Deck the Halls

Words, words, words, and more words.

I’ve spent nearly every day in the past two weeks working between seven and ten hours on editing the manuscript—crossing out sentences and penning new ones, combing through and detangling, smoothing and polishing. The final draft is due to my publisher at the end of the month. At the moment, I’m so sick of words that I can barely see straight. I don’t even want to read a book. Fortunately, I can step outside barefoot and immerse myself in tropical beauty, letting my senses open wide and shifting my mental state into a heart-centered one. And I find refuge from the tedious editing work when in the kitchen, of course, delighting in my gathered ingredients and putting something together that the senses will savor, while nourishing body and soul.

One day soon, I’ll have my beginner’s Navajo-type loom, and I can shift from the mental mindset of word smithing into the tactile meditation of stringing hand-dyed churro wool from New Mexico through the warp and weft, slowly weaving my way into a blessedly non-verbal expression of creativity. Soul weaver…

As I surface from the depths of the manuscript, Christmas looms just around the corner. My mother-in-law has just arrived from Florida to begin a new chapter of life here in Hawaii, staying with us until she finds a suitable place nearby. Alas, both my partner and the mum-in-law have accused me of being a Grinch because Chez Aloha is not decorated for the holidays. We don’t even have a tree. Decidedly, we are the least festive house in the neighborhood.

There are multiple factors in play here. One is the fact that I have been utterly submerged Palm-tree-with-Christmas-Lightsin my work and the holidays are definitely playing second fiddle to that. Then there’s the matter that I don’t really celebrate Christmas other than as a nod to my partner, mother-in-law, and family (my holiday is the Winter Solstice, as I described in last year’s post, “A Hawaiian Holiday”). Also, there’s my ongoing issue about Christmas trees in Hawaii. Underneath all this, living in a tropical world I routinely find it very difficult to summon any sense of holiday cheer when every day feels like every other day, dressed in shorts and “slippahs” (flip flops), ready to go to the beach.

As I posted last year:

“I bowed out of the present buying madness years ago. I wanted to simplify Christmas, and I do not know a single person who needs more stuff. The few gifts that I now give to others tend to be experiences that can be shared: a pair of concert tickets; dinner at a nice restaurant; a gift certificate for a massage; or something homemade and freshly baked.  


Admittedly, I seem to be a bit late getting into the holiday spirit this year. [Hmm… a recurring theme]. Must be the balmy weather. Didn’t we just have our beach party Thanksgiving? Or was that Arbor Day… or Memorial Day. It all feels the same here in Hawaii. I confess that I miss Boxing Day in England, along with Christmas sweaters and scarves, bundling up for holiday parties, a creamy Vacherin Mont D’Or, a succulent roasted goose, and the scent of a real evergreen tree. The Winter Solstice is [one week] away and there’s not a tree in our house, so I’d better figure out a solution, especially with my mother-in-law arriving [strikethrough: read, now in residence].


The challenge is that I simply cannot bring myself to buy a tree shipped from the mainland. (A significant portion of the shipment [last] year was held in quarantine, being infested with a pest harmful to Hawaii’s agriculture and ecosystem, and had to be fumigated before being released; some crates were sent back.) A few evergreen trees of various, non-traditional types are grown at higher elevations on Maui and the Big Island but they cost a pretty penny. Actually, I stopped buying cut trees many years ago, even where they were local and abundant. My general practice is to purchase a small, live tree and then plant it after the holidays; planting a tree always feels like very good karma and a gift to the future. Alas, a live tree is a bit more challenging and expensive here in the islands (it simply wouldn’t survive being planted outdoors in a subtropical climate).


Years ago when we lived on the Big Island of Hawai’i (and subsequently Kauai), each Christmas I purchased a small lime or lemon tree and then decorated it (wrapping up the plastic pot in some holiday paper or foil). Non-traditional, sure, but I’m a decidedly non-traditional kind of guy. After the holidays it went into the earth and offered fruit for years to come. Brilliant.


One year on the mainland, I purchased a quaint, potted rosemary bush that had been trained and tapered to a Christmas tree shape. It was appealingly fragrant and I kept snipping off bits to drop as herbs into my cooking. After the holidays it moved outside and transformed into an unkempt little shrub (sadly, a frost later killed it). If I could find one of those again, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. Dress it up with a few fancy baubles and a string of pretty lights. Mission accomplished.”

Here in Kailua, our local Whole Foods Market is selling two types of local Christmas trees, both farmed ‘upcountry’ on Maui and the Big Island: the spindly, Norfolk pines, along with the bushy, long-needled Monterrey pine. Tempting, though as you might imagine at Whole Foods, the price is rather dear. When Robert suggested getting one, I reminded him that we don’t even have a Christmas tree stand (a casualty of the somewhat extreme downsizing when we relocated back to the States from Spain), or any holiday lights, for that matter; our American ones had been given away when we went to Europe, and our European ones (220 volt) didn’t make the trip back. (I don’t want to talk about what we have spent on replacing various electronics in moving to and from America. It pains me deeply, and a few key items have not yet been replaced.)

So here we are, the Winter Solstice just a week away, Christmas coming up fast on its heels, and not a decoration, tree, or present in sight. I’m rather hastily cobbling together a dinner party to celebrate the Solstice (though with the house undecorated, it might as well be Mother’s Day or a birthday luau). Our neighbor, Chuck—who has enough holiday decorations in his front yard to illuminate the entire neighborhood—has invited us over for Christmas, so at least my partner and his mum will have their holiday feast in an amply decorated and festive environment. (Big aloha and mahalos, Chuck.)

Despite the apparent lack of decor and holiday cheer, I’m feeling steeped in gratitude. In our lovely new house, a book contract in hand, a mother-in-law safely relocated, my partner stepping into the Executive Director role at the Hawaii International Film Festival, and a wealth of dear friends and family near and far, our life feels deeply infused with grace. I don’t need any presents, decorations or a tree, thank you.

Who knows, as I tinker with the last bit of fine sanding and finishing nails on The Bones and Breath, maybe Robert and Jane will decorate the house this week.

Friends, as the holidays descend, here’s hoping that you find unique and special ways to savor them in a way that truly nourishes your soul. As I suggested last year, unapologetically start a new tradition. Bow out of anything that feels like a burden or doesn’t nourish your spirit. However you may choose to celebrate, I hope you remember that the heart of the season is gratitude and sharing, and that even in our seeming troubles we still have much to be grateful for. With heart and senses open wide, celebrate the beauty.

Remember, too, that our actions define us in the world. Give yourself away in generosity, practice kindness, and always share the best of what you have.