It’s Raining Pine Needles in My Living Room

tree 005We should have listened to my seven-year old daughter while we were at the Christmas tree lot.  She lobbied for a Frasier, but we went with the Balsam–that was our first mistake.  Its intoxicating pine fresh scent had us fooled (not to mention it’s slightly cheaper price tag.)  We took the Balsam and left “Stacy” (my daughter had already named the Frasier) to another couple who had been obviously eyeing it like a hawk that afternoon.  About a week after we decorated the tree my son started to say, “Mom, it’s not good when you can see through your Christmas tree.”  It was our second clue.  When your dog shakes off pine needles like she just stepped out of a bath…that’s called strike three.

You know it’s time to get rid of the Christmas tree when the ornaments start taking themselves down!

So it’s the second week of January.  It had to come down sometime.  I mean, my little girl’s birthday is just a few days away and we can’t have birthday photos with a tumbleweed Christmas tree in the background.  So I bit the bullet and took the tree down—but not before I could make an event out of it.  Christmas Blend Starbucks coffee, peppermint candy canes, and my favorite Christmas DVDs playing…I started taking off the ornaments that hadn’t already surrendered to gravity.  It was a sad day.

Sad because not only was I taking down all the festive Christmas decorations, but sad because this meant another year had slipped through our fingers.  Sad because the kids’ break from school had run its course. Sad because all the holiday cheer has been replaced with dieting resolutions and “organize your life in 2013” mumbo jumbo.  And a whole lotta sad because I had a Christmas tree mess unlike any other!

You always have battle scars when you opt for a real Christmas tree.  Little scratches and scrapes during decorating…and don’t forget the sap, uugggh!  Plus, the occasional water spill and of course–pine needles.  However, this year’s Christmas tree outdid itself in the pine needle department.  They started falling off about a week in.  Then we noticed small piles of needles starting to form on the tree skirt.  Soon after–when the living room was quiet–you could hear the pine needles fall through the tree.  It quickly escalated to sagging garland, the strand of lights slowly inching toward the floor, and the occasional ornament falling in the night.  Before long we began to worry whenever someone opened the front door and a breeze swept in.  I yelled at the kids about running past the tree too fast and setting off a needle avalanche.  We tried to keep up with the needles through the aid of our Dyson vacuum cleaner, but after a while I started to worry that we were actually damaging the Dyson.  And forget about it when the UPS guy came the door–I promise that tree almost came tumbling down when the dog raced to the window to let out her warning barks. On Christmas morning there wasn’t an ounce of snow outside, but there was a nice prickly layer of pine needles dusting every gift.  And then we left town.

When we returned we couldn’t turn the lights on the tree anymore…fire hazard.  My niece caught wind of it on New Year’s Eve via a Skype video call.  She wondered what HAPPENED to our tree!  Her comment spoke volumes.  We all knew it needed to come down.  I actually sort of wanted it to come down (and I NEVER want to put the tree away…I secretly want it to be Christmas all year!)  Still, it was painful to look at and I would have probably paid someone to take it down for me at that point if I thought we had any takers.

One week later we were all sort of used to the newly dubbed “tumbleweed tree.”  Its falling pine needles had become just a regular household sound like the squeak in the kitchen floor.  Whenever I walked into the living room I would just waltz over to the tree, inspect underneath, gather the fallen ornaments, dust off the pine needles and put them on the table.  A small pile of ornaments had started to emerge when I decided that I was all out of excuses.  There were other things that needed to get done, but the tree won out today.  It’s ugly, shabby appearance had already forced me to tell the children that their friends couldn’t come over and play until I had taken it down (and I said that four days ago.)

It took hours and I’m still not technically done putting all the Christmas decorations away, but removing the tree was a big start.  Of course, a zillion needles fell out in the process, it took a broom, a dust pan and about 30 minutes with the Dyson to get things looking good (although I still wouldn’t recommend walking where the tree used to be in your bare feet!)

tree 004I know we’ll do it all again next year and the year after that…although I’ve been eyeing artificial trees in the clearance section at Wal-Mart (wink, wink).  But for now the living room has resumed its regular homey look, the children can have their friends over again, and the branch that used to be our tree has a nice new home up against the fence in our backyard.  And who knows how long it will stay there….

The perfect Christmas tree?  All Christmas trees are perfect!  ~Charles N. Barnard

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“B” Christmas…or My Very Own Charlie Brown Christmas Special (starring ME!)

Bells will be ringing—the glad, glad news…oh what a Christmas to have the blues….

ASomething has been askew this Christmas.  I was sort of afraid to admit it until now since I proclaim this to be my favorite time of year.  It’s not that I’m without a loved one, it’s not that I have an insurmountable list of problems, worries or fears.  I’ve been trying to tell myself that it’s just the weather, but it sort of snowed the other day and that didn’t squelch the icky feeling.

I think if I’m really honest, I’ve missed Christmas–not in the “longing for” sense of the word, but more the “missed out” connotation of the word.  It’s a horrible feeling since Christmas is still two days away.  The dreadful feeling gave itself a name today–“B” Christmas, as in plan B.  (Remember that feeling in high school when you felt compelled to choose a B school, just in case you didn’t get into your college of choice or the time when you had to settle for your second favorite prom dress because your “friend” already snagged the one you were eyeballing!)  You know it’s not a bad thing…but it doesn’t feel all that great either.

I’ve been trying to hash out what went wrong…you know, analyze the variables and figure out what was different this year than in Christmas’ past.  Nerdy, but that’s how I work.  So, here’s what I’ve come up with:  the season actually began too early with Christmas cookies in October, followed by an unusually busy baking season, Halloween (the unofficial start to Christmas) came and went too quickly (and I didn’t take the kids trick-or-treating nor did we visit any pumpkin patches), outside commitments were plentiful, time-consuming and pressing (basketball practices, extra long soccer season, music concerts and church obligations), Thanksgiving was very structured and passed in a blink (I was super intentional this year about being grateful and in the moment…maybe too focused?), I planned too many homemade/handmade gift projects and of course, the mother of all sins…I stayed up way too late trying to make it all PERFECT!  I am guilty of trying to cram 48 hours into 24 hour days…but who isn’t?

In the end I paid for all of it.  I was tired, irritable, a time tyrant.  I spent all my waking hours in the kitchen and/or at the computer.  I planned each day out for maximum productivity and left out any creative and spontaneous time for fun.  Look, I’m not completely crazy…I had moments of being an on-the-ball mother, wife, church volunteer, and baker.  There were occasional moments to pause, but not enough moments to reflect or savor.  There were too many times I thought I wouldn’t get it all done, panic-stricken times when I was certain it wouldn’t come together, and way too many instances where I wondered why I had taken on so much followed by numerous vows to NEVER do any of this again!  I hate that the most.  The cold, hard fact is that I created this problem for myself.  If I had the Christmas blues I was the one standing there with sapphire color paint under my nails, smeared across my cheek and splotched all over my clothes.

In this “smurf-like” state I didn’t have many options–so I did what people with the blues generally do, I cried.  And wouldn’t you know it, I finally felt better.  It reminded me so much of the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  It’s filled with good intentions, projects and purpose.  Linus even recites scripture to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.  Charlie Brown wants to be the director, the leader that the Peanuts gang is looking for.  He wants to be the guy who’s going to make this Christmas special.  He doesn’t just take on this project for the benefit of those in the Christmas program, he takes it on to better himself…because he believes this venture will raise his Christmas spirit.  Yet, despite his best efforts we all remember the part where Charlie Brown walks out–dejected, sad, depressed and dispirited after he is ridiculed for choosing a tiny, sad excuse for a tree.

But here’s the best part:  It seems like out of nowhere everyone seems to get it.  The Peanuts gang suddenly see the tree in a new light!  They find that part of themselves that connects with the heart of Christmas.  It happens in a blink and without reason and in that cheesy-manner that only comes from 1960’s Christmas specials, but it happens.  I don’t know if the show’s creators would ever say it, but I think that’s the moment when God stepped in.  And in my very own Charlie Brown Christmas special (starring ME!) after those sad, blues-filled tears fell, God stepped in for me as well.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a 1960’s Christmas special by any stretch of the imagination.  It didn’t happen in an instant, but it did happen.  Slowly the heart of Christmas filled my spirit and the holy day that I love so much, the season I call my favorite…started to come back to me.

As I finish up this blog it’s now the day after Christmas.  My eyes tear up at the thought of this joyous Christmas 2012 that I almost missed out on.  I thank God for the opportunity to worship and celebrate His Son’s birth on Christmas Eve with an unburdened heart.  I rejoice in spending Christmas day with my husband and children and without any agenda…in fact, we all stayed in our pajamas ALL DAY.  I am overjoyed to say that I consider this Christmas a blessing.  And while my house is a disaster, the pine needles are piling up under the tree like sand, and I’m staring down at least several days worth of Christmas decor to put away, I finally feel content.  I’m still listening to Christmas music.  My husband asked me how long I planned to keep playing it and I didn’t have an answer–I still have a lot of Christmas to make up for.

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.” ― Peg Bracken

You’ve Heard of Christmas in July, Right?

“You’re cheating!”  my husband said as he turned the corner.  “So, what,” I half-heartedly mumbled as I brushed past him in the hallway.  The window on my computer screen was open and there it was…all exposed for the world to see (and hear.)  I WAS BUSTED.

There was no denying it and if you know me, I wouldn’t bother with trying to make excuses.  It felt good, so I threw commonsense out the window and continued to listen to Christmas music a mere two days after the Fourth of July. 

It was not my intention to get into a full Christmas groove.  In fact, I was listening to Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” for the 80th time with my seven-year old daughter when I caught a glimpse of Michael Buble’s Christmas CD icon out of the corner of my eye.  The snowy scene, the gift-bearing crooner, the joyful feeling that conjures up the holidays.  So before Bieber could promise his girlfriend more fondue I double clicked and the familiar melody began…it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….  I had only intended to hear the first song, a Christmas-junkie’s first mistake. 

I truly love Christmas.  And I’m going to say it (though many of you will not believe me) I truly love Christmas and it has NOTHING to do with the presents.  Trying to pinpoint what I love most about the Christmas holiday is difficult.  I love the cooler weather (correction, “colder” temps…I live in the Midwest), the decorations, the busyness (although I regularly complain about that part), the shopping, the planning, the cookie baking and especially the music.  It’s the music that really sets the tone, puts that special something in the atmosphere and makes many of the awful parts of the holiday season (and we know there are some truly awful parts) much more festive!  Of course, these are just the secular part of the holiday…when I start thinking about the birth of our Savior, well it just makes the season so much more meaningful and special…but that’s another blog.

So back to my kitchen and Christmas music in July….  Somewhere in the middle of song two (Santa Claus is Coming to Town) I started daydreaming about putting up the Santa collection and wondering  if I should continue to make it the focal point of the living room.  Then, early into song three (Jingle Bells) I began thinking about my son’s winter coat and how he’s growing like a weed and whether or not we need to plan to buy him a new one.  Next, White Christmas turned my thoughts to looking at the calendar and finding out what day of the week Christmas was on this year.  By the time I hit the chorus of All I Want for Christmas is You I started thinking that I should start my shopping early this year, like maybe in August or September…no wait, we have school shopping to do… my thoughts started racing.  Several songs later I ended up at Blue Christmas and began to realize that I wasn’t really enjoying the music any more, instead I had actually started a mental list of all the things that I had to get done before Christmas.  My mind was a blur of plans and preparations…a “to do” list was starting to form.  I was already wondering how we were going to balance church programs and school holiday events… and basketball practice?  YIKES!  Believe it or not, but Christmas panic was actually attacking me in JULY.  Breathe, breathe, breathe…. 

Michael Buble’s personal Christmas greeting belted out from the computer speakers.  My Christmas daze was over.  Although I played the whole CD, I’m fairly certain that I only heard half the songs.  And it dawned on me…there is a defined Christmas season and there’s no way it can begin as early as July!  I don’t think I could handle it if it did.  Suddenly, the warm July temps seemed a lot more appropriate, a schedule jam-packed with little league baseball sounded just right, and a couple more months of wearing flip-flops and sandals seemed to fit me to a tee.  No sense in rushing a good thing.  Christmas could wait. 

I shut down the computer for the evening with only the faintest brainworm of I’ll Be Home for Christmas running through my head.  I still have to get through all the summer birthdays, the first day of school, Labor Day, and finally Halloween…the official start of the holiday season, right?

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree