How to Trim A Christmas Tree: The Tessa Edition

The vote was unanimous: no breakable ornaments on the Christmas tree this year.

Kitten in Christmas Tree

Those eyes! That face!

Our growing kitten, Tessa could hardly believe her luck. Were we really putting up a tree in the house?

We have an artificial Christmas tree that we set up in our living room the day after Thanksgiving. With the boys home from school and Mike off work, the four-day weekend is the perfect time to trim the tree.

Kitten in Christmas tree

Mike may have needed a bandage after this encounter

kitten in christmas tree

Mike and Tessa exchange looks

Like most kittens, Tessa’s curiosity peaks at the sight of anything new. So after assembling the tree, we let her explore. She wasted no time climbing into the tree for a little adventure. As Mike sat on the floor opening the branches she jumped up, climbed down, rolled around and peered out at me with excited eyes.

two faced kitten in Christmas tree

I’ve got my eye on you

From now on, when I hear the expression “lit up like a Christmas tree” I’ll think of our tiny terror frolicking through the limbs. Who needs lights when you live with Tessa?

Well…we still wanted some lights. Once she lost interest we strung the lights and the boys carefully chose the soft, unbreakable decorations to hang low on the tree. I gave it a second pass, and moved up anything that hung too low. You have to think like a kitten. We unplug the lights when we’re away, and nearly two weeks in, all is well.

kitten in christmas tree

Tessa gymnastics

two faced kitten in christmas tree

She may never come down from the tree

If Tessa’s likeness were a tree ornament, they might look like this.

Do you celebrate Christmas? If so, do you also decorate a tree?

Tessa's back side in the Christmas tree

The End

New Christmas Traditions

I’ve started a new Christmas tradition. It’s called patience.

I’ve learned to wait patiently in line at the post office. I peel of all my layers before going inside so that I don’t pass out from the heat. I know all the post office regulars, and look forward to a brief yet satisfying chat when it’s my turn at the window. I use the time in line to people watch. Sometimes I make productive use of the wait by addressing a card or filling out custom forms.

Patience is a gift you give others, but it’s also a gift to yourself. I feel better about myself when I’m patient.

I’m patient with my husband’s annual fretting over the lights. He once spent four hours on the floor of the garage trouble shooting strands of Christmas tree lights. Our boys were young at the time, and I grew frustrated with what seemed like such a waste of family time. I’ve mellowed. And I’ve come to understand that it’s his thing. He hangs lights on the tree, strings lights on the house, and replaces all the lights in my son’s Christmas inflatables. He makes multiple trips to the hardware store to find replacements.  Small packages arrive in the mail containing  fuses and bulbs. Mike is a fixer and that’s what makes him happy, so with patience comes an understanding. Everybody wins.

I’m patient with Lindy’s demands for more and more (and more) attention, but I’m patient with myself, too. When I know I need to buckle down and get some work done, I relocate her to a sunny spot in the house and close the door.  Prior to that she gets pets, cuddles, treats and a roll in the catnip, but after repeated demands for ear-scratching, I finally remove her from the room so I can get things done.

I have two remarkable teenage boys requiring no patience. I guess all that earlier guidance and patience eventually paid off. They’re both delightful young men. Perhaps this tradition of patience isn’t so new at all. That said, it takes patience to cultivate any good habit, so I’m learning to be patiently patient with myself.

Go figure?

I’m sticking with a few favorite traditions this year, too.

I use tiny silver clothes pins to attach cards to the tool skirt

I use tiny silver clothes pins to attach cards to the tool skirt

I’m adorning my dress-maker selfie with Christmas cards once again. I love putting her to use sporting all the beautiful cards we receive by mail. It’s a dwindling tradition, but we continue to send our own cards each year and love the ones we receive.


The boys decorating the tree a decade ago. Gifted ornaments over the years reflecting my love of gardening and hot tea.

We pull out our artificial tree the day after Thanksgiving and decorate it with the ornaments we’ve collected over the years. Every  ornament has a story and that’s what makes it fun. We hang hand-made school ornaments from the boys early days along with ornaments we’ve received as gifts. We like to pick up an ornament when we travel, each one a fun reminder of a different holiday. Thomas the Tank Engine sits among the branches along with a hand-painted Christmas ball from Cannes France. It will come as no surprise that fellow bloggers Julia, Kelly and Marlene also contribute to the history and diversity of our tree. In the few days leading up to Christmas, I enjoy sitting in the dark, tree illuminated, grateful for the love in my life.

Our acrylic globe, a gift from my friend Marcia, becomes a “snow globe”  this time of year. Each year is a little different from the last. Here’s the latest: I made a path using Petra paper left over from a holiday plant and some artificial snow. I added a few tiny trees  from prior years and a twenty year old wooden snow man. I can squint my eyes and pretend that it’s snowing in San Jose.


Snow + Globe

Tomorrow I’ll start one more tradition. I’m volunteering for a toy distribution shift at Sacred Heart Community Services. Sacred Heart will distribute over 18,000 toys and books to 6,200 children in need in our community. This is a big step for me, as I used to get mired in depression when working so closely with the disadvantaged in my community. I retreated to a “safer” form of volunteering, either hosting drives, or serving on committees or board of directors. Since the election, I’ve been motivated to get up close again. The goal is to remain open, while at the same time protecting my tender heart. Wish me luck.

‘Tis the season…of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Solstice; a time to share of ourselves.

What are your special traditions this time of year?

Lawn Tree Traditions: Greening up the Neighborhood

mother and son

Mother and son

If you drop by this week, you’ll see Christmas trees up and down the block. Our neighborhood has an extensive and coordinated effort to display cut Christmas trees on our lawn each year. The trees go up the first week of December and come down New Year’s day. I’m the block captain for our street.

We try to make it a family affair, but now that our boys are teens, their interest wanes.  This year my older son did the heavy lifting along with his dad, dropping trees at each house while I drove the truck.  My youngest son asked if he could stay in bed!  So it goes.

the muscle

The Muscle

Our neighbor, Greg lends us his truck for deliveries.  I get to dust off my manual transmission driving skills once a year.  It keeps me in the game.

christmas tree bundles

Ready for delivery

The Bay Area is diverse.  Not all neighbors celebrate this tradition.  When I was a young, I wondered why one or two people wouldn’t want a tree in their yard.  Then I grew up and understood that the world is full of different religions and cultures and it all made sense.  We see Menorah in neighboring windows and understand others simply don’t embrace the ritual.  It’s a great time of year to pause and reflect on the richness of diversity.

We have an artificial tree indoors, and a cut tree on the lawn.  I wrote about the pros and cons of real vs fake last year.  You can read more about that here.

Do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you display a tree?  Real or fake…or both?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, below.

Organized at Heart

I’m posting a series of articles featuring organizing around the holidays this month on my blog Organized at Heart. If the subject interests you, please go take a peak. Today’s blog: Holiday Storage: The Case of the Shrinking House. 

Of note: Wikipedia has a wonderful and detailed article on the origins of the decorated Christmas tree.  I’m always learning something new on that site and must remember to make my annual donation accordingly.

Fairy Mystique: The Young and the Young-Hearted

If you’ve been following Gardening Nirvana for a while, you’ll know that I’ve fallen in love with fairy gardens. You can read a bit about them here. I created several over the past year, and shared them on my blog. They’re whimsical and fun.

Imagine my delight to learn that the two little girls across the street decided to create a fairy garden of their own. They caught the fairy garden bug!

When the holiday season rolled around this year, I thought it would be fun to don my “fairy cap” and create a little magic of my own.

On my first visit to their families outdoor Christmas tree, I left a tiny note and some “decorating material” including sequins, silk thread and a roll of red laundry lint, perfect for making fairy pillows and blankets. I tucked it deep in the branches so they could enjoy the search.

Fairy Garden Package #1

Fairy Garden Package #1

Next up, another note along with some ribbon, a few wooden stars and a family of matchstick-sized dolls tucked inside a baby food jar and wrapped in mesh.

Fairy Garden Package #2

Fairy Garden Package #2

On my last visit to the tree, I left a parcel of miniature bristle trees, a few shiny mirrors (great for lakes and ponds) and a bag of fairy snow.

Fairy Snow

Fairy Snow

It has been so much fun sorting through my sewing box, scrap-booking materials, and left over art supplies to pull together little treasures for the fairy aficionados.

On Christmas Eve, just before heading out with my family to look at neighborhood Christmas lights I made one last visit.  My son helped me fill the top half of a paper Christmas cracker, with a few gold coins. While my husband backed out the car, I tiptoed to their door, deposited the gifts, rang the bell, and ran like crazy. Getting caught in the act would spoil all the fun.

As I raced across their lawn and out of view, the neighborhood kitty gave chase. My parting thought as I ran around the corner was how funny it must have looked to see a woman in her fifties running across her neighbor’s lawn, with a small white cat in hot pursuit.

There's Magic in that Tree

There’s Magic in that Tree

Fairy Garden Snow Recipe

  1. one small handful of craft snow
  2. a pinch of sparkles
  3. a dash of blue bakers sugar


The Christmas Tree Dilemma: Real or Fake?

The Crew: Ready to deliver the neighborhood trees

The Crew: Ready to deliver the neighborhood trees

I struggle with this question every year: Is it better to have a freshly cut tree or an artificial one?  I think the answer is neither. Or both.

Aren’t you glad we got that settled?!

As a nature-lover, I’m not fond of the idea of cutting down a tree each year, only to throw it away (or at the very least compost it) after a few weeks. People float the idea of a live tree that you bring indoors each year, but given the size of the average pine or fir, the tree would outgrow your home in a few years. Further, the tree would do poorly in a dry, heated home, preferring the outdoors instead.

Clearly, artificial trees are the way to go.

Or are they?

Fluffy Under the Tree

Fluffy Under the Tree

Artificial trees last a long time. You can use them year after year, they never dry out, they’re less likely to catch fire and they’re sized for the average home. They are, however, made from synthetic materials, that will one day end up in a landfill. Styles change, the frame of the tree might break or you may buy a bigger (or smaller) house that dictates the size of the tree.

In our neighborhood, we have a coordinated effort to display cut trees on our lawn each year.  The trees go up the first week of December and come down New Year’s day. I’m block captain for our street, and we make it a family affair. We borrow a neighbor’s truck, load up the trees, and delivery them up and down the block.  The neighborhood coordinator purchases over 300 trees.  Each block captain collects the order forms, deposits the checks and then delivers the trees.  It’s fun and festive.

Indoors we have an artificial tree that we store and use year after year. We made that choice for all the reasons I mentioned above. So…I feel like a fraud at times, supporting different choices on either side of the door.

One choice isn’t really a choice at all: simply giving up the long-held and delightful tradition of a Christmas tree.

If you celebrate Christmas, do you put up a tree each year?  Real or fake?

Here is what others have to say:

Decorating the Tree: Garden-Themed Favorites

Growing up, my sister and I loved decorating the tree.  We arranged and rearranged the ornaments over and over again.  It was a game for us, and one Mom didn’t seem to mind.

In my single years, I didn’t have the space or I wasn’t interested in the fuss. One of my favorite memories from my first year of marriage was reviving that tradition. Together we bought a small tree and a few ornaments, then posed for a dozen pictures in front of the decorated tree.

Adding Traditions

When our boys came along, we added to that tradition: they each choose one ornament a year.  I document them in a journal; what they choose and why. It’s interesting to mark the passage of time each year, as we unwrap all our little treasures.

Our assortment of baubles is an eclectic one. Hanging from the branches you’ll find a  Star Trek Phaser, Batman, Tweety Bird and an articulated metal seahorse.  My hope is to pass on their collection of ornaments when they start life as adults away from home.

Garden Meets Tree

In the meantime, we’ve amassed our own collection through gifts, travel and events.  Here are my garden-themed favorites:

Watering Can Ornament

Watering Can Ornament 3Watering Can Ornaments, a gift from my sister-in-law

Autumn LeavesAutumn leaf dipped in goldBirch and Maple autumn leaves dipped in gold, a gift from Mom

Floral TeacupTeacup with flowers from a dear friend (tea and flowers in one)!

Button Christmas TreeThe newest addition: A miniature button Christmas Tree (from a talented, kindred soul)

Do you celebrate Christmas?  If so, what do you hang on your tree?