My weekly article had been mailed to the publisher. My husband had boarded a plane for a five-day conference. All four sons were corralled at school. And the cat and the dog were napping peacefully on the back porch. It was the perfect afternoon to rearrange the furniture and begin decorating the house for Christmas.


This year I wanted it done right. I wanted my home to sparkle with sophisticated elegance and my tree to look as if it had just been ordered from the pages of a decorating magazine. (Actually, I was willing to settle for one that could hold its own next to the pre-decorated trees at Wal-Mart!)


I filled my favorite mug with spiced tea, placed a Mannheim Steamroller CD in the stereo, lit a few fragrant candles, and began rearranging furniture. I picked up several pieces of popcorn that had hidden under the couch for close to a year, retrieved enough change to do most of my Christmas shopping, and, in just a matter of minutes, I had created a clean space in front of the picture window that was large enough to handle our six-foot tree. I wrestled it into the stand, dragged it into the family room and anchored it to the window. I was thrilled. Everything was going great - until I decided to open the window for a little fresh air. There went the tree!


Just as I got the tree re-situated and began unpacking the gigantic boxes filled with decorations, the front door burst open. "Surprise! We're home. School let out early today. We forgot to tell you there was a teacher workshop this afternoon." 


Oh, joy.


Within minutes the family room was a scene of total chaos. Country music was blaring from the stereo, hot chocolate was dripping on the carpet and lights were dangling from the ceiling fan. 


"I get to hang the stockings."


"No, I claimed them first."


"Oops! What happened to Rudolph's nose?!"


"I guess he sneezed too hard."


Laugh. Laugh. Giggle. Giggle. Pinch. Punch. "OW! Mom, he hurt me!"


Soon boys and bells and bows and boxes were scattered from one end of the room to the other. It looked as if an ornament factory had exploded in the vicinity of the tree. I couldn't find anything - including the star I had so carefully placed on the piano bench before the invasion took place. I hunted through the boxes, looked under the couch, reached behind the TV stand, and even peered inside a pair of smelly Nikes. Still no star.


"Come on, guys. Help me find the Christmas star," I pleaded. "We can't hang the lights until we put the star on top."