That old house fascination

A postcard arrived in the mail. One of those gimmicky ones made to look like real handwriting. It said, “I’m interested in buying your house …”

My wife always takes great offense to things like this. We get them every once in a while. Part anger, part sarcasm and part joking, she said she wanted to contact this person and tell them we would be happy to sell … for a price that was three times what the place is worth.

“Actually, could you imagine that?” she said. “We could buy a huge lot somewhere and build whatever we wanted.”

“Yeah,” I said longingly, picturing never having to nail down a loose porch floorboard or fixing another termite-eaten piece of siding on the century-old downtown house. “I can imagine it!”

My daughter wasn’t so amused. “We’re not selling the house,” she declared at dinner. “Not for any amount.”

“Nothing?” my wife asked.

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The Florida scrub brush Christmas tree

My mother wants a 2-foot Christmas tree. A real one. Cut fresh from a Florida tree farm.

Only 2 feet tall!

“Two feet?!?” I gasped in horror when she told me this. “That’s not even a tree. That’s a weed!”

My mother likes scrub brush pines. The kind that grow in the sand or gravel. In my mother’s mind, it’s the classic Florida Christmas tree. They are so starved for water from the never-ending drought that they look like they have mange. We find them at a Christmas tree farm in Eustis where you cut them down yourself.
Actually, many of them look quite pretty. But to get the size my mother wants — before they grow to a normal height, fill out and look pleasant — you have to sift through a selection of odd-shaped sprouts and runts.

Since my mother doesn’t go — she just hands me a check and some strict orders — we have to make the call ourselves.

My mother doesn’t ever water her tree. By the time Christmas comes, the poor guy is little more than a shriveled stick with clumps of brown needles hanging on for dear life. The tree gets so dry that it risks spontaneously combusting, and for that reason, no one wants to sit by it as we pass around the presents.

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And many thanks are given

What am I thankful for this year? Simple things. Some are in the future. Like how I’m going to remember to defrost the turkey early this year. Maybe then I won’t have to stand panicked in the kitchen with a hair dryer as I try to get a leg to un-freeze. Or jam a hand into the cavity of the bird while desperately trying to pry some giblets out. Nothing like getting frost-bite in the process.

I wonder if Thanksgiving is the only time Florida hospitals have to treat patients for frostbite?

I’m thankful there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out next month. If I’m lucky — if we’re ALL really lucky — there will be a new one every year for the rest of my life.

Even though I feel guilty about it — because others I know weren’t so lucky — I’m thankful that my street sits so high up in Lincolnville. That the surging waters of Hurricane Matthew tried, but just couldn’t overcome that elevation. And I’m thankful that as bad as it was, it wasn’t worse. That it didn’t come 15-20 miles — shoot, even 5 miles — closer to the coast. Imagine if it had.

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How to occupy your time, now that the election is over

It’s over. The presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is mercifully over. Look, forget who won or lost, just for a moment. If your candidate won, you’re still smiling and gloating. If your candidate lost, you’re still researching real estate in Canada. I get it. It’s been a tough one on all of us. It’s been emotional. It’s been trying. It’s tested us, individually and as a nation.

But mercifully — whether you won or lost — there is this: We can all start to get our lives back.

This election has been all-consuming — as if the oxygen was sucked from the room. We spent the past year or two straining for breath. It’s felt like that. Without making light of it — without trying to sweep under the rug what is a major victory for some and a difficult-to-heal loss for the rest — we at least don’t have to listen to speeches anymore.

So in the spirit of moving on — at your own pace — I suggest a few things to fill your time now that you don’t have to worry about the election, or hanging on endless polls, or watching all those TV pundits you couldn’t stand anyway.

• Have a meal with your family where you actually feel present again — not worrying about this statement or that poll. We been so invested in this election that dinner conversation has become background noise. Something we’ve heard, but not really taken part in. You know what? The most important words you hear should be the ones taking place right at your dining room table. Tune in to THAT.

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When marathons collide … with marathon elections

I have come to the conclusion that elections are like marathons: They force you to endure long stretches of misery and inflict interminable pain.

This week I am testing that theory/cliché by running a marathon — the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in Savannah, Ga. — just a couple days before the presidential election.

Heaven help me!

I do this knowing that the stress of the two within the same week could be too much for my poor body. I could spontaneously combust. I could go insane. I could vote for the green party or write-in “Bette Midler” for president. Nobody knows what will happen.

But I endure it for you, America!

I’ve found many similarities between running 26.2 miles and a presidential election, especially THIS election. For instance, feelings and emotions change over time. When I signed up for the marathon all those months ago, I was giddy, excited and full of optimism. Four months later I am racked with uncertainty, self-doubt, fear and the sense that I have made a horrible mistake. (Plus, I could lose some toenails in the process!)

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Critical steps for all you DIY-ers

When did “do it yourself” become such a trendy, positive, popular term? I mean, it used to be a negative. Something you would shout when you were fed up with someone, and usually with a bit of nastiness tacked onto the end: “Oh yeah, well do it yourself … jerk face!”

But, not today. Not when we’re all proud “do-it-yourselfers.” And even though I’ve sworn off doing-it-myself — numerous times — I always find I’m pulled back in. Lured to a new project I should have hired out. Like when I decided to fix a water filter assembly in my refrigerator. Yeah! Good idea!

So here are a few tips I think everyone should ponder before launching into their own DIY nightmares … I mean … projects:

• Make sure you do it right before heading out of town on a business trip. Your wife will absolutely love this when she realizes the “fix” you may (or may not) have just completed could send a jet of cold water spraying into the kitchen while you’re gone.

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Surviving a hurricane … with mom

I don’t mean to sound over-dramatic, but I really feel lucky. I don’t mean to make light of the situation. It’s just that people have told me this in jest. Not because I made it through Hurricane Matthew, but because I made it through two nights in a stuffy hotel room with my mother. With her dog. Without electricity. With only a couple of cold chicken fingers and the few sandwiches I grabbed from work.

And maybe most of all, because my wife didn’t kill me for staying with my mother, and not with her and my daughter.

It certainly wasn’t the way I planned it. Looking back on it, I’m still not sure how it worked out that way. But I do remember a phone call one early morning, right before Matthew started huffing and puffing our way.

It was my mother: “Brian! The hotel just called to say they’re canceling my reservation! They’re evacuating the city!” (My mother talks with a Southern accent, but she is Cuban. And Cubans talk in exclamation points!)

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The lesson from Hurricane Matthew

St. Augustine, Florida — “Boy, one big bubba truck riding down the road could have swamped her,” the friend said. I was telling him about my mother’s house in downtown St. Augustine. When I got back into St. Augustine early Saturday morning — cutting down a side street clogged with debris and garbage and tree branches — I pulled into her driveway and shined a light through her door to see twinkling cat eyes staring at me. Then I noticed the high water line along the siding.

It’s where the flood waters stopped. Barely an inch from her doorway.

That was how close her house came to flooding. Had the storm jogged a few miles west — had that “bubba truck” ridden down Riberia Street — it would have been a different story.


She’s one of the lucky ones. I was, too, and my brother.

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Memories of waterparks

I have four distinct memories of going to waterparks as a child: 1) Nearly being drowned by a crush of friends in the deep end of the wave pool; 2) burning to such a crisp that I looked like a strip of bacon (and smelled like it, too;) 3) drinking no water, aside from what I swallowed while being drowned in the wave pool; and 4) putting my towel down on a beach chair and never — ever! — finding it again.

I grew up in Tampa, and many weekends were spent at Adventure Island. My mother would drop my brother, me and a couple friends off with a towel, a glob of sunscreen to share and some wadded up money we were supposed to use for lunch. (We inevitably blew it at the arcade.)

In summer, we lived at waterparks. In Florida you are required to attend waterparks. It’s the official state bird.
But my daughter, now 10, had never been to one. (When you live close to the Atlantic Ocean, who needs fake waves?)

So when we traveled to Orlando this past weekend so my wife could attend a conference, the two of us visited Aquatica, a waterworld filled with slides, wave pools, lazy rivers and tourists wearing odd bathing suits that leave nothing to the imagination.

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Go to the doctor, dipsy doodle

I hope my gravestone doesn’t one day read: “Should have gone to the doctor. Might have saved him, if not for his stubbornness. Now he’s dead … and eternally stubborn.”

It would be the greatest shame of my life.

I guess I should clarify: I’m not dying. Not that I know of. And at no point did I think I was dying. But I did spend a couple weeks in sickness, lurching from one ailment to the next — first the common cold, then a sinus-something-or-other followed by what could be described as “bronchial bazooka,” and finally general hacking coupled with all the hair on the left side of my body falling out. You know, normal stuff!

While it dragged on and on, I refused to go to the doctor, thinking all the time that I was finally punching through to better health, and that a visit would be a waste of time.

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