Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Christmas truce, part 2

Part 1 of this series told a story in which my husband and I were on opposing sides. This story places us squarely on the same side and in need of throwing up the white flag hand in hand.

Our family excitedly looked toward putting up a Christmas tree in our new home. Our eleven foot ceilings inspired visions of a very tall tree in our new and different space. Our family set out on foot and traveled to a nearby tree lot and picked out a beautiful and big tree – they even delivered. We quickly realized that the stands that we owned would not be sufficient for such a tree, and dad ventured out to the local hardware store to purchase a more sturdy foundation.

As a family, we worked hard to get this big fir tree up and in place. My husband began stringing the lights, and I finished the hours long job the next day. We heard a few creaks and groans from the tree stand as we worked but were hopeful that it would do the trick. It did not. Mid-Saturday, there was a loud crash – the tree strung with lights had hit the deck.

IMG_1119

We weren’t ready to give up on our vision, though my husband did hastily order a more heavy duty stand that wouldn’t arrive for at least a week. He and our youngest girl pulled the big monster outside, refastened the stand and gave it another try. I had the possibly hair brained idea of using some twine to fasten the trunk to our indoor shutters for a little extra hold.

The tree stood through the night and on into the next day as our  6’5”, youngest son and girl friend came to help us trim this giant tree. We were happy to be together with Christmas tunes playing in the background. Despite our sons’ conjecture that our stand and twine set up wasn’t stable enough, we forged ahead.

DSC_0001

DSC_0013

Twenty four hours later, I received a phone call from our security company saying that a “glass break” had been detected in our home. My mind immediately jumped to the tree. Just a short distance from our home, I was on the scene quickly. I carefully entered our home and realized that the “glass break” had actually been a loud tree stand creak and groan – the tree was leaning. I did my best to get it back upright but ultimately this five and a half foot aging body was overpowered by this monstrosity. I couldn’t stand there all day and wrestle the beast, so I eventually had to let go as the twine snapped and down she went. This time there was a big glass break.

DSC_0015

I instantly saw that a few of my favorite glass ornaments were casualties, and I shed a few tears. This had been a big battle and the big tree won. We simply weren’t prepared. When our girls got home from school, we began picking up the pieces and assessing the damage. We were so very thankful to find one of our favorite ornaments – a Christmas pickle given to us by good friends – remained intact.

DSC_0033

DSC_0002

Overall, the damage was minimal and involved mostly the very replaceable big box colored glass balls we had bought at after Christmas sales. Several of the very old ornaments that we received from my grandmother survived. We untangled as much of the light and ornament maze as we could without lifting the heavy mass. We swept and vacuumed.

DSC_0036

We called a family meeting at dinner that night. Some of us wanted to keep fighting to have a live Christmas tree in our new home. Some of us wanted to surrender and choose another route. In the end, there simply wasn’t time nor energy to continue the fight.

We posted this announcement on our neighborhood listserv: “Neighborhood rookies need to re-home a 9 ½ foot tree. Needs a really big stand. After hitting the deck, we need to go smaller until we get our heavy duty stand – next year’s project… Hope to find a loving and experienced home.” Within minutes, our giant tree had a new neighborhood dwelling place.

Several fellow neighbors have acknowledged to us that this same thing happened to them in their early big Christmas tree days. One suggested we saw off about two feet from the bottom and create a more manageable situation – a feat we had accomplished for many years. In the end, we decided to choose another pathway. We ordered a silver tinsel tree that we will display somewhere else in our home in years to come. Who knows? Someday it may become our one and only tree as more children grow up and out of our house.

DSC_0045

DSC_0002

DSC_0004

But for now, our silver tree is filled with our girls’ special ornaments and twinkles in a window that shines out into our neighborhood. It stands about a third of the height of our dream tree, but it is ours nonetheless. It is freeing to surrender to the giant tree and choose a different path this year. There are lots of practical and spiritual lessons in this story – think foundations, planning, when to fight and when to surrender – I’ll leave those to each reader.  The silver tree sits right next to Dickens’ village in our home. It is nice to be on the same team as my husband as we make peace and call a truce with our Christmas tree situation. Maybe next year, we will be ready to tame the beast….or maybe not.

A Christmas truce, part 1

Background: During our early married years, a beloved aunt gave us several pieces of the Dickens’ Christmas village. I mentioned to my husband that it would be fun to have one or two more pieces of this set at some point.

DSC_0018

Our middle son was due to return home just in time for Christmas 2011 after spending 6 months living and working amongst the people of Haiti. We as parents had been warned that re-entry could be difficult, especially during the hyped up American Christmas season. Personally, I was living through a period of high stress and burn out and having a simple Christmas seemed prudent for all. I started trying to discuss this idea, and my husband seemed a bit uncomfortable and squirmy each time the topic was raised.

One night he blurted out, “I have a confession”. My stomach dropped – this sounded very serious. He then proceeded to tell me that he had “messed up”. He was being responsive to my desire for a few more Dickens’ village pieces and went on a hunt. He is a man who enjoys making me happy, and he loves a bargain. Craigslist had just the thing he was pursuing – someone was parting with a mother lode of these little houses, and the incremental cost was just too good to pass up. In October en route to a football game, he and a friend met the seller at a location a good distance from our home. As soon as my guy saw the boxes and boxes and boxes of these cottages, inns, barns, etc, etc, etc, he knew he was in trouble. He talked his friend into storing them in his garage until he could figure out what to do.

DSC_0022

He considered creating an advent calendar type system to gift these to me all throughout December. But all my talk of simple Christmas, low key decorations and minimal gifts was totally out of sync with this holiday surprise. As a person who was into “getting rid of” and simplifying, his penitent announcement/confession of this undesired gift was awkward. So, I ungraciously told him that he could put out any and all that he chose, but I wasn’t taking part.

He and our girls arranged a big table in the playroom and placed it all out. They were so close together that it felt more like Dickens’ city than village.  It was played with like a big playmobil or doll set up, for a few days. Then they put it all back in the multiple boxes and piled them in a corner of our attic to be stored until the next year. This scenario repeated for several years. We teased and laughed and joked about where he could donate this set – retirement homes, churches and historic properties all came to mind. Family and friends joined in as they heard the story.

DSC_0017

During our recent move, this little village and its’ ultimate fate kept getting pushed to the bottom of the “to do” list. Finally, I proposed that each of us pick out two boxes to add to the original set we owned and then find a home for the rest of them. Everyone agreed and took their turn choosing. A friend and neighbor took in most of the rest of this large collection.

This December when I got ready to put out Christmas decorations, for some reason I was first drawn to our now medium sized collection. Our new old historic home seems to be a space that welcomes and invites such a village at Christmas time. It was with joy and nostalgia for my husband’s gift that I arranged the glass structures. I placed magnolia leaves from our new backyard -trimmed from the tree that was the scene of a very frightening yet miraculous fall a few months back – all around this little city. Our youngest daughter put all of the people where she deemed they best fit and also announced that we really needed a farm to make this display complete. She often returns to this spot and acts out all kinds of stories within this Christmas village.

DSC_0019

To my generous and kind husband – I surrender and call a truce. A much belated thank you for a thoughtful gift that we will enjoy in our new home. I also have a little secret. After talking to my friend who has the other half of our village and asking her if we could reclaim the farm, she graciously returned it. And now our little town feels more complete.

DSC_0016

Part 2 coming up soon.

Sucked in

A few weekends back, our oldest girl got the chance to hang out with two of her closest elementary school friends.  In earlier days, they often spent time bouncing on our trampoline together.  On this day, they gravitated back to this familiar spot despite the very cool temperature, but there wasn’t a lot of jumping. Each time I peeked out to check on them, they were deep in conversation.

They have each moved into a new school with new friends and new experiences.  They overlap and interact at a few spots in life, but things have changed.  One of the friends who hated to brush her hair and only wore shorts no matter the temperature has taken more interest in her clothes and appearance in recent days.  This has surprised many.  “Preppy” is her current style of choice.  During a recent conversation with my girl, she observed of this friend, “she is “in” now, but I call it sucked in”.  Not that my girl hasn’t been sucked in as well – she is merely conforming to a different comfort zone these days.

Reflecting on my own “junior high” years and the pressure to conform as I wrestled with identity and where I fit in, it was a confusing and sometimes miserable time. And where do I as a 50 something grown woman still get “sucked in”? It may not be so obvious as wearing black leggings, ugg boots and a north face jacket uniform to be accepted and part of a crowd, but the pressures are still alive and well at times.  Making peace with my true self and choosing to live that out are ongoing challenges.

It is energizing and challenging to watch, encourage and walk alongside my girls and their friends as they struggle to figure it all out.  Much of the time, I am a silent observer. They will be sucked in and out of different groups, personas and behaviors.  I have literally met just one person who said that these years were some of the best of their life – for most of us, they are difficult on so many levels.

This morning as I dropped off the middle school carpool, my heart swelled and my stomach sank at the same time. Just watching the kids, their faces, and their various self-expressions produced mixed emotions. I wish for each of them to land in a place of authentic expression of their true and deepest self – not so different than the journey that I continue to walk.

From Gift of the Red Bird by Paula D’Arcy:  “Why do adults hide? We are so serious, so intent on measuring and building. We are caught up exploring every inch of the space we inhabit. We probe molecules for their secrets. We hurl ourselves into the reaches of space. We design passageways over rivers and measure the distance to the stars. We even plumb the ocean depths. We’d do anything not to journey inside.”