A letter to the household critters

Dear critters of the Thompson household,

I thought it time I sit down and put into writing some concerns I want to address with you. One or two incidents, I agree, do not constitute a trend. However, we have now reached the point where there is a pattern developing and it’s time to talk.

To put it simply: We’re starting to look like a crazy house! I’m asking you all to pull it together and make some changes.

Let’s start with you, the chickens. And, in particular, the scrawny (but pretty) brown one who goes by Phoebe. Thanks to your inability to stay within your ample enclosed area, I have had to further “enclose” it … stringing ever taller nets around your “land” so that my backyard now looks like a poor man’s batting cage, or some kind of third world fishing village. Not the look I was going for! Please stop hatching wild escape attempts so you can go eat my butterfly bushes.

And you, the dog. What’s with the shedding? I get that it’s turning hot and you think leaving five inches of fur across my living room floor will make you cooler. But guess what? It’s making me hot! At least vacuum once in a while.

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Little kid trip excitability

Kids crack me up. How excited they get about things still months away, like Christmas, the promise of their first cel phone, driving, paying taxes and especially trips.

My 11-year-old daughter is no exception, especially when it comes to trips. She sat down at the dinner table the other night like a business woman ready to discuss our trip to Michigan … in late July! The two of us are traveling out to see my sister perform in the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. We are meeting up with my dad, and it’s just a daddy-daughter trip. Our first. (I’m excited, too!)

But it’s still months away, which is why I found it amusing when she said in her most serious tone, “So, I want to discuss Michigan.”

“OK. Let’s discuss,” I said.

“So, what airline are we flying?”


“Oh, great! The one that killed the giant bunny?!?”

“No, that was United. American hasn’t killed any giant bunnies recently. Maybe a snake. I don’t know.”

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Running to a ridiculously longer life

Sometimes a news article comes along that is just what you need, at just the right time.

Like this one from The New York Times: “An hour of running may add 7 hours to your life,” the headline practically screamed.

“Seven extra hours for every hour I run?!?” I thought. “Shoot, I’ve already banked enough to live to 307! I’m practically immortal!!! I can start drinking beer for breakfast and eating pretzels dipped in bacon fat, just like I’ve always dreamed!”

As some of you may recall, I recently wrote how I had fallen into a running rut after completing a marathon last fall. And in that column I advised, more or less, to swear off advice columns that promise to help you wake up early or get back into super-fancy exercise regimes. They were failing me as I tried to break my funk and re-engage my lost love for running.

But I want to amend that: Skip advice columns, BUT … in their place, read only the headlines of stories on health studies that make grandiose and overly-general claims. (The key here is ONLY read the headlines, never the full story. Life is best when you gloss over the facts and skip the fine print.)

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Thump goes the milestone

As a runner, I always understood the word “milestone” in terms of distance. How long it’s been since you hit the last the one. How they’re important markers on the road of life. How they pop up and symbolize something so significant that you have to remember it, memorialize it and celebrate it by screaming out, “Dude, who knew I could fit a whole bag of Cheetos in my mouth!” (Not sure that last one has anything to do with running, but …)

When I hear the word “milestone,” I always focus on the “mile,” and never the “stone.” Only, recently I’ve come to appreciate that second part of the word a bit more — what it really means. How important it is to the greater construct.

Mile-STONE — an event of great significance … that wallops you on the head. I believe the term comes from ancient Greece where the swift marathoner Runesius won a country race, only to be bludgeoned in the head by an archrival with a rock. “Boy, that milestone sure did wallop Runesius!” someone remarked, and the rest as they say is history. (Or at least, that’s how I picture it.)

This new meaning of milestone has come to me as my daughter winds down her school year, which seems loaded with significance and change on the horizon. This week, for instance, marked her last performance with the children’s choir at Memorial Presbyterian downtown. She graduated. Apparently, she isn’t a “children” anymore.

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A life free of online advice columns … in three easy steps

Another one hooked me. An online advice column with some kind of headline about the secrets to waking up early so you have time to exercise or drink coffee or read more advice columns.

I’ve fallen into a running rut — an erratic exercise schedule ever since my marathon in October. It’s as if my body said, “Yo man, we’ve run enough miles for the entire year. Let’s just kick back, eat cheeseburgers and get to know the next notch on our belt!”


And once you’re out of your exercise routine, it’s murder getting it back. I thought the secret to running more regularly was returning to a morning schedule. But first I would have to conquer my addiction to hitting the snooze button 72 times each morning. I hit the snooze button so many times I’ve developed a callus on my palm, and I think I’ve dislocated my wrist.

That’s when I saw it! The online post promising me I could wake up early if I did this one thing.

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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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Lessons in childhood chores

I started rubbing my hands together. Scheming. Thinking about all the tasks and jobs and things I hate to do.

My wife — I can’t even remember why —said to my daughter one day: “It’s time you had some real chores. You need to come up with a few ideas.”

I popped up out of nowhere, complete with a puff of smoke. “I’ve got some ideas!” I said.

I think my daughter hadn’t finished something or tried to order room service after the kitchen had closed. Something that kids are known to do to set parents off, and get them threatened with more tasks around the house.

It was music to my ears. Free labor! Handing off tasks I hate. Giving up household duties that threaten life and limb — MY life and most of MY limbs!

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Remembering names and that neural implant something or other

Torn. Absolutely torn.

Because technology is starting to frighten me. With all its advances and nefarious uses and the fact that our microwaves are now snickering at us when they see what we’re wearing each morning.

But there’s some cool stuff, too. Some of it seems awfully tempting. Like the news that tech entrepreneur Elon Musk is launching a company with the goal of implanting electrodes into our brains. One day, this could help us do all manner of wonderful things, like speed up how we process and analyze information. You know, like finding the most adorable cat videos on the Internet without ever typing on a keyboard. That way we can have our hands free to eat cheese puffs!

I’m terrified and intrigued by this idea. The cool part is how such a chip might help my feeble little mind work better. Like remember names. I’m possibly one of the worst name-remembers in history. I once looked in the mirror and had to ask myself, “So, one more time, tell me your name?”

How awesome would it be to have a neural implant in my brain that gently reminds me with tender nudges who people are: “ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME!?! IT’S ED!!! HOW HARD IS THAT TO REMEMBER?!?”

I could totally go for that.

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Flight of the bomb-crater chicken

My chickens have it pretty good. A nice, roomy house, an enclosed run where they can stretch their legs, and even a “private” yard with a picket fence so they can explore a bit when we’re home.

All I ask in return are two simple things: 1) provide us eggs and 2) don’t venture out into MY yard where they dig giant holes, toss around pine needles and devour anything green like a giant swarm of drunken locusts.

Two simple things! And two of my three birds abide.

But then there is little Phoebe — the bomb-crater chicken. A house, a run and a yard are not enough. She needs to roam and explore. She needs to wander MY yard, scratching for bugs, eating plants and digging massive holes that that look like a World War II air raid.

How does Phoebe get out? Well, chickens do fly, you know. But most of the time they’re too lazy, too fat or frankly, lack the smarts to remember they have this skill.

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Spring dumped a New York blizzard named ‘Stella’

I paced back and forth. Up and down the block, under the cover of a hotel awning. Weary to venture out. Is that black ice? Can high-powered snowflakes kill? If you get hit by a snowplow, do they just shove you in a snow bank and leave you until the city thaws?

No Floridian should be here. In an epic spring-time storm. A winter-esque blizzard that even the northerners freaked out about. They were careful on the roads. They skipped work and school. They shutdown trains and fired up snow blowers. They sprinkled salt everywhere, even on their salads. And they mourned the tulips they had planted the week before when it was 60 degrees and supposed to be spring.


This was a Noreaster, combining with a polar blast of snow cutting across the Midwest. They called it Stella. A she-devil who was supposed to bring 12-18 inches of snow to New York City. I was there for a College Media Conference. It seemed like a good thing to attend … until I learned their HIGH temperatures wouldn’t crack the lowest I had seen all year.

Um … ha?

I paced back and forth, trying to decide whether to trudge into those cotton-candy whiffs of white drifting down. Piling up on the street like someone shaking powdered sugar all over the city.

To trudge out into it or not to trudge? That is a Floridian’s question.

But no Floridian — not one who had been through a hurricane last year — could live with himself if he didn’t trudge.
So, I went. To learn many new things about winter weather, and to remember lessons I had long since forgotten.

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