New Thing #345: Cheeseboy

Grilled_CheeseOn Friday night we hit the mall for the one night of the holiday season when we spend a night at the mall as a family. (It actually wasn't all that crowded, which worked out well since my wife hates crowded malls and my youngest daughter got tired and cranky, forcing us to leave sooner than we wanted.)

We decided to have dinner at the food court, since we thought the restaurants would probably be crowded, and we suspected our youngest might be too tired and cranky to sit at a restaurant.

The problem was, I didn't feel like food court food.

Then, when we sat at a table I saw our solution: Cheeseboy.

I feel like the last time we were at the mall (this is the Natick Mall, for those of you keeping score at home), this Cheeseboy wasn't yet open…though it might have been. I get confused because there's also a new french fry place next to it that is the same kiosky-type food place. That was definitely open the last time we were there. (We also had the french fries from the french fry place - French Fry Heaven. We had the fries with cheese. They were fine - just salty.)

CheeseboyI had a bacon and chicken grilled cheese (pictured above left. At right is the kiosk. One thing that hasn't changed through 365 New Things In 2013 - my shyness about taking pictures of such things as kiosks in crowded malls. Sorry for the blurriness.) and my wife had the chipotle chicken sandwich. I really liked mine. I'm not sure she was crazy about hers.

I looked up their locations on-line - they're strictly northeast right now - there's a bunch in Massachusetts at different malls, and there's one location in the Providence mall,  another couple along I-95 in Connecticut, and then another one in Jersey City.

I'm not saying you should go out of your way to go there - it's just a grilled cheese, but a good grilled cheese. But it was definitely a nice change-of-pace quick meal in the mall for someone who wasn't feeling like eating Sbarro, McDonald's, Chinese or Indian fast food.

I'll keep it in mind for next year's holiday venture to the mall.

New Thing #344: Yet Another Election

VoteI'm pretty proud to say that since becoming eligible to vote almost half my lifetime ago (yeesh) I've participated in most elections. It was hard at first because I was voting by absentee ballot as a registered voter in New York living in Massachusetts, and I might have missed some non-presidential elections because of that extra step in getting the paperwork.

Once I became a full Massachusetts resident, I've been a regular voter.

But I've never exercised my democratic right as much as I have during this calendar year.

Election Day might have been the only time this year I didn't actually have to vote.

There was nothing going on in my area.

But every other day of the year there's been some kind of political action.

It started when President Obama tabbed Senator John Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Early in the year there was a primary, and then in June the election to fill Kerry's Senate seat.

The winner of that seat, Ed Markey, was a member of the House of Representatives from the Fifth Congressional District, which includes Framingham.

So since that election there has been another round of primaries, and the whole year of musical chairs ends with today's election for that congressional seat.

I'm not going to lie - seeing all the political action around here has made me think that maybe politics is the way to go at some point in my life.

I'm sure there's a lot of unsavory stuff that comes along with political office…but maybe I could someday run for that Fifth Congressional District seat and make a difference that way.

If I don't decide to go that route…well, you'd better believe I'll be voting in the election that decides who does.

New Thing #343: Play Me I'm Yours

Play_MeI had written off Boston's version of 'Play Me I'm Yours' a while ago. It seemed like it could be a great New Thing, but it was only going to be around Boston through early October.

I knew it would be hard for me to get into Boston just to play a public piano at that time of year.

(If you don't know, 'Play Me I'm Yours' is a public art installation featuring pianos left around a number of cities. This edition had them in Boston and Cambridge in September and October.)

Turns out, though, that while the Boston and Cambridge pianos still in good condition were given to charities, two remained: one at Logan Airport and the other at Quincy Market.

Turns out, I ran into that Quincy Market piano last week when I went to the Bodies exhibit at Faneuil Hall.

I'll be honest with you: one of these last few Music Mondays I was going to publish a video of myself singing a song at the piano. That would be a very New Thing.

I tried a test run one morning on a recent weekend, recording myself singing, and it had been a while since I saw myself sing. It's not great. It always sounds good when I belt something out for the girls - they seem to love it. My wife seems to have grown indifferent to it.

But - and I'm not writing myself off forever as a casual singer…it could have just been a bad morning for my voice, and I'm convinced that certain songs are entirely within my singing ability (the holidays are always a good time - I think Christmas songs fall within that category) - I don't think I'm ready to put out a video of me singing and playing the piano.

Just playing the piano, though? I'm better at that. So that's what I'm doing today.

A couple of things I need to say about the following video: I went with Billy Joel's Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel). It's my go-to when I need to play something from memory. (This is the first time I've ever needed to play something from memory for an audience, unwitting though they were.) Over the years, though, I've lost some piano-playing memory. You might notice a couple of  spots in the video where I just forget the notes. It's not as egregious on video than it felt, though, when it was happening. (I think it frustrates my brother that I rely on note-reading so much when I play the piano. But I just don't have the ear for it. I'm getting a little better, I can kind of sense the appropriate chord in certain situations, but as you can see in the video it doesn't always happen that I play the appropriate chord or note. I admire those who can hear something and then re-create it with no notes on a musical instrument.)

Also, I went with the American Idol arrangement of the song - you know, I didn't feel like you needed to sit through two of the exact same verses, so I jumped from verse one to the bridge to the ending of the song.

I think that's about all you need to know. I was with my co-teacher for the exhibit, so she graciously took the video...and helped talk me into playing. So thanks to her for that. (And for cheering at the end.)

I'm kind of proud of myself for doing it - Quincy Market wasn't crowded, but it certainly wasn't empty. I got quite a rush, too, from playing in public. I hope you enjoy.

New Thing #342: A Cookie From Meeting Street Cafe

Meeting_St_CookieI've never been to Meeting Street Cafe in Providence, Rhode Island. But I have had one of their cookies.

My co-teacher had raved about the food there on more than one occasion.

She spent some time there in October, I think, and floated the idea that she'd bring me back one of their big cookies.

She didn't.

I was kind of bummed because it was at a time I was kind of desperate for New Things.

She promised to get me something the next time she went…and that next time came over Thanksgiving weekend.

That picture above doesn't do the cookie very much justice.

First of all, it doesn't show how big the cookie actually is. And secondly, it doesn't look too delicious in that picture. Trust me when I tell you that it's a very big cookie and it's  quite tasty. (Though I am sure it's entirely unhealthy. It left a gigantic grease stain on the bag.)

Meeting Street Cafe is off of Thayer Street in Providence - right on the Brown campus.

What I'd like to look into someday is their sandwiches, because I'm told that like the cookies, the sandwiches are also huge. You can order a half sandwich and it's still very big.

Two notes about the cafe from my co-teacher: she says they have the best Reuben around (not sure if that's just Providence or anywhere, but still, that's high praise for a Reuben), and they serve breakfast all day.

I've been in Providence about three times in my life - all to visit my cousin who went to Providence College.

I'm thinking that at some point I'll have to go back and visit the other college campus so I can try out these sandwiches. That might have to be a New Thing in 2014.

New Thing #341: A YouTube Account

You_TubeHere's a terrible thing that's happening more and more lately: I keep forgetting certain passwords.

Not like e-mail or Facebook passwords - ones I use often.

The ones I use more rarely are the ones that don't stay in my head.

Two factors contribute to this - one being that I always log out of a site when I leave it, and the other is that I use different passwords for most sites.

I think I might have to change my approach, because it's preventing me from signing up for new online accounts.

But I tell you all this because I have yet another account to keep track of.

Last week I tried a New Thing with video attached to it.

And I figured the easiest way to share it with you (coming soon!) would be to put it on YouTube rather than upload it right here.

But in order to do that, I needed to have a YouTube account.

Now, you know I'm no stranger to YouTube - I've embedded plenty of videos from it on this site over the course of this year.

It's just that I've never had an actual YouTube account before.

Except I have, apparently. Sometime in the past couple of months I started to get YouTube e-mails on my gmail account. I don't remember signing up for them, but when I clicked onto YouTube to sign up for an account, it brought me to gmail.

So I signed in with my gmail account, and automatically I was on my YouTube account, where I could apparently set up video stations and all manner of things.

And I could upload video…which I'll do sometime this weekend, and then I'll post on Monday here a link to what I uploaded over there.

The best part of this whole YouTube thing?

Since it's the same as my gmail account, I don't have to think up another new password.

New Thing #340: Family Movie Night

PlanesThere's just one thing standing between my family and a regular movie night: We don't really like movies.

Me? I think I've stated before that if I'm spending more than an hour or two sitting and watching something it's a sporting event, not a movie.

My daughters? Well, they've found that movies are often quite perilous, and they can do without the peril.

But last week we ordered in, we cooked up some popcorn, and we ordered up a movie.

As the girls get older I could see this becoming more of a regular occasion.

We watched Disney's Planes.

It wasn't the greatest movie I've ever seen, but it was short on peril.

And that fact alone means it was a great choice (though my wife and I had no idea about that fact when we picked it).

Let me make this clear - Planes was fine. It just wasn't great. But it is SUCH a family-friendly movie…and there are not a whole lot of family-friendly movies these days.

And while Planes was a New Thing, more important was the fact that my whole family watched a movie together.

(We did this a year or so ago when we watched Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, but with Planes we were able to include my youngest daughter…although to say she watched Planes would be a bit of an exaggeration. At least she was in the same room this time.)

I know of other families that do movie night. I'm hoping this now breaks the ice so that my girls will give more movies a shot and we can make it a more regular occasion.

New Thing #339: A Holiday Light Addition

Snowflake_WallFor a few years my holiday house-decorating routine has been the same: Icicle lights hanging over the garage.

The colorful lights shaped like a tree under the living room, where the sparkling ball hangs at the top.

There's the string of snowmen in the living room window, and the wreath on the door.

I love it, but I was always on the lookout for just the right thing to add to the display.

This year I found it.

It's the snowflake you see at the top. You'll remember, once I successful climbed a ladder last month, that nothing was going to stop me from reaching the previously unreachable parts of my house.

And when I found this snowflake in the store last week, I knew it was going to be perfect for that one spot that seemed a little bit empty among all of the Christmas lights but I just didn't know how to fill it.

Some_Assembly_RequiredSo it all came together perfectly, until I got home and opened the box and saw this:

I guess I expected the snowflake to come right out of the box ready to go on the wall. But, alas, some assembly was required.

So I put together the pieces and decided it didn't matter if I messed up (no two are alike!), and went outside to hang it up.

I only planned on putting up the snowflake and not the rest of the lights, but the girls got excited, and once I dug out one thing I figured, why not take out everything, and so it all took shape:

The icicle lights hanging over the garage.

The colorful lights shaped like a tree under the living room, where the sparkling ball hangs at the top.

The string of snowmen in the living room window.

The wreath on the door.

And the snowflake hanging underneath the window.



New Thing #338: Body Worlds Exhibit

Body_WorldsScience isn't exactly my favorite subject in the world. This is in part because some elements of science make me uncomfortable.

I'm a fainter.

I won't get into it now, but if something causes me discomfort (usually that something involves another person being in pain - like childbirth), I could black out.

So when my co-teacher proposed checking out the Body Worlds exhibit in anticipation of a possible class trip, I wasn't sure how I'd respond.

But I knew it would make a great New Thing.

So on Monday night we walked through the exhibit.

The current iteration of the exhibit is on display at Faneuil Hall. (I'm not sure what makes this version different from previous versions, but I know there was another display that came through Boston a few years ago and it got a whole lot more press and was somewhat controversial.)

On Mondays they allow educators to tour the exhibit for free, so we took advantage of that opportunity.

I learned a TON.

I don't often stop to think about all of the crazy things the body is capable of…and (perhaps obviously), it's even less often I have visuals right there to accompany what I'm learning about the body and how it works.

Concepts I hadn't really thought of before made a lot of sense when I looked at them in this display - like carpal tunnel syndrome - just seeing how it was described with the hand model that was there made it click for me.

It was also interesting to see a stomach and intestines and other internal organs all laid out in such a way that I was able to put together the way they all worked. (Not so interesting: The BMI converter that told me I was overweight. Maybe we should have visited before Thanksgiving weekend.)

I walked into the exhibit thinking it wasn't terribly appropriate for fifth graders…and while we're still not sure at this point if we'll do it as a field trip, I left that room thinking that it would be a great learning experience for them.

And I know there's a little bit of a stir about the exhibit, I think about how the people whose bodies are being used didn't necessarily give permission for this sort of thing. I don't know - maybe I should look that up.

But I do know that walking through the exhibit I wasn't thinking about controversies.

My only thought was how amazing it is that the human body works the way it does, and how I'm glad I didn't chicken out of seeing the exhibit.

New Thing #337: An Advent Calendar

Advent_CalendarWhen I was growing up we had a simple little Advent calendar. It was a square piece of felt that hung on the wall with 25 pouches, and there was this little mouse that moved from square to square.

We liked having it out each year - well, at least I did.

I think my brother and sister did too.

For a while now, I've been looking for something similar for my kids to enjoy each year around Christmas.

This year we found this one.

I found it at Target - it's not the highest quality, but it'll do for now until I find the perfect one.

As you can see it's shaped like a Christmas tree, and you move a snowflake from pouch to pouch.

The big decision now is whether we count down to 1 (as in days until Christmas) or up to 25 (the big day!).

There were other choices at Target - one was shaped like a tree, made out of glass or ceramic, and another was wood, shaped like a house.

The problem with them was they were both the kind that had doors that opened up.

And my wife and I are in no state these days to come up with 25 little surprises for each day leading up to Christmas. (Or 75, because I'm not sure we could convince the girls to get into a 3-day rotation. Though we'd have to, wouldn't we? Still - we can't even do 25.)

I always envisioned an Advent calendar that hung on the wall.

And that's what we found for now. It's just not exactly what I had in mind.

But the good news is that while I'm out looking for the perfect Advent calendar, at least we have this one to use until we find it.

New Thing #336: Big Star

Big_StarWe're down to the last few Music Mondays of the year. So this week I once again turned to my friend Justin, so instrumental in helping expose me to new music (to me, anyway) this year, to see if he had any final Music Monday recommendations.

His almost-immediate response was Big Star.

Once I established that was a band, and not a song, I started doing some homework, listening to their music and reading up on their history.

They're an early '70s band that sounds exactly like you would think an early '70s band sounds like.

But I guess they were more of a ground-breaking early '70s act than other early '70s acts, because Justin says they inspired later bands like REM.

(Confession: I don't really like REM. I have their greatest hits. But I never listen to it. I like Man on the Moon, I like Orange Crush, and I like Nightswimming, but even with the songs I like I only like them for a minute or so before I get tired of them. I'm sorry to say it - I know they're very popular. But I'm just not a big fan.)

So you would think that maybe I wouldn't like Big Star, if you're drawing logical connections.

Well, I love their logo - my impression is that image above is what they had on the cover of their first album.

And I liked their music. I like some early '70s rock, and theirs is the kind of early '70s rock I like.

I guess I was most surprised that I'd never heard of Big Star before - they seem like they were a pretty big deal.

The original band only lasted a couple of years, then they continued to put out music with different members switching in and out. (That stuff always confuses me.) I didn't listen to any of the later stuff. The songs I heard were from the debut album.

I liked it - it may be worth buying down the line.

But, as with so much of the music I've heard doing 365 New Things In 2013, I'm glad I now know about a band which previously I had never heard of….and I enjoy texting back and forth with my brother and Justin about these bands.

I asked Justin why he recommended Big Star. I expected him to tell me it was just the last band he heard on his iPod before I asked. He told me that he liked that they were this under-appreciated group that was an influence on a lot of huge bands.

And then he added that the singer died recently and there was a big outpouring of appreciation then.

When I asked my brother about Big Star, he too knew that the lead singer had died recently. (I totally missed that one. He died in 2010.) Then he told me it was Alex Chilton, who was in The Box Tops, famous for their song The Letter.

See why I love doing this? I feel like that's great information that I wouldn't have otherwise known.

(Late addition: After I wrote this on Friday and Saturday I read through the Boston Sunday Globe Arts section and came across this review of a documentary on DVD about the band. That's pretty amazing, huh?)

New Thing #335: Rabbit Rabbit

Dec_1A couple of months ago, I think, a friend of mine told me about "Rabbit Rabbit". I had never heard of it before.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was picking up my youngest daughter at her daycare.

She was saying 'Ribbit Ribbit' like a frog, but when I repeated it the teacher thought I was saying, "Rabbit Rabbit".

"What is that? It's all over Facebook!" she said.

I told her it was a crazy coincidence - I hadn't seen it on Facebook but I had just a couple of weeks earlier heard about 'Rabbit Rabbit' for the first time.

It's new to me…but it's not new at all.

Here's the deal - apparently certain people start every month by making "Rabbit Rabbit" the first thing they say.

As far as I can tell, it's a British superstition that dates back at least one hundred years.

There are different variations - some people say 'Rabbit' three times, some people mix in a 'White Rabbit'.

It's supposed to bring you luck. Sometimes, I've read, that luck comes in the form of a gift before the end of the month in which you say it.

So today is the first of December. (I can't really believe that, but right now that's neither here nor there.)

By the time you read this, I'm most likely awake, and hopefully I remembered to utter 'Rabbit Rabbit' before I say anything else.

And hopefully my wife reads this pretty soon after, if not before, so she doesn't think I've flipped my lid.

I really hope I remember - remembering to do something first thing in the AM is not my strong suit.

But I'm feeling pretty good about starting this superstition in December.

I sure could use a month of good luck…but at the very least, I know of at least one reason why I might be getting a gift at the end of the month.

I might have to try 'Rabbit Rabbit' again in January - a month without Christmas in it might be a better test run.

New Thing #334: Voting For A Friend's Video

Together_FootballHave you seen these commercials during NFL games about why people love football? I know I have, but they didn't make huge impressions on me at the time.

There was some woman who was a Jets fan who battled breast cancer, there was some little girl who participated in Punt, Pass, and Kick I think, and if I'm not mistaken there was one with Condoleeza Rice.

Well, apparently, people submitted their videos in the hopes of winning a trip to the Super Bowl.

And now the contest is down to ten finalists.

And I have a suggestion for which one you should vote for.


I have a friend named Rob who currently works at NFL Films.

We met more than a decade ago when we worked together at a Boston TV station, spending countless dinner times together watching and talking sports before frantically slapping together highlights before our respective 10pm and 11pm sports broadcasts. (Countless might be an exaggeration. We didn't work together for all that long. It was probably something like a couple of hundred. If that.)

We became fast friends, and even though we didn't work together for a terribly long time, we've stayed in pretty close touch in the years since we last worked together.

It's notable, because I'm not too great about keeping in touch with people. But Rob is one of the nicest people I know.

It helps, too, that we have a ton in common, and so whenever we text or talk on the phone, even if something seems to come out of nowhere we're pretty much on the same page.

I tell you all this because the last time I talked to Rob was a couple of weeks ago as he was driving to Harlem. (I think that's what he said - the phone connection was terrible, and we wasted the good connection talking about Andy Dalton's completed Hail Mary to A.J. Green. It's what we do.) He was working on a piece for this NFL promotion, and you can see the work he and other producers did at

And then while you're there you can vote for Rob's piece, on Khordae, because he asked me to spread the word about it, and he never asks for anything, so I'm glad to help him out.

It's easy - I voted already, and all you have to do is submit an e-mail address when you click on 'Vote'.

Rob pointed out that Khordae's story might not have been the most compelling on the site. But I watched a few of the others. They're all well done…but none of them are terribly inspiring. (I liked the 74-year-old football player…but with all due respect, I'm sure he can pay his own way to the Super Bowl.)

All I needed to know was whether or not Khordae was as good a kid as he seems in the video. Rob confirmed that the boys and their dad were good people, and great for him to work with.

Rob - a good person who was great to work with - knows what he's talking about in that department.

So do me - and Rob - a favor and vote for Khordae.

Thank you.

New Thing #333: Ritz Chips

Ritz_ChipsI'm not a huge snacker. But when I do snack it's usually on something I love, like Cape Cod potato chips.

So I'll go way overboard and eat entire bags at a time.

And that's the kind of snacking I could do on this newest snack food I discovered.

To say I discovered it is kind of misleading - there was a bag sitting open on the counter the other day that I just started to devour.

I didn't even realize what I was eating.

Let me start with a couple of weeks ago - the girls asked for a mid-afternoon snack. They wanted some crackers and hummus. We had some graham crackers, some regular, circular Ritz crackers (one of my favorite children's malapropisms is when my girls ask for one Ritz cracker and they say, "I'll have a Rit." Is that a malapropism?), and some plain Ritz chips.

I had never seen Ritz chips before, but they were pretty good. It was like a Ritz cracker just in chip form. Nothing wrong with it.

But that day I had one and gave the rest to the girls and that was that.

The other day, though, when I came home from school and started noshing on these other Ritz chips that were on the counter, I just could not stop. I couldn't figure out why I found these irresistible, more than the previous day at least, until I finally took a close look at the bag - they were cheddar-flavored.

Delicious. I literally could not put them down.

The last thing I need today, the day after Thanksgiving, is something to snack on.

But I bet the cheddar-flavored Ritz chips go really well with leftover turkey sandwiches.

New Thing #332: Helping Prepare Thanksgiving Dinner

CranberriesI love Thanksgiving. By far it's my favorite holiday.

This year, we're hosting.

And I love hosting Thanksgiving.

But I know that I've never been all that much help.

Usually when we host I'm in charge of "taking care of the kids"…which basically means "watching the parade"…so basically, my way of helping prepare Thanksgiving dinner at age 30 is really no different from how I helped prepare Thanksgiving dinner at age 7.

The first time we hosted Thanksgiving, I'm pretty sure, was 2006. We had both my family and my wife's family for dinner…and November 2006 would mean we had an almost-two-months-old baby.

I was a great host - I can be quite charming - but I wasn't very helpful with the food. (I am also a great cheerleader - I made sure to tell everyone that day how much work my wife was doing.) I did do a great job of making sure people had plenty to drink.

Another year we hosted I ran a 4-mile race in the morning. I came back just in time to watch the second half of the parade with our daughters - I think there were two that time.

Now we're hosting and there are three children.

I told my wife I'd help. She told me I could help scoop squash out of a cooked squash, or I could boil the cranberries because then apparently they pop and become cranberry sauce.

I picked the cranberry sauce.

Yes, that picture above is the cranberries in a pan. That's what I thought I was doing with the cranberries - cooking them in a pan. I guess I'm not being all that helpful. (By the time you read this on Thanksgiving Day I will probably have made my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner! And then I'll be watching football.)

But it's a step in the right direction.

And let's not underestimate my charm as a host. That's like cooking three turkeys.

New Thing #331: Watching My Daughter's Swim Class

little_flippersEvery Wednesday morning since the beginning of the school year, my wife has taken my youngest daughter to swim class. It's something I've never been involved with because usually on Wednesday morning I'm at school.

This week, though (and for the first time ever actually), Thanksgiving break for me was Wednesday through Sunday.

That meant I was available to see what swim class looks like for a 2-and-a-half-year-old.

It's a 'Mommy and Me' class…and part of the instruction, I believe, is for the parent to know how to handle their child in the water.

So I don't think the possibility existed for me to actually take her into the water.

But I didn't really want to do that anyway.

My wife did the class, as usual, and I sat in the viewing area with my other two daughters.

It's a great place - it's called 'Little Flippers Swim School', and I think we first discovered it through some birthday parties we attended there.

The pool is 4-feet-6-inches at its deepest point - my daughter's class takes place in the 3' 9'' end. My wife likes the water - she says it's warm.

The pool is closed off by a glass window, so the other two girls and I could sit in the seating area watching the class. It's a great set-up - there are all these chairs and there's a little play area and there's a TV for the kids.

I got to see my daughter do a back float, jump into the water, put her head under, and do other things with little toys that from my vantage point I'm not really sure I could figure out what she was doing.

I like seeing my youngest daughter getting comfortable with the water. My oldest two didn't really start getting into a pool and learning how to swim until this past summer.

Now I feel like they can all enjoy a pool if we were to go somewhere where they could swim….or they could hold their own if there were some kind of water emergency.

I don't think any of them will be winning any Olympic competitions anytime soon. (Especially my youngest: she cries when she has to jump in the water. So once we get past that maybe we can talk Olympics. Or maybe we can get an accommodation where she doesn't have to jump in and can just start the races from the wall.)

But I would guess even Missy Franklin started in a class like this…so you never know.

New Thing #330: Coaching The Boys

BasketballOne of the New Things I don't think I ever wrote about (I'm keeping track, but this may have come up somewhere else in a different context…I don't think it did) is the fact that I didn't coach a team in 2013. It's been one of the highlights of my school year - coaching the girls' basketball team in the winter months.

But the major project I undertook last year prevented me from doing anything extra-curricular…besides the project itself.

So I gave up coaching for the year, under no realistic belief that I'd get the same team back this year.

I didn't.

This year, I'll be coaching a boys team.

The season picks up after Thanksgiving break, so I don't know how it will all shake out yet.

But it's new - for seven years I coached girls' basketball.

I coached some 5th and 6th grade boys' basketball almost ten years ago, and I've coached co-ed cross-country teams, but I've not coached a boys' basketball team.

It may turn out to be no different than coaching girls - I don't know.

It just feels different.

I've watched some of the boys' games in the past - they're faster-paced, and there are more points scored.

So I know that will be different.

But at this point there are a lot of unknowns.

Except that I do know this - I'm looking forward to coaching again.

New Thing #329: Underneath The Tree

Kelly_ClarksonI don't usually listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. It's Thanksgiving weekend when I include the all-Christmas-music radio stations in the channel-changing rotation, when I take out the Christmas piano music, when I put up the Christmas lights, for that matter.

But this year, maybe because of how late Thanksgiving is, I've decided today is the right day for a Christmas-themed Music Monday.

I asked my brother what the hot new Christmas song was going to be this year, and he looked at me like I didn't know what I was talking about…because I guess there's not a hot new Christmas song every year.

But it just so happens there will be this year - and it's called Underneath The Tree.

I guess Kelly Clarkson has an entire new album - but it doesn't matter, because this is the song that's going to become the new Christmas standard.

It's right up my alley.

I love Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You. I know there's a love-hate relationship with that song - either people love it or they hate it, that is - and when Matthew compared the Kelly Clarkson song to the Mariah Carey song, well, I was sold.

I love the fast pace of the song, the belt-it-out vocals, the 1950s-sounding horns - it all works for me. (It's a bit long for a Christmas song, but right now I'm going to go ahead and call that a good thing. Ask me again in a couple of weeks when the song is in heavy rotation.)

It's November 25th. We're a month out from Christmas. It's time to start paying some attention to the songs of the season.

And - fair warning - if you're not seeking out this song, don't worry, it'll find you pretty soon. I think it'll be everywhere.

And, just for good measure, here's a new spin (I can't believe this was a year ago already) on one of my all-time favorites:

New Thing #328: Going Up On A Ladder

Window_ShutterI'm not a climber. I've seen climbers - children and adults.

You turn around and next thing you know they're high atop the nearest structure.

That's not me.

First of all, I was never very good at finding the foothold - even climbing fences as a kid.

But secondly - and most importantly - I am afraid of heights.

It's not a crippling fear. I'll go up on the roof if it's enticing enough…I just won't go near the edge. (I had a friend who lived in midtown Manhattan for a number of years, and we went to the roof of his apartment building once. I couldn't believe how unsafe it was to be up there - the ledge wasn't all that high. But I could have lived up there, I loved the view so much.)

So it's not the type of fear that will prevent me from experiencing something worth seeing, for example...but it is the type of fear that will keep me from doing something like bungee jumping or skydiving.

Or from climbing a ladder, for the most part.

I say "for the most part" because there are going to be times, I've come to realize, when in my current state of husband and father I'm going to have to climb the ladder.

Especially when, as you see in that picture above, strong winds this summer ripped our shutters off the exterior of our house. (Imagine my surprise when I realized after seven or eight years of living here that our shutters were decorative and not practical. Thank goodness for these storms, saving me from having to embarrass myself by trying to close the decorative shutters someday.)

I made a cursory attempt to fix the shutter a few weeks ago, reaching up to the nail with the shutter and falling a bunch of feet short. It was then I knew I was going to have to take the trip up the ladder. Also, not pictured, a more recent storm knocked a screen off of one of our bedroom windows.

So I took out the ladder. (An ordeal, because it was tucked away in the back of the garage because, you know, I don't ever use it. I bought it one weekend - I think it might have been a Thanksgiving weekend, actually, a few years ago - when there was some tree trimming that needed to happen because some branches were getting too close to the house. I chickened out of the climbing of the ladder when my brother and my dad, both visiting and helping me with the yard work, were much more eager to climb it.)

I steadied it against the ground, then against the wall, and then re-steadied it. My daughter came out and said, "Are you scared to climb it?" And this is an important part of fatherhood - it makes me braver. "No," I said. "I'm just making sure it's really safe." Me_On_LadderAnd then, with my daughter watching I marched right up that ladder and placed the shutter back on the nail. (And then I took a quick peek to make sure any neighbors weren't watching and I snapped a "ladder selfie" to prove I had done it. Kind of wish I had either smiled or not. Not crazy about the in between look there.)

You can see the shutter on the far left on the top picture is also pulling away from the wall. I climbed over there and played with it for a few minutes, but I couldn't do anything about it right now. Then I went around to the front of the house and used the ladder to fix the screen on the bedroom. Then I went to the corner of the house where some overgrowth had gotten tangled up in the gutter near the chimney. I used a step stool on one side of the house and the tall ladder on the other side. I was able to clear a little bit out but the fun and games were over when I knocked a brick off the chimney (yes, our chimney is falling apart, I discovered) and it hit me in the head.

That was the end of our ladder fun for the day.

The screen will probably blow off in the next storm. The shutters will definitely both come down with the next gust of wind.

But that doesn't really matter. My daughter saw me climb a ladder like a man. When other kids talk about the dad things their dads do, like climbing ladders to fix shutters, she can share a story too.

Maybe I'll even get adventurous and use the ladder to hang this year's Christmas lights even higher!

But then I think that ladder's getting returned to the back of the garage for another few years.

New Thing #327: A Starbucks Breakfast

Starbucks_BkfastI realize I've been writing about Starbucks a lot this year. You might wonder why, considering my strong preference for Dunkin' Donuts.

The thing is, since I like Dunkin' so much, I've done just about all there is to do there.

At Starbucks I have a routine - either a mocha or a hazelnut macchiato.

And I don't think of those as 'start my day' drinks - they're more 'afternoon pick-me-up' or 'end of day' drinks.

So on Friday I decided to try a Starbucks breakfast.

The way it goes at Dunkin' is once or twice a week I'll get myself a large coffee there in the morning along with a breakfast sandwich and maybe also a donut.

I know what I'm doing there.

The idea occurred to me this week to try a Starbucks breakfast when I went in for an evening Starbucks drink and saw their breakfast sandwiches sitting in the glass case they have there. They looked really good. I just didn't know what to get. (As far as Starbucks food, I've only had some of their food as dessert before - never the breakfast stuff.)

So on Friday morning I got myself a Pike Place coffee (a venti - also a pretty New Thing. Usually I get grande, and lately I've been getting talls for the evening drink), which was better than I remembered. (Though nothing will ever beat the Pike Place coffee I had in Seattle at the original Starbucks - that was an excellent, excellent coffee. But that could have been psychological.)

Then I ordered a ham and cheddar artisan sandwich. It was delicious. The bread was especially good. I might have liked a little something extra with it, but I played it safe and went just with the sandwich. (You can see my order in the picture above. That's when I was back in the poor lighting of my car on a rainy morning. If there's one thing I haven't improved at this year during 365 New Things In 2013 it's having the guts to take on-the-spot pictures. I would have rathered take a picture of the sandwiches in the glass case…but there were people around.)

So that's my Starbucks breakfast debut. It's slightly out of my way to go to Starbucks on the way to school, so it won't happen that often, but it might be something to try every so often on the weekends as an alternative to Dunkin' all the time.

New Thing #326: Big Lens

Big_LensIt's been a while since I used one of those Starbucks free app 'Pick of the Week' cards. Truth be told, it's been a while since I had even been to a Starbucks…or one that had the cards at the shop.

But this one caught my eye this week - it's a camera app.

I haven't fully explored it, but it does some photo touching up.

And if that's not a New Thing…I don't know what is.

Here's the deal - I pretty much exclusively use the regular camera on my phone.

I have another camera app that's supposed to take better pictures, but I never think to use it.

I also have Instagram, but I think I've only taken one picture ever on my Instagram account, if I'm remembering right.

So it seems like a photo app is a good one for getting me to try something new.

Blur_PicIt's one of those apps that lets you focus in on a certain part of a picture - the part that you want comes into focus while the surrounding area looks blurry…it's somewhat artsy.

(The example you see at the right is a picture I took and then touched up of my computer screen while I was writing this entry. Meta, huh?)

So that's my new app.

You'd better stand right next to me in the middle of all of my pictures from now on, or else you'll be blurred right the heck out.

Ah. Who are we kidding.

I'll probably never use this app again.