Send in the real Easter candy

Easter just isn’t understood in my house. Oh, as a religious season? A time of rebirth? Sure, but not the other meaning of Easter: Eating enough candy to rot out real teeth, porcelain teeth … shoot, even the teeth on your chain saw.

That it is a time for copious amounts of sugar in the form of marshmallow animals, chocolate bunnies, malted milk eggs and an assortment of candies that seem hatched straight from some mad scientist’s lab. “Hey, how about a chocolate egg with a creamy filling that’s actually like yoke? Just disgusting enough to be delicious!”

And the grocery store is awash in it. Bags of it. All kinds of shapes and sizes. If you want a life-sized chocolate elephant with a jelly bean center, they’ve got it.

But you know who doesn’t have it? The only house in American lacking a dump truck full of sweet garbage goodness: Mine. How is this possible? I have an 11-year-old.

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The (somewhat) flight of the Christmas drone

I was told a cautionary tale about a boy who got a drone. It cost several hundred dollars and was as top of the line as you can get. He charged up the battery. He went through his pre-flight check. He set it all up at a park and lifted of gracefully. Then promptly set it down in a lake.

Plunk! Goodbye expensive drone.

I thought of this story as my daughter and I set up her drone for its first flight in a park down the street. Big, menacing oaks with mighty claws loomed over us. Cars passed by on the street within controller range. Obstacles and dangers were everywhere.

But that wouldn’t be us. I was going to be careful with her new Christmas present. I watched a Youtube video!

“The key,” I told my daughter, “is to take it slow. Go easy and don’t liftoff too fast. I’ll go first because I have experience with these things. I’ll just hover it about eye level and then land it carefully. OK? It’s not going to be super exciting, but it will be safe and cautious.”

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Remembering the best Christmas gift of all

“Dial it down please,” said my wife to our 10-year-old daughter.

“I can’t,” she replied. “It’s Christmas and I’m really hyper!”

She didn’t need to point out that obvious fact. She was bouncing off the walls. Riling up the dog. Dancing about. Speaking so fast that she sounded like an auctioneer on fire. I worried that maybe she had stuck her finger in a light socket, or had taken up drinking espresso.

But no: It’s Christmas!

When you’re a kid, it’s just about impossible to contain your enthusiasm this time of year. And when you’re a Christmas kid — born during the season — there’s absolutely no hope.

That’s exactly what my daughter is: A Christmas kid. Born on Dec. 26.

In fact, she began her long journey into the world on Christmas morning when my wife’s water broke while we were opening presents. The little child didn’t seem too concerned that we were an hour away from having family over, or that I might want another cup of coffee. (At least she had the decency to drag the labor out and didn’t emerge until the next day.)

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The perils of holiday gift giving

It is better to give than it is to receive. Yes, yes this is true. But it is definitely easier to RECEIVE than it is to GIVE. Especially when your family won’t tell you what they want and it’s only … holy cow juice! … like a week until Christmas!

Forget giving, I’ve got to start BUYING!

But I’m stumped this year. It’s always hard, but it seems this year it’s been especially difficult to come up with ideas. Or pry ideas out of people. That includes my daughter, who turns 11 the day after Christmas. Maybe it’s a tough age — an age when toys of yesteryear don’t quite cut it. Instead, electronics and other big ticket items are more important.

Conversations in my house sound like this now:

Me: Child, why is your homework all over my desk?!?

Child: Because I needed the computer for it AND I don’t have a computer OF MY OWN in my room … hint, hint, hint …


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The Christmas advice column

I think it’s time for a new tradition here in the column: answering questions about Christmas that you always wanted to know, but were too afraid to ask your friends. So, consider this my holiday present to you:

Q. Is there a statute of limitations on sending Christmas cards? 

A. According to the Institute on Postal Greetings, ideally your Christmas cards should arrive at least 5 days before Christmas. It is acceptable, but slightly uncouth, to knowingly send cards that arrive up to 3 weeks after Christmas. It is HIGHLY DISCOURAGED, however, to send the cards you made 7 years ago and never mailed out because you were in charge of getting stamps, but couldn’t remember where the Post Office was. 

Q. When your wife opens up her Christmas present, finds an electric leg shaver and says, “Oh, honey! Just what I always wanted,” does she really mean it?

A. No! Of course not. That was a terrible gift. You knew that going into it. The only reason you bought it was it had been marked down 40 percent, plus there was an additional discount because it was missing key parts. Take the fact that she is pretending to like it — and not hitting you over the head with it! — as a kind of moral victory.  

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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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Goodbye to the holiday snacks

I went searching for the holiday chocolates. The peanut brittle. The pecan pie. The $75 worth of exotic cheeses that my aunt had brought to town (inexplicably, she forgot the crackers!) The candied nuts. The salami with the peppercorn coating.

The last edible vestiges of a bygone holiday season.
Anything. I would have taken anything. But the cubbards were bare. The snack drawer famished. The refrigerator shelves like salt flats.

The holidays? Officially over. The holiday snack bonanza had gone.

It isn’t when the Christmas tree comes down that I rue the end of the holidays. Not the Christmas lights getting boxed up or the absence of Christmas music played from sunrise to sunset. (Actually, my daughter still does that.) But when the holiday snack well runs dry, the reality sinks in, and I sink into a deep, dark depression.

“There’s nothing to eat for dessert,” I grumbled pathetically to my wife one night, exasperated. “Have we been robbed?!?”

“You’re used to the Christmas cornucopia,” she replied. “Now it’s a wasteland. You’re going to have to cope. Detox. Get some professional help. Maybe eat a carrot.”

A carrot!

What kind of answer was that? For weeks, I had lived like a Christmas king, feasting on teeth-rotting and waistline-expanding delicacies. Now I was ruined.

This wouldn’t do. I couldn’t go back.

My eyes darted around wildly as I tried to make sense of it. A “wasteland?”

No, there had to be something. I stood at the door of the pantry, trying to spot some morsel I missed before. Trying to piece together odd and assorted foodstuffs that might suffice for a sugary treat. There were pretzels. A handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips. A can of condensed milk. Some questionable walnuts. A dusty bag of marshmallows that date back to when we bought the house. Wait a minute, we bought the house back in 1998? Wait a minute, ARE THOSE EVEN MARSHMALLOWS?!?

No matter, could it work? Could it make a treat?

No, it wouldn’t do. It wouldn’t be the same. It might send me to the hospital. There’s probably a special code they use to bill ER visits like this — “Idiot ate questionable goodies post-Christmas.” Insurance wouldn’t even cover something stupid like that.

Defeated and downtrodden, I gave up hope. Not even the thought of the last sliver of crusty cheese that had survived the purge could lift my spirits. Thanks to my aunt, there were no Christmas crackers, either.

So I went back to the sofa and listened to my poor rumbling stomach sing songs about the good old days, when cubbards sagged under the weight of goodies and my waistline could expand exponentially. Goodbye holiday season.

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Resolutions … I should have made

I guess there’s still time. You know, to make some resolutions I should have made. The big ones. The serious ones. The ones that didn’t make the cut. Because I resolved to do little things instead. Like drink more carrot smoothies or not blame my daughter for the cookie crumbs I left on the kitchen counter. (In my defense, it’s a 50-50 shot they’re hers!) But I go with the easy ones. Don’t you? There’s still time, though. Time to resolve to do the big ones, like these:

• Click on fewer “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” blog posts with theories about the movie. I’m a child of “Star Wars,” which means I’ve been totally hooked on the new film. Addicted is more like it. If anything comes up on the computer with “Star Wars” on it — “What kind of underwear do First Order stormtroopers wear?” — I click on it. And suddenly two days of my life are gone and I have a Jed-length beard. I need to realize it will be two years before the next movie and that no one on the Internet can tell me if Rey’s dad is really Chewbacca. No more links!

• Stop looking for new house projects. Every time I finish a major job around the house, I commend myself for a bad job done poorly and pledge to never take on another do-it-yourself disaster AGAIN. This pledge lasts all of 13 seconds before I notice some wood rot and think, “Hmm, maybe I should tear off the kitchen wall and install a Tie fighter landing pad …” DAMN YOU “STAR WARS”!!! Anyway, I never make good on my promises to let the house be, or to hire someone. Maybe this can be the year of letting my house fall apart. Or at least pay someone over to display poor carpentry skills and a knack for stepping on nails.

• Never go onto the east side of my daughter’s room again. Maybe it’s my dyslexia, but I always seem to forget this one. I go in to tell her goodnight and inevitably travel barefoot into that minefield of scattered toys and assorted sharp objects like a scene from “Home Alone.” As I scream and writhe on the floor, my daughter yells: “Dad! I just set up that Playmobil African vet clinic! Now the hyenas have gotten loose and will eat the gazelles!” Stay to the west, big dummy. Stay to the west.

• Be more patient. Because I’m not. In fact, I got so frustrated with how long it took to type this sentence that I almost deleted it and went for a nerve-calming donut. Patience is in short supply with me. I’ve never had time for it. It’s a luxury afforded to people with time on their hands. Not me. Or is it? Maybe it’s something I can learn. Like the Force. If I just click on a few more of those “Star Wars” blog posts …

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The kid grows up

“Have I grown up?” my daughter asked me a couple of nights before Christmas … and her birthday. It was a serious question, asked in a serious voice. She sounded like she wanted to know if the end of the year was a good time to buy stocks, or if El Niño was going to make the oceans rise faster.

We had been watching old Christmas morning videos. How odd to say “old.” Because there should be nothing old about them — she’s still just a kid. Yet, they were labeled strange years, long in the past: 2009, 2010, 2012 …

And the kid in the video was nearly unrecognizable. In one, she was missing all of her front teeth. “Did you get in a bar fight?” I asked. “You look like a hockey player!”

And her voice in some didn’t sound like the little girl sitting in front of the computer.

“Yep, that was my little kid accent,” she said. “I’m not sure when that went away.”

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