Friday, February 5, 2016

Thoughts on My 75th Birthday



I woke up yesterday morning feeling vaguely depressed, but until my husband, Nick, wished me “happy birthday”, I didn’t realize this was the day I turn 75 years old.   I think I was dreading this birthday partly because my mother died at 74.  ( Her birth day was Feb. 3, 1911, mine is Feb. 4,1941.)  My mother died of congestive heart failure and actually outlived her doctors’ predictions by about a year.

So I drank my morning coffee and tried to sort out the jumble of thoughts and emotions.  This 75th birthday, so close to the beginning of a new year, was definitely for me a liminal experience, as daughter Eleni would call it. (“Limen” means threshold in Latin.) Eleni studied anthropology in college and in her blog “The Liminal Stage”. she explains: “Liminal stages are psychological thresholds, times of transition when we stand ‘betwixt and between’ one state and another. The biggies are birth, marriage, death---cultures develop splashy rituals around these transitions to ease the anxiety they provoke.”


You can guess which liminal stage I was contemplating.  In fact, I’ve been talking so much about death in recent months that my kids and husband keep razzing me about it.  I’ve sent them memos about what I want and don’t want at my funeral.  (No open coffin, in fact no body or casket.  Funeral service for immediate family only.  Some time later a party/open house/memorial service with no eulogies, only extemporaneous anecdotes with lots of food, wine and music.  I’ve already worked out the entire mix of songs I want -–heavy on Led Zeppelin and Queen.)

Before her death, my mother, the world’s most organized person, had written down the hymns and scripture readings for her funeral, specified cremation, and purchased the mausoleum niche where her ashes, and my father’s, would be stowed in brass boxes that resemble books.  She chose a niche which had a view of the swans on the cemetery’s pond. She had all their financial affairs in order, filed neatly in her desk when she died.

My father, on the other hand, had dementia as well as Parkinson’s disease until he died at 80, so he didn’t even known when my mother died.  His dementia first became evident at our parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1982, when he was about 76.  Needless to say, I’ve been watching myself for signs of Alzheimer’s, and avidly doing Lumosity “brain games” every day.  (Daughter Marina kindly signed me up, knowing my worry about memory loss.)  I realize, as recent articles have pointed out, that Lumosity doesn’t really help you stave off dementia.  It just measures how you become better at the games with practice.  But nevertheless, it gave me comfort that yesterday’s workout results put me at 91.3% LPI --whatever that is-- as compared with my age group, and 97.3 % for “problem solving” (but only 81.9 % for memory.)  I was happy that my numbers had gone up, but then I realized that, overnight, the age group I was being compared to had changed from “age 70 to 74” to “over 75.”   Less competition!

For the past fifty years or so I’ve been making pretty much the same New Year’s resolutions as everyone else: Lose ten pounds, go to the gym (or Pilates) twice a week, publish a book with my own name on it, learn Spanish (so I can communicate better with my bilingual grandchildren.)

This year my New Year’s resolutions changed.  I’m no longer interested in improving my weight, career, or possessions (but still want to learn Spanish).  All my resolutions can be collected under the theme: GET RID OF STUFF.  I am a hoarder, as my family will attest.  I even bought the best seller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo, but after reading several chapters I had to stop, because it was making me feel so guilty.  Now I’m going to target certain areas—my studio, my computer desk, my make-up area, the library and especially my closets—one at a time.  Tons of papers have to go. All those books I’ll never read again will be donated to the Grafton library for sale. All my office-appropriate clothes will go to “Dress for Success” so that other, younger women can find jobs. I’ve told the kids, whatever they want, take it now, (in hopes of avoiding, as among my mother’s nine siblings, bitter schisms between two children who want the same antique bureau.)

As the day of my 75th birthday moved from morose reflections over coffee to astonishment at the sight of over 200 birthday wishes on the internet, I alternated between tears (over the card my husband gave me) and laughter (for instance when daughter Eleni posted on Facebook: “Did you know that on her 60th birthday I witnessed this woman sip from a hash milkshake in Amsterdam? Trust me, she was in it for the milkshake. Happy Birthday, Party Girl!)  I was delighted to receive calls and gifts from son Chris and daughter Marina, both on the opposite side of the country, and chuckled at the books Marina sent: “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program”, “Keep Your Brain Alive” and “41 Uses For a Grandma” among them.

At the end of the day, at dinner in the romantic restaurant Casa Tua in South Beach, FL, Nick and I told each other how lucky we are that we’ve made it through 45 years of marriage, that we have three great kids and two extraordinary grandchildren, and that when we get up in the morning, no parts of our bodies hurt.  That’s a rare blessing when your age group is “over 75.”  So by the time the waiter brought a birthday crème brulée with a candle in it, (as well as a “chocolate meltdown”—both surprises ordered by daughter Eleni)-- I felt ready to cross the threshold into the next liminal stage, whatever it brings. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

O. J. Simpson’s “Suicide Letter” and the Smiley Face


 
In my forthcoming book “The Saga of Smiley”, which chronicles the history of the Smiley Face icon since it was created in 1963 by artist Harvey Ball in Worcester, MA, there is a chapter about the surprising number of murderers and criminals who have incorporated Smiley into their signatures.

Among them is O.J. Simpson, whose “suicide letter” was read to the media by Robert Kardashian  on June 17, 1994, while O.J. was fleeing on his famous white Bronco ride that glued everyone in the country to their TV sets, waiting for the conclusion: would O.J. kill himself, escape the cops, or what?  Trending on the internet yesterday, because a 10-episode FX TV series based on the OJ. Simpson case begins, (‘The People v. O.J. Simpson—American Crime Story”) is the news that the letter showed that O.J was nearly illiterate, and that his attorney Robert Kardashian edited and improved it as he read. 

What was not in today’s news was that O.J. actually signed what seemed to be his suicide farewell with a smiley face in the letter “O”!

Here is the section from “The Saga of Smiley” that deals with O.J.:

No discussion of Smiley’s life in crime would be complete without mention of the Smiley Face that O. J. Simpson added to the “Suicide Letter” he wrote in June of 1994.

After the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman were discovered on  June 13, 1994, O. J. Simpson’s lawyers promised that Simpson would turn himself in at 11 a.m. on June 17. A thousand reporters were waiting for him at the Los Angeles Police Station, but O.J. didn’t show up.  The police issued an all points bulletin.  At 5 p.m. Robert Kardashian, his close friend, who is today perhaps better known as the father of Kim and her siblings, read a letter written by Simpson to the media.

It said that Simpson had nothing to do with Nicole’s death, it thanked two dozen of his friends, and it ended, “Don’t feel sorry for me, I’ve had a great life, great friends.  Please think of the real O. J. and not this lost person.  Thanks for making my life special.  I hope I help yours.  Peace and love, O. J.”

And he drew a Smiley Face inside the “O”.

About an hour and 20 minutes after Kardashian read this letter, which everyone interpreted as a suicide note, a motorist saw O.J. riding in a white Bronco that was being driven by his close friend A. C. Cowlings.  There ensued a long, slow-motion car chase, while police and friends tried to convince O.J. to pull over and turn himself in, crowds of helicopters filmed from above, and millions of TV viewers around the world watched the chase in fascination, waiting to see if it would end in a suicide, a crash or a confrontation with the police.

It ended at 8 p.m. as the car and O.J. arrived at his Brentwood home, his young son came out to greet him and he went inside to talk to his mother and drink a glass of orange juice.  Three days later O.J. was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to both murders.  (Ultimately, after an eight-month jury trial, Simpson was acquitted.)

So what about that happy face in the O of his signature?  Was O.J. happy, sad, or suicidal when he drew it?  People are still debating this question. The driver, A. C. Cowlings, reported that during the ride O. J. was holding a gun to his own head.  But it’s doubtful that he really intended to kill himself that day.  Here’s what police found in his car afterwards: $8,000 in cash, a change of clothing, a loaded .357 Magnum, a passport, family pictures, and a fake goatee and mustache.

What prompted O. J. Simpson, “ Happy Face Killer” Keith Jesperson, and possibly the gang of Smiley Face Killers, to include the Smiley Face in their signatures?  Were they trying to convey their love and joy, their ironic glee at spilling blood, or something else altogether?  For each individual, Smiley may have meant something different—but it certainly meant something important.

Everyone who uses a Smiley is trying to communicate something emotional that written words are not adequate to convey. That’s exactly what led to the most prevalent manifestation of Smiley in the twenty-first century—the emoticon, and its offspring, the emoji. Happily, these days people who include Smiley in their signatures aren’t murdering anyone—except, in some cases, the English language.










Sunday, January 17, 2016

Our Big Fat Greek Baptism #2


 
All photographs by Erika Sidor
 
 Back when I was a child and attended a Presbyterian church, baptizing a baby was no big deal.  The parents and baby came down to the front for a few minutes after the Sunday service, the minister sprinkled some water on the baby’s head and said a few words, and it was over.  I don’t even remember that I had a godparent, although I must have.
When I married a Greek in 1970, I quickly learned that in the Greek church, baptisms are a really big deal, involving ritual, dancing and a fancy sit-down meal after the elaborate church service.  When Nick and I baptized our three children, the godparents presented their godchild with a new set of clothing and a gold cross.  And every time, my father-in-law, Christos, led the dancing while balancing a glass of Coca Cola on his head.  (And he never spilled a drop!) Here he is at the baptism of daughter Eleni in 1975.  She was only 11 months old, but after watching her Papou, she started dancing Greek-style, holding her little hands in the air.

Last November, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when daughter Eleni and her husband Emilio threw a baptism party for their second child, Nicolas José, no one danced with a glass on their head, but everyone had a rollicking good time, even nine-month-old Nicolas, once he got over being submerged three times in the baptismal font.
Here’s the family ready to leave for Saint Spyridon Cathedal in Worcester.  Nicolas is wearing the antique christening gown that his abuela, Carmen, brought from Nicaragua.  It’s been worn by babies of the Oyanguren family for over 100 years. Mommy and Amalia are dressed in accordance with the color palette Eleni chose for the baptism: dark blue, light blue and silver.  (Eleni works for Martha Stewart, so there’s a color palette for every party.)

Nicolas is always ready for a party!  Here he is waving at his about-to-be godmother Amy Ambatielos Pappas and her husband--another Nick.

Once he was carried to the baptismal font and Father Dimitrios Moraitis blessed the  water, Nico looked a little worried.  On the right is Nico’s godfather, Gerardo Baltodano Cantero, the brother of Emilio’s father Alvaro.  “Tio Gerardo” came from Nicaragua for the baptism along with his wife, Maria Caridad.
When Father Dimitri immersed Nico three times in the water the baby protested loud and long.
By the time his godparents had dried him off and dressed him in his new clothes, Nico had calmed down a bit, but still wasn’t happy.  Here his Godmother Amy leads a procession around the baptismal font to symbolize his new life as an Orthodox Christian, while his godfather Gerardo carries him.  
By the time everyone arrived at the Cyprian Keyes Golf Club, Nico was ready to party.  Eleni decorated the tables with the theme of Saint Nicolas, baby Nico’s patron saint, who is the protector of sailors.  The centerpiece on each table was a sailboat topped with two tiny flags—for Greece and Nicaragua.  The adult favors were small icons showing Saint Nicholas rescuing sailors from a storm, tied around the traditional bag of Jordan almonds. The children’s favors were sailboat cookies (and each child took home a sailboat.)
Here are Amalia and her Yiayia Joanie examining one of the sailboats.

Before the meal began, Eleni, Emilio and even Amalia welcomed everyone.  Once Amalia saw the power of a microphone, she didn’t want to give it back.

Nico’s Papou, Nick Gage, gave a beautiful blessing, saying in part, ”I want to wish him a long life full of the love, joy and wonder he is feeling today, I want to express the hope that all of us will be around to dance at his wedding…But if I don’t make it, I hope that those of you who do will tell him how deliriously happy I was today that he was given my name to carry on throughout this century…And finally I want to wish Nicolaki a blessing we say in my village: ‘May he live as long as the mountains’.”
Later it was time for photos.  Here is Nikolaki flanked by his godparents. Nick and Amy are holding their son Alki, who is looking forward to a sibling coming this year.
And here Nico is with his grandparents.  That’s Abuela Carmen Oyanguren on the right.
Then the dancing began.  Here’s Amalia leading Papou on the dance floor.
Now she’s in a line of dancers that includes her great-aunt Alexandra Stratis, her cousin Anthi Vraka, and her Mommy.

Even Nico’s non-Greek relatives from his Grandma’s side—namely Great Aunt Robin and Great Uncle Bob Paulson, cut a mean rug during the Greek dancing.  (But then Robin’s a professional dancer.)  At the far right is Amy’s Mom, Vicky Ambatielos, dancing with her grandson Alki.

Finally, Papou Nick asked little Nico if he would like to learn Greek dancing.  Nico said yes.

So, although the baby’s Papou Nick did not balance a glass of Coca Cola on his head, as his great-grandpa Christos used to do, Nico’s Papou gave him his first lesson in the kalamatianos, and that was even better.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

George Discovers New York City…Part Two



In my last post, chronicling the beginning of the action-packed day when I toured Manhattan with George, a young visitor from Greece, we encountered the Museum of Natural History, Columbus Circle, a series of three-star restaurants, and various street people on our way to Times Square.
When we got to Times Square, they were already setting up barriers and cameras in preparation for the next day’s New Year’s Eve dropping of the ball at midnight, which would be witnessed by an estimated one million people packed into the area (plus 6,000 cops hoping to keep them safe.)  One professional cameraman, setting up his tripod, said the ball would fall from just above the Toshiba sign above.
George took photos in all directions, and so did I.  The crowd frantically waved at the huge Revlon billboard, which kept zooming in on the people in the street below, including us.  It’s a kick to see yourself on a lighted billboard above Times Square!
Next George led me into the nearby Hard Rock Café, where he bought a tee-shirt, saying “We don’t have a single Hard Rock Café in Greece.”   Then it was on one block to Madame  Tussauds where the line of people waiting to get in stretched for what seemed like miles.

When we finally got in, after paying $40 each, we were herded into a large elevator to the 9th floor, called “Opening Night”, filled with film stars dressed in red carpet garb.  We would walk down to the other floors, each with a different theme.  The first statue to welcome us was Kim Kardashian and then Kanye West, seen here with George.

On the next floor I enjoyed seeing John Wayne with this elderly fan, and then Jennifer Lawrence with a much younger admirer.

Jimmy Fallon was interviewing this young lady.  And Don Draper was already celebrating Happy Hour.
I made George pose with Lucille Ball and Ernest Hemingway, even though he had no idea who they were.  There were floors with scientists and writers and inventors and a theater where we watched a six-minute 4-D Marvel Heroes film.  Evidently 4-D means that, when you see splashing water or a bullet whizzing by or a punch in the back or an explosion, you experienced it yourself, sitting right there in your chair, with water in the face, air whizzing by, and a poke in the back.
We passed through the floor featuring presidents past and present with their first ladies.  Obama and Michelle didn’t seem to mind two teenagers taking over the presidential desk.  And finally George reached the floor he had been waiting for, where he got to spar with Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali.
When we left Madame Tussauds, we walked across to Fifth Avenue, looked at the Library lions, then set out to walk up Fifth Avenue to see the  famous Christmas tree.  The sidewalks were so crowded that I kept thinking about how, in India on religious holidays, people who fall down are trampled to death by the crowds.  Luckily I didn’t fall down before we got to see the tree, with the skating rink in front of it and all the beautiful  lighted angels lining the way.  George was determined to be photographed with a New York police officer (don’t know why) and this gentleman obliged.
Finally, because George wasn’t able to mount the Freedom Tower or the Empire State Building the day before due to fog, we bought tickets to go to the Top of the Rock --the observation tower atop what we oldsters call the RCA building, right behind the tree. (In 1988 it became the GE Building and last year the Comcast Building.)  Halfway to the 67th floor, everybody got out and filed through a security checkpoint just like at the airport.

It was worth it, and the $32 tickets, because from the top we got amazing views of Manhattan at night, including the Empire State building that was decked in red and green lights for the holidays.
Once we were back on the ground we sprinted over to Loi Estiatorio on 132 West 58th Street where Nick was waiting for us.  There the owner and chef, Maria Loi, the official “Ambassador of Greek Gastronomy”, shared some of her cooking secrets with George.

After we caught our breath, George declared that he had seen a week’s worth of New York City in two days. I had to agree.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Touring New York City with George, Who’s 20…. Part One



 You often hear long-time New Yorkers say things like: “I’d never been to the Empire State Building (or the Statue of Liberty) until a friend came from out of town and wanted to go.”

That was pretty much my story, too, until George, a young man from Greece, came to Massachusetts and told us that his dream was to visit New York City.   And he had his own list of must-sees: The Empire State Building, Times Square, the Apple Store, the Hard Rock Café and especially Madame Tussauds. “Madame Tussauds?” I said. “I thought that was in London,” but George assured me there was one in Manhattan.

And because George is a budding chef, his must-see list included the famous New York restaurants that have three Michelin stars (there are five of them in Manhattan.)  He could recite the names of their chefs, just the way movie fans recite the names of their favorite film stars. We had only two days to show George all of that-- Dec. 29 and 30-- so we drove to Manhattan to stay in daughter Eleni’s apartment, which was empty over the holidays.

The first day, Nick took George to Ground Zero and the Empire State Building, but they didn’t go up either one, because heavy fog had covered the city and there was zero visibility.  But George did manage to get photographed outside the restaurant he most wanted to see – Eleven Madison Park (chef Daniel Humm, tasting menu $295. excluding beverages).  And Nick took him to the bustling Apple Store at 59th and Fifth Avenue, where George pondered buying a tablet.

The next day I was the tour guide and we had to pack a week’s worth of sight- seeing into 24 hours.  First stop was the Museum of Natural History. George had seen the film “A Night at the Museum”. We arrived before the museum opened at ten and the line of waiting families wound around the block.  As soon as we got in, we hit the high spots:

Here’s George, wearing camouflage,  posing in front of the elephants.  Next came the battle between the whale and the giant squid.


 Here’s the famous 94-feet-long blue whale hanging from the ceiling of the Hall of Ocean Life.  And of course the dinosaur skeletons, although they did not scamper around as they did in the movie.

Next we took the subway from 80th Street down to Columbus Circle, where we photographed the window washers dangling from the Trump International Hotel and Tower.  We admired the statue of Columbus in the center of Columbus Circle and I told George the story of how Mafia Boss Joe Colombo was shot right there in 1971  while addressing a huge crowd at the Italian Unity Day Rally, protesting the media's use of the word “Mafia.”.  (Nick covered it for The New York Times.)

Then we walked across to the Time Warner Center where we found, on the 4th floor of the Atrium, two of the three-star restaurants, Per Se (chef Thomas Keller, 9-course tasting menu $325 excluding beverages) and Masa (chef Masayoshi Takayama, prix fixe menu $450 excluding beverages.) We took pictures but we did not eat at either one.  You can probably figure out why.

Instead we walked  down Seventh Avenue to my personal favorite Greek restaurant Molyvos, between 55th and 56th, where we enjoyed the three-course Express Lunch menu for $28, with some nice wine from Santorini. Then we went around the corner to see the very trendy Milos Restaurant, whose chef is Costas Spiliadis—one of George’s idols.  We walked in to see the famous “fish market” in the back, where diners go to choose their seafood.  It's flown in daily from Greece and the prices start at $125 a pound and go up.

From 55th Street we started walking down Seventh to see Times Square.  I knew it would be crazy on the day before a million people crowded in on New Year’s Eve (plus 6,000 cops). As we approached, we encountered this homeless man, holding a sign that read, “Happy New Year!  No Family.  Nowhere to go. Please help raise $48 for a hostel.  Thank you! I Miss the Good Life.”

I gave him some change, he continued sleeping, and we moved on, encountering the infamous Naked Cowboy.  I had warned George about the scam artists who populate Times Square; topless women in bikinis and men dressed like Sesame Street or Star Wars characters. They come up to you, say, “Take a photo with me” and then demand $20 . So we stealthily photographed the Naked Cowboy from the back and moved on.

Next Blog Post:  George and I survive Times Square, shake hands with VIPs at Mme. Tussauds, marvel at the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, and ride 65 floors up to the Top of the Rock.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Grammar Rant to Start the New Year


Last Friday, the first day of 2016, I sent the following letter to the Public Editor of The New York Times.    I knew I was beating a dead horse.  I understood that ranting about the proper use of "lie" and "lay" is a lost cause, but I did it anyway:

"To the public editor of The New York Times:

It happened again yesterday, Dec. 31.  In an article on the front of the Arts section by Doreen Carvajal describing an installation at the Pompidou Center, the second paragraph begins: “Waves of undulating sand are dotted with upright slabs of mushrooms.  A rusting machine gun lays across a hospital gurney…..”

It also happened on Nov. 29, 2015 in a laudatory review of the book “Like Family” by Paolo Giordano, written by Jennifer Senior: “All while Mrs. A. lays dying—the ultimate solitary experience….”

As a professional journalist, I flinch every time I encounter a grammatical error like this in my beloved Times.  (Interestingly, when I looked up the Senior book review on line today, the error had been corrected.)

Three years ago I wrote on my blog “A Rolling Crone":

It's always an error in The New York Times that sends me off on a grammar rant -- and there was another one today (Thursday, March 28). In the Style Section, in a large, bold pull-quote from an article about photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith taken in the 1960s, I read: "After laying dormant for decades, a second life for photographs taken of a pair of artists on the cusp of fame." Of course, it's supposed to be: "after lying dormant...”

In the olden days, when I was being trained in New York Times style at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, these errors would have been caught by people called copy editors, but I can only imagine that, in this very difficult period for all print media, The Times has been forced to fire all its copy editors for economic reasons. 

That thumping noise you hear is the late, lamented Times editor Ted Bernstein spinning in his grave. Once upon a time, Theodore M. Bernstein was the watchman of the venerable Great Gray Lady as well as a professor at Columbia J School. After he died in 1979, Time Magazine noted, "Theodore M. Bernstein, 74... served as the paper's prose polisher and syntax surgeon for almost five decades, authoring seven popular texts on English usage and journalism... In a witty Times house organ called 'Winners and Sinners,' the shirtsleeves vigilante caught solecists in the act."

At Columbia J School we often saw Bernstein's "Winners and Sinners" newsletter. Somewhat like the judges on American Idol, Ted Bernstein would periodically praise a brilliant headline or turn of phrase in the NYT and chide and make fun of grammatical and syntactical lapses.."
 
You might reply to me that nowadays, when almost no one uses “lie” and “lay” correctly, the readers of The Times don’t care about grammatical errors.  That’s what I thought too.  But when the blog post quoted here was published on the Huffington Post, on April 4, 2013 it received 958 likes, 243 shares and 728 comments—by far the largest response I’ve ever had to a post.

Please hire a copy editor!  The Times was the last bastion (in the U.S.) of proper English.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Confessions of a Christmas Tree Nut --The Sequel


(Too much still to do, too little time, so I'm re-posting this five-year-old essay about my Christmas trees.  It  still applies--I've got those four trees up now.   But this year I expanded my tree collection, adding two more trees, just as I threatened in the original post.  In the living room, near the large real tree, is a small white one with some of the handmade ornaments I bought in Mexico and India.  And in the family room, a small green tree has appeared decorated with the forest creatures I've collected, mostly made out of twigs and straw and wood.  I couldn't resist giving them a tree of their own.  And I keep thinking of new tree themes for next year.  As for the Christmas cards, about half or them are in the mail and the other half will be late--as usual.)



Right now I should be addressing Christmas cards but I'm in the grip of my seasonal craziness which involves decorating...lots...of...trees.  Each with a theme.  In every room. Well, not EVERY room because my husband has started to crack down on that--especially in his office, despite the lovely all white (sprayed snow and icicles and pine cones) tree I did one year.  It shed.

Above is the Woodland Creatures tree, new for 2015, made up mostly of ornaments I got from Pier One (all at least 30 per cent off, because it's the last minute.) I just couldn't resist these rustic little animals and birds made mostly of twigs and straw and natural products.(The star on top is a tiny starfish.)  The gold stars seem to be made of twigs--I cut apart a Pier One garland to get them. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

And here below is the little white tree I decorated with my hammered, painted tin ornaments  from Mexico and the lacquer-on-wood (I think) ornaments from India.

The Mexican tin ornaments are wonderfully crude and folk-y and the Indian ones are so  carefully detailed and elegant, so each country really should each have its own tree.

There's even a Mexican nativity scene of tin.  I love the clay angel at upper left sucking its toe.  And I love the Indian sets of three camels and three elephants.

At Thanksgiving 2015, with the help of kids and guests at the tree-trimming open house on Saturday night before Nicolas's baptism, we decorated the four trees that I always have. And here they are (in photos from 2010, but they look much the same in 2015).

The Real Tree goes in the living room.    I usually pick a color scheme, and this year went with silver and white, with the only color coming from some crazy peacock ornaments I got from Pier One.

With the peacocks, I also used lots of white butterflies (from the Dollar Store) and white birds and angel wings, so I guess the theme of the wonderful-smelling Real Tree this year would be wings.

In the dining room I always put a wire tree to show off my antique ornaments.  And I put a wire from the tree to the window latch so that it (hopefully) can't get knocked over.  You can see that we don't have snow yet in Massachusetts, unlike Minnesota, but we will soon.


Some of these ornaments are reproductions, but most are the real thing.  My grandmother had a whole tree decorated with blown-glass birds with those spun glass tails and often a metal clip to hold it on the tree.  I really love the fragile teapots once sold at every Woolworth's for pennies. They cost a lot more now.  The blown-glass ornaments usually say "West Germany" on the metal cap.  The  glass ornaments that were once screw-in light bulbs were made in Japan between 1930 and 1950 and are a lot less likely to break.


In the library I always put my Shoe Tree, which started when the Metropolitan Museum in New York first started selling ornaments based on shoes in their collections.  
This became a kind of mania and now I can't afford to buy the newest ones from the Museum, but I've added lots of cunning real (baby-sized) shoes, and people keep giving me more.  My favorites on this tree are the Chinese baby shoes that look like cats and the fur-lined baby moccasins and the tiny Adidas sneakers. 

On the porch I've put the  Kitchen Tree, or Cookie and Candy Tree.  This was inspired by some friends who live in a tiny apartment and decorate their tree only with cookies and candy and pretzels and candy canes.  Then, when Christmas is over, they put it all outside for the birds and other New York fauna to enjoy.

As you can see, I've cheated quite a bit--adding ornaments that look like kitchen utensils and non-edible gingerbread men and peppermints.  An authentic Kitchen Tree should have chains of real popcorn and cranberries (which we did back when I had children small enough to enjoy stringing them.)

Last year  Trader Joe's sold little gingerbread men with holes already punched in their heads so I could string them on the tree, but this year the gingerbread men are frosted but the holes are missing, so I just  stabbed them with the wire hooks and it worked fine (and any that broke, I ate, of course. They taste better frosted.)
That's four trees so far (six in 2015!)-- and I haven't  shown you my Santa Claus collection and the miniature town in the bay window in the kitchen and the many creche scenes we have from around the world....But let's face it, I have to get back to those Christmas cards.