Saturday, December 15, 2012

Adventures in Tree Decorating 101

That time of the year has come, the days when you dig out storage the funky decorations that you string on the fragrant branches of a tree. In my case, due to moving back to the United States in 2011, I had none of the decorations that my French BFF Mimi had given me at Villa Verde.  I also live in a compact room so whatever tree I got had to be an appropriate size to accommodate all of the stuff that has accumulated in the space of nearly four months.

One trip to the Foir'Fouille, land of cheap housewares, and I acquired 40 Euros' worth of Christmas decorations and a fake tree.

It looks nice, doesn't it? 
With Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree playing in the background, I opened the box, hooked the tree bits together and decorated it with the lights and ornaments.

Or at least I tried to. Due to the flimsy, collapsible stand and the weight of too many ornaments, the poor tree kept falling over.

With each slip and dip that occurred, my frustration gradually kicked up a notch. Then one of the stand's planks broke. I resorted to using a pink Hello Kitty CD case to keep it propped upright. I even gave my tree a nickname: Timber. As in "TIM-BERRRRRRRRR!!!!" *crash*

The result?

Don't forget to notice the pink Hello Kitty stand.


Let's take a look at the picture on the box again...

I couldn't help but start to feel vicious animosity towards Timber. It looked terrible and, even with the makeshift support, it continued to fall over.

This is clearly what a fake Christmas tree looks like when it has given up all hope.

Deep in my gut, something told me that Timber simply wasn't going to cut it. I sadly removed all of the ornaments I had strung with care and dismantled Timber. Determined, I promised myself that I would get a real tree on Saturday.

Tree Decorating, Take 2

I walked over to my nearest Point Vert, the Villa Verde wannabe store filled with hunting gear and gardening supplies. Within minutes, I found my dream tree. Despite its cumbersome size for my tiny bedroom, it was the perfect tree. I purchased Chrissy (yes, that's its name) and a stand to keep it standing straight.

But once I returned home, I then had to deal with a second factor: my tiny bedroom.

Once you have purchased a tree, playing Room Tetris is inevitable. 
The solution was quite simple, really. In order to clear a space, all I needed to do was move the boxes, suitcases and packages under my desk.


(Clearly, not all Latinos fall under the stereotype of being cleaning fiends. I feel sorry for whomever ends up being my husband because he's gonna have to deal with living with my messes. Or maybe I'll acquire the tidy gene once I have a ring on my finger?)

Christmas Tree Decorating 101

1) Place all the Christmas/Fairy Lights first.

Trust me on this one. 

2) To set the mood right, organize all of the ornaments.

Looking at this hoard still makes me giddy.

I couldn't resist getting these horse ornaments. I consider it a tribute to my many Neigh-bors

When I was younger, my mother had a bunch of basket ornaments. On Christmas day, I would discover that Santa had magically left some chocolates in them. I wanted to make sure that the Man in Red continues that tradition.

Yo dawg, I heard you like Christmas trees. So I put a Christmas tree in yo' Christmas tree.

These are actually wooden gift tags. They're ornaments now, okay?
3) Do make yourself a cup of your favorite hot beverage.

Mine's Colombian hot chocolate.
4) Pop in your favorite Christmas music or movie and have the songs/dialogue running in the background. White Christmas is a two-for-one deal: it has music and a plot.

Now you are set to decorate.

Make sure you have even spacing between branches for the ornaments. The tree shouldn't look too overcrowded. 

If you have any garland/ribbon, add it after you've laced the tree with the decorations. Add the tree skirt last.
If you lack space, place the Nativity scene/Christmas village under the tree.

Chrissy makes me so happy that I don't even want any presents this year.

I really wasn't kidding about living in a compacted space.
I don't know who is more excited for the Christmas break to come, my students or me. Bonne chance (good luck) with your own decorating!

To make matters even more interesting about my compacted space, I shall have to factor in an inflatable bed within a week's time. Why so? I will have the pleasure to travelling to Paris to greet my mother at the Charles de Gaulle (CDG-Roissy) airport!  It'll be the first time in nearly four months (I moved to Sablé-sur-Sarthe on August 23rd) since I have seen her. We've done a couple of Skype chats in between, but nothing compares to being able to hug her in person and give her a big kiss.

Back in October, when I was dreaming of having two weeks off to just relax and do absolutely nothing, no grading papers, no planning lessons, not having to wake up in the mornings, I received a phone call from my very matriarchal Colombian Mom.

Me: Hi, Mom, what's up?

Mom: Well, I was thinking...

Me: About?

Mom: About how I'm going to France to spend Christmas with you this year.

She hadn't asked a question. It was a statement. It was definitive. Whatever she says, goes.

I had to be a responsible adult. I kissed my two weeks of laziness rest and relaxation good-bye and booked airfare for Mom.

I am a bit concerned for her, though. Ever since we moved from the frozen tundra of New Jersey twenty years ago to Miami, it might take her a while to become acclimated to experiencing proper winter weather once more.

I'm also scratching my head as to what we will do in the time she visits me. Paris at Christmas is a must, and I still have yet to see the Champs-Élysée lit at night. As for Christmas day, Mom and I will probably spend a few days with my dear friends who live in Sens to exchange presents and cook some Colombian cuisine. After that, I might take Mom to my very humble abode in Sablé so she can meet the horses. Maybe we will even get the chance to visit the surrounding cities of Angers and Le Mans to see their Christmas markets.

On a more serious note, my mother is quite nervous for this trip. It wouldn't have been so bad had I been able to find a cheap direct flight for her from Miami to Paris, but, due to financial destitution, we had to opt for her to make a stop in London's Heathrow airport (or is it aeroport?). Now, in all reality, having a layover in London isn't such a big deal.

However, when you are a Colombian lady who, thanks to Miami's Spanish-centered bilingualism, rarely speaks English and who has never set foot in the U.K., it suddenly is a frickin' big deal. She actually considered canceling the trip due to this inconvenience.

The following conversation happened to us in Spanish:

Mom: WHAT AM I GONNA DO?! Can I use Euros or Dollars in England?

Me: Um, no, I don't think so. The British use the Pound.

Mom: *Incredulous pause* Ayyyyyyy ¡¡¡¡Dios mio!!!! (Oh, my God!) Why can't these Europeans use the same currency everywhere?! It's so backwards of them!

Me: Oh,'s not a big problem.

*I looked at the flight schedule*

Listen, your flight arrives in London around lunchtime. You should exchange some Dollars to Pounds when you are still in Miami so you can have lunch in the Heathrow airport.

Mom: What am I going to eat there?

Me: I some Fish & Chips? Buy some Cadbury's Dairy Milk?

Mom: What's Cadbourri's Dari Milk?

Me: It's chocolate.

Mom: Ay, you know I don't like chocolate.

Me: Yeah, I know. It was a joke.

Mom coming to visit me plus a Christmas tree is enough of a gift for me!

Joyeux Noël! 

Barb the French Bean


  1. Actually in some parts of the UK (especially airports) she should be able to use the Euro. But I hope she has a safe trip and gets to France easily as she can and you have a good Christmas together. Despite the troubles you had setting up a tree you made a good looking one there, and came up with some smart solutions.

    1. I'll be sure to tell my mother about that. Perhaps it will calm her nerves a bit. :)

      And thank you. I really am quite pleased with how my tree turned out. ^.^

  2. HA! That first one looks JUST like the charlie brown christmas tree. Love it.

  3. Nothing EVER looks as good as it does on the packaging! I think your real tree looks exceptional. (except you don't have any tinsel?) We don't do a real tree anymore and I miss the smell that comes with it.

    I hope you have a wonderful holiday. :)

    1. Thanks very much, Ken. :)

      No, I don't do tinsel because I was never fond of the stuff (not even when I was a kid). On top of that, I haven't seen any in France. o_O

      I wish you the best for the holidays as well!

  4. lol! Dile a tu madre que el resto de Europa pensamos lo mismo sobre los Ingleses que ella, y que hace años nos vuelven locos!!! :p

    And tell her Heathrow's not too bad... she can pay with a credit card so really no need for pounds! At least she doesn't have to change airports. My sister is coming home for Christmas from new Zealand via Paris and arrives in Charles de Gaulle and flies out of Orly! Fortunately there's a (expensive) navette between the two. Oh, and she speaks a reasonable amount of French so she should be fine...

    LOVE your Christmas tree adventures! But I was always taught to put the garlands up before the rest of the decorations (but after the lights) so that you can weave them around the boughs without risking knocking off your decorations...

    Pregunta Latina: los Colombianos tradicionalmente también montan un Belén completo (como en España) o solo el Nacimiento? I wrote about it as the big difference between Xmas in Spain vs the US last year:
    Belen, big Spanish Christmas tradition

  5. Bueno, en Colombia si existe la tradición de montar un Belén, pero ellos lo llaman "el pesebre," ¡y estos pesebres son inmensos! Montan las figurinas y el pueblecito encima de unas cajas cubiertas de papel verde como si fueran parte de las cordilleras o las montañas de los Andes. Generalemente, la figurina del niño Jesús no aparece antes del 24 de diciembre, si no el 25 cuando haya nacido. :)

    Aquí está un pesebre colombiano

    Ah, también hay la tradición religiosa (mejor dicho, la costumbre católica) de recitar y rezar con los vecinos cada noche la Novena de Aguinaldo, "las Novenas." Las Novenas empiezan el 16 de diciembre y duran hasta Nochebuena.

    As for your sister's trip to France: can she use the Métro to travel from place to place? I also know that Air France has certain shuttles (les cars, the Greyhound buses) that take people from CDG-Roissy to Gare de Lyon.

    Air France shuttles, I think line 3 is the right one

    In case your sister needs help with her arrival, just know that for whatever reason, you guys can count on me! (Send me an e-mail and I can give you my coordonnées.) :)

    1. ¡Ese Belén (pesebre) es enorme! Así de grandes las hacíamos cuando vivíamos en México, pero porque teníamos espacio en la casa. Seguíamos usando las figuritas típicas españolas de barro que solo miden unos 10 cm.
      En México tb tienen la tradición de solo poner al niño Jesús el día 25. ¡Bastante lógico me parece a mi! Pero en España lo ponemos desde el principio. Lo que hacemos es que a partir del día 25 vamos moviendo las figuritas de los Reyes Magos. Cada día un poquito (se supone que empezando por el castillo del Rey Hérodes) hasta que lleguen al pesebre el día 5 de Enero por la noche (con los regalos para el niño Jesús... y para los niños españoles!)

      Lo de las "Novenas" no lo conocía! En España ya no hay ninguna gran tradición religiosa aparte de la misa del Gallo etc. Pero cuando vivíamos en México a partir del 16 de Diciembre se celebraban las "Posadas". Te juntabas en casas de amigos a cantar la Posada y luego comilona! Representábamos la llegada de María y José a Belén cuando buscan alojamiento y nadie les da. Era muy divertido! :o)

    2. As for my sister's passage through Paris... I believe the alternative to Air France's navette is the RER into town and then out again. Would be half the price, but we both figured that after 2 12h-flights and a long layover in Tokio they'll just want to get it over with! So navette it is. And since they land at 5am they shouldn't have any problem with the horrible Parisian traffic. But just in case they run into any trouble I have a friend in Paris on stand-by! Mais merci pour ton offre! ;o)

  6. Hey, your Christmas tree looks better than mine. We got a hand-me-down that's way too tall for our low ceiling, so it folds over into a spiky green question mark. It's ambiguously festive!

  7. I imagining your reaction to the tree in the first part of the story being much like this:

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Apparently, leaving comments on this blog is a hit-or-miss game of Russian roulette: you are either lucky and can comment away, or you are required to log in when the settings are CLEARLY set to allow trouble-free commenting (sorry 'bout that, folks). If anything, the Facebook page is always a viable option. :) -Barb