The World’s Ugliest Christmas Tree…

Posted December 14th, 2008 by Candice

. . .  was in our dining room for five days.  Okay, I’ll back up.  Every year I want to do less and less in the way of decorating and baking and all things Christmas.  I’m not a Grinch, it’s just my tendency to pull in the opposite direction of the rampant commercialism that starts in July.  Also, we don’t have kids, just cats.  After Winchester arrived, I stopped putting up the beautiful 5-foot tree with nothing but glass ornaments–each one different–and about a 100 feet of bead garlands.  The novelty of the tree would be the sort of entertainment he’d enjoy.

So I found a 4-foot pink tinsel pre-lit tree at Michael’s a few years ago.  My husband was horrified, but I love the pink tree with its pink lights and monochromatic pink decorations.  It goes well with my husband’s mother’s 1930s pasteboard village.  Well, this year when I put the tree up, I noticed the screw-keys that hold the tree into the stand were all missing but one.  The tree wouldn’t stand up without them.  So in a fit, I threw the tree out (well, tossed it in our garage to be carted away).

The next day I went looking for a substitute tree.  I found a white one at Wal-Mart and bought it even though it had multi-colored lights.  Then I went to Michael’s and lo!–they had the same pink tree!  Well, not exactly.  When I pulled it from the box, I noticed there were no real branches, just tufts that bend.  I put the tree up anyway and decorated it.  It had a distinctly Seussian shape, fringe-y, long and skinny.  Every time I walked by the tree, I wanted to scream.  It was ugly!  Even if no one saw the tree but me, my husband, and the cats, I couldn’t stand it.

I went back to Wal-Mart to return the white tree (even uglier, if possible) and bought a tree stand for an 8-foot tree.  My tree sits on a plant table.  Logic, which always flies out of my head in December, decrees a great big tree stand wouldn’t work.  Then I went to Lowe’s and Home Depot to buy bolts to fit in the old tree’s stand.  They didn’t fit.  Finally my husband took pity on me and found bolts that worked.

So I undecorated the ugly tree, put up my old tree and decorated it, then returned the tree stand to Wal-Mart and the ugly tree to Michael’s.  I didn’t tell them it’s ugly–just that it was “too tall.”  Never toss receipts (advice I don’t always follow).  So here’s the ugliest tree in the world.  Be glad your tree doesn’t look like this.  Be glad you didn’t have to go to stores all week trying to fix a problem that wouldn’t have occurred if I hadn’t had a meltdown.

The regular old pink tree is up, with its pleasing Christmas-y shape.

Cat Portraits

Posted December 12th, 2008 by Candice

I have heard that people take their cats to pet stores and other venues to sit on Santa’s lap and have their portraits taken–with a million dogs around.  I don’t know who has such laid-back cats, but I can’t imagine doing it with any of mine.  Not even easy-going Winchester.

I’m making a small acrylic album to chronicle the little things we are doing this holiday season.  I decided to photograph each of our cats.  Because they all hate each other, or rather the two females hate Winchester and each other, I have to keep the cats separated.  So there will be no group portrait.

Persnickety, our outdoor cat, is as skittish as mercury.  I have about fifty pictures of her orange and black butt as she’s walking away.   I’ll keep trying.  I managed to get Xenia and Winchester recorded for posterity today.

Winchester’s picture will be posted in his own column on Ellsworth’s Journal this Monday.  He has quite a bit to say about it.

Here is Xenia.  She’s 16 this month and not as pretty as she used to be (who is?).  She has Grave’s disease, like Snick, but also a kidney problem, so she can’t take the medication Snick does.  I give her Prozac in tiny doses every other day to calm her agitation (and mine–she spends the day in my office).  Giving her this teensy little pill requires every ounce of strength I possess.  Xenia’s small but amazingly strong and feisty and has been known to send male vet attendants to the hospital.  She had a stroke last March and still limps a bit, but can jump higher than Winchester.  I think she’ll outlive us all.  Her bitterness for Winchester keeps her going.

People ask about the origin of her name.  She is not named after the town in Ohio or is called “Xena” (though she should be, sometimes).   I named her after Anastasia Romanov’s cousin.  Xenia was a few years older, but the two played together.  Xenia’s father brought her a red Steiff bear back from one of his trips to Germany.  She named the bear Alphonse.  In the summer of 1914, Xenia and her mother went to England.  When the guns of August boomed, they couldn’t go back to Russia.  Xenia’s father was murdered, along with the Romanovs.

Xenia had brought Alphonse with her.  She married a tin magnate from America and moved to the U.S.  They had one child.  When Nancy was old and in need of money, she put Alphonse up for auction at Sotheby’s.  The bear brought the highest amount ever for a bear.  Ian Pout, the buyer, had Alphonse reproduced in a limited edition.  My husband bought me one.  When we went to England last, we visited Ian Pout’s shop and saw the original Alphonse.  A few years ago, Ian had another bear designed by Steiff, called Xenia.  She’s white and beautiful.  My husband bought me her as well.  They sit together in an antique child’s rocker.

So that’s the very long story of Xenia’s name.  When I rescued her from the pound, she seemed very princesslike to me.

Merry Christmas, Xenia, our little Christmas cat.


Tea Time and a Hopeful Sign

Posted December 5th, 2008 by Candice

Today my husband and I went to Pinkadilly for high tea.  Because my husband’s pants are loose and mine are not, he had quiche Florentine and a teacup of tomato bisque soup as well.  This was the pinkest place I have ever seen.  Years ago, I wore pink a lot because it’s flattering (I also wear red for the same reason).  Members of my old writing group, the Hamsters, called me Pink Hamster.  If I were still Pink Hamster, this is where I’d live.  I don’t know where the little shop found so many varieties of pink flowered dishes, but all the place settings were charmingly mismatched.

We shared a pot of Earl Grey Creme tea, milder and sweeter than regular Earl Grey.  I meant to take a picture of the tea stand but because I didn’t have soup and quiche as a starter, I tore into my side like a wolverine.  So here’s a picture of my plate–two scones, one regular, one banana nut, lemon curd and Devonshire cream, little sandwiches, fruit, and desserts, including homemade truffles.  I have never eaten brandied bread pudding in a cut-glass shot glass with a demitasse spoon, but it was just enough!

Afterwards, we walked around old town Fredericksburg a little.  It’s cold today, so we didn’t tarry, as my mother used to say.  We did stop in an antique/rare book shop.  The instant I walked through the door I found twenty things I couldn’t live without, like an autograph album from the 40s (unwritten in), a 1951 Wonder book of Christmas stories, and a 1927 copy of The Wind in the Willows, without Shepard’s illustrations.  But I put all those things back (reluctantly) and looked over the pile of vintage National Geographic magazines my husband had discovered.

The first one I picked up was the October 1939 issue.  So?  As it happens, the main character in my novel-that’s-out-there-in-the-world-right now reads that very issue and it has some meaning to her.  So I bought it as a Christmas present for my main character.  I’m taking this as a sign that my book will find a home–soon!

My character likes to read the articles about exotic places and animals, but I was struck by a photograph at the end of the issue.  It is captioned August, 1939, and shows men in fedoras staring at the headlines at a newsstand in Danzig, Poland, the city Hitler demanded be returned to Germany.  Poland refused.

It seems odd to see World War II from its infant–almost innocent–beginnings.  It makes me wonder if our latest war will someday be viewed in a quaint old magazine, along with an article on ibexes and an ad for Coke.

I think I’ll go have a cup of tea–Lady Earl Grey.