Ok we went a little bit overboard on the tree this year.

The tree is smaller than the one in the White House.

It is smaller than the one in the middle of the Washington Square Mall.

It is, however, a LOT bigger than the ones we got in Mauritania.

o-christmas-tree.jpg (Note: this was the biggest tree we ever had in Mauritania, and as you can see it was quite a healthy size. Donn and Ilsa painted the pot.)

On Saturday morning, we went out to find it. We were very excited. We went with some friends, who took us to a tree farm. It was an unusual day for Oregon–clear blue sky, sunshine, and really really cold. We bundled up against the wind and set out to find a tree.

The first farm was a wee bit disappointing. We wandered through row after row of spindly Noble firs. It was evident that these poor trees had been mutilated–they were obviously larger trees that had been cut down and shaped to about a 6-7 foot height, but their trunks were disproportionately thick, and–worst indignity of all!–a top branch had been bent upwards and tied to fake the tip. I don’t know what they were thinking.
Donn and I love noble firs. Douglas firs and even grand firs are cheaper, but in our minds, nobles are the best. And, we may not have TONS of disposable income, but we are thinking of this as our “five-year-tree.” In other words, it’s making up for all those scrawny puny Mauritanian trees, and for all the ones to come.

Did I mention it’s a tiny bit big?

We left that first tree farm. We knew perfectly well that we were being really picky, and we felt ok with this. Oh sure, people are starving, others are flooded, some people have real problems, but we didn’t care.

We drove around a bit in the countryside, and eventually found another place that had mammoth trees, beautifully shaped, truly large and well proportioned. Heaven. And so, somehow, we found ourselves the proud new owners of a…gulp!…ten-foot Noble fir Christmas tree.


It’s the prettiest tree I have ever seen.

Decorating it was a bit tricky. The Nomad family tend to be a little height-challenged, with Donn the tallest at 5’6”. We have decorations, lovely color-coordinated ones, on loan from a friend since ours are still in storage in Tim and Debbie’s garage in Nouakchott. It’s strange to have all our ornaments match one another; we’re used to ornaments collected through the years, with lots of memories attached to them, the overall effect definitely “family tree” rather than “beautiful.” (Actually we’re used to only being able to hang about 4 ornaments, but I’m thinking of our trees in America before we left)

Ilsa, however, rescued us from looking a little too together. Noticing we had no treetop ornament, she fashioned an angel out of tinfoil. She did a very good job–the look is really that of the Nike of Samothrace, plus the head–except that it is definitely tinfoil, taken from a kitchen drawer.

How to reach the top? Donn put the angel on the end of the mop and stood on the arm of the couch while the kids and I laughed and laughed.


On Sunday morning, there was frost outside. I woke up the kids, who don’t remember seeing it before. We bundled up and went for a long walk, 45 minutes to church, getting warmer and warmer, finding the building too warm when we finally went inside, flushed bright red from our exertion in the bitingly cold air. Then, wonder of wonders, it started snowing. It rarely snows in Portland; we’re too temperate, too warm, we have ice storms but snow is rare. Snow that actually sticks to the ground is the rarest of all and this was no exception. It snowed off and on for several hours, but didn’t stick.

We started off for home through the snow. It was magical; the red berries and pale green lichen adding colour to bare trees, the flakes drifting down, the cries of the children complaining of cold, of sore feet, of tired legs echoing through the still air. We tramped home and collapsed, exhausted, on the couch, proud that we’d walked 1 ½ hours that day. Well, Donn and I were proud. The kids were disbelieving and unimpressed.

We have also so far made sugar cookies and a gingerbread house from a kit. I don’t really like sugar cookies. They’re too sweet. I add lemon zest, cinnamon and nutmeg; I mix the icing with lemon juice instead of milk or water. No good. They will still make you sick with gooeyness.

But the point isn’t to really eat them. The point is to decorate them, and then give them to others to eat. So it works. My only job is to accept (with no visible show of reluctance ) the ones decorated especially for me, to not show favoritism, to provide dough and cookie cutters and to down several cups of tea or coffee to make them palatable.

Also to go on long walks, to counteract the effects of copious amounts of unavoidable sugar.