I tell potential customers that my Christmas wreaths will last until Easter. That usually gets a chuckle and often a sale. At a holiday craft fair, a gray-haired man topped my claim: “I bought one from you last year, and I just threw it out last week.”
Longevity is an advantage of my Fraser fir over the blue spruce many other sellers use. Even when my wreaths dry out, the needles don’t fall off, and the color fades to a muted green.
My dad and brothers planted more than 100 Fraser firs two decades ago, thinking they’d sell Christmas trees to fund the boys’ college educations. But that turned out to be too much of a hassle, so they took a tree for themselves each year and gave some to friends. My parents even delivered trees to us in southeastern Wisconsin.
After Todd was diagnosed with ALS, we knew we’d need help, so we purchased property from my parents that included the stand of Fraser firs.
Now that we need to hire nighttime caregivers for Todd so I can get some sleep, money is tight. It’s not an option for me to work outside of our home as I wouldn’t be able to make enough money to pay people to care for Todd in my absence.
Wreath-making is a good work-at-home business for me. It’s something I can do while I take care of Todd, and I enjoy the creative process of making beautiful things. In the summer, I collect pine cones and birch bark for wreath accents.
And I involve the kids. They help me clip sled loads of the boughs. When they complained, I pushed back. “Farm kids work on farms.”
“We don’t live on a farm,” countered my daughter, Sara.
“We live on a Christmas tree farm. Be glad we don’t have animals. Your grandma had to milk goats every day. Anyway, this pays for your dance lessons.” I looked back at my son in the rearview mirror. “And it pays for your ski pass and season rental.” Isaac can’t wait to get on the slopes.
“How much do you sell them for?” Isaac asked. I told him the prices, and he did the math. “So you need to sell eight large wreaths to pay for my skiing.”
“Yup,” I said, proud of his math skills.
But just a week after my first craft show, I got a message from a friend who had purchased one of my wreaths. “Hey Kris, did you use different greens this year? My wreath isn’t holding up like they had in the past.” She attached a picture of her rust-colored wreath.
I had been concerned about the health of my trees after one turned brown and died last summer. My neighbor cut it down for us, and we burned it. But I noticed other trees had some dead branches.
I scoured the internet for information on Fraser fir health and diseases. I contacted the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and our local college’s forestry department. I didn’t learn much. It might be fungus, but no one could say for sure by looking at the pictures. And if it is fungus, there isn’t much that can be done. My trees will live or they’ll die. No known cause. No cure.
I’ve heard that before. My husband has ALS. And just as my search for a cure for my trees proved futile, our best efforts, including alternative treatments, supplements, and dietary changes after his diagnosis didn’t halt the progression.
If my carefully selected fir boughs turn brown after a week, it would be time for me to hang up my pruning shears. Yet another situation over which I have no control.
I made 45 wreaths this year. I started to panic thinking of 45 unhappy customers. I told them they’d last until Easter. False advertising. I might return to the craft fair next year and have that gray-haired man tell me, “Your wreath only lasted a week.”
I messaged a couple other friends who purchased from me, and they replied with pictures of green, healthy wreaths. I felt hopeful. Perhaps the problem with my greens wasn’t widespread. I made a second wreath for my friend.
When I delivered it to her, she wondered if it might have turned brown because it was in a new location between her exterior door and a glass storm door that faces the sun.
“Yes!” I said. “It looks scorched like my grass does after we make a slip-n-slide with a sheet of plastic.”
My friend didn’t want to accept the replacement wreath once we figured out the cause. I insisted she take it. “This is a best-case scenario.” I was overjoyed to figure out the cause.
If only we could find the cause of ALS. I’m hoping for a cure in 2020.
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