It finally looks a little more like winter with gray skies and bare branches, but this seems like another year without the temperatures to match.

My house is bristling with chimneys so you’d imagine it would be producing curling plumes of wood smoke suitable for a Currier and Ives Christmas Card.

They ring the house like towers on top of a fortress from the Middle Ages. The largest of them corbels out from its base, if I squint it reminds me of the silhouette of the Torre del Mangia in Siena or the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

The defending army at these ramparts turns out to be squirrels hurling pecan shells rather than guardsmen flinging boiling oil or rocks. It’s still my castle, just the same.

And there is no smoke pouring forth, because the house doesn’t have a single fireplace. These chimneys once served as the flues for a collection of coal burning stoves, one in the corner of every room. They are all capped with tin hats now, barring the rodent army from the interior of the house.

Shortly after I bought the house I found myself sitting at a desk in the County Tax Appraiser’s Office...

having an Orwellian conversation about the District’s opinion that I must be the proud owner of ten fireplaces, each of which were given a value of several thousand dollars. Of course this undeniable “fact” meant that all of those dollars were added to the appraised value of the house. The resulting bump in the tax bill was understandable (to them) because, of course, I had ten fireplaces, five on each floor to match the five chimneys.

It took quite a bit of convincing (and a lot of interior photographs) to break through the doublespeak logic that equated chimneys with taxable value. Why would I have chimneys and not fireplaces?

Well, I don’t, and that’s the plain fact of the matter. No blazing grates at my address, and no place to hang Christmas stockings other than doorknobs and newel posts.

I had a schoolmate who returned from his first semester at Harvard to a Christmas party thrown in his honor by his beaming parents. To complete the all-Ivy effect, they cranked the air conditioning down to the low 60s so they could light fires in all their fireplaces, allowing my friend to strike poses casually leaning against the mantles. It’s hard to look preppy in Texas, especially if it’s 85 degrees the night before St. Nick arrives.

In the actual Northeast, where fires blaze on Christmas Eve, I’ve always wondered how parents explain Santa’s ability to get into the house – asbestos long johns? In my case he’ll need a can opener and a lot of patience. - Michael Guarino