How to handle a real Christmas tree

Festive Fridays

How to handle a real Christmas tree

Personally, I grew up with artificial trees. I consider them more humane than killing a live tree for decorative purposes, but I recognize that some people love the tradition of going out and cutting your own and I fully support all of the local tree farms that provide an opportunity for people to have natural greens in their houses for the holidays. The following is a guide to finding your perfect tree and some tips for what to do with your greens after the holidays are over.

For those who put so much time and effort into selecting the perfect Christmas tree, due consideration should be given to giving your tree the best possible care. If not, you will surely be disappointed when the needles start to turn brown or yellow, or branches begin to break days or weeks before the season is over. Safety is also an important reason to take proper care of your Christmas tree because a drying Christmas tree also presents a serious danger as a fire hazard. An average Christmas tree should last for about five to six weeks if the proper care is taken.

After selecting your Christmas tree, the first thing that should be done when you get it home is to make a fresh cut and place it into a stand with water. A Christmas tree shouldn’t be mounted dry. The water in its stand should be refreshed regularly. A fresh cut is made by cutting about an inch from the bottom at a slight diagonal to help the tree to absorb water. If a fresh cut isn’t made and the Christmas tree is left exposed to air, the vessels for transporting water can become blocked. This could lead to premature browning and the tree could become a fire hazard due to drying out. Your Christmas tree should be secure in its stand and it should stand away from open flames or sources of heat such as furnaces, fireplaces and air vents, all of which may dry it out.

Decoration of the tree should begin after it has been mounted in its stand. Take sensible precautions when decorating to lessen or avoid your Christmas tree becoming a fire hazard. Ornaments that have an open flame or candles should never be used as decorations.

Christmas tree lights should be checked to make sure the bulbs are working properly, the connections are intact and that no part of the cord is damaged. If there appears to be any exposed wiring or bulbs that are not working or which are working intermittently, that string of Christmas tree lights should not be used.

Select a good Christmas tree stand because water is the most important ingredient to getting the longest life out of your Christmas tree. When selecting a stand, find out how much water it can hold when your tree is placed in it. Some water will be displaced by the base of the tree, so it is important that your decision is not based on the total volume of water the stand can hold.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, an average Christmas tree can absorb as much as a gallon of water every day. Therefore, it’s important to check the water everyday and refill as needed. To make sure your Christmas tree gets enough water, the Association recommends that one quart of water is provided for every inch in diameter of the tree’s trunk.

After Christmas is over and your wonderfully decorated Christmas tree has provided such holiday joy, it is important to remove it before it dries out. Options to discard your Christmas will likely depend on the services offered by your local government. Some municipalities will pick up Christmas trees on specific days. Some towns may require that residents take their trees to a specific location. In others, Christmas trees will be picked up with the trash on certain dates.

Christmas trees should never be burned in your fireplace! It can cause the build up of creosote, a colorless, oily substance that can lead to chimney fires. A much better alternative is to make mulch of the tree by cutting it to pieces yourself.

If you prefer live trees to artificial ones, please keep these important safety tips in mind to ensure a healthy and happy holiday season with the splendid, natural scent of a pine or fir tree.

10 Quick Tips to Save You Time and Money Storing Your Decorations

10 Quick Tips to Save You Time and Money Storing Your Decorations

Okay, maybe inviting the kittens to help isn’t terribly productive but the process of putting Christmas away for the year doesn’t need to be drudgery. Taking a little time and following these ten tips will help you…

luggage

  • A. Save time by getting your Christmas decorations organized so you can find them quickly and easily next holiday season
  • B. Save space by using boxes that can be easily stacked and organized.
  • C. Save money by storing your Christmas lights and decorations in a way that preserves their quality and extends their life span.

10 Quick Tips

1. Use Clear Plastic Boxes – These are great because you can see the contents without having to spend time labeling each box. Plus the plastic helps protect from moisture better than cardboard. When stacking, be sure to place the largest and heaviest boxes on the bottom and smaller boxes on the top.

2. Box your Beads – Pack the beads in small boxes such as plastic shoe boxes. If you use many strands of beads, larger boxes could become too heavy. To keep the beads from becoming tangled, place individual strands in baggies. If you prefer, you can wrap each strand around empty paper towel rolls and tape the ends.

3. Don’t Heap Up the Christmas Lights – Use reels to wind your strands of lights so they don’t get tangled. You can use Santa’s Bags that include stackable reels. Another way to go is to use a kind of wind up like you’d use for a power cord. If you’re sticking with the clear plastic boxes, you can roll individual light strands into a gallon zip-lock bag to prevent them getting tangled.

4. Save Space with Re-Shapeable Decorations – Bows made of wired ribbon can be flattened and reshaped next year. Wired ribbon garlands and streamers can be tightly rolled. They don’t need to be flattened unless you need to conserve space.

5. Don’t Crush Your Wreaths – Wreaths can be stacked in larger boxes but each wreath should be wrapped with bubble wrap. If they aren’t wrapped then they shouldn’t be stacked. Bubble wrap can be purchased where office supplies are sold. Wreath boxes can also be purchased and are readily available on the Internet and in stores.
Twinkling Strand
6. Wrap Christmas Ornaments Properly – Ornaments should be individually wrapped in white tissue paper or where greater protection is needed, wrap in bubble wrap. Since most ornaments are lightweight they can be stored in large boxes. If you still have the original boxes the ornaments came in, then store them in these and then place them in the storage container.

7. Protect Christmas Decorations from Moisture – If you live in a humid climate using plastic containers may not be enough to protect from moisture. Place packets of silica gel in each container to avoid damage from humidity. Silica gel can be purchased at arts and craft stores. If you cannot find individual packets, you can make your own by wrapping several tablespoons of silica gel in white tissue paper and securing with tape. Several packets should be placed throughout the box.

8. Guard Against Temperature Extremes – Delicate decorations such as ornaments made with photos or wax can be temperature sensitive. Store them in a climate-controlled area or they could deteriorate, melt or stick together.

9. Clearly identify Christmas Storage Boxes – Attach a red ribbon or tag to each Christmas storage box. This will make them easy to identify next Christmas if they have been stored with other boxes unrelated to Christmas decorations.

10. De-clutter – Some people have a tendency to just “hang onto stuff” in hopes that they’ll find a use for it later. Don’t waste space by holding onto old ornaments you know you’ll never use again (unless of course it has some sentimental significance). Just toss out the trash.

christmas wreathA final note: You may also want to consider Christmas ornament boxes and wreath boxes for especially fine ornaments and wreaths instead of clear storage containers. They are available in stores and on the Internet. They are very convenient and some are even acid free for even greater protection for your fine collectibles. They are more expensive, but for high quality, valuable ornaments this may be a worthwhile investment.

A little organization today will take some of the stress out of Christmas decorating next yuletide. Happy un-decorating!

Falling Needles Family Fest Day and Bacon Day

Falling Needles Family Fest Day and Bacon Day

Only one day left in the year and we’re looking at cleaning up and having a jolly good treat.

Falling Needles Family Fest Day

Maybe you’re not ready to take down the Christmas tree just yet, but when you do please act responsibly. Falling Needles Family Fest Day is another of the wacky holidays invented by the folks at wellcat.com

I’ve linked some tips for environmentally friendly ways to dispose of a live Christmas tree. If your township does not provide a drop off point or a curbside woodchipper, you might want to consider the tips in the video.

As far as cleaning up the pine needles in your home, remember to empty your vacuum canister or put in a fresh bag. Whatever the vacuum doesn’t get up can be gathered with a lint roller. You can also use nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol or even hand sanitizer to get sap off your hands after you’ve cleaned up after your tree.

Bacon Day

It’s almost shocking that we’ve had to wait this late in the year to celebrate something as delicious and versatile as bacon. Bacon is marvelous for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Some people even indulge in bacon candy or bacon flavored ice cream. That’s a bit beyond my tastes, but there are countless novelties associated with bacon that you can find if you’re a connoisseur. Bacon Day

For your Sixth Day of Christmas, six geese a flying? Well, geese are wild. Just try finding a picture of them laying.
 

Six Geese A Laying

Make Cutout Snowflakes Day and National Fruitcake Day

Make Cutout Snowflakes Day and National Fruitcake Day

Winter’s off to a quick start and we’re going to help things along with some cutout snowflakes. After a fun time crafting our own snowflakes, it’s only fitting to sit down to a piece of rich, delicious fruitcake. Let’s get celebrating!

Make Cutout Snowflakes Day

Some of us get enough of the real things and may even have a yard full of them at this point. Just the same, it’s a fun holiday craft to engage in. Kids love to cut wonderful shapes and watch with wonder as the snowflakes unfold into individual works of art.

So, whether you live someplace where it snows or not, you can have a Winter Wonderland indoors with just a few creative clips.

National Fruitcake Day

I know, I’m one of the few people who actually likes fruitcake. Apparently, I’m not the only one since they’ve designated a national day for it. Wahoo! Makes my day.

First references to fruitcake date back to Roman times. Many would joke that the same fruitcakes have been passed back and forth as gifts since that time, but with proper preservatives and airtight packaging a good fruitcake will only last 25 years.

Two towns have long been battling for the title of Fruitcake Capitol of the World. Corsicana, Texas, is home to the Collin Street Bakery while Claxton, Georgia, is the home to two major fruitcake bakeries: the Claxton Bakery and the Georgia Fruitcake Company. While it hasn’t yet been finally decided, Claxton has claimed the title on their water tower.

Today is the Third Day of Christmas! Here are 3 French Hens
 

Three French Hens

Festivus and National Pfeffernusse Day

Festivus and National Pfeffernusse Day

We’ve got pfeffernusse cookies today to help us celebrate Festivus. Frank Costanza may not have approved of tinsel, but we approve of cookies covered with confectioner’s sugar!

Festivus

A Festivus for the rest of us! This is a silly holiday that was invented by Frank Costanza on the Seinfeld TV show. As it turns out, it was actually invented by the father of Dan O’Keefe who wrote the episode. His experiences were filtered through the lens of the Seinfeld characters and made even more comical.

Aspects of the holiday are the unadorned aluminum pole, the Airing of Grievances and the Feats of Strength. Click the image of the book to learn more about this anti-commercial, non-religious, totally hilarious holiday.

National Pfeffernusse Day

This spicy cookie has roots and variations throughout Northern Europe. German immigrants brought it to America with them as a holiday tradition some time in the 1850s.

Traditional homemade pfeffernusse are a small hard biscuit that you may wish to dip in your tea, coffee or milk. Typically, the store bought cookies are baked to be soft and able to be eaten without dunking.

Pfeffernusse Cookies

Click on the cookies to see the recipe
Image courtesy of Jenn at allrecipes.com

Look for an Evergreen Day and Oatmeal Muffin Day

Look for an Evergreen Day and Oatmeal Muffin Day

Today, we’re on the hunt for the perfect natural tree and we’re going to fortify ourselves for the search with a hearty oatmeal muffin!

Look for an Evergreen Day

The Perfect Tree Many people enjoy the scent of a natural Christmas tree and have made a family tradition of finding just the right one.

The evergreen tree is a symbol of everlasting life. In the midst of stark winter landscapes, the evergreen tree remains a beacon of hope.

The tradition of decorating evergreen trees began in Germany in the 16th Century and became part of English tradition when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularized German ways of celebrating the season in the 1840s. The first reports of Christmas trees in America were in the homes of German immigrants in the 1830s.

Oatmeal Muffin Day

Oatmeal is a classic cold weather comfort food. Who doesn’t remember starting the day with a steaming hot bowl of oatmeal topped with brown sugar, honey or fruit? Oatmeal also makes a wonderful batch of cookies. One of my favorite with or without the raisins.

Oatmeal contains calcium, potassium and soluble fiber that provides heart health benefits and can reduce blood pressure. Oatmeal also contains a compound called β-glucan that can help to reduce appetite.

Blueberry Oat Muffins - Click through for the recipe to these wonderful muffins

Click through for the recipe to these wonderful muffins. Image courtesy of elegantemily at allrecipes.com

Poinsettia Day and National Cocoa Day and Gingerbread House Day

Poinsettia Day and National Cocoa Day and Gingerbread House Day

Alright, yesterday was a bit of a disappointment as far as picking from pre-defined holidays goes, but we made the best of it. Today, we’ve got more holidays than we can shake a stick at. What awesome Christmasy holidays they are, too!

Poinsettia Day

littleangel This festive plant was brought to the United States from Mexico by our first ambassador to that country, Joel Roberts Poinsett. He was an avid botanist and Poinsettia Day marks the day that Mr. Poinsett passed on in 1851. With its festive red brachts and the deep green leaves beneath, this plant is a natural choice for holiday decorating.

There is a persistent rumor that a poinsettia is poisonous, but a 50 pound child would have to eat over 500 leaves to see any harm and there’s no way they’d get more than one down since they taste horrible. The plant has a sap that can induce allergic reactions to those who are sensitive to latex. Just the same, you’ll want to keep the pets away from it because the leaves can induce vomiting. That’s not very festive at all.

Poinsettias in their native environment are a perennial shrub that can grow 10 to 15 feet high. The vast majority of poinsettias grown for sale in the United States now come from a ranch in California rather than directly from Mexico. The Paul Ecke Ranch accounts for 70% of domestic sales and 50% of the worldwide market of these beautiful plants.

National Cocoa Day

Cocoa was first consumed by the Mayans. Cacao trees only grow within 20° latitude of the Equator. The Aztecs drank a chocolate beverage called Xocolatl. They felt it increased endurance, fought fatigue and permitted a man to walk a whole day without food. I think that might be stretching things a bit, but I know there are days I’ve had a chocolate-only diet and I’m still here to tell the tale.

The Spanish sat on their discovery for almost a century before exporting it throughout Europe. During that time, they got the idea to start adding sugar, vanilla and other flavors to improve the taste.

The Aztecs valued cocoa beans more than gold and jewels and who can blame them? You can’t eat jewelry. Incidentally, it takes 4 cacao seeds to make an ounce of milk chocolate or 12 seeds to make an ounce of dark chocolate. A cacao seed pod is about the size of a pineapple and holds enough seeds to make seven chocolate bars or two dark chocolate bars. Cocoa now comes primarily from West Africa, where they process every step by hand to ensure quality. If you wonder why fine chocolates are so expensive, it’s the limited supply and the labor intensive processing. Cacao trees can blossom all year round, but the flowers die if they are not pollinated within 24 hours of blooming. There’s a lot that goes into your candy bar or mug of hot chocolate!

Chocolate first came to the United States in 1765 with Irish chocolatier John Hanan. He partnered with Dr. James Baker to refine the beans imported from the West Indies. The business they founded is now the Baker’s Chocolate brand you still see today. I am rather glad they did. I can’t imagine facing the long winter months ahead without a hot, creamy mug of cocoa to look forward to. How about you?

Hot Chocolate

Gingerbread House Day

While gingerbread itself has been around for quite some time in its cake and biscuit form, the gingerbread house gained popularity in the 19th Century after the publication of Hansel and Gretel in Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Since 1991, the city of Bergen in Norway has created a gingerbread city they call Pepperkakebyen. Any child under 12 can build and contribute a gingerbread house to the display. This has spurred cities throughout the US to make their own. The Gingertown projects are constructed by architects in Washington DC, Nashville, Dallas and Atlanta. The finished products are displayed at hospitals and community support service locations throughout their communities. Charitable donations are collected and distributed through the Gingertown collaborations.

The Guinness World Record for largest gingerbread house was most recently broken in 2013. A team from Bryan, Texas, made a 2520 square foot house with edible walls. Jon Lovitch, the executive sous chef of the New York Marriott Marquis hotel just broke the Guinness World Record for largest gingerbread village last month! Just for a giggle, I’m going to mention that in 2011 the Guinness World Record for fastest marathon dressed as a gingerbread man was broken by David Smith of the UK with a marathon time of 3 hours, 42 minutes and 20 seconds.

Interesting Holiday Stats

Santa Checking His List

Interesting Holiday Stats

Did you know the vast number of resources processed during the holiday season? Below are a few interesting statistics regarding the number of cards and gifts sent, party food eaten, and more.

Holiday Shopping

Holiday sales are expected to hit $439.53 billion this year. December accounts for roughly 15% of stores’ yearly sales, with the exception of jewelry stores for which it is closer to 24%. Most Americans only expect to spend an average of $854 each this holiday reason. On Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday 2013, approximately $12.3 billion was spent.  The new experiment of opening shops on Thanksgiving rather than waiting until midnight on Black Friday resulted in lower percentage of sales on the infamous shopping holiday. Residents of the New England states are anticipated to spend more than the rest of the country, while the South is expected to spend the least overall.

Christmas Cards

Do you enjoy receiving lots of cards in the mail? There are roughly 1.6 billion Christmas cards sent in the United States every year to friends, family members and acquaintances. This makes Christmas the #1 card sending occasion, followed by Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.  The greeting card manufacturers are being heavily impacted by the prevalence of free, instant options available online.

Presents

The number UPS is expected to deliver this year is over 340 million. The busiest day for UPS in the 2013 holiday season was Monday, December 16th when they reached 34 million deliveries, which translates to 394 packages being delivered every second during that day.  FedEx’s busiest day was 22 million deliveries on Monday, December 2nd.

Toys

About 45% of shoppers will be purchasing toys this year, with video games and Barbie being the products most sought after.  California leads the nation in toy production with 10 locations that produce dolls and stuffed animals as well as 88 locations that produce games, children’s vehicles and other toys.

Party food

Are you tired of turkey once Christmas is over? This may be why. The USDA  approximates that there are more than 244 million turkeys raised in the United States with as many as 60 million making it to the table through the holiday season. Americans eat an average of 13.7 pounds of turkey every year! I know I do my share of compensating for the vegetarians among us.  It is also reported that 7.3 billion shrimp are consumed at as many as 46 million holiday gatherings.  According to a Reader’s Digest poll, the favorite Christmas cookie in Pennsylvania is the Pizzelle and the national favorite is the Sugar Cookie.  I certainly enjoy both, but I definitely have a soft spot for a warm chocolate chip cookie.

Decorating

Most malls and other stores begin decorating for the holiday season on November 1st, but as many as 40% begin well before Halloween to get ready for early-bird shoppers.  Shopping centers spend an average of $22,998 on their holiday decorations.  Many retailers begin receiving deliveries of holiday decor in June or July and begin closing out their summer and gardening stock to make way for the yuletide supplies.  You know I love Christmas all year long, but let’s at least wait until after Labor Day!

Christmas Trees

If it is your practice to go chop down a tree and lug it home, check this out. There are 20.8 million Christmas trees cut in the U.S. every year, with the most (over 25%) coming from Oregon. Tree farmers reap roughly $506 million from this tradition. There are $69 million in artificial trees imported from China each year. Artificial Christmas trees have outsold real ones annually since 1991.

Christmas Tree Ornaments

China is the largest producer of Christmas ornaments which totals $592 million from January through August. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are around 250 injuries per day from decorating accidents and Christmas tree fires.

Holiday Music

The holiday song most frequently played is “Jingle Bells”. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” runs a close second, but it is the #1 best selling Christmas single of all time.

Christmas Light Displays

Christmas Light Displays

 by the Elf Queen Harrogate Lights

How boring Christmas would be without lights. If you drive past a neighborhood in December, sometimes even as early as Thanksgiving or Halloween, one can see twinkling lights and other outdoor decorations. It is very exciting! These light decorations are a way of bringing some color and cheer into a cold, white month. White due to snow and cold due to winter weather! Bright, brilliant light displays take our breath away and bring us smiles. Christmas decorations that are elaborate sometimes run up electric bills, but the price for smiles is so worth it.

In our little corner of the world you can find many outdoor lights and colorful decorations.

Some ideas of lights to see are: Koziar’s Chirstmas Village-such a thrill to bring kids over the highway hill and hear their intake of breath when they see the lights for the first time.

Longwood Gardens has a great display, I remember taking a trip there as a child. Tons of chrysanthemums and lights, beautiful.

A bit closer to home Franklin Township’s Festival of Lights runs through December 23rd. They take a donation of $4/adult and $2/children.

Lights in the Parkway in Allentown is a tradition for many families. It is easy to enjoy the lights as you see them in your warm car.

To see over 40,000 bright lights, one should drive down to Gilbertsville, PA. The Lovely Christmas Lights are a family sponsored home display. Last year’s theme was Christmas around the World. This year will be themed as a Kids Christmas Party.

Orwigsburg is celebrating their bicentennial year and they’ve planned a Festival of Lightsand historical craft demonstrations.

Perhaps you will be so inspired by these Christmas light displays that you will start planning your own for next year. Let us know when you’re finished with the design and we’ll write about your display next year! As for this year, get going-you’ve a lot to see!

Twinkling Strand

Christmas Shopping Alternatives

Christmas Shopping Alternatives

by the Elf Queen

Alternatives to shopping, what a crazy idea. But, Christmas shopping is so overrated. People running hither and thither to find just the right gift. Time spent worrying and fretting about whether they’ve spent enough money, or too much money, or did they buy evenly for the kids, or did they get a grandiose enough gift for the new in-laws.

An idea to this stress might be found in baking cookies and cakes for a home-made gift. Making candles or soap or knitting a cap are examples of time intensive gifts, but what is more valuable to the receiver than your time and thoughtfulness.

Perhaps instead of making candles or soap, your family could exchange names and buy a Secret Santa gift for one another. Our extended family did this a few years ago and it was fun to figure out who had your name, if you could. It is sometimes called a “pollyanna”. It is fun for the kids to yell “I knew it was you all the time!” after their Secret Santa comes forward.

A book of coupons for time spent together is another good alternative to the shopping trip. Coupons for yard work or a birdwatching walk or even breakfast in bed are great to have and can be redeemed through out the year. They coupons themselves could be a work of art.

Another idea for through-the-year gift is a homemade calendar. Calendar forms can be bought cheaply at local craft stores or you could even print blank months off the computer. Kids will love to get special calendars made by mom or dad just for them. Calendars made for parents or grandparents by children become special keepsakes in years to come.

More time to spend together can be experienced at a local dance class, or art class, or even a cooking class. What excitement to look forward to after a hard day at work, time spent learning something with a loved one.

You could mix a CD or MP3 of your family’s favorite music, listening to it in the car will be a great way to spend a drive. We made several CDs for a trip to North Carolina and the kids enjoyed listening to music without commercials!

When our daughter was younger we made her wooden blocks from downed trees in the back yard. A bit of sawing and sanding and voilà, terrific, fun blocks. No, they were not all the same size, but that was okay-much more imaginative play that way. We also made sewing cards for her that we still have. Another idea for younger children might be a photo book of familiar people and places-babies and toddlers love to look at books filled with loved ones.

There are endless possibilities for home-made and low cost alternatives to the Christmas shopping trip. The above are just a few ideas. I’m sure if you take a few moments, you’ll think of some fantastic ones of your own.

Email them to us, we’d love to read about them and incorporate them into our family’s treasure box of alternatives.

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