I have no less than 10 titles sitting at my bedside right now. All of them (except one) are library books. I read a chapter in one, put it down and then read a chapter in another and put it down. I am trying to find something that grabs my attention. Meanwhile, I also have required reading in the form of a book I need to read for a leadership retreat I am attending. The worst part is--the required reading is the book I dread the most.
Some of the topics on my bedside are about wine drinking, a memoir of a Pakistani boy growing up in the west, Antartica, a memoir about living in Rome, a memoir of entering cooking contests, a spiritual manifesto of sorts, and a book on how to read tarot cards. The winner for now seems to be the memoir about the Pakistani boy. Too bad the library makes me return all these in three weeks.
I have evolved a ritual around my Christmas tree that makes me incredibly nostalgic. I decided this afternoon that the Christmas tree is the very best part of Christmas.
It starts in early December--right after Thanksgiving--that Geoff and Gray and I go to a local Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. Mr. Fowler has been growing trees for a long time. He is very elderly and cannot do much in the way of trimming or cutting trees but he is always there. This year, I asked what happened to the old man and his children told me he was not well enough to come out. I missed him.
We get the tree home and Grayson helps me get everything out and even demands to do most of it himself. This year, he was so upset that I put the star on while he got preoccupied with another activity that he got a chair and climbed up and took the star off and then put it on again. He has a fierce need to let me know he can do it himself.
I have amassed quite a collection of beautiful ornaments all of which bear some kind of memory or story. There are the ornaments from my MIL who buys beautiful glass ornaments at after Christmas sales and gives them to me. She has begun giving me mini-china teacups to honor my interest in tea and tea parties.
There are countless gifts from all kids of people in my life: grad students and old secretaries, family friends and members of the faculty, neighbors and teachers. There are sweet hand made ornaments from my husband's youth and now my son and my nephew's creative spirit. I have beautiful glass balls and silver unicorns. I have gold plated leaves and a purple glass ball from the year Northwestern played in the Rosebowl. Friends have been giving me chicken ornaments as a reflection of the smiles they get when they spy my lovely chicken painting hanging over the fireplace.
Most important, I have begun to amass some beautiful collectable ornaments from various trips I have taken with my mother. I have one from the Biltmore Estate in NC and from Riverside Church in Harlem. I have one from Atlanta and one from Chautauqua. They remind me of all the memorable trips we have taken together.
My son and I take turns hanging the ornaments and I try to tell him the story with each one. He likes the Spongebob ones the best and the ones with his name on them. One year, when he was 2, he asked for a school bus for christmas so I bought him a school bus ornament.
I enjoy my tree every morning before the rest of the family wakes up. I drink coffee in the dark with the tree turned on. It feels special and important. We honor the spirit of all the is holy with this humble lighted tree. We remember our loves and our losses and the times that have come before us. We wonder how long we can sustain this practice before the children get tired of helping and the job of trimming the tree gets turned over to someone else.
I am pretty adament that the tree comes down soon after January first. At that time I have enjoyed it for a month and I know to keep it special it needs to be taken apart and the ornaments packed carefully away until next year. My son does not help with this part but thats okay. I reminisce in reverse. Packing all the favorite ornaments away with paper and hoping they stay safe until next year. My husband lugs the old tree of of the house and then its just me and the pine needles.
I decided today when I was packing everything away that this part of Christmas holds the most meaning for me. It is the ritual I like the most and the one I hope I can sustain long into the future.
Happy New Year.
PS the ornament above is one my son got in his stocking this year.
I started to think about all the books I have read and thought about this year. Here are my top picks for books and literary ideas.
Best Travel Writing:Lost on Planet China by J Maarten Troost. Funny, witty, engaging. It makes you think to yourself, "He's gone to China for me. Now I don't have to go." A great read before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Best Fiction: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. Fascinating Historical Fiction about the affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mama Borthwick around 1917. Well written, great story, tragic ending.
Best Non-fiction: Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. Mr. Gladwell is one of the most insightful writers out there. His essays and ideas are breathtaking. Outliers is probably the best of his three works. All of his stuff is marvelously readable and Mr. Gladwell is very likable. We should all be so skilled in translating ideas to thought and thought to prose on the page.
Best Early Review: They give me free books. I give them a free review. Bonk by Mary Roach. The curious history of how scientists study sex complete with cameras on the end of penises and MRI machines that study couples in coitus. The writer actually got her husband to join her in the machine. She took notes while the study was being done!
Best Memoir:The Church of 80% Sincerity by David Roche. I hope I can be this graceful in the wake of stunning misfortune and set back. Mr. Roche will help you find your blessings and your humanity.
Best Annual Literary Event:The Red Cross Book Fair. Held at the Monroe County Fairgrounds every October--it always feels like Christmas when you can buy a brand new favorite book for 50 cents.