Sunday, December 29, 2013

Snow Ho Ho Ho

A little something to keep the snow covered 
smiling this winter day.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Shopping Hardy

We found the wood ornament in the walls of this house
when we were remodeling.
For my winter hardy readers, here’s a tutorial on cutting your own Christmas tree.

Illinois Christmas tree farms by county on

Neighbors trying to make a living off the land run these farms.  They don’t destroy the land; they’re good stewards of a natural resource. 

I’m not suggesting you don’t use an artificial tree or you don’t buy a tree from a local retail store.  What I am saying is don’t buy into the guilt about cutting and using a live tree some folks dribble out this time of the year. 

Because it’s such a seasonal business, many tree farms offer additional attractions for family fun.  For instance, Webers Christmas Forest in Geneseo has hayrack rides, petting zoo, draft horse rides and a food booth.  In addition to trees, many have wreaths, roping, swags, and food.  

To answer your question, “Why would anyone want to go out in the cold and cut their own tree?”  My answer is because it builds a family memory for children.  With the right attitude (and warm clothing), tramping through acres of fields looking for just the right tree is family fun.  Arguing over the long needle vs. short needle vs. blue vs. green is part of the day.  Realizing the tree that looked so reasonably sized is actually two feet too tall for the living room and so wide you have to remove two chairs is the stuff that makes family lore.

Nature's decorations.
Who hasn’t seen a Christmas movie where a tree was strapped to the top of an old station wagon and thought, “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about”?  And no one has sawed down a tree and tried to fit it into a base that will hold water without feeling pride when the project is completed. 

Then there’s the whole process of turning a real tree this way and that, placing ornaments to fill in the natural gaps and using fingernail polish remover to get the sap off little fingers sticky from “helping”. 

Is using a real tree easier than an artificial?  Absolutely not.  Is it more fun?  Absolutely!  The trick to making it a “GOOD” family memory is keeping your sense of humor, not resenting the effort, letting little hands help and did I mention keeping a sense of humor?

Yes, real trees fall over, must be manipulated, are never perfectly shaped, take constant watering and require more clean up when done.  On the flip side, they make a good story year-after-year.  Seriously, who doesn’t have at least one story of tying a tree to the woodwork because it fell over?  Or, the year you found a bird’s nest nestled in the branches?  Or, the tree that lost all the needles within the first week? Or, the wonder of little kids involved during the whole process and their eyes when it’s all done and “they helped”?

A few hints from your friendly neighborhood tree farmers:

Best Christmas trees are decorated by kids.
Grasp a branch between your thumb and forefinger and pull it towards you.  Very few needles should come off in your hand if the tree is fresh.
·      Loss of brown needles is normal but you should not see an excessive amount of green needles fall to the ground.
·      Make sure the tree is straight. 
·      Make sure the base will fit in your tree stand.
·      Cut off a couple of inches and put in the stand and add plain warm water.
·      I always put a felt backed plastic tablecloth down first (plastic side to the floor.)  This protects the floor and lets you slide the tree if necessary.
·      If the tree has been wrapped, let it stand in the warm house until it has released it branches back to their original shape.
·      Keep away from fireplaces, radiators, television sets, and other heat sources.
·      Check the water level EVERY day.  Typically it will take several quarts of plain water every day, perhaps more in the beginning. 
·      Don’t use sugar or other solutions in the water.  It only makes a mess and doesn’t actually do the tree any good.
·      Best trees for fragrance, needle retention and needle softness:, Concolor Fir and Fraser Fir.

All right hardy souls:  go out and make a good Christmas tree memory.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Who Sat on My Wreath?

Have you ever seen or do you have artificial wreaths, roping or swags that look like a 200 pound elephant sat on them?  It's the result of packing them away all year in cramped boxes, dirty garages, damp basements or hot attics.

Often these decorations are used year-after-year without ever bringing them back to pristine condition.  It's a mighty sad wreath that is all scrunched up, with faded ribbons and smelling faintly of mildew.

There's some inexpensive answers to restoring your artificial greenery to look like real live greenery and it isn't all that difficult.

This is a photo from the Distinctive Gardens (Dixon IL) Facebook page.  This live wreath was created by Bud LeFevre.  This is what a wreath (live or artificial) should look like - full, loose and natural.

To turn old artificial greenery back into a display piece, try these hints:

Remove all decorations (ribbons, bulbs, lights and etc.) until it's just the greenery and frame.  Throw away any damaged, stained, or non functioning decorations.  

Determine if the greenery is made of plastic or paper.
If plastic:  Fill the tub with warm water containing a mild dish washing detergent and about a cup of white vinegar.  Swish the greenery around in the mixture until dirt and mildew are released.  Don't let it sit or the metal frame may rust.  Rinse and let totally dry.
If paper:  Take outside and gently bang it on the side of a fence or pole.  This is only to shake the dirt loose.  If the paper has mildew, throw it away because there's no way to bring it back and it's not healthy to have in the house.  Using a soft dry cloth, gently wipe over the branches.  Shake again.  Let hang outside (out of the elements) for a few hours to freshen.   Paper greenery may never look new again but if you enjoy the vintage look, they're perfect.

Once the pieces are clean and dry, it's time to shape.  This is the process often neglected.

Start working your way from one point.  Gently take each branch and straighten it out from the frame.  Do this for the entire piece.  If the piece hangs against a flat surface, bring all branches out to the front and sides with none in the back.   If the greenery has pine cones or twig branches, make sure they are also pulled out even and not crunched up against the piece.  

Step back to observe if any branches need to be moved to make the piece even with no bare spots.

This is when you may add decorative pieces.  The sky is the limit and these decorations (or none if you choose) are all about your taste and whimsy.  Some of the things I've used and how:

I use ribbon with wire edges if I want a certain design.  I use without the wire edges if I want a more elegant drape.  Ribbon should be removed at the end of the season and smoothed so it will be in decent shape next year.

Pine cones may be used (either natural or painted) by wrapping wire around the stem end.  Wire these cones to the frame.  I take these off at the end of the season and put in a zip lock bag to keep from attracting insects or having sap stick to other things.

I pack my artificial greenery away in plastic tubs but they'll require straightening each year.  There is other storage made for wreaths or they can be covered in a plastic bag and hung on the wall.  I wouldn't store where they get too hot and never where they could get damp.

Does it take effort to have artificial greenery look like an interior designer's creation in your favorite magazine?  Yes it does, but, unless you want "the elephant sat on my greenery" look, it's worth the effort.  For those of you with an economical side, you can take most any artificial greenery from your neighborhood thrift store and bring it back to beauty.  Yes, it's worth the effort.