Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Lights, Camera, Timber!

How is it that some of the simplest things can turn out to be so complicated??

Is it me, or is there anything more maddening than stringing lights on a Christmas tree?

Today I rallied my spirits, took a deep breath and got out my strings of little white lights.  With Joy to the World serenading me from the kitchen, it started out well enough.

I plugged the lights in the socket to make sure they worked, and began stringing them along the bottom of the tree.

I learned a little bit of technique over the years, but for me, a reformed perfectionist, it is still a scary prospect.  Back in the day I used to just take the string of lights completely around the tree in one big circle from top to bottom.  When I was done, it looked like someone played a drunken game of 'here we go 'round the maypole'  'round my poor tree!

Years later, probably from that marvelous maven, Martha Stewart, I learned the technique of weaving the lights in and out from the trunk of the tree, stringing them along to the end of the branches.

So that was my plan this afternoon.  I started stringing with gusto and I must say, it was looking rather good, not magazine perfect, but to my satisfaction.  

(As an aside, can someone please explain to me how a string of lights that looks long enough to light the Amazon rainforest only covers the bottom rung of my tree?)


After lighting the bottom, I left the thingy (the other end of the light plug) on the branch and went to get more lights. Five minutes later when I returned, there was my tree face down in the carpet!  I manage to stand the tree back up and now my hands are all sticky with sap.  In a panic, I call my son who comes running down along with my two other kids.  We hold up the behemoth of a tree and began maneuvering this way and that way  in an effort to get it to stand on it's own.

My son and daughter climb beneath its sprawling branches.  Of course the water had spilled out in a huge puddle on the floor when it had fallen. Thus begins a ridiculous rally back and forth between my son and I. "It's wet down here!  All over my shirt!" my son yells. "It saturated the carpet" I reply. "More than that" he responds, as though saturated can't begin to explain what he just experienced. "It doesn't get any worse than that. That's the highest level!" I tell him.

There the two of them lay underneath the tree like so many corpses. "To the left." "Twist." "No, to the right." "If I move the base the whole tree twists." "Is that the side you want or is that the side with the gap in the branches?"
In the end, all the maneuvering back and forth was a failure. The tree still leaned was on the verge of falling. So in the end, we ended up lassoing a rope around it and hitching it to a nail in the wall behind the tree. Hey, necessity is the mother of invention.  Shh, don't tell.  No one will ever know.


So with the tree now vertical and steady, I can move on.  I begin where I left off and oh no! Wouldn't you know it?  I can't find the thingy at the end of the light to plug the next string of lights into. It was there before!  I keep going along the string because I am determined I will not undo all my work. I know it was just the bottom rung, but even that was work, going in and out of those sharp needles. It was useless. The end of the string had disappeared in the sea of branches.  So I ended up pulling nearly all the lights off. There it was!

At some point during all this,  I can't help thinking, whose great idea was this anyway?  Hundreds of years ago some people were sitting around, and someone, the overachiever of the brood,  had a eureka moment. Jumping up like a Mexican jumping bean, he yelled, "I've got it! Let's get a gynormous sticky pine tree, bring it indoors, hang lights all over it and then deck it from head to toe with fancy, shmancy, homemade ornaments!" The rest of the group burst out in one chorus, "By George, I think he's got it!" And so this glorious tradition was started.

Don't get me wrong, I love it!  I grew up with a fresh tree every year. Of course then, the glorious task of transforming our home into a winter wonderland was my parents; work.  They hung those dastardly lights on the tree.  Us kids just took our favorite ornaments out, hung them wherever we pleased, without any artistic sensibility. We paid no attention to such things as balance, harmony and cohesion.  We just wanted to get them up, drink our cocoa, and watch gifts magically appear beneath the branches.

But as for today, a serene and wonderful afternoon it was.   Snow blanketed our home and neighborhood as we had our first real snowfall this very morning.
And it was with this backdrop, that I finally strung lights on the Christmas tree, after such an inauspicious beginning.  Implementing the trunk to the end of the branches technique, it took me about 15 minutes of working my way through the pointy needles. There are not many things I find more beautiful than simple white lights.  Their quiet, understated and elegant glow is a wonderful backdrop for future ornaments.

So, the perfect tree lighting?  Not. But I wouldn't change a thing. A falling tree, children sprawled beneath, sappy fingers, sharp needles and snow-covered yard.  That's the raw material of my life, unpredictable and very sticky. That's the good stuff.

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