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.
Our family has always valued tradition. Our Virginia roots stretch down deep in the clay loam of Tidewater back farther than the Whiskey Rebellion. For me, anyway, I’ve never felt as tied to my home as I do at Christmas. We chopped down our own Christmas tree every year (including the year where Daddy had suspect access to an old tree farm out in Charles City County that had been on the market for a few years and he and I went in the old pick-up truck with the Flatt and Scruggs cassette stuck in the tape player and cut a spindly ole tree down with dubious permission and had to skedaddle out of there with a banjo soundtrack when some overseers came out of the trailer on the edge of the property like enraged overalled hornets). We had fires in our fireplace that I would keep going til the last minute until it was time to put it out for the safety of potential Christmas Eve visitors. We had embroidered stockings with our initials on them that, for me, always contained a can of olives (my greatest desire) and a new toothbrush (a two-pronged attack on hygiene maintained by both Santa and the Easter Bunny). Then, when we were older, we had long Christmas day brunches, just us, for hours at the dining room table, totally content, entirely self contained. Our traditions built us up and kept us together.Though the past made us many things, I have learned that this is not what makes us family. So, this Christmas we tried a few new things, new to us but still rooted deep somewhere. Instead of the pink poinsettias that have been on our kitchen table at home every December for my birthday, this year Mama brought up the pink camellias above- cut from our Virginia garden. My grandfather brought her the plant, started from cuttings from the original- growing at my Great Grandmother’s house- he called them Sophie Davis Camellias after her. Instead of a long boozy brunch of hash browns and hominy, we went to Pell Street in Chinatown with Sweetheart’s family- in from Rockaway- for the long standing New York Jewish tradition of chinese food (in this case, vegetarian dim sum) on Christmas Day. Instead of the boxwood roping, magnolia leaves, and fresh cut trees of our old roots, we had the entire New York City skyline glittering and bejeweled, new to us but rooting us here just the same.
I’d love to have a deep red living room with dark built in bookshelves and a big open wall to hang this huge, awesome Alan McDonald portrait on, but, alas, I don’t. Though “dream apartment” is always on my wishlist, here are a few things that *someone* might consider getting instead to help maintain the lifestyle of the honky tonk woman. After all, we’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers. I won’t call it a gift guide if you don’t call it a comeback. Show me the way to the next whisky bar.
Need Gillian Welch’s wonderful newish album, The Harrow and the Harvest, which is just as good on the indian summer open road as it is nesting in the winterdark.
Covet His/Hers/Ours Decanter set from Brooklyn’s own Love and Victory. You can also get His/His or Hers/Hers, or, if you’re like me and my “Three’s Company”, whiskey-loving roommates ca. 2006: Hers/Hers/His.
Crave raw forged steel trinkets that are as brutishly lovely as they are useful from CXXVI. Image from the divine goldust woodsmaiden.Want to live inside the cover of this record (get us a copy? good luck finding it- listen here, a gift from the fabulous Berlin Beatet Bestes). Or if you’re feeling really generous- perhaps a new accordion. Here are a few that look promising from Accordion Heaven.
We put our little city Christmas tree up late last week, and it’s been a source of constant joy to me since. The night we put it up, I had the girls over for Christmas Crafts (more on that later), and after a long boozy vegetarian dinner (for Smills the yogi) followed by the cracking open of the bottle of grappa I brought back from Italy, we sat in the glow of the tree through the wee hours and talked of the future and the past and of our little and not so little dreams. It was all so very wonderful. My absolute favorite part of the tree are all of the little birds, coming from all over my history to nest in the tree, feather by feather.
Thanks to Meags for the first picture of my tree, lovingly taken during her visit this weekend (we hugged each other with six of our friendship-octopus legs to make sure that we had two legs each free for champagne, of course).