O Christmas Tree

December 4, 2012

IF THE TREE IN MY PARLOR IS ANY INDICATION, Christmas has arrived at A Garden for the House.  Would you like to see some of the baubles — and yes, beagles — that ornament the boughs? Here they are, along with a few thoughts on treating, lighting, and decorating this evergreen symbol of the holidays:

I’m partial to Frasier firs. Why? Because most have a full, Christmas tree-ish shape. Furthermore,  their boughs are strong enough to hold even heavy ornaments.

Treating a tree. To keep a tree fresh through the holidays, be sure to saw off at least one inch of the tree’s base (usually the seller will do this for you). Then set the tree in a stand with a good-sized basin, and fill the basin with water. As evaporation occurs — and this will be daily — add more water. Turn off nearby radiators, too. A pine tree can’t be expected to hold onto its needles in a room that is hot and dry.

Lighting. Never skimp on lights. Back in 2010, my friend Herminio (above) taught me to arrange lights both vertically and horizontally.  This strategy produces magnificent illumination.

Decorating: I’ll admit that a tree dressed in all blue, all gold, or all silver balls can look elegant. But only if that tree is located in a department store. At home, I think decoration should be a personal statement that follows no set of rules.  Use whatever ornaments you’ve collected over the years, including those you or your children were forced to make in elementary school.

I made such a bauble as a first-grader in the 1960s. It was a little snowman. He was crafted from marshmallows, with green sequins for eyes and a cone-shaped hat made from red construction paper. My mother kept this relic until 2006, and then foolishly sent it to me. I say “foolishly” because the little snowman crashed to the floor last December, where it was quickly discovered — and eaten — by Lily the Beagle.

Ah, 40 years of history. Gone in a single gulp.

And here are just some of the trinkets on this year’s tree:

Do you love glass ornaments, too? I think they provide terrific sparkle. I picked up the thin, delicate icicles pictured above from a shop in New York’s East Village back in 1998.

My partner and I picked up Catherine of Aragon, above, while visiting London. Catherine was the first wife of Henry VIII. Lucky for Catherine, her marriage merely ended in divorce.

Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, wasn’t so lucky. Henry’s only escape from this marriage was to  have Anne beheaded.

Are you feeling the holiday spirit yet?

And here’s loveable Henry himself. I hope you’re not attracted to his type.

And now I feel a song by Herman’s Hermits coming on.

There are lots of grand pianos on the tree, like this one…

And this one.

And here’s Babar the Elephant. We found him at a little shop in Paris.

It’s worth traveling to Paris just to obtain Christmas souvenirs.

Honest.

I don’t remember where this shoe came from. It is too big for Anne Boleyn, and too small for Babar.

Ditto for this shoe.

Obviously, someone around here has a foot-fetish.

We brought this ornament back from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home.

After we adopted Lily (you can read her story here), friends sent us Beagle ornaments. The one above features an actual photo of Lily in a doghouse frame.

It may seem odd to you that you that we placed an 18-inch tall doll atop the tree. But she wasn’t always a doll. Originally she was an angel. An angel with magnificent, feathered wings. Then Lily the Beagle discovered the angel in a box in the laundry room.  As you can imagine, the angel’s wings went the same way as my marshmallow snowman.Yes, Lily, I’m talking about you.

I’ll show you more holiday decorations as I set them up. Meanwhile, how are  your own decorations coming along?

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Related Posts:
The (Easy!) December Chores
Luscious Cinnamon Rolls
Blueberry Bars

Comments

  1. Brenda Johnson says:

    Lovely Kevin!!! I completely agree regarding ornaments… the more sentimental the better!!!! I have 2 trees in my house… one in our living room- all white lights-with some of my grandmother’s things on it along with travel mementoes and our english bulldog representation (like Lily’s!) and one in the family room -with multi colored lights- is adorned with antique ball ornaments and hand crafted kid ornaments! thanks for sharing the pictures!!!

  2. Donna Clary says:

    Lily was clearly framed!

  3. Misty says:

    Love your tree! It’s simply gorgeous even without your prize marshmallow ornament and the angels feathery wings. LOL Kevin! I haven’t had a good laugh like that in ages…haha Shhhhh don’t want Lily to hear me! I’m sure Lily will have some fond memories deep inside her. Your post was most enjoyable! Have a wonderful Holiday!

  4. Kathy says:

    Kevin, I so enjoy your posts and all that you share with us! I want to give Lily a big hug and snuggle her by that fire now!! :) What a sweet, sweet soul she is! and as for the tree – warm and wonderful! And I find those icicle ornaments exquisite! I love snow and ice so I am drawn to those most. Have a magnificent Christmas season!

  5. badger gardener says:

    Your ornaments are beautiful!!!! Thanks for showing us.

  6. Gladys Gilbert says:

    I think Lily is beautiful, as is your tree with all it’s ornaments.

  7. katie says:

    Kevin, I love your tree and your sense of humor! I really enjoy reading all your posts, but this one really made me laugh. Do you remember the stories for all of them? I have ornaments from when my boys were very young (they’re teenagers now) that I remember in detail and some that I’m just not really sure how they got in my ornament box…

    I read Lily’s story and can only say that God made sure that accident happened in front of your house, not her previous owner’s. He sounds like he would have just left her in the street.

  8. Erin says:

    Hi Kevin
    I too went in to read Lily’s story. The three of you are so lucky to have found each other. I am so glad that your vet figured out it was Lyme and that she obviously made a full recovery.

    I was laughing out loud reading today’s post about Lily’s Christmas ornament antics. I forwarded a link to my sister.

  9. Donna B. says:

    I totally agree with you! I don’t believe trees should look like the ones in department stores… and most definitely not a fake tree!
    Sadly, I do not decorate with ornaments… we used to use a traditional evergreen tree for christmas… then I started buying potted dwarf shrubs that I could plant in the ground… hahaha! [year one was a dwarf alberta spruce, year two was a holly, year three I think will be a golden weeping cypress! ♥] I think it’s my excuse to get my boyfriend to buy me plants… :D

    But I do light them up! Oh yes I do… I’m tacky and use white/blue/multi-colored lights all on the tree at once! it’s glorious… Although I think what with all of the fallen tree material lying around I will try and make some evergreen garlands for the house! I LOVE the smell of pine trees…

    I’m shocked you haven’t mentioned the disco balls! That alone I think makes your tree SHINE! :D

  10. Annie B says:

    Beautiful. And, yes! Leave perfect color coordinated trees to magazines. I love the glass ornament with the red inside. And, of course, Lily likenesses (I have Ben the collie likenesses…and horses and cats….and…). Good job!

  11. Cissy says:

    I agree with all the posts re:tree, decorations, etc: I know exactly when & where I bought each one, and they all have special memories for me. But I have a question: can you share the instructions for putting the lights on the tree both horizontally & vertically??? Every year, my husband wraps each branch separately, swearing it’s the last year he will do it, that I must learn to do it next year! So far, I’ve been lucky, but…thanks for sharing!
    Cissy from sunny Boca Raton, FL

  12. Judith says:

    Kevin, I love your Lily stories and your Christmas tree philosopy. I am a fool for a beagle. My husband and I do no thave a dog right now, but we do have our a persnickety, beautiful cat, Marlon Shostakovich. I must tell you about my last beagle, Abe, and his Christmas antics. Every year I created a gingerbread village, including homes, stores, saloon with drunk gingerbreadman, a house of ill-repute with a gingerbread lady of the night and the largest structure of all, the steepled church. The church had a nativity set.
    Every December Abe, the beagle, would stealthily stroll by the gingerbread village until we were absorbed in homework, reading, whatever. Then he struck. He ate something from the gingerbread village every year. For some reason, he often took the infant Jesus from the Nativity scene.
    I love beagles; maybe Santa will bring one.

  13. peg says:

    this made my heart happy! thanks for sharing so much of your world with us.
    love to lily! and happy holidays to you and everyone who enjoys your site.

  14. secondhandlibrarian on Cape Cod says:

    Thank you for making me snicker out loud! Oh Lily you are perfect! I can’t wait to try the potato croquette recipe …Thank you also for not being perfect and saying baking them would be as good as frying!

  15. Sandy H says:

    LOL. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Brenda Gildersleeve says:

    Oh… Dear Lilly! Such trouble she gets into, but so loved… Forgiven.

  17. Marge Bomford says:

    Kevin, I wasn’t going to put out many decorations this year but I think you’ve inspired me to do so. I love Lily – your rascal canine pal!

  18. Wow What a wonderful tree. I like the Lily stories. I remember at the inn, we had everything decorated and one of the animals made some move and there came the tree in my direction. Oh no. So we learned to subtly wire it up so there would be no more flying trees at the inn.

  19. Nancy Carr says:

    lily The Beagle is a joy. Love reading your blog. I love dogs and must start collecting dog ornaments to go with my tea cup ornaments. Happy Holidays!

  20. Arlene Bice says:

    Kevin, You just have the best postings, using your creativity showing them in the best possible way. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful holiday. I know you will.

  21. Silly Lily…you better be careful or Kevin might want to give you a Lilly pad(dling)

  22. Lee says:

    I love your traditional tree. I still have not only some ornaments but a string of lights that actually work! from my first tree in 1940! I send my children a special ornament for their trees every year. My mother and I collected ornaments form our vacations. It’s a great tradition but after all these years, they do take up a lot of space. Somehow I always get them all on the tree but I have started to give each their favorites. Have a wonderful Christmas season.

  23. Corinne says:

    I like to add birds and nests to my tree. And I do love the see through colored glass balls. The lights bring them alive.

  24. valerie says:

    Lovely post Kevin. Christmas is such a special time of year. I laughed at the canine antics, being a dog fanatic myself. I read your Lily story as well and cried. I cried because I don’t understand how some people can be so cruel and heartless. I also cried because of how kind you are and the lengths you went to save her. I have three dogs and all have and have had problems. My middle girl was paralyzed for three months and to this day, no one knows what is wrong with her. I didn’t give up on her while everyone told me there was nothing to be done. I found a naturopathic vet (still don’t understand how homeopathy works but it does) and after three months she could stand (with help). Now, two years later, she’s not 100% but she plays with her sisters and can even trot. I could go on and on. I just want to say, that there is a place in heaven for people like you. Happy, happy holidays, Kevin.

  25. Viola Pieske says:

    Dear Kevin,
    Your Christmas tree is beautiful, it has all kinds of memories with your ornaments. That is what a tree should stand for, and I can see all the care you put into it, including your adorable dog, Lilly.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Years,
    Vi PIeske

  26. Toni Gandel says:

    Beautiful tree and all interesting ornaments that tell your life story…especially love how they reflect your travels, and love for your grand piano and of course, your darling Lilly. I volunteer for animal rescue and appreciate your story about how Lilly came into your life and how you saved her….not only her leg, I might add. So glad how that story turned out and as far as I’m concerned, a beagle is the quintessential American dog. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year!

  27. Valerie C. says:

    I love your tree and Lily too. Our Golden Retriever also named Lily, was a rescue from Animals for Life here in CT. Have a wonderful holiday :)

  28. Lola says:

    Al-tho I don’t always comment I do enjoy your post. I am anxious to see your other Christmas trees.

  29. cecile says:

    hi Kevin,
    a little late. but: happy birthday to you!
    May coming year be even better than this year!
    I have a tric to make more light in a christmastree.
    (forcive my english, I am Dutch.. though not double-dutch ;) )
    One can buy some very small mirrors, glue 2 of them back to back with some yarn between them and put then in the christmastree before putting the lights is, from the inside of the tree they will reflect the lights of the candles.
    And a merry christmas to you and your partner :)

  30. I do also love glass ornaments and I agree that home trees should reflect the personality or memories of those who live there. My in-laws have two trees: a formal tree that looks like it belongs in a department store and their informal, which has all the homemade and sentimental ornaments. My mother’s tree, due to her age, is a white artificial pre-lighted thing that I have the honor to put up and decorate this year. I’ve started. That’s all I’m saying on the subject at this point.

  31. Migs Murray says:

    Gosh, that Henry. Not even Christmas yet and already he’s legless. :-D

  32. Julia Hofley says:

    Love the idea of collecting ornaments from our travels. I’ve always collected refrigerator magnets.hmm…I love the tour of your tree Kevin. You are very funny. Also, I’m growing my first Hyacinth in a bulb vase thanks to you.
    You are inspiring in many ways.
    Thank you for sharing!

  33. Ngoc says:

    Lovely tree and ornaments, you’ve got to have a nice mix to throw on there, especially meaningful ones. I love animal ones–Lily is a cutie!

  34. Amy Kefauver says:

    I bet your East Village source for magical ornaments was Matt McGee’s? I loved that store as a young single in the city, and one year brought my three youngsters there as a critical part of their education. When I entered that tiny store, with its narrow aisles and tempting sparkling items within reach, with an 8-, 6-, and 4-year old, the proprietor immediately (and naturally) appeared and watched us like a hawk…..my kids (raised so well!) walked the aisles carefully, eyes huge, and touched nothing. My husband and I selected one perfect ornament (a pink rose), and went to pay for it. The proprietor handed my children three gorgeous triangular paper packages, each with a candy cane in it, and told me they were well-behaved. THAT was my best Christmas gift that year!

  35. Paula says:

    Hi Kevin,
    I love your tree and yes i agree w/ you that your tree and ornaments is all about the collections and the memories.
    We bought our tree yesterday and it came with instructions. One of the instructions i’ve never heard of before and wondered if you have. It said to add a teaspoon of sugar to each gallon of water before watering the tree. any thoughts as to why this is a good idea? When i asked the tree people they said they had no idea why but the farmer that they were buying them off of gave them those instructions.
    thanks!

  36. Julie Redlawski says:

    Kevin, I agree about the beauty of a themed tree. I have longed for one of those. However, we do a catch all tree. We have 7 children and every year they look for their “baby’s first Christmas” ornament or ask me to show them the bulb we bought on our honeymoon that was made with ash from Mt. St. Helen’s, or the tale how their dad conspired with my cousin who was a pilot and he surprised me with a plane trip to Mackinaw Island for the first leg of our honeymoon, they gave us an ornament of a bird in a nest because they gave us the gift of “flight”. The list goes on. So, we continue to have a hodge podge tree but with really great stories :)

  37. Bernie says:

    What an amazing tree! I love all the ornaments with meaning. We actually keep our tree on the front porch so I have no heartfelt ornaments just cheap ones from the dollar stores, you know in case the tree decides to walk one night. I love being able to enjoy my tree as I look out the window and also enjoy the no fuss clean up…well except from the glitter from other Christmas decorations that I do have in the house!

  38. Lynda says:

    Hi Kevin, Your tree is great! A tip I can share on lighting is to wrap a string of white lights around the trunk of the tree. This lights it from within and is really a lovely effect.

  39. Naomi Shelton says:

    I am partial to Frasier firs ( I typed “fur”..ha, ha) also, Kevin. However, as to decorations, after my very sad, mad, hurtful divorce some 15 years ago I couldn’t bear to use the ornaments we had collected as a family and decided to use all silver, white and crystal ones. I have done so ever since and quite like it. But this year, I am thinking I need to add some color. Perhaps just a bit of red here and there. Anyway, your ornaments are lovely and I hope you have wonderful holidays this year. Don’t forget about the 12/21 Solstice; Earth will be receiving powerful and healing energy during the period from the 21st thru the 232rd. Just be open-hearted and amazing things could come your way! Again Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones!

  40. Anna Lapping says:

    Beautiful tree, Kevin, and I love the stories about Lily. Alas, we have no tree at home this year. There’s really no good place where the 1 year old Jack Russell (Poppy) and the 2 year old Husky (Hoosier) won’t get into loads of trouble. We did put up a tree and lots of decorations at our store, and other types of decoration at home.

    I am going to do some winter sowing, and I usually grow micro greens starting in January. I do a mesclun mix and pea shoots, and sometimes some others.

  41. Cilla says:

    Kevin, I didn’t sit and take time to read this post until this morning! I am also a true believer that the Christmas tree is a symbol of history, memories and love! I have ornaments that my daughter made in pre-school. they go up every year with all her other creations! Even through eh terrible adolescent years when she hated them being out there front and center!! lol Ornaments from trips and from friends and family… they are as wonderful a gift as a piece of jewelry….you may only bring them out once a year but it is like taking a journey through time and visiting with every moment and person connected. And I love the glass red ball inside the clear glass ball! The tree is beautiful! And Lily is a doll. Thank you for rescuing her. All of my four little chihuahua x’s are rescues! Merry Christmas!!

  42. Annette says:

    Hi Kevin, thank you for sharing your stories with us. My partner and I had a good laugh at the Lily antics. We have three dogs, all were rescues, one a doberman/lab/??? mix and the other two are Blue Tic Coon hounds so we can certainly relate. There is nothing like a hound dog! They really bring joy, as well as teaching us patience.

  43. Kevin – I wish I was your neighbor.

    I love coming to your blog because I feel like I just stepped into a friend’s warm and inviting home.

    And I love your tutorials because they are just easy to follow and even when I don’t have the time to do them, they inspire me to want to make some time to do them!

    And I love your beagle…..I have dachshunds.

  44. Pam says:

    One thing I’ve started to do is to collect random, faceted (and sometimes cut) glass pendants from long-lost lighting fixtures. They don’t have to match and they make great icicles that reflect light wonderfully on a Christmas tree. You can easily find odd pedants in yard sales during the summer, and can buy them usually for less than a dollar. They make great Christmas tree decorations, and they’re very Victorian.

  45. Peggy Herron says:

    Merry Christmas to all. I look foward to your postings every week.
    Our tree has been up for a couple of weeks thanks to my sons enthusiasm . He did better with the lights this year because he listened to his wise mother. He hung the ornaments and helped roll the gingerbread for the first time. There are some advantages to having a thirty five year old son back home after all, even if he added a seventh cat to the household,
    We have been baking and rolling cookies for three weeks. Italian pignoli nut, Mexican wedding cookies( with pecans or walnuts depending on our finances) and lots of gingerbread. I love that we do this as a family tradition and when it stops being funor we get too old we’ll stop but not yet.

  46. Soledad Song says:

    Your angel may not have wings, but she has a story and that’s even better. Good memories are priceless.

  47. Marlyn says:

    Hi Kevin,

    I was out of town when this edition of your newsletter came and am just now reading it. I laughed out loud several times regarding the stories of your ornaments. We too cut a live tree and haul it in the house. This year my 25 year old son and I went to the tree farm to find a tree. He drove and kept leaping out of the car and going over to literally hug a white pine tree. He’d stand there, with his arms in the tree and tell me, “But Mom, they’re so soft! I want this one.” I kept telling him “No, the branches are too wimpy, they won’t support hardly any of our ornaments.” We always put the tree in our Great Room, which has a 24′ ceiling, so he always wants to get the tallest tree he can find. Last year we came home with a 17′ tall white spruce. This year we also got a white spruce, but only 13′ tall. Anyway, I’ve gotten ornaments for both my sons every year, so they will have a collection for each year of their lives. I kept all of the ones they made in elementary school as well. My older son was amazed we still had the owl he made in kindergarten out of brown paper towels, stuffed with more towels and tied at the feet with a piece of brown yarn. He drew all over it with markers to make the owl face, tummy, wings, etc. They both were talking about the ornaments they made in school, some stories I don’t remember hearing before. It was fun.
    I too, have ornaments from my childhood, mainly one’s my Mom made.

    We also have memories of the tree tipping over. This happened twice, before we got our monster tree stand we use now. One year my husband tied a rope to the trunk up near the top and then to a full 5 gallon paint bucket on the floor next to the wall, to counterbalance any possible tippage happening. That was a Scotch pine tree and huge = 15′ diameter at the bottom and 13′ tall, as I recall. The tree stand we currently use, is cast aluminum, 10″ diameter and bolted to a 2′ X 2′ piece of plywood. It holds 1.5 gal. of water. We also put 2 concrete foundation blocks on top of the plywood, to help hold everything steady. The blocks are covered with the tree skirt.

    The majority of the ornaments I have are handmade, so all of them have memories and stories to go with them. They are all precious.

    I so enjoy your stories of life.

    Thanks for the laughs.

  48. shannon matthews says:

    hi Love your story and your take on Christmas Tree Decorating. I like a hodge podge tree with all sorts of different ornaments everything besides licensed characters. I also use both multi colored and white lights. We always did when I was little and now I use LED and those chasing, fading, 12 function lights with pure white diamond cut fairy style LED.
    For those who are looking for a new way to do the lights like you do…Harder to describe than do!

    1. The first thing you need is a Christmas tree extension cord. These have a switch do you don’t have to crawl under the tree unplugging it over and over again and these have 3 or more sets of sockets.
    2. The trick is getting the top to look good this technique varies by light set, your tree, and rather or not you’ll be putting a transparent or translucent tree topper and rather your set has a end socket or a bulb. If you have a bulb at the end you can (If your using a see-through tree topper set with a bulb at end) with a twist tie attach the bulb to the desired location at the top) If your not using a see through topper or a set with the sock at the end) find the upper most fork/ where the tip turns into a branch hiding the end with the socket wrap the wire around once. If have the end sock and want a bulb at the top combine the two techniques Hide that socket!
    3. Wrap the lights around vertically at the top staying close to the truck. The branch forks will grab the lights and you don’t have to strangle the tree. If the branches are droopy and weak go in a under over once and continue. Once the tree starts to thicken and widen you can continue going horizontally around and around or vertically. If your getting close to the plug stop and near the plug tuck the remaining lights in a spot near the plug.
    4. If your using the horizontal method , keep walking and tucking the lights in as deep as you want. You line shouldn’t be straight just follow the branch patterns let the lights fall on the tree. You even do two rows horizontally on closer to the trunk of the the tree and one closer.
    If a branch is weak just again under and over.
    5. If your doing vertical. Plug a set at the bottom most plug and go up. You could go straight up and at a branch near the top place the light set there and go down. If you have a lot of lights left on the strand repeat this step on either a branch next door or the same branch on the opposite side. Do not use the exact branch you used before again when you go to the top.
    Repeat
    6. You can also go vertical using a wave/zigzag pattern weaving the lights back and forth as you go. Get creative! Follow the tree pattern as you do lights

    There are many novelty light sets that you want to put everywhere with very few bulbs and also big light bulbs you don’t want to clunk together. You might want to put say some unusual color or shape, twinkling lights without having to buy multiple sets budgetwise. Here you just mentally divide the set roughly into halves, thirds, quarters counting as you go this doesn’t have to be perfect math but every side of a 35 set of special tulip lights e.g gets 10 before I move on to the next side or section. The closer to the trunk you tuck the more length you get. Arrange these as ornaments.

    Despite of decorating pros claiming there are “perfect” number of lights per foot. I don’t use this rule! Some lights are brighter than others, different people have different tastes in how bright the tree can be.

  49. Marybeth Robb says:

    Thanks, Kevin, for reminding me that Christmas tree perfection belongs in department stores, not at home. Now, onto the ornament boxes…

  50. Marilyn Elliott says:

    The untrimmed tree in the first photo (this year’s, I believe?) is beautiful without a single ornament on it! Such trees are a joy to decorate. Suffering from mild OCD, as I do, I spend whatever everyone else thinks is far too much time selecting a tree that is straight, symmetrical, and has the “Christmas tree look”. Yours is perfect! And congratulations on making it even more gorgeous with your lovely and unique ornaments.

  51. Bridget says:

    As usual, you have created such a treat for us. Thank you!
    Love the decorations and TOTALLY agree with your philosophy. I had to laugh, reading your angle and the LILLY story–I was thinking, Lilly, yes, we’re talking about you.” and then you said as much yourself in the next frame!.

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