Decking New Halls

Right before COVID took over our lives, my Oma made a huge decision. At 94, she realized that it was no longer the best idea to live alone in her home without help. After carefully weighing all her options she made the very practical decision to move to a live-in community and sell her home of over 60 years.

Her life has been extraordinary. A few years back she wrote a memoir called Changes, Challenges, Choices…and a lot of luck. It follows a young German girl (my Oma) through the rise of Hitler, WWII, the Siege of Berlin, occupation, Berlin Airlift, immigration to the USA, meeting my Opa, starting a family on the East Coast before moving crossed country to the West Coast and Sunnyvale. True to her memoir’s title, she made this challenging choice right before the craziness of Corona virus, an incredibly lucky thing indeed.

This time of global chaos has been rough on everyone; but the changes my Oma has been through on top of the pandemic, are substantial. My sister and our cousins have been rockstars, making all the necessary plans and logistical arrangements to move our Oma and sell her home. Our little family canceled our trip to California planned for April. I have been unable to offer any physical assistance or affection during this process and it has weighed heavy on me.

I was thinking about Christmas Eves past, each one spent around a tree in that home my dad grew-up in, gathered together with family. Oma playing Christmas songs on piano and accordion, watching Star-trek with my cousins in the back room after dinner, waiting for the sound of little bells that meant it was time for PRESENTS!

Sadness mixed with beautiful memories and I smiled. My grin quickly faded as I thought of my Oma’s first Christmas, away from everything and everyone. How could I do anything from cross the country to make her holiday’s a little brighter?

Just then, a dull thud in my brain. An idea?

I would make a tree for her room. It would have be light enough to ship cross country, easy to assemble, and above all, functional. I looked online and found the selection was slim and price tags were ridiculous. I came up with a design that would cost $20 in pipe cleaners, a bag of glue sticks and a few hours of my time. I thought I would share it, in case anyone else is in a similar situation.

I started with cutting a cardboard box into 4 tiers and a trunk and painted them.

This pandemic has taught me many things, one of them is that I shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time with a hot glue gun. With my scolding glue extruder in hand and a metric butt load of pipe cleaners, I began to build.

I angled the ‘branches’ out from the center around the sided to give each section a conical shape that could still be packed in a 12”x12” package.

“Just keep gluing, just keep gluing…”

The pipe cleaners extend a few inches past the cardboard backing so that they can be overlapped. The whole length of the base layer is glue down, but successive layers are only glued on the tippy top. They add some depth and can be twisted around lights and ornaments any place, on any tier. I decided to keep the tiers separate for shipping and devised a easy way to assemble them.

It is assembled upside down. Starting with the top overlapping each piece down to the trunk.

Once the parts are assembled it can be flipped over.

Our family and my cousins’ families will be making ornaments to send her as the month goes on. I started it off with a picture of my dad and aunt, her children.

There you have it. If you can spare $25 and a couple hours of your time you can make an affordable, shippable holiday tree for loved ones far away. I can’t wait to see it up in her room.

This year has been a doozy, really if I’m honest it’s been down right f*cked for many reasons. I often look to my Oma and stories about her life for perspective and hope. She is such a stoic person, a woman who has lived through “interesting” times and come out the other end with a twinkle in her eye and a laugh on her lips. I’m very luck to have someone like her in my life, her wisdom and experiences assure me that adapting to catastrophe is not only possible, it is the best plan of action.

I can only hope that this tree will give my Oma a little bit of holiday cheer in her new digs. I wish I could be there to hug her, but that is not in the cards right now for me as well as many, many others. Creativity is the bridge that connects us over vast distances or through thin windows. Together, we can find ways to feel close even when we are far apart. Do what can for those you love and stay safe this holiday season!

Be well.

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