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!

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.


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…


  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!

Easter 2018 | Family Traditions at Uncle Denny & Aunt Nina's

Easter finds a way to become more and more special to me each and ever year. My dad had just gotten home from surgery last year at this time, so Tyler and I decided to host and keep things small and simple. Remember I made dad's famous ham?? The holiday represented a fresh start to the new year, welcoming spring in all of it's colorful vibrancy and life after the chill and stagnancy of winter. This year, Easter came early! But it still made my heart smile. This winter has been particularly long it seems, so having the sun shine on Easter Sunday and the temps rise just a bit was such a treat, even though we're barely into April and the flowers are just beginning to bloom.

This is our first holiday celebrating without Tyler's Opa. Normally we'd spend part of the day with them, and of course my MIL Karen, and then head to my mom's sister Nina's for the rest of the day. But we thought it would be nice to do something different for Nanny this year, and give some change in the usual holiday routine. Nina and Denny always welcome anyone and everyone into their home, especially at Easter, and invite family members and friends on all sides. So of course they were welcome, and have been in the past, but this year was particularly different for Nanny, and for us too. 

So the morning started off with going to Nanny's Easter church service with her and Karen. It was very nice with a bell choir and all of my favorite rejoicing hymns... We went back to Nanny's afterwards to exchange a couple of cards and chocolates, and hopped into our cars to venture to the Morrison's! 

After everyone arrives, we come together to have prayer in a big circle out front. Everyone contributes a dish and we all sit around the house and eat while visiting while the kids play before the Easter Bunny comes (usually one of the teenagers dresses up) and the egg hunt begins! 

This year, Tyler took a big Panoramic pic of all of us before we also took a group shot in front of the house after Uncle Denny said our prayer!

Uncle Rich always does a waffles and strawberries bar which everyone absolutely loves... They are seriously the best! 

Did you see Nanny with her giant piece of Coconut Cake? She loves sweets... :) After everyone has eaten and the bunny has arrived is always my favorite part of the day. The girls (and a few gents too flow in and out) congregate on the porch with blankets and wine to talk! talk! talk! We call them "porch talks" and they are always so wonderful. 

That was Zack trying to get out of the "porch talk" with the girls that got brought inside since it got chilly, hehe... He eventually caved and stayed and talked with us! :) So did Tyler and dad too. It's always such a wonderful time to be together and bond as a family! We are all so very blessed...

Happy Easter everyone!

Little Miss Millie's Valentine's Day Tradition | Kirsten Smith Photography - Holiday Traditions Sessions

I remember meeting with Ashley and Coty over coffee while we went over details for their cozy fall wedding day in West Virginia years ago, and then visiting their home and documenting as they doted on and cared for their precious new little baby girl. Fast forward a couple years and Millie's all grown up! Well, almost. She is just hilarious! Her many faces and expressions crack me up and I love being around her! She's so spunky and fun and full of personality. She loves nature, bugs, hikes with her mommy and daddy, and playing "school" with her stuffed animals which I remember doing when I was little too. 

The afternoon began with reading Hulk a Valentine's Day story in Mommy and Daddy's bed... Millie decided she'd rather Mommy read it to them, so Ashley came in and read to us!

Every year since she could color, Millie's made a Valentine's Day card for her daddy. Ashley cuts out little paper hearts for her to glue and draw on to construction paper, and Millie goes to town with her beautiful creation of love! 

So after reading time, Millie was ready and excited to work on her masterpiece...

She also wanted to paint something for me! I accidentally forgot to take it with me when I left, so Millie asked her mommy to mail it to me, so I have it on display on the fridge! :) SO cute... 

And what better way to end a Valentine's Day afternoon than with a perfectly sweet treat?? Ashley surprised Millie with a delicious Strawberry Shortcake with whipped cream and sprinkles! Yummy! Afterwards, she took a mini power-nap on the bench. Creating art and enjoying desserts are hard work!

Ashley and I finished the afternoon catching up and talking about essential oils, Yoga, and other wonderful things we love while Millie and Hulk played in the living room. It was such a fun time with them! Coty is going to love his card from his little girl and hopefully the pictures to capture their sweet little tradition too!

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.

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