28 November 2006

Thanksgiving, pt 3: The Tree

Waiting for a ride to find a tree

So here's an obvious question: where does the owner of a tree farm go to find a Christmas tree? Answer: right out the back door.

Believe it or not, up until shortly before Thanksgiving we weren't even sure if we would get a tree. We generally spend most of the holidays visiting family, so its hard to justify cutting down a tree. On the years when we did get a tree, we usually didn't get much further than putting up lights.

But this year, it's hard to justify NOT having a tree. After all, we have our own house (for the first Christmas ever!); the house has a Great Room with a 20' vaulted ceiling; and we own a former Christmas tree farm. How could we not?

We're trying to make Thanksgiving at our place a new family tradition, so we thought cutting down our Christmas tree would be a fun part of that tradition. So while all of our company was still here, we head out to find our tree.

We did have a criterion that most people probably don't have, though: it had to be a tree that needed to be thinned. Our stands are currently overstocked, and over the next several years we plan to thin out some percentage of the trees to allow the ones that remain to grow faster and stronger. So if we're going to cut down a tree, why not find one that meets two different at once?

Searching for the right tree,
using the pole to gauge the
proper height

Who's that happy girl
with the saw?

Pruning off the lower branches
before cutting

Cutting down the tree

...and carrying it to the truck

The cutting crew

We had plenty of vertical space for our tree, but the limiting factor was going to be the girth. Since there are no double-doors or removable windows into our house, we would have to squeeze any tree through a standard-width door. Luckily for us, overstocked trees generally are a bit skinny. The trunk of any tree we chose would also have to fit into the standard-size Christmas tree stand. But hey, we have thousands of trees to choose from!

On Saturday night before dark, we head out with a crew to find a suitable tree. Since the majority of our trees 15-20 years old, we would be looking for one of the SMALLER trees. It didn't take long to find several good candidates, and we eventually settled on a Grand Fir that met all of the requirements. At a height of 196" (16' 4"), the tree would be a good fit for the Great Room.

Since we were losing the light, we waited until the following day before cutting and hauling the tree back into the house. We laid a tarp on the ground and felled the tree directly into it; grand fir is a soft wood, so the cutting itself didn't take more than about a minute, at most. We wrapped the tree up as tight as we could before loading it onto the truck, to get it as narrow as possible so that it would be easier to get into the house.

Once back at the house, we squared off the base, attached the stand, and managed to squeeze it into the house. An hour or so later, we had the tree standing on its base in the Great Room, supported by two guide wires attached to the window frame. A few hours after that, the tree was back on the ground so that we could put lights on the top. (Next year we'll know!) After another hour, the tree was back up and looking great!

Backing the truck out

This was our tree's
20th year

Bringing it into the house.
It's a tight fit!

The tree, upright.
All 16'4" worth!

We only had three strands of lights for the tree, so we had to call it a day. It would be another few days before we could finish the lights and move on to the ornaments, so that will have to wait for another post.

- Mike (& Corinne)

26 November 2006

Thanksgiving, pt 2: The Food

Food. I'll readily admit that I'm a foodie, so it should be no surprise that the Thanksgiving food gets its own post.

Corinne's from scratch
whole wheat rolls.

Thanksgiving is the only holiday I can think of that has such strong associations with food. Would the average American even consider having Thanksgiving without a turkey? And then there are the regional or family traditional dishes: in my own family, creamed pearl onions, turnips and sweet potato marshmallow casserole were "must haves" for Thanksgiving. For the group we were hosting, the unusual tradition item would have to be the oyster casserole. And then of course there's the ongoing debate between Corinne and I over sweet versus savory dressings. (I prefer the former, while she opts for the more conventional latter.) In previous years we have done both versions, even going as far as stuffing both of them into the turkey, each in their own cheesecloth bags so that they didn't mix. This was, of course, before our enlightenment by AB that stuffing is evil. We avoided the issue this year by making a sweeter dressing for the pre-Thanksgiving meal we made with friends the weekend before.

But I digress. We had 10 for the main meal, which is a manageable number. The tricky part, though, is figuring out where to cook everything. We had 4 dishes that required the oven: dressing, oyster casserole, broccoli casserole, and whole wheat dinner rolls. Oh, and let's not forget the turkey - brined, of course. We opted to cook the turkey in an electric roaster that Joie brought from Seattle. It tasted great, but the skin didn't brown as well as it would have in the oven; we think the steam couldn't escape as readily as it does when in the oven. The rest of the items we just sequenced and doubled-up in the oven until everything was ready.

We had lots of leftovers to feed us for the rest of the weekend, which is never a bad thing - particularly when those leftovers involve pie for breakfast.

Oyster casserole

Mashed potatoes

Broccoli casserole


The desserts were all made ahead of time, and they were numerous and delicious: Pumpkin pie (x2), Apple pie w/candied ginger, Mincemeat pie, and Sweet Potato cheesecake. (Not pictured: Apple+Cranberry pie, plus several gallons of decaf coffee.)

There's no question that hosting Thanksgiving is a lot of work; many things just can't be made ahead of time. But everything turned out great, and we had a great time. We hope to make this a new Thanksgiving tradition!

- Mike (& Corinne)

25 November 2006

Thanksgiving, pt 1: The People

Ah, Thanksgiving. We hosted Thanksgiving this year, and it was such an event for us that I'm going to have to break it up into multiple posts to even attempt to present it here. So we'll start with the people.

The first crew began arriving on Wednesday afternoon, and the last vestiges are yet to leave (Loren returns to Tulsa on Wednesday). We had a maximum of 10 people lodged at our place at any one time, with the largest meal seating capping out at 13 people. In all, we fed or slept 15 people (and 2 dogs and 1 cat) over the course of 3.5 days. We pulled out the fancy dining room table and chairs passed down from Corinne's great-aunt Boom, and with all three leaves installed we always managed to fit everyone at the same table.

Between two futons, one queen airbed, one double airbed, one twin airbed, and one queen-size bed (ours!), we managed to sleep 10, with plenty of floor-space left. Boy, was our Great Room was worth its weight in gold. There were lots of different areas to settle in, and the high ceilings really helped it to feel open, even with a dozen people in it. Our piano, freshly tuned, got some use as well. And there was always a warming fire burning in the wood stove.

As for activities, we did whatever struck our fancy. We took several walks around the property; we slept in; Taryn had help making curtains for her new place; and we even got our ears & brows groomed. And Pete couldn't resist cleaning the cobwebs from the cathedral ceiling by hurling a wet washcloth into the air. He only got it stuck on the ceiling fan twice, but it was actually pretty effective.

Oh, and one last exciting activity: we cut our very own Christmas tree from our own stands! But that is another post...

Despite all of the work that hosting brings with it, we had a blast with everyone! Lots of great food (which will have its own post), games, friends, family, snow, trees. The holidays as they should be!

- Mike (& Corinne)

18 November 2006

A Visit from Marnie, Jed, Tara, Jason and Leonids

Boy, some people just won't stay away.

Back in June our friends Tara, Jason, Marnie, Jed (and baby Zoe) came to visit. Apparently our place isn't a half-bad vacation spot, since they were back this past weekend! This time, the excuse they came up with... uh, I mean the reason they came was to watch the Leonid meteor shower; Jason even brought his AstroScan portable telescope to view the stars.

Of course, the weather around here is a little different in November than it is in June; we warned them in advance that we might not see a clear sky during their entire visit. Thankfully, the very first night they were here was perfectly clear, and all 6 of us (minus the baby) laid out in the yard on a tarp, with several sleeping bags to keep us mildly not freezing. We only lasted about an hour before heading back inside, but we did manage to see some spectacular meteors blaze across the sky. Oh, and the Orion Nebula through the telescope. And it's a good thing we took advantage of that first night: every other night was cloudy and/or rainy.

Since this was the weekend just prior to Thanksgiving, we decided to prepare a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey, dressing, cranberry chutney. Why not?

During the less rainy periods when we weren't eating, we enjoyed walking around the property, down to the river, through the trees, etc. We even managed to find a deer skeleton which had been picked clean in amongst the trees.

All kidding aside, at the end of their visit we were all trying to determine when the next visit would be!

- Mike (& Corinne)

07 November 2006


As you may have heard, the Northwest has had a bit of rain lately... it apparently is caused by something called Pineapple Express, which is a stream of warm air that comes in from the Pacific. (I'd never heard of it, either.)

Anyway, as a result many of the rivers have been overflowing their banks, carving new paths, etc. Since the western border of our property is the White Salmon River, we were curious what all of the rain was doing to our little river.

Thankfully, in our section the White Salmon goes through a fairly sizable gorge and so there was no danger to our place. But the river was unrecognizable. We walked along the river as if it was someplace we'd never been before.

Here are some photos we took in the midst of the flooding, then several days afterwards when the water has started to recede. The photos in the left column were taken during the flooding; the photos in the right were taken 5 days later as the water was receding, but not yet down to "normal" level for this time of year.

During the flooding5 days later

This flooding is remarkably like the flooding which occurred in 1996, when one of the main roads between Trout Lake and the Columbia River was completely washed out; thankfully, that didn't happen this time around.

Unfortunately, both of the roads to the Mt Hood Meadows ski resort WERE destroyed. The mountain usually opens for skiing and snowboarding sometime around Thanksgiving, but this year there won't be any way to get there until at least mid-December. I guess it's a good thing we decided to get a 10x pass to the mountain rather than a season pass. The Mt Hood Meadows blog has tons of photos of the damage and the progress they are making. Let's hope things get cleared up soon!

- Mike (& Corinne)