Sunshine, spring flowers and broken-down lawnmowers

Temperatures may have been on the cool side in my neighborhood this week, but at least the sun has been shining – and I’m not just talking about the one our planet revolves around.

I’m also referring to the one I revolve around.

My wife has been home from her annual spring beach trip for a couple of weeks – meaning the clouds have parted at our house. So much so, you might notice a marked improvement in this weekend’s column.

The last time I filed, it was without her imprimatur. She usually dots my I’s, crosses my T’s and otherwise sees to it that the drivel I scribble makes sense. But she was too busy living it up with her beach posse to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself (her?).

She’s back home now, so it’s probably safe to keep reading. Periods, commas, apostrophes and other punctuation marks should be where they are most useful, and verbs are more likely to agree with nouns. If not, it’s probably because I changed something after she stamped her approval.

In any case, it’s almost as if the sun has been celebrating my wife’s return. It’s been brilliant this week, a happy circumstance that agrees with the bulbs she planted in front of our house last fall. They are soaking up the spring rays. The yellow daffodils and red and lavender tulips are striking against the deep green of spring grass.

At least, that’s what I tell myself about our yard, that there is grass growing in it. The reality is different.

The truth is, aside from dandelions, I’m not exactly sure what has taken root. But something is growing, which is why I broke out my sputtering old lawn mower for the first time last week.

Unlike some of our neighbors who have upgraded to riding mowers, mine is more like what my dad used. It’s a basic gas-powered, push mower that I bought at the home improvement store too many years ago to count.

As I pulled it into the light of day from a dark corner of our garage, I found myself considering my options if it didn’t start. After all, it sputtered badly the last time I used it. It has seen better days.

As it turns out, I didn’t need to cross my fingers or even say a quick prayer. Apparently, the time off it had over the past several months did it some good. The old clunker started up right on cue. While it didn’t necessarily roar to life, it worked well enough to dispel any notion of replacing it, at least for the time being.

It’s no secret that I’d rather maintain my busy nap schedule than tend to yard work. But I have to admit – there is something to be said for cutting grass (weeds) for the first time each spring.

I haven’t figured out why that is. Maybe it’s simply the appeal of a lawnmower’s horsepower at your fingertips, even if the mower is more like a jalopy than a muscle car.

Or maybe not.

I’ll let you know just as soon as I get better at punctuation.

If only our cats had better grammar

If this weekend’s column seems in any way disorganized, it’s my wife’s fault.

If you find questionable punctuation, it’s my wife’s fault.

If you run across any grammar mistakes that make you want to tear up the editorial page,  consign it to the trash can and send me an imperious email, it’s my wife’s fault.

And if it seems like I’m blaming my wife for my own inability to pay attention to the rules of acceptable writing, well … you’re right. But I have an excuse. She packed up the car and abandoned me this week.

Before you jump to conclusions, she didn’t leave because she needed to take a break from making sense of my gibberish, thereby keeping me from embarrassing myself through carelessness.

She left because it’s that time of year, again – time for her early spring trip to the beach.

Each year in March, my wife heads to North Carolina’s Outer Banks with a group of friends. She looks forward to the annual trip in the same way our big and excitable dog Rodney looks forward to his daily walks – with a lot of energetic anticipation.

A more paranoid husband might interpret her enthusiasm as an attempt to duck out on her family, if only for a little while.

There might be some truth to that. Then again, she would not have taken our daughter if that were totally the case.

Our daughter is about to finish her freshman year in high school. I guess that makes her old enough to hang out at the beach with her mom’s friends. In any case, her presence on the trip this year is proof that age is no barrier to participation. And I suspect that as long you’re friends with my wife or any member of her posse for that matter, you’d be welcome, too.

However, there is at least one roadblock – testosterone.

You can’t have any.

In other words, no men are allowed, which explains why I stood in our driveway Thursday morning waving goodbye as my wife stepped on the gas and got out of Dodge with our daughter riding shotgun.

They left a little too quickly if you ask me, but I can’t blame them. After a long winter cooped up indoors, I’m looking forward to temporarily abandoning the family soon, too.

I’ve already been in contact with my brother and a couple of friends about what’s becoming an annual spring trout fishing trip to the Blackwater River in Canaan Valley. I have hopes, however misguided, that this is the year I actually reel in something more than a waterlogged stick.

But the point right now is this: our two cats are the only female influences that our dog Rodney, our son and I have this weekend.

Unfortunately, they are not very good editors.

So until my wife gets back from the beach, please excuse the typos.

The Hogwarts School of Lawn Care

If only I would follow my own advice, I might have more time to devote to navel gazing this summer.

But I didn’t and now I fear I’m setting myself up for a busier than usual season of yard work.

That potential was brought home to me this week while I was taking a neighbor dog back down to his house after a play date with our big dog Rodney. One of the neighbors was out spreading grass seed.

At least, I think it was seed. It could have been some sort of fertilizer.

I didn’t ask what he was putting down in his yard, but it doesn’t really matter. The end result will probably be the same.

The dog and I stopped in the middle of the street and watched as my neighbor strode back and forth sending whatever he had in his hand-held spreader flying in every direction.

When he noticed me watching, I cracked a smile and suggested he would regret it.

“Don’t do it,” I joked. “You’re just creating work for yourself.”

The neighbor I harassed is a relative newcomer to our corner of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. In fact, we hadn’t even been properly introduced.

We took the opportunity that day. And, lucky for me he was a good sport about being heckled. After shaking hands, we chatted for a few minutes before going our separate ways.

I thought he’d go back to work encouraging grass to grow, but when I passed back by his house after returning the neighbor dog to his rightful home, he was no longer in his yard wielding his spreader.

He was nowhere to be seen.

I like to think I caused him to think twice about sprucing up his lawn – that he decided to slack off and do what I usually do when faced with yard work – kick back and hope that it will magically take care of itself.

Unfortunately, the Hogwarts approach to lawn care doesn’t work. Magic does not replace the investment in time and money. If it did, I would have the best, most luxurious lawn around. Instead, my wife is left to wonder about what’s actually growing in front of our house.

That’s not to say that I haven’t tried to sow grass.

Despite what I insisted a couple of weeks ago –  about waiting for the official start of spring – I actually got the jump on the season this year.

The Friday before the spring equinox, I raked my yard as the experts suggest to help new seed germinate. Then I retrieved my own spreader from the garage..

I’ve even remembered to turn on the sprinkler a few times since then to ensure my efforts are properly watered.

I’ve clearly ignored my own advice.

But I fully expect to regret the enthusiasm of spring – probably right around the time I have to pull out the rickety old lawn mower that’s been sitting idle in our garage all winter.

 

Spring isn’t here yet, so just quit it

Someone in my neighborhood is a little too excited about the arrival of spring.

I’m not sure who it is, but I know this: they must be stopped. Because when one neighbor gets a jump on yard work, the rest of us will have to fall in line or risk being talked about as scofflaws.

Spring doesn’t officially start until next weekend, but already at least one of our neighbors has been landscaping. I emerged from our house the other evening to the woodsy smell of mulch hanging in the air.

I’m not necessarily opposed to mulch. In fact, I welcome its aroma just as much as I delight in the first daffodils that bloomed at our house this week.

The daffodils are adding welcome color following the gray of winter. Our Bradford Pear trees will soon be brilliant as well. And I’m looking forward to saying hello to the tulips my wife planted last fall.

We think they are tulips, anyway. Neither one of us can remember exactly what she planted. We’ll find out when they come up to seek a little sunshine.

That’s the thing about nature. It doesn’t operate on a formal calendar like humans do.

I don’t expect whatever-it-is my wife planted to adhere to specific dates any more than I expect daffodils or Bradford Pear trees to observe the official start of spring.

They operate on their own time and in their own way.

But humans mark the passage of time with calendars for a reason.

I for one find them particularly useful, mostly because they keep me out of trouble. I have an appointment calendar on my smartphone to remind me of birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. 

And, not only does it keep track of my schedule, it keeps me straight on wife’s schedule and our kids’ as well.

Without it, I would have misplaced my family a long time ago.

Calendars are important, so why have one if you’re not going to follow it?

The calendar says it is still winter, but the mulch I caught on the breeze this week has me thinking seriously about doing some spring chores around our house more than a week earlier than I think I should.

And that has led me to draw up urgent battle plans for our yard. It would be nice to have some grass growing among the weeds that have overrun it as if they were an invading army.

One day I will succeed in making our yard great again. Unfortunately, my track record is less than stellar.

The mulchy smell in the air around my house isn’t the only thing that has me fretting about spring chores a week early.

Daylight Saving Time is returning this weekend.

Much of the nation is set to lose an hour, but I refuse to lose anymore sleep than I have to over the yard battles that lie ahead.

At least, I won’t until next weekend when my calendar officially tells me spring has sprung.

Donuts are awesome, but they don’t always make things better

The strong storms that spawned tornadoes in the Deep South then swept up the East Coast this week damaged homes and other buildings and caused widespread power outages.

They wreaked havoc, notably in Virginia, Florida and Louisiana.

They also brought winds that howled through our neighborhood, especially Wednesday night. But they weren’t strong enough to disturb me.

I slept through them.

Remember.

I’m a professional.

That’s not to say the storms caught me completely off guard. I was at work Tuesday night when a tornado tore through the Florida Panhandle. And I was awake enough Wednesday afternoon to take notice of the wind and rain pelting our neighborhood. I even cautioned our son to wait for the weather to calm down before driving home from school.

But if one of our bleary eyed dog-walking neighbors had been out on the street in front of our house when I emerged before sunrise Thursday, it would not have occurred to me to ask something like “storm keep ya up last night?” I would have merely greeted them with the usual “Good morning.”

The wind was still blowing strong when I left our house earlier than normal Thursday. But I didn’t find the weather unusual. It’s supposed to be blustery in February.

Besides, I was preoccupied. It was my wife’s birthday. And one of the birthday traditions at our house involves, wait for it … fresh donuts!

I came home with an assortment that included the standard glazed and my favorite chocolate cake, but also a few topped with birthday appropriate pink icing and celebratory sprinkles. A couple were spiked with a brownie filling, others with Boston Cream Pie custard.

All were crowd pleasers.

However, they weren’t enough to totally distract me once I learned just how strong the storms had been.

I had a mouth full of glazed chocolate cake goodness when my wife said the storms woke her several times and that she had been worried their fury would topple neighborhood trees.

I had no such worries because up until then, I was oblivious.

Later that morning, I was back outside. The winds were still kicking up when I took our daughter and her BFF to school.

When I got back, I took a quick spin around our neighborhood. I didn’t really think I’d find any damage, but I was curious, especially since the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado just four hours drive time from the Eastern Panhandle, in the small town of Waverly, Virginia. Three people were killed there Wednesday afternoon.

Aside from the lingering wind, everything seemed normal around our house, if unnaturally gray.

As I write this, I’m alone with the remaining donuts left in their box on our kitchen counter.

I could ignore them or scarf them down and worry about fitting into my jeans this weekend.

I have a trivial decision to make.

And I am grateful for that.

Those who have lost their homes have much more important things on their mind than a stupid box of donuts.

A little shovel diplomacy between neighbors

Although temperatures are expected to be more springlike this weekend, I’m not ready to put up the snow shovel just yet.

There are still too many reminders of winter around my neighborhood, the biggest being the piles of snow that have yet to melt from last month’s massive storm.

To be sure, the snow from that storm is steadily disappearing, but the dregs are being stubborn, especially where the snow was piled up along driveways and sidewalks.

And even though the mountains the plows created at street corners are greatly diminished, they are being even more stubborn.

They were once piled as high as the stop sign across the street from my house and had slopes the neighborhood kids would have skied down if we had allowed them. Now that they are more like mounds instead of mountains, they are much less tempting to the budding winter sports enthusiasts among us.

One of those plow-created mounds is in our yard, near one of our Bradford Pear trees. The snow around it has melted, making it look like an iceberg floating in the green sea of what passes for grass at our house.

A responsible neighbor would mark it with a warning sign. If one of those things can take down the Titanic, just think what it could do to a car if it somehow ran off course and skidded into my yard.

Before the sun came out this week, there were other signs that winter is not ready to relent.

There was last weekend’s cold snap that put Valentine’s Day into the deep freeze. But before you blame me for the frigid holiday, take this into account: I remembered. It must have been some other hapless husband who forgot the flowers and chocolates and made the rest of us shiver through the holiday as if it were giving us all the cold shoulder.

Following the Valentine’s Day freeze, the snow that fell early Monday morning made the commute to my job in Washington, D.C. more interesting than usual. I was more than an hour late, slowed down by snow-covered interstates.

I don’t usually work Monday mornings. I had been scheduled to fill-in for a colleague. Despite the difficult driving, though, I was actually thankful for the change. Otherwise, I would have been driving home after my regular shift through the middle of Tuesday morning’s more dangerous ice storm.

As it was, instead of taking my usual siesta after the kids go to school and my wife leaves for work, I was rested enough to scrape our driveway.

And I know this will be hard to believe, but I was feeling more energetic than usual. Rather than putting my shovel up after finishing our driveway, I went to help a neighbor down the street.

Don’t be impressed. I waited until he was almost done.

My neighbor still thinks I’m a nice guy, though.

If a little extracurricular shoveling is all it takes to score points with neighbors now and again, I think I’ll keep my shovel handy.

Looks like our cat will remain indoors this Valentine’s Day

My neighborhood may be in the middle of a cold snap, but at least it’s made it easier to get our cat to come inside for the evening.

And we haven’t even had to shake her bag of food to trick her into it.

Normally, we have trouble luring our cat Artemis indoors. After all, she began life as an outdoor cat  She was a stray who showed up in our neighborhood more than a year ago and went door-to-door until she found a family of suckers (us) to take care of her.

Artemis, or Arti for short, is usually desperate to be outside. Lately, however, it’s not long before she’s more desperate to come in from the cold. And she doesn’t let any obstacles get in her way.

We don’t even have to call her, much less shake her bag of kitty chow. The sound of a door opening is enough to spark a mad dash. She scrambles from out of nowhere, easily climbs up and over our backyard fence and then quickly scales the lattice that wraps around the base of the back deck and into the inviting warmth of our house.

If cats competed in the Olympics, I’d send her to the games in Rio De Janeiro this summer. She’d be a shoo-in for a medal in the hurdles.

She’s an amusing kitty.

My wife and daughter insist on calling her Artemis. I simply call her Little Cat to distinguish her from our other cat, Skitty. We generally call her Fat Cat. She rarely misses a meal.

Until now, I saw little use in naming Artemis or any cat for that matter. They never come when called. And Arti still wouldn’t if it weren’t for this cold snap.

Artemis isn’t the only one at our house trying to stay warm. My wife has been wearing so many layers for her morning walk with our big dog Rodney I worry that she won’t be able to get back up if she falls down. Even our kids are wearing more than their usual T-shirts to school.

Rodney, however, is the exception. He likes the cold. When he isn’t annoying the neighbor dog who lives on the other side of the backyard fence, he finds a bright spot in the winter sunshine to stretch out and relax. I’d haul my favorite chair outside for him, but I need it. I’ve got a busy nap schedule to keep when I’m not obsessing about my Jedi beard..  

Before this week’s deep freeze, I was considering trimming it. Now, I’m torn about whether I should make it more socially acceptable to non-Star Wars fans, or keep my chin from freezing off.

On one hand, why grow a beard in winter if you’re just going to trim it when the season is as its coldest?

Plus, it’s a good conversation starter. And, I might need that this weekend. My wife and I have been invited to a neighborhood dessert party.

The hospitality of neighbors (but mostly their desserts) should keep us warm.

Then again, a good trim might make a decent Valentine’s Day gesture.

My wife would welcome the change. And there’d be less risk of embarrassing her in front of our neighbors when a little cheesecake gets stuck in it.

This Valentine’s Day weekend doesn’t need to get any colder.