There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

welcoming the new year

IF IT'S TRUE what is said about the number 13 being the unluckiest number, then this year has played out the way it should. It has been one of the unluckiest years on record, in my life anyway, as well as a number of friend's lives. The New Year's holiday can be one of trepidation, but since 2014 can only get better than 2013—in my book—I give the new year a whole-hearted and welcoming embrace. That's what the New Year's celebration has always been about—setting intentions for the future.

THIS TREE signifies a celebration of the best that has yet to come. And it will be colorful, fiery and bright. I know that if I can create a magical tree such as this, then I surely can muster some of that magic in my own life. Let it be so. That is my wish for the New Year. Although I'm not particularly religious, I am spiritual, and my God is found in nature and the cosmos, so I'll share the best-known form of the serenity prayer to push my intent to the universe on this New Moon New Year's Eve:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

THE GRACE of a deer is also significant. Ever alert and at one within its natural surroundings, the beautiful symbol of a deer is a poetic metaphor for leaping ahead to the new year. May the original form of the serenity prayer be a comfort in the New Year, no matter whom or what your God embodies.

The original words, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr: 

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next. 

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

Monday, December 23, 2013

gifted gestures

A GIFT that won't fail to be appreciated is at once personal and unique. You can never go wrong with an ornament as a gift if you match the ornament to the recipient's taste level. Also, if you put consideration into it being something symbolic of your relationship with them or something pertaining to their personality and likes, it becomes an especially thoughtful gesture. Since Matthew Mead has been an ardent supporter of my blog and has included my work in last year's and this year's issue of his holiday magazine, as well as a recent blog post where he named me "King of the Forest,"  I gifted he and his wife a literal tree ornament like the one you see above. Last year, I gave them a different tree ornament, along with a copy my book The Decorated Tree. He's already utilized this year's ornament as a prop in one of his beautiful photographs illustrating how to decorate a mantle.

EVEN IF YOU'RE a last-minute shopper, the variety and abundance of ornaments on the market during the holidays is so vast, you will surely to find something special for everyone on your list—even if they are hard to buy for. Ornaments also make great tie-ons for special gifts. Since I am on the constant lookout for the perfect ornaments to decorate the trees for this blog, I see the best-of-the-best in my collecting pursuit. I've found that selecting ornaments that are neutral in color (or even clear glass like this beautiful heart) are the best way to go when buying one as a gift, because they can be incorporated on almost any tree. And what says "I love you" more than a heart-shaped ornament? I collect heart-shaped ornaments in memory of my mother, as I maintained a yearly tradition of tying one onto a special gift to her every Christmas. The collection still grows in her memory.

THE CHRISTMAS after she passed I had a dream about her in which I gave her a brooch that inspired an entire tree. I'm including the photos of the tree here, but you can read the original post here. This tree is an assemblage of  ornaments that remind me of my mother's spirit and humor. It served as a altar of sorts to her memory. It's still one of my favorite trees because it is so symbolic of a mother's love and was completely inspired by a dream of a gift I never got to give her, except in my dream, which is why I entitled the post "Tree of Dreams."

IF YOU TAKE a closer look at this tree, you'll see a myriad of symbolic and figural ornaments, all brought together by the cohesive color scheme inspired by the brooch. Even though most family trees are a hodge-podge of family memories (and there's nothing else like them), the trees I present in my blog are designed to create a certain theme or mood, which dictates that I usually stick to a predetermined color palette as I have in this post. Still, there is room for a lot of variety within such parameters. Not long after my parents had passed, I gave ornament gifts to my siblings representing my parents (a bluebird and a butterfly). I detail the special packaging in which I presented them in this post.

The Tree of Dreams spread as it appears in my book.
THE BROOCH (or the facsimile I found after having had the dream) inspired the tree above. You'll see it at the top of the photograph above. Another brooch I happened upon this year reminded me of a Christmas tree pin my mother used to wear. The tree brooch caught my eye in a glass cabinet at the checkout of a store that sells soft drinks and snacks, of all things. I saw the brooch as I made my purchase and immediately asked to see it, and I bought it as another memento of my mother's memory. Maybe this tree brooch will inspire another traditionally-colored tree. Maybe it's a message of inspiration from my mother to create one! I think my more sophisticated adult approach is much different than one as seen through a child's eyes. Or maybe it's only a reminder from the universe to rekindle the innocence I've sometimes lost in seeing a tree as a child would see it. Any way you slice it, it's a definite creative challenge to think of a way to create that innocent wonder and magic.

HANDMADE ORNAMENTS are always welcome gifts, such as this polar bear made by my friend David Schump. In his modernized tramp art style, he creates ornaments sold on his website entitled "The Art Tramp". I've bought two ornaments from him this year and have two more on hold that he has made. He makes them in limited quantities, but I'm not sure if he has plans to make multiples of this one-of-a-kind polar bear pictured above. Please check out his site for other beautiful tramp art creations, including beautiful symbolic boxes here. The hand-blown glass deer ornament at the bottom of the photo above, is also quite special. Both ornaments would be a welcome addition to any tree, certainly adding a personality that only animals can. Animals evocative of winter are especially appropriate gifts to celebrate the winter solstice that happens just a few days before Christmas (December 21st this year). They also serve as a reminder for us to be careful stewards of the eroding environment in which such animals live.

MANY ORNAMENTS are commercially available, such as this lettered cardboard butterfly and a sturdy metal peace sign, which looks as if it's made from twigs. I gave the butterfly ornament this year as a gift to a former companion since butterflies represent his sister, who died of cancer much too early. I know how much he loved her and how he cherishes the butterfly symbol his family has adopted to represent her life. Either of these ornaments would be an appropriate gift for your more gentle, peace-loving friends, or as a special memory of one.

STARS ARE THE SHINING symbols of the light of the season. They give us hope for a future filled with the best things life can offer. It's no secret how stars have figured into my world since that special night in Tulum I've written about in posts this year. These two gold stars were gifts for Devin and serve as a reminder that while reaching for the stars in his new life in New York City, he should not forget the stars we saw on that unencumbered beach last November and the love we professed for one another. The light of the stars in such an atmospherically unobscured sky is our gift from the universe, reminding us all how insignificant we are in the big scheme of things and humbling us enough to live our lives with unconditional love.

TODAY WOULD have been my parent's 68th wedding anniversary. They were married December 23rd, 1945 and both lived short of their 60th anniversary in 2005. I feel extremely lucky to have had the bedrock example my parents both set and the real unconditional love they shared with my entire family. Love hasn't worked out so well for me, but I'm in a different situation and unable to legally marry. Maybe one day, that will become a reality wherever I live, as it has already for many in this country and around the world. But until then, I'll keep trying to find the one who will make that sort of unconditional commitment and stick by my side, for better or for worse. I am truly ready for that to happen.

MUCH LIGHT and LOVE to everyone this holiday season. May you and yours find the indefinable magic of the season. And remember those special people in your lives that are less fortunate than you, and include them in your family gatherings to share in the joy of Christmas.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.
Tree photos by Claudia Lopez Photography.

Friday, December 13, 2013

fresh perspective

ALWAYS LOOKING for something fresh when designing a new tree, I am rarely drawn to the traditional color schemes of the holiday season it seems. Not that the traditional reds and greens aren’t beautiful and symbolic of Christmas—they are  absolutely iconic. It's just that I find great pleasure in combining new shapes, color and form. I steered far from the traditional with the first tree I designed that is crafted by Dennis Bauer: The Decorated Tree's Alpine Feather Tree (sold here at In Matthew Mead's beautiful holiday publication, the tree decorated in rich pinks and oranges (as appearing in the pages of Matthew Mead’s Christmas All Through the House (sold here on The tree is also detailed in this blog post.

IN A SIMILAR, but much more subdued warm color scheme, I've decorated this beautifully sparse “natural-cut” tree (yes, it's real) for Christmas this year. I found this tree at at Atlanta's Georgia State Farmer's Market—grown and sold by my favorite sellers there—Joel and Inez Owens. Their trees are grown in Tuckasegee, North Carolina and brought to Atlanta every year. Decorated in summery tones of yellow, gold, silver and several shades of turquoise, this color scheme reminds me of a memorable trip taken to Tulum, Mexico last November, where the turquoise Caribbean water and the golden sun and sand were an inspiring part of the everyday landscape. Nights there, the sky was filled with awe-inspiring stars, so I've also used tiny LED Starry String Lights from Restoration Hardware to light the tree (a decidedly modern version of Martin Luther's lighting the first evergreen with candles to rekindle the starry night sky inside his home).

HERE, I ONLY used the top two-thirds of the tree, and left most of the long trunk formed by trimming off the less desirable bottom branches. This way the tree fit nicely into a tall metal urn, which I packed with moistened sand—ironically enough—to hold the tree firmly in place.

WHEN FOLLOWING the paths least traveled in life, the world becomes ripe with wonder and surprise again. This is my symbolic and literal way to usher in a fresh perspective to my life that has drastically changed this year. Hopefully, I can soon find my way back to happier and more prosperous times again. It's been a process, so please excuse me while I decorate for Christmas and welcome sunny colors to the mix that brings the warmth of the Caribbean to my living room.
WE’RE INUNDATED with the expected every day. And because of these mental habits, we tend to become disengaged with the immediate world around us. It’s only when we travel, either physically or metaphorically, that we can let our minds wander and experience the awe that makes life new and exciting once again. One of my favorite YouTube videos I've encountered this year says it all—about awe. Please take the time to watch it:

IN THIS VIDEO, "Performance Philosopher" Jason Silva explains that "one of the ways we elicit wonder is by scrambling the self temporarily so that the world can seep in." If we don’t do this from time to time, we no longer are engaged by what we perceive as the everyday banality of the mundane. "We have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel, nor understand," according to this video. As an artist, the creatively productive zone where I find new ways of looking at things is a necessary process in moving outside of my comfort zone—to find a fresh perspective. It's sometimes an extremely arduous process, as this year has definitely been for me. But as Jason finds the words to express the reconfiguring and assimilating that takes place to create poetry in our lives, he concludes this hopeful video with the words, "we have a responsibility to awe." So with that said, I wish everyone that reads my blog an AWEsome holiday season ahead.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

magic in the air

IT MAY NOT ALWAYS be readily apparent, but if you squint, blur your eyes and find the space between reality and the magic that is in the very air we breathe during the holidays—if you listen intently—you might even hear the sleigh bells ringing and a distant chuckle. Then you'll know that St. Nicholas will soon be here.

I REMEMBER in decorating the trees of my childhood, the lights were always multicolored then, with some of the bulbs being an unblinking solid color, and some being a translucent color. All of them were blinking on their own independent schedule. This gave the tree an effect of a multicolored sky of bright fireflies. The overall scene was wonderously magical.

WHEN THE TREE was done I would sit on the sofa facing the the "picture window," in front of which the tree stood proudly, for the passersby to see. I would blur my eyes until the lights melded together and formed halos of overlapping color. It was mesmerizing. It was if we had our own blinking constellation of color that bounced off of the ceiling and every reflective surface in the room.

SOME SAY the season is ushered in at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by Santa in his sleigh being pulled by eight flying reindeer. That's the way it used to be. These days it starts long before that. But the beginning mark of the holiday season is when the magic of the season lights up a child’s eyes. Whether it be by the lights themselves, glitter everywhere you look, or brightly-hued baubles hanging from the tree's branches; the real focus of the season is where all of that comes together—the tree.

THIS ALTOGETHER DIFFERENT TREE was conceived by good intentions when it was decorated, but it drooped and sagged under the weight of the heavy glittered reindeer heads, metal acanthus leaves and sleigh bells. Even so, Santa was diligent with his reindeer, create their own brand of glittery magic. With its LED lit branches, the tree still provided a measure of warmth for the season that began after Thanksgiving, so the droopy branches didn't seem to matter.

ITS QUIRKY NATURE, I thought, was a welcome relief from a tediously-decorated real tree that was the year before. Not to say they both weren’t beautiful in their own right. Even in my semi-failures, I try to find the beauty, so they’re not really failures at all. I even glittered one of the reindeer’s noses with red glass glitter, to make Rudolf's nose glow. Now he stood out alongside Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen . . . and on with, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen!

THE REINDEER GAMES of the season are your chance to experiment with something new. It’s always enjoyable to look for a uniquely creative way to express the holiday. So with your best conceptual Santa cap on, consider a new way to decorate your tree—even try a new kind of tree. It's always satisfying to find a distinctive way to decorate and stand out from the crowd. Santa might even give you a reward and let you guide his sleigh through the season. And now that you're aligned with Rudolf, you may even go down in history!

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.
Special thanks to Devin Borden for the location.