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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.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Bigfoot.

It was getting dark, so we had to go to the woods, and it sounded like Bigfoot knocking on the door,
but it was just the ocean.”
—My son’s recap of our Sunday afternoon hike at I.S. and Gertrude Sahli Nature Park

On the trail of the Bigfoot, aka, the ocean.

His hiking/Bigfoot hunting supplies.

Wait…is that Bigfoot? Nah. Just Big Sis.

My little tree-hugger.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Burt Reynolds, I Am Not.

What my mustache feels like

What my mustache looks like

It attracts stares and arouses suspicion. Kids snicker and point at it. Mothers clutch their children and run when they see it coming.

It’s my mustache. And it’s not a pretty sight.

It started out as an office challenge for “Movember“—a charitable movement promoting prostate and testicular cancer awareness. The other guys in the office were on board, so I figured, what the heck.

At first I didn’t understand why mustaches were chosen as a way to promote awareness of a disease that affects the opposite end of one’s person. But I think I’ve figured it out:

A mustache makes you look like an A-hole. (At least in my case.)

Me on November 30

There have been many famous mustaches over the years, from the iconic (Ambrose Burnside, Groucho Marx, Rollie Fingers) to the sexy (Burt Reynolds, Tom Selleck, Lando Calrissian) to the infamous (Stalin, Hitler, Geraldo Rivera). My own grandfather and father even had mustaches at one time. Pap-pap really looked good with a ‘stache. It gave him an air of sophistication, and people said he looked like Clark Gable. Dad, on the other hand…not so much. With his curly, salt-and-pepper perm (not joking), he looked like Alex Trebek, circa 1987.

That’s not to say mine’s any better. If my projections are correct, by the end of the month I’ll be a dead ringer for Ron Burgundy.

It’s sad, really. Mustaches used to be so cool. They symbolized masculinity, virility. Raw manliness. Not anymore. Nowadays they just make you look creepy.
(Sorry, Dr. Phil.)

What’s funny is I used to be envious of guys with mustaches. Back when I was 12, I was the “singer” in a heavy metal “band” known as Prisoner, and our bassist, my good friend Jay, had that particular swarthy gene that enabled him to grow a thick, full ‘stache before he was even permitted to see a PG-13 movie. It really made him look like an authentic rocker. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to grow facial hair until college. And by then mustaches had pretty much lost their mystique.

Exhibit A: My pilgrim phase

So far the only person who actually thinks my mustache looks good is my mom, which is not surprising, since she also liked my long hair.
(See Exhibit A)

My wife’s certainly not crazy about it. She says it makes me look like a 1970s adult film star, “or so [she’s] heard.”

As for my children, they haven’t said much about it. My daughter has been acting a little strange around me lately, though. Maybe she’s trying to tell me something. (See Exhibit B)

Outside of my house, I haven’t heard too many comments other than the occasional jab from a fellow female employee. But I know people are talking. I can sense them judging me as I walk past. It’s palpable. I’ve actually considered wearing a sign around to explain what I’m doing.

Exhibit B: Trying to tell me something?

But then I’d just look stupid.

For those of you who sport a mustache as part of your normal, everyday look, either because you like it or because it’s a part of your culture, please don’t take any of this the wrong way. To each his own, as they say. If you want to rock the Robert Goulet look…hey, who am I to judge you?

I’ll let everyone else do that.

As for me, I can’t wait to shave this ridiculous, itchy, unflattering thing from my face so that I can once again go back to being my normal, unremarkable self. Then again, if it gets just one person to be proactive about cancer prevention, I guess one month of looking like this isn’t all that bad.

(Yes it is.)

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Surviving Family Time

The Demolition Crew

Back in the old days, extended families would live together under the same roof. Grandparents, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins would all shack up in one house, sharing resources and, more important, the adventures and blessings of everyday life.

Which explains why the average life expectancy was so much shorter back then.

Over the past two weeks, we shared our home with my younger sister, her husband, and their three adorable daughters – ages 3, 18 months, and 6 months – while they were in town for a visit. Add in my two little ones, and that makes five little munchkins who were running rampant throughout my home from dusk to dawn.

I don’t know how I made it out alive.

My house is large, square-footage-wise, but the extra space is mostly vertical, thanks to the high ceilings. This would be helpful if we were housing, say…an NBA team. It is of no benefit, however, when your roomers are less than 3 feet tall.

Words can’t describe the amount of devastation five young children can inflict on one’s home. Imagine coating every surface on the inside of your house with a layer of honey – your furniture, your walls, your television, etc. – and then inviting a family of ravenous black bear in to have at it. When it’s all said and done, everything is sticky, broken, and in complete disarray.

It’s sorta like that.

Oh, com’on, you say. They’re just children! And little ones at that. How destructive could they be? Believe me, they can do some damage. Don’t let their size fool you. Have you ever seen what a colony of army ants can do when they get organized? I rest my case.

I have to be fair to my 6-month-old niece, though. The sweet little angel’s not even crawling yet and, therefore, didn’t really contribute much to the craziness. Then again, she didn’t help much, either.

My dining room table is under there. Somewhere.

Dinnertime and bedtime, of course, were the most challenging. I’ve documented in the past just how difficult it can be to get just my two children to eat dinner. Throw another three into the mix and it’s absolute mayhem. Every evening I inhaled my meal as fast as possible, just to get out of the way of the flying food and spilt milk. My poor wife and sister, on the other hand, would go days without eating. They were too busy cooking, cutting, spooning, cleaning, wiping, and refilling.

Nighttime was a whole ‘nother ball of wax. Fortunately my children have reached the age where bedtime is reasonably routine. My sister’s kids, however, are still at that age where bedtime can be a precarious situation.

Each night while my sister fed the baby, my brother-in-law focused on getting the other two girls to bed. Taking one of his daughters, he’d ascend the stairs to the bedroom, only to return an hour or so later, frustrated and visibly spent. Then he’d take the other one up for round two. Some nights he’d come back; others he’d mysteriously disappear, only to resurface the next morning.

This chaotic atmosphere left little time for cleaning, as you can imagine. Not that we didn’t try. In the past two weeks we did 30 loads of dishes, 18 loads of laundry, swept the dining room floor 47 times, cleaned up 23 spills, and picked up the same toys over and over again continuously for 252 hours straight, just to keep from being buried alive.

O.K., maybe I’m being a little melodramatic. I have to admit that, despite the mess and the madness, it was really wonderful to spend so much time with family. After all, the mess is temporary, but the memories will last forever. I guess I just need to learn to relax and to enjoy it.

Only next time they come for a visit, I think we’ll all enjoy it together over in their suite at the Holiday Inn.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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A Bad Case of the Runs – Part II

IMG_3853Recently I finished my very first marathon. It was a huge accomplishment for me, considering I retired from competitive running several years ago.

But rather than bore you with a bunch of details about how many miles I ran during my training (392) or with some philosophical treatise on the metaphorical journey of the marathon, I thought instead I’d bore you with some of the thoughts I was having that day.

For those of you who have never run a marathon before, this is as close as you can get to actually lacing up your running shoes.

You’ve been warned…

Inside the Brain of a Marathoner

[45 minutes before the start of the marathon]

Holy cow it’s cold out here! Maybe I should’ve worn underwear…

[20 minutes before]

Hey, Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll Cover-Band Singer…We’re not all from Columbus. Enough with the Buckeye crap.

[5 minutes before]

‘THUNDERSTRUCK!’…Yes! Mental note: Gotta listen to more AC/DC.

[One minute before]

I can’t believe it’s finally here! I think I’m gonna cry. What an incredible mome…
Uh, oh…I wonder if I have time to hit the port-o-john?

[Marathon begins!]

YEAH! HERE WE GO!

[Actually crossing the starting line 3 mins. 45 sec. later]

YEAH! HERE WE GO!

[100 yards in]

This feels great! I can definitely do 26.2. No problem.

[200 yards in]

Oh, great…I have to pee already.

[Mile 1]

Should I stop to pee or…oh, I’ll just wait.

[Mile 3]

All right…I really have to pee now. Where the heck are the port-o-johns!?

[Mile 6]

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! Much better.

[Mile 10]

I wonder how far ahead the Kenyans are by now?

[Mile 13]

Yeah! Half way there! This is going to be a piece of cake! 

[Mile 15]

Hmmph…Columbus is definitely hillier than I imagined. 

[Mile 17]

OK, starting to get a little tired now…stay focused…

[Mile 18]

Hey…was that Harold Ramis?!?

[Mile 20]

Heading into uncharted territory…stay focused…hope I don’t hit the wall…

[Mile 21]

Ugh…this must be the wall…

[Mile 22]

Oh, God…please don’t let me quit now…just four more miles…

[Mile 23]

Feeling better now…maybe that wasn’t the wall after all…stay strong…you got this…

[Mile 23.5]

Am I wearing cement shoes?…Whose legs are these?

[Mile 24]

Just walk for a little bit…It’s OK…you deserve it…go ahead…everyone’s doing it…take a little break…NO! SHUT UP! DON’T LISTEN TO THE VOICE! DON’T LISTEN TO THE VOICE!

[Mile 25]

Not gonna make it…not gonna make it…

[Mile 26]

Need water…Who am I?…Where am I?…Don’t fall down…don’t fall down…need water…

[0.2 miles to go…]

YES!…I’m gonna make it!…I’m gonna make it!

[0.1 miles to go…]

WHERE THE HELL IS THE FINISH LINE!?
0.2 miles, my ass!

[FINISH LINE!]

I DID IT! I DID IT! Thank you, God! I can’t believe I just ran a mara…
Y
ep…gonna fall down now…Where’s the medic?…No, wait, I’m OK…I’m OK…
Nope…passing out now…

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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An Open Letter to Future Me

Dear Future Me,

Future Me

Today Me

I hope all is well with you.

Things are just dandy here. But, of course, you already knew that.

I know you’re busy with book-signing tours, television interviews, and counting your piles of money, so I won’t take up too much of your time. But I wanted to talk to you about something…

Now that the kids are all grown up and the nest is empty, so to speak, you may be thinking wistfully of the past. You’ve probably even been longing for the days when the kids were much younger. After all, like you keep telling yourself, those were the best days of your life.

Heck, I bet you’ve even turned into one of those people who go around telling parents of young children how “It all goes so fast!” and to “Enjoy this time because, before you know it they’ll be all grown up.”

Since your then is my now, and since your memory has been clouded by years of drinking too much cheap Cabernet, let me clarify something about the past: It wasn’t as great as you remember.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love my (your) kids more than anything in the world, as we both know, and I think that they are so incredibly cute and fun at this age. Get this: They actually enjoy being around me, and they still think I know everything. Ha! Remember those days? Probably not. Again, the Cabernet.

But over the years your aging brain has played a trick on you. It has allowed you to forget just how mentally and physically exhausted you were during this time of your life. Believe me—you’re pooped.

Oh, com’on, you say, I wasn’t that tired.

Yes, Future Me. Yes you were.

Unless I’m at the office or asleep or asleep at the office, every second of my (your) life revolves around those little buggers. I’m constantly dressing them, undressing them, bathing them, feeding them, begging them to eat something—anything, putting them in Timeout every five seconds; picking toys off the floor in the living room, the dining room, the bathroom, the kitchen, the laundry room, the bedroom, the front yard, the back yard, the neighbor’s yard; packing a bag of toys to keep them busy at the restaurant, picking toys up off of the floor at the restaurant, cleaning up the mess on the floor at the restaurant, telling him not to eat that piece of food on the floor at the restaurant, buckling them into their car seats, taking them out of their car seats, telling her to stop teasing him, telling him to stop hitting her, brushing her hair, brushing his teeth, wiping their noses, wiping their…well, you know, reading them a book, reading them another book, putting them to bed, taking them out of bed to go to the potty, putting them back in bed, coming back upstairs to get them a drink of water…and so many other things that I can’t think of right now because, frankly, I’m just too tired.

And lest you forget, Future Me, your only real free time was after they finally went to bed. By that time you were so beat that it was a struggle just to stay up past 9 o’clock. And “free” is a misnomer, because you were actually trapped in the house until you left for work the next morning, when it all started over again.

But I bet you don’t remember any of that, do you? You only remember the really good parts, like playing tents or hide-and-seek in the living room, secretly listening to her play school with her stuffed animals, watching him play with your old Matchbox cars, giving them horsey rides around the living room, pushing him on the swing at the park, pretending to eat the pretend cake she made you in the sandbox, hearing them say “DADDY!” as they raced to hug you when you got home from work, holding hands with her as you skipped down the sidewalk, pushing him in his stroller as he pointed out the squirrels, hearing them laugh as you tickled them in their car seats, listening to them sing along to the radio in the back of the car, bouncing him on your shoulders as you walked up-street for ice cream, reading them bedtime stories as they clutched their blankies, holding him close before placing him in his crib for the night, kissing her goodnight as you tucked her in to bed…

You know what, Future Me? Maybe you’re right after all. This really is a wonderful time. Maybe the best.

Forget all that stuff I said about how hard things were. (Oh, that’s right…you already did.)

I’ll check back in when they’re teenagers. Hopefully we made it through alive.

Take care,

Past You

PS: College wasn’t that great either. (Yeah it was.)

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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