Our First Christmas! (or, An Attempt to Bring Things Up to Speed: Part 1)

For someone who loves to write and has had lots to write about, I’ve been terrible at it! I could pitch you a series of convincing, half-true excuses why I haven’t been able to keep up with this blog, but I’ll save you that and cut to the first installment of my massive catching-up update: my first Christmas spent with Kaitlin (and family!)

As is the case every major holiday, the struggle to sort out how to visit both of our extended families began about a month before Christmas. This year proved to be less simple than years past, because while we both wanted to visit our families, we also kinda wanted to have Christmas time to ourselves, with it being our first. Most of the ideas to solve this dilemma involved too much stress (and gasoline) than our minds and bodies would be able to handle (driving from Rome to Marietta on the Eve of Christmas Eve… going to the Christmas Eve celebration at my grandmothers house in Woodstock the next day… then driving back to Rome that night to spend Christmas morning together alone the following morning… only to try to make it all the way to Macon by lunch time!). Not to mention Christmas fell on a Sunday that year, which brought church attendance into the equation!

It was somewhere during that whole deal when one of us (I want to say it was me, but I cannot be sure =P) thought of the brilliant idea of spending the weekend before Christmas in a cabin in Tennessee, celebrating Christmas together there instead of Christmas morning. I have to admit, being too much of a sentimentalist made this hard, but after I let go of religiously and emotionally HAVING to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day, it became the funnest Christmas idea ever!

This was our view from our cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains! I find that I’m more of a mountain person than a beach person. There is nothing like enjoying a view like this, and experiencing God’s beautiful design in creation. The Great Smokies are a personal favorite of mine, having visited multiple times during my youth (not to mention my honeymoon!). Kaitlin always gets a kick out of me never leaving out the “Great” in Great Smoky Mountains. It turned out to be a fairly cheap and endlessly fun Gatlinburg getaway Christmas, mostly spent at Dollywood (with rain checks from the time we went during our Honeymoon and it closed because of a storm), eating, and shopping.
Although ridiculously overpriced, Dollywood is such a fun place to go, and doesn’t get old (or at least hasn’t gotten old yet). Being the holiday season, they had the whole place lit up, like this:

I don’t remember what the name of that chapel is. It’s on the picture, but pretty fuzzy. It amazed me how many people put honest, personal prayer requests in the guestbook. It really had the feel of a church rather than a part of a theme park. Kaitlin and I did a little bible study hear and then continued a long the park. Can you imagine having to put Christmas lights on buildings like that? The chapel was pretty tame compared to the countless lights put up on all the buildings in the entire park. Over 6 million lights in all! At least, that’s what they told us when we were on the train:

Kaitlin snapped this jewel. Pretty cool, actually! This train really put the one at Six Flags to shame. We soon found out (thanks to the guide) that this train doesn’t stop for NOTHIN’; if you pulled the emergency line, you better have a good reason (dropping your cell phone/camera/iPad is not considered an emergency (nor is getting a cinder in your eye (I guess they get that a lot))). Aside from the lights and the train (and the rides, which I sadly have no pictures of), the blacksmith is always a winner:

If I remember correctly, it’s Kaitlin’s favorite part of the park. We spent at least half an hour watching the blacksmith work his magic with the fire (and knocked out some people on our Christmas gift list too!).

And what would Christmas (or anything in life) be without great food? If you ever go to the Great Smoky Mountains/Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, there are three restaurants that you absolutely have to go to:

Shrimp Lover's Feast, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.,
The Old Mill Restaurant
The Old Mill Restaurant,
Hungry Bear Breakfast @ Smoky Mountain Pancake House
…and the Smoky Mountain Pancake House.
     If you happen to have ever driven all the way to this part of Tennessee and did not come across these fine eating establishments, you seriously missed out to say the least. Arrive hungry and order what you want, because it is going to be one of the best dining experience your mouth has ever encountered, hands down. If you go to Bubba Gump, freshen up your Forrest Gump trivia, because you will be tested! Also, go ahead and order the hush pups. Just do it. At the Old Mill, just about anything on the menu will be great, but make sure you order extra corn fritters. They are the best in the world! Seriously. What you see in the last picture is the Hungry Bear Breakfast! I recommend it.

When we got back home, we still had a day to rest and prepare for all the traveling. We celebrated Christmas with my family at my grandmother’s (Nanny!) Christmas Eve party, and headed to Kaitlin’s house to celebrate with her family on Christmas Day. All in all, it was such a peaceful and fun alternative to running around across the state that week. Who really wants to get stressed out during Christmas? It’s hard to avoid it, but should we really celebrate the birth of our Savior by stressing out, running around like chickens with our heads cut off, buying people things they don’t need just because it’s what we’re supposed to do, etc. I’m not trying to be a Grinch at all here; Christmas is actually one of my favorite times of the year, and I don’t have anything against buying Christmas presents (I bought Kaitlin a new study bible and a barn coat, and she bought me an iPhone (which produced all the pictures in this post!). I just think that anything that can be done to make Christmas more of a joyous celebration and peaceful fellowship with family should be wholly pursued, and we had such a great time pursuing it this year.

Such a great time, that Christmas in the Smokies may become our first family tradition. =] Well just have to see.


Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…

Yesterday, after a fairly successful (and fun!) yard sale and a surprise visit from some pretty awesome friends, Kaitlin and I made our way to the Silver Creek Christmas Tree Farm to pick out our very first Christmas Tree. Upon arriving, we were quickly greeted by the friendly staff, given a saw and a measuring stick, and headed out towards the countless rows of leyland cypress and white pines.

We quickly found this not to be an easy endeavor.

For about half an hour we searched, frequently running into nearly-perfect trees, only to find bald spots when we circled them. Some would be great from one angle, but just not that great from everywhere else. From far away, many looked promising, only to disappoint us when we finally reached them. In hindsight, we were probably very unfairly critical and judgmental towards these trees. When we finally realized that we were not going to find an 8 feet tall tree that was unfailingly symmetrical and branch-y from top to bottom, one called out to us, and we knew it was just right.

I took the provided hand saw and started cutting. This became quite tiring in no time at all, especially having gotten up at the break of dawn to start our yard sale earlier that morning, and having to use a saw that was dull from hundreds of uses. In about a minute or two, it finally hit the ground and we started dragging it back. We didn’t get far at all before one of the staff came rolling along in a tractor pulling a trailer that he offered to pull the tree in. I snapped a photo of Kaitlin, and then he snapped one of the both of us, which was nice!

Note how beautiful she is!
A little blurry, but it was a phone camera.

They drove it up, wrapped it, and tied it to the top of the Nissan Altima while we ran into John Moore (the college minister of West Rome Baptist Church) and got to have a brief chat about Christmas trees and exchange belated congratulations (he recently had some additions to his family, and we got married (in case you didn’t know)).

On the way back a whole-in-the-wall BBQ restaurant caught our eyes. Those are the best kinds, so it was very exciting. Upon closer inspection, however, we found that they were closing, which was extremely unfortunate. We went to Shane’s instead. There, we ran into two other friends, who just so happened to be UGA fans and were headed to continue watching the game. We put our college football loyalty differences aside and enjoyed a little fellowship before they left.

Anyway, back to the tree. We soon discovered that there is more to putting up a tree than just cutting it down and bringing it home. It has to fit into the stand. That was not happening. Some of the bottom branches had to go. Out of desperation, I tried some pretty stupid things like a box cutter and a steak knife. The branch of the pine yielded to neither. Meanwhile, Kaitlin is trying to hold up the tree and balance it on the little part of the stand that the tree can sit on, with a few close calls when it leaned a little too far for comfort. This wasn’t going to work. We needed a new plan.

I carried the tree outside so it wouldn’t cause any more mess in the house, and drove to Wal-mart to get a heavy-duty clipper. After rushing back home, I hopped out of the car and quickly started to clip those stubborn branches off. Finally, we got it into the stand and tightened the screws. My cutting job was not very   straight, and the tree itself was not perfectly straight. This made it a little harder to work with, but we finally got it to stand without leaning and though the bottom looked a little naked after the trim, we were very proud of ourselves.

Our tree! I added our Nativity scene today. It’s from Willow Tree and it’s so awesome!

There is just something about having the tree up that makes Christmas feel so much more closer. I’m so excited about our very first Christmas! Just looking at the tree awakens that excitement and makes me so thankful to God that He has blessed me with such an incredible life, wife, and home, and that He loves us so much that He left His throne and became the Son of Man that I (and you and you and you and even YOU) may be saved by the grace shown through His death and Resurrection. It has become so cleche, but in the mess of it all, let us not ever for a moment this year forget that we are not gathering in the name of capitalism or materialism, but in the name of Jesus, Son of the Living God.

Merry 21 days before Christmas, everyone!

– Zack