But every saint has a past and every sinner has a future, and since this is the Advent season, I am full of hope for my own redemption.
So I’ve been trying to make Christmas arrangements again. A solitary, mindful activity that suits my Advent mood well.
First off: I had no budget. So all, or almost all, the ingredients had to come from my own garden, or from inside my house somewhere.
The first result is a bit uneven.
Red dogwood twigs
Dried hydrangea flowers
A couple of grapevine balls
A few Christmas ornaments.
The second one, with much the same ingredients — plus an old fake bird and a single dried rose still on its long stem — showed more promise. Maybe it was just shaped better.
That encouraged me to try a different, larger design. I used mainly spruce branches, dried hydrangea, dried astilbe and a reddish branch of something.
But this one was not quite right – I’m still not sure why.
Maybe the blue Everlasting flower from an indoor arrangement doesn’t fit? (Yes, I kept the dried-up flowers from arrangements sent us when my husband was ill.)
Finally, I felt bold enough to confront the long plant stand. You may remember that arrangement from last year – it was an inelegant mess.
Could I do better this year?
Totally intimidated at first, I cheated.
I bought some discounted southern magnolia branches – 3 bunches at 5 bucks a bunch… a major steal. At least, I think that’s magnolia – those leaves that are shiny-green-on-one-side, rust-coloured-on-the-other.
And here is the arrangement:
My mother used to say: “Self praise is no recommendation.” So I shall make no editorial comment.
Instead, I shall sit back and await your accolades.
Don’t let me down, now.
Fishing for compliments is exhausting.
Dedicated to my sister Pat and all domestic divas, including many in my blogging network (you know who you are).
Last year, I chose the tree myself– and suffered a thousand criticisms because it was so small. No-one would admit what I knew: this tree was tiny but perfect.
This year, my husband and younger daughter were sure they’d do better. They drove to a tree farm, hopped onto the farmer’s tractor-pulled wagon…
… and cut a tree. They declared it “perfect”.
Until they brought it home. Neither could explain how their perfect tree turned into a strange creature with few branches on one side, even fewer on the other – and a bare backside, to boot.
Truth is, our family has a really bad record when it comes to picking Christmas trees: too tall or too short, too thin or too fat, too sparse.
The first winter we spent at my husband’s family farmhouse years ago, getting the tree was a no-brainer. We’d simply walk down the hill of the 100-acre farm to where the spruce trees grew, and cut one.
It was particularly snowy that year. We slipped and slid down the long hill, Barclay the dog beside us. But we cut the “perfect tree” and tied a rope around it. Then came the long journey uphill. We slipped and slid again and our knees nearly buckled in the deep snow.
We eyed Barclay, now grown and strong, wondering if we could tether the rope to him and have him do the work, but abandoned that idea swiftly. He was having a lot of fun eating the snow or digging himself out of it.
“What use are you?” we teased him. “We sure could use your help right now.”
By the time we reached the top of the hill, the branches on the tree’s bottom side were battered and broken. To hide the damage, we positioned the tree’s flat side against one wall of the large dining room, but what a sad thing it was.
“It’s a Charlie Brown tree,” I told everyone that year. “It’s got a charm all its own.”
“A tree only our family could love,” my husband muttered, shaking his head in disappointment.
This year, despite all the ornaments, our daughter was shaking her head in disappointment, while her father kept claiming that the tree “has character”.
But that tree gave me a chance to feel like a domestic diva. As you know, that’s a rare thing.
I fetched the branches that my husband had cut from the bottom of the tree, and some peacock feathers, and tried to fool the eye into thinking the tree wasn’t as bad as it was.
Or maybe the only eye that got fooled was mine. Oh, well….
From the home of imperfect Christmas arrangements and trees – I wish you peace, love and joy.
How hard could it be to make your own Christmas arrangement? Looks easy enough in the magazines, and on the internet, right?
It’s almost Christmas and I’m surrounded by women who cook and bake AND do great home decor. My sister, daughters, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, girlfriends: domestic goddesses, every one. Some even sew and knit.
I, meanwhile, am a failed domestic diva. I baked a cake – once. I failed knitting – twice. I try – Lord knows I try – but I’m still an exceptionally underachieving cook.
But it’s Christmastime, after all. A time of great hope.
So I decided to make Christmas stuff. The kind of stuff that won’t give my family indigestion, catch fire and burn (as the solitary cake did), or that anyone needs to wear. (That sock I tried to knit is indescribable AND a family joke.)
In the past, I used branches from the trees in my garden, tied together with a big red ribbon – and called it a Christmas bough. Hanging on the front door, it was only seen from a distance, or when we had visitors. Very polite visitors.
But this year, I decided to go big or …. no, I was already home, so let’s forget the rest of that saying. I decided to be ambitious. To arrange greenery in containers. One in the plant-stand outdoors, one in a container indoors. Artfully composed, of course.
Did I mention that I failed BOTH art and photography in school? Something to do with composition.
I collected branches of everything that grew right next to the verandah of our home. I’m under a kind of house arrest, you see – mandated by my doctor because I overdid it with the book-related activities and also started a new medication with woozy side-effects. I figured that as long as I went no farther than the verandah, it would still qualify as “resting at home”.
I put a double layer of plastic in the bottom of the containers, and placed the wet florist foam on it. (The foam was wet, not the florist.) Then I stuck branches of stuff into it. Spruce. Juniper. Euonymus. Boxwood. And pine cones on sticks. I stepped back to admire my handiwork.
It needed something. Aha! More red dogwood sticks.
It still needed something. But I was worn out and achy and very woozy. I wisely took to my bed.
Two days later, I felt brighter. Contrast, I thought! I need contrast!
So I fetched some “brownery” –– brown-leaved branches from last Christmas, forgotten in a tall container in one corner of the verandah. But when I cleverly tried to add them, the florist foam had frozen hard due to cold weather and the brownery crumbled, leaves falling from brittle stems.
I searched the house and found a little fake bird and some loose pine cones and judiciously placed them among the greenery.
But it still needed something. I just never figured out what.
As for the inside container? There was a coup de grace: garlic. Yes, garlic on stems. Harvested from our garden this fall, it’s surprisingly decorative, will deter vampires and spice up my cooking efforts after Christmas.
But that bit of creativity wore me out completely. So I stuck some shiny red Christmas ornaments on branches in the container and called it a day.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY H. GRANGE
Lord, give me strength. Clearly, you withheld the talent.
This post is dedicated to everyone who struggles with domestic arts. And to all domestic goddesses: you give me something to aspire to. Or maybe that’s ‘perspire’.