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Yesterday afternoon, for the first time ever in my life, I went to a tree farm and cut down my own Christmas tree.

I had no idea what I was doing. All I wanted was a fresh tree that would have the most fragrant smell that would last a long time. Off I wandered through this field of trees of all different sizes with a layer of crunchy snow on the grass, one of the farm’s saws in my hand, and I saw one tree after another that I liked but none of them said to me “I’m the one, take me!” I couldn’t even tell the Doug Fir (the least expensive) from Noble, Fraser, and Grand Fir, or even the Turkish Fir – the most expensive, and what’s a “Turkish” Fir, anyway?

The air was cold and the sky overcast out there North Bend, in fact it even snowed a little. I was glad I’d dressed warmly. I wandered through the tree field from one tree to another, looking for the ones that were 3 feet tall at most. This one had a nice shape, that one was pretty, this other one was well filled out, the one over there wasn’t too wide at the bottom, and I was feeling less and less warmly dressed.

Finally I settled on a tree. I sawed through the trunk, carried it back to my car, paid, and drove home.

Yesterday evening I decorated this freshly cut little tree. I have some of the same strings of lights we had when I was growing up that yes still work, and these snowflakes that my Grandma crocheted out of white string and starched and stretched into lacy six-pointed shapes. And some really old tinsel garlands. There are also some little bitty red ornaments which you probably can’t see in the photo.

The first Christmas tree Kyle and I had was in 2002. About a week before Christmas, I said we should go to a nearby tree lot and get a Christmas tree, because that’s what you have at Christmas, right? But Kyle said he didn’t want us to get a real tree. All you do with a real tree, he said, is throw it out after Christmas. That’s a waste, he said. Seattle didn’t have residential composting back then, but they did chip Christmas trees for mulch. So it wasn’t a complete waste.

I wanted to have a real tree, so I went out and got one. It was pretty. And in early January I took it down to the garage for the city to pick up for chipping. What I really wanted to do was what my dad loved to do: keep the tree until it was brittle dry, then along about March take it down to Alki Beach one evening after dark and enjoy the bright quick flame of a really dry evergreen tree. But at some point, fires on the beach were banned, and by the time they made fire pits and allowed fires again, we didn’t burn the Christmas tree anymore.

The year after I bought that real tree, I tried a compromise between what Kyle wanted and I wanted, by buying a live tree, a little bitty pine tree in a pot. I really wanted a real tree, but Kyle and I hadn’t been married very long, and I was still trying hard to please him. I thought a tree in a pot could live on the balcony the rest of the year, and we’d have a real tree at Christmas but we wouldn’t be throwing out a tree every year.

Unfortunately, by the end January the little tree looked sickly and by the end of February it died. Later on I found out that I’d kept it indoors too long, and it got too hot to survive.

The year after that, Kyle went out and bought an artificial tree, this small white metal thing with ice-blue lights on it. I think it’s weird, but he likes it.

But this year I said nope, I’m getting a real real tree. And there it is! My first ever Christmas tree that I cut down myself at a tree farm. It isn’t filling the house with that fragrant evergreen-tree smell yet. Kyle says that freshness isn’t what matters but overall surface area of needles. Maybe I’ll heat some needles in hot water and see if that releases some fragrance. I’ll give it time.

Next year I’ll make Kyle come to the tree farm with me. I’ll load some photos of my phone of the different kinds of trees so we can tell what we’re getting. We’ll walk around and look at trees and have some of the hot cider the tree farm has, and pick a really nice tree and bring it home and decorate it together.

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Christmas Dinner Lessons from my Mother-in-Law

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