Thursday, December 27, 2012

Made in America Christmas

We did not set out to have a totally Made in America Christmas, so it's not surprising we did not achieve it 100%, but we did come pretty darn close.
A smattering of Made in USA gifts
The picture above is some of the gifts from under our tree, all Made in America. Some of the items we bought for each other but many were given to us by family and friends.  Some are homemade, some were found at a craft fair, and some were bought at major retailers. Some were chosen because they were locally made and some were bought without any thought given to where they came from. To be honest, I didn't know how much was actually Made in America until I had the idea for this blog post and we started checking. Once we were looking we were totally surprised by the variety of goods there were.  Gift cards to local restaurants and stores, books, CD's and magazines. Soap, hand lotion, nail polish, jewelry and wool socks. Even a Tee shirt and Zumba set all Made in America. That's not counting the way cool Montana Wild Designs sign our friends made for Whitney, and the homemade goodies my sister sent.  Oh, and the baby shoes? No, we're not expecting, Whitney just couldn't resist the handmade in Montana, Honey Bee baby booties when she saw them "for our someday kids".
The point is without trying very hard we had a near completely Made in America Christmas, and in the process proved to ourselves it can be done and it's easier than you'd think. Thanks very much to our friends and family who made or purchased Made in America gifts for us this year and thanks to you all out there if you did for your family. Maybe 100% next year?

Friday, December 21, 2012

All I Want For Christmas

I don’t like to talk about politics. So instead, I’ll just tell you what I want for Christmas.

All I want for Christmas is for people to get along and work together to make our nation and world a better place. I want to see a resolution to the current financial debate in which everybody takes part and pulls their weight. I want to see the American public wake up and stop buying Made in China (Taiwan, Pakistan…) because it’s cheaper. I want to see development of domestic goods so we have good Made in America options. I want to see our country produce what we consume so that we can stop fighting wars over foreign oil interests, and get out of debt to foreign countries. I want it to be easier and cheaper to buy produce from across town than across the globe.

I want an end to political bickering and to see our country’s leaders get along, like you would expect school kids to do. I want to know that despite our ideological or religious differences we can all work together for the common good. I want to see people take responsibility for their actions and quit blaming each other, or the government for their problems. I want to see people admit when they are wrong, and get recognized when they are right.

I want a country where I am free to own the guns of my choice without threat of persecution, but where people who have no business having weapons cannot get them. I want to see people get help when it’s needed so that no person feels forced to violence as a last resort. I want to stop hearing about shootings and stabbings every day. I want to see people set aside their pride and prejudices and recognize when they or a loved one really does need help. I want to see able bodied people working and contributing to society, and meaningful and effective help for the ones that need it.

I want to see honesty and truth prevail. I want to see justice and decency. I want an end to hypocrisy. I want to see cooperation among people, no matter their walk of life. I want people to see that we are in this together. I want us all to be the change we want to see.

Am I asking for too much? Maybe, but its Christmas after all and it never hurt to ask.

Winter in the Thompson River State Forest

Monday, December 17, 2012

Make mine a real tree

When it comes to Christmas trees, for me it's got to be the real thing. It may be because I was raised on a Christmas tree farm, in a family of tree farmers. It may be because I'm a Forester and have devoted my education and career to the growing, maintaining and harvesting of trees. Maybe it's because I've never had anything else. I'm not sure, but I do know that somehow it just wouldn't be right without a real tree in our house at Christmas time.

Searching for the right tree.
It all starts with my favorite part, Christmas tree hunting. For me this is a great day in the woods with Whitney and the dogs, and by now it's a family tradition. With hot cocoa in thermoses, we head out to one spot after another that we've thought would have good prospects, we spot trees, we shake snow from their branches, we compare their qualities and finally sooner or later the perfect tree jumps out at us. Or at least that's what is supposed to happen but like hunting most things, usually that's not exactly the way it goes.
In years past, we've chosen trees by headlights and flashlights because it got dark before we found the right tree. One time several years ago, we wound up having two trees because we picked one for Whit's house in Missoula and one for my place in Plains and then kept them both when we celebrated the holiday together. One year we helped Whitney's parents pick a tree that traveled clear back to Oregon with them. A couple times we've even gotten trees where it wasn't exactly legal (don't tell). And this year our tree was enjoyed by two different Christmas parties before coming home to our house. The point is choosing the right tree is often as much fun as having the tree in the first place, and no two years are exactly alike just as no two trees are exactly alike.

After the tree is chosen, it's time to cut and trim the tree, load and haul the tree and finally get it into the house and set up in the stand. All this even before it gets decorated! I guess from that perspective it's no wonder some people choose imitation trees. But if you're like me, and you're into the tradition of choosing a tree to bring into your home to be decorated and celebrated during the Christmas season, the time involved in the process is all part of the joy of the season. Yes, I really do turn on Christmas music and pour a glass of eggnog while decorating the tree (I'm that kind of dork)!
Our 2012 Christmas Tree
Yes, a tree must die in order to come into the house and become a Christmas tree. But in it's place there will grow a new tree because that is perphaps the tree's best and most important quality. They regenerate! Everyday, year in and year out trees are seeding, sprouting, and growing. That is one trick a fake tree will never be able to do.
So if your reading this and you have a fake tree in your home, then by all means enjoy it. But for the rest of you go out and get a real tree. Support tree farmers or your public lands by purchasing a permit to harvest a tree. And this year, while you're celebrating Christmas, celebrate also our greatest renewable national resource. Our trees.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Long winter nights

This time of year in NW Montana, the night lasts longer than the day. A depressing thought at first when you consider all that darkness: a lot of non Montanans ask me "What do you do in the winter"? I usually don't know how to answer that question because the amazing thing to me is how wonderful winter nights are. Don't get me wrong, the seemingly endless days of summer are absolutely wonderful, but there is something special about winter nights. After the hustle of spring, the break neck pace of summer, and the countless To Do's of fall, the down time of winter is a welcome respite. To me there are few things more comforting after a day out in the cold and weather, than coming home to a fire in the stove, enjoying a hot dinner and relaxing with a book or a movie under a blanket on the couch.
But there is something more to it than simply relaxing by the fire. There is a sense of rightness about hunkering down in the winter. Outside in the hills, the bears are hibernating in their dens, the rodents are snug with their food stores in their holes, and the birds have flown south seeking warmer weather. The mountains are very quiet and still this time of year, blanketed by a protective layer of snow. In the yard, the garden is long done (save for the carrots that continue to grow under a thick layer of mulch). The honey bees are snug in their clusters, eating honey and keeping the queen warm. The hens are roosted close on the perch, fluffing their down and tucking in their feet to keep warm. It seems only natural that as things slow down outside, we ought to slow down too.
Winter is a time to look back, take stock and plan for next year. A time to reflect on what went well and what could have gone better.  It's a time to enjoy the fruits of your labors, breaking out whatever jams and preserves you've put up in the summer and fall, and being thankful for the all the effort you put into cutting and splitting firewood. It's a time for reading and learning from others, sharing stories and catching up on little things put off when the days were too nice to be inside.
Maybe one of the best things about winter is planning all the things you'll do when it's nice out, but knowing you don't have to do any of them right now.