Keeping It Real

Thanksgiving marks the height of Deer Season in northern Wisconsin. Or, in our house, tree hunting. The 4th Saturday of every year, my family drives around the county forest looking for the perfect, imperfect Christmas Tree. I’ve come to accept that parameter, given the other two major parameters we’re seeking. Big – as in up to 19 feet tall – and natural. By natural, that means never trimmed and by default, asymmetrical, branch missing and messy.

From there, we begin the even messier process of hauling the tree home, decorating the top half on the floor and then hoisting and securing it to the wall while saying a prayer to a higher power that the tree lights don’t fail us and the ornaments don’t fall because once the tree is up, we’re committed to whatever happens next. It is quite the 2-day production that results in a few laughs, some broken ornaments, and the occasional curse and/or alcohol consumed. The end result is different every year but distinctly us.

That said, I’m a bit envious of those with fake trees and an eye for interior decorating. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I ogle people’s Pinterest and Instagram pics of perfectly symmetrical trees with matching decorations and needle free floors surrounded by elaborate Christmas Décor that literally sparkles from off the reflection of fingerprint free windows.

I know it takes time, effort and serious talent to pull off that look. I admire it. For a while, I envied it, irritated at times by my multi-colored garage sale and after Christmas special curated holiday décor bookended by ornaments and trinkets packed with memories.

There’s the crocheted Santa toilet paper holder I was “gifted” via a White Elephant gift exchange by Steve’s aunt early on in my relationship. The popsicle sticks and fingerprint ornaments lovingly made by Jake’s daycare teachers capturing his growth and artistic talents. The Disney Snowman collector figurine secured during my first trip to Walt Disney World. The cracked wall tile with Jake’s footprint. The Grinch and Velveteen Rabbit reminding me of my favorite stories growing up. Mismatched candles picked out by Jake who apparently has inherited his mother’s pyromaniac like tendencies. The snow globe from Steve. The sterling silver bells that top our tree honoring the life and legacy of my parents.

It’d be easy to box these items up and with an hour of 1-click shopping to eliminate this chaos from our house. Sure, my hoarder husband might resist, but the reality is, 95% of this stuff is mine. By stuff, I mean memories. I’m the one obsessed with buying ornaments on vacations and saving Jake’s arts and crafts and finding great joy in securing seasonal holiday throw pillows on discount. All the better if they have a farm theme or livestock on them.

I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that I never will. For me, messy is what makes life memorable. At times a bit stressful, but memorable just the same. I like being reminded of how tiny Jake was and where I’ve traveled and who has played a huge role in my life. I’ve reached a point in my life where I can admire the inherently talented Christmas Whisperers while also seeing the beauty in embracing the chaos and mess that is Moon Lake Estates. Honestly, when all is said and done, while our tree lacks in perfection, it makes up for in being distinctly us.


The holidays are difficult enough to manage without trying to be something you are not. This Christmas, here’s to keeping it real. In the words penned by Margery Williams in of one of my favorite books growing up The Velveteen Rabbit:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with you, but really loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or who have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Margery Williams, Velveteen Rabbit

Those who love you, will love you regardless of how your tree or presents look come Christmas Day, or whether your house was spotless or the holiday ham juicy. But, I promise you, they will never forget the memories you make along the way.

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