Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Sparks Family Christmas Tree Adventure

We're may not be the Griswolds, but we're sometimes close...and proud of it! Today was a great day! But to be entirely truthful, it did not happen spontaneously as in years past. I had to start working on everyone a couple of weeks ago. Only Dara and I made this journey last time, so this time I was hoping to get more participation. Dara was a ready volunteer. I talked to Drew who said he would come home a day early for his Thanksgiving break. Two down. Now the tough sells: Duncan and Darla. Duncan actually (surprising to me) said yes when I told her Drew and Dara were going. That leaves Darla. I'm laughing right now as I write this. She's the practical realist. At first she scolded that the trip would cost too much money. Then she said, "I have no desire to drive 5 1/2 hours (round trip) to get a tree. Y'all just go without me." Then as it got closer and the forecast called for snow and cold, she said, "It's not smart to go up there in that weather!!" Finally, last night, after days of protesting, when she saw that I was determined to go (excited, actually) she decided to come too. She was a trooper! I could tell that she had decided in her heart that she was going to have fun today. Everyone else was happy, too, as we loaded up enough stuff for a week's trip, Sparky (our big old Chocolate Lab), Mo (our four-month-old Beagle puppy), and the five of us.

We started late this morning from Knoxville. It was 33 degrees with snow flurries. There was a wet dusting of snow on the ground. As we went east and north on I-40 and I-81, the flurries became heavier. As soon as we got to Damascus, VA, snow started sticking to the road. We passed a sign that said it was 16 degrees! Then as we drove up beside the Virginia Creeper Trail toward Whitetop, it started getting deeper and slicker, and the snow started really coming down. Not so good on the narrow, curvy, hilly roads! I flipped the switch to put the Wagoneer in four wheel drive, and Darla started getting really nervous while I started really having fun (this type of situation has repeated itself often during our relationship--as she reminded me). The kids were oblivious to any danger (I have taught them well) and we just kept going.

Finally, we got to our destination: a Christmas tree farm in Whitetop. We drove up the snow-covered, two-track gravel drive to a little house. I spoke with the old farmer (super-nice guy--he remembered me--it was snowing the last time I came, too!) who asked if I had a saw and told me, "Pick a good 'un!" By now the wind was blowing and it was like a blizzard (as you can see in the pictures)! The next 30 minutes ranks among the most fun of the year for me.

We drove not far up into the Frazier fir trees (there are many acres!), got out for some pictures, and started looking for that elusive, perfect tree. Unlike years past, this time there were many that would have fit the bill. We didn't have to go far. There was a beautiful tree on the edge near the barn that kept calling our names.

After finding "the one" (it didn't take long), I began to cut it down, with help from Drew. One of the downsides to having the dogs with us is that I didn't really have enough room to bring my chainsaw. So I did it the old-fashioned way: hand cut it with my bow saw. This required getting down on the snowy ground (read: soaked)! It wasn't easy. The branches of "the one" started at the ground leaving no room to work the saw.

The girls and the dogs went playing and running around in the snow and taking pictures. Sparky LOVES the snow and cold. Mo...not so much. He did at first, but he quickly retreated to Dara's feet and wanted to be held. He's the most cold-natured dog I've ever had! Darla kept wanting to go somewhere to buy a doggie-sweater for him to wear. She asked a clerk when we stopped for lunch at Cracker Barrel. Darla said the lady laughed like she was crazy. Funny, that's one place I would totally expect to see something like a dog sweater!

After the tree was cut, I drove the Wagoneer up closer and we strapped the tree to the roof.

Awesome. I was freezing--my jeans were soaked from the knees down from where I knelt to cut down the tree and they were now frozen stiff! But the whole thing was a blast.

Ok, I admit it. I am a total romantic about my Jeep Wagoneer. I've had it for almost a year and I haven't been sorry once. Of course, this all could change at any moment when the engine blows or the transmission quits. But as for now, it's still like a little vacation any time I'm behind the wheel. It's total nostalgia and sentimentalism. But you have to admit, this thing is made for days like today. Who cares if I spend $25 more for not driving Darla's Equinox?!

When I finally got back in the Wag, Darla handed me a cup of hot chocolate! She's awesome. We stopped by the farmer's house on the way out and I gave him $25 for the beautiful nine-foot tree.

Then we went to the Whitetop store and got boiled peanuts, Nehi Peach soda, and Red Rock ginger ale.

We stopped by Green Cove and Buchannon Inn to take some pictures and headed back toward home. What an awesome day! We sang carols, talked of Christmases past, and laughed a lot. Darla wasn't even as nervous on the snowy roads (or at least she pretended not to be).

Was the Sparks Christmas Tree Adventure a success? You bet! But it wasn't cheap. We ate out twice, and the Wagoneer's choke got stuck closed which caused it to burn an unreal amount of fuel. I gave it a temporary fix, but it is still thirstier than normal--and that's saying a lot! Yikes, we got about 8 mpg!! Not cool. I'll have to figure that out later. But wow, it was in its element in all that snow!

More than anything, I am aware of God's blessings this day before Thanksgiving. After we got home and unpacked, and got the tree in the stand, I headed to the store for a few things we need to cook the Turkey tomorrow. I was overwhelmed with gratitude to God. Almost to tears. I have a great family. There are not four other people in the world with whom I would rather share a day like today. I love them so much. Thank you Lord.