Can a girl who loves to make Christmas trees out of books use cemetery flower holders, chicken wire and duct tape as the base of a wonderful “bookmas tree”? Uh, no. But she’ll have fun trying (and say the word Styrofoam more times than ever before in her life)!
Perhaps right now you’re thinking …uh, what? Did I stumble upon the blog of someone who had a little too much spiked eggnog? Well, really quickly as background, each holiday season my writer imagination goes into overdrive and instead of doing the normal thing like buying a regular ol’ Christmas tree, I make a tree out of books. (The irony of making a fake tree out of something made from a tree is not lost on me, I promise.)
This year I was at it again and, per usual, the experience was a comical adventure.
Bookmas Tree 3.0: Unicorns and Poor Engineering!
The one consistency across my all my attempts at creating a Christmas tree out of books (aka, a bookmas tree) is that I somehow manage to fail BIG TIME. In my desire for innovation, I must go bigger or weirder or pinker. It all began, three years ago…
The first year required a lot of trial and error to figure out how this whole tree-made-of-books thing might work. After several days and lots of books, we finally made our first tree! It went something like this.
Stack books. Books fall.
Stare at stack in puzzlement.
Add some kind of a base to stabilize it.
Books fall. (Stressing out the dog.)
Finally, figure out one must ORGANIZE the books by size and put the thickest, biggest books altogether at the base and work upwards. (Yes, I’m sure this seems obvious to anyone reading, but at the time it wasn’t obvious to me.)
From this, the first bookmas tree of the Kranes household was born!
In year two, it was time to take it to the next level. I’m a bit unconventional, as evidenced by the bookmas tree concept in general. Therefore, I could not repeat the same old thing again.
In addition, I decided green and red was so Christmas 1875 and needed an update. My household celebrates both Christmas and Chanukah, Chrismukkah as we call it (originally coined on a show called The OC. I can’t take credit.) And Chrismukkah needed its own special color. I chose pink.
Now we have a bookmas tree on pinkmas, as we (or I) call our holiday traditions. The rest of my family remains steadfastly in the eye-rolling phase and hasn’t quite warmed my version of Chrismukkah. But they will… Oh, they will…
So, year two went something like this…
See a mannequin (yes a mannequin) in a store with a bottom half of a fake Christmas tree.
Lightbulb! I can do that with books.
And so I did.
The book stacking part went better thanks to our gained knowledge on book sorting and stacking from bookmas 1.0. Although with the added mannequin and my attempts to achieve both circular and level perfection, the endeavor still took multiple days and emptied out all of my book stores. We were forced to scrounge for books anywhere we could find them, digging through the basement and under beds. My daughter got VERY upset when I “sacrificed” her beloved Harry Potter books to the bookmas tree.
Even with all the strife and a bit of drama over HP, I think bookmas tree 2.0 turned out pretty awesome. We named her Merry Shelley, as in the author of Frankenstein but with a “Merry Christmas”-like first name… 😉
YEAR THREE (this year)
Per usual, this year the desire to innovate drove me to try something new for bookmas tree 3.0. So, I decided to make two bookmas trees!
Bookmas tree #3.1: Building a better base
This year’s “innovation” for bookmas tree 3.1 was less flashy and more internal. For trees 1.0 and 2.0, completing the task took days and occasional tense moments, particularly when my family abandoned me and went to watch TV while I seethed like the Grinch furious they didn’t want to devote their lives to the bookmas tree. (Really, what’s wrong with them? 😉 .) My point is, while the end product turned out pretty well, the bookmas tree processes took far more time and stress than a fun little holiday decorating project should.
Therefore, this year, I decided to figure out a way to make an internal structure for the tree to stack the books around, hoping to alleviate both the time and the stress element. (‘Hoping’ is the key word here.)
Would it have been smart to consult my carpenter father who knows far more about building than me? Or perhaps my friend who is an engineer? Of course! But I am nothing if not stubborn and independent (and full of harebrained ideas that make for interesting stories but in reality maybe aren’t so practical. I believe this is one of the many perils of being a writer.)
I didn’t need help, I decided. I had an idea and it would totally work out just fine…I just had to find a really big Styrofoam cone, like 5 or 6 feet tall. Some craft store totally had that, didn’t they?
No, they didn’t… And neither did the internet! It’s easier to find turntables for cats than Styrofoam cones over two feet tall. (If you’re interested in cat turntables, see here.)
But I would not give up! Something else had to work! While wandering around Michael’s craft store, I pieced together a new idea. The store sold thick concentric Styrofoam circles. If I could just find a way to connect them together and wrap them in something to make a cone shape…Oh look, chicken wire!
First, I searched for wooden dowels to connect the circles into a cone shape. Unfortunately, the craft store was all sold out! Enter: green plastic vases with sharp planter sticks at the bottom used for securing flowers on graves sites. (File that under a sentence I never thought I’d write.)
Excited by my idea, I rushed home and got to work. It started off great. I embedded the round side of the morbid flower holders onto the circular Styrofoam and duct taped everything for good measure. After the first layer, everything appeared centered and sturdy.
Then came the next layer, a bit wobblier, but steady. It’s OK, I told myself, it just needs to be sturdy enough to get chicken wire around and the chicken wire will stabilize it.
By layer four the tower swayed and bent, threatening to topple to the ground. Turns out, me + engineering = BAD.
My husband heard me grumbling and struggling and came to help. Together we righted the tower and he held it straight while I tried to stretch out the chicken wire around the wobbly base. Try is too casual of a word. No, I battled with the evil chicken wire, which poked at my fingers and stuck to itself defiantly. The tower bent and bent and snap! My cemetery vase-Styrofoam structure tumbled to the ground.
That day, chicken wire was added to my list of most hated things ever! (Along with personalized license plates and books by Dan Brown. That’s about it. My hate list is pretty short.)
As I was about to give up, my husband brightened with a new idea: using my plastic laundry basket as a base. I dumped my laundry on the floor and ran downstairs to try it. Turned upside down the laundry basket made a very sturdy foundation and we added two layers of the cemetery vase-Styrofoam on top. The structural integrity held.
With my renewed desire to deal a blow to the chicken-wire-making gods, I bent and twisted the wire around the new, steadier base until….thwack! The wire spun inward on itself, dragging its sharp edges along my skin and drawing blood. (OK, more like a scratch.) With a clink, it hit the floor and curled back up into a tube. I swear it laughed at me.
But I refused to let the chicken wire win! There had to be another way. Back to Michael’s craft store!
When I returned from Michael’s again, I carried with me an over-sized bag of Styrofoam (and an over-sized sense of guilt because Styrofoam is like the worst thing for the environment).
On top of the upside-down laundry basket, I stacked thick layers of concentric circles of foam, creating a jagged tiered structure. And at the top, I placed the biggest Styrofoam cone I could find (only 2 feet as previously mentioned). Duct tape cemented together the strange structure and there it was: an actual sturdy base. Success!
Would it be everything I hoped for? Would this tower of plastic and Styrofoam lessen the effort (and the number of books) needed for this year’s bookmas tree and potentially all future bookmas trees?
Only building the tree would answer my question.
I began to stack the books. One after another. Normally, I needed the contents of all three of my bookcases to make the bookmas tree. But as the books inched closer and closer to the top, only a few shelves lay empty. (And not a single Harry Potter book was sacrificed.)
An adjustment here, a leveling there, it was going well and fast. Then we hit the first big problem. The cone at the top tapered too quickly. No more books would fit! Enter: a 12-inch kitchen knife.
Slowly and carefully, my husband sawed away at the top of the Styrofoam cone. A tense moment unfolded as the bookmas tree shook. This was the ultimate test of the base we made. Would the roots hold?
The 12-inch blade scraped back and forth and the Styrofoam shrieked in protest. When the blade cut off the last bit and we all heaved a sigh of relief. The tree remained intact.
For added height, we stacked more books onto the flat top and added the remains of the Styrofoam cone wrapped in pages of an old book. A white squirrel completed the look. Because nothing says happy holidays like a White Squirrel. (If you lived in my neighborhood you’d know I’m not actually joking about that. We have a mystical White Squirrel wandering the neighborhood. He is kind of famous.)
And it was done! Another year, another tree. The actual book tree-making took far less time than versions 1.0 and 2.0. It worked (if you don’t count the whole trying to make a form to place the books on portion)!
But I couldn’t just make one tree. Don’t be silly. I must always make everything harder on myself and everyone around me. It’s kind of my thing.
Bookmas Tree #3.2: The reading unicorn
Not wanting last year’s mannequin to feel left out, my daughter and her friend helped me hollow out a unicorn head and stick it on the headless mannequin. We wrapped her in pages from an old book and used a Christmas Tree skirt to make a real skirt.
To solidify her pinkmas and bookmas status, we added a pink sweater and hung the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas book around her waist. An Ugly Christmas Sweater emblem topped off the look.
We may add a few snowflakes made from old books too. We’ll see. She’s a work in progress and our crazy, “just have fun with it and try anything that comes to mind” bookmas tree. The only requirement: combine the holidays and books.
While the bookmas tree made from all books turned out lovely this year, part of me likes her better. She feels as if she sprouted directly from the realm of imagination (engineering be damned!) Plus I think Cupcake likes the company of Merry Shelley II. Or, as I call this picture, Cupcake and the Christmas Unicorn…sounds like a good book title, right? 🙂
Thanks for letting me share my weird holiday traditions with you! Anyone else get a little nuts over the holidays with decorating?