Monthly Archives: December 2012

Pining for Christmas

Christmas Tree 1This year we wanted to start a new Christmas tradition with my kids, something we could enjoy together during this special season as we give thanks for our blessings and celebrate the birth of our Lord.

So we decided to go out and kill a perfectly good tree.

I grew up with one of those fake plastic trees and, honestly, I was fine with it. You really couldn’t see the tree anyway, buried beneath the ton of tinsel that my mother would meticulously place, piece by piece, on every single fake branch.

I used to love to gaze up at that shimmering plastic pine and bask in the glow of those big old-fashioned lights that would bathe the room in a soft, multi-color glow, and that would actually last more than one year, unlike today’s cheapy, made-to-self-destruct-after-one-use lights.

My wife and I have had fake tree ever since we were married 10 years ago, and it has served us well. I actually keep it set up year-round in the basement so that I can just carry it upstairs – scraping the paint from the walls as I go – and plop it in the corner of the living room. That way I avoid spending hours trying to figure out how to assemble it.

This year we thought it would be a little more fun to go out and get a real tree. Not only would it give our home that wonderful pine-fresh smell, but after Christmas, instead of hauling it back down to the basement, I could just drag it out to the curb and let the Borough deal with it. And what’s more American than a disposable tree!

So on a recent wintry morning, we packed into the car and headed out to a local Christmas tree farm. The kids were buzzing with excitement when we arrived, and I knew right away that this was going to be a cherished new annual tradition. Then, five seconds out of the car, my son reached down to the ground to grab some snow to eat and ended up with a mouthful of dirt and pine needles. Let the memory-making begin!

Riding on the cartWe had heard that the best type of tree to get is a Frasier Fir because supposedly it sheds the least amount of needles. So we asked one of the employees to point us in the right direction. “We can’t grow them Frasiers up ‘ere,” said the kind young man, a wad of tobacco tucked firmly in cheek. “What you want is a Douglas Fir. Just head down that-a-way. Can’t miss’em.”

So I grabbed a tree cart, the kids hopped on, and we headed off into the manmade forest.

Halfway down the trail my son fell off the cart, and I dragged him in the snow for a bit before my daughter alerted me to the situation. Luckily, the little guy was fine. A little dirt in his mouth, but that was nothing new.

Before the killingAfter about 15 minutes of comparing the virtues of various trees, we finally found the perfect specimen—a majestic, 8-foot Douglas Fir with a nice full shape and, more important, no signs of bird nests or stink bugs. Next I did my best lumberjack impersonation as the kiddos went off looking for more dirty snow to eat. Then we towed the tree back up the hill, where the Carhartt crew bundled it up as I went inside to buy a stand that cost nearly as much as the tree itself.

Although I still feel a little remorseful about chopping it down, I really do like the way the decorated tree corpse looks in the corner of our living room. Sure, maybe we have to pick up the occasional pine needle and remember to water it every so often, but there’s just something so special about a real tree.

Dead and lifeless, though it may be.

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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Christmas


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The Minister of Rock

I don’t know how it happened. One minute I’m saying goodnight to the bride and groom, the next I’m sliding across the dance floor on my back, air-guitarring to AC/DC.

My best Angus Young

My best Angus Young impersonation

We were at my wife’s cousin’s wedding, and earlier in the day, believe it or not, I had performed the ceremony. It was the second wedding I’d officiated after becoming an official minister last spring.

It all began one night when a good friend of the family called and asked if I’d ever considered filling out “one of those online minister things you see in the back of Rolling Stone.” Five minutes and a couple clicks of the mouse later and – POW! – I’m a man of the cloth, much to the chagrin of some friends of mine who had spent years and incurred large debts completing rigorous seminary programs.

My first wedding

Almost wine time

What can I say? I took the express program.

I had a great time performing that first wedding in San Francisco (see photo) and felt honored to be such an integral part of it; however, I really didn’t have any plans to continue marrying people after that. One and done, that was the plan.

But when Cassie’s cousin asked me to do her wedding, I figured—why not? I was going to be at the wedding anyway. Might as well earn my wine.

The ceremony itself went off without a hitch, except for me mispronouncing the newly married couple’s last name. (Minor detail.) Afterward we congregated at a local hall to celebrate. Being a minister, I tried my best to behave, limiting myself to just six glasses of wine.

And the battle begins

The battle begins…

Eventually it was time to call it a night, so Cass and I made our way out to the dance floor to bid adieu to the bride and groom.

Just then the opening notes of “Shook Me All Night Long” – a western-PA wedding staple, along with “Shout”, “Celebration”, and “Y.M.C.A” – echoed throughout the hall. It was at this moment when I locked eyes with a 6-year-old boy in the midst of an air-guitar solo. Suddenly I felt reinvigorated, the red wine pumping through my veins. So I pulled out my own invisible axe, and just like that the battle was on.

Immediately the guests formed a circle around us, cheering the two of us on as we duked it out with our pretend six-strings. I would do my best windmill strum, and then the kid would top it with some crazy split-type move that would’ve split my pants and sent me to the hospital. It wasn’t long before we ditched the nonexistent guitars and found ourselves in a full-out dance off. At one point the kid pulled off an amazing Michael Jackson-esque spin and toe landing. I countered with my best M.J. crotch-grab, which no doubt shocked many of the guests who up until that point knew me only as Pastor Val.

An air-guitar god is born

Back and forth we battled—a 6-year-old future ladies’ man with moves like Jagger and me, a 37-year-old writer/minister who obviously had one too many Cabernets.

Eventually I conceded victory to my young opponent, mainly due to exhaustion, but also because I broke an invisible string on my non-existent guitar. Which is always a bummer.

As for my career as a wedding officiant, I officially defrocked myself that night, not wanting to further soil my ministerial robes, so to speak. If anyone needs a good air-guitarrist for their wedding, however, I’m available.

Will work for wine.


Posted by on December 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


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