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Not Just Any Ol’ Tree

“Give what you have, it may be better than you dare to think.”


Tis the season to be jolly, but holidays aren’t always joyful. A stressful time for many, loneliness, frustration, or sadness may sweep in. In light of this, I have a suggestion. Whatever the season, holiday or not, I recommend you reach out to others. Consider writing an old fashioned letter. Fancy stationery isn’t necessary. Plain paper will do. Use a pen or a pencil. If not a letter, text or type an email …whatever works for you. Your message doesn’t have to be long or poetic.

If you don’t write, at least stop by, say hi, or make a call. Kind and thoughtful words are threads that weave connection and say you care.

Several years ago, I attached a letter to the back of a 20”x16” framed Christmas gift I gave to my grandson, Oliver. He was only four months old at the time, but I hoped he would read what I had to say when he grew older and was able to understand.

I’m sharing my message to Oliver as a way of reaching out to you this holiday season.

Dear Oliver,

The embroidered tree inside this picture frame is not just ‘any ol’ Christmas tree. At first, you might glance at it and think, “Oh, that’s nice,” or you might decide it’s not your style. You might take a closer look and say, “That took a lot of work! " Whatever you might say, there's a story behind this tree that I want you to know.

In the 1980’s, long before you were born, while looking around in a craft shop, an embroidery kit caught my eye. The picture on the kit featured a Christmas tree decorated with bright ornaments and toys.

With holidays approaching and days getting shorter, colder, and drearier, I figured a stitching project might be a cheerful thing to do.

The kit included everything I needed: written directions, a pattern printed on linen cloth, different strands of bright wool yarn, a crewel needle, and a bamboo embroidery hoop. (In case you don’t know, embroidery is the craft of sewing a design on linen fabric by hand. Crewel is the name of the wool thread that’s used.)

Forty years old at the time, I wanted to do something creative and crafty like my mom (your great-grandmother, Wanda), her mom (your great-great grandmother, Mildred), and her mom’s mom (your great-great-great grandma, Florence). You see, these three grandmothers were talented with needle and thread.

I knew little about this kind of sewing except for threading a needle and tying a simple knot. I had to learn how to do all the different stitches one at a time. Sewing them correctly wasn’t easy. On several occasions, I had to pull out the wool threads, undo knots, and resew parts of the design. I didn’t enjoy having to fix these mistakes, but I kept going, hoping the tree and toys would turn out as lovely as in the picture on the kit. Over time, with patience and practice, my stitches improved.

I was making good progress until I was interrupted by a lot of things going on in my life. (As you get older, you will see how easily this happens.)

Too busy to continue, I stuffed this little ol’ tree in a drawer somewhere and forgot about it for years.

In 2009, when I was 62, your grandpa and I relocated two hundred miles further ‘Up North’ in Wisconsin. There, in our new home, I came across the unfinished and neglected ‘little ol’ tree in a plastic bin in the downstairs storage room. You hadn’t been born yet, but we had been told you were on your way and would join us in a few months. Excited about your future arrival, I pulled out the crewel project and got back to work.

The more I stitched, the more beautiful the tree became. The more beautiful the tree became, the more I wanted to stitch.

Oliver, this ‘little ol’ Christmas tree took me twenty three years to complete! I finished the project in December 2010, right before Christmas, a few months after you were born.

If you look closely at the tree with its toys, you will see the different stitches. Each stitch reminds me of some things about life I’ve been learning over the years. Some of these require more practice than others. Perhaps you’ll find my discoveries helpful.

Chain stitch: You can expect a chain of unpredictable events in life. If you can, it helps to go with the flow.

Detached chain stitch: Sometimes you have to let go of an old way of doing things in order to learn something new.

French knot: A knot can tie you up and hold you back or may secure hard-earned wisdom.

Backstitch: Sometimes you need to go backwards before you can go forward.

Fly stitch: Spending quiet time in nature can lift your spirits.

Straight stitch: Paths in life, unlike in sewing, are seldom straight.

Raised spider web: If you think before you act, you are less likely to get into a sticky situation.

Pueblo stitch: A loving home is more precious than riches and prestige.

Raised seed: It’s important to identify and nourish what you wish to grow inside you.

Anchored loop: When life gets loopy and out of control, find something that holds you steady.

Oliver, this is not just any ‘ol’ tree and you are not just any ‘ol’ person. Be patient with yourself. Some things take time. Never doubt what you have to offer.

Love, Grandma Barb

P.S. When you grow old like me, pass on this ‘ol’ tree to someone you love.


Oliver is now twelve years old. In his early years, when he was too young to read what I had to say, my son, Phil, read my letter out loud to him. As years went by, they read it together. This year I read it to him in person. I hope my words continue to reach out to Oliver and his family every year.

Remember that, you too, are not any ol' person. Be patient with yourself. Some things take time. Never doubt what you have to offer.

Who might you reach out to today?

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Mar 16, 2023

What a lucky grandson Oliver is to have this embroidery of just an ol" Christmas tree!

Including, your loving letter about making this embroidery over twenty years, and your wonderful thoughts about what each of the stitches symbolized for you, was the best addition to this gift you could have thought of!

Phil's reading of this letter, and finally your reading of it to Oliver, was such a caring way to enhance the meaning intended by the gift you gave him that joyful Christmas day when he was four months old.

A true gift of love stitched , full of color, to delight a child's eyes, plus the time spent on every stitch. Finally, your great advice from Grandma Bar…

Barbara Kane
Barbara Kane
Mar 16, 2023
Replying to

Thank you!


Nancy Coleman
Nancy Coleman
Jan 25, 2023

How do you do it? You express your thoughts so perfectly, and you connect the dots of life with your wisdom. You are a treasure.

Barbara Kane
Barbara Kane
Mar 08, 2023
Replying to

You are so kind. Your comments encourage me to keep sharing my stories. Thank you!


This is just so beautiful Barbara. A treasured gift for your grandson, that you have shared with us. I love you, your wisdom and the way you share through your writings. Thank you.


Your writing just gets better and better.

Thank you.


Dec 28, 2022
Replying to

Such a beautiful story, written by a beautiful person. And Bill is right, you do just keep getting better.

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