Saturday, November 27, 2010

It ALWAYS Starts with an Inspirational Vision

For those of you who have joined the journey this past year, you know that all of my trees have started with a piece of inspiration. Some times the initial inspiration revealed surprising additional pieces like the charm bracelet from my Nana that I hung on the St. Patrick's Day tree. Each tree along the way triggered memories I hadn't anticipated would come and I think of all the things this experience has provided me, the ability to spend time with long forgotten, but happy memories was the absolute best part.

In deciding what the final tree should be...I was at a loss for ideas or motivation. For many years, the trees have been about the decor of the room. Long gone were the kid's handmade ornaments replaced by anything from beaded Victorian fruit to pheasant feathers and polished seed pods. No two trees were ever the same and every year was an opportunity for something grandeur and totally unexpected.

I have certainly taken a lot of ribbing from my children who at times questioned, "Mom, can we have a REAL Christmas tree this year?" This being the FINAL tree of this blog I decided to surprise my children (who are now nearly all adults) with a REAL Christmas tree. What I did not expect was all the SURPRISES I would gift myself.

With my new motivation in focus, I immediately knew where the inspiration would come from. Years ago my husband's aunt knitted each of the children their own personal Santa stocking. When the first one arrived in the mail for our daughter's second Christmas I nearly cried at the sight of it. I was so touched by the thought and the care taken by the hands of their beautiful Aunt Dorothy. She continued the tradition for the next two children as well as all of her nieces, nephews and grandchildren. For many years displaying those stockings was one of the highlights of our holiday. Years ago I tucked them away for safe keeping. Aunt Dorothy is no longer with us and I worried the stockings would get ruined and I wanted to preserve them. Still...I knew they had to be a part of this year's special tree and so instead of hanging them on a mantle, I hung them on the tree.

Further rummaging through long hidden boxes in the attic led me to ornaments and keepsakes I honestly had forgotten we had. Carefully unwrapping the tissue paper they were packed in, each and every one brought back a flood of memories of either the person who gave us the ornament or the reason behind our purchasing it. Everything from all the babies first Christmas ornaments to puzzle piece wreaths made in elementary school. I stumbled across bags of ornaments made by the ladies auxiliary group at the Church my grandmother attended. Many of the women responsible for those beautiful pieces are long gone, such as my own grandmother and yet...these pretty trinkets stand testimony to their talents and serve as a legacy. Of ALL the treasures I joyfully reconnected with there were a few that truly took my breath away. I found two ornaments from my own childhood Christmas tree and a precious envelope addressed by my son Ryan to the North Pole. Inside is his letter to Santa asking for specific gifts for himself, his sister, dad and me. ( Seth was not a part of our family then). I also discovered Ryan's favorite baby rattle. I happily tucked all of them in the tree.

For years I couldn't wait to have a REAL Christmas tree. The trees I long admired in magazine photos and fancy establishments. Trees of glorious ribbons and color coordinated adornments. Trees that had a theme where everything matched and flowed with a decorator's touch. Trees that said PRETTY.

Is this tree Pretty??? NO! It's BEAUTIFUL!!! I have a REAL Christmas tree for the first time in years and I couldn't be any prouder of it.

Merry Christmas friends!

Friday, November 26, 2010

I Survived!!!

I can't believe how quickly the year has passed. It seems like yesterday that I was announcing to the world my intentions to live a year in the life of a Christmas Tree and now I've come full circle as I get ready to decorate the tree for Christmas.

As I sit here this morning after Thanksgiving, I find myself lost in reflection. I spent some time rereading the previous posts as a reminder to myself of how I got here. My memories go much deeper than this past year and the blog posts and I seem to find a greater understanding of how I got here and WHY this experiment (or experience) meant so much.

I have nothing but amazing, happy, warm memories of my childhood holidays. In fact those memories were so ingrained that it led me to a period of holidays as an adult that left me feeling anything but happy. As a young adult and the oldest, married daughter of an Italian family, Christmas (and all the other holiday gatherings) fell on my shoulders. It is some kind of unwritten by law in the growing up Italian handbook right there along the rule thou shall NEVER serve sauce from a jar no matter how convenient.

My immediate family was living in Florida a great distance from our extended family and so it was just the 5 of us. The Christmas holiday started its spiral downward trend for me our very first Christmas in Ft. Lauderdale where we found ourselves spending the day on the beach. Nothing like a lifeguard in red trunks and a Santa hat that says, "We're not in Connecticut anymore Toto." To add further insult to injury, my mother decorated the house that year with a 3 foot pop up Christmas tree. Literally, the woman opened a box and out came this little tree fully decorated and ready for table top display. To this day we still harass her about that one.

Far away from family, my mother would open up our home to all the other "strays" who had no family to spend the holidays with and that was how it started. Years later, living in Central Florida, I was married with a family of my own and the job of holiday hostess became mine. My family owned a restaurant and so although we had no extended family we certainly had a huge gathering of friends and as it had been further South, the need to make certain everyone had a place to spend the holidays continued and now it was in my home.

Growing up our holidays were something straight out of a Currier and Ives print. Christmas Eve was always spent at my Mother's parent's house which was next door to ours. My Aunt, Uncle and cousins lived to the other side of our house and we would all gather at the Grandparents. The table was set with Grandmother's finest China, everyone dressed in their holiday best attire and the evening almost always concluded with the family sitting in the formal living room enjoying Christmas music played by my Grandfather on the organ.

Every year as a young adult, I tried desperately to bring to my home and my children those memories I held so dear. Every year I failed miserably. At times we had well over 25 people crammed around tables that stretched from my kitchen through my family room and then some. The fine China had been replaced by Chinette, the fancy attire gone and the magical memories of my youth were completely lost in my feelings of overwhelm and pure exhaustion. In fact, it was not until about 10 p.m. on Christmas night that I would have my "Christmas." Alone in the dining room, long after the crowd had left and my own family was tucked away asleep...I would sit in the silence and the dark except for the glowing lights of the Christmas tree and the last flicker of the candles on the table to enjoy a glass of wine and the blissful quiet. Often times tears would silently flow down my face. The holiday was over and I had failed again.

It wasn't until many years later when we were blessed with our last child right before Thanksgiving that I finally "got" it. Four days after giving birth, the family and extended others gathered around my dining room table again. Left to the kitchen alone to clean the remaining dishes, I burst in to sobs at the thought of another approaching Christmas. In hindsight I'm sure much of my emotional breakdown was due to the exhaustion of a newborn baby and hormones running amok. My husband appeared from the bedroom after putting our new bundle to sleep and noticed my meltdown. Boy...did he notice it, I couldn't stop the sobbing and all of the previous year's holiday anguish flooded to the top and boiled over. He then said something that changed my holiday views from there on in...He told me that our children could never miss what they did not have. At first I was angered by his comment, but he went on to explain. "You haven't failed them for your memories are yours, and their memories are theirs and you have done an outstanding job of providing them with wonderful ones."

As I listen to my grown children now talk about the holidays we have shared, I realize my husband was right. They have nothing but warm, happy memories.

We now live in Georgia and our first Christmas here was just the 5 of us and I could not believe how much I missed the "stress" of our holidays in Florida. Our first Christmas celebration was over in what seemed like minutes. We have since made an adjustment and started our own new traditions to insure that the entire day is celebrated. In the evening we find ourselves enjoying the company of our friends who are like family to us as we all make an effort to make new memories in our lives which have transported us from those we love "back home."

Comes 10 p.m. on Christmas night I still take time out for "my Christmas." It has become one of my most cherished times of the holiday season. The tears still show up, but they are happy ones. As I sign off, I can't help but wonder if my Grandmother and my Mother shed tears on Christmas...and I can't help but rejoice in the fact that my daughter; the oldest of our family will be married soon and I'll get to pass the torch. I will do it however only if and when she is ready and should she feel the need to use jarred sauce in her holiday will be okay with me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Happy Fall Ya'll

As I wrote in the previous post, I had no real expectations for the November tree and no purchased supplies. Having removed the Halloween decorations I was immediately saddened by the harsh coldness of a bare green tree.

With no design notions in mind, I grabbed the first garland of fall leaves I could get my hands on which was still on display in the kitchen from the Halloween decorations. The moment I wrapped it about the tree branches, the excitement grew and I was on a mission to make due with what I had.

I stumbled across some fall colored seed pods long forgotten in a box of greenery at the bottom of my design closet. I also discovered packages of pheasant feathers and some faux gourds from a centerpiece I had made years ago. I must admit I laughed a time or two at the insanity of the things I do own. Being a former decorator with the ability to shop wholesale certainly had its perks and for a woman who suffered A.D.D when it came to my own home's decor...I have what appears to be an endless supply of decorating paraphernalia.

In no time at all the tree was filling in nicely with the rich, warm colors of the fall season. For a final touch I found a fall floral arrangement I had used a couple of years ago hanging on a hook in the garage. With a pair of clippers I dismantled the sunflower spray and went about inserting the large sunflowers throughout the tree.

I finished the tree just as the sun was starting to grow low in the sky and the illumination of the sunlight on the tree through the dining room window was nearly breathtaking. The fall season here in Georgia this year (at least in my area) has been nothing to write home about. Due to a dry summer, the leaves are falling from the trees having hardly turned color. Thanks to the new tree design I get to enjoy the beauty of fall a bit longer this year. The view from my office window may be less than spectacular, but the view from my office door...GLORIOUS!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Thanksgiving Tree

Oh MY! How did that happen??? I almost always start my holiday decorating the day before Thanksgiving. Nothing fancy...I attempt to get the trees up and lit, but rarely any decorations until after we have had our holiday meal. I just LOVE the subtle lights of the trees adding to the candle light on the dining room table. I can't believe that it is NOVEMBER and it will nearly be time to set my attention on THE Christmas tree (s).

Perhaps it was the whole year's experience of living with a tree that made the months pass more quickly than I wanted. My daughter asked me on Halloween what my plans were...if I would just go straight to the Christmas design, but I couldn't. This was meant to be a new design a month and so November needed a theme of its own.

I was once again running behind. I greeted the start of November with the flu and have done little to nothing about anything in my life these past couple of weeks, let alone worried about what to do with the tree. Today being the first day in some time that I felt human, I thought the least I could do was remove the Halloween decorations. To be honest, I was dreading what I thought would be a huge mess in trying to remove the spider webbing. Fortunately and came off with no problem at all.

Then IT happened...what??? The "IT" is what happens every time I get anywhere near a Christmas tree. I can't put it in to words...the closest I can explain is what I believe a painter must feel every time they eye a blank canvas. It's the NEED to touch create something that wasn't there before and just like that...I was mesmerized and committed.

In all honesty, I hadn't made any preparations for this goodies bought and tucked away in the expectations at all. For a few moments I had thought about leaving it be until it was a proper time to turn my attention to Christmas decorating, but the thought of eyeing a naked tree was more than I could handle.

I am proud to say this tree cost me nothing more than my time. A couple of visits to my "design closet" and the attic was all it took to find all the accessories needed. My greatest find of all....the turkey place mats made by my oldest children from elementary school. For the time being they are proudly displayed on the dining room hutch. I can't remember the last time a child's drawing or painting graced the walls or refrigerator of my home. THAT in and of itself may prove to be one of the best feelings enjoyed this year.
Stay tuned....