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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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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