Monday, November 26, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree...

I love Christmas. A lot. It is definitely my favorite holiday and not because of the religious meaning behind it or because of Santa Claus. I would be just fine without the gift exchange, actually. What I do love is the lights, the music, the food, the family, the mood. And even though some people get crazed about sales and all that I think that most people are nicer this time of the year.

Jolly even.

Christmas even makes the cold and snow tolerable.

I have various fond memories of Christmas as a child: getting to open one gift early while my dad slept in (it was just us for a few years); the year my mom essentially 'kidnapped' me and took me to Missouri to see my grandparents; the addition of a step family which caused our family to grow by leaps and bounds and changed our celebration from Christmas Day to Christmas Eve...all good memories (yes, even the year my mom took me without permission).

As a mom I have a new view on Christmas. It's through my child's eyes, of course. This is Riley's third holiday season and probably the first that she understands something special is going on. We still have weeks to go, but she has fully embraced the celebration of it all. I've pulled out the Christmas decorations and found her surrounding herself with a posse of new friends: Santa, penguin, snowman, and now a new reindeer ornament we let her pick out. She knows all of the words to "We Wish you a Merry Christmas" thanks to the singing and dancing penguin (if only it had a volume control), she gets a big smile on her face when we sing "Jingle Bells", and she insists that the Christmas tree lights stay on all the time.

One of my fondest memories in years past was cutting down our own Christmas tree.  My family has a farm in Wisconsin which was the perfect place to find a tree.When my dad bought the property in the 60's the previous owner had recently planted 10,000+ trees - some of which were balsam firs and scotch pines. My dad has been cutting down Christmas trees long before I was born and was once known to come back with 15 - 20 trees to share with family and friends.

Eventually, the trees got too big.

And too scraggly. My dad was always fine with a tree that only had one good side "why do you need more than one good side when it's placed in a corner" he used to say. But others weren't too fond of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree which was fine because then we only had to find two trees.

But then there were some years of bad weather and there was always the deer hunting. Hunting with guns. It was a risk I was usually willing to take as it wasn't supposed to happen on our property, but once I had a child it seemed like it wasn't such a smart thing to do. We spent a number of years purchasing a tree locally. My dad was so over Christmas and gave away all of his decorations therefore no longer needing a tree. But I always wanted to go back to tradition or perhaps find a new one.

So this year I decided that we'd go cut a tree down since Riley was old enough to appreciate it. I put some feelers out for some good tree farms and decided to go with a recommendation from Alicia at A Graceful Disaster. She described this idyllic experience at her favorite tree farm that convinced me that I had to go there too.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving we headed out to Kringlunds with Jesse's mom, Suzie, and her fiance, Michael, tagging along since we didn't get to see them on Thanksgiving. It was a bit of a drive (45 - 50 minutes), but most tree farms I found were about equal distance. I did get a little teasing from the peanut gallery up front (Jesse and Michael) who found it necessary to joke about how far it is, but I was looking forward to the experience and Riley was just excited to get a tree.

I'm not sure what went wrong, but we could not find the tree farm. We did a little backtracking. I called and left a message, I looked at the map myself and finally gave in when we passed by another tree farm. I figured it was possible that they could create the experience I was looking for.

They didn't.

But it wasn't bad either. Just not idyllic, ya know.

They had a little tin barn with cider and donuts for sale. And ornaments. Grandma bought Riley a little mouse ornament that she proceeded to break it once we got home - but nothing a little super glue couldn't fix.

The tree farm owners pointed us in the direction of the balsam firs (the appropriate Christmas tree in my opinion). Jesse and I found one and were ready to go with it, but were convinced to keep looking. We narrowed it down to three and then selected the fattest, densest one. I know we were both thinking "we've never had one that thick and lush before" but really should have been thinking "wow, that's going to take up half the room". On the upside, the tree wasn't perfect - it was a little thin on the back side which reminded me of the trees I had growing up.

The trees here were a decent price and there was a fairly good selection (even though the staff shared how the weather has done a number on their trees the past few years). 

Watching daddy cut the tree.

Riley decided she wanted this little tree after Jesse cut down our big one. Sorry kiddo. Only one tree a year.

To add to the experience we recently got a little snow. Unfortunately, the temperature also dropped quite a bit. It was a little colder than I cared for, but this is Minnesota.

After getting the tree securely strapped to the top of the car we headed home and put Riley to bed for her nap. She was so excited about the tree so I waited to decorate until she was up from her nap.

Riley was so helpful with decorating the tree, especially the lights. When I would come to the end of one strand she would run to the table to get another. Putting the ornaments on the tree went well at first too, but then she started to get a little crazy. When she threw the star and broke it (don't worry, I fixed it) I knew that was enough. Luckily, she was content to play and see the tree come together. Oh, and blue and brown pajama pants with a red shirt and crazy hair is the new look, I swear.

Putting on the first ornament.

All done.

Those lights have pretty much been on since we decorated the tree as the wee one demands it be so. I'm glad that she likes them as much as I do. And I can't wait to do this again next year.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Jesse and I decided long ago that we would rotate years for Thanksgiving at each of our families instead of stuffing food into our bellies at two locations. As much as we would love to see both of our families we also want to have a nice relaxing holiday not running from north to south suburbs. This year we spent Thanksgiving in the north with my family at my brother Barry's house. Like most families we eat a lot of food and hang out watching football, but we also have a little game of touch football to start out the activities. I've never actually played for some reason... someone has to take pictures, right?

The day was supposed to be unseasonably warm (like last year), but the weather turned shortly after lunch time and progressively got nippier... and by the time we left in the late afternoon it was snowing. Such an odd weather day. We dressed for the 50 or so degrees it was when we left around noon and found ourselves clearly under-dressed by the time the game started about an hour later. 

Staying warm in the van before the game.


How did my 84 year old dad end up being the one on his knees setting up the field?

I don't even want to know why Joe and Shane look so disgusted.

The playground next to the field kept the kids busy until the game started.

Not only was it cold, and windy, but it was nap time. While on the playground we had some pretty epic meltdowns (god forbid I step more than a foot away from Riley), but eventually I was able to convince her to watch the football game. At first she sat cuddling with me (which was so fantastic - love snuggle time), but then she decided to tackle me over and over and over. Whatever, she was happy and I was able to snap pictures while being attacked. 


A little halftime break

Seriously? Why can't I remember what was happening in these pictures?

Riley is a little scared of dogs she doesn't know (I blame the vicious barking dogs that live next door to us) so she wanted nothing to do with Buddy, but she was all about hanging out in his cage. She and her cousins spent a fair amount of time playing in here and it was a little hard to get her to leave it. Who knew a dog cage would entertain my kid for hours. Santa? Are you reading this?

What a great way to celebrate together. And a big thanks to Barry and LaRaa for hosting!

Happy Thanksgiving!