Here’s a few life lessons learned this year

It’s been an interesting year, 2006.

A lot has happened this year.

I’ve learned a lot about Sweet Home, most of it good.

For instance, I’m starting to figure out some of the intricate and pervasive family relationships that are so prevalent here. It’s a little disconcerting when you tell someone that so-and-so is your daughter’s soccer coach and they say, “Oh, that’s my second cousin.”

But I’m getting there. I won’t detail it all here, and I will say there’s a lot more to learn, but the family trees are beginning to take shape.

Here are just a few more of the life lessons I have learned this year that I’ll share in hopes I can save someone else from stumbling.

■ Don’t ever bank on savings from a rebate offer. I know I’m not the only one to learn this lately, but I guess I must be naive, since I couldn’t believe I personally could be the target of a giant ripoff conspiracy by multinational corporations. But after we’d taken it in the shorts from (1) the computer manufacturer, (2) the giant electronics store, (3) the famous culinary wares company (4) the luggage manufacturer and (5) the computer screen manufacturer – see a pattern developing here? – I finally figured it out. I won’t say I never apply for a rebate, but I no longer count on getting it. The ripoff artists are slick.

My copy machine company is happy, though, because guess who now religiously makes duplicates when filling out those forms? I even make copies of the stamped envelopes I send the stuff in. Sadder but wiser.

■ Along the same lines, I’ve learned that it’s not a good idea to buy a new-model computer unless you’ve done a ton of research beforehand. Let’s face it: the high-tech world is a jungle to anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in it. I am definitely not a techie. I’d much rather be outside playing whiffle ball under the porchlight than playing computer games. I could care less what a gigahertz is as long as the computer does what I need it to. So when we replaced an aging dinosaur here at the newspaper with a hot new model, complete with the latest Intel, er, whatever, I figured we were taking things to the next level.

Guess again. Turns out, the software we tried to put on it, which was just one version below the latest and greatest, just caused this baby to crash. So now we’re in the laboratory-animal mode, picking our way along through trial and error. New isn’t always better. Do your homework.

■ Don’t assume that everyone around you is an intelligent winter driver. Since I spent my formative adult years where most of the snow happens in mountains, I falsely assumed that people who have lived around snow more than I would naturally be skilled at driving on snow. Wrong.

I learned this on a trip last winter that was supposed to be to Sisters. However, as the gentle flakes started falling around Iron Mountain, I started paying closer attention. Ten miles further, with about 3 inches of snow on the road, I hopped out to take a look – partly because the drivers ahead of me had all stopped. Some guy’s pickup was halfway over a cliff and some people with a four-wheel drive were trying to pull the truck back onto the road.

That’s when I heard the roar of a jacked-up four-wheeler rumbling around the bend, at a fairly brisk speed. The guy slammed on his brakes when he saw all the parked cars, which isn’t the smartest thing to do on snow. He came close, but managed to avoid sliding off the cliff himself, and he finally got the thing stopped. He and his passengers, some young women, exited, emitting expletives. Right about then traffic started to move toward us from the oncoming direction, and the lead car suddenly lurched and slid into another vehicle. Bang!

That’s when I decided we probably weren’t going to make it to Sisters. We had chains, but apparently we were one of the few.

■ Don’t get a dog with extreme attitude unless you’re prepared for a daily showdown. I’ve always had a general affection for dogs and I’ve gotten along fairly well with the ones who’ve bedded down at my house over the years. Our Lab, Boomer, is getting on in years and wasn’t getting much attention from the family since we spend a lot of time at the office here. So I decided to get him a companion – a Jack Russell terrier, since we’d once lived near a Jack Russell and Boomer and he had gotten along fairly well.

So we got one. I’ve had a terrier before and he was a good dog – other than his hatred of mail carriers. So I felt confident that with Boomer as the brawn and a smallish terrier as the brains, we’d have a pretty good working relationship.

I was severely underestimating the dynamics of this relationship. Our new dog was pretty mellow when we picked him up (at the pound) and until he got into the back yard. That was when he went into testosterone overdrive, which really hasn’t let up yet, several months later, though he sometimes wears himself out enough that he has to stop to take a nap.

I’ve never had a dog snarl right in my face when I told him “No!” He knows who’s boss, but I have to constantly watch my back, if you know what I mean.

(In all fairness, the little guy likes people and he’s a whiz at chasing balls. But he’s got a warped sense of his place in the pecking order.)

I will say one thing: Life’s gotten a lot more exciting for Boomer. He now gets to fight for his food.

■ Don’t depend on chicken pox vaccine. This is the latest lesson learned in our family.

At Thanksgiving we visited with some family members, one of whom was suffering from shingles.

Shingles, as you may know, is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, and can be contagious to people who are not immune to chicken pox. No problemo, we figured. When our kids were babies, the new chicken pox vaccine had just come out and so my wife made sure all three of them got their shot.

Turns out, that vaccine may be its own worst enemy. Now, about a dozen years after the vaccine became available, chicken pox is scarce and kids don’t get exposed to it like they used to. And that may be a problem. Because if you don’t have occasional re-exposure to chicken pox, according to a physician whose opinion I read on the Web, your immunity can weaken.

So, sure enough, about two weeks after Thanksgiving, our youngest daughter developed some tell-tale dots. Then the oldest mentioned that she has a headache and, whaddya know, some red specks. And, a few days later, Number Three had some red specks. Only one, the oldest, really got it bad. But I’m guessing that doc knew what he was talking about. It was chicken pox. Classic case.

Have a happy and safe New Year!