Two things this week – high school graduation and air conditioning

This week started out promising enough.

The cool temperatures and rain on Monday offered perfect weather for a nap. I even had the day off from work, so I should have had more than enough time to slink off for a snooze while no one was looking.

The thing is, though, the opportunity never, ever, presented itself. I was knocked off my busy nap schedule because Monday was one of the most important days of the year at our house.

Our son and more than 250 of his best friends draped themselves in caps and gowns, waited for their names to be called and accepted their high school diplomas. As members of the Class of 2016, they are now part of their school’s history and face the task of figuring out their next moves.

But while they’ve got choices to make, the wet weather Monday evening didn’t give school officials very many options.

Rain has consequences.

In this case, the weather washed away plans for an outdoor commencement. The exercises had to be moved indoors, into the school’s gym. The bleachers were packed to overflowing with parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers and everyone else who wanted to watch those kids begin a new phase in their lives. There was even an indoor overflow area where you could watch the whole thing unfold on a big screen.

Truth be told, I was never going to work in a nap on such a day. Through it all, I was too busy alternating between being proud that our son successfully navigated high school and sentimental about all the milestones that got him to Monday evening.

Our son graduated the same week heat and humidity pushed out the rain and pleasantly cool temperatures that made napping such a pleasure.

Not only did the weather over the past couple of months provide the perfect conditions to catch up on sleep, but it also gave our rickety old heat pump a break. In fact, when I went to get my hair cut this week, my barber was marveling at how long he’d gone without turning on the AC in his shop.

He has now.

And when I finally flipped the switch on our ancient heat pump this week, it seemed pleased to have had a vacation. Instead of collapsing in on itself like a jalopy in an old movie, it’s running much more smoothly than usual.

Some things in life are inevitable. Spring turns to summer-like weather and the AC comes on. Kids grow up and they graduate high school.

I wasn’t necessarily prepared for either this week, but it was time for both.

On our son’s high school graduation and Starfleet Academy

The first teaser trailer for the new “Star Trek” TV series that’s supposed to come out next year was released this week. It didn’t reveal much – just the new logo and beauty shots of space – but it did remind me that I haven’t made a “Star Trek” reference lately.

And, since that’s an eye-rolling part of my shtick, you’re just going to have to bear with me as I engage in it.

Our kids are now at the age when the milestones are coming so fast it’s as if their lives have kicked into warp drive.

For example, our daughter is now a confirmed member of our church.

I took last Sunday off from work so I could be there as she stood in front of the congregation with a couple other church kids. They were confirmed on Pentecost, so they all wore red, matching the pastor’s vestments and the flowers behind the alter.


The kids participated in the service. One was responsible for the processional cross, another read the day’s Bible verses, and our daughter helped serve communion.

I was happily enjoying the moment when our pastor brought me up short. He told the congregation that, at least in the eyes of the church, our daughter is now an adult.


The church may consider her grown up, but she hasn’t yet turned 15. I’m allowed to  indulge in a few more years of denial where she is concerned.

Her older brother’s progress, however, is harder to stave off. He turned 18 this spring and voted for the first time last month.

He also had his first car accident. He backed his mother’s car into our driveway basketball pole a couple of weeks ago.

The car wasn’t damaged, but shooting hoops at our house is no longer an option – the pole isn’t there anymore. Apparently (here comes another “Star Trek” reference), the base of it was so eaten up by rust a starship gently traveling at nothing more than impulse speed could have knocked it over.


It’s probably just as well that it’s been put out of commission. Playing driveway basketball was never much of a priority at our house. For more than ten years, that pole had nothing better to do than preside unnoticed and unappreciated over our comings and goings. It was a vestige of the previous owners. Now, it exists only in memory and in the background of family pictures.

At some family gathering years from now, I can see us going through our old pics and somebody will say, “Man, I forgot all about that basketball pole. What happened to it?” At which point I will merely give our son the sort of disapproving look that says “you still haven’t lived that down.”

But that’s in a future glimpsed only in my mind’s eye. Right now, a more immediate milestone is nearly upon us.

Our son is graduating from high school. Commencement ceremonies are scheduled for Monday evening, and it won’t be long before we pack him off to college.

I’d send to him Starfleet Academy (another “Star Trek” reference!) but since it doesn’t exist (yet) a more practical post-secondary education seems more appropriate to our timeline.

College brings with it its own set of hurdles. And while our son is likely to remain true to form and give his mother and me heartburn, he will likely clear them and move on with his life.

Otherwise, I might have to get Enterprise’s captain to start opening the bar in Ten-Forward a little early.

“Hamilton” may be inspiring our daughter, but it’s not necessarily enough to motivate me

All the rain that fell this week gave me the perfect excuse to indulge in my usual lackadaisical pursuits.

But believe it or not, I’ve been trying to take a break from my busy nap schedule and follow my wife’s admonition to be more productive.

The thing is, I haven’t been very successful.

For instance, my wife wants me to be more mindful of the yard. The rain made what I charitably call grass grow faster than our daughter can break into a song from the smash Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

In fact, I sometimes think there is a direct correlation between how loud she sings and how unruly the yard gets. It’s as if she’s serenading it like some sort of snake charmer.

And the really alarming thing?

At our house, the potential for a “Hamilton” sing-along is an all day, every day hazard.

Of course, our daughter isn’t really responsible for the enthusiasm our yard is showing this spring any more than she is responsible for mowing it.

That’s my job. And while I don’t have to like it, I do take some satisfaction that when the yard is freshly cut the weeds don’t seem quite as prominent.

Lately, though, dragging my broken-down old lawn mower from the dark recesses of our garage seems like an exercise in frustration.

It’s been so wet lately, I’m afraid if I fired up my mower I would only succeed in clogging it with clippings. It sputters enough without wet grass sticking to the underside of its deck and making it stall.

Waiting for the sun to come back out seems like a better plan. A drier yard would make for a happier mower.

With rain serving as a handy excuse to rule out yard work this week, I could have used the extra time to pursue other household chores. Living with two teenagers, our big dog Rodney and a couple of cats means the carpets need to be vacuumed regularly. Also, the kitchen floor could have used a spit shine and it wouldn’t have hurt the tub to be scrubbed clean.

But I decided to remain reclined in my favorite chair and focus on something else I’ve avoided  over the past few weeks – writing a column.

I’ve been having trouble finding the same sort of inspiration our daughter gets from “Hamilton.”

I may make kicking back look easy, but staring at a blank computer screen with your feet up is hard work. It’s not as if I can simply download a column as if it were the “Hamilton” cast album and then sing it at the top of my lungs in front of the bathroom mirror.

But I’m going to have to find inspiration somewhere, even if it means clearing my head by getting out from under my laptop and getting behind a rickety old lawn mower that’s struggling to make the cut.

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.