Christmas

Cook Christmas 2018 - Our Wonderfully Sweet Family Christmas Time

Tonight we celebrated our little family Christmas at home, where my parents worked so hard to prepare the most beautiful meal and warm holiday atmosphere for us all. This year felt a little extra special because dad was in the hospital several weeks ago, so we were all additionally grateful to all be together.

Every detail was so beautiful and intentional, from the gorgeous Williamsburg-inspired centerpiece to the lemons that held the cocktail sauce for our shrimp hors d'oeuvre.

Dad read an excerpt from an advent devotional book before our prayer, and we then enjoyed every single bite of the delicious dinner set before us… Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, hericot vert (those skinny deliciously crisp green beans) with almonds and crispy bacon, fresh homemade rosemary bread, and lingonberry jam. My goodness was it delectable…

We drew names for a little gift exchange, and mom and dad filled stockings for us, the ones our Nana made for us when we were babies, and we each enjoyed opening our gifts and spending time together..

Karlie had Tyler, he had Dad, Dad had Karlie… Mom had my name, and I had Jesse, who had Mom. :)

We each got ornaments from mom and dad - Tyler got a vacuum because he loves to so much lol, I got an adorable kitchen aid mixer, Karlie got a cute little cactus, and Jess received a nutcracker!

Thanks to Karlie who grabbed my camera to snag a few shots too! :)

Even Bax had his own stocking… And Dad is always joking with Karlie about General George Pickett being one of her great great great grandfathers so he framed his picture for her, lol!

We’re going to sleep feeling so blessed and thankful for one another! Now for another family gathering tomorrow, friends together at our house on Christmas Eve, and of course on Christmas Day too!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

The Wohltmann Family : Christmas 2018 - Baltimore, Maryland | Holiday Family Portraits

The best compliment a photographer can receive is a welcome back year after year…. You guys know how much joy photographing these kiddos brings to my heart! Harry and Winston have gotten so big and are just so fun to watch, especially now that they’re talking so much more…

Chrissy’s mom Judy popped in for a few pics with her grandsons too! It’s always good to see miss Jude. :)

Winston reaches to hug his brother so often, and it’s so adorable!

Look at their rosy cheeks…

Next, we bundled up to wheel some magnolia branches around the yard and hang out with mom and dad!

Every year since they were born, we get a shot of them standing on Chrissy and Steve’s feet. It’ll be fun to photograph this shot when they’re 16 and so much taller!

Merry Christmas to this beautiful family! And so much love too. xo

Pro Tips for Decorating Your Christmas Tree

My favorite childhood memories most often revolve around Christmastime… My dad loved picking out the perfect tree, bringing it home, caring for it and preparing it to become our magical centerpiece for the holiday weeks to come.

It was the quintessential “hunt for a Christmas tree” situation every year. The four of us would load up into the station wagon and venture to the tree farm, where we’d search for what seemed like hours for the perfect Christmas tree. We’d all walk around choosing trees and marking them in certain ways like with scarves, random mittens, sticks, orange twine, etc. Mom, Jesse, and I would get tired and sit near the entrance waiting for Dad to look at all of the ones we’d narrowed down form our choices until he picked which one he liked best. We’d then head over to the winning tree so Dad could saw it down while Mom held it at the top and Jesse and I pushed it over when it was time for it to fall to it’s holiday fate.

We’d string it to the top of the car, and bring it home to be put in a bucket of water while Dad prepped the corner of the living room with cinder blocks and a wooden board so the tree would stand up from the ground a bit, making more room for gifts between the bottom branches and the floor. The tree would drink from the bucket after dad sawed off the bottom of the trunk, and pass the sappy wooden disc around to us all saying, “smell that?? Mmm..”

It was a whole ordeal, setting the tree up. Sometimes it would be big enough where he’d have to tie it to screws in the wall. His friend Jerry (I believe “Rig” was his last name..) would come by and they’d make it work together. Once the tree was standing perfectly, it was time to decorate!

Dad would turn on Christmas music and string the lights onto every single branch, alternating years of what kind because he preferred white lights and mom loves the colored ones… And then mom would come in to decorate with the beaded garland, intricately looping it evenly spaced all around each layer of branches, until it was good and ready for ornaments. That’s where Jesse and I came in… :)


See, my parents are professional Christmas tree decorators, and I’ve happened to inherit every single trait, striving to make each year’s tree perfect in it’s own way, just as they did. They got married in their early 30’s, so they’d had several years living on their own to have their very own trees in each of their own apartments. So when they got married, they had two trees in their tiny little 800 sq. ft. house. Mom said each tree was like a beautiful piece of candy, adorable and full of magic…

“He’ll ask you to marry him after he sees your tree…”

- My moms’ sister Aunt Nina said to my Mom in the early 1980’s (an sure enough… he did).


When Tyler and I got married, it was non-negotiable that we would always get a real Christmas tree, chop it down, haul it home, set it up, bring all of the boxes of trimmings down, and decorate it while listening to Frank Sinatra and sipping hot chocolate, just as I did growing up all my life. It was a special time when we’d get the tree and I wanted to implement that into our own family…

Live trees present a magic and wonder unlike artificial trees could ever do, in my opinion. The scent, the texture, the look and feel, and the tradition of a real tree is just irreplaceable if you ask me. Sure it’s a bit more work but in the end, it’s worth every once of effort.

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So I wanted to share are a few of the tips I remember learning from my professional Christmas tree decorating parents as I grew up… Take these very seriously, as each tip will greatly influence your experience, and in turn, your holiday as a whole…

TIPS FOR CREATING THE PERFECT “LIVE” CHRISTMAS TREE EXPERIENCE

  1. CHOOSE YOUR TYPE OF TREE - There are many types of Christmas trees, as you well know. My dad always loved a Blue Spruce because of their color and scent, but their needles are like DAGGERS. If you have kids or a pet you don’t want near the tree, get a Blue Spruce because one touch and they’ll never go back. That said, it makes for tough decorating… But they are pretty. I’d say the most popular is a Fraser Fir. The needles are short, soft yet bushy, and typically hold up firmly to ornaments for several weeks. White Pine’s are beautiful but their needles fall and brown very quickly.

  2. ENSURE THE TRUNK IS STRAIGHT - The branches may look perfect but if the trunk is not straight, your tree will look crooked and cattywampus. Stand back and look at the trunk through the branches, and try and choose a tree with a trunk as straight as possible. This way, your tree will look nice from all angles of the room, not just one side. It’ll stand nice and straight.

  3. CHECK FOR NESTS, BUGS, PODS, ETC. - Trees do grow outside for goodness sake, so you can’t be upset with it if it’s go a few critters inside. But try to rid your tree of any questionables you may not want inside your living room. This may sound obvious but we’ve all heard someone tell a story about how they woke up Christmas morning to a room full of something flying, crawling, or buzzing…

  4. CUT 1” OFF OF THE BOTTOM OF THE TRUNK - Especially if your tree is pre-cut, it’s important to cut about an inch off of the bottom of the trunk because the sap hardens and makes it harder it to soak up water. We save our 1” discs from our tree every year! We’ve got 9 so far, one for each year we’ve been married… :)

  5. DRILL HOLES IN THE SIDES AND BOTTOM OF THE TRUNK - If your tree is pre-cut, the hole might already be drilled up the bottom of the trunk for the kind of tree stand with the screw up the middle that most of us have now, but you can also drill small holes in the sides of the trunk, a few inches up from the bottom, to make it easier for water to soak in. You want your tree to be well hydrated, especially if your house has a dry heat source like a wood stove or radiators.

  6. HYDRATE - Be sure to get it in water immediately once you bring it home, whether it’s in a bucket outside or in the stand inside. It’s used to being attached to the ground where it's got a consistent source of hydration and nourishment so you want to make sure to keep it that way as best you can while it’s living in your home.

  7. STRAIGHTEN - Is it straight? Sometimes growing up we’d put an old book or wedge under one of the sides of the tree stand if it was a little “off”. Do whatever you need to do to make it perfect if it isn’t already!

  8. BUY A TREE BAG - This is a tip Tyler and I discovered on our own. Tree bags are life savers when it comes to taking your tree out at the end of the season. They’re so cheap and wonderful! Make sure to get the kind that go around the base of the tree and envelop the tree from the bottom rather than the top, which will catch the dry needles while you’re bagging it up. It’s a life saver! We hard wood floors growing up so it was easier to sweep up the needles, but our house now is carpeted so we definitely make sure to use a bag.

  9. LET THE TREE “FALL” A BIT - You want your tree to settle and get acclimated to it’s new climate before decorating it. Give it a day or two to breathe, for the branches to fall (especially if it’s been wrapped up at a pre-cut stand), and adjust to the temperature of your home.

  10. GIVE THE TREE A TRIM - Seriously, does it need a hair cut? We usually snap a few branches off the bottom and use the greens for a wreath or to decorate the mantle. Tree Stands will often have their pre-cut trees trimmed, but if you get it from a farm, chances are high that you’ll have a few random branches sticking out and, depending on how OCD you are, you may want to tidy it’s look up a bit. I’m a perfectionist for sure, but I have to admit I like a tree with a little whimsy. But typically the bottom will need to be trimmed back to make room for gifts! However, it’s all about your personal preference.

  11. USE A REMOTE TIMER FOR YOUR LIGHTS - Huge game changer! We have a timer so that the tree goes on and off automatically so we aren’t climbing back underneath of the tree to unplug and plug it in every day, but this year we found a timer at Target ($15 or so) with a remote and it is SO FREAKING BOMB I love it!

  12. NEXT COMES THE LIGHTS - We like white lights, and every once in a while will add a string or two in of colored ones, but typically we just go with white. Whatever kind of lights you like, go with it! Start from the bottom back of the tree, inside the tree, working your way towards you, and then back into the center trunk, then back towards you, then back in the center, wrapping each branch once or twice with the wire. This will ensure you have no “black holes”, which are hard to fix once all the lights are on.

  13. GARLAND - Everyone decorates in a different order, but doing garland before ornaments is nice because it gives you room to make changes to the garland placement without disturbing the ornaments. I love felt garland and one I made of old fabric square scraps several years ago. You can even make your own with popcorn, cranberries, colored paper rings, or anything you can think of! Garland helps to add visual interest, and horizontal lines to a liner vertical tree. If your garland doesn’t sit nicely on the branches or is too heavy, Mom says that you can attach the garland to the branches with little ornament hooks!

  14. STAND BACK AND ASSESS - How does it look? Any “black holes” where the lights need to be fixed? Is the garland draped nicely? How does the tree look from all angles around the room?

  15. ORNAMENTS - Now’s the fun part. Turn your favorite Christmas music on, some Egg Nog, Hot Chocolate, or a Hot Toddy, and just enjoy reminiscing with each piece that you pull from the box. Christmas trees are truly time capsules… and decorating them is such a special time.

  16. ADD A TOPPER AND SKIRT - Tyler and I actually don’t have a topper yet! We’ve been through 9 trees together and no topper. We’re sort of on the hunt for one so we’ll see if we can find something we like this year. But the skirt we have was given to me on Christmas Day a few years ago by Tyler’s Grandmother, “Nanny”, and was handmade - I don’t believe by her, but it’s the skirt she used for years. I cried when I got it, and we’ve used it every year since, and will of course continue to. Skirts add the most precious finishing touch to the tree, and hide the tree bag perfectly!

  17. DIMENSION - Don’t just hang ornaments and garland and all on the outside of the tree’s branches, you have to remember to tuck things inside too! This creates interesting depth and more of a magical look and feel to the decorated tree.

  18. APPRECIATE - One of my absolute favorite memories as a child at Christmas was sneaking back downstairs after we’d decorate and go to bed, to find my dad sitting on the sofa admiring the tree while listening to old Frank Sinatra Christmas music. He’s as nostalgic as they come on a typical Tuesday so during the holidays, it’s like nostalgia at it’s max… which I’ve now also inherited… so he’d be sitting thinking about his own dad, childhood Christmas memories, and admiring the beautiful tree. We’d sit on the sofa together and look at each ornament… with incense lit and the fire burning in the wood stove. I can still smell and feel that memory and hope I always will.

  19. LAY UNDERNEATH - Dad told us he would do this as a kid, so of course he encouraged us to do it too, laying underneath of the tree and looking up through the branches at the twinkling lights, colors, shapes, textures, and wonder of it all…

  20. WATER! - Don’t forget to water your tree! You can get those spouts that tuck in through the branches to make it easier. We just have a nice watering can with a skinny spout to easily dip it into the base every few days. Again, it depends on the heat in your home but you can also mist your tree with a spray bottle of water every few days too, not too much because you know - electric and stuff - but it’ll help keep the tree happy.

Any Christmas tree decorating tips you’ve learned in your experience?? I’d love to hear them so please feel free to post in the comments!


The Next Generation of Tree Decorators

Now that Tyler and I have solidified our own traditions, we like to support a local tree farm stand in town each year. It’s worth it to us to pay a few extra bucks to have the tree pre-shaken, trimmed, cut down, and prepped for us! They’re so nice and always cut the bottom off for me to save, give it a last good shake, and load it up for us. It’s a time saver too. We have our routine now with the tree bag, the stand, and how we decorate… which entails me doing the lights and garland, and he comes in to help with the ornaments and we enjoy reminiscing about each one together. We’ve collected so many over the years!

Jesse and his new wife Karlie have also gotten a real tree this year! They’ve carried on the tradition of cutting off the bottom and saving it too… I love how we’ve both carried on the special wonder of Christmas into our families that will hopefully continue on for future generations of professional decorators too! :)


What are some of YOUR Christmas traditions???

I want to see all of your Christmas trees! Sometimes it’s easy to miss a post on social media so when you post a pic, please hashtag #kspsharemytree!

Hope all of you have a Merry Christmas and a cozy holiday season!

Our Family Christmas, Continued... | Christmas 2017

What a wonderful Christmas it was... We spent it with each of our families and got to see pretty much every single member, all of which we love so dearly. 

The Saturday before Christmas was spent with my dad's side, the Cooks, at Uncle Rich (my dad's brother) & Aunt Bonnie's house, where we'd just spent Thanksgiving, for another cozy sweet time together. I had made Nana's (dad, Rich, and their other brother Doug's mom) famous dinner rolls recipe from scratch (for the first time, nervously hoping they were just right!) a couple days beforehand with my mother-in-law, Karen, during our annual Christmas baking day we had. Each of us took turns accidently turning the mixer on too high too fast getting flour everywhere, hehe!

The table was decorated so beautifully as Aunt Bonnie always does, with the name tags handmade with love... Bonnie & Rich's grand-daughters put together the cute little gumdrop tree.

After dinner, we exchanged gifts under the theme of "oldie but a goodie" - meaning we had to buy our person something from the Thrift Store this year! It was fun to see what everyone got, and we all made out VERY well!

The day after, on Christmas Eve, Tyler and I took the day for some much-needed rest and enjoyed a candlelight service at our local church in town. I love going there on Christmas Eve because it's such a beautiful sanctuary with the red carpet, candlesticks, poinsettias, and beautiful old Christmas hymns. 

Each Christmas morning, we spend with Tyler's mom Karen for brunch the three of us then heading to spend the early afternoon with Nanny and Opa, her parents. We usually go to her house but this year, she came to us! It was so nice. Remember that breakfast I told you that dad made for us? We headed that up and enjoyed every single bite - it was delicious and took me right back to my childhood, as I knew it would... We toasted with Mimosas and opened gifts! And Jesse joined us too! The egg bake with a gorgeous wreath made of parsley and peppers, french toast, spiced apples, and sausage... Can't forget the topping of "snow"! 

We also had our stockings ready to open... Baxter finally had one of his own this year. I crocheted the other two for Tyler and I (and one for our beloved Myah of course) back in 2009 or so, and had yet to make Bax one but I found time to stitch him one this year so now he's official!

Karen gifted me that wreath you see Baxie laying next to right up here to the right, and Tyler received a new toaster oven! We got rid of our microwave this year (look it up - they're so bad for our bodies!) and so we're excited to use that! And my wreath will be perfect in time for next October! Bax was excited about his new toys and cookies too... So then it was time to leave for Nanny and Opa's!

We surprised Nanny and Opa with an "all-in-one" record/CD/tape player this year so they could play their old records, and it was absolutely precious to watch them pick out their favorites and sing along to the ones they chose to listen to. We also surprised Opa with a DNA kit from My Heritage and are excited to see what those results are so we can pass that down to our own kiddos one day. We had a small little lunch around the pop-up table in the "dining room" of seven layer salad, quiche, ham, and Nanny's famous Chocolate Cake, all of which Karen made and brought. Tyler and I ate light because we were about to go to another feast at Aunt Nina's! But we exchanged our gifts with them and spent a nice calm and relaxing afternoon with Nanny and Opa. We love them so much. 

Afterwards, it was time to venture over to my mom's sister, my Aunt Nina and Uncle Denny's house for Christmas like we also do every year! It's so warm and cozy there - like a Christmas dream! I didn't take as many photos as I would have liked but that's because I was visiting with everyone which was so nice... :) 

Each year, all of us get a fun little musical instrument and this year it was spoons! We all goof off with them and them move onto our Yankee Swap (where you have a pile of wrapped gifts everyone has brought that you can trade among each other once they've been opened) before Santa comes! ;) Holly's (Nina's daughter) birthday is on Christmas and this year, she turned the big 5-0 so Aunt Nina had the fun idea of buying gifts for Holly instead of the Yankee Swap, but of course not having Holly know until it was time to start the game. I went first, and opened the gift saying, "wait - this says it's for Holly!" so she opened it, and #2 went. They also opened the next gift and said "wait - this is for Holly too!" so she got it and began to open the rest of the gifts after being given the adorable birthday hat to wear while she opened! So that was fun! And on a fun note: apparently her birthday cake took a little tumble this year during preparations... hehe. Still tasted delicious, I'm sure!

Then Santa came, and everyone got a little something special (thank you Uncle Denny and Aunt Nina!!) and we then sat and visited and enjoyed each other's company...

And after a week of working/not working, resting, sort-of working, eating leftover cookies, and wondering what day it really was... we topped of Christmas week off with Tyler's dad's side of the family - The Smiths, at his dad's sister Tracy & her hubby Mark's house in Virginia - you know, where we spend the weekend for the kayaking trip every summer! I hardly photographed but did capture a couple fun little moments... We had our cocktails, smoked trout, steamed shrimp, salad, rice, and gumbo! We did do a Secret Santa and exchanged our gifts with whoever we had one-on-one at different times through the day whenever we felt like it was right, which was kinda fun. We hadn't done it like that before but I loved it. It made the gift-giving feel more special in some sort of way because usually, this side of the family just all opens the gifts at once and it gets insane!

Luke (Tracy & Mark's son) was in town from California, and it was so great to see and catch up with him! We all just took it easy and hung out together for the day which was nice... 

We are so unbelievably blessed to have the family we do - on both sides. And as tired as I am, currently under the weather at best, I wish I had more energy to go into just how grateful we are, but I know they know - and we know they know we know - and we know they feel the same because we are all so blessed to have each other. At any time - but especially at Christmas.

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Merry Christmas once again - and a very Happy New Year everyone! Thanks for sharing in our memories with us!

Christmas at Home | A Cook Family Tradition

I've inherited so much of my love for tradition and sentiment from my parents. Christmas memories are some of the most precious ones that I hold onto so dearly in my heart... the smells, the tastes, the sights, the feelings, all of the emotions that surround this time of year - all of them speak to me and my heart in such a warm and fulfilling way. 

Jesse and I would always sit at the top of the steps while mom and dad got all of our gifts together in piles on one of the sofas - Jesse's on one, and mine on another, so we could sit and open them one by one, with our stockings (that my dad's mom, my Nana, made when we were tiny babies) overflowing with goodies too. They never put the gifts under the tree - they would always keep them tucked away until Christmas morning for us to come down and see. We didn't do Santa in our house either and quite frankly I look back and don't mind one bit. My parents worked hard for those gifts year after year, and made it all such a magical experience for us every single year...

Dad would make his famous french toast topped with "snow" (powdered sugar), a beautiful egg bake with a green pepper Christmas tree and a roasted red pepper bow on top, links of sausage, and sweetly baked apples with nutty pecans and spices. The house smelled like a wonderland. Folky Christmas music would be playing, and sometimes Nana would be there too. Her birthday is on Christmas Eve so she'd often spend the night after we'd all been together the day before, celebrating with her and the rest of our family. 

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I've always been sentimental, but it seems as though turning 30 has ignited my yearning for keeping traditions alive even more. I've been so emotional this Christmas! Nana, who will be 92 tomorrow (Christmas Eve), has been in and out of the hospital, and I've been really reminiscing about memories relating to her. This past year has also been really challenging in many ways for not just us, but those close to us - whether it be relating to jobs, losses, struggles - it's just seemed to be a tough 2017 for many loved ones we know. So I've been really reflecting and just thinking about a lot lately about who I am and where I've come from, and I've just been falling in love with our family - my safe haven, my sacred space, my comfort, my home - all over again, and soaking in all of the blessings we've been given over all this time we've had together. 

We really do live life so fast-paced. And for what? Why are we rushed so? What does looking so forward to the future do for us? When will we just sit back, rest, stop, look, see, feel, smile, close our eyes and breathe...? It's so easy to move so quickly through life and forget to take the time we should to appreciate those we love, and to spend time with them without rushing or thinking about what else we have to do. These moments, in fact, are what the richness of life is made of.

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So this year, we celebrated Christmas together back at home. Dad worked so hard to make us an incredible dinner of Swedish Meatballs, green beans, mashed potatoes, and cranberry salad. It was the best meal I've had in such a long time!

Mom always has "something to share" at the end of a meal... An article she's recently found to be interesting, a joke she heard on the radio, or something to warn us about - like the worst day of the year to drive during (so be extra alert on the road!) or one of our favorites, "what to do if you see a shark in the ocean while swimming"... This year, she shared a holiday letter with us from some of her extended family in Wisconsin, and some Christmas word jumbles to figure out - all of which I was able to decode! :) Then Dad read from Isaiah, where it talks about the prophesy of the birth of Christ some 700 years before he was born. It's so amazing to me that he came to us so simple and so unobtrusively, yet full of majesty and wonder... 

We always take forever to open our gifts. I like to savor mine and watch everyone else open theirs! It's so fun to see what we all get... Mom got a cute pair of slippers and some of her favorite music, we gave Dad some white dinner plates he's been wanting for quite some time, Jess received a sweet new fancy coffee grinder, and Tyler and I each got a new coat and a set of gorgeous white organic cotton bath towels from Williams Sonoma, our favorite! - among an abundance of other goodies we all bountifully bestowed to one another. Jesse is newly engaged to his girlfriend Karlie who gave us all very sweet and thoughtful gifts! Stranger Things soundtrack on vinyl for Tyler, and some gorgeous serving spoons for me. 

Before we left, dad surprised us with an adorably wrapped Christmasy to-go box (bow and all!) of his Christmas breakfast for us to enjoy on Christmas morning... French Toast, egg bake, sausage, and apples... It brought a tear to my eye of course! Such a special labor of love and I can't wait to enjoy it!

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I love looking around the house and seeing how cozy it is. My parents have such a way of making home feel so warm and full of love. Every corner has a story, twinkly lights, a comfy chair, and so many memories... Mom always has her adorable little way of making sure everything has a little touch of sparkle, hence the glitter on the table and stars around our napkins. It felt so especially special this year. I wish I'd captured it more, but here are a few pictures from our night together. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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  • My dad built the little tree you see here out in the back yard with a few stick sand some rope. Isn't it adorable?
  • Mom's candle holders were a gift we gave her for her birthday, along with the felted mistletoe, both from from Becket Hitch.
  • My Nana painted the chicken oil painting you'll see, as well as made every single element in the miniature General Store that sits on our piano, completely by hand. 
  • And I made the cookies. :)