A Floridian’s invitation to Old Man Winter

Hey, Old Man Winter! Is this the best you got? Can’t you do better? Can’t you send at least a little cold stuff down our way? That way I can wear this new sweater I got for Christmas.

Last time I tried, I didn’t make it a full day before it was heaped up in a ball while I panted and Googled: “how to cure winter heat exhaustion.”

The answer was: move north!

No, I don’t want to. And I sure don’t want it cold here all the time, for months on end. But a little moderation — a little nip to the air — would be nice.

Already it feels like spring has arrived. I’ve seen azaleas blooming, and after a rain, rings of yellow pollen collecting around the puddles in the street. I stood two feet from a hummingbird slurping away at porter’s weed in my front yard. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and had a suntan.

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The evil side to the friendly fire alarm

Need proof that technology has a mind of its own? Has a sense of mischief? An evil streak?

How about this: Why does a smoke alarm decide that the appropriate time to let you know it needs a battery replacement is at 2 a.m.?

Not at 4 p.m. on a weekend, just as you’re launching into other house projects. Or 10 a.m. on a weekday, when no one is around to care.

Two … in … the … MORNING!

And does it gently prod you? Offer a nicely-worded reminder? Nope. Instead, it emits a sonic burst so shrill and piercing that it feels like a stream of molten lava has been poured into your ear canal.

For some reason, fire alarm manufacturers see no need to differentiate between, “RUN, fool! Your house is on fire!” and “Please, sir, kindly gather up a 9-volt battery, but only when you have a moment.”

Practically the same thing in my book.

This is what happened in the Thompson house at 2 a.m., directly above my head, while I slumbered in the deepest of sleeps. You don’t come out of those easily, and certainly not from a single blast of the fire alarm. The little bugger is kind enough to issue a single “blurt” before pausing for 30 seconds or so.

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Almost forgot … resolutions

Is it too late to talk about New Year’s resolutions? The kind I’m not going to stick to? I forgot to make any this year, and felt very empty and lost without them as I navigate 2017. So I’m making up for lost time and putting down a few I hope to fail at within the next, say, 10 minutes:

• Stop being shocked when college students tell me the year they were born. Like the other day in class when I mentioned I graduated from Flagler College in 1995. “I wasn’t even born yet!” someone from the group blurted out. They then commenced pointing and laughing at me, or at least that’s how I remember it right before I blacked out and someone was dispatched for the defibrillator. Maybe it hit me so hard because that final year of college is the last that we consider ourselves “young.” It’s right before moving out into the adult workforce and the real world. And now that move for me took place before any of these kids were even born. Yowza!

• Stop throwing the kid out of class who tells me he or she was born before I graduated. They’re just going to Snapchat it and share with all their friends on social media how old I am.

• TALK about running consistently. That way I don’t have to actually RUN more consistently. I should have done this while training for my marathon last year. But, nooooo! I had to go and do the running. I had to put in the grueling miles. My life would have been so much easier if I had just sat on the sofa with a bag of potato chips berating myself for not going out and hitting the roads. I’m getting that one right this year.

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Chaos in a cube

It has vexed me since I was a little child: the Rubik’s Cube. That multi-colored block that lets you shift pieces around in a vain attempt to get all the same colors back where they belong.

The toy maker claims the cube can be scrambled in 43 quintillion different patterns. (I think they made the word “quintillion” up, but anyway, it’s a lot.)

As a kid, I think I tried all quintillion combinations, including busting the bugger up and putting it back together correctly. Or peeling the stickers off and reapplying them in the correct order. I failed even at those.

The little toy haunted me. It seemed so easy, so simple — like there must be a right way to do it. Screaming, pulling all the hair out of the right side of my head and throwing it as far as I could into the neighbor’s yard never worked. (Maybe I needed to do that 7 quintillion times?)

Which is why I was so amazed when we visited one of our college friends over the Christmas break. Her 10-year-old son, Lucas, has not only mastered it, but goes to tournaments to compete with his super-fancy, ultra-spinny cube that dances in your fingers and says things like, “Sooie, you got this, baby!!!”

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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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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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