O Christmas Tree

This past weekend I was in-between classes: finished grading finals with one and preparing to grade final projects with another and I needed a break. So we went to get our Christmas tree.

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Fortunately, where we live there are many farms, including Christmas tree farms so finding a great tree is easy. We drove less than 2 miles up the road from our house to the closest tree farm. We were given a saw and told to bring back the tree to pay for it  when we were done.

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We were able to take Kira with us, who thoroughly enjoyed smelling all the trees and playing with pine cones.

Growing up we didn’t have much choice in trees. We would go to open lots or hardware store parking lots that have a limited selection and high cost. All trees had already been dead for days and transported from the Northwest.

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On the opposite end, Luke’s family owned a Christmas tree farm for a few years. So I am usually done searching and ready to settle for something much sooner than Luke who who enjoys the hunt for the “perfect tree”. He was even able to tell me different types of trees and if a different person was trimming a different row or section of trees than another.

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After I reminded him that this was mini-break we finally settled on a tree. He cut it down for us and dragged it to the car. They offered to wrap it up for us but since we lived so close we just used some straps and headed home.

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We had it home soon after and it didn’t take long to get it decorated. This year I was finally able to use the crochet snowflakes my mom made me last year on the tree. I think they help balance out the multi-colored lights.

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It’s amazing how much getting the tree up and ready for the holiday makes a difference in the home-it feels like Christmas.

Busy Holiday Season

It has been a very busy holiday season. Because I am a teacher not only is the holiday season busy because of holiday parties, gift-buying, etc. but also because I am grading final project and proctoring finals.

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I am in the count-down, not to Christmas, but to the end of the semester. T-minus 8 days. In those 8 days I have 25 final tests and 17 research papers to grade. Almost there (with many cups of coffee).

That of course does not include:: taking, creating, and writing holiday cards, strategizing long distance about presents and wish lists, and planning holiday travels or outings.

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In this busy-ness it is difficult to focus on the importance of the season, to find rest, to be present in the traditions and activities. But I have managed to enjoy participating in our church Christmas choir, going caroling, and of course holiday baking (more on this to come). These types of actives help me de-stress and re-focus.

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This weekend Luke and I plan to get and decorate our Christmas tree and  the outside of the house. Both will be new challenges since we were not home last Christmas.

Plus we have to consider what to put on the tree with a curious almost 6 month old puppy (who I have already had to scold for trying to steal candy canes off a shelf).

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But I am looking forward to it and am going to do my best to be in the moment enjoying these activities instead of thinking about grades and grading.

Anyone else struggle to stay focus on the importance of the season? Some advice I am working on myself: take breaks, do de-stressing activites, rest, laugh, determine to not over multi-task, and get time for yourself and others.

Hope you are enjoying the holiday season.

Holiday Season Part 1

Well the holiday season came and went by in a whirlwind and now it’s back to the new/old routine for 2015. Luke has been back at work for a week now and I have meetings to prep for the new semester starting this week. But before we move onto the new-year goals I thought I’d share about our first married Christmas out on the West Coast.

We flew out on Monday December 15th and got to the Portland airport late that night. We were greeted by Luke’s parents who we hadn’t seen in more than a year and a half and Luke’s brother who we had last seen before we go married in July of 2012. We got to the Greene house and ended up staying up late talking and trying to wear off the jet lag.

In the next few days we decorated the Greene Christmas tree and enjoyed spending time with the niece (4) and nephew (2) while listening to old Christmas tapes.

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We took the time to sneak off for a date to see the Hobbit: Five Armies and get some northwest teriyaki chicken.

Then also ran errands and went Christmas shopping. After a day of shopping with Diana (Luke’s mom) we ended up at Bob’s Red Mill where we got dinner and goodies to make her gluten free organic versions of my chocolate baker’s cookies.

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At the end of the week Luke and I did an early Christmas present for the Greene family: a homemade dinner for 10. We decided on a menu of our grilled tilapia fish tacos with all the fixings. We also made a large bowl of guacamole and a side of refried black beans . For dessert we had my lime brownies.

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Not at all the traditional Christmas dinner but everyone seemed to like it pretty well.

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The next day we took family pictures for the Greene side then packed and headed to the coast for Christmas with the Halvorson side of the family in Florence OR.

Halvorson Christmas is up next post.

Almost There

It is my last week of teaching for the year. I am grading final research papers, presentations, and tests this week and after turning them in this weekend then I’ll be done.

Although we have discovered that there are several very nice Christmas tree farms very close to our house we will not be buying or decorating a tree. This is our first year in our plan to “every-other year” travel back to the west coast for Christmas.

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This time next week we will be at Luke’s parents house enjoying a Greene family Christmas. We will also be spending a few days with my parents, brother, and his wife at my parent’s new lake home in Florence, Oregon.

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Now this doesn’t mean we did not decorate for Christmas. We hung stockings over our fireplace mantel, put up the nativity scene and of course a wreath on the door. New this year we also bought electric candles to put in the window sills; a very popular form of decoration here in upstate New York. My mother also made me some beautiful crocheted and starched snowflakes that we will eventually use as ornaments on a tree. This year I taped them in our front windows.

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Last of all we still have a decorated tree: just not one that is alive and smells like pine. If you read my blog last Christmas season then you will know that my dad made both my brother and I wood Christmas trees  out of studs from the home we grew up in in California. It all folds down to a small and easy to pack triangle and when you want to use it it can be pulled around in a spiral to look just like a Christmas tree with a nob at the top to tighten the whole tree in place. This year I chose to decorate it with some small snow flake name tags and green-mini tree ornament with a small angel on top.

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Last weekend the holiday baking also began. I made two blueberry buckles one for Luke to take to work for a breakfast meeting and one for me to take to my classes end of the semester party.  The plus from this party is that I had leftover perfect lunch treats for Luke and I.

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I also made my chocolate sugar cookies and white chocolate peppermint sugar cookies as well to give away to my students on the last day of class and for both of us to take to work as a Christmas present our co-workers.

We are almost there. Just a few more days and we will be on a plane our way to family in Oregon. It has been a year and a half since the last time we visited the west coast so we are more then ready for a trip back.

What are your family Christmas travel plans?

Oh Christmas Tree . . .

Whether you decorate with a specific color scheme, use garland and tinsle, or put an angel, star, or santa hat on top retrieving and decorating Christmas trees is a tradition everyone does in slightly different ways. For some it is time to get out the artificial tree and assemble others will go cut their own down. Last year for our first married Christmas Luke and I talked through what OUR family Christmas tree would look like.

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I grew up going with my family to pick out a Christmas tree at a local grocery store lot. ( I had no other options living in L.A.). We would come home, string white twinkle lights and a garland of wooden red cranberries on the tree. Then we would get a change to open our new ornament for the year. We would place our heirloom ornaments, including ones my parents collected over the year, on the tree while we listened to our favorite Christmas CD’s, and drank hot cocoa. Topping it all, we placed a gold and red metal angel holding a trumpet to her lips on the very top of the tree.

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Luke grew up with a slightly different tradition. His parents for several years owned a ran a Christmas farm in Oregon raising Douglas Firs and Nobles for sell. So his family always buys local Douglas Firs usually going to cut them down themselves. His family, like mine, kept home crafted ornaments made by their children, gifts from family member’s travels, and old fashioned brightly colored blubs. They used  silver tinsel and the large colored lights to decorate their tree. When I went to visit for New Years in 2011 their tall Christmas tree was placed right in the front window of their home.

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So last year, being new to the area, we went to a lot near our home to buy a tree. The tree was a little expensive for it’s awkward shape. We decided to use LED colored large bulb lights similar to what Luke grew up with but no tinsel or garland.  My parents had given me all my Christmas ornaments collected over the years back in October when we had moved, Luke had his mailed out to us along with his manger scene from his parent’s home. To brighten the tree up we placed candy canes and paper snowflakes to fill in the empty spots.

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Last year we also made ornaments for ourselves at Sparkle (see Sparkle) to place on the tree. We struggled to find a good metal angel to place on top, like the one I grew up with, so we settled on a metal star until we found an angel we liked.

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This year after asking around we drove out to Emerald Evergreen Tree farm which is only fifteen minutes south of our home. We came dressed in snow gear and parked behind the barn, taking a map of the area we grabbed a tree cutting saw and went on a winter wonderland walk through the evergreens. It snowed about four to five inches this past weekend so all the trees had a pretty coat of white on them.

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I was grateful for my snow boots as we trudged towards the Douglas Firs.  We shook a few trees off from snow to see if they were too yellow, too short, too full at the bottom, or too thin at the top. Then I saw one in the clearing near the train tracks. When we cleared it from snow I knew: this was our tree. Luke did most of the cutting but he insisted that I give it a try too.

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Once we got the tree down we carried it back to the barn following the car routes. Halfway there a man waiting for his family to pick out a tree picked us up in his truck and drove us and our tree the rest of the way to the pay center.

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We got the tree up on the car in a short time and tied it on. Luke went and paid for the tree coming back with hot cocoa. The cost: about the same as last year but this time with a much better tree and experience! When we got home we had to cut off a few extra branches and level out the bottom from the original cut we made then placed it in the stand.

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This year we decided to place the tree in our front room so it can be seen from the street.

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We have also added an ornament we bought on our anniversary trip to Niagara Falls (see Niagara Falls Anniversary Part 1; Niagara falls anniversary part 2).

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The greatest surprise for this year though is that  my parents will be bringing the metal Angel tree topper I grew up with to hand it down to us!! When my mom asked if we would like it I was elated!! I could find nothing like it anywhere online or in stores and am grateful my parents are willing to let it go because we are beyond excited to have it! Until then we will keep the star on top.

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So how does your family pick out and trim that perfect tree?

Tis the Season

Tis the Season to be busy. . .  fa la la la la . . . Last year Luke and I had a very quiet holiday for two. We had barely any presents to buy, few holiday decorations to put out, no family visiting us, and we were still so new to the area we had only one holiday event to attend. It was peaceful, calm even if at times a little lonely. But this year that has all changed. To give you an idea of what I mean I thought I’d share a little about what this week looked like; packed full with Christmas activities:

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Monday: I was at home baking, baking, and yes more cookie baking and organizing to fit all the cookies in the freezer.

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Peppermint, chocolate, and original tart with chocolate dipped marshmallows

Peppermint, chocolate, and original tart with chocolate dipped marshmallows

Tuesday: During the day I went grocery shopping, picked up our ornaments from The Corning Glass Studio, did more baking, and addressed Christmas cards. Then that evening I picked Luke up from work and we drove to Sweet Frog; a local yogurt place. There we met up with our friends from our small group and bought yogurt as part of a fundraiser for a mission trip with our church. We then went out to dinner  and ran some errands getting home around 9:30-10ish.

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Wednesday/Thursday: I was busy cleaning, doing laundry, wrapping gifts, writing Christmas cards, chocolate dipping peppermint Jo Jo’s, making haystacks (Luke’s favorite), organizing the freezer (again) and filling baked goody tins for presents.

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Friday: Today I am cleaning up the baking mess and doing needed maintenance around the house. Tonight we will go to Luke’s work Christmas dinner at Sorges (see Sorge’s: local food and wine).

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Last year’s Christmas Tree

Saturday/Sunday: Luke works in the morning on Saturday and we currently plan on getting a Christmas tree and getting it all decorated. We also have the opportunity to go caroling with our Young Adult group at church on Saturday and I have been invited to a  girl’s only Christmas event Sunday afternoon.

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So  . .  ’tis a very busy season. In-spite of the business we are trying to keep perspective. This time of year is not about making everyone happy by being the perfect host, guest, or by bringing the best cookies or buying the best presents. It is about taking time to recognize what we value most and setting time aside to enjoy, rest, and be with those we love.

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For the first time, our second married Christmas, I am seeing how hard it is to keep that perspective, to create boundaries and balance priorities through the holiday season. But I feel like I am learning.

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Speaking of being with those we love, in T-minus 5 days my parents will our first house-guests enjoying a white Corning Christmas holiday with us!!

How about you: how do you handle the business of the season?

What are your priorities/What does this time of year mean to you?

Post-Parade Cookies and Cocoa

Can you believe we are to December? I know personally this month is going to fly by and there are so many holiday events I am looking forward to.

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Last Saturday on the tail end of November the Christmas holiday events began in the Greene house. The first Saturday after Thanksgiving Corning hosts it’s annual Parade of Lights Christmas Parade. The evening starts with the lighting of the Christmas tree and fireworks. Luke and I parked and walked down Market St. to meet up with our friends by the Christmas Tree. On the way I had noticed the floats were stationary as though they were lined up to move down a different street. I wondered if the parade route had changed since last year. When we met up with our friends we find out why: this year the parade was stationary meaning the floats stayed in one place and the rest of us moved around to view them.

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We are not sure what the purpose of this was but it is possibly  because the main bridge in an out of downtown is being rebuilt. We stood and watched both East and West high school preform at either ends of the street and looked at the stationary floats. After walking Market St. both ways we decided we were done being cold and wanted to  move on to the second part of the evening.

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This year we decided to host a Post-Parade Cookies and Cocoa open house at our home. We invited some of our co-workers and friends who were residents of Corning to come warm up after the parade at our place. I had spent most of Friday baking like crazy and decorating the house for Christmas. I made two types of cookies: funfetti cheesecake cookies I first made for 4th of July and redecorate for Christmas and another more basic cookie with red and green m and ms. I also, for the non-cookie fans made some peanut brittle using the recipe I mentioned in my November post: The Great Pumpkin.

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I finally got the chance to use a glass chip and dip set we got from our wedding registry to display the sweet treats.  I had hot water and brewed coffee along with several options for sweet warm goodness.  For the non-hot drink people there was also eggnog and milk. Because I personally love peppermint I had both peppermint drops and pink peppermint flavored marshmallows. I made some dark hot chocolate for myself and put in two peppermint drops and a hand full (or two) of the peppermint marshmallows.

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The night went well, friends and neighbors came to warm up after being in the cold, some for several hours. We sat, listened to Christmas music, and talked about upcoming movies, how our thanksgivings went, and what our holiday traditions/plans looked like for December. For a first year hosting a holiday event in our own home I think it went well.

What holiday events do you plan on hosting this winter?

Or are you hoping to avoid the responsibility of cooking and baking for the masses?