your message was so heartfelt. Hugs my friend.

  11. Oh Kim so many feelings flooding in from
    Reading this. My heart breaks for you losing your beautiful girl. You and your Katie remind me so much of me and my Molly.
    I am in awe of you every time you leave the shop you are always such a ray of sunshine in spite of all you’ve been through and how much you have lost. You bring joy to so many with your beautiful pictures and stories. I am so glad you are able to start getting a little joy back in your holidays and have been able to make some new traditions. You are truly an inspiration and a very brave and courageous woman. Thank you for sharing your heart it has helped me and I’m sure many

    1. I really appreciate you taking the time to write what you did Amy. Everything happens for a reason, though I’m not sure if I will ever know the reasoning for this. But this journey did lead me to so many people who are now my friends and I that has been such a blessing. I love it when I can come and visit your store. It just puts me in a good mood. Thank you for your friendship sweet friend. Hugs.

  12. Oh, Kim, what a brave post. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Your ever sunny demeanor and beautiful gardens and home bring joy to so many of us. I hope that you find your own joy again in the every day. We have never met in person, but I am so thankful for your friendship. Wishing you a warm and happy holiday season. Hugs , my friend!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Molly. Knowing that I can bring any kind of joy to others through my home and garden makes me so happy. I am so grateful for our friendship as well. I know we will meet one of these days! Hugs back!

  13. Hi Kim. Your post really touched my heart today. I’m so sorry for the loss of your only daughter. Thank you for sharing. I needed to hear this today.. I’m struggling with the holidays this year. And I know I’m not the only one.. I think your you’re and blog was meant for me to read. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    1. Thank you so much for reaching out Laurey. I know there are a lot of us that are struggling with the holidays for our own reasons. I’m so sorry you’re having a hard time. I only hope you can find some joy during the season. Big hugs my friend.

  14. You daughter was and still is absolutely beautiful ! Iam so sorry for your loss. My heart and my prayers go out to you . I know your pain. The phone rang for me as well. My beloved husband died suddenly with a heart attack. No not our son but still a loss that took my heart away. I lived one day at a time with tears and not caring for two years . It’s very hard. So thankful you have your husband and your adorable doggies . I believe that one day soon I will see my husband and you will see your daughter in Heaven. Take care. Have a blessed Thanksgiving ! And enjoy Christmas and its meaning .

    1. I am so sorry for the loss of your husband Linda. It is a painful journey to lose someone so close to you. I hope you are healing and have joy in your life. I don’t know what I would have done without the love, support, and patience of my husband. And my sweet dogs are my children now, and quite spoiled by the way! I also believe we will see them again and that really keeps me going. Wishing you the happiest of holidays and blessings always.

  15. Kim, I’ve been following you for awhile now and still had no idea what you’ve been through. I am very sorry for your loss and am happy to know you’re getting some joy back in your heart. Big hugs❤
    I truly enjoy your every post and look forward to many more but only when it brings you joy. No pressure for perfection or mass postings on this end. Sending you joy this holiday season.

    1. Thank you, Karen. I’ve only told a few people on Instagram and the blog. I usually try not to share things that are too personal, but I decided that I wanted people to know the reason behind me stepping back a bit from posting and why I started this journey in the first place. I’m so excited to share when I have the time, energy, and passion and not when it’s 2:00 AM and I have a deadline. Big hugs right back and wishing you all joy and blessings this holiday season.

  16. Kim – I find myself at a loss for words. I knew about the sadness of your daughter’s passing, but I think this may be the first time you shared it with others. I hope it was a healing process for you. I hope these comments will bring you comfort. I am sending you a big hug for your braveness and honesty today! Love you!

    1. Yes Lori, you were one of the few people who knew about Katie’s passing. It felt like a really private and personal thing. But now I have reached a point where I am starting to heal and I feel so good about the progress I have made. I’m finally looking forward instead of being stuck in the past. Katie would want me to enjoy life and remember her with happy tears and not sad ones. Love you, my friend. You have been here for me when I needed it and I only hope you know how much your kind and loving words have always meant to me. Wishing you the happiest of holidays with your family and that sweet grandbaby of yours.

  17. Grieving for the loss of a child is the unimaginable. I hope writing about Katie and all of your beautiful holiday traditions reminds you of happy times and bring you comfort. May all her memories be a blessing for you. ❤️

    1. Thank you, Michelle. I am starting to remember the good times now and catch myself starting to smile when I think about happy memory. I appreciate your kindness. Happy holidays.

  18. Sweet Kim, I am so sorry for your loss.
    I had no idea. Thank you for sharing from your heart. Life can be so fragile and we could of gone on without knowing this. It takes a brave woman to share and bare what you have gone through. I will be praying fir you as you get those decorations out this year. I appreciate you so much.
    XO Wendy

    1. Thank you so much for the sweet words, Wendy. They mean a lot. I just saw your blog and can’t wait to spend some time going through it when I have a moment this weekend. It really is so beautiful.

  19. Oh Kim, I had no idea about your daughter. My heat breaks reading your story. You are a source of light and inspiration to so many. Hugs to you this holiday season! Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

    1. Thank you so much, Jen. It felt a little strange getting it out there for people to see but I think it was the next step in holding me accountable for the change I need to make in my life. Hugs right back to you friend.

  20. Kim,
    My heart stopped…when I read the words that your beautiful daughter Katie has passed away. That is every parents worst fear. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your post with all of us whom follow you.
    Your post is always full of beautiful pictures and ideas. I cannot tell you how many times I have taken screenshots
    of your yard and home, for inspiration. I have even sent pics to my sisters saying…look at this cute house…or yard!
    “Thank you” for your blog. I love it.

    1. Thank you for your kindness, Jill. For the first time in 3 years, I finally feel like I’m in a much healthier place emotionally and this was a very important and therapeutic post for me to write. I am so grateful for the positive response I have gotten from people like you. I hope that I can continue to inspire you with my home and garden pictures along the way.

  21. Thank you for sharing your heart with us, Kim. How beautifully your words reflect and encourage us to be in the moment and enjoy. Praying for your heart today as you move forward this holiday season.

  22. Kim, I’m so very sorry for your loss of your daughter. Thank you opening up to all of us and sharing your heart with us. For many people the holidays are hard. I too have had a loss and it was at Christmas time. What use to be my favorite holiday and the reason for it was no longer joyful. 15 years ago but last year I found joy again. Thank you for your beautiful heart and sharing your loss with us. You’re in my prayers. Thank you for sharing beautiful pictures of your beautiful daughter. She took after her mama. Tight hugs and love ! ?

    1. I’m so glad to hear that you have found joy again Kelly. It really touched my heart when I read that. You have been struggling for so long. Many people don’t really think about the holidays such as Christmas and Mother’s Day being so hard for people. But I think when you have a tragedy in your life, you become so much more empathetic and sensitive to others, don’t you think? You are in my prayers as well Kelly. Hugs and love to you sweet friend.

  23. Kim – thank you for sharing your very personal story. Growing up, festive holidays were anticipated, however as a child we were never quite sure there would be the much desired gift/item under the tree.
    Your blog on gardening reminds me everyday that gifts are with us for a season and to appreciate and enjoy the time spent. We will have our memories to appreciate and be grateful for time spent.
    Be blessed

    1. Your words are beautiful Pat. Thank you for the reminder that gifts are with us for a season and that we should appreciate the time we have at the moment. I wish your holiday memories as a child were happier my friend. Hugs to you and warm wishes for a happy holiday,

  24. Kim wrapping you in prayer and hugs! Thank you for sharing your story and your heart and your beautiful daughter with us. I can’t even imagine what you have and are going through. To hear how you are healing and now finding joy brings me a smile. Happy Thanksgiving my friend!

    1. Thank you for your hugs and prayers, Kelly. I’m so happy to have such a supportive and loving husband and friends to help e through this journey. They are everything to me. Happy Thanksgiving to you sweet friend.

  25. I am so sorry for your loss, and I’m so PROUD of you for reflecting and making this choice. You are so brave and strong to reflect, be honest, and share this very raw post. We all need this advice to live life to the fullest and start today… not tomorrow. Super big hugs to you my friend!!!

    1. It means the world to hear that you are proud of me for writing this post, Chas. I was really struggling with it and it took me days of editing and coming back to reedit again. I feel like I am finally living again and on my own terms. Big hugs right back. You know I love you, friend.

  26. What a beautiful tribute to Katie and a well written, eye opening story for the rest of us to read. So sorry for the pain you have had over the loss of a child. I can’t imagine how hard it has been. My thoughts and prayers with you this Christmas season. I love following your account and will love it even more knowing the story behind it.

    1. Your words mean so much to me, Judy. It’s been quite a journey but I am so ready to start this next chapter of healing. I am wishing you the most joyful Christmas season full of love.

  27. My deepest sympathy for your loss. Your words made me stop and appreciate what I have… life may not have turned out the way I thought I wanted but it is here for me to embrace so thank you. I so enjoy seeing your home and garden and look forward to your Christmas posts. Peace.

    1. Thank you so much, Cindi. My intent when writing this was to get my story out and hold myself accountable for making more positive choices in my life and hold on to the family and friends that I do still have. But you touched my heart when you said that this made you stop and appreciate what you have. I’m so glad this post not only helped me but you as well. I appreciate you reaching out.

  28. Oh, Kim. I feel your loss. You have to have to experienced it to full understand.
    So happy you can look forward to the holiday. Everyone grieves differently. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
    Our memories and tears is what keeps the.loss one alive in our hearts. I see sadness NOW as not letting my loss loved one alive in my heart!
    We will never want them to have lived and be forgotten. Glad you are planning for the holiday. This is healing, not giving up!
    I give you permission to remember and Smile!!

    1. You have given me a great perspective and even more to think about. I agree, this is part of the healing process. I may not be on the same journey with the blog that I once thought I wanted to make, but I think I will be much happier to do things on my own terms going forward. I will always remember and smile while doing so. Thank you!

  29. Kim what a special and difficult post for you to write, but it was beautiful and I feel so much of the same. I’m looking forward to going to Maine this week and hanging 3 wreaths with navy blue bows as a new tradition I started there in remembrance of my parent’s first Christmas in that home. That’s how my mother decorated the door that first year. I’m so proud to be your friend!

    1. Hi Kim!
      Thank you for sharing your story! The loss of your only child undoubtedly makes the memories of Christmas seasons of past so emotionally hard. But it is true, we can create different traditions while still holding those special memories of our loved ones in our heart. And bravely you did!
      Wishing you, your family and your cute puppies a Merry Christmas!
      Barb Bowman
      For six years now, I decorate a Christmas tree with purple lights only on my deck every year to shine brightly over Wollochet Bay in memory of my brother and those who suffered from pancreatic cancer.

      1. Hi Barb! Thank you for reading my story. I love that you decorate one of your trees with purple lights to honor your brother and those that suffered from pancreatic cancer. That is such a special tradition for your family. Happy holidays to you and your family my friend.

    2. Thank you, Ann. I love the tradition you are starting at your Maine home. It sounds absolutely lovely and I know those wreaths will be a very special part of your holidays. There are so many beautiful memories in that house and your parents would be so proud of you for keeping them all alive. Hugs to you sweet friend.

  30. Words of wisdom right here to stop and savor the season. I’m so sorry about Katie – how beautiful and looks so much looks you! I’m glad you’ve found some peace this year I’m sure the journey has not been easy. But you’ve got great friends and family who love you and will make and celebrate new traditions together. ❤️❤️

    1. Thank you, Stacy! You have been such a great friend to me and I hope you know how much I appreciate you. I am so grateful for the amazing friends I have made along this journey. Hugs.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. I have never really shared anything about her before other than showing a rose bush that was planted in her honor. I am so happy that I can talk about her now, it feels like a weight has been lifted.

  31. Kim, I am so very sorry for your loss. Your post is an eye opener for me. I lost my brother decades ago and holidays have been an afterthought. We were suppose to see each other on Christmas after not seeing each other for 2 years. I have yet to celebrate like I used to, in fact, as a blogger I put off doing any holiday decor. Your words have really touched me and I need you to know that they are giving me a lot to think about. I am sending you hugs and appreciation for the courage to write such a meaningful post. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    1. I am so sorry you lost your brother Melba. As I read your words I am realizing that your brother and my daughter would want us to celebrate and enjoy Christmas like we would have done with them by our side. This will be the 4th Christmas without Katie and I am finally ready to embrace the happy memories of her as a child at Christmas and the fun we used to have. I am so glad this post gave you some things to think about. You have no idea how that makes me feel. Keep me updated if you are comfortable with that. I’d love to hear how you’re doing. Hugs and love.

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