Belated New Year Post

This may come as a jaw-dropper, but I’ve finally decided to put down the remote to the new Smart TV my wife got me for Christmas.

Don’t worry – there’s no need to rush me to the emergency room or anything remotely like that.

I just need a break.

Since Christmas, I’ve binge watched everything from Netflix’s “The Crown” to Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle,” to Syfy’s “The Expanse.” Just yesterday, I finished the last several episodes of AMC’s “Hell on Wheels.” They were finally made available on Netflix this week.

But now that we are nearly two weeks into 2017, it’s time I step away from the TV and see to what I’ve been neglecting.

Take this blog, for instance.

When I fired up my laptop this morning, I discovered that I hadn’t posted since before Christmas. And even then it was to reblog a post by my wife on the milestone our college son crossed while he was home for the holidays.

He wrecked my car.

The accident was his first. And again, no need to worry – no one was injured, not even bruised – unless you count the cars involved. The guys at the body shop are putting a new bumper on mine and fixing a crinkled hood.

The point is, I have not been diligent when it comes to blogging. So when I got up this morning, I resolved not to turn on the TV today and set about revamping this space on the internet.

I’ve changed themes and gotten rid of some of the clutter to make my home on the web more readable.

Maybe my efforts will motivate me to post more often in 2017.

Or maybe not.

My new Smart TV is looking forlorn.



Of Root Canals, Mid-Life Crises and The New Year

I’m trying not to think of it as a harbinger, but it’s hard not to wonder what calamity the New Year holds in store for you when you kick it off with a numb face.

Actually, it wasn’t my whole face that was numb, just the right side of it.

But it doesn’t really matter whether it was the right, the left or the whole thing. It’s the fact that I essentially started the New Year drooling uncontrollably that has me uneasy about 2014.

The turn of the year is traditionally a time to look toward the future with a positive attitude, with the optimism that inspires resolutions.

But I haven’t made any for this year. It’s probably because I’m having trouble leaving the old year behind, hence the numb face – I had to have another root canal. Call it unfinished business from 2013. It was diagnosed a couple of months ago.

The dentist got out her needles and drills and went to work on my recalcitrant tooth on the second day of the year.

Guess what I did on the third day?

I saw my eye doctor. It was time for my annual exam.

Unfortunately, I don’t really need my optometrist to tell me my eyesight is getting worse. The other day, I was in the parking garage at work and had trouble recognizing a familiar colleague who had just gotten out of his car. He looked fuzzy and it wasn’t because of the new growth sprouting from his chin.

As I stood there squinting as hard as I could to make him out, he mischievously asked if I had forgotten my glasses.

He’s a funny guy.

The way things stand now, it looks like 2014 is the year I get to know my health care providers better.

Turning 50 in a few months might have something to do with that. It’s one of those milestone birthdays that my friends on Facebook seem determined I not forget.

The other day, an old friend posted a note on my wall telling me all about how she unexpectedly ran into a kid who recently graduated from my old high school. She said she started to mention me, then realized there was no way we would know each other because, well – let’s just say I graduated “back in the day.”

Facebook is reminding me of my impending half-century in other ways, too.

For example, one of my classmates from “back in the day” posted a picture of the AARP membership application she got in the mail, sparking a debate on whether it should be thrown out.

I’m of two minds on the subject. The younger me sees no reason to hang onto it. The older, cheaper me is looking forward to the senior discounts.

Dealing with the whole AARP membership thing and the various other changes associated with getting older seems a sure bet for 2014.

However, that’s nothing a sporty, new, fire engine red convertible can’t handle.

But then a mid-life crisis would just give my wife another reason to roll her eyes.

Besides, I have a root canal to pay for.

Balancing Kids and Home Appliances in 2013

The arrival of 2013 means my wife and I will soon be marking nine years in the Eastern Panhandle.

We moved here from Charleston in the summer of 2004.

Our kids were very young then: our son was entering first grade and our daughter was in pre-school. Now, he’s completed his first season in his high school marching band and our daughter is singing in her middle school choir.

I could run through many other milestones they’ve hit since we moved here, but they all show one thing: they are growing up fast. The time isn’t far off when we’ll be moving them into their college dormitories.

Right now, though, their mother and I are steeling ourselves to see them through their teenage years. They are at the age when they think they know everything and their parents are stupid and embarrassing.

There will come a day when they realize they don’t and we aren’t. There may be nothing we can do about the embarrassing part.

But for now, the arrival of 2013 – like birthdays – is an annual reminder that time doesn’t stop for anyone – not even for our kids. And, for that matter, not even for our household appliances.

I don’t mean to compare our kids with ovens and dishwashers. I’m just saying that as our kids get older and morph into recalcitrant teenagers, household appliances become just as troublesome with age.

Since we moved into our house, we’ve had to replace almost every modern convenience that came with it – the oven, the dishwasher, the garbage disposer, the laundry machine, the water softener and the hot water heater.

The only thing that hasn’t been replaced is our heat pump.

That’s not to say we haven’t worried about it. Fear of losing it to the ravages of time has become something of a running joke between my wife and me.

Whenever an appliance acts up – say, the dishwasher for instance – one of us will quip “Well, at least the heat pump still works.”

If our heat pump had hair, it would have turned white and brittle long ago. It might even be as old as our house, which was built back in the 1980s.

It’s been a workhorse. It’s kept going long past the time when it should have rolled over and gasped its last breath.

It hasn’t … yet. But over the holidays, we feared it would.

I woke up the day after Christmas to a heat pump in dire straits. It was wheezing. Ice had formed on top and the fan wasn’t spinning.

I turned it off, chipped away the ice and waited, thinking it might be refreshed once it took a nap. (A nap always works for me. Just ask my wife.)

After about an hour, I turned it back on. It still didn’t work properly, so I resigned myself to finding a repairman.

As a general rule, I don’t like calling fix-it guys – mostly because appliances these days aren’t made to be repaired. They are made to be replaced. The guy who has looked at our refrigerator, our dishwasher, our washing machine and our oven readily confirms as much.

He’s a nice guy, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I just don’t like having to write a check every time he tells me I’d be better off buying a new appliance than trying to fix the broken one.

But thankfully, the heat pump was different. The repair guy our helpful neighbor tracked down popped in a couple of new parts, and now we are back to being toasty.

I’m under no illusions, though. Our heat pump is ancient. and it’s probably not long for this world.

But I’m resolving not to worry about it this year .

It can be replaced.

Time with our kids can’t.

The new year is still young but it already feels like the old one

I don’t think I know anyone who dreams of starting the new year with the same bad luck as they left the old one.  But that’s the position I found myself in last weekend and it’s wearing me down.  Let’s review why: A6Y4AN7C8N5W

  • Back in September, our basement was infested by yellow jackets.  They laughed at my lame attempts at extermination and happily went on reproducing in numbers so great I despaired of ever getting rid of them. I finally had to call a better man than me – our bug guy (for more, click here).
  • We weren’t the only ones to lose trees to the freak October snowstorm, but I bet our damage was the most spectacular.  Several of our wide-eyed neighbors said so.  With the leaves still on them, two of our four Bradford Pear trees couldn’t handle the extra weight of the heavy, wet snow.  They came crashing down, and it took me most of November to clean up our yard.  I could have hired someone else to do it, but I’m too cheap (more here).
  • Later in November, our kids experienced their first cold showers when our water heater died and we had to replace it (more here).
  • And in December, I had to see the dentist.  I know dentists aren’t bad people and mine is a nice guy.  But, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather see him over dinner and drinks than hovering over me with a drill.  Anyway, I had to have a couple of crowns put in my mouth (more here).

Those are just a few of the crises we had to deal with during the last four months of 2011.  Taken with others big and small, I was hoping things would settle down in 2012.  So far, they haven’t.

My wife was the one who alerted me to the latest crisis.  She was in the basement when I heard her shout, “I think we have a problem down here!”

When I went downstairs to investigate, she was staring up at the unfinished part of the ceiling.  Water had soaked the orange insulation above her head and was slowly but steadily dripping to the floor where a small pool was forming.

Drip, drip, drip.

I stood there for a minute considering whether it really is better to own than rent (the dismal housing market notwithstanding) when my wife offered an explanation I was only too happy to embrace. She said our 10-year-old daughter flooded the bathroom above our heads after taking a shower.

As a general rule, I tend to believe that problems are caused by the most obvious things, and in my eagerness to accept my wife’s suggestion I failed to look for any other explanation.  We simply mopped up the puddle with a couple of towels and left a bucket to catch the dripping water, confident that we would wake in the morning to find it had stopped.

It didn’t.

When I got up for work, water was still slowly leaking into the basement.  As an added bonus, I was greeted by an “Out of Order” sign taped to the lid of the toilet and a mop standing in the corner — sure signs of a crisis I had slept through because I go to work earlier than just about anyone else on the planet.

This new wrinkle sparked worries that our toilet was somehow responsible for our basement drip.  I was so concerned that I squandered the next few hours getting more advice about how to fix leaky toilets from the handy guys at work than I ever really wanted to know. And, as it turned out, I didn’t need to know any of it.

If I had just taken five minutes to look around instead of accepting the first explanation to come to hand, I would have figured out that it was the sink in my wife’s bathroom that was troubling us.  The immediate fix was simple. All I had to do was turn off the cold water supply.

My wife wasn’t amused when I told her it was just a “happy coincidence” that she had to clean up the aftermath of an overflowing toilet just as we were trying to figure out what was leaking into the basement.  But she was a good sport about it.

Besides, she knows as well I do that around our house these days, going from crisis to crisis is just how we roll.

I’m running out of things to call my own

Having plenty of time to spend with family is one of the great pleasures of the holidays, but boy am I glad the kids are back in school.  Maybe now I can reclaim some ground I inadvertently gave up while they were home over the Christmas break.

My first mistake was ever entertaining the idea of bringing home a shiny new Xbox as a

English: The Xbox "S" controller.
Image via Wikipedia

Christmas present for our 13-year-old son.  But  I did and then I compounded the error by suggesting we set it up on the family TV – my TV.  My wife got it for me as a Father’s Day gift last summer and I’ve been under its spell ever since.

The new TV, at least for me, represents a giant leap into 21st century video entertainment.  It’s our first flat screen, high-definition TV and it now occupies the spot where a TV I bought back in the late 1980s once stood.

Yes, you read that right.  As a matter of fact, before my wife finally took pity on me, all of our TVs were ancient relics from our youth and as HD ready as the VCRs we had to hook them up to just to enjoy all the channels cable has to offer.

Our new TV is neither the biggest nor the most expensive on the market these days but at least it’s modern.  And, I suspect our neighbors are relieved we have it since they don’t see me as much in the evening anymore. Now, when I want to bask in the glow of high-definition, flat screen awesomeness, I simply flip on my own TV instead of imposing on their good graces.  I wonder if they miss me?

Deutsch: HD-TV-Logo
Image via Wikipedia

Before the Xbox, my wife and kids went along with my delusion that the new TV was my domain.  With the Xbox set up on it, they’ve ceased pretending.

It’s my own fault, really.  I usually make our son play his video games on the TV down in the basement. But it was Christmas morning when the Xbox made its first appearance in our home and I was still in the spirit of giving when I offered to hook it up to my TV.  (Okay, maybe the spirit wasn’t all that moved  me.  I also wanted to see how cool the Xbox looked on a flat-screen.)

When I suggested it, I was thinking it would only be temporary.  “Just for a few days,” I said to myself.

Now I fear this is going to be one of those temporary things that become permanent, like the new crowns the dentist installed in my mouth last month.

While I come to terms with the thought that my TV might remain Xbox central for the foreseeable future, I can’t even take refuge in the last place you’d think would really be mine.  My car.

That’s because our pop music loving ten-year-old daughter has usurped control of the radio.  She’s got all the pre-sets programmed to her stations and the gift of an iPod touch this

English: The 1st generation iPod Touch, with a...
Image via Wikipedia

Christmas just made matters worse.  Now, when she can’t find a song she likes on a local station, she hooks up her iPod to the auxiliary jack in the dashboard and cranks her own music.

Only time will tell, but the strategic blunders I made this Christmas could take much of the new year to correct.

I think I’ll start with the family room chair I’m accustomed to claiming.  My wife’s birthday is coming up next month.  I’m thinking if I get a matching recliner for her, I might at least gain back control of mine.

And if that doesn’t work?  Then I guess I’ll just have to get used to the fact that I may no longer have control over even the last vestiges of my territory.

My Blackberry and Me

Published today in the Martinsburg Journal.  It’s a reworking of my original “My Blackberry and Me” post.  I wanted it to reflect the coming new year.

Now that another year is wrapping up, I’ve begun thinking about what I want to accomplish in the one that’s about to begin.

Being a better husband and father is always at the top of my list of New Year resolutions. So is getting ahead at work.

I’ll also probably join countless others in resolving to shed a few holiday pounds. It’s not like I don’t have the tools at my disposal to do that. Despite my attempts to ignore it, I’m well aware of the treadmill we have in our basement. I could also pledge to take my bicycle out for a spin once in a while.

Time will tell how well I do. But if my attempt to give up my Blackberry smart phone earlier this year is any indication, a pledge to get in better shape is about as doable as asking my 12-year-old son to lay off the video games.

I tried to rid myself of my Blackberry back in September. I traded it in for a regular cell phone because I thought it would be easier on my wallet. But Blackberries suck you in when you’re not looking. Before you know it, you’re totally dependent on them. It’s a lot like being a slave to cigarettes. However, the truly shocking thing is, unlike a smoking habit, you don’t even know you’re an addict until you try to go cold turkey. Maybe the government should require warning labels on Blackberry boxes, too.

Just do a web search for “Blackberry Addiction” and you’ll see what I mean. One of the things that comes up is a study conducted by Rutgers University back in 2006. It claims that being addicted to a Blackberry is much like being addicted to drugs – lending credence to the device’s “Crackberry” nickname. You might not be able to light up a Blackberry like a crack pipe but once it gets its apps into you, its addictive powers are nearly as hard to shake.

I started down my Blackberry’s digital slope two years ago this Christmas. My wife unwittingly gave it to me as a present. Except for my failed attempt to kick the habit, I’ve been in its thrall ever since.

I like the way it feels in my hands as I’m typing messages on the teeny tiny keyboard. I thrill when it vibrates to tell me I’ve received a reply. I love to scroll up and down the screen with the little trackball. I hardly ever miss appointments anymore because it effortlessly syncs with my online calendar. It tells me when and where my son’s soccer games are, when I should take my daughter to dance lessons and where my wife is likely to be at any given moment. Plus, I’m able to put audiobooks on it, making the long commute to my job in Washington, D.C. much less monotonous. It warms my pocket everywhere I go.

For the longest time I viewed my Blackberry as just a simple cell phone. But it’s so much more than that now. The two months I spent without it resulted in me being a disorganized shell of the uber-organized dad I once was (okay, I wasn’t really that uber-organized but even my wife will admit there was a marked improvement). I fell asleep thinking about it, I dreamed about it and spent my waking hours shaking with frustration at the limitations of my trade-in cell phone (the tremors might have been withdrawal symptoms. I’m not sure).

They say the road to recovery starts with admitting you’re an addict. Well, here I am. But don’t ask me to resolve to put my Blackberry aside in 2011. I’m clearly not ready to give it up yet.