The Forest for the Trees

We used to drive to nearby farms for our annual Christmas tree. We’d eat those Royal Dansk Danish Butter cookies that were never very good. We’d sip cider out of Dixie cups and then tromp through artificial rows of forest looking for the tree. When we settled on one, the tree would be sawed down, wrangled into a net and, at home, thrust into a stand so we could encase it with 20,000 Christmas-with-the-Kranks lights.

I wasn’t brave enough to cut down a tree the first year on my own with the kids. Instead, I left Paige and Katie with my parents and headed off to Home Depot with Megan and Ryan who wanted to get a tree with Mommy.

I don’t know what it is with home repair stuff, but each time I’ve tried to work on a home project, everything I say conjures up double entendres. I walk into Home Depot and an employee is quick to my aid, “Can I help you find something?”

“Yes, I’m looking for a screw,” I say.

Mr. Orange Apron flashes a flirtatious smile. I turn red.

“I need screw eyes.” Wait. That didn’t help things.

When I was wrestling with my garbage disposal, aka as an “in-sink erator,” a friend at work was trying to talk me through the plumbing repair job. “You take the male pipe and put it into the female pipe but don’t forget the rubber gasket between them…” I glanced around hoping no one from HR was within earshot of our conversation and thought, Pipes have genders? I had a hard enough time with French-gendered nouns! 

As a result, I’ve learned to be more specific when I walk through the sliding doors of the mega hardware store. I tell the men I’m looking for toilet flappers or rubber foam for stripping to keep things warm at night. It’s still awkward to say I need a replacement “ballcock” but I’m managing. (Please keep your mind out of the gutter and on toilets if you think I’m making this up.)

But I digress. Size does matter, so Megan, Ryan and I settled on an enormous Noble Fir that first year. We watched the tree guys make a clean-cut to the base, net it, and hoist it onto the roof of our car. Only, Home Depot employees aren’t allowed to tie trees down—something about liability issues if the tree falls off the car.

We flung bungee cords and ropes around hoping that we were somehow latching the tree to our roof. I didn’t trust my tie-down efforts, so I had each kid hold onto the rope ends inside the car. When we arrived home, we pushed the tree off my roof only to discover I didn’t have a Christmas tree stand big enough to accommodate the tree’s base.

Last year I resorted to an artificial tree. A Frontgate Flip tree. An amazing, ingenious tree where I step on a pedal, flip the tree over and attach the top. It’s beautiful. Easy.  And pre-lit. But it doesn’t smell of a fresh forest and pine needles.

We wheeled it into our family room on Veteran’s day this year and decorated the whole evening because Christmas can very well start in November. Or even July in my book.

While our tree was up in time to honor our soldiers, Christmas became real last Saturday when my friends Alan and Sylvia showed up at church with a live tree for me. They purchased 8 gorgeous trees for a school fundraiser and gifted them to several families. I was one of the lucky recipients.

I had planned to stop by Bellarmine high school’s parking lot after church with an assortment of bungee cords. Instead, Alan and Sylvia delivered the tree to my car at church. It was raining. Not Seattle’s light mist, but a relentless, drenching downpour. Alan, an orthopedic surgeon, stood in the rain and sutured the tree onto my roof with ropes to ensure that I could cross the Narrows bridge with its high winds without mishaps. And I did.

The tree was secure, but the knots gave way with ease when I needed to get it off the roof. One phone call and my next door neighbor Dave was over to help me carry the tree into the house and set it in its stand. (Krinner Christmas Tree Genie XXL = best stand ever.)

The tree is lovely in my living room. The whole house is filled with its smell. And Alan and Sylvia’s gift not only made me deeply appreciative of good friends, it caused me to reflect on what I’ve learned from Christmas trees past, present and future:

Tall trees require broad bases. We all say to each other, “My, how your kids have grown.” And they have. But my children have grown up with a solid base of support from my parents and cousins, aunts and uncles. They’ve had an extraordinary foundation built of our church community and neighbors, teachers and friends. It’s more than I could have ever offered them on my own, but a good base is required for a tree to stand tall.

Medium beats well-done.  I tend toward perfection. My kids thrive on adventure and mayhem. I’m often flummoxed by how to manage it all–the schedules, the errands, the repairs, the cost, the sheer orchestration of life. My kids are resilient and forgiving and impervious to near mishaps. Megan and Ryan still laugh about trying to keep our Home Depot tree on our car roof. All of them enjoy hanging the ornaments—many clustered 3 feet from the ground—much more than looking at the tree when it’s finished. Real tree. Artificial tree. No one really cares except that there’s a tree to decorate, and its lights cast a kind glow on the little lives in our home.

Christmas is Receiving. All my life, I’ve heard that it’s more blessed to give than to receive so it’s an odd thing to realize that it’s important to be a gracious receiver as well.

My friends Kari and Tom showed up for dinner the other evening with some gourmet cheese and a cheese knife set, the handles made of beautiful Murano glass. It’s a perfect gift, yet I was mortified that I had been sick all week and hadn’t gotten them a thing in exchange.

Sometimes I am just a receiver, unprepared to reciprocate. I am humbled by all that I don’t know and can’t fix by myself. So I depend on the goodwill of Home Depot men. I accept big, beautiful Christmas trees and the kindness of neighbors and gorgeous glass knives without offering something back.

Christmas is kinda like that. It represents grace of a magnitude that humbles me. Renders me a complete receiver.

I am in awe of the gifts of Christmas: Unmerited grace. The presence and presents of family and friends.

Wishing all of you the gifts of love and joy, peace and astounding grace this season!

Published by

shellyngo

Shelly Ngo is the social media strategist for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's office in Washington state and the creator of www.Citizens ofSeattle.com. She completed her master's degree in digital media from the University of Washington in June 2015. Besides dabbling on Facebook and creating content for websites, she is also the full-time laundress, driver and cook for four kids and a capricious canine.

3 thoughts on “The Forest for the Trees”

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