How to buy a Christmas Tree with children

How To Buy A Christmas Tree With a Preschooler and a Kindergartener

In theory, one would think buying a Christmas tree consists of simply driving to a tree sale, choosing a tree, paying for it and then heading home with the tree to set it up.

Once you toss two young kids into that equation, you’ll need to add a minimum of 97 steps to that theory. You seem to think I’m joking. I’m not.

This is what it is really like to celebrate the holidays by selecting that very special tree for your family to decorate.

1. On the first below-30-degree day of the season after two weeks of holiday travel and a husband M.I.A. due to the busiest work period of the year, select today as the day to surprise your kids with Christmas tree shopping when you pick the 3.5-year-old girl and 5.5-year-old boy up from school.

2. Tell them you have a BIG SURPRISE for them.

3. Bring them home, get them both to pee without totally removing all their clothes*, re-bundle them up and grab snacks and water, all while batting away screeches of delight and nagging inquiries as to what this surprise could possibly be (“Is Santa here? Are we getting a cookie? Are we going to the airport? Is ‘Max & Ruby’ on? Are we going to the Lego store?”).

4. Get them back in the truck, buckled in.

5. Try not to go deaf during the drive to charity Christmas Tree sale.

6. Park.

7. Pull out camera, gloves, measuring tape.

8. Hop out of the truck, swinging open the back door with a made-up-on-the-spot-song about how HUGE a tree you’re gonna get this year.

9. Look over your shoulder.

10. Realize it doesn’t open for another three hours.

11. Get back in the truck.

12. Drive weeping children back home.

13. Unbundle them, placate them with another annoying episode of “Max & Ruby” in the family room for her, “G-Force” (for the 600th time) in the basement for him.

14. Console.

15. Hug.

16. Wipe tears.

17. Bribe.

18. Beg for mercy and swear on your life they can buy the biggest damn tree in the place if they Just. Stop. Whining.

19. Wait three hours.

20. Make them pee (again).

21. Bundle them up (again).

22. Put them in the car with snacks and water (again).

23. Call friend to meet you there.

24. Drive to charity Christmas Tree sale (again).

25. Confirm they are open, finally cheering the kids back up.

26. Tell them you need two Special Helpers to pick the Christmas tree out.

27. Explain to 3.5-year-old that you can’t buy the wooden sign in the shape of a tree or the tree painted on the side of the trailer.

28. Watch 3.5-year-old stomp her foot and pretend to cry over inability to buy trees that aren’t actually tress until Old Dude who works there and has experience with ornery grandchildren distracts her.

29. Lose the 5.5-year-old amidst the trees.

30. Find the 5.5-year-old.

31. Ask for the tall trees.

32. Lose the 3.5-year-old while walking towards the tall trees.

33. Find the 3.5-year-old.

34. Quietly threaten both children that if they run off again, they will not get a Christmas tree.

35. Silently pray you don’t have to actually follow through on this threat.

36. Feel a twinge of guilt asking two Old Dudes volunteering there to heave a couple 9+ foot-tall trees up so you can fully inspect the suckers** before choosing one.

37. Hear the sobs of your 5.5-year-old who is insisting he “HATE that tree” and wants one of the stacked and bound trees not on display.

38. Watch 3.5-year-old try to spear herself with a wrought iron tree stand.

to be continued


Wrought iron menorahs

Menorahs range from simple to quirky

By Carly Cline

Menorahs aren’t just for Hanukkah; many families display their menorah collections year-round. Whether you’re looking to add to your collection or hoping to pick up a new one for your festivities this year, we’ve rounded up eight of the most unusual, beautiful menorahs we could find.

The only thing that can hold a candle to the stunning craftsmanship of this glass Ring of Lights menorah is, well, a candle. Use beautiful, colorful candles to create a matched set of sorts.

This Bird Family Menorah serves as inspiration to spend quality time with the family – a truly special reason for the season.

If your collection is missing a larger hannukiah, look no further than this striking piece from dh Collection in Fort Worth. The large wrought-iron menorah is perfect for display on a grand table.

This small but divinely detailed piece from Michael Aram features an adorable fruit motif. It comes in two pieces to arrange in whichever way you choose, making it great for tabletops both large and small.

Uncommon Angles carries menorahs in several styles, including this piece, called “Tree of Life.” We love the different colors found in the foliage and the natural tone of the metal.

If a menorah can be simultaneously serious and whimsical, this piece has both qualities down, with its simple chrome exterior and a spinning dreidel in the middle.


Wrought iron lawn decoration stolen

Massive wrought iron lawn ornament stolen from rural yard

By Celeste Tholen Rosen

A beloved lawn ornament in the silhouette of an elk was stolen Wednesday and the owner is offering a reward for its return.

The 8-foot, light-up wrought-iron lawn decoration was stolen from Pam Bigelow’s front yard in the early morning hours of Dec. 5. A favorite Christmas decoration of hers, Bigelow is offering a $100 reward for its safe return. The family believes it was stolen to be sold for scrap.

According to her daughter, Alisha Bigelow, of Monroe, the elk — made by a local artist and won by her mother in a drawing — is a local landmark in the rural town. Her mother’s house is diagonally across the street from the only convenience store in town, making it a prominent display. The area newspaper, the Richfield Reaper, even featured the decoration a few years ago in a roundup of Christmas displays to see.

She’s a little bit depressed right now. She doesn’t even want to turn on the rest of her Christmas lights.

“There’s not a lot to do around here, so you go around looking at Christmas lights, obviously,” Alisha Bigelow said. “…People would drive from all over to come and see it.”

Alisha Bigelow said after she posted a photo of the town-famous decoration on Facebook, the picture quickly circulated, with 50 shares on it in two days.

The Bigelows filed a police report, but say no leads have come of it yet.

“She’s a little bit depressed right now. She doesn’t even want to turn on the rest of her Christmas lights,” Alisha Bigelow said.

Pam Bigelow retired from Sevier County Jail earlier this year in her position as a jail commander, but has recently returned as a cook — the position at which she started her 23-year tenure at the jail.


Open the tall black wrought iron gates on Government House

The governor’s home opens up for the holidays


On Saturday, the tall black wrought-iron gates on Government House will swing open at 1 p.m. to welcome hundreds of Marylanders to the Governor’s Holiday Open House.

The open house is not only an opportunity to shake hands and chat with Gov. Martin O’Malley and his family, but to admire the public rooms of this 142-year-old mansion.

Visitors also will be entertained by youth choirs and string quartets, and nibble one of the more than 8,000 cookies baked for the occasion. Each visitor will receive a commemorative pewter ornament. As for the beautiful, understated décor, the butler did it — with some help.

Each year, Barb Harward-Troska, the Government House butler, and her assistant Christy Sweeney plan, prepare and put up the decorations throughout the public rooms on the main floor.

The effort requires hanging ornaments on the 15-foot Fraser fir in the Entrance Hall and winding dozens of yards of artificial pine garlands through the spindles in the banister of the main staircase.
“We’re staying with a very traditional look, again, this year,” Harward-Troska said. “We used things we had in the house.”

The tree in the Entrance Hall is laden with angels garbed in patterned ribbons strumming instruments, and gilded glass ornaments, sparkling silk blossoms and clusters of golden grapes.

The Empire Room houses the “Peace on Earth” tree. Among the classic glass ornaments and glass icicles are hydrangea blooms harvested from the Government House garden.

The rest of the public rooms are dotted with displays of flowers, mixed evergreens and pine cones, and dangling ropes of magnolia leaves twined with gilt-edged ribbons.

In the kitchen, meanwhile, the cook staff was busy baking homemade cookies. Vickie Fowley, the first lady’s assistant, pulled out a list of the 19 varieties of cookies that will be served during the open house. Besides classics like double chocolate chip and sugar cookies, there will be cookie flavors of coconut pecan, white chocolate macadamia and snickerdoodles with M&Ms.


Black wrought iron staircases for the biggest cruise ship Voyager of the Seas

Life of sheer luxury on the water

The Voyager of the Seas is an awesome spectacle. The biggest cruise ship ever to visit Tauranga dominates the skyline, rising high above the port terminal and surrounding buildings.

As your eyes stretch up its bright white flanks, 15 passenger decks high, past the encased yellow lifeboats, up to the angled funnels 64 metres above, you begin to feel very small.

You get a sense of how insignificant those people on Southampton docks in 1912 must have felt approaching Titanic. Except this ship is nearly 50 metres longer than Titanic and three times as heavy.

The Voyager is one of the 10 biggest ships in the world. If it was stood on its bow it would be taller than the Eiffel Tower.

It is just 8 metres shorter than New York’s Chrysler building. It was the biggest cruise ship in the world when delivered in 1999 and cost US$500 million to build.

Once inside, it becomes obvious why people refer to this as a floating town.

It houses 5020 people and has all the facilities you would expect to find in a small town. There is a medical centre, shopping arcade, basketball court, swimming pools, mini-golf course. It even has its own postcode.

But there are facilities you wouldn’t typically find in a small town: An ice-skating rink, 1200-seat theatre, 14 bars, clubs and lounges, casino, art gallery, climbing wall, inline skating track, and a three-storey restaurant which accommodates 1800 at one sitting.

It is the details which make Voyager an experience.

The three tiers of the restaurant are stylishly interlinked with curling staircases of ornate black wrought iron topped with polished wood. A grand piano sits on the middle tier and gently serenades diners as they eat.

Each area of the ship is designed by a different architect and visually refreshing as a result. For those of a forgetful disposition, there’s even a carpeted floor panel in each lift which is changed daily to tell you what day it is.

Strolling around you find yourself craning your neck at cathedral ceilings high above, marvelling at the scale.

The ship’s dimensions are not the only massive statistics though; there’s the food consumption. There are 105,000 meals prepared each week and within that 28,000kg of eggs, 30,000kg of fresh vegetables, 18,000 slices of pizza and 30,000 litres of ice cream.

The food and drink is endless and, if the guilt kicks in, you can burn off those extra calories in the gym. Its curved serried ranks of steppers, bikes, rowing machines and running machines stare out to sea. And, if you have to be running for 30 minutes getting nowhere, there can’t be many better views.

It is easy to be impressed with the Voyager but taking in the panoramic scenery from the bridge is a reminder of just what a stunning place this is we call home. Here I meet the Voyager’s charismatic Norwegian captain, Charles Teige, who is of the same opinion.

“New Zealand has the most beautiful ports in the world, there is no doubt about that. I grew up in the Norwegian fjords and the landscape is very similar but we don’t have such fantastic weather.”

Garrulous and gregarious with a ready smile, he makes the perfect ship’s captain. He is not averse to a one-liner either.

“We have upgraded the casino because of the Chinese guests and on this leg, with so many Australians joining us, we’ve had to make sure we have enough beverage on board.”

As we chat, our conversation is interlaced with references to “biggest”, “largest”, “first”.

The Voyager was a groundbreaker in the cruise ship industry when launched, redefining the rules.

“Even if it’s one of the biggest cruise ships in the world, it’s easy to find your way around,” says Teige.

I’m not so sure about this though. I think it would take me a while to get acquainted with the labyrinth of corridors. And the number of craning passenger heads we encountered, looking back and forth bemusedly, would seem to bear testament to that point. But if you did get lost it would scarcely matter, with 1200 smiling staff members (from 60 different countries) you’re never far from assistance.

The ship is in the midst of a 14-night cruise, including stops in Sydney, Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Dunedin and Melbourne. Those on board this trip include 1500 Australians and 65 New Zealanders.

The Voyager will remain in Australasia until March, offering a range of cruises. A two-night sampler cruise out of Sydney, Australia, costs $476, while a 14-night New Zealand and South Pacific Cruise is $3143.

Her affable Scandinavian skipper has been in charge of the Voyager for 10 years.

“Of course, everybody thinks it’s easy to be a captain,” he smiles, “but it’s 5020 people and a US$650 million ship, so it’s a big responsibility. You’re just like the mayor of a small city.”

The most difficult part of his job is not, as you might expect, manoeuvring such a vast ship into difficult harbours. It is, he says, all the small organisational matters that need to be undertaken when coming into a new port; jobs where he is forced to rely on others outside the ship’s staff.

Not that he has had a problem in New Zealand.

“Small details can make for big delays,” he says.

“I have to say though, both in Australia and New Zealand, you deliver what you promise. You go to other places in the world, like Italy, it’s not always the case. But from the morning everything here has been excellent, tug boat, gangways, everything.”

If Teige is not the world’s happiest man in his job, he does a very good impression of it. He is energetic, enthusiastic and his stream of chatter is not interrupted by too many breaths.

“Every morning I come to my job I see the sun coming up and see these wonderful views.” he says, casting a blue-blazered arm out towards Mauao.

“I don’t have to sit in a car battling traffic for hours and I get to navigate these beautiful waters,” he says.

“Of course, sometimes I have to work shoreside on projects. Every time I do, I’m longing to get back to my ship.”


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