Monday, December 30, 2013

Not the brightest Christmas bulb

It took a few moments for the realization to hit that the Christmas lights beside my foot were blinking off and on, even though they weren’t the kind of lights that do that.

My eyes followed the strand behind me, to the wall, where our 18-month-old son Zack stood, merrily plugging and unplugging the lights.

“Dude, Mommy’s going to kill me if she sees you doing that.  Also, it’s not safe,” I explained, trading him a bouncy ball for the lights.  Taking something from a toddler without giving anything in return is like taking a bone from a strange dog.  It might go just fine, or you might lose a finger.

I took the safety plug off the window sill and stuck in back into the outlet.  Zack watched, then pried the safety plug back out and handed it to me.  I looked in my hand and realized that this two-pronged piece of plastic was not a child safety device after all.  It was simply an adult inconveniencing device.     

“If Mommy sees him doing what?” my wife Kara asked, coming back into the room with a warm cup of her favorite tea, called Chamomile Nights, which could double as the title of the most boring romance novel ever. 

“Oh, Harrison, I feel so soothed, I could just put on full-length flannel pajamas and sleep all night,” the heroine would yawn. 

“Nothing.  You find the honey for your tea?” I asked.  In a moment of weakness, we’d bought a little squeeze bottle of local honey from a nearby farm for nine bucks, about three times what it would have cost to buy grocery store honey from faraway bees in countries with relaxed regulations on larva labor.

“No, it completely vanished,” Kara replied.  We’d never see that bottle of honey again, but we did get a clue about what may have happened to it about a week later, when Kara caught Zack dropping her wallet into the kitchen trash can.       

I unrolled another strand of last year’s Christmas lights and plugged it in.  Half of them came on, half of them shrieked, “Bah, humbug!” and stayed dark.

“That’s not right,” I said, looking at the box they came in.

“If one or more bulbs burns [sic, I think] out, others stay lighted,” the box proudly proclaimed.

At first, I thought the lights weren’t functioning as designed, but then I read the carefully worded message again.  It didn’t say how many others would stay lighted.  It just said others.  If I assumed that meant ALL others, well, that’s my faulty interpretation.

“Isn’t that being a little deceptive?” asked an intern in the conference room where the box was being designed.

“You’re fired.  Which means half of you are fired,”    the boss said, dividing the room with his arm and pointing toward the door.

My dad can fix anything.  He’s spent a great deal of his life with his head under cupboards, inside engines and between floor joists, swearing at things until they worked again.

“How do you fix a strand of Christmas lights?” I asked him over the phone.

“Easy.  Throw it out and buy a new one,” he said. 

Several years ago, I wrote that if the universe were a just place, when an overhead light bulb burned out in the factory where they manufacture Christmas lights, the entire factory would go dark until they figured out which bulb it was.  I’d like to amend that now to say they should just burn down the factory.

In any event, we’re ready for Christmas around here.  Our lights are now strung, and our children, though amped up, remain at the proper voltage.  No thanks to our outlet covers.   
You can get half-lit with Mike Todd at

Monday, December 23, 2013

Deck the halls with rubber serpents

“The only way you’re getting out of here is with me.  Let’s make this easy on both of us,” I said.  The door clicked shut behind me.  I inched into the room, hoping I’d pushed my fear down far enough that it wasn’t showing. 

My quarry pondered my words for a moment.  We locked eyes.  A tense silence filled the room.   A tumbleweed blew across the carpet between us.  Or was it a dust bunny?

Then, to let me know how easy he intended to make this on both of us, my quarry relieved himself on my wife’s dresser.  Then he launched headfirst into the ceiling, flapping and bonking his head over and over.

“Hey, could you just hold still for a minute?” I said, ducking as he swooped past.  The rational part of your brain knows that a little wren can’t possibly hurt you, but still, when one is flying around your bedroom, you really have to fight the urge to shriek and crawl someplace where the likelihood of a winged creature landing on your face drops to zero.

Each time the bird stopped to rest, I’d step slowly closer, only to flinch and take a blind swipe with my son’s miniature butterfly net as it flew past.

I may not be great at wren wrangling yet, but this wasn’t my first bird rodeo.  The bird entered the house the same way they always do: by riding on the wreath that hangs on our front door.  When the door swings open, the bird takes flight and boom!  Instant involuntary aviary.

Every year, we forget that this happens.  We merrily hang the wreath on our door, dooming ourselves to another run-in with a cute little winged menace.

“There’s a bird in the house.  He came in when I opened the door to let the dog out,” my wife Kara reported last week.

The last time this happened, I fashioned a crude net out of a trash bag, a garden rake, a coat hanger and some duct tape.  This time, I had a secret weapon: a four-year-old son.

“Evan, I need your butterfly net.  Do you know where it is?” I asked.

“I do!” Evan replied, taking a diving leap into a giant pile of colorful plastic paraphernalia in our toy room (formerly known as the living room), disappearing entirely, except for his feet.

When he emerged with the net, it wasn’t quite the size I’d remembered.  It looked more like a net you’d use to scoop a goldfish out of an aquarium.  

I thanked Evan for the net and followed the wren upstairs, down the hall and into our bedroom, where our final showdown would take place.

From my nightstand, the bird looked at me with his beak open slightly, as if he wanted to speak.  I looked back at him, and in this pause from our surface-to-air combat, we shared a moment.  The bird communicated with me.

“Dude, stop chasing me,” he communicated.

The one thing I’ve learned: If you chase a wren long enough, it will get tired.  It will get sloppy.  It will make mistakes.  Eventually, it will just sit there and say, “I’m pretty sure you’re going to eat me, but whatever.”

After a few more passes around the room, the bird sat still long enough for me to drop the goldfish net over his head and slide a piece of cardboard underneath.

“We really need to figure out how to keep this from happening again,” I said as the wren chirped at us from a tree in the front yard.        

Kara read online that putting rubber snakes in your wreath will keep the birds out.  We deployed our secret weapon to find some toy snakes in the rubble.

This is all a long way of explaining to our neighbors: Yes, that is a rubber snake you see in our wreath.  No, we don’t celebrate Halloween and Christmas simultaneously, unless you count the leftover Jolly Ranchers we’re still working through. 

You can wrangle wreath wrens with Mike Todd at

Monday, December 16, 2013

We’re going on a moose hunt

“Seriously?  These scavenger hunts are getting way too difficult,” my sister-in-law Jill replied after we delivered our latest request.  Jill had become a victim of her own success.  Like the child in the old Shel Silverstein poem, if she’d just broken a few dishes, maybe we wouldn’t have asked her to dry the dishes anymore.

“There’s a statue of Granite the sled dog somewhere in the Alaska Regional Hospital.  Can you find it and take a picture?” we’d asked a few months ago, back when our requests were still somewhat reasonable.  Our son Evan had read about Granite, apparently the awesomest dog in the history of the Iditarod, in one of his books, which featured an image of Granite’s regal statue on the back cover.  It’s a pretty impressive feat for a dog to distinguish itself enough to earn a permanent memorial.  If our dog Memphis ever earns a bronze likeness of herself, it will probably depict her running past the edge of the hardwood floor to barf on the carpet.

Three days after that request, Jill texted us a picture of the bronze pooch.  (She works at the Alaska Regional Hospital, a very helpful non-coincidence.)

“I like that picture!” Evan said, briefly appeased.  “Now can she send me a picture of a moose?”

Our family has a thing for moose.  Sure, the animals themselves are swell enough on their own, but for us, their presence has a deeper meaning: If you’re looking at one, that means you’re on vacation.  (One more solid indicator: Your last snack consisted entirely of beer and Oreos.) 

Before Aunt Jill and Uncle Kris moved to Anchorage last year, they promised Evan that they’d be his Alaskan eyes and ears.

“As soon as we see a moose, you’ll be the first to know,” Jill said. 

Granite had stayed put, making him easier to find, but the Alaskan moose were just not cooperating.  And then, one Saturday evening, my wife Kara’s cell phone announced a video chat invitation from Jill.  Kara gave the phone to Evan.  An excited, if somewhat pixilated, Aunt Jill announced, “Evan, look, there’s a moose in our yard!”

She pointed the camera out her window at the giant creature nibbling a snowy crabapple tree. 

Sometimes, I wonder if we should live in a place where cool stuff like that happens.  “Uncle Mike, can you send me a picture of a traffic jam?” is a message I’ll probably never receive.

When Jill ventured outside to get a closer look, the moose wandered off into the woods before it even got a chance to hear the door click shut behind Jill, locking her out in the Alaskan wilderness.  Well, the Alaskan wilderness of their townhouse development, which is at least 97% more wildernessy than any townhouses around here. 

“Oh, no,” she said, and we could do nothing from our end except watch, and congratulate her on her prescient decision to put on her jacket before venturing out.

Smart phones are funny things.  Beyond their primary function of helping you ignore loved ones on the other side of the couch, they can also apparently be used to connect with loved ones on the other side of the world.  What can’t these things do?  Besides unlock a front door, I mean.

After a brief intermission, Jill called back from inside her house, letting us know that her neighbor had given her back her spare key.  Evan had been looking over his moose book in the meantime.

“Aunt Jill, did you know that a moose’s antlers fall off each year?  Can you send me a picture of a moose with just one antler?” he asked.

He might just as well have asked her to get a picture of Sarah Palin speaking at an ACLU fundraiser.

“I might have to grab a picture off the Internet and pass it off as my own,” Jill told us later.  Or maybe she should just go ahead and break a dish.
You can take Mike Todd for Granite at

Update: And of course, the day after I sent in this column, Uncle Kris saw a one-antlered moose, just wandering down the sidewalk.  The moose took off when Kris tried to grab a picture, but he did manage to snag this shot:

If you blow it up and look at the moose's shadow, you can see the one antler (there are also a couple lighter pixels over one side of his head).  We're counting it!  Anyone have any other good Alaska scavenger hunt ideas?  Otherwise, we'll have to run with the Sarah Palin/ACLU thing.  Jill and Kris could probably get it done.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Wren things go awry

** The regular reader(s) of this column may recognize this one from December 2008.  Sorry if this a rerun for you!  But really, if your memory is that good, you should probably be working on cold fusion or something instead of reading this blog anyway. **
When my buddy Derek recently opened our front door to leave after a weekend visit, a small brown bird shot into the house, flying right for my wife Kara like she was made of suet.

Kara saw the look on my face before she saw the bird.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, followed immediately by, “Aaaaaah! Is that a bat? Is that a bat?” as she flung herself off the couch and scuttled across the floor.

The aptly named house wren alighted on the lampshade that had been just over Kara’s head, then quickly made itself at home, conducting an impromptu self-guided tour of every lampshade and curtain rod in the house, mistaking each for a guest bathroom and returning the number of incontinent animals in our house to one. Apparently, housebreaking our dog Memphis had thrown the universe out of balance. We were due for a correction.

As it turned out, Kara brought this upon us. The bird had built a nest in the wreath on our front door, and it wasn’t even our Christmas wreath yet. Kara buys wreaths like rappers buy Cadillac Escalades.

“Oooh, this one would make a nice summer wreath,” she’ll say, pointing at an overpriced bundle of sticks and berries that will soon be riding home in our backseat.

Derek, Kara and I ran around the house picking up tools that we thought might be helpful for corralling the wren. Kara grabbed a blanket. Derek snagged a broom. After frantically scanning the pantry for a helpful bird-catching implement, I came back with the best thing I could find: an empty Honey Nut Cheerios box.

“Babe, a cereal box. Seriously?” Kara asked.

Unfortunately, I skimmed over the part of the Guy Handbook that explained how to remove flying animals from the house. It must have been right next to the chapter that explained why you’d ever want to change your own motor oil.

The three of us ran around the house, chasing the wren to a scene that should have been accompanied by Benny Hill music. I helped Kara toss the blanket at the bird a few times, but a moving target is really hard to hit with microfleece. In any event, if I’m ever forced to be a gladiator, remind me not to pick that throwable net as a weapon. If the blanket is any indication, I couldn’t incapacitate the broad side of a barn with one of those things.

After several passes, Derek stuck the broom right into the wren’s flight path, and the bird, dazed, flopped to floor. At that moment, Memphis, who had been altitudinally challenged enough not to have been an issue until just then, shot across the room, the thought bubble over her head clearly showing a rawhide chew toy with flapping wings.

“No, no, no!” we all screamed together as the bird hopped to its feet and ran towards the couch, with Memphis closing quickly behind.

With a head-first slide under the couch, the bird narrowly avoided the shared and shredded fate of every dog toy we’ve ever bought.

Moments later, with Memphis locked howling in the bedroom, Derek and Kara gently rocked the couch back as I crawled under with the cereal box.

“Hey!” I said.

“Did you catch it?” Kara asked.

“No, but did you know that the Honey Nut Cheerios bee is named ‘Buzz’? I don’t think I ever knew that.”

As a team, we were eventually able to coax the bird into the box, perhaps due to the large print that promised lower cholesterol. Out on the deck, the bird hopped out of the box and flew into a nearby tree, where it probably swore off wreaths forever. If only I could get Kara to do the same.

You can smack Mike Todd with your broom at

Monday, December 02, 2013

The creature in the cup holder

“There’s a worm in my cup holder!” our son Evan reported from the backseat.

I glanced in the rearview mirror, which hadn’t been pointed at the cars behind us in years, to see if he was serious.

He pointed down to indicate that this was the real deal.

“Really, like a real worm?” my wife Kara asked.  Four-year-olds are not the most reliable witnesses.  A “worm” could be anything from a worm-like piece of thread to an actual boa constrictor to nothing at all.  After all, this is the same child who recently informed us of a tiny being called the Gobbler who lives in people’s ears and nibbles their toes while they’re sleeping.

“The Gobbler is definitely real,” he said quietly, as if worried that the Gobbler would intercept the message, which he probably would, seeing as how he lives in our ears.

“Yeah, like a real worm,” Evan replied.   

Kara took off her seatbelt and leaned into the backseat to get a look. 

“Don’t crash,” she said, which is what she always says when she unclicks.  Recognizing the wisdom of her advice, I took us off the collision course with that phone pole.  In a moment, she pulled herself back into her seat to report her findings. 

“Yeah, there’s a little white worm in there with his treasures,” she said.

Evan likes to collect treasures – acorns, rocks, leaves, sticks, flowers – and stuff them into any available receptacles, including the cup holders on his car seat (let’s not get hung up on the fact that Evan’s ride has more standard features than my first car).

“Like, a fat, squat, white worm?” I asked.

“Yeah, like that,” she replied. 

“And it’s moving?” I asked.

“Yes, just wriggling a little,” she said.

She did not freak out, which led me to believe that she had not identified the creature in the cup holder.  We drove along in silence for another few moments, as I contemplated how, or whether, to break the news that Evan had a maggot in his car seat.

We don’t claim to be the neatest of people.  We often have unfolded laundry on the couch.  Dust bunnies roam our hardwood with little fear of capture.  But, up until that point, we had at least been 100% maggot-free.  A low bar, sure, but one we never expected to trip us up.

“Dude, I hate to say this, but you just described a maggot,” I said. 

Kara took the news better than I expected.

“We are disgusting people,” she replied, a fair point.

When we arrived at daycare, I took Evan’s treasures – an acorn, a shriveled berry, some pebbles, the odd maggot – and put them under a bush.

“My treasures!” Evan yelled, but he quickly recovered his composure.  Sometimes, if you love a maggot, you have to set it free.     

A couple weeks later, Evan sat in my lap as I read him some hard-hitting journalism from the latest issue of Ranger Rick, Jr, with the cover story titled “Nutty for Acorns.”  As we got caught up on the latest in acorn-related current events, I showed Evan a picture of an adult acorn weevil.  The acorn weevil, we learned, inserts its eggs into an acorn in the summer.  When the acorn falls from the tree, the baby acorn weevil chews its way out into the world.  Or, in some cases, into Evan’s cup holder.

“Babe, you’ve got to see this,” I said, handing the magazine to Kara.

“What about it?” she asked.

“We’re not disgusting!” I replied, feeling vindicated.  Sure, it was still a maggot, but it sounds so much cuter to call it a baby acorn weevil. 

I’d been blaming the shriveled-up berry all along.  The acorn, as it turned out, was the root of all weevil.

You can get some grub with Mike Todd at

Monday, November 25, 2013

Somebody puts baby in the corner

I paused in the doorway, deciding whether or not to make a scene.  The managers were on the far side of the restaurant, chatting to each other, not paying us any mind.

“Let’s just go,” my wife Kara said, ushering our two sons to the door.

Twenty minutes earlier, I’d asked one of the managers if they had a highchair for our 18-month-old son, Zack.

“No,” she said.

It was the way she said “no” that really stuck in my craw, assuming that a craw is a body part that can be mentioned in a family publication.  (Otherwise, it stuck in my clavicle.) 

It wasn’t an apologetic, “No, high chairs are on back order right now,” or “No, our high chair is off getting sanded and refinished after an especially zesty meatball-eating incident.”  It was just, “No, we don’t care what you do with your stinky kid, but it sure won’t be putting him in his own seat.”

Imagine eating a sandwich in an exotic outdoor café.  A hungry monkey jumps into your lap.  Every time you raise your sandwich to your mouth, the monkey screeches and bats at it, sending a shower of lettuce and cheese raining down upon its head.  This is what it’s like trying to eat with an 18-month-old in your lap, except you don’t have the luxury of shooing him away.  Also, you’re sitting in a Subway, not an exotic café, and you have to balance your child with one hand while trying to unhinge your jaw like a snake so that you can just cram the entire six inches of sandwich art into your mouth in one shot.  While chewing, you will try to fork some meatball pieces into your offspring’s mouth, which he will smack onto your lap.

One could argue that perhaps this restaurant preferred not to have children dine there, a perfectly fine stance for a restaurant to take.  Some establishments would rather cater to patrons who are less likely to leave their lunch as a pile of drooly wreckage on the floor.  I get that.  But the kids’ menu and accompanying trinket display seemed to suggest that this Subway welcomed children and their parents’ wallets, it just didn’t want them to stay there.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have said anything.  I’ve spent my life avoiding confrontation with strangers.  As I get older and more crotchety, though, I’m starting to warm up to the idea.  A few months ago, I yelled at an old lady, and it felt great.

This lady wildly gesticulated and shook her head as I rolled through an intersection in a strip mall.  She had a stop sign, I didn’t.  (I have since verified, and I hope she has, too.)

“I don’t have a stop sign!” I yelled out my open window.

“Yes, you do!” she yelled back.

I stopped the car, turned and pointed to the spot where a stop sign would have been, had there been one.

“No, I don’t!” I replied.

“Yes, you do!” she said.

“Babe,” my wife Kara said, putting her hand on my knee.  But I’d already thought of the perfect comeback, and I couldn’t refrain from using it.

“No, I don’t!” I yelled, wittily.  Kara and I continued on to the grocery store, the adrenaline and righteous indignation coursing through my veins.  I can see how people get hooked on being unpleasant.  It gives you way more of a rush than being a good person.

Still holding Zack’s hand as he headed for the door, I turned back toward the managers of the Subway.

“It would be really helpful for people with children if you guys got a high chair,” I called.   

“Excuse me?” he asked, looking either shocked or annoyed, or both.

“We’d be more likely to come back if you guys got a high chair,” I said, shrugging, as we exited.

Then I turned my attention to the parking lot, to see if anyone else needed a good talking to.
You can chew out Mike Todd at

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Nest instinct

“Can I open it?  Can I open it?” my son Evan asked, boxing me out to make sure I couldn’t touch the birthday present that my wife Kara had ostensibly just given me.

“Sure, buddy, you can…” I said, but he was already elbows-deep in the gift bag, shredding through the tissue paper. 

He pulled out a little white box that contained a shiny new device.  

“What is it?” he asked, sensing impending boredom.  This gift did not have googly eyes, a drawbridge or photon torpedoes.  Even so, he had no idea how boring the conversation was about to get.

“Aw, dude,” I said, joining the very small club of people who have ever uttered this phrase with genuine excitement: “It’s a thermostat!”

Kara had just given me a Nest: a sleek, Internet-enabled thermostat designed by former Apple engineers, so it should be obsolete by the time you read this.  Unlike normal thermostats (and most congressmen), this one learns.  The Nest is basically an iPhone, except instead of using it to play Candy Crush during your kids’ soccer games, you use it to turn your furnace off and on.  You know, kind of like a thermostat.

The Nest enables you to do many things that normal thermostats don’t do, though, like spending $250 on a thermostat.  Try getting a normal thermostat to do that, and you’ll be disappointed to find that you still have at least $200 left over, which you’ll probably just waste on forty mocha Frappucinos.

The reason people drop this kind of money on the Nest is that it’s supposed to apply intelligence to your heating, learning your routine and automatically turning down your heat when it’s not needed, along with other energy-saving techniques.

“Let’s turn the heat up to 72,” you’ll say, twisting the dial.

The Nest display will then read: “PUT ON A SWEATER.”

A fancy thermostat is an odd mix of gaudy and utilitarian, like a jewel-encrusted shovel.  Kara knew I was interested but would never buy one, so she pulled the trigger for me.  Excited to let the savings begin, I yanked our old thermostat off the wall to expose a mess of wires that didn’t match a single earthly wiring diagram.

“Huh,” said the guy from Nest technical support, after I sent him a picture of the wires.  “I’ve never seen that before.”

“That’s what the last guy said,” I replied.

“I’m afraid you’ll need to call an HVAC technician to come out and install it.  Would you like a list of Nest-certified installers in your area?”

“No, thanks,” I replied.  The whole “saving money” thing was not getting off to a great start. 

I couldn’t bring myself to call a technician.  If you pay someone to come to your house and replace your thermostat, by law, he’s allowed to assume your life from that point forward.  It makes sense, since you obviously can’t handle it.   

So I did what any self-respecting person with a lack of relevant skills would do: I called my dad for advice, then took a guess. 

“Just what do you think you are doing, Dave?” Nest asked as I fiddled with the wires.

“Who’s Dave?” I asked.

“This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it,” Nest replied.

Actually, after that initial confusion, the Nest appears to be working properly now, and it seems to be much friendlier than HAL from Space Odyssey.  Still, though I’m hopeful that this experiment will produce good results, I wonder about the wisdom of installing thinking appliances all over the house.  Where does it end? 

“I’m cold,” the fridge will think.

“I’m dizzy,” the dryer will think.

“I don’t want to hear anyone else complaining,” the toilet will think.
You can turn Mike Todd down a few degrees at

Monday, November 11, 2013

Back in the maternity ward

“You know the way to the maternity ward?” the hospital volunteer asked.

“I could get there with my eyes closed,” my wife Kara responded.  She thanked the volunteer for our guest pass, and we headed for the elevators.

It’s so much calmer visiting the maternity ward as a spectator instead of as a player.  When you’re in the game, it’s all doctors scurrying around and your wife screaming for the anesthesiologist who apparently just stepped out to enjoy a five-course lunch.  A nurse will put your screaming wife’s leg in your arms and say, “Hold this right here,” and your brain will not quite be able to keep up with the processing it should be doing, what with all the responsibility and screaming and goo everywhere.
“You might want to look away,” the doctor will advise, as if anything he could do would shock you at this point.  Then out comes the scalpel, and any childhood innocence you still had becomes but a memory.

“I can’t believe this is happening right now.  Is that his face?” you will think as you decide maybe you’ll break your rule about not crying in public (the last time being the first time you saw “Field of Dreams”), as your brand new son opens his mouth and also begins to cry, out of an orifice located on what you’d formerly assumed was the back of his head.  Then the new life is in your hands, eyelids shining with goop the nurse slathered on, wrapped in the same white sheet with teal and maroon stripes that every hospital in the world seems to use, and your life will also be new, because the old one is gone forever.  Then, when you look back on the terrible and beautiful events of the day, and think about all the insane life experiences you’ve had in the meantime, you will have no choice but to smile.  

I understand it was a memorable experience for Kara, too.

The elevator dinged on the third floor, and we stepped into the hallway.  It would have been surreal visiting that place again if we hadn’t just been a couple of weeks before.  We’ve entered the stage of our mid-thirties where our friends have begun firing babies into the world with rabbit-like efficiency.   

A nurse buzzed us into the maternity ward, and we turned right to head towards room 308.  If we’d turned left, we would have ended up at the maternity ward buffet, which was the main reason, nineteen months ago, that we were most upset to leave the hospital. 

“Dudes, try to have your baby on chicken parm day.  You won’t regret it,” was the best advice I could offer our pregnant friends as their due dates loomed. 

Beyond that, what advice could we really give?  Everyone does their own research and arrives at their own conclusions.  Many of our friends hired doulas to assist with childbirth, which is especially interesting because “doula” isn’t a real word.  If it was a real word, surely I would have heard it mentioned once in my first three decades of life.  I’m putting “doula” up there with “ramekin” and “filbert” as words that somebody made up during a 2009 Scrabble game and everyone else just started using to keep up the ruse.

We knocked and pushed open the door to find our friends exhausted and smiling, their little one in a rolling cart beside the hospital bed.  Little clucking, cooing noises came out of the cart.  I forgot that newborns make that sound.  I thought I’d remembered everything.

“He’s been so quiet,” they said.

“He’ll get over that,” we thought.

They asked us questions, and we gave responses, but they’ll figure out their own answers.  Not much to do now but to buckle up and enjoy the spit up.  And check down the hall for chicken parm.
You can swaddle Mike Todd at

Monday, November 04, 2013

Getting pumpk’ed

If your family is anything like ours, you will be sitting around your toy room (formerly known as your living room) one Saturday afternoon, watching your children bounce hard, colorful objects off each other’s heads, when one of you will think, “You know, it’s been a while since we, as a family, have huffed tractor exhaust.”

This is when you will decide to go on a hayride.

The word “hayride” always evokes memories of bouncing along rough farm roads on chilly afternoons, holding gloved hands with loved ones as you pull up beside a bountiful pumpkin patch.  I never remember the part about the bountiful, suffocating cloud of tractor exhaust, probably on account of my reduced brain function from inhaling all that tractor exhaust. 

Last weekend, with some out-of-town friends visiting, we decided that we should visit the farm one more time before we hit that period in November that the calendar still calls fall, but we all know is really winter.

“We’re CSA,” Kara told the teenager who’d been waving us toward the nosebleed parking spots in the back of the hayfield.

“Oh, okay,” he replied, directing us toward an open spot close to the barn.  When you’re a member of a CSA, visiting the farm on a mobbed weekend fall afternoon is the closest you’ll ever come to knowing what it feels like to visit a nightclub when you’re Kanye West.

“Go ahead and pick all the parsley you’d like,” they’ll tell you, and you’ll start to consider wearing sunglasses that look like venetian blinds.     

If you’re not familiar with a CSA (Can’t Stop the Arugula), it’s a form of community-supported farming wherein you pay up front for a whole summer’s worth of fruits and vegetables.  The has been our first year as CSA members, and while we’ve generally found it to be a great experience that forces us to figure out dinner plans that don’t involve Mama Celeste, it has resulted in some mealtime difficulties.

“What do you want to do for dinner tonight?” I’ll ask.

“I found a new recipe for our beets and sweet potatoes.  It’s called ‘beets and sweets,’” Kara will reply.

“You lost me at beets.  And then again at sweet potatoes,” I’ll reply.

“There's another recipe for caramelized turnips,” Kara will say.

“You lost me after caramel,” I’ll reply.  As the conversation goes on like that, I’ll start toasting a bagel.

After parking in our VIP spots and hiding our faces from the paparazzi, we hopped on the hayride with the intention of visiting the pumpkin patch.  The tractor did drop us off at a dirt plot with hundreds of loose pumpkins sitting on it, but I’m not sure this was actually a pumpkin patch by any standard definition. 

Huge cardboard boxes of pumpkins sat on wooden palettes beside the field, which seemed to suggest that, deep in the night, when the agri-tourists weren’t looking, they just rolled a bunch of pumpkins into a field and waited for the rubes to come buy them. 

I understand that this is probably much more efficient for everyone than having a bunch of morons trying to wrench pumpkins straight off the vine, and that pumpkins themselves serve no actual useful purpose other than to be temporary candle receptacles or a little extra flavor for our spiced lattes, but the whole point of buying them at the farm is that you’re having a more authentic experience.  Somehow, doing it this way just seems phony, like they’re playing fetch with us.

“Go get the pumpkin, boy!  Get it!  Oh, you’re such a good pumpkin retriever,” they seem to be saying.

I don’t think you’re really supposed to think about it that way, which is probably why they dose you with tractor exhaust on the way there.

You can buy Mike Todd a cider donut at

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sixteen candles (plus twenty more candles)

“We’re so old!” my soon-to-be-wife Kara and I started saying after college, when we’d do things like get out of bed before noon or pay our rent on time. 

We’d been saying it as a joke, since we were obviously not old, but it still felt somewhat true, seeing as how, at the time, we were the oldest we’d ever been.  Sure, we could still split a large pizza without gaining weight, but we’d also obtained firsthand experience with actual adulthood, which, we were disappointed to discover, was mostly achieved through the purchasing of insurance.

“Man, I’m so old,” I said last weekend, looking in the mirror for the first time as a grizzled thirty-six-year-old.  Thirty-six.  That’s actually starting to sound little bit old.  Nobody gives a thirty-six-year-old a lollipop after a flu shot.

The tradeoff for giving up your youth is that you’re supposed to gain wisdom.  This is why the term “middle aged” was invented, so that we’d have something to call people in-between, who had neither youth nor wisdom.       

“How are you feeling about your 36th birthday?” my old college roommate Derek asked on a recent phone call.

“At least I can run for president now,” I said.

“Dude, you can be president when you’re thirty-five,” he replied.

“I thought it was thirty-six!  My campaign is already behind!” I said.

So we, as a country, have determined that by the time someone is a little bit younger than me, they have the requisite life experience and judgment to be trusted with the nuclear launch codes.  Taking a quick look at my peers, many of whom still play beer pong, steal movies off the Internet and consider bodily functions to be high comedy, I’m not so sure this is the best policy.  Perhaps we should consider bumping the age up to forty-five or so, when we’ll all start wearing pants with elastic waistbands and casting disapproving looks at people who are doing things we used to find fun.

Now that I’ve gained some age and perspective, I feel like I should have some wisdom to dispense.  I’ve been writing this column for almost nine years, so I went through the archives to see what nuggets I might be able to pull out to prove that someone should give me some nuclear launch codes. 

Turns out, in roughly 400 columns, the only nugget of useful information I’ve dispensed was about actual nuggets.  Chicken McNuggets, to be precise.  In 2008, in what passes for hard-hitting investigative journalism in my house, I reported that it’s cheaper to buy two four-packs of McNuggets than one six-pack.  Since then, there has not been a single fact dispensed in this space, with most of the remaining subject matter treating bodily functions as high comedy.

I did just learn a new trick, though, that might just be valuable enough to pass as wisdom.  You know how the first step to opening a bottle of wine is to take a little knife and cut the foil off the top?  I recently watched in amazement as my brother-in-law Kris took a fresh bottle of wine and twisted the entire foil top right off.  He just pulled it off, like magic.

“Dude!  How did you do that?” I asked.

“You can pull the foil right off.  It works on every bottle I’ve ever tried,” he said.

I always thought that foil was glued on there, but subsequent experimentation has revealed that Kris was right.  You can just twist and pull that foil right off.     

So now I’ve passed along my thirty-six years’ worth of knowledge to you.  This insight may or may not be useful for you, but it helps me to get to the wine quicker, which in turn helps me to forget about the bald spot.

You can help Mike Todd wheeze out his candles at

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Finishing the year strong, starting next week

Once you look at this picture for two seconds...

it's probably impossible to get mad at me for turning in an old column again this week, right?  That's what I'm banking on!

I'm hoping to finish out the year without missing another week.  But I'll take pictures of my kids being cute anyway, just in case I have to bust 'em out.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Low prices, pink eyes

“There’s a very good chance that I will be dead before this toothpaste is gone,” I said, dropping a box of gallon-sized tubes into our cart.  

“That’s morbid,” my wife Kara said.

“Not really.  I could probably see our grandkids graduate medical school by the time this toothpaste runs out,” I said. 

When you’re shopping at a warehouse club, these are the kinds of calculations you make.

“That’s it, Crest.  You got me to spend twenty bucks on toothpaste today.  Now I’m out.  Forever,” you say.

“Eh!  Eh!” said our son Zack from his stroller, pointing at the guy handing out cheese samples.  I’m convinced that Zack could talk if he wanted to, but he may just choose to point and say, “Eh!  Eh!” for the rest of his life. 

“Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” the officiant will ask.

“Eh!  Eh!” Zack will reply, pointing at the woman in the wedding dress.  We’ll all know what he means, so that will be good enough. 

I thanked the man for the cheese sample and handed it to Zack.  He grabbed it with both hands, held it near his lips for a moment, then launched it overboard.  Desire is a fickle thing for an 18-month-old.

The other shoppers didn’t know that Zack was flinging biohazards around the store.  They just strolled past, rolling their 50-gallon drums of Gatorade down the aisle, unaware of the danger. 
The previous day, we’d gotten a call from Zack’s daycare, asking us to pick him up because his face was melting.  Those weren’t their exact words, but they might as well have been.

Our family has dealt with seven cases of pinkeye this year: two for each kid, one for Kara, one for the dog, and one for my mom, who made the mistake of stepping foot in our house.  If you’re not familiar with pinkeye, it’s a condition that makes the contents of one’s skull come extruding out through one’s eyeballs, as far as I can tell.

I’m the only member of our family who hasn’t gotten it this year, because I have not touched my face since mid-2011.  Having two kids in daycare has also given me a superhuman immune system, as I am constantly coated in parasites, viruses and, somewhat incidentally, peanut butter.

The other shoppers in that store, though, wouldn’t have had the same hard-won protection.  Zack had been rubbing his eyes all day.  We’d tried to quarantine him in the stroller, but he’d figured out a way to catapult his germs, via aged Vermont cheddar.  I quickly scooped up the cheese in a napkin and dropped it into a trash can, before any innocent passersby could get infected.  Simply glancing at pinkeye sideways can cause it to latch onto your eyes and begin extruding your brains, just like cable news.

“Oh, hey, mums!  Can you put some in the cart?”  Kara said.

“I’m so sorry.  You drew the short straw, mums,” I whispered, apologizing to the unlucky plant as I put it in our cart.  The only plants that survive in our house are the ones our parents remember to water when they visit. 

Once we’d purchased a lifetime’s supply of stuff we didn’t really need, we picked up Evan, our four-year-old, at daycare, hosed him off with hand sanitizer, and headed home.

Over dinner, Evan tasted one of our new purchases and said, “I like my old chicken nuggets better.”

“Well, we can go back to the old kind, just as soon as you eat a trash bag full of the new kind first,” I replied.

“Eh! Eh!” Zack chimed in, pointing at the dog for some reason.   

Somewhere around that time, without thinking about it, Kara must have rubbed her eyes, or looked sideways at Zack.  Make that eight cases this year.

You can get a bulk discount on Mike Todd at

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Like a column, but instead it's pictures

I understand that I am really stretching the definition of "weekly" column these days, but I had to turn in an old one again this week.  On the plus side, I don't recall writing that column from 2008, so I'd be really surprised if anyone in the world remembered reading it. 

Also, you couldn't possibly care about hiking pictures I took a couple weeks back, but, you know, I feel weird not putting something out here on Sunday night, so here we go:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Paving our driveway with good intentions

We weren’t prepared for the ambush, which is what made it such a good one.  The pickup truck pulled into the driveway behind us, blocking our escape route, its occupants intent on separating us from our money. 

I hadn’t even noticed the ringleader jumping out of the truck behind me, getting ready to execute her plan.

“Dude, these paper towels aren’t the Select-a-Size kind,” I said, peering at the avalanching groceries in our car’s cargo area.  Somewhere, under those piles, was a folded-up stroller the size of an Abrams tank, from which we’d hopefully remembered to remove the baby.  We’d set out to buy bananas and milk at the grocery store, and had somehow spent $200 on a pile of food that blotted out our car’s dome light.

“Aw, they’re the regular kind?” my wife Kara said, emerging from her seat.  Prior to having children, we used about three paper towels per year, mostly to clean up beer spills.  Now, with two small children bent on the destruction of our house via the contents of their plastic plates and sippy cups, we go through enough paper towels weekly to sop up a lesser Great Lake. 

To assuage our eco-guilt, we try to use the smaller Select-a-Size ones, which should really just replace the standard size altogether.  A normal-sized paper towel could, in a pinch, serve as a cape for a very low-rent (but super-absorbent) superhero.  If you need that size of paper towel in your life, it might be time to consider eating your meals in a kiddie pool that can be hosed out later.  We’ve thought about it.

“Truck!” our son Evan yelled from his car seat, recognizing the familiar rumble.  Finally, his lifelong quest to point out large motorized vehicles to everyone in earshot fulfilled an actual purpose.
I turned to find a woman looking down, pacing around our driveway while two guys waited for her in an idling pickup truck. 

“It’s holding up pretty good,” she said when she saw me looking at her.

I glanced at the truck and noticed the logo painted on the door, for a local paving company.  They’d coated our driveway a few years back.

“We like to do it every two years,” she said.

“I bet you do,” I thought. 

“Really?  That often?” I asked.  She mustn’t have known she was talking to a family with two kids in daycare.  Our general plan is to let our house biodegrade until next year, when Evan starts kindergarten.  Anything that falls apart or implodes in the meantime didn’t really deserve us, anyway.

“Yup.  It’s been three years since your last coating,” she said.

“Let’s make it four,” I thought.

There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld bit where he talks about maximum-strength headache medicine.  “Nobody wants anything less than 'extra-strength,’” he said.  “Give me the maximum allowable human dosage.  Figure out what will kill me, and then back it off a little bit."

If you turn that idea around, you’ll arrive at my general attitude toward the maintenance of our property.  Figure out what will anger the neighbors, then step it up a little bit.  Anything more is just wasting time you could have spent playing with your kids, or scrubbing dog barf out of the carpet.     

“Replacing a cracked driveway costs a lot more than coating it,” she warned as she handed me her card.

I thanked her for her waylaying our family and she hopped back in the truck.  Evan stood at the edge of the garage and waved as they backed out.  As the engine noise faded away, he started scanning the sky for airplanes.

She was right.  We really should coat the driveway again this year.  Or maybe I’ll just blot off the rain with our new paper towels.

You can hand Mike Todd his asphalt at

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New ways to get our kicks

“Look at you, man.  I can’t believe this day has come,” my buddy Jeff said as he watched me undergo one of life’s great transitions.  Like the doctor from “Field of Dreams” who could never go back to his old life once he stepped off the field, my life would never be the same once I walked to the edge of the parking lot and stepped onto the grass beyond. 

I’d begun the day as a regular dude.  I would end it as a soccer dad. 

My wife Kara, a newly minted soccer mom, was already on the field with our four-year-old son Evan, participating in loosely organized pandemonium.  A coach with a whistle barked out orders while a roiling sea of children attempted, for the most part, to comply.

The league was structured so that there aren’t fixed teams, just a gaggle of children who do practice drills for half an hour, then break into smaller groups for scrimmages. 

“They don’t have real games.  They don’t even have teams.  Who came up with this idea?” Kara asked when we received the email that explained how the league operated for Evan’s age group. 
 We pictured walking up on our first day to the soccer field, where there would be a drum circle and people in knit hats passing handrolled cigarettes.

“Dig it, man.  There are no losers in soccer.  Like, you know?” the coach would say.

But after watching dozens of soccer balls sitting patiently as tiny cleats whizzed past them over and over, it became clear that some skill-building was probably a good idea, especially before putting the kids in front of concession-stand-paying customers.

After the drills, the kids broke into smaller groups for the main event: the scrimmage.  Evan and his two teammates donned their blue jerseys, while the opposing three kids put on red jerseys.  Game on.  This is what we came to see.

“Let’s do this,” Jeff said.  After he’d booked his weekend visit with us, Jeff found out about the start of soccer season.  For his own master class in being a good sport, he attended the game with us.

As soon as a parent placed a ball on the field, the red team sprang to life, dribbling and passing the ball before kicking it into the open goal.  Evan gamely ran in the general direction of the ball while his two teammates cried and ran to the sidelines.  It wasn’t the other team scoring that bothered them, it seemed, so much as the idea of soccer in general.  There may be no crying in baseball, but, in my experience, there is a LOT of crying in soccer.

This process repeated itself about a dozen more times.  Eventually, a parent started serving as a goalie for Evan’s team.

“I think the red team is juicing,” Jeff whispered.

Final score: 37-2, or thereabouts.  And that was due to a late comeback, during which the opposing parents were holding back their kids by their jerseys.  Evan had absolutely no idea that his team had just been drubbed, though, so he walked off the field happy.

 You haven't lost if you haven't noticed.

Afterward, over a well-deserved pizza lunch, Evan said, “I think that boy was tryin’ to make me not get the ball.”

“That’s right, Evan.  He didn’t want you to have it,” I said.

“Why not?” Evan asked.   

We may have dulled his killer instinct with all our talk of sharing and being nice.  For all the good that sports can do for kids, helping them to excel apparently requires a bit of reprogramming.

“See that nice little boy wearing the different-colored jersey?  Destroy him, Sweetheart.”

That must be what soccer parents are supposed to do.  We’ll check into it, right after we purchase a minivan.   

You can give Mike Todd a red card at

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cutting the umbilical cable

“Are you kidding me?” said the guy as he got in line behind me, shaking his head at the expanse of humanity between us and the service desk. 

I smiled and gave him a look that said either, “What are you gonna do?” or, “Hey, nice legs.”  I’m not that good at giving looks.

Even though some of my compatriots were disgruntled at having to wait in such a long line, I was quite gruntled; I’d gladly have waited all day to reach that desk.  At the end of the journey, I would be dumping off a money vacuum that had been inhaling piles of twenties straight of our checking account every month for far too long.

“You cutting the cable, too?” I asked the angry guy behind me.  We both cradled large cable boxes in our arms.  The previous month, we’d each paid the cable company $6.95 for the privilege of renting our respective boxes, including the twenty-four-cent surcharge for the remote.  During the six years I’d rented that box, I’d paid $500 for it, money which could have gone toward a much better cause, like twenty-three minutes of daycare.

He looked at me like I was nuts.

“Nope, just getting it fixed,” he replied.  Then, perhaps sensing that he was speaking to a person of extreme cheapness, he said, “But I’d love to dump it.  When you wrap in Internet and phone, I’m paying $240 a month.”

All of a sudden, the suspicion of insanity became mutual.  This guy might as well have just run through the nearest forest every month, dumping the contents of his wallet for woodland creatures to use as nesting material.  Generously assuming that internet and phone accounted for $100 of his bill, he was paying $140 each month for TV.  Nothing is that entertaining.  Squirrels could easily have made better use of that money. 

I’d recently waged a campaign in our house to rid ourselves of wasteful spending.  With two kids in daycare, we’re basically paying for a second house, except instead of lakefront views, we get glitter on our floorboards.  (Incidentally, if early learning institutions decided to put a moratorium on the use of glitter in art projects, I doubt anyone would complain.  Just throwing that out there.)

The cable box became my number one target.  By switching our phone provider and using cheaper TV alternatives, we could save $100/month without really changing our life-wasting habits.  The decision seemed to be a no-brainer, though one could rightly question the decision-making capabilities of people who choose to spend their precious few moments on Earth watching The Bachelorette.

Already, our kids have grown up watching streaming shows over the Internet, with no idea what a commercial is.  We find this to be a nice byproduct of foregoing regular TV, though our children may enter adulthood without the ability to synchronize bathroom breaks and commercial breaks.
Once, on a JetBlue flight, we found a Dora the Explorer episode for our then-three-year-old son Evan to watch.  Five minutes in, a commercial came on.

“PUT DORA BACK ON!  PUT DORA BACK ON!” Evan screamed while a cartoon bird tried to sell him Cocoa Puffs.  It was his first commercial.  We spent the remainder of the break wiping his tears and explaining capitalism to him.

Over time, we came to realize that with all the other available programming options, our cable box had become a very expensive clock.  It was the only clock in the house that was correct for the few weeks after a Daylight Savings Time switch, but the expense no longer made sense.

“What can I do for you?” asked the lady behind the counter when my turn finally came.

“We already shut off our TV service.  Just handing over the box and remote,” I said.  Then I gave her a look that said either, “What a relief,” or, “Hey, nice legs.”
You can cancel your Mike Todd service at

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Exercising in futility

“I’m going for a jog,” I said, then paused, letting those words hang in the air. 

“Wait, really?” my brain asked.  Then my eyes looked down at my feet and saw garish yellow shoes with built-in reflectors on them.

“I think he’s serious,” they reported.

I can understand why various body parts would be confused.  Between the ages of 18 and 34, I didn’t run a single mile.  At least not a consecutive mile.  If you added up all the times I ran across the room to keep one of my sons from falling down a flight of stairs, I might have logged more miles than, uh, you know, a famous long-distance runner.  For instance, several Kenyan people.  Also, the guy from Chariots of Fire.  Note to my young reader(s): If you want to get famous, long-distance running probably isn’t going to do the trick.  Keep posting Youtube videos of yourself riding shopping carts down ski jumps.  

Until last year, in answer to the question, “The last time you ran a mile, why did you do it?” I would have replied, “Because the gym teacher made me.  And so did the president.”

“It’s time for the President’s Physical Fitness Test,” Mr. Garber would say after blowing his whistle, smiling at our obvious distress.

We’d groan and rend our Umbro shorts at the beginning of the annual rite of passage, a battery of exercises designed to quantify our progress toward manhood.  It was like those National Geographic videos where the young tribal men jumped off a giant bamboo scaffold with vines tied to their ankles to demonstrate their courage, except I bet those guys didn’t have to try to touch their toes in front of the girls’ class.
By executive decree, though, we had no choice but to do all the exercises.

“Why does Bill Clinton care how many pull-ups I can do?” I’d wonder. 

When my turn at the pull-up bar came, I’d struggle and kick my way up to the bar a couple of times, then dangle for a while, wondering how long I’d have to hang there until my muscles got big enough to do another one.

I’d see Mr. Garber penciling a “2” on his clipboard beside my name as I dropped to the floor, ashamed that I’d failed my country.

Then I pictured the president’s chief of staff bursting into the Oval Office, waving Mr. Garber’s clipboard over his head.

“Sir, I’m afraid there’s a crisis.  We’re facing a severe shortage of adolescent upper-body strength in southeastern Pennsylvania.” 

But the pull-ups, though humiliating, were at least quick.  The mile run was the worst, oh, say, twenty-two minutes of the school year.  Or the worst seven minutes for the kids in decent shape, who then got to lounge at the finish line while the rest of us stumbled and wheezed across, hoping the girls across the field weren’t paying attention.   

So the president ruined me for running for a solid two decades, but the reality of approaching (okay, and possibly arriving at) middle age brought me back.

“I’m going for a jog” has always been one of those things that other people say, people who wear skintight pants in public and who know what gluten-free means.  But I’ve had to start saying it, too, because as you get older, you gain two pounds just by inhaling the steam off the pizza.     

A good thing about jogging when you’re in horrible shape is that, when it comes to setting personal bests, the competition is extremely weak.  For the first time in twenty years, though, I can jog a mile, sometimes even plural miles.  I kind of wish Mr. Garber would tell President Obama.  Presidents get pretty wrapped up in this stuff. 

You can blow past Mike Todd at

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Not much labor going on around here

What?  You're off celebrating Labor Day and don't have time to read a column?  Dude, that works out really well for both of us, since I didn't write one. 

How about we slap some hiking pictures from a few weeks ago out here and call it even?  Done.

Anyway, happy Labor Day, all!  And if you're a Russian comment-spammer or other person from another country, happy Monday!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Something stinky this way comes

Just beyond the reach of the floodlight, something bad was happening.

“Memphis, get back here!  MEMPHIS!  No, no, no, no, no, no.  Aw, dude, this is bad,” I said. 

“What’s going on?” my wife Kara asked from her hotel room in Tulsa.  We’d been on the phone, saying goodnight during her work trip, when I’d decided to take the dog for one last visit to the backyard.  Rather than meandering down the stairs like usual, Memphis bolted down in one leap, ran to the edge of yard and then pulled up short, jumping and growling.  In the darkness just beyond her, I could see an occasional flash of white fur.

The regular reader(s) of this column will recall that last week, I discovered the laxative effect of having a large timber rattlesnake announce its presence beside my foot.  This column is the second (and I sincerely hope final) installment of a series I’m tentatively calling “Nature Sucks.” 

“Memphis!  Memphis!” I called, but the commotion continued.  A feral white cat lives in our neighborhood, emerging every couple of months to prove that it can take care of itself just fine without humans and their Fancy Feasts.  Memphis, I assumed, was tangling with the wrong feline.

Just as I started to run out to extract Memphis, she came slinking back into the light, trotting toward me with her head down. 

“Something’s not right.  This is bad,” I told Kara.

I opened the door and brought Memphis inside, turning up the kitchen light so I could get a better look.  No obvious damage, but she looked distressed.   

“I don’t see any blood,” I said, and that’s when it hit. 

“Aw, DUDE!” I said, throwing the door back open and commanding Memphis outside.  But it was too late.  She’d already brushed against the curtains, stepped on our carpet and wafted all over the place.  Apparently, from a distance, in the dark, much like Pepe le Pew, I can’t tell the difference between a cat and a skunk.

When you drive by a skunk, you think, “Hey, you know what?  That smells kind of bad.”

But when your dog takes a direct hit to the face and then comes into your kitchen, the input to your senses can no longer be described as a smell.  It’s a full sensory overload.  The concentrated stench of burnt rubber and sulfur would have made Satan dry heave.  It felt like a NASCAR race had just taken place inside my mouth, and all the drivers had just burnt their hair with curling irons. 

All of this is just a long preamble to explain to my neighbors why I was running around in my underwear at 1AM last week, cussing and chasing the dog with the garden hose, soap suds flying everywhere.

“Sorry I’m not there to help,” Kara told me after my initial pass at the dog, though part of me figured this was cosmic payback for the time both kids caught a stomach bug while I was in North Carolina.

“I can’t go to the store with the kids asleep upstairs, so I just had to use what we have in the house: Palmolive and Head & Shoulders.  Memphis still stinks, but she won’t be getting dandruff anytime soon,” I replied.

“What about baking soda?  That might work,” Kara suggested.

One helpful Internet post I’d read on the topic of skunk remediation said that if you didn’t get rid of the smell right after the incident, the odor could persist for up to two years.  So I dumped half-a-box of Arm & Hammer on the dog.

“Did it work?” Kara asked.  Memphis looked pasty and pathetic as she rolled around in the yard.

“I think it helped,” I replied.  “But if a heat wave comes through tomorrow, she might turn into a casserole.”

You can bathe Mike Todd in tomato juice at

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pit vipers can really rattle you

The eastern timber rattlesnake hardly ever shows aggression towards humans, so, if you really think about it, I’m actually quite fortunate.  If I wasn’t a super-lucky dude, I probably wouldn’t have encountered the largest pit viper in North America at all.  That gigantic, venomous reptile might have just heard me coming and hidden somewhere until I’d wandered past, subjecting me to a serene, boring day in the woods without any heart palpitations at all. 

But I am a lucky person.

I’d set off down the trail last Saturday as a part of an elite expeditionary force, consisting of me, my 40-pound dog Memphis and my fifteen-month-old son, Zack.  We might not sound that elite, but right in the corner of Zack’s nursery, you’ll find a Diaper Genie II Elite model, which they don’t sell to just anyone (unless they have diapers to dispose of).  It says “Elite” right on the thing.  We have credentials.

The rest of our family had a baby shower to attend that day, so they missed out on our luck-filled adventure.

“I’m going to Julie’s baby shower tomorrow.  You can come with me and eat cake and help open presents, or you can go hiking with Zack and Daddy,” my wife Kara had explained to our four-year-old son Evan.

Evan loves hiking.  Something deep inside him just connects to the sounds of the birds, the crunch of the leaves under his feet and the unwrapping of the candy bar his father bribes him with.  (Go ahead and judge, but I bet Thoreau’s dad hooked him up with some serious candy in his formative years.)

But I knew I had no chance when the decision boiled down to this: Mommy and cake, or Daddy and exercise.  His four-year-old brain couldn’t even process the decision anymore once it hit the word “cake.” 

Without Evan on our expedition, I decided we’d go further from home and tackle a larger, more remote hike.  About five minutes up the trail from the parking area, Memphis trotted twenty feet ahead of me.  Zack sat perched on my back, quietly enjoying the ride, just as his big brother had done so many times before.

I was just getting my camera strap adjusted around my neck when this sound came from the bushes beside my ankle.  “I’M CONSIDERING KILLING YOU!” it said.

Actually, that’s just how I translated it, but the rattle sounded like a child’s car that you pull back, but instead of letting it go, you pick it up and let the wheels spin.  It wasn’t the gentle tika-tika-tika noise I would have expected.  The rattle was fast, urgent and an effective cure for constipation.

I looked down and saw a large, ornate snake within easy striking distance of my leg, piled on top of itself like a hastily coiled garden hose.  He watched as I jumped, cussed and scooted away, my heart pounding as I put precious distance between us.  Then he slowly straightened out and slithered across the trail as if to say, “Glad we have that settled.”    

In the research I’ve done since, I found that timber rattlesnakes are generally docile, rarely rattle at people, and even when they lunge, they often do so as a warning, with their mouths closed.  The majority of bites happen to adult males who intentionally provoke the snake, often while drunk or otherwise intoxicated.  At first, this sounds like damning evidence against my gender, but you can say this about us: At least we know better when we’re sober.

After the snake slithered into the bushes, heading for the open field beyond, I stopped to collect my breath and my thoughts.  Memphis trotted back and stood next to me.

“We’re pretty lucky, huh?” I asked her, giving her a pat. 

And indeed, we were.  Also, I’m lucky Zack’s not old enough to repeat the words he learned that day.

You can weld cast iron shin guards with Mike Todd at

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Are these mental health days working?

As seems to happen about once a month these days, getting a column done for this week just wasn't going to happen.  I turned in this oldie-but-not-that-baddie instead.  Sorry for being a degenerate.

Just so your retinas have something to do for a few more seconds before you click along to a website that's actually been updated, here are some more pictures from our trip to Rangeley, Maine, a couple weeks back.  That place makes me smile.  'Til next week!  (Probably.)

Monday, August 05, 2013

Home on the Rangeley Lake

“Look out!  He’s going to crack his head open!” my wife Kara yelled, pointing across the cottage at our son Zack, who was wobbling along as if he were sailing on a storm-tossed ship.  I grabbed Zack’s shoulder and redirected him away from the Coffee Table of Doom, the one with edges so sharp that you could shave your legs just by walking too close to it.

Zack’s at that tricky developmental intersection at the corner of Ambulatory and Clueless.  Given the choice between going down stairs or a ramp, he will choose to go over the railing.  He navigates around rooms like a bat, except instead of bouncing sound waves off of everything, he uses his head.
In our normal lives, we’ve managed this situation by removing all the right angles from our house, or burying them in a half-inch of foam padding.  On vacation in a rustic Maine cottage last week, though, we had much less control over an interior that seemed designed as a baby obstacle course.

“AHHHH!” Kara yelled, diving to catch the lamp that Zack was pulling onto his head.

We knew what we were getting into.  My family has been renting the same cabins on Rangeley Lake in western Maine for nearly thirty years.  Looking back at the pictures from our early summers in Rangeley, it’s amazing how little the place has changed.  Only the people are different, with each of us, in our own way, getting thinner and better-looking every year. (Which is what you’d say, too, if you knew your family was going to read this.  In our case, it happens to be true.  Which is also what you’d say.)

The cabins, though, look exactly the same.  Every winter, they are battered by wind and snow, biodegrading at such a rate that without intervention, they’d be gone in five years.  Then the warm(ish) weather comes, and the family that owns the camp begins the process of cobbling the place back together, just keeping pace with entropy.  A woodshed collapses, a new gazebo is built.  Everything stays in balance. 

We like these cabins just the way they are, with nails poking through the floor, leaking pipes fixed with strategically placed bowls and extension cords stapled to the ceiling.  It wouldn’t feel like vacation without these things.  If my family wanted light switches instead of pull cords that you had to stumble across a dark room to locate, we could just stay home. 

We love it there because when you try to open that creaky screen door that wedges itself against the floor when you pull on it, just on the other side, you might see a loon pop up beside the dock, framed by a mile of water before the mountains rise in the distance beyond.  Or you might see one of your little cousins inviting you to come for a swim, or throwing cracked corn to an army of perpetually hungry ducks.  Or you might just see nothing but gently lapping waves and a soon-to-be-occupied Adirondack chair.

“Dude!  He’s going for the stove now!” I yelled as Zack tottered toward the Franklin stove with the concrete hearth.  Kara put herself on a direct intercept course.

While it’s great to see your kids experiencing the same things you experienced so many years ago, it’s tough to relax when your offspring is bent on self-destruction.  When I mentioned this observation to my cousin Rachel, who has three children of her own, she said, “We don’t call them ‘vacations’ anymore.  We call them ‘family outings.’  Helps us to keep our expectations in check.”

In the end, our family outing was quite a success, mainly because we managed to keep Zack from plunging off the end of a dock.  This may have been a temporary victory, though, since he’ll get another shot at it next year. 

You can pull up an Adirondack chair beside Mike Todd at