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Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Clam Dip and Christmas Trees

Christmas tree, my Christmas tree
Lit up like a star
When I see my Christmas tree
Can loved ones be far?
Christmas tree I'm certain
Wherever I roam
The glow from your branches
Will light my way home.

("My Christmas Tree" from Home Alone)


It's time for me to confess to the unforgivable. I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas trees.

I love ours when it's finally done.

Ornaments collected from every Christmas night
Memories reflected in tinsel and light

I've don't understand people who hire interior decorators to come up with new themes for their tree each year. Ours is an annual reminder of our family's history. There are ornaments that I've made and some that I bought just because they tickled my fancy. DH has purchased a few (like Santa in a yellow kayak that is an annual reminder of his dream of kayaking in the Rockies when we move there.) I have ornaments from Disneyland and each year since we bought the condo I've added one with a moose theme.

The most important ornaments, though, are the ones we've bought for the boys as they've grown up. One each year starting with their first Christmas and as long as they let me buy them. Last year, at ages 28 and 25, they still let me haul them to the Hallmark store to choose a new one, and last year we got to bring DH1's new wife so that she could choose one, too.

All the ornaments go onto a tree with 1500 lights, dozens of colored glass balls in the interior and garlands of "candy" (well, it's plastic candy but it's cute, anyway). As a last touch I add four dozen glass icicles. Ahhh... it's a glorious site to behold.

But getting there is a bitch.

The painful experiences started when the boys were little. Each year we headed out on the day after Thanksgiving to a tree farm to cut our own tree. We would search and search for one that was straight, but since the tree farm was in a valley that caught the breeze off the ocean, it was tough to find one that was straight. One year we went to a different farm and found what appeared to be a straight tree. DH whispered to us, "Turn around and walk away now." We walked a few yards away, then DH spun around. "What are you doing?" I asked. He explained that these trees stand straight and tall while you're looking at them, but when you aren't looking they relax into their natural wonky position. But, even after the test, this one was still straight as an arrow, so we cut it down and brought it home.

Where it relaxed into it's natural wonky position.

Our last tree from the tree farm was so dry by Christmas that we had to take it down the day after (irrigation is a good thing, too bad the farmer neglected to do so.) DS1 developed mild asthma during the following year, so we switched from a natural tree to an artificial tree. (My sister had severe asthma as a kid and I remembered how getting an artificial tree had saved Christmas for us.) There was a lot to love about the artificial tree. It was straight. It wouldn't dry out to become a fire hazard. It was straight. The branches didn't bend under the weight of larger ornaments. It was straight. If there wasn't a branch where we wanted an ornament, we'd just tweak a branch into that spot.

And it was straight.

However, it always felt like it was dried out, and putting the lights on every year was painful. One year I realized that if you could buy trees with the lights on at the store, you could also store the tree with the lights on. So, I invested in all new strands of lights and wound them "one last time" onto the tree. For the entire next year I dreamed of bringing out the tree, assembling it, then just plugging in the lights.

It worked OK for a while except that there was always one strand (well, sometimes two) that needed new fuses. That was a minor inconvenience compared to what came after about the sixth year.

It was a low-budget year. On the day after Thanksgiving I pulled the box from its storage area in the garage and into the kitchen. I opened the box and realized that rats had nested in the tree. What a mess. There was no way I was putting that disgusting thing up in my family room, so it went into the trash and I made an emergency trip to Michael's for a (gulp) new tree. The only tree they had with the shape I wanted already had several hundred lights on it, but they were all white and I wanted multi-colored. Again, I invested (gulp) in new lights. It took an entire day - 8 hours - to get all the white lights off that tree, and a good part of the next day to wind the new lights on.

The next year I excitedly brought out the tree, assembled it and plugged in the lights only to discover that a couple of strands had broken (couldn't tell what had happened until I had unwound them from the tree) so the entire process of taking lights off, putting new ones one had to be repeated.

Christmas 2007.

I used to love the whole build-up to "dressing the house" for Christmas. As a SAHM I would spent weeks cleaning until the entire house - from it's newly waxed floors to the inside of the frig to the crystal clear windows - sparkled. Then I would delight in bringing out the collection of Santas, snowmen and miniature trees. Even the bathrooms were decorated!

Once the children came it became harder to do the cleaning, and when I started teaching the cleaning part kind of went into minimalist mode. I no longer put up all the decorations everywhere, but that tree does get done and was yesterday's task. I actually pulled the pieces out and assembled the tree on Thanksgiving morning. I plugged in the lights and...


Looks a little lopsided, doesn't it? That's because TWO strands of lights were out. This year I tried to be smart about it, though. I plugged in every strand individually. I put a piece of green electrical tape on the plugs that worked and a piece of yellow tape on the plugs that didn't. The day after Thanksgiving I went to the early sale at Michael's. I got there just after 6:00 am so that I could get 25% off my entire order, which included TWO new strands of lights to replace the TWO that were out. Yesterday I unwound the TWO strands that were out and found the wires had broken. I unwound the TWO strands that were damaged.

And about pitched the whole thing through a window when I realized there was another strand (for which I had no replacement) out. With a piece of GREEN tape on its plug, which means it worked the day before. I had to give up out of frustration.

Always such a lovely way to start the holiday season.

And so what does all this have to do with clam dip? It's how I get through this annual torture. 2 cans of chopped clams, a pint of sour cream, a large brick of cream cheese, 1/2 onion (minced), a little Worchestershire sauce and a couple healthy shakes of tobasco. (You can add a little lemon juice but I prefer it without.)

To end on a positive note...

I scored a big box of flat head quilt pins at the Michael's sale.

500 pins, $9.99 and 25% off. I bought a box of 50 pins for $3.99 at a quilt shop last summer and LOVE using them, so I feel like I got a bargain to get 500 pins for $7.50.

In stitching, I'm working on the Margaret Sherry kitten (hanging in a wreath) that was a free kit in one of the British stitchery magazines last year (they're the best, but very expensive here). I'll post a pic when I finish.

3 comments:

Alison said...

Love the tree! Your story could be mine except we only just decided on the artificial number 2 yrs ago. But we certainly have the light drama every year! Not helped by my using "vintage" lights, inherited from my father. I finally gave them up cos I can no longer get new globes. :(

Missy said...

Your tree is gorgeous! I know exactly what you were saying about the lights being a bitch. I was thinking the same thing the other day as I was wrapping and wrapping the scratchy-assed thing that we call a tree. I told DH that I want a prelit one someday.

Clam dip sounds delish! Save some for me :)

Chiloe said...

The tree looks good. You made me laugh with your story. We get a fresh tree every year around the 10th of december. That make me think that we need to check our own lights before they sold out ;-)