Back in the sun-drenched wilds of August, I met my dear friend Jennis at the brewery just up the road for a beer. It was one of those slant-light-hot-in-the-sun summer’s end late afternoon that feels endless and magical and lovely and surrounds everyone who basks in its light with an aura of possibility. Jennis had brought a friend and her partner and we spoke passionately about the proposed natural gas pipeline that will probably be destroying our valley soon and about history and land and watersheds and adventure and how to ride in a truck with dudes so they’ll take you seriously (good advice to have in one’s dungaree pocket) and somehow the conversation wound its way around to the family business in the wilds of the valley west of us: a Christmas Tree Farm! What an enterprise, what a place to grow up… what magic! So, we sat in the setting sun surrounded by good vibes lifting our glasses and saying: when it comes time for Christmas (which is most certainly impossibly far away) we’ll have to go to your farm to get our tree this year. And, as time moves ever swifter, this past weekend the moment was nigh, with a chill drizzle in the air, for us to hit the roads and head to the great river’s headwaters and grab bow saws, hanging all in a row from wooden pegs, and walk the fields full of soft-needled, bushy white pines (my favorite, and somewhat of a rarity), Jennis and her sweetheart and two excellent children, adept with saws and ideas and silent stalking like ninja-elfs (see below), discussing the necessary merits of the ideal tree: must not have too many holes (but cannot be too perfect), must be somewhat scraggly (but not too scraggly), must have adequate spots for larger ornaments, must also have adequate room for many presents, bonus points for a birds nest. Geese overhead, the air grey and misty and magical and lovely in its own blustery right, merry Christmas, and god bless ye hairy gentlemen, it’s time for hot toddys.
Get ready for the revelation: I really, really love Christmas. I love everything about it. The magic and light glow and mystery and anticipation and sweetness and memory and legend and quiet mornings and flannel nightgowns and music. Oh, the music. This year Mama was generous enough to give me/probably ecstatic to be rid of a classic old Case Logic box full of Christmas CD’s…an entire childhood of Christmas mornings, all the classics, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, (and mine-and-everyone-with-a-lick-of-sense’s fave) Vince Guaraldi, a crazy harp and dulcimer album that you can only buy on cassette now (but does have a few streaming mp3’s) and a few awesome new ones, like Hawaiian Slack Key Christmas and the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble. We also have a pretty decent selection of Christmas music on vinyl, The Nutcracker, some Colonial Williamsburg gems, and the piece de resistance: a Natural Mystic label Christmas Sampler that Sweetheart found on the street of our old Brooklyn neighborhood, which is awesome right out of the gate leading off the A-side with The Temptation’s incredible version of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (“hey, Rudolph!”). Can you blame me if I’ve been ending every day since Thanksgiving with a glass of wine by my beautiful tree, with the lights low and Christmas music quietly streaming from the stereo? You know it’s getting close, though, when the Holiday spirit creeps out of cocktail hour onto your computer to serenade you whilst you work. So if you, like me, are just owning it and getting real with your Christmas Cheer, here are some choice streaming and downloadable festive tunes from around the web.This incredible Christmas in Sweden album (downloadable!) from Anna over at Door Sixteen. It’s scratchy and poppy and full of Scandinavian joy.
The Oh Hellos Family Christmas (downloadable!) from Noisetrade.
aaand, the entirety of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (streamable, for now!) on Hulu.
If that doesn’t get you to cocktail hour, then there’s this: 48 minutes of jazzy-fabulous Christmas Joy.
Stay Merry, Stay Bright.
Yes, those are my painted wood farmhouse floors. Yes, that is my pink poinsettia. Yes, they were both waiting for me when I returned to the country from the city this week. The floors have been here since 1890 or so, the poinsettia, since just last week, but my how I love them both. My mama has been getting me a pink poinsettia for my birthday every year, as long as I can remember, since before I wore a fur muff and a cape (like this) and took three very special friends to Richmond for a tea party and to see The Nutcracker (this was my deepest desire as a girl turning 8 and, frankly, that STILL sounds totally awesome). Also waiting for me upon my return, a parcel from dear McKay, with a new story (hers) and moon vine seeds to plant in the spring (mine), and a big ‘ole box from Jay and Katie Rose full of JARS (!! how well they know me) and, among other affirmations, this quote:
Time and tide wait for no man, but time always stands still for a woman of 30.”- Robert Frost
Now, I realize that there may be a bit of a mid-century jibe lurking here, one about lying about your age, but that literally didn’t occur to me until just now… rather, I read it as something powerful, as if, at 30, a woman has a certain hard-earned-sense and now-finally-trusted-intuition and faith-in-the-weight-of-her-own-truth to slow down from the head-long gallop of 16, the jittery glitter of 21, and the loud, mouthy, wisdom of 25 and take a deep breath, at last, and be comfortable in quiet, in time, in her own skin. 30 years of living may not magically afford us the ability to weigh what we need and want and love and craft a life of purpose and beauty out of them, but I turn 30 on Sunday, and I’ll celebrate it at Home, with wood-smoke and family, with Sweetheart and music, with friends coming down from the cities and coming in from the farther-out-country mountain hollers, and with love. And fried chicken, oysters, and champagne. So.
On my last night before returning back to the country for my own EPIC PARTY PREPARATIONS, all of my dear ones who won’t be able to make it down south for my own Jubilee birthday all got together to have a big celebratory, adventurous Sichuan dinner in Bay Ridge. After sweet peppered ginger duck, prickly hot red-oil dumplings, salt and pepper shrimp, and (my favorite) the Chengdu softshell crab— a glistening pile of shining red chiles and clovey brown peppercorns dotted with fried softshell crab omigod— we decided to go on a little adventure. After all, we were already on 86th street, just a hop and a jump away from Dyker Heights and its fabled Christmas Light EXTRAVAGANZAS. Trumpeting Angels, Two-Storey Santas, Nutcrackers riding life-size-mechanized-rearing-stallions… all with a belly full of flavor. Everything you could possibly want from a New York Christmas whirlwind. So far so great.
If you hadn’t noticed, my holiday plans are seriously nesty, and this year, I’m planning on gifting along those lines. If I’m trying to live simply with a focus on use and beauty, purging my scene of things that are not purposeful or graceful, then I should pay that forward, right? And, no, it’s not just because I’m currently 396 miles away from the Union Square Holiday Market mayhem. This year, that goes for the wrapping too. So, I have my stack of plain brown paper bags and farm twine ready to go, aaaaand, as if on cue: the genius ladies at DesignSponge* are offering these free printable gift tags. How Lovely.
So, in the golden hour, Mama and I drove out into the sun in search of the mythical, the soft-needle Christmas Tree, a bushy varietal of great white pine that in New York City might as well be the great white whale. Miniature Forests pop up on every street corner there, but every last one of them only offers sharp needled balsam firs. We drove into the sun out to an old nursery up Afton that, despite rumors to the contrary, apparently no longer sells pumpkins or turkeys or wreaths or trees (pointy OR soft) or any other assorted holiday ephemera but is actually now a mushroom farm. Ok. Luckily, sweetly, the young stoned mushroom farmer came out and told us that there was a place right down the road that sold trees. “I don’t know if they sell the soft ones, but they sure are nice”. We traced our steps back and around and right, lo, by the side of the road were gorgeous orderly rows of fat soft trees growing, ready to be tagged and cut.The wonderful proprietor, who lives in a big, pretty farmhouse with a circular drive right behind the trees, told us to go pick the one we wanted and he’d be down to help us cut and pack it. We walked up and down the long rows, weighing the merits of each tree like Old Hat, New Hat (too leafy, too lumpy, too beefy, too bumpy, too Charlie Browny, too pointy, too townie), until we came upon the one. The slightly skinnier, somewhat awry, quite jaunty, gloriously fluffy, and perfectly soft one. The one that had the birds nest in it. Petit à petit l’oiseau fait son nid, Feather by Feather the bird builds its nest. We’ll take it, this is the one for home.