December 22, 2009

DECORATING THE TREE Posted by Sheila Connolly (Sarah Atwell does only cactus) I had to go out and buy new Christmas tree lights this week. That shouldn't be a big deal, but it really brought home to me how much lights have changed since I first became aware of them. I have pictures of every tree my family had, starting in 1950 (left). I won't bore you with them all (unless you really, really want me to), but they are surprisingly consistent. We always had real trees, and we always decorated them the same way. We resisted (and continue to) artificial trees, including those trees pre-wired with all the lights. We resisted "theme" trees in single colors, especially pink. I'll admit we did for a time use tinsel (that strand-by-strand kind), but eventually abandoned it. Our tree-decorating was a tradition, and each year we would gather as a family, pulling each ornament out of the boxes (some of which are as old as I am), commenting on when and where we got them. My mother would sit back and supervise, dictating where each one should go, and how to balance the color distribution for the lights. It's a tradition I've tried to uphold ever since I officially left home, starting with the tree I had in my first apartment in Cambridge (right in the nice bay window in the front, facing Harvard Street), and the memorable tree in a later apartment for which my roommates and I enlisted the help of friends and neighbors at a party–which may explain why there were plastic molars (yes, teeth, from the orthodontist who lived upstairs) and carefully strung potato chips on that one. But I was going to talk about lights. My parents had twinkle lights long before they were common–the string even had its own transformer, and the bulbs were hard to find, but at least they lasted. Then they invented lights that twinkled without help, although they give out pretty quickly. More than a decade ago I found a string of "programmable" lights that did all sorts of things. This year I plugged them in and they refused to do half of their tricks, and I didn't like the ones that were left. I've found an all-white one that is close but not quite the same. A couple of years ago I found a fabulous short string of lights that actually changed colors! I love those, but I can't find any more of them, and I've already broken one of the fragile bulbs. So I was left with one string of standard bulbs that I bought in 1972, which looks just like the string of standard bulbs my parents bought in 1950. Obviously it was time to go shopping. I was surprised to find that there were pretty much only two choices: those (@#$%&*) little white/colored things (I have plenty of those, and I don't like them) and the more recent LED lights. I don't want to think of myself as a Luddite, so I bought a few strings, round and pointy (does that pointy form have a name? Does it think it's a pine cone? A flame?). And I'm going to grit my teeth and give them a try this year. I could go on and on about the ornaments. I was even going to give you a forensic analysis, zooming in on the pictures of the trees from the 1950s and demonstrating that, yes, I'm still using some of the same ornaments; a few have survived and are now semi-antiques–as am I, I guess. Of course new ones have been added over the years, so many that there's no longer room for all of them on one tree. My sister and I usually give each other at least one new ornament each year, which keeps increasing the collection. And this year we have two kittens who have no idea what a treat they're in for (we introduced Dexter to snow today, and he's quite confused), so I'm guessing we'll be using the indestructible wooden and plastic ones this year, rather than the heirloom ornaments. But I'm hoping I can get my (small) family to join in the decorating, and to remember the happy times of Christmases past. There's something magic about a twinkling, glowing tree covered with memories, isn't there? What's your favorite ornament?
I'm Whirling like a Dervish, aren't you? Happy Holidays from Kate. No blog today. Sorry. Too busy driving from one mansion to another with my son and his lovely fiancee, scouting wedding venues. The gifts aren't wrapped yet. Some are still in the mail and may not arrive in time, and the rest gather dust as we chug from place to place, imaging green lawns under the snow, and long white dresses instead of tightly buttoned coats. Sometime today a turkey must be procured, a dessert for Christmas dinner decided on, adequate nutrition for my vegetarian daughter-in-law to be included in the traditional holiday dinner. But we are walking down long halls on elegant old carpets, under highly detailed ceilings and imaging where the bride will walk--down a staircase? Down the wide stone steps? Bride's rooms with tall mirrors and enough empty floor space for that beautiful gown. Grooms rooms--formerly the smoking rooms of millionaires--complete with a big screen TV concealed in an armoire. Menus. Open bars. Linens. Flowers. My husband's eyes goggle when I tell him how it all adds up. So do mine. We got married in the hippie era--someone's living room, or out in an autumn field--and all of this feels foreign and hard to process. But there is nothing lovelier than new love, nothing more pleasing, really, than watching this young couple taking it in, supporting each other through the process, asking complimentary questions as they try to get a sense of what, in this barrage of information, dollar signs, and personalities, is "them." I haven't baked a single cookie this season. The poinsettias are already dropping their leaves. One holiday cactus is in rebellion, scattering its tiny pink buds across the sideboard instead of opening. The long, heavy stalk of amaryllis suddenly folded in the middle and collapsed instead of bursting forth in bloom. The world's ugliest centerpiece, a ghastly three-tired droop of faux green leaves and red plastic berries, bought as a joke at Home Depot one year, is surrounded by a sea of wrapping paper. It doesn't need water or care, just the occasional flick with a duster. I'm liking it better all the time. On the way to the gym in a few minutes--a futile activity given how much sugar gets consumed at this season on a daily basis--I'll blast some holiday music and see if I can get myself moved into a holiday mood--before I get back in the car and drive to the train station to collect my sister-in-law. Then it's off to the grocery store. When am I going to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Love Actually" or any of my other Christmas favorites? Could we just get a few extra hours over here? But I am not complaining. Really. I think this is shaping up to be a lovely holiday week. Perhaps today Jake and Robyn will find the venue of their dreams. A turkey will be seized and dragged home. I'll have the patience to stroll through a crowded store with my 91-year-old mother-in-law. Best of the season to you all....if you're here reading this, and even if, like me, you're out in your car, trying to get it finished up. Smile, remember what the season is about, and if you've got some free time---drop by and wrap my presents, please, will you? Merry Happy!

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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