Monday, January 27, 2014

Local warming

“It’s here!  It’s here!” I yelled, nose pressed against the window.

Our dog Memphis went berserk barking, which is what she does to alert us to things we already know about.  It’s an annoying habit, but at least it comes from a good place.  A good, stupid place.

This time, at least she was right that something was happening: oil delivery day was finally here.  Oil delivery day is when a big tanker truck beeps backwards down your driveway, hooks a hose to the side of your house, and sucks all the money out.  As homeowners, it’s a day we generally greet with mixed emotions, because even as the oil delivery makes us poorer, it also allows my wife Kara to keep the thermostat set to broil.

Last week, though, the truck wasn’t just delivering oil.  It was delivering the results of our big experiment.

“I keep my thermostat set to the same temperature all winter long.  It’s much more efficient than bringing the heat up and down,” a heating guy told us many years ago, convincing us not to bother programming our thermostats. 

For years afterwards, we continued not to bother.  In retrospect, taking oil-conservation advice from the heating guy that the oil company recommended is much like taking dieting advice from a nutritionist that Krispy Kreme recommended. 

“Oh, your body doesn’t notice the calories if you cover them in glaze first.  Also, did you know that lard is the new kale?”

For the last several winters, our house has been guzzling oil like a Louisiana pelican, so we decided to try a few different things this year.  I put insulated covers under our attic fan and over our pull-down attic stairs.  The regular reader(s) of this column may also recall that we recently installed a Nest learning thermostat, the only thermostat clinically proven to get people to spend $250 on a thermostat.

Nest recently made headlines when Google paid 3.2 billion dollars for it, which probably means that pretty soon, to turn the temp up a few degrees, we’ll have to join Google+, the social network you join when you need some alone time.   

After making these improvements, I hoped that we would put a dent in our heating bills, but we wouldn’t have any solid data until our next delivery.  We’re usually at work when the oil truck sidles up to our house, but a stroke of good fortune enabled us to be home this time: A virulent stomach bug had struck our kids’ daycare, sickening most of the kids, teachers and parents, including our whole family. 

Say what you will about violent gastrointestinal distress, but I lost four pounds in two days, almost cancelling out my holiday indiscretions.  If you’re looking for a great crash diet, just stop by our kids’ daycare and lick a few toys.  You’ll be ready for the cover of Cosmo by the end of the week.  Better get there soon, though, before this epidemic subsides and the next one begins.  Show up a day too late and you’ll probably just get pinkeye instead. 

As the oil truck pulled away, I ran outside in my slippers to grab the receipt the driver had hung on our garage door.  The bill showed the smallest delivery we’d had in at least two years, about 20% below average.  Of course, the sample size was still too small to know for sure if any of our changes had really made a difference.  It could have been a fluke.

“Dude!  The oil bill is smaller!  It wasn’t a fluke!  We rule!” I said, in triumph, to the inside of the toilet. 

Sometimes, you have to take your victories where you can get them.

You can insulate yourself from Mike Todd at

Monday, January 20, 2014

Choosy dads don’t exist

It was early in the morning, too early for big news.  But I braced myself anyway, since the news was coming whether I was awake enough for it or not.

“Big news,” said the yogurt box, “for moms who love the wholesome goodness of GoGurt Simple.”

I turned the box around in my hands, looking for big news that might interest dads, to no avail.  Was I supposed to get my wife Kara out of the shower, since I’d intercepted an important message meant only for her? 

“Dude, who’s making the lunches around here?” I said out loud, shaking the sexist yogurt box. 

“More!” said our 21-month-old son Zack from his high chair, pointing at the place where his toaster waffle used to be. 

“More what?” I asked him, being purposefully (for once) obtuse.  We’ve been trying to encourage Zack to use more words than the four now in his vocabulary.  The problem is that the four words he’s chosen can convey pretty much everything.  They are: “More,” “that,” “no” and “cookie.”  Even now, I’m trying to think of a life situation where those four words wouldn’t be sufficient to navigate to a successful conclusion, and I’m drawing a blank.  You could probably turn on C-SPAN right now and watch an entire debate made up of only those words.

“That!” the distinguished gentleman from Tennessee would yell, pointing to a pie chart.

“More!” half the room would scream, nodding.

 “No!” the other half would yell, throwing papers into the air.

Then, from the back row, someone would yell, “COOOOK-IEEEEEE!” and they’d break for lunch.

If Zack was our first son, we’d probably be charting his verbal progress against his peers, recording his percentiles and stressing out when he reached a milestone a week later than he should.  But he’s our second kid, which means as long as he’s still running into coffee tables headfirst like he’s supposed to, we’re good.

I waved another toaster waffle in the air to cool it off.

“That!” Zack said.

I put the kids’ PB&J sandwiches into their lunch boxes, thinking of the applicable peanut butter slogan, the full version of which goes something like: “Choosy moms choose Jif, while Dad sits on the couch with his hand down his pants.”  There’s also the breakfast cereal with the related slogan: “Kid tested, mother approved.  Dad’s in the bathroom -- leave him alone.”

Someone should alert these companies that sometimes, dads also play an active role in their kids’ lives.  Sure, it’s mostly by teaching them which body functions to laugh at, but still.

“Want to go wake up your big brother?” I asked Zack.

He nodded and ran for the stairs.  In Evan’s room, we gently rousted him by having certain waffle-wielding members of our party dive onto his head.  While I feel for Evan being rudely awoken by my henchman every day, there’s a certain poetic justice to it all.  We’ll be even after about 7 million more roustings.

“Everything okay?” Kara asked, dressed for work, her makeup and blouse contrasting with my morning breath and flannel.

“They’re all yours,” I said.  Like tag-team wrestlers, we high-fived and switched places.  Her turn in the ring, my turn to get presentable.  

“Oh, there’s some big news waiting for you downstairs.  Something about artificial flavors,” I said, heading for the shower.

She started to ask what I was talking about, but then one of the wrestlers from the opposing team hit her with a folding chair.  Or maybe it was a request for help getting dressed.  Either way, Dad’s in the bathroom – leave him alone.

You can verify what’s in Mike Todd’s brown bag at

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dog days of winter

“Please, no, not the filet mignon,” was the only thought in my mind as I scrambled across my in-laws' living room.

My sister-in-law Jill had sounded the alarm moments earlier.

“No, Memphis!” she yelled as she leapt from the couch, and I knew something serious was happening, on account of all the yelling and running around.  When you’re a perceptive student of body language, you can glean important information from a gesture as simple as someone waving their hands over their head, screaming and hurdling the coffee table.

“What’s going on?” my mother-in-law called from the kitchen.

As I hustled to join the commotion, I saw Memphis’ paws sliding off the dining room table and her head disappearing beneath it.  Jill and I converged on my dog from opposite sides of the table.  The wine, already poured, vibrated in the fancy glasses like the T-rex from Jurassic Park was joining us for dinner.

Up until that moment, Memphis had been the good dog in the house, a rare position for her.  My wife’s other sister, Sarah, had brought her sweet, mild-mannered golden retriever, Jackson, on a road trip from Virginia Beach.  On their first night in the house, Jackson had a bit of an upset tummy, which, when mixed with his formerly harmless predilection for spinning in circles while relieving himself, resulted in my in-laws’ finished basement turning into a piece of artwork that looked like a collaboration between the Marquis de Sade and Jackson Pollock.

“Do you have any more paper towels?” Sarah asked as she emerged from the basement after the third round of cleaning.

“Do we need to call ServPro?” my mother-in-law asked, invoking the name of the company that guts your house after disaster strikes, and setting a new bar for gauging the success of a holiday get-together.  If your hosts don’t need to call ServPro after you leave, it’s been a successful visit.  (In the end, paper towels, carpet cleaner and active suppression of the gag reflex turned out to be sufficient to remediate Jackson’s dabbling in the art world, so this visit easily cleared the ServPro bar.)

While our somewhat high-strung Memphis might generally have suffered from a direct comparison to a healthy Jackson, for this particular visit, all she had to do was not destroy anything, like, say, a fancy meal to celebrate the rare coming together of four geographically dispersed families (or one big family, depending on how you count it).

As I dove headfirst toward Memphis, fearing that she'd just consumed the dinner my father- and mother-in-law had spent many days preparing, I wondered if somewhere inside that tiny canine brain, Memphis' life was flashing before her eyes.  Because it should have been.

“What does she have?” I yelled, sliding onto the floor and putting Memphis in a headlock.  Memphis chewed with renewed vigor, sensing that her meal was coming to a close.

“Oh man,” Jill replied, looking at the half-eaten platter on the table.

I reached into Memphis’ mouth and scooped out as much as I could with my fingers, denying her what remained of her ill-gotten gains.

“It’s the pumpkin bread,” Jill said, helpfully identifying the glop in my hands.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  A side dish.  It was only a side dish.  Life would go on. 

In the post-debacle review, we determined that Memphis had eaten somewhere between 3 and 8 pieces.  There were still some apparently untouched pieces on the platter, and they left them on the table so we wouldn’t feel bad, but you’d be surprised how little space everyone had on their plates for pumpkin bread.  Those mashed potatoes really needed some elbow room.

Next time we visit, we’ll have to call first to make sure their house is still a pet-friendly establishment.

You can dive on Mike Todd and scoop out whatever’s in his mouth at

Monday, January 06, 2014

Stripping isn’t for everyone

**BWOOOP!  BWOOP!! Rerun alert!  Rerun alert!  This one's from 2008.  I hope your 2014 is off to a great start, and we'll pick up next week with some non-plagiarized-from-myself material.**

After spending the past week stripping wallpaper from our kitchen, I have become something of an involuntary expert on the subject. If you’re considering taking on such a project, the best advice I can offer is to throw out all your old scrapers, scorers and steamers. You’d be surprised how much easier it is when you decide to just douse the wallpaper with kerosene, set it ablaze and rebuild.

Of course, you may decide you’d rather do things the hard way, actually removing the wallpaper without destroying the house around it. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. People will tell you wild stories, passed down through the generations, of wallpaper that just pulls off, like you’re unpeeling a giant floral banana. This type of wallpaper probably exists in places where the streets are paved with gumdrops, but in the real world, the average sheet of wallpaper has been applied with more paste than resides in the collective digestive system of our nation’s kindergartners.

We should have known what we were getting into. A few years ago, we rented a steamer from Home Depot to remove some small pink borders in our old house, thinking that, worst case, it would take about an hour to take them all down. We slid head first into the rental department twenty-four hours later, exhausted and totally steamed.

Maybe we felt cocky this time around because we had our very own steamer. Turns out that, while it costs about forty bucks to rent a steamer for the day, you can buy one outright for fifty. Also, buying two four-piece McNuggets off the dollar menu is cheaper than buying a single six-piece. I’m afraid I just told you everything useful I’ve ever learned.

Before steaming a wall, you have to go over every inch with a scoring tool that pokes tiny holes in the paper. Never has so much scoring produced so little fun. But at least my wife Kara bribed me with food to get the job done. “I’ll cook if you strip,” she said.  Apparently, I will strip for food.  I didn’t know that about myself.

Our steamer had this orange label stuck to it: “WARNING: This machine produces live steam and/or scalding hot water which could cause severe bodily injury.” I think it should have been a guarantee instead of a warning (never mind the ethical implications of bringing steam to life). After I started attempting to take the wallpaper down, I realized that I was giving myself burns of various degrees.  I’m pretty sure that my wedding ring is now soldered to my finger.

When I mentioned this to some of my married friends, I found out that other guys take their rings off when they’re performing manual labor. That seems like it’s breaking a sacred trust. You should only take your wedding ring off when it’s absolutely necessary, like when you want to spin it like a top on a restaurant table or flip it like a coin as you walk over a storm drain.

My buddy Allen explained to me that he never takes his ring off because, “If you wear through your wedding band, that means you’re free.”

I don’t know about that, but I do know that it’s probably a whole lot easier to just decide that you like having a million repeating berries and flowers plastered around your kitchen than to actually do something about it. Why anyone has put up wallpaper since the invention of paint, I just can’t understand.

But the universe must stay in balance.  For every sheet that comes down, one must go up.  Yin and yang, steamers and paste.  Somewhere, somebody is putting up wallpaper right now.  Just hopefully not in a place that you or I will ever live.

You can steam Mike Todd off your walls at