If you’ve ever wondered about how we decorate for the holidays here at NPR — meet Pinko, the Christmas Flamingo. He’s become something of a newsroom tradition. He stands at the intersection of our workstations and is the first thing I see when I look up from the computer.
One of these days I’m going to start thinking ahead and actually do the things that need to be done around the house to keep my wife happy and disaster at bay.
Unfortunately, I’m not very good at planning and so must occasionally suffer the consequences.
Our gutters are a perfect example of a job that escaped my notice until it was too late.
Judging by what happened last week, I really should be up on a ladder to clean the leaves out of them right now. Instead, I’m kicked back in my favorite chair mindlessly watching a “Pawn Stars” marathon and trying to come up with excuses to tell my wife when she asks why our heat pump isn’t working, again.
For the alert homeowner, gutters and heat pumps don’t have much to do with each other. But they do at my house.
That’s because our heat pump is situated in the worst possible location: directly beneath the precise point where rainwater gets backed up and overflows.
Saying our gutters simply overflow doesn’t seem to do justice to what happens when a big rain storm stalls over our house. It’s actually more dramatic.
Much more dramatic.
Think Niagara Falls emptying its fury directly into our heat pump and you get the picture.
The first heavy rainstorm of the fall usually serves as a pretty good reminder that our gutters need attention. All I have to do during a deluge is open the back door to observe:
a) rainwater rushing off the roof into the gutters.
b) rainwater with no place to go because our gutters are clogged with leaves.
c) buckets and buckets of rainwater pouring into our heat pump.
d) rainwater being sprayed everywhere by our heat pump’s fan.
At that point, I think to myself that I really ought to shimmy up the ladder. A few days later I usually do and the problem is taken care of.
But last week’s storm was different.
It was cold.
So cold, our heat pump couldn’t handle all the water pouring into it.
When I got home from work the morning before Thanksgiving, my wife informed me that our rickety old heat pump was making a funnier noise than usual.
I saw why when I looked outside.
It was encased in ice.
A couple of days later, our heat pump fixit guy stopped by, took a look around, stepped up on our back deck’s railing to get a look inside our gutters and said, “I don’t think anything is wrong with your heat pump.”
I almost begged to differ but thought better of it when he went on to explain that the freezing temperatures combined with all the water from our gutter simply froze our heat pump in its tracks. He said to give him a call if it didn’t work properly once all the ice melts.
Before you start chuckling and feeling all superior because I somehow couldn’t figure that out on my own, my fixit guy suggested that I’m not the only failed homeowner around with heat pump problems. He told me he’d been much busier than usual because the storm that blew through before Thanksgiving had taken a lot of people in our region by surprise.
But that doesn’t ameliorate the fact that our geriatric heat pump is nearing the end of its usefulness. Sometime soon, we are going to have to invest in a new one, but not today.
Today, I’m dragging the ladder out of the garage.
But first I’m dying to see if the “Pawn Stars” are going to buy that huge collection of “Lone Ranger” memorabilia they’re considering.
As I settled into my favorite chair to begin fleshing out this column, my wife, as if on cue, rushed out the door for work promising to send me a list of things to get at the grocery store.
Unless she somehow read my mind, she couldn’t have known I was planning to write about how lists seem to have:
1) Taken over my life, specifically.
2) The world, generally.
Can anyone escape lists these days?
They are ubiquitous.
Lists are splashed all over magazine covers in check-out lines everywhere. The Internet is littered with them. Even The Journal publishes a “Top Three Things to Know” each day.
At least the lists my wife sends me are more immediately relevant. Without their guidance, I’d probably end up stuck in the bathroom because I forgot to bring home toilet paper … again.
Since I’m not likely to ever be rid of lists, I’ve decided to join the crowd and come up with one of my own.
So without further delay here are the “Top Six Things I’m Thankful for As Thanksgiving Approaches.”
1) I’m thankful my friends on Facebook haven’t yet seen fit to give me a number. I in no way want to feel obligated to share a list random facts about myself online. I’d much rather do that here in the newspaper.
2) I’m thankful I haven’t had to borrow the neighbor’s ladder. The roof over my head hasn’t sprung any leaks, lately. However, the next big storm that blows through may prove me wrong.
3) I’m thankful that our ancient heat pump is still in working order. It may sound like a wheezy old man when it kicks on but it still coughs up enough heat to warm the house … sort of.
4) I’m thankful that my lawn mower made it through the summer. It’s also teetering toward wherever lawn mowers and heat pumps go in their old age, but it made it through another summer without a white sheet being thrown over it.
5) I’m thankful that our kids seem to be okay despite being outed on a regular basis in the newspaper.
6) I’m thankful that my wife is back at work.
I’m especially thankful for that last one.
My wife started a new job this week. But between leaving her old one and starting her new one, she had a week off.
Which means she was home with me.
Which means she probably saw right through me.
Because I work nights and weekends, I usually have time during the day with little distraction from things like the Doctor Who marathon on BBC America, which is preparing for tomorrow’s (Saturday 11/23) 50th anniversary special.
But with my wife home last week, I had to appear busy. So among other things I:
1) Made the bathrooms sparkle.
2) Vacuumed the carpets.
3) Rearranged the furniture in the family room to her satisfaction.
4) Took care of the grocery shopping.
5) Somehow managed to trick her into thinking I helped accomplish the tasks on the list of “Things To Do” she keeps in her head.
It was exhausting. And, if it had gone on any longer, my kids would not be the only ones outed around my house.
By the end of the week I came to this conclusion — if there is one thing that tops a list of rules to live by as my wife and I look toward the future, it’s:
1) She is not allowed to retire.
Because if she does, my scam is over.
Even though it’s raining as I write this and temperatures are edging down to the chilly end of the thermometer, I’m starting to think it’s high time I got back out on the bike. Otherwise, I’m going to need a whole new wardrobe by New Year’s Day.
Halloween is barely over, and I’ve already noticed a change. My clothes aren’t fitting the way they did just a couple of weeks ago. For example, my shirts are somewhat tighter around the middle. I’d like to say they shrunk a bit in the wash along with my pants but that’s simply not true.
The sad fact is, I’ve gained a couple of pounds. I’ve probably put on more but that’s all I’m going to own up to.
Despite the extra weight I refuse to loosen my belt by a notch or two. That would be tantamount to admitting that I can’t eat like I did when I was teenager. But if it gets any tighter I might end up losing a few toes due to circulation loss.
In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have bought so much candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters. But I simply couldn’t help myself. I kept piling bags and bags of the stuff in my shopping cart until I could barely guide it to the check-out line.
The sheer number of candy bags I stacked up in front of the check-out clerk must have impressed her. And I admit it did look like I had sandbagged her line, as if trying to fortify it against an enemy attack. But when she started scanning my purchases she looked at me with a skeptical eye and said “you must get a lot of trick-or-treaters.”
“We get our share,” I replied as I cleared my throat and tried to look casual.
Okay, so I bought a little extra candy.
I wouldn’t have to do that if my wife would let me go door-to-door with the kids. But she has this notion that if you’re over 12-years-old, you shouldn’t be trick-or-treating.
Joking aside, I agree with her. There comes a point when trick-or-treating with your children just seems pathetic.
That said, handing out candy for a couple of hours makes my sweet tooth kick-in. So what’s a dad to do short of stealing the kids’ Halloween candy when they’re not looking?
Buy enough to have left-overs to stash away.
We have a huge bowl in our dining room that’s brimming with all sorts of candy – Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops, Lemonheads, Milk Duds, Skittles, Laffy Taffy, Double Bubble gum, Sweethearts and Bottle Caps.
And that’s just the tip of the candy bowl.
You name it, it’s in there.
Stop by if you don’t believe me.
We probably have enough see us through to next Halloween. But I’m going to have ease up if I’m to have any hope of losing weight. And Thanksgiving is just going to make it that much harder.
So in case I’m unsuccessful, comfort waist pants, the kind that expand with you, might be a good Christmas gift this year.
What’s there left to say about this year’s World Series?
Plenty, if you pay attention to sports radio and TV.
I woke up this (Friday) morning to find baseball commentators still marveling about Boston’s David Ortiz.
Ortiz is being celebrated for leading the Red Sox to the World Series title. But while he has become the face of this year’s championship team, the series is going to be remembered for a few other things as well.
First, there were the head scratching plays. Among them, the obstruction call that handed the St. Louis Cardinals the win in Game 3 and the pick-off by Boston closer Koji Uehara that ended Game 4 with a Red Sox victory.
There was also the historic aspect. Boston gave its fans their third World Series crown in ten years and the first capped at Fenway Park since 1918.
And not for nothing, the Red Sox won the title six months after the horror of the Boston Marathon bombing.
I could tick off more reasons why this year’s series was special. There are plenty of them. On a personal level, though, it’s going down as the one in which I realized that my son and I were relating to each other differently, as something other than parent and child.
If you’re getting the feeling that this is turning out to be another dopey post about the power of baseball to bridge generations, that’s because it is.
Feel free to click away.
Before you start rolling your eyes.
But if you insist on sticking around, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
To be honest, I’m not a huge sports fan. I just don’t have the head for it. Keeping track of all the players and their teams seems like too much work. I have enough trouble keeping the neighborhood kids straight.
But I’ve always been partial to baseball. So when my 15-year-old son informed me last March that he wanted to start following the game, I bought him a Washington Nationals cap and began taking him to the ballpark.
That’s because his newfound interest marked a significant departure. Up to then, my son had shown about as interest in sports as he does to getting along with his younger sister.
Of course, we found ourselves at Nationals Park a few times. I also drove him across the border into Maryland to take in a Hagerstown Suns game. We even made the long trip to Woodbridge, Virginia to see the Nationals young star Bryce Harper play in a rehab game with the minor league Potomac Nationals. It was a rare chance to see Harper up close.
The season came to an end Wednesday night when Boston’s Uehara retired the last three Cardinals batters and then jumped into his catcher’s arms with his finger pointed in the air.
But while Fenway rocked with joy, it was a deflating moment for me.
It’s not that I had a dog in the hunt. I just wanted the series to stretch into a Game 7, if only to give my son and me another contest to look forward to.
Oh, well. We’re not that far away from spring training.
And when players and fans begin gathering again at ballparks around the country, I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist coming up with another “father, son and the power of baseball” post.
You’ve been warned.
Leave it to my pre-teen daughter to make me feel like a caricature. Or more accurately, the dad on whom the caricature could be based.
We were at the dinner table earlier this week when she took one look at the rapture on my face and said, “Geez, you’re the dad on “Johnny Test.”
I’m not totally unfamiliar with “Johnny Test.” It’s a cartoon the kids watch. But since it’s not “Pawn Stars,” “Ink Master” or ”Duck Dynasty,” I didn’t get the reference.
My daughter picked up on my confusion because then she said, “He’s obsessed with meatloaf.”
She was clearly not impressed with our meal.
We were having meatloaf for the second night in a row. Specifically, meatloaf sandwiches that anyone but my daughter would walk a mile for.
I had carefully (lovingly?) reheated the left-overs in a skillet with a little olive oil and then served each slice on lightly buttered toast. Add some cheese on top and the resulting sandwich melts in your mouth.
As with the characters on “Johnny Test,” my daughter, however, remains openly disgusted with anything having to do with meatloaf.
Still, her reference to Johnny’s hapless dad piqued my curiosity, so I conducted a little research. Netflix readily turned up the show. I watched a few episodes, paying particular attention to the bits that include Hubert Test. I then found a profile of Hugh on the Internet.
My daughter may have sought to use her comparison as a way to get me to stop making meatloaf, but now I sort of identify with Johnny’s dad.
After all, we have meatloaf in common.
Plus, he’s a house husband.
My wife would probably dispute my self-proclaimed house husband status. But the thing is, that’s what I am for at least a few days each week.
It’s the result of my schedule.
I work nights and weekends.
That means I’m often home alone during the day.
Which means there is trouble if I don’t show enough gumption to at least pick up here and there when no one’s around to get in the way.
Believe me, I’d rather nap while the kids are in school and my wife is at work. But between bathrooms that need to be scrubbed, dishes that need to be cleaned and put away and grimy floors that need to be mopped, a nice little siesta in the middle of the day is not going to happen.
Which probably explains why Hugh Test is, well … a little testy. He’s always threatening to ground Johnny and his brilliant twin sisters, who use Johnny as an often-willing guinea pig in their science experiments.
Hugh’s Internet profile also says he relishes ruining Johnny’s day. Given that Johnny always seems to be on the verge of destroying everything around him, I can’t blame dear old dad.
Besides, show me a dad who doesn’t at least secretly delight in annoying his kids, and I’ll show you a meatloaf even my daughter can sink her teeth into.
The stalemate in Washington, D.C. over legislation to increase the debt limit and reopen the government has moved into a new phase.
The two sides are finally talking. The only question now seems to be what the deal will look like.
For weeks, the fight has raged between House Republicans and President Obama and his Democratic allies. The renewed dispute spooked financial markets and idled government workers, including many in our region.
As with the rest of the Washington press corps, I’ve been following the give and take. But no matter what happens this weekend, one thing is clear: like the government, my attention will be divided.
That’s because I can’t help but dwell on my own personal limit – one I fear will be sorely tested as the weekend draws to a close.
My limit has more to do with patience than finances. A troop of pre-teen Girl Scouts is descending upon my home Sunday evening.
I first got wind of the plan a couple of weeks ago.
I was picking up our 12-year-old daughter and her “best friend forever,” when their Girl Scout leader mentioned the latest badge the girls were working on. She approached our conversation as if I already knew they would be working on it at my house and that all those girls would be sleeping over en masse.
When what she was saying finally sunk in, I had one of those “wait, what?” moments.
Later, I asked my wife about it. But when she denied volunteering our house, suspicion fell on our daughter.
After admitting to suggesting our place, I was close to lecturing her about giving us a little warning before inviting all of her friends over at one time. But then she beamed at me and I relented.
Call me whipped, but she seemed so excited to have everyone over, I decided to put her desire ahead of my fears and to just make the best of it.
Which threatened to put me in a tight spot this weekend.
I have enough trouble keeping track of my own kids. And, when you throw our daughter’s BFF into the mix, it’s a wonder one or the other doesn’t get misplaced. With that kind of track record, how was I going to keep a whole troop of Girl Scouts present and accounted for?
By leaving it to my wife, that’s how.
After I started complaining, she fell right into my hands, reassuring me that she would take care of most everything. Then she talked to our daughter’s Girl Scout leader and they agreed the impending get-together didn’t have to be an overnight. All the girls needed was time after dark to complete a few requirements on their way to earning their Night Owl badge. They should be in their owns beds, at their own homes by midnight.
In the meantime, my wife agreed that I should take our son to the movies while the girls are around. As a matter of fact, when I brought up the idea she encouraged us to go.
The deal I reached with my wife doesn’t take me completely out of the mix. The girls need to keep warm and cook outside as part of their badge activities, so I’m going to have to get a backyard campfire going.
As long as the house doesn’t catch fire in the process, it’s a compromise I can live with.