Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree (The Green Kind)

I know, I know... here I go again with the trees.

My dad and I always went to a local tree farm and cut down our own tree, going as far back as I can remember. As far as I know, we didn't do it for the experience, really, but more because my dad said that trees sold on lots or in stores were "bad trees" and that as soon as we got one home it would turn brown and lose all of its needles. He would say, "You know sweetheart, they ship those trees from all over the country so by the time they get to those lots you have no idea how long ago they were cut." My dad is all about value, you see. He wants to get his money's worth. My dad and I followed this tradition until I got married, when Justyn and I selected our first tree from Home Depot.

You know by now that I have a thing for trees. I wasn't so sure about the Home Depot thing, because I am my father's daughter, as well as a natural skeptic. But, while looking around at the various sizes and types, a tree that was propped up in the aisle fell on me with no provocation. Seriously, I was the only one there. So, of course, I went to find Justyn, running through each aisle, huffing and puffing, until finally I found him and I said, "Honey!.... (huff and puff)... You'll never believe it!... (huff and puff)... I found our tree!... or actually... (huff and puff)... it found me!!!" And so then I figured, if that tree wanted to be our tree badly enough for it to reach out and grab me, then it must be a good one. And, it was a good tree. It certainly didn't disintegrate 2 days after we got it home. (I tried to find a picture for you, because I do have one somewhere and it's funny because Justyn is wearing a Howard Dean for President t-shirt. No luck, though.)

After that, Justyn and I started buying our trees from a high school tree lot near our house. We figured that was okay, because the money went to the school. But you see, every year, they jacked up their prices. So the first year we got our tree, it was like 45 bucks. Then the next year for the same tree, it was $60. That year, it just so happened that Justyn (who is NOT a football fan) happened to be wearing a Denver Broncos hat that he bought out of necessity to keep his head warm. The guy selling us the tree says, "That'll be $60." Justyn says, "Wow, really? Last year it was only $45." Guy looks at him, sizing him up and noticing the hat, and says, "How 'bout those Broncos?" Justyn made some vague remark, like, "Yeah, how 'bout 'em? I used to live in Denver." (Or something like that having nothing to do with football whatsoever.) The guy says, "Okay, I'll give it to you for $50." Honestly, after that we should have gone elsewhere. But, it was so close to our house. So we kept going. The prices kept creeping up (due to gas prices, they said) and the last year we were there we ended up paying $70 for our tree (they tried to charge us $80).

So, I was actually pretty excited when the season rolled around this year. I know that a lot of the trees sold nationwide come from Oregon, so I was hoping we could get a screaming deal. We went to a little nursery close to our apartment, and scored an awesome tree for only $45!! AND it's taller than our previous trees because we have higher ceilings now than we used to. Granted, it was the first place we went, and we did not shop around at all. In fact, we were driving around the next day and I saw the same kind of trees for only $30. So next year, I know what to look for.

Not only are the trees here less expensive, they are the epitome of every perfect Christmas tree you've ever imagined. Seriously. No Charlie Brown trees here. I remember trying to select a tree in Nashville, and each one had some sort of defect. "That one has a big bald spot on one side." Or, "The top branch is crooked so we won't be able to center the tree topper." Or, "The trunk on that one isn't straight." Or, "That one doesn't have very many needles on it." (I know, I'm picky.) But Oregon trees are different. They're picture perfect, every last one of them. Talk about value! Dad would definitely be proud. See?

Our first Oregon Christmas

So anyway, I have to talk about the environmental impacts of buying a real tree. You see, I've often wondered which is better: to buy a real tree (meaning it gets cut down and has to be replanted) or a fake tree (which means no trees get cut down, but they end up in landfills and have tons of chemicals in them). I decided to do some actual research this year. Here are my results:

Fake trees are generally made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which is nasty stuff. It has made its way into a lot of consumer products (from yoga mats to children's toys) and the process they use to make PVC is extremely dirty and bad for the environment. I won't get into all that here, but you should know that most artificial trees contain PVC. Not only that, but apparently lead is used to stabilize some PVC products, hence the label on your fake Christmas tree box warning you against inhaling or eating any bits of lead dust that may fall from the "branches". Doesn't that sound like a bundle of holiday joy? I'll bet that would create some fun Christmas memories for you and yours.

A real tree can be a poor substitute also, if you don't choose wisely and act responsibly. What I'm getting at, is that our Home Depot tree purchase probably wasn't the smartest. It's best if you can get them from a small tree lot or a local grower or farm, like my dad and I used to. You know they'll replant them, and that's important. You should also know that trees are just like any other agricultural product, and can contain insecticides, pesticides, and all that other funky stuff. So if that's important to you, ask about it before you buy.

In addition, after Christmas I see an obscene amount of Christmas trees on the side of the road or in garbage cans. People! You can recycle your tree! We used to take ours to a local park where they would chip them up and use them for mulch or trail building. You can call your city's waste management office to find a recycling center near you, or the Earth911 website has a search tool that can be helpful. Just make sure you take off all your decorations! (Speaking of decorations, have you changed your tree lights to LEDs yet? Do it! They use less electricity, and won't scorch your fingers since they don't get hot!)

So, in my opinion, a real tree is the best way to go if you're smart about it. Make sure you support local,make sure it will get replanted, get pesticide free if you can, and recycle. Of course, if you're really concerned about it, don't get a tree at all. In the interest of full disclosure, that's really the most environmentally responsible thing to do. But, I just can't bring myself to give it up.

There'll be some radio silence from me while I'm traveling, so I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday season, fake tree, real tree, or no tree at all.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How I Spent My Thanksgiving

Hi Folks,
Sorry it's been a while. I've had family in town for 2+ weeks and just couldn't find the time. So, here's an update on what I've been doing the past couple of weeks.

My dad came to visit. I love my dad and we have an awesome relationship. But it was a tough week when he was here. You see, my dad is a southern man, through and through. He doesn't like to be out of his comfort zone, and trust me: Portland is definitely out of his comfort zone. The first morning he was here, this is what happened

Dad: "You hungry for breakfast?"
Me: "Sure, I have whole wheat english muffins, eggs, cereal, oatmeal.... what do you feel like?"
Dad: "Actually, I was thinking maybe we could go to Hardee's."
Me: "Hmm.... I don't think we have Hardee's here. Or, I think it's called Carl's Jr. But I'm pretty sure it's the same." (Thinking to myself, that I don't' really know this for sure, because I've never set foot inside a Carl's Jr.)
Dad: "Okay, let's go there."

We get in the car, and find the nearest Carl's Jr., go inside, where my dad proceeds to order biscuits and gravy.

Guy behind the counter: "Sorry, sir, we don't have biscuits and gravy."
Dad: "You don't HAVE biscuits and gravy??"
Guy: "No sir. In fact, we don't have any biscuits."

Panic ensues. Dad starts slowly backing away from the counter with a deer in the headlights look, like... "where the F*** am I?" He looks at me expectantly.

Me: "You want to go somewhere else?"
Dad: "Yeah.... let's go..... somewhere else."

So we walk outside, where I spot a McDonald's across the street. Now, if you know me, you know I don't eat at McDonald's. Like, never. I hate it. It's gross. So, I jokingly say:

Me: "Well, lucky us... there's a McDonald's right across the street!"
Dad: "Cool, let's go there."
Me: [jaw drops] "Uhh.... okay."

So I ate at McDonald's. Yippee.

That's pretty much how the visit went. But, we did have some good talks, and I took him to the coast which was cool. The very next day, Justyn's mom flew in for Thanksgiving. I got one night of a break between, which was much needed.

Justyn's mom is a really cool person. She's really energetic, really intellectual (about most things), and she's super healthy and active. So, it was a nice change from my dad's visit. But, she totally stresses me out. And, since I'm not working and Justyn doesn't have time off, I had to entertain her by myself for THREE days. Ugh. I was NOT looking forward to it. She's the kind of person that needs constant entertainment, so there's a lot of pressure. But, overall, I have to say it was a really good visit. Probably the best I've ever had with her.

Except, of course, for this kind of stuff, which she likes to sprinkle throughout most conversations:

Her: "So, you don't cook much, huh?"
Me: "Yes, actually, I really like to cook."
Her: "Oh, but you don't have dinner ready for Justyn when he comes home from work?"
Me: "No, he doesn't usually like to eat that early."
Her: "Oh, well... he seemed pretty excited about it when I told him we'd have dinner ready for him today."
Me: [speechless]

Then every time she cooked a meal (which was often, and she is an amazing cook), she would look at me and say, "see, cooking doesn't have to take a long time!" Ugh.

And this:

Her: "Do you want to make a pie or anything for the big dinner?"
Me: "Sure, I'd love to. I have a great recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon."
Her: "Okay, what do you need so we can make a list?"
Me: "I think I have everything except pecans and dark corn syrup."
Her: "Oh..... corn syrup?? That's really bad for you. You shouldn't eat it."
Me: "Yeah, I know, but it only calls for 1/2 cup which isn't bad. Or, do you know of something else I could use as a substitute?"
Her: "No, I don't think so. I guess I shouldn't ask what's in it or I won't eat any."
Me: [speechless]

I made the pie anyway, by the way, and it was delish. Everyone loved it (it was the first one to get depleted). And, I'm pretty sure she was sneaking bites while we were all asleep. Every morning there was a little bit more missing.

About the meal: almost everything was from the farmer's market, including the turkey which was awesome!!! Here's a picture:


After (Yep, that's Justyn carving the turkey!)

Everything was soooo good, especially the turkey. I'll never buy anything but a fresh turkey again. Yum. And, there was enough leftover for me to make white chili so that was great, too!

We had our feast on the day after Thanksgiving due to some schedule issues with some of the family, so on Thanksgiving day we were going to the park (Justyn's step-dad is a professional photographer so we were going to snap some photos). It was really foggy and on the way we passed a huge cemetery that's close to our place. We decided to stop there and I got some really cool pictures:

If you want to see more pictures from the week (including some amazing foggy sunset pictures at the coast), click here.

So, that's it. I spent my Thanksgiving in a cemetery with my in-laws. It was cool. And, I realized how lucky I am. I'm extremely thankful to have the opportunity to go on this journey, and it has been so rewarding for me. I'm so fortunate to have a great family (by blood and by marriage). I'm happier and healthier than I've ever been, and for that I am grateful.

I miss my family, though. I'm glad I'm coming home for Christmas.

Other things that happened over Thanksgiving: I became a volunteer leader with a local non-profit, I was on the local news (twice!) for my volunteer work, and I had a job interview that went really well.