December 21, 2012

O Tannenbaum

Cold rain pelted down as we trudged through row after row of trees at the Christmas tree farm. The wind blew relentlessly, further dampening our spirits with each downpour. Our quest for the perfect tree was relentless, until we finally settled on a huge white pine.

Out came the chain saw as the tree was unceremoniously cut down. In my excitement, I thought it looked even bigger as it was carried to the trailer. But we finally had our tree!

Rain fell continuously all day, so the tree was too wet to bring into the house that day. Peering through the dark when I came home the next evening, I saw that the trailer in the driveway was empty. They had brought the tree in!

I walked into the house and immediately smelled fresh pine. Its heady scent was wonderful! As I went into the living room, I stopped in my tracks. This tree was enormous! How is it that the trees always seem bigger when we get them home? I walked around the tree, looking up and feeling astonished at its height, but secretly joyous, too. I felt confident I could make it into the most beautiful Christmas tree ever!

We always have to have a really big tree, and this one might just be the biggest one we’ve ever had. It towers into the peak of our ceiling, in all its wild and natural beauty. Even undecorated, I welcomed this beautiful specimen into my living room.

It’s never easy to decorate a tree this size, and the living room is filled with ladders as we try to drape lights over boughs more than a dozen feet off the ground. This tree tops out at more than fifteen feet tall, and there’s really no way to reach the peak to add a tree topper. That should dispel the annual argument of angel-verses-star for the top of the tree; there won’t be either one. It’s just too hard to reach!

Finally the lights are on, and the boxes of ornaments begin to empty. It will take most of my collection of more than 400 ornaments to make this tree look full. And believe me when I say it takes at least a few days to hang this many ornaments on the tree.

But with diligence, it’s beginning to look like a Christmas tree as cherished ornaments are unwrapped one by one along with the stories they hold. In addition, a few new ornaments are also added each year. Some treasured ornaments are older than I am. Others commemorate the first Christmas of each of our sons. 

Many ornaments are hand made, but the collection includes lot of glass ones, too. Three have broken already this year, slipping off the smooth pine boughs even as they were hung. It seems to be an annual ornament casualty count at our house.

Sometimes ornaments are given to me by friends and family, knowing that I have a large tree and might have room for some they no longer wish to display.

All are welcome on my tree, and the finishing touch will be to drape the garlands of beads and ribbons. To be honest, my first thought for decorating this tree when I saw it in m living room was to keep it a rustic woodland tree by simply stringing popcorn and cranberries in garlands to drape over the boughs.

While that design would have been simply lovely, it wouldn’t have been our traditional tree. You see, we really decorate the tree, putting more decorations on our tree than anyone I know. Each treasured ornament gets placed lovingly, proudly displayed for the holiday.

When the decorating is complete, I will share some more pictures. So, if you’d like to check back, you can see what the finished masterpiece looks like. It truly is a labor of love, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Well, I’d better get back to decorating my tree. I hope you treasure the simple joys of this holiday season; spending time with family and friends, and all of your special traditions. I pray the greatest gift you receive this Christmas is the gift of Peace, which comes if we keep our focus on the true reason for the season.

Many blessings to your and your loved ones. And a very Merry Christmas! 

December 10, 2012

The Best Laid Plans...

We sat around the Thanksgiving table, tummies full and satisfied, and contemplated our next Christmas Tree Adventure. We could all go the next day! The whole family was together, and after all, it used to be our tradition to cut our Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving.

No, we decided, let’s go on Dec. 8th.  Everyone will be home again so we can all go together, just like old times. While everyone made it home, Dec. 8th came and went with other projects taking up all the hours of daylight. So new plans were made for the following  morning to get our tree.

I awoke before dawn, excited and happy that we would finally go looking for our Christmas tree. I had made many calls to area tree farms, and scouted out the biggest fir trees. Unfortunately, the best ones were an hour away, and no one wanted to drive that far. It was raining, after all, with snow falling further up north. One son was too sick to go. And so on.

So a smaller group of us ventured out.  We weren’t told the truth about the size of the fir trees at the alternate place I chose to go, so we trudged around in the icy rain trying to find a pine. The rain gradually turned to snow, and finally was looking pretty, but by that time we were all soaked to the skin, frozen, and ready to go home. Without a tree.

You see, I had to get ready for performing in a concert that afternoon. And none of the trees met our height criteria. So sadly, we left without a tree. It was a quiet ride home.

I haven’t given up. We will get our Christmas tree. It’s just that sometimes all the best laid plans often go astray. I still have hope. I know I will find the perfect tree. I have to. It's my favorite job, and I won't give up.

The desire for a perfect tree has led us on Christmas tree adventures in four different states. Our first family adventure began when we chose a wild specimen in California’s Sierra foothills. It was the two of us then, and our firstborn son all bundled in blankets, trekking through the beautiful, mountainous countryside. We were quite adventurous in those days.

Our next adventures led us through long treks in the rolling Oregon hills looking for the perfect tree, now with two little ones in two. Over hill and dale, first carrying the little one and then, as they grew, letting them run on their own. Sometimes it took hours to find the perfect tree. But it was a wonderful family adventure.
The next state had us toting three boys along; and finally, back in our home state, I remember a very snowy December day when our last baby had to be bundled in so many blankets I could hardly hold onto him. It was snowing like crazy, and the trees were so laden with snow that we had to brush them off with our mittens to see what their shape was like. That was 15 years ago, and that baby is a teenager now.

Oh, there have been so many Christmases and so many Christmas tree adventures. I have gained a reputation for taking way too long to choose a tree, but it must be the perfect tree! And while I get chided for taking too long, they are the first to refute if the tree I choose isn't a big enough when I choose a nice ten footer!

So, back to the drawing board. We will get our tree. This week. I hope. With a tree that large, it takes time to decorate. I'll keep you all posted on our progress. And yes, of course I'll provide pictures. 

Until then, happy decorating (and baking and shopping). In all of our preparations, let's make sure to take time to prepare our hearts for the true Joy of the Season. However you celebrate, remember the reason for the season. We need to make time to focus our hearts on the Peace that this season brings. That will carry us through all of the best laid plans. 

December 9, 2012

The Art of Compromise

Today’s the day! The whole family is home and soon we will hook up the trailer and go on our annual Christmas Tree Adventure!

This year I’ve decided I want a large fir tree. A VERY large fir tree. So we are venturing up north, since fir trees really aren’t grown very much down here. I’ve heard scary stories of Christmas tree farms having dead or dying trees due to the drought this summer, so I hope our hour long trek will not be in vain.

In order to have this adventure today, I will have to miss the Children’s Christmas Program at my church this morning. This is heartbreaking for me, because hearing the children sing is like angel voices to me.

But we couldn’t get organized to get our crew on the road yesterday. And all the family is still here today. I woke early feeling the spirit nudging me to accept that sometimes you have to give up something in order to get something else.

Recently I had the opportunity to perform in a local production of The Sound of Music. The experience was fantastic, and I wouldn’t have missed it! But in order to sing as a nun I had to give up some of my regular singing gigs, namely church and the annual Christmas Tree lighting and caroling in my own town.

It was hard to let that go. And yet, if I hadn’t taken the initiative to try something new, I never would have had the amazing experience I had in this professional theatrical production. Now I see this echoed in my choice to be with family today.

I’ll have to get the crew up and on the road early, because I have another performance this afternoon in a nearby city, this time with my local Choral Union. This one I can’t miss. So, despite the fact that it’s raining instead of snowing, I still have hope. There are snowflakes mixed in with the rain, and hopefully, further north it will be all snow.

I’m actually really a bit unnerved that this metaphor for giving something up to gain something is meant to be much further reaching in my life. There is no way to know what the future will offer, yet I ponder it nearly every day. Perhaps this acceptance of change will help to free my spirit; to just live every day and not have concern about what I might have to sacrifice to get what I want.

But then, perhaps we are not meant to get everything we want. But I know that God truly does provide what we need. And He knows our need, even before we do. I find that a great comfort, don’t you?

I’ll let you know tomorrow how the annual Christmas Tree hunt comes out. Until then, my friends, happy compromises.