Category: traditions

Choosing the Right Christmas Tree

Denisa and I have used a fake tree for . . . pretty much our whole marriage? Can I admit that in Maine without getting lumberjacked in the middle of the night? We received a very nice one as a gift back when we were first married, and we’ve been using it ever since. It’s just seemed easier to go down to the basement and haul it out each year. But over the years, it’s gotten older and older. Strings of lights are harder to jury rig back to working order, and last year I never could get one strand to function.

15 years will do that to a thing.

So this year, we decided to go with a live tree. (Well, a “recently deceased” tree, at least.) And yesterday was the big day. We went out with some friends who showed us the ropes of selecting a live tree and cutting it down with a saw. Which doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult, but was still very nice to have some help in the process.

Of course, presented with about 1,000 more or less identical trees, I go into decision-lock mode, unable to make a final selection with anything resembling confidence. (Do the trees have user reviews I could check out, perhaps? Reliability ratings? What do those brown needles in that one spot mean? Is it good or bad to have pinecone residue? Maybe there’s a website on this that I could check . . .)

Really, if it weren’t for the fact that our friends were there (tree long since selected), staring in wonder that two grown adults could have so much trouble picking one single tree that would only wither and die over the course of a month anyway, I think I’d still be out there, wandering among the tree rows, trying to remember which of them all were my top 5 choices, and wondering where my children had scurried off to.

But peer pressure saved the day, and the selection was made at last. We had the tree shaker thingy shake all the tree bits off it, bagged it in that plastic stuff, and tied it to the roof of our car. Then came the exciting drive home (did we tie it down enough? Would that twine hold? If I braked fast enough, could I weaponize the tree?)

We usually put the tree in our living room, but it had all of MC’s toys in its spot, so I hauled all those toys and dumped them in my room in one big pile. (It was that sort of day.) And now the tree’s up and happily standing in our house. Better yet, I didn’t have to get the old tree out from the basement, which is usually a real pain in the back. So that’s nice.

It certainly smells better too.

All in all, a fun adventure for the day. I think we might do it again next year.

A Slovak Easter: Wine, Whips, and Water

(Well, technically it’s not really “wine,” just general alcohol, but I’m an obsessive alliterator, what can I say?)

Yesterday, as most of you know, was Easter. And while Denisa and I have done a pretty good job teaching our kids about the ways various holidays are celebrated in Slovakia, there was one we hadn’t really informed them about. Until dinner last night. We were all sitting around the table, chowing down on some ham and potatoes, and I asked the kids if they knew how Slovaks celebrated Easter. Both confirmed that they had no clue whatsoever.

Denisa, meanwhile, was less than amused that I’d brought this subject up. Not angry. More of an exasperated look.

TRC and DC wanted to know what was up.

Basically, it goes like this. The morning of Easter Monday (that’s today, in case you were wondering), the men (and boys) will go around to houses of the women (and girls) they know and knock on their door. When the girls answer, the boys use a switch (like the one I put for the picture for this post) to whip or spank the girls.

TRC thought we were making this up. He didn’t believe it could be possible. DC was skeptical as well.

But it keeps going.

After the girls have been whipped/spanked, they need to be cleaned. That means they’re either splashed with water (from a cup . . . or a bucket), thrown in the shower or bathtub, or tossed in a convenient stream.

TRC was wondering why we hadn’t been doing this all along. DC still thought we were pulling their legs. Too close to April Fool’s, I suppose.

But it keeps going.

After the girls have been whipped and doused in water (to keep them healthy and beautiful for the coming year, according to tradition), they give the boys eggs, candy, money, or alcohol (depending on how old they are).

“Wait,” TRC said. “They give the boys money?”

Denisa nodded. DC was aghast.

“The boys get paid to do this?” TRC asked. He’s always been a true blue capitalist. Anything for an easy buck.

Denisa nodded again.

“I don’t want to go to Slovakia at Easter,” DC said right away.

“Can we do it tomorrow?” TRC asked.

The answer? Nope. Nope nope nope. Actually, until yesterday, I was always under the impression that this was a tradition that happened in tiny villages, but not in cities. Denisa informed me that I was wrong, and she’d done this every year growing up. (And was in no hurry to keep that particular tradition alive, thank you very much.) Although it sounds like these days, the emphasis is growing more and more on the “drinking alcohol” part of the tradition. Most women wouldn’t dream of going outdoors after noon today. The men just get too plastered. Or so I’ve been told.

But now my kids know. And it’s important to keep the ties to their heritage strong, right? Right! Something tells me that if I started this tradition back up again, it might not prove to be the smartest tactical decision I’ve ever made . . .

And in case any of you (still) think I’m making this up, please consult this article.

Getting Ready for Ski Season

[Cool people can name the movie this picture is from. Are you cool?]

Some people have yearly family traditions. Putting up decorations for holidays. Special foods they eat at a specific time of year. Ways they celebrate birthdays. But last night it occurred to me that there are other traditions that might not get as much attention, but which are just as valid and important. Getting school supplies for the new school year, for example. Not exactly a holiday, but certainly important if you have kids, and the longer you do it (and the more kids you have), the more like a tradition it becomes.

Last night’s tradition in Bryce-ville? Getting out the ski equipment and figuring out what new stuff we need for this year. Denisa’s been teaching each of our kids to ski once they’re two years old or so. (MC isn’t to that point yet, since she’s just 19 months old.) Normally, buying all the equipment would cost a small fortune, but our local ski club holds an annual ski swap where people put their equipment up for sale, and you can pick up skis for pretty darn cheap ($10 or so, often). Same for boots.

The ski sale is happening Saturday at the high school, so it was time to figure out where we stood.

There’s a lot of clothing and stuff that goes along with kids learning to ski. In our family, it means 2 pairs of snow pants, 2 pairs of gloves, a helmet, goggles, ski boots, winter boots, winter coat, neck warmer, face mask, skis, poles, fleece pants, winter hat–and I’m sure I’m forgetting some things. When you’ve got all that equipment, and it’s all thrown in together at the end of each year, and you add growing children and some wear and tear to everything . . .

Keeping track of it all can be a small nightmare.

So yesterday evening was filled with finding the right bins from the basement, bringing them up to the light of day, and then trying everything on to see what fits, what needs to be replaced, and what needs to be bought new. The verdict? DC needs skis and poles, TRC needs a second pair of snow pants, Denisa’s finally getting new skis and boots (hers are still from Communist Czechoslovakia, if that dates them at all. Maybe they were bought just after the regime fell . . . ) and DC needs ice skates. (TRC has officially given the sport up.)

I’ll be on baby-watching duty again this year, which is fine. Though it was fun to see how excited the kids were to be reunited with their equipment. We’ve had non-ski-aged kids for so long, it’ll be strange next year to be able to start all going as a family when we go. (And humbling, no doubt. TRC and DC can ski circles around me, and it’ll have been years since I went.) One of the things I like best about this area is that we live in a spot where a family can go skiing together for the season and not have to pay an arm and a leg to do so. No, it’s not the Rockies, but it’s more than enough for what we’re looking for, so yay for that–and yay for the volunteers who  keep Titcomb Mountain running each year.

In any case, the kids and Denisa are getting pretty excited for snow to come and the slopes to open. So all you winter-haters can go some place sunny and stop bringing the no-snow-mojo to Maine. Bring it, winter!

And in case you need a hint on the movie picture:

Family History is Fun

I work in a library, so I’m well aware of just how many people out there love rooting around in old microfilm and records to find out what their family members were up to in years gone by. And while I’ve dabbled in the practice now and then, it’s never really grabbed hold of me. Part of this is because I come from a long, long line of Mormon stock on both sides of my family, which means that if there’s family history work to need doing, then it’s all the low hanging fruit has long since been picked, eaten, and then gone over a few more times to make sure there was nothing interesting left.  Mormons take their genealogy very seriously.

But the Mormon church’s family history website just came out with an all new version, and I wanted to give it a whirl. (This is the new new version, for those of you playing along at home. About five years ago, the website was, and the church made a big push for a new version of the site, Now it’s a new new push, and it’s back to What’s old is new again.)

All you need to know is to go to this link. It’s awesome.

Why is it awesome? Well, first a disclaimer. I have no idea if it will be awesome for you. Since I’ve already had other family members do all the research for me, it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done–I just clicked over, and my whole family tree was filled in for me. If you haven’t had people working on your genealogy, then it might be a bit slower for you. But who knows–maybe you’ve got some Mormons or family history nuts related to you, and you’ll tap into some great research.

But what sets this new site apart from the old sites I’d tried before is the family tree fan chart view. The site quickly and efficiently displays you, your kids, your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents–all at one time. Better yet, it’s all really easy to navigate. Want to find out the same information about your great-great grandfather? Click his name, then click “family tree.” Bam! As long as the work has been done, you’ve got him, his children, his parents, his grandparents, his great grandparents, and his great-great grandparents.

It’s really easy to click click click your way back through history. Really really easy. Using the site, I tried to see how far back in time I could go. The answer? I made it all the way to my 54 times great grandfather Titurel, who was born in 270 AD. That’s pretty far. (It helped that I picked a line that hit pay dirt: Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island). His five times great grandmother was Joan Tudor, of THE Tudor family. Her great grandfather was Charles VI (nickname? “The Mad.”), King of France. Once you’ve got royalty, you’ve got people who were really serious about their family lines.)

But let’s be honest. Knowing that your whatever-great grandfather was a King of France is cool and all, but it’s not exactly real. It doesn’t connect with me on a tangible level. I wanted to know more about people I could actually visualize how I was related to. So I started looking at my great-great grandparents. And the site doesn’t disappoint on this level, either. It lets researchers (including you yourself) enter information for people–pictures, interesting stories, etc. And you can easily access those stories if they’re there. By clicking through links and looking for stories that are already entered, I’ve found out tons about my ancestors. Not just their names, but who they were and what they did. I’ve read about blacksmiths and farmers and pioneers and polygamists. Read their journal entries about being attacked by mobs or settling the wilderness or fearing Indian raids. And these aren’t just people in a movie or characters in a book–they’re my great great grandparents. They’re people I can actually connect with. And that makes a huge difference for me somehow.

To have pictures of them available to me? Even better. I’ve spent hours on this site since I discovered it, and there always seems to be more to find each time I go back. Will it be the same for you? I can’t make any promises, but I will say that this seems like an example of the best sort of thing the hive mind can accomplish–everyone enters the information they know and find, and everyone benefits.

So give it a whirl. I’d be interested to see what you find.

A “Quick” Report on Disney

Astute readers might have noticed a lack of freshness in the last week and a half worth of posts. Probably because I wrote them all last Sunday in a binge of blog writing efficiency. I’ve been at Disney World since Tuesday–just got back last night. The trip was a bunch of fun and very relaxing (in a hectic way), but I made a conscious decision before I left that it really would be a vacation–no writing, no blogging, no emails (for the most part), very little social media. I didn’t spend all that money on a Disney vacation so I could go down and do everything I normally do every day.

I was successful in my goal, but I’m also very behind on a whole slew of projects now. So forgive me if I’m a bit scattered the next while. (And did I mention it’s Halloween–today!?!)

However, I wanted to take a bit of time and report on how the Disney vacation went, in case anyone out there’s planning something similar in the not too distant future. (I wrote all about the planning process back when that happened, too.) Three kids–9, 5, and 6 months–and two parents, six days of parks, one rest day, two days of travel . . . Any which way you sliced it, it was going to be an adventure. Here’s the rundown:

The Resort

We stayed at the Pop Century resort. This was my first time staying on-site at Disney, and it was a different experience than I’d pictured. First up, somehow I’d always imagined the resorts being like hotels. The rooms are like hotels, yes–but the resorts themselves are BIG. Lots of walking involved. Going down to “the lobby” meant a ten minute walk. There were three pools across the property, but I just hadn’t taken into account how spread out everything would be. That’s not a bad thing–just something that I wasn’t expecting. The resort itself was very nice, despite being on the low end of the budget scale. The rooms were cleaned everyday like clockwork, the staff were all super nice, and there were tons of things to do. Pools, arcades, outdoor movies, playgrounds, parties–it really felt like there was something you could do whenever you wanted to do it. The room itself was snug (especially when you added a crib), but you’re not there to lounge in the room. You’re there to go out and have fun. So I found it more than adequate. I’d definitely consider staying there again.

The Transportation

We didn’t get a car. Disney picked us up from the airport, and we took Disney buses everywhere. It was smooth as silk, really. We never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus. They got crowded at times, but it was definitely worth not paying for a rental car. Denisa was always offered a seat, since she had MC in her arms at all times. People were kind and understanding. The downside was that we were locked into Disney. No going for groceries. No Harry Potter Land at Universal. But again, it was easy and cheap–and that won out with out budget.

The Food

We were on the Disney Dining Plan, which we got for free. I’d read up about it ahead of time, but it didn’t prepare me for the chaos that was the food court of a Disney resort. We got there the first night and were just overwhelmed with choices. It took finding a manager and having a 5 minute chat to figure out what in the world we were supposed to do. That said, once we had it down, it was very easy. I think the biggest part of the problem is probably that Denisa and I are used to clearly defined rules. The Dining Plan seems a lot looser than that. What can count as a snack or a dessert or a drink–it’s all very freewheeling, and it took a while to understand that and just go with the flow.

But the food itself was good, with a few complaints. First up: breakfast. There just was no option that I liked for breakfast. Whenever we got that meal, I felt like I was using my dining plan poorly. In the future, I think I’ll bring some bagels or cereal or granola to munch on until I eat an early lunch and a late dinner. There’s only so many times I can do pancakes/waffles/eggs/sausage. I’m not a breakfast guy. Second was the kid options. The adult meals had tons of variety. The kids had the same choices, time after time. Grapes. Carrots. Apples. Cookie. Sandwich. Snoozeville. DC was not impressed, and stopped eating. (A daughter after her mother’s heart.) Mix it up a bit, Disney!

That said, I clearly enjoyed the food. I gained 7 pounds. (Sigh) And now I know more about how it works, so next time will be even better. 🙂 I’d say the Dining Plan was definitely worth it–mainly because it was free. It avoided tons of hassle, let us explore new restaurants, and made life much much easier. I’ll try to get it next time, too. (Ideally for free, though.) I’d say the food we consumed would likely have cost $1000 out of pocket if we’d paid for everything, but I want to look at that number a bit more carefully to see how accurate it is.

The Parks

Great, as always. We had perfect weather. Low 80s each day. Just hot enough to make you want to go on a few water rides to cool off. We brought ponchos, but we never saw a drip of rain. (A slight misting one day for about 15 minutes, but who’s counting?) The crowds were heavy in EPCOT and Magic Kingdom, but sparse at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. October really seems like it’s a perfect time to come. The Food & Wine festival at EPCOT was tons of fun–got to eats lots of different food from across the globe. I also took the kids over to DisneyQuest on our down day, and they loved that. All the arcade games you can play. (It helped that the entry fee was included in our package.) Really, the kids seemed to be in nirvana the whole time.

New Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom was nice, but still very incomplete. The main ride (a Snow White coaster) occupies the middle of the whole thing, and it’s very much under construction, so it was hard for it to feel cohesive.

The Magic Bands were super. Little rubber bracelets you wear–they had your whole ticket attached to them. They were our room key, credit card, park tickets, meal vouchers–everything. And PIN codes are attached, so it’s not like someone could just swipe mine and use it to charge up a storm. I didn’t think they’d be that useful, but they were. Big thumbs up here.

I used RideMax again, and I’m glad I did–even with the smaller crowds. The longest line I waited on was about 10 minutes. It takes a bit of knowhow and some finesse, but it really streamlines the Disney experience. We went on all the rides we wanted to, most of them multiple times.

Would I Do It Again?

You bet. I love me some Disney World. It’s the vacation I went on the most as a kid, and I love being able to do it with my own children. It’s expensive, yes–so it’s nothing I’ll be doing for the next few years–but I love how each time we go with the kids, it’s a different experience. DC went on all the rides, as did TRC. (Well, DC didn’t go on Dinosaur–TRC had warned her of that one. But they both came with me on Tower of Terror, though I think DC about had a heart attack, and didn’t want to go on it again. The girl’s fearless, though. We went on Space Mountain–her first coaster. When I asked her what she thought after, she said, “I prayed.” Then I asked her if she wanted to go again, and her face lit right up. No hesitation there!) Last time we went, our kids were much smaller, and so what we did and didn’t do changed. Next time, it’ll be different again. I love watching my kids grow through the same rides I grew through, if that makes sense.

(That said, I’m definitely starting to feel older. My back and feet just killed at the end of each day. The things I’ll put up with to make sure my kids have a great time . . . )

Great to have another Disney Vacation in the record books, with a slew of great memories and pictures to look back on later.


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