December 8, 2010

Christmas! Tree! Adventure!

I am going to tell you how the Christmas Tree Thing went down. And I would like to warn you in advance that it ends with us having a tree I dislike. But I dislike it so much, it has gone straight past the whole unpleasant realm of Disappointment-'n'-Regret into an entirely DIFFERENT realm where every time I look at the tree I laugh audibly. Like, long peals of merry laughter. So it may seem as if this is a SAD story, but to me it is not. Here it is:

One morning, after much dithering and fretting on my blog and much reading of the resulting comments sections, I felt in the right mind/mood to tackle the task. After the two older children went to school, I told the three younger that we were going to have a Christmas! Tree! Adventure! And they lost their little minds with uninformed delight, which reminded me of when Rob was 2 years old and we told him we were going to go Vote!! and he lost his mind and then we spent the next couple of weeks talking him down from that disappointment.

I collected a measuring tape, a saw, the addresses of two nearby Christmas tree farms, and heavy gloves. Except all I could find was ONE single heavy glove. So the first step of our Christmas! Tree! Adventure! was going to a gardening store and buying work gloves. We bought two pairs, and we bought one of those Christmas tree skirts that turns into a body bag afterward. The store also sold Christmas trees, so we looked at them, but we were unimpressed.

Second step: drive to a Christmas tree farm!!! to see how Christmas trees are grown!! Hitch: the Christmas tree farm had closed down.

Third step: drive to second Christmas tree farm!!! to see how Christmas trees are grown!! We looked all around. After 15 seconds, the children were complaining about being cold. After 2 minutes, Edward was also complaining about being so! very! tired! But I felt like a Good and Interactive Mother for bringing them on this adventure.

Henry: "I need my hood up before I freeze!!" Edward: "I am 1 minute and 45 seconds from claiming that I cannot walk another step!"

We found a few trees we liked Okay, but nothing that made me feel like Purchasing. Most of them seemed to be Weird Shapes (i.e., not the perfect symmetry we're accustomed to from our fake tree). (Note: Many of them now look PERFECT to me as I see them in the background of all the pictures, with that Wrong Tree in our living room.)

And now it was lunchtime. And after that, the twins had to go to kindergarten. After THAT, an ever-decreasingly-enthusiastic Henry and I continued on our Christmas! Tree! Adventure!

First we went to a fancy gardening store. Henry was asleep, so I left him in the car and browsed nearby. All balsams and frasers, despite claims of many varieties. I considered a live potted tree, but the scrawniest and smallest was $85, and oh dear no thank you. All the other trees looked exactly the same as all the others, despite having designations such as "deluxe."

So then Henry and I went to Lowe's. We looked around. Hm, more balsams and frasers. I pulled out some trees to look at, but each one looked the same as all the others. Then Henry needed to go potty, which was timely because I'd been fretting about how to walk out without buying a tree. On our way out we bought a small potted Alberta spruce for $7.95, because why not. I'm putting it on our front steps for now, and I'll bring it inside right before Christmas, then bring it back outside afterward and plant it in the spring.

We went to Home Depot. They had only balsams. All the balsams looked exactly the same as all the other balsams we'd seen that day. I made a decision: we were not going to strap a looks-like-all-the-others-everywhere-else tree to our car when we could carry one home from right around the corner.

Henry and I went home. The other kids came home from school. We all went around the corner, looked at the frasers, couldn't tell the difference between them because they all looked the same, chose one at random, and carried it home.

Left to right: Edward, Henry, Rob, Swistle, William, Elizabeth.
(Elizabeth is carrying the tree stand, which I'd brought with me in case that would be a good idea.)

Hey, look, I think this is Paul's first appearance on this blog! He's in the orange shirt, lying on the floor and trying to tighten the screws of the tree stand. Luckily he asked a CHILD to hold the tree straight, which is why we later found the tree is totally not straight at all. And also, I forgot to first put down the tree skirt that changes into a body bag. And also we were like, "Hey, what are these weird little caps that came with the tree stand?" and it turns out they were supposed to go on the screws that we instead screwed directly up against the tree. And also we forgot to trim the branches off the bottom first. And also by the time we realized we should just take it out of the stand, take it outside, cut off the extra bottom branches and start over, I'd already watered it, so all of that was impossible. And it turns out the "easy watering access" doesn't help at all with figuring out how much water is in the tray, or how full I can fill it. Yays!

AND, do you remember how all of you were like, "A tree looks much smaller on the lot than it will look in your house," and I was like "Okay," and you were like, "No, seriously, WAY SMALLER," and I was like "I GET IT!" And the tree is way too big for our living room. Furthermore, it's not even conical, it's pretty much egg-shaped with a stinger coming out of the top. A bumblebee tree! And it's very densely branched---where will the ornaments have room to hang? And it has barely any scent at all, unless you get sap on your hands, and by you/your I mean me/my.

It's such a Wrong Tree from beginning to end, it is in its own way a delight. Finally I have hurdled the, er, hurdle, of purchasing a once-living tree. Finally I have made many (MANY) of the mistakes I feared making. And look! It is not a disaster, it is just a Tree Not of Our Style in our living room for a few weeks! And next year we will have more information to work with!


jaime said...

Maybe it's too big for your room, but I think it's a pretty tree! Perhaps I am just biased towards fraser firs. I love a tree that's densely branched. I like a nice fat tree. This is my first year with a fake tree (because of convenience), and I kinda miss that adventure.

Liz said...

Oh my stars, I love this. I love this SO HARD. That picture of you all carrying the tree in is one I would - as an adult who lived this in childhood - frame and smile at every time I saw it.

As an internet commenter, I will instead just tell you that I am giggling on your behalf. Oh, I love this.

Jess said...

I understand that it is the Wrong Tree, and also that the photo does not feature the tree in its Final Decorated State, but... I actually think it looks like kind of a nice tree. Apparently, I am strange.

Also, we have a Fraser fir and from the second we brought it inside, the entire house (upstairs too) has smelled deliciously piney and Christmassy. Why is yours different? I am quite puzzled.

Lastly, this whole story reminds me of the time that my dad and my sister and I picked out a WAY TOO BIG Christmas tree and brought it home to my mother who stared at us all like we had three heads. I remember being on the lot and thinking that all the trees looked so dinky and buying one that looked nice and hefty. Except I was like eight, so I was allowed to think that, whereas my dad was an experienced Christmas Tree Purchaser and should have known better.

Anyway, we brought the tree home and it literally did not fit in the house. And the house's ceilings were at least 9 feet tall, possibly ten. My dad had to dig up a saw and saw a very large chunk of the trunk off, and then quite a few extra branches. Then he set it up on the deck outside in its tree stand, totally crooked. And stood there angrily lecturing my mom, my sister, and me about proper Christmas tree setup and maintenance. There was finger waving and everything. And the whole time the tree was sloooooowly tilting down behind him, and the three of us could not stop laughing, and that was making him madder and madder. Until the tree actually crashed over on its side on the deck. My sides still hurt from laughing when I think about it.

My dad, on the other hand, probably STILL doesn't laugh about that incident, and it was many many years ago.

Becky said...

I also think the tree looks nice. Maybe you just need to look at it like I am: on the internet, after a few hot sakes.

And I thought we saw a bit of Paul when you posted your wedding attire? I wouldn't have noticed him in this pic if you hadn't said anything. I might have assumed you had an orange ottoman.

Linda said...

This made me LOL several times. Also, thanks for reminding me to water my tree.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I haven't been reading long enough...but I don't think I remember seeing your kids or Paul in pictures before. I like it. Thanks.


becky said...

i am very proud of you swistle! you hurdled your neurosis! and i love love love that picture of you and your kids all carrying the tree together. do you have very many pictures of you and all of them? i only have a few pictures of me and my kiddo and i imagine it must be much harder when you have a troop of them to wrangle into frame. anyway i love it.
also i totally snorted at jess's comment. hilarious!

ccr in MA said...

As a long-time-fan of formerly-live-trees, I can tell you that the branches will probably "settle" down some in the next few days, leaving more ornament room. That might change the tree's shape a bit, too.

Your set-up prepared me for a much weirder tree shape. I think yours looks nice. I've certainly seen much worse. And as you say, it is a learning experience.

We have home movies of going to the Christmas tree farm when I was a kid to cut down our own tree. It was much closer to the disaster than delight end of the scale!

Elizabeth said...

We always got a Christmas tree from the tree farm when we were kids, and the fight over the tree and which one to get was an essential part of the process. You know you've had the complete experience when someone's crying, and someone else has a boot full of mud, and a third person isn't speaking to everyone else because no one cares that he/she would RATHER DIE than get the tree that everyone else likes.
So you have all that to look forward to next year, is what I'm saying, as your process gets more and more authentic.

Marie Green said...

I've seen Paul's torso before, just for the record. In a wedding photo you posted. ;)

Also, I realized reading this that perhaps the reason so many people like getting a real/dead tree is the adventure of it all. You simply don't know, until you get it home, trimmed, in the stand, and decorated what it will look like.

Also, I can never smell the pine-y smell much. I get whiffs of it once in awhile, but that's it.

Allison said...

This post made me burst out laughing on several occasions, but my favorite was you bringing the tree stand to the tree lot "in case that was a good idea."

This post also reminded me of the time we bought such a gigantic Christmas tree that we ended up putting it in front of the front door because we had no other place for it to go.

Swistle said...

Becky- VERY FEW, if any! I was so happy when I saw Paul in the driveway with the camera!

Jenny said...

I think everyone has a tree story. Some have them every single year!

Our tree this year looked perfect on the lot, looked great as we were setting it up and then later that night, after all the lights and ornaments were on it and we were lounging and admiring, we spotted a big section where branches should be, but were not. And it is BIG. Like a chunk of the tree is gone. So I just sort of shifted more lights in the gap, and guess what? Lights ATTRACT attention! Go, me!

Lisa said...

The tree actually looks fairly nice in the picture you posted. But I am aware of how deceiving apperances are. Despite having 36 years of live-tree buying experience, we somehow managed to buy the slantiest tree on the lot this year. It didn't look slanty when we bought it. But by yesterday it was practically parallel to the floor. I had to take off all the ornaments and turn it around, so that if it falls, it will fall into the corner instead of on my children. I have it tied to two twenty pound weights on the far side to keep it upright. I actually just posted a picture of the ridiculousness.

Clarabella said...

FWIW, I think the tree looks lovely. I bet it will grow on you. *snort*
We were not going to get a tree this year as we'll be traveling for the holiday, but then My Dear came home with a little 3-footer with The Boy the other day & we set it up & decorated it, and I'll be damned if it isn't the most crooked, uneven tree, but, well, it's ours. (Lesson: My Dear, while his heart was TOTALLY in the right place, may be visually challenged when it comes to symmetry, etc.)

My family has a tradition of going to the mountains of NC with a couple other families every year to stay the weekend, visit & pick out a tree from a local tree farm. I have missed it for years now b/c I am so far away. When I talked to my mom today, she said it snowed A LOT right when they got there, & the trees at the farm looked positively magical when they went to pick one out. So...I am even sorrier we missed the trip this year, and I hope you know how much memories of this adventure will surely mean to your family in the future.
The end.
Happy Christmas!

Christina said...

Ok I was picturing so much worse from your story! haha I think it looks nice in the pic - and the branches will settle down over the next few days.

Also, for some odd reason I really like this post and the photos. Especially the one of you + all the kids carrying the tree/stand. Such a wonderful family moment to capture!!!

lifeofadoctorswife said...

I love the tree and I love the story! I grew up with it not being Christmas unless SOMEONE was unhappy with the tree. Either my dad was unhappy it wasn't tall enough or my mom was feeling smothered because the tree was taking up the entire living room or I was upset that their were too many bald spots or the cat was frustrated that there wasn't a clear spot on the trunk on which he could jump.

Therefore, I think the Christmassy-est of Christmas trees is the one that is totally imperfect.

Elsha said...

As someone who is putting up with an artificial tree while we have babies around, I say your tree is beautiful. Also, not even close to too big (the only way a tree is too big is if it runs into the ceiling.) And, just a tip, a towel around the tree stand under the tree skirt will help any, "little more, little more, little more, AHHH TOO MUCH!" watering incidents. Not that I've ever done that.

robyn said...

Oh, I LOVE your tree! I prefer bushy/full trees, though - they just seem more ... abundant. And you can always trim down that stinger top, although it seems like it would make a nice stable base for a star or angel.

The pic of you and the kids is priceless. That's one they'll be look back on as adults all nostalgic-like. Aww.

kris said...

i think everyone has a story of having to tie the tree to a nail in the ceiling to hold it up because the trunk is so crooked.. right? we cut ours down every year and some years were way harder than others... i think your tree looks nice..the branches may drop some after being inside for a day or so... and i think frasers keep their needles pretty good.

halloweenlover said...

I love it Swistle! I also love the fact that you brought the tree stand! This was my first year buying a tree and I actually cried when we got it home and set up because I didn't read your post and it is MASSIVE. Like, seriously, HUGE. I think it might be 6 feet wide, and I am only exaggerating a little bit. I begged Josh to throw it out on the curb and he told me to stop being crazy. Now I kind of love it, though. It is super fat and bushy and fun. But now I'm all concerned because I think it isn't sucking up enough water and dropping too many needles and geez louise, this is a lot more trouble than a fake tree. And mine isn't smelling either, which maybe is a good thing because we were sneezing a lot the first day.

Anyway, I'm right there with you. I think your tree looks deceptively good in the pictures.

P.S. my word verification is "expre"- do you think this is a clue as to what my non-sucking water/dropping needles tree is about to do?

Rachel said...


Last year? Or the year before? Anyway, my brother and I decided to set up the Christmas tree at our mom's house while she was at work to surprise her. We had all 3 gone to buy the tree at Lowe's the night before. The NIGHT before, as in it was dark when we looked at the tree. It was wrapped in that mesh and we brought it home to sit in a bucket of water overnight.

So my brother and I lift the tree and try to get it into our house, still wrapped up. IT WAS TOO WIDE TO FIT THROUGH THE DOOR. While it was wrapped. We heaved, we huffed, we puffed, we pushed, we laughed hysterically and cried tears of Christmas mirth. We finally got the tree inside.

We lay the massive tree on the kitchen floor on a tarp to collect the needles, and we cut the mesh off. We decided to hold the tree vertical to see if we needed to trim and bottom branches off. We have recessed florescent lighting in the kitchen covered by 3 large sheets of...I'm not really sure what, plastic? plexiglass? not real glass anyway. So when we lifted the tree into a vertical position, we discovered that it was tall enough to knock one of those light covers right out of the ceiling. It shattered on the floor, with the tree protruding up into the light fixture. Cue more hysterical laughter and tears.

ANYWAY. After all this we did end up getting the tree trimmed and into its traditional position. This tree was so large it blocked half the hallway. And by the time we were done the entire house was so completely covered in needles it looked like a Christmas tree lot.

So to sum up: we carpeted our entire house with pine needles, shattered a light fixture, and blocked a hallway. SURPRISE MOM!

And then when we decorated the tree we found out the angel wouldn't fit on top...but we crammed her on anyway. She was a little stooped over that year. Oh but the laughs we had.

Magic27 said...

This is so funny! My Christmas Tree Adventure is wildly, wildly different (and almost certainly 100% less entertaining).
The French aren't very into home Christmas decorations, so I've never heard of anyone going to a farm... You can buy real trees, of course, but I don't seem to see many homes that have them...
Also, I don't have a car, or any money, sooooooo
So we have a fake tree, bought when our elder daughter (who'll be 9 on 27/12) was born. And I've told Elder and Younger (6.5) that we'll put the tree up when they've done their share (ie ALL) the tidying up in the sitting room. Which currently looks like a scene from one of those reality shows where Cleaning Angels swoop in and release someone from their abject squallor.
Result: no tidying, so still no tree.
I'm predicting that our tree will finally go up in oh, I don't know, May, perhaps?
And deep down I'm really disappointed because the decorations are probably what I like best about Christmas...

el-e-e said...

HA HA! Excellent story. I love thinking of you laughing every time you see your tree. I would call that Mirth and Glee, appropriate for the season! Parfait!

What's comical to me, now that I see your tree in the window, is the "perfect shape" of the fake ones (like mine). I mean, how silly is that? Trees aren't triangles! Maybe we need to have an adventure, too, one of these years.

Jenna said...

LOVE your tree story. You will remember it and so will the kids!!.."Remember that Christmas when we went to get that tree..."

My husband decided to pick a tree out of the commercial tree! So, he went, it was cold we did not. He came back fist held high- victorious! To make a long story short- the night ended with my laughing soooo hard I almost puked and he pouted for about 2 days everytime we were near the tree.
Our two year old LOVES it, it's hers and she hugs it so it's perfect!

Mommy Daisy said...

That was an adventure. And it reminded me of the fun times we had picking out real trees when I was a kid.

Oh, and there was the one year that the tree was so lopsided, it actually tipped over not once but TWICE. After that my dad tied a wire through the tree and bolted it to the wall/window sill. It didn't fall over after that. Come to think of it, that might be when they stopped buying real trees. ;)

Amy said...

Great story! Please post a picture of the tree all decorated!!

SallyG said...

Great story and pictures! So glad for you that you conquered yor fears, made some mistakes (although it looks like a perfectly ok tree to me), and found out the "mistakes" really don't amount to much of anything. YAY SWISTLE!

Christine said...

Oh I think it is such a lovely tree. The high part is for a freakishly long angel or some such, but you can just cut it for your star or what have you.

I think once it is all decorated you will grow to even LIKE the tree, even if it is too big, because you can't dislike a decorated Christmas tree, just not possible. :)

d e v a n said...

Omg, I was laughing from start to finish. I could SO see this stuff happening to us, which is why we stick with our totally fake trees.

I have to say though, that it looks kind of nice from the picture.

robin said...

My family has had a few mishaps with both Christmas tree and pumpkin shopping (for Jack-o-lanterns)through the years. I especially remember the year that we were so late getting our pumpkin that we ended up having to get a squash instead, and the year that our Christmas tree was so short that we called it our Christmas shrub. As you can see, these "far from perfect" specimens have given me years of good memories, whereas finding the "perfect" tree, while it has been fun, doesn't engender the same sort of wistful remembrance. Oh, and in terms of tree farms - try to find some that have more activities for the kids, like a Santa or some treats, let the kids do the initial searching with you, and then, when they inevitably get tired, send them with another adult (I mean, an adult in your party - don't just pawn them off to some random adult) to go look at the holiday decorations/eat sweets/see Santa/etc. while you continue the search. That way the kids are involved, but not an encumbrance in the end.

Maggie said...

Growing up we always had a fake tree so the first time I had my own place and got my own tree I totally hit the way! too! big! thing. The same thing happened to my husband and I the first time we went to a pumpkin patch too. Turns out when they are all together some pumpkins look reasonably sized when in fact they are HUGE. Perhaps the farm route isn't the best for me...

Carmen said...

The tree looks great. I think that if you shorten the stinger a bit it would be fine. The dense branches are hard to decorate, though, I agree. That's the main reason why we get ours from a U-cut place rather than the tree lots - we can choose a slightly more sparse one that let's the decorations dangle. Nice tree, anyway. Well done on your first Christmas Tree Adventure.

Jen said...

YOU BROUGHT THE TREE STAND WITH YOU?!? Oh my god, I love you to the moon and back.

Swistle said...

Jen- What do you think the tree lot guy thought?? We walked over and I said "Hi! We've never done this before!" and he was like "Really."