How to Decorate for Christmas

Last year we put up our tree in our new house for the first time and I felt a little bit like tossing the whole thing out the window and starting fresh. I didn’t feel very cheerful last year, so that was probably clouding my vision a bit. I wanted to get a set of matching bulbs and all white lights. I wanted a big bright glowing star instead of the cheap, unlit one we’ve had since our first Christmas tree as a family. But I kept our traditional tree anyways, and this year I’m so glad I did.

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This year I’ve decided that we have the absolute best Christmas decor on Earth. “Laziness” is my decorating style in general, as is “Using Stuff We Already Have.” The later is represented with the garland I have hanging in the window. The faux evergreen is the exact same one I have hung every year, always in a different place. At times I have twisted it up around itself and used it as a wreath. I have hung it from the fireplace mantle. I’ve strung it on nails from our front porch. I spent $1 on it at the Dollar Tree the year Rob and I got married. The bow is from a gift basket we received from Rob’s previous job. And the glass bulbs I’ve hung from every different place you can think of in years past. I bought them the second year of our marriage for $8 at World Market. Looking good, cheap stuff.

We have a fake tree because I’m allergic to pine. My husband has come to terms with it, though he was a real tree purist when we met. The tree decorating is great fun no matter how real it is when you’re a little girl, so I put it up the Saturday after Thanksgiving and let the kids go to town. There are many color coordinated trees which I covet in other families’ homes. But our tree is what I’d like to call “eclectic.” See below for an example:

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Here we have a plastic bulb which came from the same Dollar Tree purchase as the aforementioned garland; an irreplaceable glass ornament passed down from Rob’s grandparents, which I believe came from Morocco; a pipe cleaner with Borax crystals on it in the shape of a star; a paper origami star gifted to us by a friend; and a piece of paper colored with marker and cut into a circle.

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And here we have a bulb I made out of apple packaging from Costco; a button covered bulb I made 7 years ago; three of the glass nativity themed ornaments Rob’s mom gave us a few years back; a cinnamon salt dough ornament; a glass bulb I bought at the thrift store; yarn I wound up and hung in the tree; and a cardboard horse cut out by one of the girls.

 

 

 

Basically, I let the kids hang whatever the heck they want to in the tree. If it gets hung in the tree, I put it lovingly into the decorations bin at the end of the season and the next year it becomes a treasured ornament lovingly placed with care on the tree for the rest of our lives. The result is a very full tree. It doesn’t even match itself, but I love it.

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas?

One of these days I’m sure I’ll stop writing about how life in California is different than life in Ohio. Surely, the day will come, right? Until then, you must accommodate me while I marvel at each change in the season. Last year I was in such shock that I barely noticed the change from summer to fall. I spent a lot of time lurking on the Cuyahoga Valley Facebook feed, watching photos of red leaves and then of snow piling up before those red leaves were removed from the trails. I hardly engaged with Christmas here in my own life because I was still reeling from the move. Still focusing on how to stay afloat in our new routine.

This year I noticed the changes. The heat broke in late September making way for cooler nights. As fall crept upon us we’d wake in the morning with a chill in the house and snuggle under blankets or hurry to put on sweaters. The leaves began to change around Halloween when Ohio leaves would be in their peak. The delay was somewhat strange, but as Thanksgiving approached, fall took shape. The leaves around our park changed red and gold. The evening hour came earlier and earlier, casting a golden glow on the afternoons. We began eating dinner in the dark.

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Now the rain has come. Last year the drought was in full force and there wasn’t much rain to speak of. But the locals tell me that this year is more typical of winter in Northern California. Since the last week of November it has rained a little bit almost daily. Sometimes it’s still above 65 degrees in the afternoon, but most days we need a jacket. I’m adjusting to the change, and this wet weather is almost bringing that cosy winter feeling that I used to get as the snow fell outside. I snuggle into a sweater each morning and wrap a scarf around my neck before I head out the door. The girls still don’t ever wear socks, but they are wearing their fleece pajamas to bed each night.

 

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Photo by my friend, Rose.

On our drive to enrichment classes this morning, the hills that usually glow in the sun with golden grasses, instead were a dusty green. It’s not the chartreuse spring green of Ohio in April. But the winter rains have awoken the grasses, drawing the cattle off the tops of the hills into the valleys to graze with a new enthusiasm. Christmas joy for cattle in Northern California comes as fresh green grass. For the humans it comes as turning off the sprinklers for the year, and donning rubber boots. Soon we should be switching our jackets for coats. And it may even get frosty over night.

2014-12-04 19.15.45But if we want to see snow we’ll have to drive to the mountains. Rob has never been a native Ohioan in spite of all the years he lived there. Snow doesn’t equal Christmas for Rob the way it does for the girls and I. He is feeling the winter spirit already. But even though I feel more in season this year, I still miss snow. As I write this a man just walked into the coffee shop wearing gym shorts and t-shirt. That would never happen in an Ohio December.

But we have our own signposts pointing to Christmas here. And as I look I notice them more and more. I follow the Yosemite facebook photos of the waterfalls. Snow is falling in the Sierra, promising an easier year for the drought. The hills are greening up, but the live oak that dot the hills are bare-branched. The trees in our park have lost most of their leaves, and as the rain continues more they should be bare soon as well. At night, the moon shines through a haze of clouds wrapping the orb in a circular rainbow. And the Christmas tree in the house brings so much joy to our girls that it’s infectious. We will have a green Christmas this year. But it will be Christmas indeed.

 

A Thanksgiving Micro-Short Story

Kara’s house was full of warmth and people. The carpet had paths connecting the living room, den and dining room with a trail of footprints from ages of shoes tracking through. From the entryway a pile of work boots and children’s snow boots spilled haphazardly into the path. As people walked through they had to step carefully to avoid boots and wet melted snowy patches. 

Kara’s nieces and nephews trampled through on safaris, on boats to avoid lava flows, and on train cars made of dining room chairs. The noise was welcome in her normally quiet, sometimes lonely house she shared with Jim. Kara took the turkey from the oven to rest and her sister, Sam whisked flour and water into the drippings pan on the stove for gravy. Each year there was either too much salt in the gravy, not enough salt, or a few too many lumps, but Sam whisked it every year and Kara was glad for it.

Kara sipped her glass of wine and gazed into the living room where Jim and Sam’s husband Mike sat in arm chairs watching football. Their mom and dad sat on the sofa sipping coffee. Nieces and nephews rolled on the carpet. A little bit of sadness mixed with gratitude in Kara’s heart. In all the years she and Jim have tried, no little babies have come to warm the rooms of their home. At least she had these little feet and fingers crawling through her home today. 

In past years the turkey has been overdone. It’s been dry. It’s been overly brined and too salty to enjoy. There have been years when Thanksgiving was just a table full of side dishes, a lonesome turkey resting on the kitchen counter, so undercooked it was unsafe to eat. Kara smiled at Sam, sipped her wine again and put the meat thermometer into the thigh. It read 165. Clear juices dripped out onto the serving platter. Thank goodness, Kara thought. “Jim! Come carve the turkey!”