This Year’s Tree Adventure

by Jonathan on 10 December 2017

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This year’s tree adventure was a little… different. We have traditionally cut down our own tree, from the same farm my parents went to when we moved back to this area and started to get a live tree again. This particular farm up by Butler had always been a great place to get a tree. They had many varieties, large fields, and an easy process: Drive out to the right field, cut your tree, get it back to the pay shed, they bundle it and you pay. And it was inexpensive. And fun. Well, for the past couple of years, the farm has been open but seemed to be in decline. The fields weren’t tended well anymore, the selection wasn’t great, and what was there was either totally overgrown or mashed into other trees. They were still inexpensive, but last year in particular was a struggle to find a reasonable tree. If the comments on various review sites are to be believed, when the gas wells came in and wanted to drill on their property, that was the beginning of the end.

We decided this year to try some new places. I had a good recommendation from a firefighter friend to try McKinney’s Tree Farm, which ends up being really close to us (I don’t have a good link for them, but they do have a Facebook page if you search there). I had no idea they were there, actually, until I aksed my friend where he went. I put them first on our list, and a nearby farm (Ski Tree Farm) as a second in case McKinney’s didn’t work out. Of course, if we struck out at both of those, there were some further options, and we could always go back to our original farm up past Butler.

I had considered going last weekend, but was still getting over this nasty cold (which still isn’t completely gone, but at least I can mostly breathe now). So we delayed and figured we would go this weekend. Unfortunately, Jenny came down with the same cold late last week. I wasn’t about to take her out trudging through a tree farm in this cold weather, so we talked about it and I went out on my own late this morning.

I arrived at McKinney’s a little after noon (after I made an extra loop back to an ATM because I was on my way and remembered that I needed to get some cash to pay for the tree). I got out of TruckStor and was greeted by a nice attendant who informed me that they just closed the cut-your-own fields this morning.


She did say that they brought in trees from one of their commercial fields a day or so ago and had them available for sale. They were all Fraser Firs, which is fine, because that’s what I wanted anyway. I didn’t have much hope, but figured I would take a look anyway before I took off for the next farm on my list. I was surprised to quickly find three candidates that, if I had seen them in the fields, I would have cut down any of the three to take home. See, I don’t like over-groomed trees. They need to be imperfect. They need to have big open spots for our big ornaments, and nice spaces inside to hide the little surprise ornaments that one only sees after looking at the tree for a bit. And it needed to be tall to fill to our old-house ceiling, while also not being six feet wide. That’s a tall (and not wide) order! Ha!

I spent some time with my best candidate. I considered my options. I was down an Adventure Buddy, who was trying to recover at home. The next farm was a big question mark, since I’ve never been there and didn’t know anyone who had gone there. The further-out farms were even bigger question marks, and I know that at least one of the ones on my list was not open on Sundays.

I was a little dismayed. I liked this tree, but I felt like I was betraying my process. There was no hunt. I didn’t walk my wonderful and patient wife up six hills and down three before crossing a muddy stream and wandering through a pack of brambles, then find a tree that we have to take up six more hills and down two and across a different creek and down a muddy embankment before we get back to the safety of TruckStor. But, this tree was talking to me. It had some of its cones still attached. It was wonderfully random. It was just about the perfect height to trim the top and freshen the cut on the bottom and fit exactly in our space.

I picked it up and had them wrap it for me. Nine feet of tree. And they had beautiful wreaths for reasonable prices, so I grabbed one of those, too.

Moments later, my sister and her family showed up. They were planning to come out, too, but I had just texted them a little bit earlier to tell them that the fields were closed, though they had some cut trees that looked pretty good. They also ended up with a tree, and I got to see my little nephew Andrew for a bit. We talked about trucks and trees and signs. He was fascinated that we put both trees in TruckStor. He loved the candy cane his Dad got while paying for the tree. When I dropped off their tree at their house, he really wanted me to come inside because it was cold. He’s a cute little guy.

A short time later, our tree was inside, being inspected thoroughly by kitty Dandelion, who is confused ever year when we bring some of the outside into the house. It quickly becomes her favorite spot, though, and I’m sure she’ll set herself up on the tree skirt once I get it out.

It is now lit and angel’ed. I like to let it be that way for a day or so for kitty to get used to it before we start putting glittery moving bits all over it. She tends to get less excitable about it. And, if she decides she’s going to start pulling it over for some reason, I’d rather she do that when it isn’t filled with glass things.

So now we have our tree. It’s the right tree for this year. When they gave me change, it included a single penny, and that penny was from 1978 (my birth year). So that seems like a win. Yay Christmas.


Postscript: I get a lot of questions about our tree stand every year. I found it years ago when I got utterly frustrated with the craptastic bent-sheetmetal stands that seemed to bend into useless shapes if you looked at them wrong, and the plastic fantastic stands that seemed great until one tried to actually use them for a tree with any weight to it. The company, “Santa’s Solutions,” sells two models. There’s the big one that we have, and a smaller one that is probably fine for most users. At the time I bought it, they didn’t have the smaller one. If I was doing it all over, I might buy the smaller one instead. But, kind of like TruckStor, I’d rather have something a little more capable than be caught out when I most need the capacity. I expect that the only reason I’ll need to replace this one is when the plastic water container gets damaged, which hopefully isn’t something I’ll have to worry about for quite a while.


Today I read on Facebook that “marriage is just sharing the same germs” or something to that effect. Anyway, I’ve been laid up with a cold since Thursday night. I spent these days sleeping, screwing around on the internet, and listening to podcasts.

Now that Halloween is over, it’s harder for me to find “new” podcasts about lore and history. Podcasts with decent production quality and decent storylines.

Here’s what I found:

#1 Twice Removed – Gimlet Media

One of the founders of Gimlet Media came from This American Life and Planet Money. Gimlet makes podcasts – that’s all that they do. My sisters and I spend hours listening to and then discussing Gimlet podcasts. Gimlet likes to introduce podcasts that I end up loving, and then after only a few episodes they take the axe to these podcasts. Gimlet calls these podcasts “unsustainable.” Whatever.

Here’s Exhibit A: Twice Removed, hosted by A.J. Jacobs, which WAS a family history podcast. Gimlet cancelled it after only six episodes!

#2 Uncivil – Gimlet Media

Yep, this is another Gimlet podcast. Gimlet released episode #7 last week, so maybe it’s safe from the chopping block? We’ll see.

Uncivil is about the Civil War.

Short detour: I read Gone With the Wind (GWTW) by Margaret Mitchell when I was thirteen. I LOVED it. I HIGHLIGHTED my favorite passages. My grandma taped the movie off of AMC for me (on VHS). I got mad about the sections of this thousand-page book that the movie skipped.

I argued with my high school history teacher when our textbook differed from the version of events that I read in GWTW.

Years passed, and I grew up. One day I figured out that GWTW is not actually a source document of scientific truth. Surprise, it’s a racist and biased work of fiction!

Jonathan went to Atlanta for a week for a work conference, and I tagged along. Our hotel was on the same block as the Federal Reserve Building AND also the Margaret Mitchell House.

So I toured both.

The Margaret Mitchell House was the apartment building where Mitchell wrote GWTW.  The whole building was later turned into a museum (and gift shop) about both the book and the movie of GWTW.  Shortly before or after it opened to the public, somebody burned most of it down. (Which is ironic, since Sherman’s Burning of Atlanta is one of the most famous scenes.) The museum was re-built.

The tour guide, a middle-aged Southern lady, loved GWTW in much the way that I did when I was 12 years old.  She asked me how much I loved the novel. I said something like,

“Well, I loved Gone With The Wind when I was a kid, but now I don’t think that it’s that great of a book.”

I mention all of this because one of the episodes of Uncivil specifically calls out GWTW as one of the reasons that the myth of the “Lost Cause” still persists.

Here’s the description from Uncivil‘s website:

America is divided, and it always has been. We’re going back to the moment when that split turned into war. This is Uncivil: Gimlet Media’s new history podcast, hosted by journalists Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika. We ransack the official version of the Civil War, and take on the history you grew up with. We bring you untold stories about covert operations, corruption, resistance, mutiny, counterfeiting, antebellum drones, and so much more. And we connect these forgotten struggles to the political battlefield we’re living on right now.

Each of the Uncivil episodes taught me something that I didn’t know about the Civil War.

TBH, the Civil War makes me feel uncomfortable in a way that most other wars don’t.

I saw Confederate flags on houses in Somerset and Bedford counties while I was growing up, years before (Bill) Clinton was elected president. Private property owners in my county also held a klan rally when I was a kid. I tried to reconcile this with what I “knew” about the Civil War.

A few years ago, I went to Fredericksburg, Virginia, with some of my sisters. We visited George Washington’s sister’s estate, which included a giant rock where George Washington’s mother went to pray for the United States during the American Revolution. (Allegedly. I read somewhere else that George Washington’s mother was disappointed because George Washington wasn’t a BRITISH general. No, I did NOT read this in Gone With the Wind.) We walked ONE BLOCK and then stood at the gates of the cemetery for Confederate war dead.

So, I like the concept of Uncivil.

#3 Family Ghosts – Panoply

See, this isn’t just blog post about Gimlet podcasts. I binge-listened to the entire Season #1 last night when my illness kept me awake.

This is a podcast about the skeletons in people’s family closets.

Some of the episodes include a mystery for host Sam Dingman to solve. For instance, in one episode, Dingman searches for the missing body of his friend’s long-dead grandfather. (The friend’s aunt stole the body.) So, this one episode is literally about a skeleton.


All My Life’s a Circle

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  This is a photo of my maternal grandfather’s own grandparents. With their children. So, the married couple are my great-great grandparents, and one of the boys is my great-grandfather. This branch of my family was from the South Side of Pittsburgh. In fact, the studio stamp under this photo says: Fallert 1207 Carson ST. […]

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Four Angry Mobs

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Today is November 29, and I still listen to ghost/history/lore podcasts during each work commute. This week, I found the American Hauntings Podcast. I think highly enough of it to write this essay right now, and right now it is 10:40 PM on a “school night.” (Ghost hunter Cody Beck and ghost hunter / author […]

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The Thanksgiving Stuffing Story

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          Hi, I’m back!   I have to recommend two more podcasts that I liked so much that I listened to them multiple times. I downloaded both of these from iTunes, but I’m linking here to each podcast’s actual website. Here’s the first: Tales of Terror Vol. 8 from “The Dirtbag […]

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“Do You Like My Little Lie?”

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Here is a podcast episode that I listened to yesterday during the storm. The story haunted me all night. The story is “Do You Like My Little Lie?” from the podcast “Strangers,” which is from KCRW. I found it by searching on iTunes through the list of Radiotopia podcasts. To be clear, this is a […]

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“Kinnikinnick Nick VS The Bear”

by Jenny 11 October 2017 Outdoors

  Bears. I think of a few family members when I think of bears.  Some of them loved bears, and some just remind me of bears. Today at lunch, I listed to a podcast from KCRW’s “Here Be Monsters” and I enjoyed it so much that I had to blog about it. You really, really […]

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Pre-Halloween Horrors

by Jenny 21 September 2017 Podcasts

  A few weeks into my junior year of college, one of my classmates, “Gwen,” passed away alone in her dorm room. Natural causes, from a longtime medical condition. On the same floor where I also lived. Our R.A., “Nan,” found Gwen during a welfare check after Gwen’s closest friends hadn’t seen her for a […]

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