Dial-it-in Christmas decorating

It may have been a world record for Christmas decorating. In fact, I think it took longer to get the boxes out of the attic than it did to get ornaments on the tree and the holiday nick-knacks dispersed about the house.

I’ve nearly foregone Christmas just so I wouldn’t have to drag those dang boxes down the rickety attic steps. Nothing is worse than hitting your head multiple times, stumbling over luggage and nearly toppling out of the opening, only to be told: “No! That’s a box of Thanksgiving stuff! We need Christmas!”

But once it was all down, decorating became a slapdash race this year. Even more so than previous years. At times, it looked more like net-casting or leaf-blowing than decorating.

Maybe it was the weather. It felt like 120 degrees outside as I strained in the sun to put Christmas light icicles around the front porch and not get impaled on the bougainvillea. My wife reported to her aunt in Long Island that it was a very Florida Christmas: “We’re all in shorts, the doors are open and we’ve got the AC running.”

Maybe that had something to do with the not-so-festive mood. The just-get-it-done approach. Like we were at the beach, not the North Pole.

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Lessons from Thanksgiving

It was a time to give thanks — to be mindful, take stock in all that we have and show gratitude. That is the meaning of Thanksgiving. But along with it, the holiday brings a lot of other lessons for us to learn and ponder. Lessons not quite as significant, but just as important.

Like how dogs would sooner be thrown into a pool of hot lava than go out in the rain. And if you’re in a hurry – because it’s Thanksgiving morning and there’s a turkey in the oven – they’ll fight you even more.

My brother and his family traveled north this year to visit my sister-in-law’s family. We took care of his dog, who I affectionately refer to as “Meat Chunk.” It’s because she resembles a side of beef. She runs around the house with my dog crashing into things, dislodging structural support walls and crushing toes.

Because my dog and his are like dueling tornadoes, Meat Chunk was going back to her house Thanksgiving morning. The rainy morning. The morning when everything was flooded. The morning I had a 15-second window that didn’t include time for scrambling around the car trying to get her out and yelling, “Damn you, Meat Chunk, it’s just a little rain!”

That got a few stares on the street.

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Memo for a Winter Spectacular

Memo to Dad
Subject: Upcoming performance of ‘The Winter Spectacular’

Because you are known NOT to pay attention, I am writing you this memo to go over important instructions for my performance of “The Winter Spectacular.” As you may recall, but probably don’t because you had that blank look on your face at dinner, “The Winter Spectacular” is when I dance and spin colored streamers to the delightful sounds of Christmas music. It is for select family members and takes place in the dining room. You remember now? All coming back to you?

Your role in the performance is very simple … which is why I’m worried. Whenever something is “simple” you either: 1) over-complicate it, or 2) don’t pay any attention. LIKE RIGHT NOW! Are you paying attention!?! Come on, stay with me.

OK, so here are some key things you must remember:

• The performance will last approximately 4 hours. There will be seven 20-minute intermissions, and an encore that should take a little over an hour depending on how long the applause goes on for.

• You are strictly forbidden from taking bathroom breaks, coffee breaks, breaks to complain about how long the show is or any mention of soccer matches on TV that you’re missing. We all know you’re DVR-ing them!

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The Thanksgiving Quiz

Thanksgiving is on the horizon, and to get everyone ready for the cooking and the horde of family members who will complain about your food, question all of your hard work and then spend the whole day fighting like a pack of drunken honey badgers, I’ve put together this quiz. Answers at the bottom.

1. How do you know when the turkey is ready?
A. It reaches an internal temperature of 865 degrees.
B. The ice chunk in the body cavity finally melts.
C. You get tired of guests asking when it’s going to be ready so you just start carving it, even though the juices aren’t running clear.
D. You have a “hunch” or a “good feeling about it.”

2. At what time is it appropriate to open the first bottle of wine?
A. 5:15 a.m.
B. 5:30 a.m.
C. 5:45 a.m.
D. After the 52nd time your mother calls asking when she is supposed to come over.

3. What is the best way to defuse family tension at the dinner table?
A. Tap dance routine.
B. Faking appendicitis.
C. Blurting out as loud as you can: “IT WAS COL. MUSTARD IN THE PARLOR WITH THE PIPE!!!”
D. Demand that all family members submit to genetic testing to prove that you are related by blood.

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Long live Halloween, said the dad with the stretched waistband

At the last moment, Halloween was saved. My worst fears — that a pyramid-sized pile of candy wouldn’t materialize from my daughter’s well-worn trick-or-treating pumpkin — were allayed.

Long live Halloween … the night when dads gorge themselves on the spoils of their children’s hard work.

But this year, it wasn’t looking so good. My 11-year-old daughter had decided a week or so ago she wasn’t going to participate. No dressing up. No trick-or-treating with friends. No pyramid of sweetness for dear old dad. She would just give out candy at home … THAT WE HAD TO BUY!!!

My daughter only eats about a third of her candy from Halloween: pink and red Starbursts, a scattering of Skittles, Whoppers and a few other sugar-laden, artificially-dyed brands. They have to meet her high standards, and not seem tampered with. (If a cat so much as looks at my child funny, she blacklists the house, quarantines the candy as “tampered with” and turns it over to me.)

All that candy – Almond Joys, Snickers, Baby Ruths! – all become mine.

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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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