From the outside, it seems pretty simple. Get a tree, some ribbon, ornaments and some friends, and set it all up to donate. Sweet! But it is so very much more. Verging on the bonkers. Kind of like a gateway creativity drug.
After attending the Festival of Trees, you get lulled into a sense of simplicity and fun and jump in, then somehow you find yourself knee deep in glue guns, latex paint and floral wire and wondering where it was that you went wrong. It is a detail heavy, expense laden, frustrating adventure in competitive creativity that will take every ounce of your, and your family's, patience and ultimately leave your self-esteem crushed to powder on the convention center floor.
It starts... with the tree. In my naivete, I thought about how I would go about this little adventure with four small kids in tow. So I formulated a plan; shop the after-Christmas sales, use someone's tree and do a kind of "decorate-as-you-go" approach that is slow, easy paced, and thrifty. I got my tree right off the bat off of ksl.com. It was too big for their apartment and they were happy for it to go to a happy home, especially if it meant freeing up space at the beginning of the year. Come pick it up! It was being stored in a large screen tv box. Since all of the branches were NOT attached to the center pole, it all fit in the box! Yes yes yes! I "high fived" myself. BAM! Tree is DONE. This is so easy. What a euphoric rush!
Then I did what many addicts do, start "pushing" to the unsuspecting friends around them. "Hey Lisa, Reagan and Mish - y'all are fun and creative! Wanna help me with a little project? I'm thinking of doing a Scottish themed tree for the Festival of Trees. I already have the tree so it won't be very expensive! This will be fun!" Poor things never saw it coming, and soon, they were in.
I hit the after Christmas sales. I only had an idea vaguely in the back of my mind what I was looking for. But hey! For 90% off, you can splurge a little here and there. Spend a quarter for a couple of boxes of candy canes, some ribbon... preferably in something that matches, some plaid of this, tree skirt for a buck there, and add some huge plastic bells. Mish can do something with those. Easy easy. Little did I know then that we would only use 2% of those items. And zero plaid ribbon.
The website for the Festival remains dormant until about June, the earliest you can register with your theme. We tossed around some ideas of what would be fun and settled on, "The 12 Scottish Days of Christmas." Because that would have some fun variety, and logically follow a triangular, few-items-gradating-to-many-items pattern, and I hadn't seen anything like it at the festival. It would stand out against all the elf and red/white candy cane tree white noise. Perfect! I registered us online, and wavered, for just a second, before I hit the "send" button. In a flash, we were in. Committed to the Festival of Trees 'til donated tree do we part.
I said to myself, "Just follow the pattern, make it Scottish, maybe get a few signs and a "Wee kirk o' the Heather" birdhouse, and hand out assignments. Easy" And my little brain said, "Use a bagpipe as a star on the very top!" and my internal creativity meter said, "Oh yeah! We're strong enough to handle that, with some tiger blood and Adonis DNA, this will be a SNAP!" That was the highest point of self confidence. Then we got the packet. And that feeling that you get at the most tippy top of the roller coaster where instinct tells you to suck in a lot of air and grip the bar in front of you hit: The Official Rules and Regulations. And things started to unravel. The feeling that you desperately want to get out, but you feel trapped was settling in. Just when you think you can get out... they pull you back in!
Your tree must be new. *eyes bulge* All of the branches must have been attached to the center pole at the factory. It must have pvc pipe the length of the interior pole. The outside part of the trunk must be reinforced with rebar, and clamped down with vent hose ties. *sweat springing to forehead* Each section of your tree must be bolted together at the joints. And if it breaks, you agree to come and fix it. At your expense. Oh... and little note there towards the bottom, the tree stand, must be an official Festival of Trees $30 metal wonder that we will need to pick up at the Decorators workshop. Where you will be given further instructions... "Further... instructions? There's more?" *acne breakout*
I nervously started calling and texting everyone, "Uh, hey, um. We should probably start figuring out what ornaments we're each going to do, so... ah, anybody got any ideas? I'm starting to get pressure from da guys up there, and its all signed up, ya know? We need to have a good product..." I was becoming fidgety, and irritated. Scottish things, Scottish things. Like, like the bagpipe and plaid... and ah, well, the flag, which is blue and white... not very Christmassy... and kilts maybe? So I researched the daylights out of Scotland... trying to match up the 12 Days song against items that might be considered a Scottish counterpart, and that would ultimately end up with a bagpipe in a Christmas tree.
Then I let everyone pick which ornaments they wanted to do, because if everyone took 3 off the list, no one would get overwhelmed. Because, as I was discovering, there ARE no Scottish ornaments in Utah. Especially not in the summer/fall. And when you add up The 12 Days of Christmas... you find yourself in need of a total of 78 custom made ornaments. "Pick which 3 you feel like your have the creativity and inspiration to do," I cheerily texted with sweaty palms. I'll just take what's left over at the end. I can do this. I'm in control. No sweat.
Which turned out to be 11 bagpipers piping, 9 kimmers (ladies) jigging, and... the one bagpipe. "No one... no one else wants to go find a bagpipe? Its the easiest one, cuz you just have to find one, just one..." Surely someone has one in a closet somewhere that they aren't using, because if I had to buy one, it'd be over $5oo. I'll just use Facebook, and ask around. *crickets chirping.* Apparently there are NOT a lot of bagpipers out there with an extra set of pipes they want to donate. Weird.
In the crafting world, everyone knows that there are limits to what you can take on, and 3/4 of our decorators had 4 kids. EACH. And now I found myself scrambling to find a tree topper bag pipe. In a Festival of Trees approved, rebarred and clamped, metal stand, with a surge protector 8 foot outlet cord, and skirted, branches-attached-to-the-core tree. Each ornament would have to be wired to the tree with any wood and/or paper being sprayed with flame retardant. Oh, I'll just go pull out my stash of flame retardant! Retardant indeed. "Full Scale Panic" doesn't quite describe how this easy little project started to make my heart thump and anxiety to settle in. "I'm in over my head! How did this happen?! Why didn't someone have the good sense to warn me about this!?" I needed a crafters rehab facility to detox and get my head straight.
What saved me in the end was not an escape, but rather an intervention by my friends and family. And a glue gun and my sewing machine. And an angel of mercy bagpiper named Brian who ordered a "set o' pipes" from Pakistan that were supposed to have ebony pipes, but which turned out to be painted wood, so he donated them. And Spot Technology Inc. that was willing to front the cost of the tree after Craig Johnson pled my cause. As I clawed my way back from the brink of crafters oblivion, everyone stepped up to my wild hare cause and donated time, talents, ornaments, vinyl, the tree, a quilt, signs, frames, pearls, an original signed comic strip, and yards and yards of plain red ribbon to counterbalance all of that plaid.
Its all set up now. We are the little 8' tree in slot O-02, next to the Brighton Ski Resort panoramic double-occupancy space with the ginormous custom built dog house, tree full of Snoopy dogs with Woodstock topper, against a faux mountain backdrop and miniature ski lift with airbrushed waist-high cutouts of all of the Peanuts characters. Yep, that's us. And its the only one with a bagpipe.
And: 12 Drummers Drummin, 11 bagpipers pipin', 10 Lords a Golfin', 9 Kimmers Jiggin', 8 Argyle Stockings, 7 Loch Ness Monsters, 6 Scots Grey's layin', 5 Scottie Dogs, 4 Shortbread Rounds, 3 Plaid kilts, and 2 Wooly sheep on a Spot Techonology's donated Christmas tree.
The Festival of Trees will be in need of someone to fill that space next year. I've learned my lesson. This hare is now tamed, subdued, and properly humbled by the sheer goodwill of friends, family, and community that do this successfully year after year. I think its a worthy cause, and the lessons I take away from this are valuable and unexpected. Nollaig cridheil huibh everybody. That's a Gaelic "Merry Christmas." Peace out!