The Outdoor Christmas Tree

In two earlier posts I shared the contrast between the his and her family tree traditions.

My siblings quickly piled on about my lack of attention given to our outside tree.

Christmas decorations at the farm were plentiful. Wreaths, garlands, lights, sprays, and the living room tree all brightened the inside. Visitors could not escape the pungent odor of pine. At least during December we had pine to offset the barnyard smell of our sweatshirts, jackets, and work boots as we entered through the mud room.

If you read my earlier post, Decorating the Tree-His Way, you experienced our struggle in making the chosen tree fit in the living room well enough to receive decorations. Some years, that indoor tree was the second trip to the woods. The first one was usually too large or lopsided to have any chance of indoor success.

Perhaps it suffered during the long drag home through cow patties on the lane. Or maybe it held live animals that hid in terror the whole time we chopped it down, dragged it home, and stood it up outside the back door. The critters were often revealed by the dog’s constant barking or several cats showing persistent interest that made us suspicious and look deeper.

Whatever the reason, the doomed tree failed even our pathetic criteria for inside use. It was granted prominent status on the front lawn and adorned with strings of colored lights in an attempt to give it the illusion of a conical shape. In daylight it fooled no one. At night, with an absence of other illumination, the colored lights pulled off a passable job.

Another benefit was that it provided a lit marker of our front lawn. The farmhouse sat on a roadside curve. The long straightaway that approached from uphill made it appear the house sat in the center of the road. Tire tracks on our lawn and a few busted mailbox posts attested to the several errors drivers made on the turn. During December, we had the added safety buffer of a lit tree in the yard that stood farther in front of the house that helped indicate drivers should turn sooner.

O Christmas Tree, we thank thee for being our roadside marker.

Lights in the Corn Field

The car slowed. We watched from the dark upstairs windows. This was the fourth one tonight. All the cars approaching from up the road acted the same way at the same spot.

Most nights, cars cruised the straight stretch at a smooth clip. Cars driving up from below still maintained their speed. Only those approaching downhill were slowing to a crawl at that same place. We knew what caused it. We had done it that afternoon.

Each summer garden reached a battleground stage as the plants ripened. Cows would breach fences and trample more than they ate. Raccoons were worse. They would destroy large amounts just to take a nibble of a single item. Corn was a big draw. Coons would knock down a dozen stalks and only bite into a few of the topmost ears.

We checked fences as the garden matured. Strong fence posts, heavy-gauge wire were the starting point. Raccoon minds worked through weaknesses and the arms race escalated. We added barbed wire at the top for the cows. Electric fence lines at the top and bottom levels bolstered defenses.

Coons climbed the shed and jumped over the electric top wire to get in. They rushed out and took their shocks as they left. It did little to deter their return.

Today we added lights. Not spotlights or general illumination. We added Christmas lights. Colored bulbs surrounded the lower level of the fence and blinked at random intervals. The hope was to confuse or at least disorient the coons enough to keep them out.

A humorous side benefit was the reaction of drivers passing by the field. As they cleared the top of the hill and approached the farm house, they could see the lights blinking in the field off to their right. The spot where they slowed matched the lowest portion of the stone wall and provided the clearest view. Cars travelling up the road did not have the field in view long enough to spot the lights and drove on normally.

We speculated how many would report the strange lights in the field. Would the news have an announcement of possible alien visitors? Should we build a crop circle to go with the lights?

Not Inspiring Confidence

I recently visited northwestern Connecticut. During a drive from one point to another I passed the “Lost Acres Fire Department” in West Granby.

The name made me wonder about its origin and other things.

Is their motto?:

  • “We give up.”
  • or: “Call someone else to control the fire.”
  • or: “We’re on our way, just had to stop for directions again. Our GPS took us to a dead end.”

The actual history of the fire department can be seen here.

The Lost Acres name comes from a confused landowner who settled in the area long ago.


Another Connecticut land quirk is nearby to the north. The famous border notch with Massachusetts caused by a colonial days land dispute between the colonies/early states. The notch was the compromise. Without it, the Connecticut border would be a straight line.

As it’s been a while since our last free-write… set a timer for ten minutes. Write without pause (and no edits!) until you’re out of time.

No Money Boundaries

We were on our anniversary trip celebrating 25 years of marriage. A generous gift from family allowed us to book an all expenses paid vacation to the beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands. We were staying in a gorgeous resort on the island of St. John that had several private beaches, easy access to town, and all the expected amenities available.

We went into town to explore and do a little shopping. The first store we entered was a large jewelry shop with very expensive items. My wife began browsing at the smaller trinket counters and I headed straight for the grand display case. After a short time, she came over to where I was standing and whispered “Are we going to buy something here?”

“Whatever you want. We have no limit. Do you think this piece looks nice?” I answered.

She blinked hard for a moment then drew me aside by pulling on my arm. “We don’t need any of this. I’m just as happy with a tourist souvenir to remember this trip as I would be with a fabulous one-of-a-kind specially designed piece of jewelry.”

I was jolted back to the reality of our lives in that moment.
We have everything we need with each other.
No extravagant spending required.

You’re given unlimited funds to plan one day full of any and all luxuries you normally can’t afford. Tell us about your extravagant day with as much detail as possible.

Boys, Rocks, and Hornets

“I’m bored.” brother said. “There’s nothing to do.”

“Get out of the house and go for a walk.” mom told the boys. “Go run around the back pasture or something. It’s a beautiful day outside. Go get some sun. Have some fun.”

Reluctantly, the boys got their shoes on and trudged up the lane to the back fields. The hot summer sun and dusty path provided plenty of dirt clods to pick up and throw. One brother threw a clod against the stone wall and smiled as it exploded in a satisfying puff. The others joined in and took turns selecting dirt clods and various targets.

As they continued walking the lane changed to less dirt to more gravel and grass. Dirt clods were soon replaced with small stones as ammunition. These flew farther and straighter, but lacked the dramatic finish of the clods. They needed a better target.

One brother spotted a large hornet nest hanging from a branch directly over the lane ahead. It was almost the size of half a basketball. Great big white-faced hornets circled the hive and moved in and out of the bottom entrance hole. Brother held his arm out to stop the group.

We all watched as he carefully aimed, threw his rock, and missed. Another brother lined up his shot and whipped his arm in a sideways arc like he was trying to skip a stone on water. His flat rock flew and rose as it spun into the leafy branches above the nest. Another miss.

Each of the brothers selected stones and took turns trying to score a hit. A few moments passed before anyone succeeded. That first stone glanced off the side of the nest making a shallow dent in the gray papery material. The hornets increased their activity around the hive. Several more rapidly emerged from the nest and joined others in a protective orbit.

The brothers laughed at the results and each eagerly took his turn attempting more hits and greater hornet response. One, two, three more hits in quick succession and the hive now had small holes where stones pierced the side wall. At least two of the stones did not pass through the other side and were presumably stuck inside. The hornets multiplied in the air. The boys kept their distance downwind and laughed at the activity.

A brother picked up a larger stone, close to full hand size and said, “Let’s see if we can knock the nest out of the tree.”

His shot missed and the rock landed on the ground under the nest. Other brothers threw large stones and also missed. The heavier stones were harder to throw and when they hit the ground under the nest, small clouds of dust kicked up. The boys grew more excited at each near miss. The original few sentry hornets were now numbering in the couple dozen and made swooping turns in a large circle under the tree.

Rock after rock was thrown until someone heard a tractor approaching. Their uncle was driving from the back pasture back to the barn. He would pass directly under the nest. The boys looked at each other and knew it was time to leave. They each threw their last stones and ran further away and took cover behind some big rocks.

The tractor steadily approached. Their uncle drove casually in the summer sun. He emerged from behind the tree line and took the turn into the lane. The boys saw him look sharply down at the many stones that had appeared since he drove up earlier in the day. He stopped the tractor and stared as he puzzled about how they got there.

The hornets moved in. The diesel exhaust, engine noise, and warm body was just the target they needed to defend against. Hornet after hornet smacked against his head and neck. The first few did not sting him, these were bully attacks. They flew fast and crashed into their enemy to drive them away. If that did not happen quickly, the stingers came out.

Their uncle had stopped the tractor by pushing in the clutch and stepping on the brake. As the hornets attacked, he jumped in the seat releasing both in a sudden lurch. The tractor bounced and moved forward placing the exhaust directly beneath the nest. Now hot diesel smoke rose up into the nest for a few seconds and disturbed the entire hive. The tractor continued moving forward as their uncle swatted at hornets in a losing attempt to ward them off.

He reached for the throttle and jammed it forward. The tractor accelerated up the lane and cleared him from the hive’s vicinity. Several hornets gave chase for a persistent distance up the next rise before turning back to home base.

The boys watched their uncle continue to swing his hat around at hornets that may or may not be there as he jerked the steering wheel in jagged course corrections. He did not slow down until he approached the barn.

They stayed out of sight until they could not hear the tractor. They looked at the nest and the angry swarm that still surrounded it. Mom had been right. They did need to get out of the house and have some fun in the sun.

Kicked Down Stairs

David wailed and held his injured head at the bottom of the stairs. He’d tumbled down the 14 steps and landed head first in the shoe rack. The hard wooden steps in the old farmhouse each provided bumps and bruises all over his body.

Mom came running to the awful sound of her hurting child. She quickly assessed his injuries and began to soothe him. She looked around to determine the cause of the fall. She saw Tim standing quietly at the top of the stairs.

“Timmy! Did you push your brother down the stairs?” she demanded.

“No mommy, I didn’t.” he replied.

“Don’t lie to me! Your brother is hurt. Did you push him down the stairs?” she asked again.

“No mommy, I didn’t.” he answered.

“Timmy, tell me what happened.” mom ordered.

“I didn’t push him down the stairs. I KICKED him down the stairs.” he clarified honestly.

Dear family toilet… :-(

Two of my children have cystic fibrosis. This life-shortening genetic disorder has side effects beyond the primary respiratory problems. One of the major issues is incompletely processed food coming through their digestive system. Fatty foods are the worst. They travel quickly and come out smelling very bad.

Our family toilets have been subjected to daily abuse by this for many years. The insult added to the injury came when I was preparing for my colon screening. The doctor’s office instructions were brief but explicit.

  • Pick up the preparation kit at the pharmacy.
  • Drink Part A with fluids.
  • Drink Part B and be prepared to not move from the toilet for six hours as everything from age 2 gets ejected from your body in forceful contractions.

I am so sorry.

If your furniture, appliances, and other inanimate objects at home had feelings and emotions, to which item would you owe the biggest apology?

Decorating the Tree – Her Way

Tim walked into the living room where his future in-laws were decorating their Christmas tree. Without looking, he quipped, “You missed a spot.” The family froze and turned to inspect the tree, seeking the flaw in their creation. There was none. Tim was a jerk.

“Where?” they demanded.

“Uh. Over there,” he vaguely gestured and realized these people were serious about their tree.

They had chosen a fuzzy-looking Douglas Fir with soft needles providing a full, gap-free exterior to start their enhancements. It was smoothly conical with no stray branches or needles surging beyond the overall exterior lines. The height reached nine inches shy of the ceiling which allowed exactly enough room for the star on top.

The tree had a prominent place in the formal living room. A room he knew was rarely used at all. The furniture in here was showroom quality. Much too nice for anyone to flop on for an afternoon nap and the cushions a bit stiff from lack of use. The family spent more time down the hall in the den. Here, the tree could be viewed out the front windows from the street.

All the decorations were red and white. White pinpoint lights had been carefully strung and gently turned outwards to maximize their illuminating effects. There was no tension on the cords to pull a limb or cluster of needles into place like at his family’s house. Here the tree received caring attention with the placement of each item.

Ornaments were evenly spaced across the green background in a careful pattern that suggested a netted template had been used. There were only four different types of ornaments: red ribbons, white balls, white birds, and white icicles. All were of similar size and shade. Each had been cleaned and inspected before being entrusted to a hanging point. Red ribbons were new this year and represented a daring change from almost two decades of tradition. The effect was beautiful and yet profoundly different from Tim’s family tree.

He wondered where the children’s contributions factored in the tree. Where were the “Baby’s first Christmas” ornaments, the plaster hand prints, the felt and ribbon horse head crafts? All the little treasured mementos that festooned his family tree seemed to have no place here. If he married into this family, what would their own tree tradition become? He felt sure Han Solo and Chewbacca on a string would never be allowed.

“Where did we miss something?” his future mother-in-law demanded.

Tim broke from his reflections and replied, “Sorry. I was mistaken. The red ribbon on the left edge seemed turned a bit to me. It’s fine.”

Decorating the Tree – His Way

We’re Christians. We celebrate Christmas. Some of my earliest memories are of being dressed up as a shepherd for the Christmas play at church. Other childhood memories revolve around our family events and decorating the Christmas tree is one I remember best.

Growing up, decorating the tree began long before Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. Shortly after Thanksgiving, we’d pull out the boxes of ornaments and decorations in preparation for the fun. Mom and Dad seemed to keep everything year after year. Some items were long past their useful life and had seen much better times in much better shape. That didn’t matter.

The sparsely populated red and silver simulated popcorn garland from the early 1970’s along with its equally pathetic green and silver garland that was missing more than half its own foil were carefully wrapped around cardboard and stored for another year. More thread than sparkle, we didn’t understand why Mom kept it.

Light strings with bulbs of various sizes presented an electrical challenge each holiday season, but Dad was technical and only muttered a little under his breath as he repaired cords and replaced bulbs.

Getting the tree was a family event. The five kids bundled up and eagerly ran to wooded areas of the farm to search for THE PERFECT TREE, not that any of us knew what that meant. We frequently ran from tree to tree, doing a quick assessment of attributes before dismissing that one for arbitrary reasons and running to another.

Did I mention this was not a Christmas tree farm? It wasn’t. It was a dairy farm in northwestern Connecticut. Most of the trees were hardwoods, not varieties of pine. Maple, oak, birch, hickory, cherry, and poplar were plentiful; spruce, fir, pine, not so much. Our selections were limited before we stepped out the back door of the farmhouse.

So we ran and ran until it began to get dark and we grew tired. Eventually, we settled upon one and Dad came over with the ax. He looked up at the top of it and asked if we were sure. We all agreed and he quickly felled the victim, a hemlock. He grasped the base and began the long drag home.

Yes. We dragged the tree out of the woods all the way home. Through the woods, down the cow path, across the lawn, right up to the back door. There, we stood it up to look at it again. Now that it was next to the house, our renewed sense of perspective revealed how large it was. It towered well beyond the height of the door. It measured at least fourteen feet. It would never stand straight in our ten foot ceilings. We should have gotten a clue when six-foot tall Dad looked up at the tree in the woods.

Out comes the ax again. We lopped off three feet or more from the base and decided to drag it into the living room to finish sizing it down. Taking it by the stump, we scraped walls as we wrestled it through the kitchen, took a ninety degree turn, through the dining room, another ninety degree turn down a narrow hallway, and a final turn into the living room.

We tried to stand it up in the center of the room but the top branches bent over so badly when we did, we knew we’d have to cut more from the base. With the tree in the living room, there was no space to swing an ax and Mom didn’t want sawdust everywhere, so we dragged the tree through the house to get it outside the back door trailing bits of bark and needles the whole way.

We cut a couple more feet off the base and dragged it back through the house once again. This time, there was enough room to stand it fully upright. The branches sagged outwards and reached the four walls. No problem. We hacked off the branches from one side and shoved the tree against the wall. Now the remaining branches came at us in a semi-circle almost halfway across the room. Some more hacking and trimming with brush clippers soon tamed the situation.

By the time we finished lopping and snipping the tree into it’s designated area, we faced the reality of a clearly visible 6-inch trunk through the remaining branches which lacked much of the desired greenery now. We had large areas of brown sticks with freshly cut ends showing white. This was our decorating canvas.

Dad stabilized the base and strung some lights. We helped where we could but got in the way more than truly assisted. Once he stepped back, we moved in.

“I need something heavy over here to pull this branch down some and fill the hole.” one sibling said.

“Here’s that plaster hand print from pre-school on a ribbon. It’s pretty heavy.” suggested another.

“Perfect. Hang it here.” one said.

Ornaments we’d made, bought, or somehow collected over the years appeared from the several boxes and made their way to the tree. Some were strategically placed, like the hand print. Others were actually hung as decorations. The tree leveled and sagged with the growing load. Almost done.

A few wraps of gold, red, green, and silver garlands helped mask the gaps even more. The pathetic simulated popcorn foil strands contributed what they could to add sparkle and distraction to the voids as well. We were ready for the final stage.

We grabbed handfuls of tinsel and practically bombed the tree with it. There was no artistic flair or expression. This was four boys and their baby sister pelting a tree in the living room with imitation icicles. After a brief explosion of noise and silver strands we let it all come to rest. Picking a stubborn strand of static filled tinsel from the side of his face a sibling announced, “The tree is done.”

My Best Friend’s Island List

As a good husband, one well-trained and experienced with more than 27 years of marriage to my best friend, I would not dare develop such a list of my own selections without consulting her.
Items I may deem essential would be summarily rejected, and others I would not even consider bringing, she would demand.

I would ask her now, but she’s taking a well-earned nap after working all day with pre-kindergarten special needs children at school.


We’ve all been asked what five objects we’d take with us to a desert island. Now it’s your best friend’s (or close relative’s) turn to be stranded: what five objects would you send him/her off with?