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Ice, Ice, Baby....

Let’s face it, I’m cheap.

So when something expensive around here breaks, my first instinct isn’t to necessarily replace. I usually see how much it will cost to repair and use this as a rule of thumb: If the cost to repair approaches 50 percent of what it would cost to replace, I replace. If it’s lower, I ask myself if there were a sale at that percentage, would that big a discount motivate me to buy something new?

As an example, if the repair is 20 percent of replacement value, I’d normally not get all that excited about a 20-percent off sale. At 50 percent off, I would. And all of this is predicated on if I have a reasonable workaround for the problem in the first place.

All of this brings me to the sad tale about the ice maker in my refrigerator-freezer. I bought it in 2011, and it’s a nice double door stainless steel unit with a place in the door to get ice and cold water. Only drawback has been that the ice maker has consistently been one giant pain in the backside.

It worked when it felt like it. Sometimes it loaded the ice drawer inside the unit with big pieces of ice. Sometimes it loaded the drawer with a half ice/half water mixture that froze into something more suitable for playing a hockey game on instead of floating in your beverage. Sometimes it didn’t work at all.

Last November, it decided to perform the ultimate act of rebellion. It not only stopped working, but leaked a large quantity of water through the bottom of the unit, making my basement resemble a rain delay at a Nats game. I had always heard of employees so mad that they went into the boss’s office, said I quit, then relieved themselves on the carpet.

My ice maker actually did.

Turning off the water supply to the fridge stopped the water problem, and a dry vac and a few fans took care of the basement. A repair man I trust came over to look at it and determined the issue was deep inside the unit, not just a leak in the pipe going to the refrigerator. He estimated most places would charge close to $500 to open up the back and get inside the unit to try to fix it. If it turned out to be something unusual, it could go as high as $900.

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All This Time Together Is Revealing A Few Family Secrets...

There is no question that being together ALL the time during this shutdown is revealing a few things about those that live in your house.

In some cases, secrets one may have had from another in the home are going to be revealed. I’ve seen a few stories say it could be a divorce-a-palooza after this is over because those extracurricular texts and phone calls that used to go unnoticed between people having affairs on the side are going to be much tougher to disguise. I would guess when you’re always in the same room with your family, you can only say “this is work related” so many times before somebody catches on.

In our house, the controversy being revealed involves our dog Maggie. For some reason, all our dogs have always afforded me alpha dog status and tend to listen to me as much out of fear of punishment as love and respect. Perhaps it’s just the tone of my voice that suggests to a dog “I don’t believe I want to mess with you,” but all our dogs have been that way.

This annoys my wife. We had two dogs for 16 years before we got Maggie, and my wife spoiled those dogs as badly as any canine could be. Not surprisingly, when she was in the house, those dogs sat with her, worshipped her and followed her everywhere she went. But if there was a clap of thunder or a sound that scared them, they were off her lap in a split second, trotting down the hall to find me and jump in my lap.

I guess they instinctively thought that in a fight, the big guy might offer more protection.

This controversy also extended to our daughter in her early years. My wife and daughter have an extremely close relationship and spend incredible amounts of time together. I used to call them sorority sisters the way they do so many things together, but when it came to discipline, my daughter was always a little more wary of me.

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One Heck Of A Day: Making Someone Laugh, Think, And Cry....

One week ago, I got this crazy idea that I should try to write 30 stories in the next 30 days and post them on this website. The rationale was it would give me a routine to get into, it would be something to do, and it would keep me from endlessly scrolling through Twitter, of which no good can ever come.

I had serious doubts I’d actually do it, filing it away with other thoughts such as exercising 5 days a week for six straight months, giving up my 6-cup-a-day coffee addiction/limiting my caffeine intake for an entire month, or spending a few days every week cleaning up the basement until all the old stuff that’s been down there for 20 years has finally been thrown away.

All those things start out with the best of intentions, but the motivation seems to fade quickly. So far in week one, I’ve done what I said I would, writing 9 stories in seven days. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with writing, as even when I was making a living doing it long ago, I didn’t particularly like to write. I did like what I read when I was done, so I was glad I did it.

That’s because the good stories you write have to come from somewhere inside of you. I used to be a sportswriter years ago, and quickly found out that anyone can tell you the score, what the key plays were and who the players were that made them. These days, I’ve counseled several young writers over the years that most people can watch the game you’re covering via television, so telling them about what their eyes already saw is redundant. You have to tell them more.

Jim Valvano once said “To me there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think - spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that's a heck of a day.”

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Happy 100th Birthday Dad! One Day We'll Play Again...

Today would have been my Dad’s 100th birthday. He was quite a character, who taught me how to cook Italian food, a love of music, introduced me to golf, and oh yeah, he taught me to be cheap.

Right now in the background you can hear my wife saying “Well, at least you come by it honestly.”

I found myself thinking about the old man this morning (he passed away in 2006) because in his own way, he prepared me – like other fathers of my generation – for what’s going on now. He was 9 years old when the Great Depression arrived and it affected him the rest of his life.

Add in that his Dad had just arrived in Central Pennsylvania from Melfi, Italy only a decade earlier, and a decade later he would be in the Navy and end up in the Pacific during World War II, and you can understand some of his thrifty ways. He grew up with nothing and lived his young adult years on a ship during a World War wondering if he’d see the next sunrise.

Those conditions tend to make you a bit  cautious, causing you to constantly prepare for something bad that could happen. He passed that gene on to me, and it’s why on the spender-saver matrix, I’m so far over to the saver side that my wife has to force me to buy something she knows I really want. Otherwise, I go through a thought process that ends in “I don’t really need it” and I don’t buy it.

Lots of my friends have the same issue, and we talk about it all the time. We actually are envious of our children at times, who don’t appear to have such inhibitions. But it’s the way we’re hard-wired: work hard, pay off your debts, buy what you need and save the rest for a rainy day.

I even once said “Dad, there’s never going to be another Depression so you don’t need to do this” after he told me had put a couple hundred dollars in an old pretzel can filled with sand under the sink so in case anything happened to him, there’d be money to pay the electric bill and buy food for a month or two.

He’d be laughing at me right now if he were alive about that bit of wisdom I spouted off at him.

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Guest — Tony Banks

WWII Dads -

I'm with you on the WWII perspective. As you know, your former Burger Chef manager served too, also in the Pacific, headed toward ... Read More
Monday, 04 May 2020 23:51
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Anybody Else Hear These Questions/Comments On A Regular Basis?

I have a theory about all of us. We live in the same house. We just have different addresses and last names.

Otherwise, we all seem to share the same common experiences in dealing with life, raising a family, etc. And with us all under house arrest, those similarities are probably now magnified. I’m guessing you may even see a few things on this list of the five most common questions/comments said in my house during the shutdown and think “been there, done that.”

Here’s the list:

  1. Am I mad at you about anything you did yesterday?” Yes, this gets asked about every morning by ONE of us. Being in close proximity for such a long period of time does lead to some petty skirmishes over monumental issues like “why didn’t you put that spoon in the dishwasher?” or “would it kill you to close the silverware drawer?” But usually the dispute is quickly forgotten (although if you reply with a particularly curt, witty and sarcastic answer, that WILL be brought up again in a conversation seven years from now). So each morning my wife will ask this to make sure the wronged party knows to start off the day feeling wronged.

  2. I don’t like your attitude.” This is a crowd favorite for both of us because it communicates an annoyance without specifically saying anything bad about the other. Tone, I’m discovering, is very important when under lengthy house arrest, and something as simple as saying “good morning” can sometimes elicit a “I don’t like your attitude” if presented in a less than robust way. Other questions including “where is the remote control”, “can you pass the butter” and “when was the last time the dog went out in the backyard” can also result in “I don’t like your attitude.” After this is all over, apparently I’m going to have to work on my presentation skills.
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While You're At Home, Be Careful To Avoid These 3 Dangerous Traps

OK, young bucks, class is in session. I see you from afar….you’ve been in quarantine, you feel relaxed, and you think you can just say whatever is on your mind because we’re all in this together. Right?

Wrong. That’s why today’s class is about the three traps to avoid while under house arrest. Fall into any of them and the next thing you know, you’ll be feeling the cold stare of two eyes belonging to your wife or significant other, arms crossed, shaking her head at you.

I MIGHT, ahem, be speaking from personal experience on this.

So trust me. Put down the phone, stop trying to decide which three free fast food items out of 9 you’d rather eat, or choose which house full of famous people you’ll never meet in real life that you’d like to stay at.

This is important.

TRAP NO. 1: By now, your Dad should have taught you to never answer any question that sounds like “does this dress make me look fat?” This is a ticket straight to Cold as Iceland, and the only correct answer is “no dear, you’re perfect in every way.”

But now there is a far more dangerous strain of this kind of question bought on by the extended house arrest. Beauty shops and barber shops are closed all over the land, and in some cases, the lengthy inability to see a hair specialist is resulting literally in us seeing some people’s “true colors.”

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Guest — Steven Wade

Good tips!

Some lessons are best learned individually though. Helps to remember not to do it again!
Sunday, 19 April 2020 14:08
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Wake Up Maggie, I Think I've Got Something To Say To You....

Back in early September, it seemed like some magic was starting to happen to the Washington Nationals.

Turns out that magic went a little farther than baseball, at least for me.

The Nationals, as everyone knows by now, caught fire, went on a run through the playoffs and won the World Series. At the same time, it turns out, there was a tiny beagle puppy born somewhere in rural South Carolina.

If you’ve never spent any time out in the country, this can sometimes not be the best of things for a puppy. Out in the country, not all dogs are spayed or neutered. A litter of puppies can be born, and with not many people living nearby, nobody may want them.

In the case of this little pup, it wandered off and ended up in a shelter. A place, it turns out, that was considered a high-kill shelter. It was only 8 weeks old, but it needed to be wanted soon or it may not get to celebrate a birthday.

Meanwhile here in Ashburn, we had lost our two dogs of 15-plus years over the previous 9 months. My wife and I were crushed by all this, but we agreed we should wait some before thinking about a new dog. I thought we had agreed we’d at least wait until next spring.

Apparently “let’s wait until next spring” to my wife meant “start looking now.” For the last two months she’s been sending me emails daily with suggestions of dogs to be adopted. Not just one a day, either. At times there would be 4 or 5 emails, with links to 4 or 5 more dogs in each email.

We were having, as a famous line in a movie once conveyed, a failure to communicate.

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"I Am Truly Sorry To Say That You Were Right"

Last Friday, my good friend Paul Draisey and I were talking about a former co-worker at a local radio station we both worked at. The co-worker, who I’ll call Mike, hadn’t been heard from since losing his job a little over a month ago.

Our concern was real. Paul had known him for decades, while I only knew him the year I worked with him. But we both knew he had a drinking problem. Everyone did. As his boss, I had many conversations with him about it. And in the process, I learned a lot about the demons that haunt those afflicted with alcoholism.

When I was growing up, getting drunk was seen as harmless recreation. It’s what you did on Friday and Saturday nights to blow off steam. When I was going to Virginia Tech in the 70s, you were somehow less of a man if you didn’t drink until you passed out. Frats had “hairy buffalo” parties, where some sort of hay or straw was put on the floor. You drank until you couldn’t walk, then rolled around on the floor like a “hairy buffalo.”

Beer consumption was measured in six-packs, not cans. Hung over? Hair of the dog will get you back in the game. Mess with drugs? That will get you kicked out of school. But alcohol? No problem.

I could never handle it. The more I drank, the sicker I was the next morning. And thanks to youth and peer pressure, I kept at it. As the years passed on after college, however, I noticed it became easier to say “no thanks, I don’t feel like throwing up for hours tomorrow morning.” And after one flight too many where I found myself praying “Dear God, make this a smooth flight or just kill me right now,” I realized I didn’t want to drink any more.

If I'm at a party and not drinking makes someone uncomfortable, I'll nurse one for an entire evening. But as most of my friends will tell you, Diet Pepsi is my beverage of choice, and has been for many years. Offer me a bottle of scotch or a big piece of chocolate, and I’ll take the chocolate every time.

Folks like Mike never got to that fork in the road. They just kept on going. Sober, Mike was a good guy. On Mondays, however, when I’d guess he’d had a weekend to imbibe, he could be a terror. In the year I worked with him, he must have turned in his resignation a dozen times. Something would set him off, he’d blow up, and he’d quit. Hours later, he’d come back, hat in hand, and say he was ready to go to work again. I’d say fine, and we’d go on.

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Coming Face To Face With Facebook

Have you ever known something was going on, you knew it wasn’t good, but you just didn’t want to know? Like calling to get the results of your physical when you knew you’d been eating like every day was Fat Tuesday? Or going online to see just how big the balance on your American Express was a few days after Christmas?

Well, that’s sort of been my deal with Facebook. I strongly suspected that they weren’t exactly being on the up and up with most of us in terms of what they were doing with our information. But I didn’t really push because I knew if I did it wouldn’t be good. But last night during a break between basketball games in the NCAA Tournament, I did.

Facebook allows you to download the information they apparently are selling all over the world like an ice cream vendor on a hot day at Myrtle Beach, which I did. At first, I didn’t think it was such a big deal. There were folders and folders of pictures I had posted since 2009, and it was sort of nice to have them all in one big place if I ever wanted to find one. Over time, thanks to the advances in cameras on our phones, I’ve accumulated a lot of great pics and they are spread all over multiple computers and devices in my home. The good ones, I thought, are in this Facebook folder.

But then I started looking at the folder marked “html” and clicked on “ad.htm”. There were about 35 ad categories Facebook determined I should be part of. There was a history of every ad I’d ever clicked on. There were advertisers who were sold my contact info, many of whom I had never done business with and never will do business with.

Click on your profile info, and it’s the same as you’d see online. Click on contact info, however, it’s the email addresses of every person in your personal contacts. I must have early in my Facebook history approved an app that accessed my contacts and they are all there, probably sold to other companies.

The comes the histories. Every post, every pic, every video, every direct message, everyone you’ve friended, everyone you have unfriended…it’s all there with dates and times. Every time you logged into Facebook? It’s there too with date, time, IP address, the ID number of your device, the browser you used…everything.

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So Close, But So Far In Finally Being On A Jury...

For all of my 61 years, I’ve wanted to be on a jury. And probably half a dozen times, I’ve gotten something in the mail while living in three different cities, called the number they ask you to check the night before, and been told my services were not needed.

Last night, I got another chance. This wasn’t necessarily the night you wanted to be a winner because the NCAA Championship game was going to be on until after midnight, meaning getting up early to go to a courthouse the next morning would not be ideal. But when I called the phone number printed on the jury duty summons, they said Groups 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 AND 8 would need to show up. Numbers 9 through infinity could stay home.

Mine was No. 8.

Let me first say if you’ve reached the stage of life where you’ve retired (like I did two months ago) and you get used to getting up when you want to and easing into the day, that alarm going off at 5:50 AM is a bit of a jolt. I left the house at about 7:20 AM for the trip to neighboring Leesburg, reasoning that it’s one thing to be late to a business meeting; it’s another thing entirely when where you’re going they have people at the entrance with guns and handcuffs. This one I needed to be on time or early too.

Very early in the process I noticed just how addicted I have gotten to my cell phone. You can’t bring one into the Courthouse, so I left mine in my car. I parked at the parking garage across the street from where I thought I needed to go, then walked to where I thought the entrance would be. It wasn’t there and the Loudoun County Courthouse is one huge block where if you walk the wrong way, you’re going to pick up a couple thousand steps on your Fitbit making a lap around the grounds.

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Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter! Enjoy That Chocolate Bunny...

First of all, Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

Today is perhaps my favorite holiday of the year. If you are a person of faith as I am, it is the day of the resurrection. The day HE IS RISEN has particular significance. One of the two days just about everybody goes to church (known as the Christmas and Easter crowd, thank you very much) and a day of food, faith and family. Even if these are not your beliefs, the message of redemption, peace and a new start are cool notions all of themselves.

I judge a holiday by the memories in creates. No offense to the days off commemorating Presidents Day or Memorial Day, but I doubt you can tell me what you did on those days as a kid. Christmas and Easter dominate those memories, and Easter is particularly rich in such. From the time you were a kid hunting for Easter eggs, to the time you stayed up late, dyed a bunch of eggs as if they were going to be on display one day at the Louvre, then hid them in the front yard before turning your own children loose. All while trying to capture video of the event while your spouse played the role of the director.

Those rich memories also include Easter sunrise services, because they provided some particularly peaceful moments. But they are for the young, as I have found them to be a survival of the fittest contest. As the name suggests, the services start at sunrise, and unless you are blessed with natural beauty, this involves getting up a few hours before sunrise to get dressed and be there. In my younger days, I worked in the newspaper business where you didn’t get home until 2 AM after putting together the last edition of the Sunday paper. Since you’d be getting up at 4 AM anyway, I’d just stay up, power through everything, then after a hearty Easter meal go search for an unoccupied sofa to “meditate.”

But the greatest non-religious aspect of the Easter tradition is the chocolate Easter bunny. Back when I was a kid, there was an arms race with these bunnies, as you had to show your kid how much you thought of them by buying the biggest one there was (now you just buy them a $1,000 Iphone). There wer of course the eggs, jelly beans and other assorted items in the Easter basket, but the centerpiece was the chocolate bunny, roughly akin to the turkey on the Thanksgiving table. It had to be good.

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