Protip: When traveling with kids, don’t forget the charger

I’ve made a small investment in a simple piece of hardware that I hope will keep me from having to perform the classic “frustrated dad maneuver” this weekend – that is, threatening to pull the car over and making the kids walk.

It’s an inexpensive USB car charger.

For 14 bucks, I have a device in hand that will a) keep everyone’s electronics happily humming along and b) distract the kids from bickering for the duration of our quick trip to Atlantic City.

I ran across this potentially life-changing device in the electronics store.

I made our daughter accompany me there against her will this week. She turns 13 this month and is true to form. The last thing she wants is to be seen in public with me, but I thought ahead and offered a bribe.

After embarrassing her by just being present while she got her back-to-school haircut, I floated the promise of ice cream if she’d indulge me before returning home. She’ll do anything for ice cream, even temporarily forgetting that I should only exist when she needs money … for more ice cream.

When we got to the store, I quickly discovered the leap chargers have made since the last time I was in the market for one. Their potential to keep the peace didn’t escape me, either. I snapped up one with two USB ports.

I’m probably coming late to the whole USB car charger thing, but I have an excuse. It’s been several years since I’ve had to buy a charger. I haven’t had to think about one because my wheels are iPhone ready – meaning I can plug my phone into the car’s system and play it through the stereo while it charges.

But I don’t have an iPhone, anymore. I got a new Android this week, and it doesn’t play nice with my car. It’s rendered its iPhone capabilities almost useless.

However, my new charger fixes that. It taps into my car’s juice in the usual way, through the cigarette lighter. And while it works exactly like the chargers I’m used to, it effectively expands by threefold my vehicle’s ability to keep electronic devices ready-to-go. But the real pay-off is its potential to keep our kids from coming to blows over whose turn it is to replenish their batteries.

The kids each have their own port. My daughter can charge her phone and her Kindle on one while her older brother takes the other for not only his phone, but his video game systems. Since my wife still has an iPhone, she can use my car’s iPhone plug.

That just leaves me.

If you’re keeping score at home, it looks like I’m the odd man out.

Despite having the USB charger, I’m still one plug short. It gives me three, but four people are cramming into my car for the trip to Atlantic City.

I could make one of the kids share time with me, but that would just stir up the kind of trouble I’m trying to avoid.

The last thing I want is to be kicked out of my own car.

What if the deer really are after me?

deerI’m beginning to get the feeling that perhaps I’ve carried jokes about dodging the deer on my commute a bit too far, that they have pulled out their laptops and tablets, scanned my Facebook and Twitter accounts and have decided it’s to time to get even with me for taunting them so much.

I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t appreciate being made out to be as hapless as Wile E. Coyote, either.

Unfortunately for the deer, though, that’s the gist of my jokes about them. All that’s missing is some ridiculous device made by ACME that spectacularly fails at the moment I drive by.

I’ve posted so often about avoiding deer on my way to work that my friends have gotten in on the act.

One colleague delights in writing notes on pictures of deer she prints from the Internet and leaving them for me to find when I arrive for work.

Just the other day, an old college friend sent me a picture of his deer-damaged car, saying my early morning pursuers made sure a big buck was there to greet him on the Virginia border as he returned home from vacation.

Another friend sends me stealth cam pictures of deer as proof they are stalking me as I make my way to work long before the sun rises.

It’s all in fun, but what if the deer really are targeting me?

I was walking our spastic dog Rodney a couple of weeks ago when I noticed his ears prick up. He’s a curious German Shepherd and easily excitable. I’ve learned that when his ears go up, it’s a sure sign that he’s about to get over-enthusiastic. I gave his leash a quick jerk to remind him to stay calm and tossed a treat in the air for him to catch.

That’s when I saw it.

A doe.

She had emerged from the tree line that borders an expansive field in our neighborhood.

The doe froze.

I froze.

And, surprisingly, even Rodney froze.

While the three of us stared at each other, Rodney and I slowly sat down. Then I pulled out my phone and, with Rodney sitting in front of me, I snapped a picture of the deer framed by his enormous ears.

Call me paranoid, but after I took the picture, I started getting suspicious. It occurred to me that perhaps our encounter was no accident, that maybe this doe staring at us so intently was, in fact, a spy sent to report back to the collective about my habits in hopes of making it easier to catch me while on the commute.

When the doe started stamping one of her front legs like my wife does when she gets impatient with me, I decided it was best to move on.

As we were walking away, though, I happened to glance over my shoulder. A fawn had emerged to join its mother. Apparently, Rodney and I had unwittingly separated them.

It should have been a touching mother and child moment, but I was too busy running scenarios through my head.

What if the doe wasn’t simply worried about her fawn when she stamped her feet?

What if they really were spying on me?

Or worse.

What if they were the vanguard of even more deer hidden among the trees waiting for the right moment to spring their trap?

Deer can be wily.

In any case, I’m on my guard now.

It’d be a shame if the Road Runner was finally caught.

Turns out The World Cup wasn’t a fluke

I’m starting to think that I doth protest too much when it comes to sports. Either that, or I’m developing a higher tolerance for boredom with each passing year. After all, I turned 50 back in April.

A case in point – after rolling out of bed and stumbling into the family room earlier this week, I flipped on the TV fully intending to catch up on the news. Instead, I settled on live coverage of early round play at the British Open golf tournament.

When I was younger, I would have used The Open to lull myself back to sleep. But now I’m INTERESTED … in golf, of all things.

It doesn’t stop there. These days, I find myself seeking out the drama of any game.

For example, over the Fourth of July holiday, I made my wife and kids stand around with me at a Washington Nationals game. And when I say stand around, I mean it. The only tickets available were standing-room only.

If that’s not enough to make you question whether I’m a few shots over par, consider this: when I’m not shifting my weight from foot to foot for hours at a Nats game or can’t find a game on television, I can often be found spending my free time watching TV simulcasts of sports-talk radio shows like Dan Patrick’s.

Let that sink in. I’m actually WATCHING sports-talk radio shows. I used to merely listen to them so I could seem knowledgeable about games and the people who play them when the subject of sports came up in casual conversation.

A guy’s got to protect his street cred, but watching a radio show is probably carrying it too far.

Maybe lightning from one of this summer’s storms has scrambled my brain. Or maybe I’m simply suffering from some sort of soccer hangover.

Whatever the reason, after following soccer’s World Cup as closely as our dog Rodney follows my wife around the house, my usual standbys – Pawn Stars, Top Gear and Tattoo Nightmares – just don’t seem to satisfy as much as they used to. Even Star Trek seems to be taking a back seat to sports.

It’s inexplicable.

But I see now that I was kidding myself the last time I professed an indifference to sports. I wrote a column on the subject a couple of weeks ago, basically claiming my obsession with this summer’s World Cup was a fluke, that our family room was once again safe for Rodney and our cat, Skitty, because I was no longer loudly celebrating the thrill of victory or bemoaning the agony of defeat during U.S. World Cup games.

Actually, I’ve written more than one column on the subject, all of them coming down to the same general theme, that I don’t usually pay much attention to sports.

I suspect that’s one of the reasons why my wife has stuck around so long. My lack of commitment to being a fanboy up to now means she hasn’t had to put up with a sports-obsessed husband throwing bricks at the TV.

Now, I fear I’m just giving her another reason to regret marrying me.

Why my pets would rather I NOT watch the World Cup

Now that Team USA has been eliminated from the World Cup in Brazil, things are getting back to normal around our house when it comes to television. I’m back to my usual diet of Pawn Stars, Top Gear, Tattoo Nightmares and streaming old Star Trek shows.

In other words, I’ve reverted to my customary indifference to sports, much to the relief of everyone who lives with me, including our big dog Rodney and ornery cat Skitty,

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy watching other people sweat it out on the field of play. I’m known to take in Washington Nationals games, and I even like to head up to Hagerstown now and then to watch the Suns play. But generally speaking, I’m only interested in the big events – the World Series, The Stanley Cup playoffs, The Super Bowl and the big golf and tennis tournaments. Even then, though, I don’t normally get too worked up about them. However, I surprised myself during this year’s World Cup.

I became obsessed by Team USA’s progress. So much so, that I soaked up every minute of television coverage, even replays of games I had watched just hours earlier. That’s probably why I found myself alone in front of the TV on the Sunday the U.S. played Portugal.

I admit I might have been getting uncharacteristically loud. But who wasn’t jumping out of their chair and dancing a joyful jig when Clint Dempsey scored WITH. HIS. STOMACH!

My enthusiasm for Dempsey’s heroics prompted my wife to seek refuge in the bedroom where she told her Facebook friends that her “generally calm husband was screaming “GOAL and WHOOO HOOO” at the top of his lungs from the family room” while our daughter was yelling “stop screaming, you’re scaring the cat,” from her room.

My joy didn’t last long, though. I was silenced when Portugal answered Dempsey’s goal at what seemed like the last possible moment, to tie the match at 2-2.

Afterwards, I picked up my jaw where it had come to rest under the coffee table, looked around and noticed for the first time that I had been abandoned.

I then sprawled in my favorite chair trying to figure out a) who thought it would be a good idea to allow a game to end in a tie, and b) why I was alone when our dog Rodney reappeared from wherever he’d been hiding. He took some tentative steps toward me, his tail between his legs and his ears flattened. The question in his eyes was unmistakable. He wanted to know if it was safe to come out.

You’d think I had just turned off the vacuum cleaner.

Team USA made it out of the Group Stage and into the Round of 16, before being knocked out of the tournament by the talented Belgians. So in the short-term at least, Rodney and our cat, Skitty, don’t have to worry about me going ballistic in the family room.

Just don’t tell them the World Cup finals are this weekend.

Because if I’ve somehow turned a corner when it comes to sports, they’ll figure it out soon enough.

If it seems like I’m trying to avoid you …

thermostatLeaving the house lately has been a lot like being faced with the “Walk of Shame.” In fact, showing my face anywhere right now fills me with trepidation. All I want to do is put on a hat, slip on some shades, duck my head and get through it without talking to anyone.

But I can’t.

Because everyone knows I caved. At least, all my Facebook friends know. And now, if you read further, you’ll know, too. And then you’ll want to ask questions I’m ashamed to answer.

My first mistake was making public my campaign to not be the first in our house to turn on the air conditioner. But posting about it on Facebook was a small blunder compared to the most fatal, grievous, calamitous and downright crushing mistake I made.

I eventually implied in my Facebook posts that I was in a battle of wills with my ultra-competitive wife.

She just didn’t know it.

Not at first, at least.

She eventually found out last week when I informed my FB friends that it was so hot and humid inside our house that my wife appeared “close to breaking,” and that I thought I would soon “claim victory for lasting the longest without turning on the AC.”

When a mutual friend tagged her in a comment that post became my downfall. She turned to me and said, “I didn’t know we were competing.” Then she calmly told me that “if this is a contest, you know you’re going to lose.”

Actually, I’m sort of surprised she hadn’t busted me sooner. The post that ignited her competitive side was just one in a series I had been writing on Facebook.

It started innocently enough with a non-confrontational status update wondering “how long I could resist the siren call of the air conditioner.”

A few days later, I followed it up with another fairly innocuous post expressing relief that cooler temperatures were in the forecast.

A friend of mine then posted a picture of a box fan set up inside a window to encourage a cool breeze.

It went back and forth like that until I finally crossed the line. Last week, I mentioned my wife for the first time when I said I thought we were playing “a sick game of who can last the longest without turning on the AC.”

If I had just left it there, I wouldn’t be going incognito in public right now. But I had to follow it with posts and replies suggesting my wife and I were engaged in a supreme struggle that would scare even our soon-to-be teenage daughter, who is no stranger to conflict.

And then my wife discovered the “close to breaking post” and made it clear that she was anything but.

I spent the next few days gently suggesting that we put aside our contest, that if our tongues hung out of our mouths any further we might be mistaken for our thoroughly miserable dog, Rodney.

But she had a “you started it, I’m finishing it” attitude.

Even our kids were no help. Our daughter took my wife’s side and even wanted a cost analysis between running the air conditioning and all the fans I had running full blast throughout the house. Our teenage son, meanwhile, was oblivious to the whole thing. He spends most of his time at home in our comfortably cool basement pretending he doesn’t live with us.

Eventually, I caved and now I’m suffering the ignominy of having flipped the switch at a moment of craven weakness.

You might be wondering, if I’m so ashamed, why am I admitting to all this?

It’s for husbands who have ultra-competitive wives like mine.

Never let them know you’re competing with them if you want temperatures to cool down at your house.

A Memorial Day Misadventure

Usually, all my wife and I ever get out of our 16-year-old son are short, unintelligible grunts in response to questions about his day. He also grunts complaints that we don’t keep enough snacks around the house and when we require him to be seen in public with us.

Which was why I was surprised this past Memorial Day when he emerged from his basement lair and said in a clear voice, “I really should have gone with you guys.”

My wife and I had just returned from what we had billed as a holiday hike. We had planned to use Memorial Day to stretch our legs, discover more about our region’s Civil War history and, in the process, embarrass our kids by making them come along.

A few nights before the holiday, I announced our intention to scale, as a family, the Maryland Heights Trail, high above Harpers Ferry.

The news was met by our son’s customary grunt.

For those unfamiliar with the language of a teenage boy, it’s hard to tell one grunt from another. But that one was easy. I interpreted it as an expression of displeasure.

At least he didn’t actively try to avoid the hike. He left that to his way more talkative 12-year-old sister, whose desire never to be seen with her parents rivals his in its intensity. The only difference is that while he grunts his objections, she starts talking faster.

“But dad,” she complained like a locomotive belching steam and picking up speed. She went on to quickly explain that she had planned to spend Memorial Day at a friend’s house. They were working on a school project together and it was due later that week.

She kept talking until I acquiesced.

When Memorial Day dawned, it occurred to me that since our daughter wasn’t going, it might be nice to hike Maryland Heights with just my wife for company. With my schedule, we rarely have the opportunity to be by ourselves. I work nights and weekends, the kids are around most of the time, and our needy dog Rodney demands attention at every turn. So when I woke up our son, it was to tell him that we were leaving and would be gone most of the day.

He roused himself just long enough to offer a grunt in reply. I took it to mean he was relieved.

After dropping our daughter off at her friend’s house, my wife and I made our way to the trailhead, across the river from Harpers Ferry. That’s when we discovered that hiking a popular trail on a holiday was not such a good idea.

The small parking area along the narrow road hard at the base of the mountain was frustratingly full. So frustrating that after making several passes in hopes that someone would leave, I simply gave up and suggested we go over to Shepherdstown in search of parking and a far less strenuous stroll along the C&O towpath. But no one wanted to give up their parking space there, either.

All told, we spent about three hours failing to find a place to get out of the car to take a long walk. In that time, I could have commuted to my job in Washington, D.C. and returned home.

To make matters worse, I told my son the truth after he expressed remorse for not going. In hindsight, I should have let him feel guilty.

Because now, I’ve only hardened his conviction about how lame his parents really are.

Lesson learned while at the DMV

I showed up at the DMV today on an empty stomach.

Bad idea.

I started fantasizing about food.


Why I avoid The Civil War at my house

IMG_0243 (2)I should have known better than to pile my wife and kids in the car and drag them on a three-hour road trip just to watch grown men dressed as Civil War soldiers stage an elaborate battle reenactment that only one of us (me) would appreciate.

Actually, I did know better, at least when it came to our kids. They’d rather stick a fork in their eye and twist it than go anywhere or do anything with their parents these days.

What I should have been looking out for was my wife’s reaction. I could have saved myself some trouble if only I had thought things through to their predictable conclusion.

I’ve never been accused me of thinking ahead, though.

If I had, I would have remembered my wife’s wide eyes when I came home one day about 16 years ago and announced that my great, great-grandfather was a Civil War soldier from Shepherdstown who marched in the Stonewall Brigade, one of the most storied military units from any war in American history.

I had been looking into family lore because we were knee-deep in baby wipes and diapers. I wanted to be able to tell our kids where they came from.

When I got home that day I was excited and pleased to have discovered a Snyder in my direct line who had actually participated in well-known historical events rather than shrugging his shoulders and heading back to the bar.

My wife, however, was not impressed. It would be more accurate to say that she was, well, shocked.

“You mean, I married a Confederate?” she asked before shrieking an answer to her own question.IMG_0245 (2)

“Oh my God! I married a Confederate!”

I tried to explain that no, she was not married to a Confederate, that I merely descend from one, but she was inconsolable, horrified by the thought she had somehow offended her northern family.

To this day, I’m not sure if she was more mad at me or herself for not calling in the NSA to do a thorough background check on my family history before our wedding day.

But I do know this: I should have thought twice before taking her to this month’s 150th anniversary of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. That’s because after I came home with my Stonewall news, my wife started checking into her family background and discovered her own Civil War grandfather. And, as it turns out, hers and mine were on opposite sides during the campaign that included Spotsylvania.

IMG_0368 (2)

I wanted to go to the Spotsylvania reenactment because the battle fought there in 1864 was the battle in which my grandfather was mortally wounded. Records from the period suggest he suffered a ghastly injury. I hesitate to pinpoint where in a family newspaper, but let’s just say I’m fortunate he had kids before he marched off to war.

Since my wife’s great, great grandfather was also there, it’s occurred to both of us that it’s a remote possibility that he could have pulled the trigger – a point my wife didn’t fail to bring up over and over again while we were at the reenactment.

The fact is, she delights in mentioning the possibility whenever the conversation at our house turns to the Civil War. Rather than debate her, I usually keep my mouth shut.

The reason is simple.

I don’t want history repeating itself.


The Latest Salvo in the Phone Wars

I’m not saying our daughter intentionally put one over on her mother and me, but here’s the upshot – she’s got a new cell phone.

And it’s not just a run-of-the-mill cell phone, either. She’s sporting an iPhone.

Granted it’s not the latest model, but it’s still a nice piece of hardware to hand over to a kid who is just turning 13 this summer.

If you said she got her way (and then some), you’d be right. However, it’s not like we just rolled over and gave into her wishes – at least, not right away. She had to wait until her parents were darn good and ready to replace her old one.

This episode of the phone wars at our house actually started several years ago, when my wife and I decided to get our daughter’s big brother a cell phone.

That was our first mistake.

Our son was 12 when we presented him with one on his birthday. It was my idea and I even patted myself on the back when he unwrapped it. His eyes widened and he broke into an even wider grin.

At the time, I viewed it as a win-win. He got a phone he could show off to his then middle-school friends and his mother and I had peace of mind that, as he spread his wings, we could keep tabs on him. And, from a purely practical perspective, it’s much easier to simply text him when it’s time for dinner rather than bellow at him from the top of the basement steps.

My satisfaction in a present well-given didn’t last long, though. When I looked over at our then 8-year-old daughter, she didn’t need to say a word. Her eyes had narrowed to slits. Although she clearly coveted her brother’s phone, we made her wait until she was on the cusp of middle school.

Unlike her brother, our daughter got her first phone when she turned 11 and was going into sixth grade. But while she was overjoyed to have one, it never really worked as well as she hoped. A few months ago, she began bugging me for a new one.

I kept telling her she’d just have to do what the rest of us do – suffer until she qualified for an upgrade.

It didn’t work out that way.

After spending the night at a friend’s house a couple of months ago, she came home without it.

Again, I’m not saying she intentionally misplaced her old phone in order to get a new one, but she sure didn’t seem too freaked out about losing it, either.

My wife did that for her. She insisted that she go back to her friend’s house to look for it. When it didn’t turn up there, the two of them turned our house upside down.

They didn’t find it.

After a month or so with no phone, my wife and I finally figured she had learned a lesson about keeping track of things and ordered her a new one. That’s when Murphy’s Law kicked in.

A few days after the new phone arrived, my wife came across the old one while cleaning out her car. It apparently fell out of our daughter’s overnight bag and slid into the crease of the passenger seat where, despite our daughter’s assurances that she had searched there, it remained undiscovered for weeks.

The takeaway from all this?

Murphy’s Law is alive and well at our house.

And, while our daughter may not have lost her phone on purpose, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her parents’ number.

Our trip to Seneca Rocks – No rest for the out of breath

I didn’t know it at the time, but one of the pictures I took during a family hike at West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks last week pretty much sums up our long slog up the mountain. At least, it pretty much sums up the hike for me.


The picture shows our 16-year-old son starting to take a fairly commanding lead over his mother and sister, who appear to be holding a conversation of some sort. All three are walking along a wooded track with their backs to the camera. All three seem to be moving at a good clip.

I’m nowhere to be seen.

That’s because I possessed the camera and took the picture from behind.

Way behind.

Which begs the question – why was I lagging?

Just to get that shot?

Or was I struggling to keep up?

It depends on whom you ask. My wife would probably tell you that I was getting a little red in the face. In fact, she asked several times on our way up the mountain if I was “okay.”

Personally, I like to think I was leading from the rear. After all, our trip to Seneca Rocks was my idea.



West Virginia’s Seneca Rocks is popular with climbers and rapellers. Also, the 10th Mountain Division trained here during World War 2.

I told my wife about a month ago that I wanted to take the kids to the Rocks over spring break. I figured they could use some fresh air – especially our son, who, if left on his own, would probably figure out a way to somehow become one with the Internet like Johnny Depp does in the new movie “Transcendence.” But instead of hatching an evil plan to destroy the world, our son would likely use his extravagant power to have a pizza delivered to the house every day.

As ideas go, that’s not such a bad one. But even the digitally omnipotent need to flex their muscles every once in a while.

And, flex them he did.

The trail up to the observation platform at Seneca Rocks is a mile-and-a-half. One website I found describes it invitingly as a “pleasant hike along gentle uphill grades and switchbacks.”

For a 16-year-old (and, apparently everyone else) that description rings true. But I’m a newly minted 50-year-old who realized not far up the trail that our teenage son is not the one who needs to get out more – that being dragged around our neighborhood by our giant dog Rodney once in a while was not going to be enough exercise to keep from getting a little dizzy from exertion.

Thankfully, there are plenty of places to stop and rest on the way up. Wooden benches are placed strategically along the trail, and fallen trees and big boulders are handy to lean against as you catch your breath and let the burn in your legs subside.

Not that I ever got to take advantage of any opportunity to rest.

As anyone who has ever had the misfortune of bringing up the rear will tell you, there really is no rest for the weary. I’m just glad I was in charge of the water bottles.

I had them in a fanny pack strapped around what passes for my waist – a happy circumstance that forced my wife and kids to stop and wait for me when they got thirsty. Unfortunately, my joy at each pause in our hike didn’t last long. After they sipped some water and I began settling in for a well-deserved break, our son would turn almost immediately and start back up the trail with my wife and daughter following closely in his wake.

I had no choice but to get moving, again.

I finally got to catch my breath when I stumbled up to the observation platform to join my family. The view is spectacular and well worth the hike up Seneca Rocks, especially if you’re concerned about someone in the family who really ought to get out more.


And, just for the record, I actually led the way for much of the trek down the mountain.

There are times when gravity really is my friend.