The neighborhood made it through Thanksgiving

Despite the dire warnings against talking politics at the Thanksgiving table, my neighborhood seems to have emerged from the holiday without any serious injuries.

But while I haven’t heard of any lurid arguments breaking out, that doesn’t mean there weren’t any shouting matches. It just means I wasn’t around to overhear them.

My family and I spent the holiday at my in-laws place in Pennsylvania. It was peaceful. And since we’ve been back home for more than a week and there’s been no word of holiday animosity turning up on the neighborhood grapevine, I can only assume that the carving knives were kept to their original purpose.

However, if all the stories in the media were to be believed, you would have been better off bolting the Thanksgiving door rather than face the prospect of dinner with extended family members. My own employer, NPR, published the results of a poll suggesting that most Americans, 58 percent, were dreading being dragged into a discussion of politics during Thanksgiving. Among those polled, 47 percent said President Trump was the main source of their anxiety, with Democrats less likely to want to talk about Trump with someone who views him differently.

You can find the NPR story here. It includes a link to the raw data upon which the poll’s conclusions are based.

But before you get too far into the weeds, Thanksgiving tension is old news around my neighborhood. Christmas is more on our minds now.

The season got underway in earnest over the weekend. My hometown’s Christmas tree was plugged in during the annual downtown lighting ceremony Friday night. And the Christmas parade stepped off on Saturday.

In preparation for the holiday festivities, city workers placed two giant nutcrackers in the town square across the street from the public library. They will likely remain there through the new year to greet drivers as they pass through the major intersection downtown. Also, wreaths hang from lamp posts and business owners have decorated their storefronts with garlands, big red bows and twinkling strings of holiday lights.

Back in the neighborhood, doorways and shrubs have been lit up, outdoor silver and gold ornaments have been placed with great care on trees and a colorful reindeer stands on the stoop of the house next door to mine. Frankly, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. The neighborhood deer might take that as a sign of their acceptance and begin congregating over there.

Earlier in the week, I was out walking Big Dog Rodney when I came upon one of my neighbors on the roof of his house. He appeared to be thinking twice about coming down the ladder after hanging holiday lights from his gutters. He acknowledged as much and nervously allowed that middle-aged fat guys should probably not be scurrying around on rooftops. Being a middle-aged fat guy myself, I readily agreed and helpfully told him that I had my phone in my pocket and would be happy to stick around in case he lost his balance and needed someone to call an ambulance.

We shared a laugh, but it’s the Christmas season and looking out for the neighbors is the least I can do. The last thing we need around here is someone getting hurt after an injury-free Thanksgiving,


Big Dog Rodney ran a 5k and other trashy news from the stoop

Bright sunshine returned to my neighborhood this week. And, while temperatures rebounded a bit, you’d never have known it because of the blustery mid-November winds. They cut through my flannel shirt, giving me a chill while I was out walking Big Dog Rodney. They even almost claimed my favorite baseball cap. After venturing downtown to visit my barber, a strong gust blew it off my head and threatened to send it tumbling end-over-end down the street as if it were one of the leaves that have been shaken from the trees around town.

With the leaves coming down, there are seasonal chores to take care of. For instance, my ladder will be making its fall debut soon. The detritus of the season is clogging the gutters at my house. Once they’re cleaned out, I’ll likely trade the ladder for my rake and get to bagging the leaves the wind didn’t blow away.

A few of the trees at my house could use a trim, but I’m probably going to hire a working man to take care of that – the kind of guy whose sturdy leather boots make much better sense than mine, which are more for show, truth be told.

My daughter’s schedule is slowing down. She and her theater posse wrapped up their high school play last weekend. Her grandparents came down to see the final show and gave her hug after the curtain came down for good. She appreciated seeing them.

The kids staged their last performance the day after Rodney ran his first 5k. The race was a fundraiser to draw attention to homelessness. My wife participated and took him along for company.


Turns out, Rodney came in FIRST in the canine category.

AND his big finish made the local TV news.


Rodney received so much praise at the race, my wife and I are afraid to tell him that he was the only dog that entered.

The only other thing of interest I can think of is the pumpkin drive. One of our neighbors is gathering leftover Halloween pumpkins to take to hog farmers. I was not aware that hogs are partial to pumpkins, but that should not come as a surprise. After all, I wear sturdy leather work boots for show. It seems like a good idea, though. Otherwise, the pumpkins would just rot and get thrown out with the trash.

Speaking of trash, I almost forgot. When I went to the grocery store last week, I mistakenly picked up clear trash bags. I didn’t notice until I needed to replace the garbage bag in the kitchen.

I find clear trash bags disturbing. One of my Twitter friends agreed after I posted a tweet about them.

Some things are better left to the imagination.

The end of the mowing season can’t come too soon

This week has been much like any other in my neighborhood. It’s been fairly quiet. Nothing unusual happened. We did, however, watch with interest as Virginians across the border went to the polls on Tuesday. Democrats swept the three top jobs in Virginia – governor, lieutenant governor and state attorney general. Plus, they cut into the Republican majority in the state House of Delegates so much that we’re still not sure which party will end up in charge.

Democratic success in Virginia came with victories in New Jersey and in major cities, including New York, Boston, Charlotte, N.C., and Seattle. But since West Virginians don’t go to the polls again until this May’s primary election, we were on the sidelines.

We sat out this one as early November rains brought much cooler temperatures to my front stoop this week. I’ve finally put away my cargo shorts and Crocs for the season in favor of jeans, sturdy leather work boots, and warm flannel shirts.

I welcome the change. To steal a line from a Twitter friend, I’m best in cold weather – and so is our Big Dog Rodney. Despite the rain, he’s been hanging out in the backyard more often. But while Rodney may be more comfortable outside right now, I suspect the colder temperatures have knocked our neighbor’s teenage daughter off her game. She overslept for school on Thursday. I don’t know for sure if the weather had anything do with it. But despite my enthusiasm for flannel, I acknowledge it’s harder to get out from under warm blankets when temperatures are raw.

Our own daughter made the newspaper this week. She and her theater posse are staging the World War II play “The Cover of Life” at their high school. She has a prominent role that my wife’s parents are eager to see. They are planning to come down for a quick visit to see the production this Sunday afternoon.

The newspaper spread includes a quote from our daughter and a nice picture in which she appears very serious. The whole thing made her mother happy, but she isn’t the only family member to rate media attention this week. My brother’s business, Bear Wood Company, is mentioned in this article about a new donut trailer now open for business in our hometown of Charleston, W.V. I’m not sure if he’s seen it. He and his wife are overseas – on a trip to Ireland.

Our never-in-touch college son actually got in touch this week. He’s making plans to come home for Thanksgiving, a holiday that appears to appeal to my daughter’s girl scout troop leader. Following their meeting this week, she handed out popcorn in plastic bags decked out to look like ears of corn. When she gave me one, she said, “I know. I’m weird.” And then she asked, “This isn’t going to land me in your blog is it?” Well, now that you mention it …

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I find myself thankful for my neighbors. Last week, Senator Rand Paul was attacked allegedly by one of his while he was mowing his lawn at his Kentucky home.

None of my neighbors seem likely to attack me, but the episode has given me another reason to spread my arms wide and fully embrace plunging temperatures. In other words, the mowing season is just about over.

I finally figured out what’s going on with the neighborhood deer

Is it just me? Does it seem fitting to you, too, that the day after Halloween brought gray skies and the threat of a chilly rain?

After what seemed like a warmer than usual October, I welcome the change in the weather. At the very least, clomping around in my new boots makes much better sense.

I bought them last month. They are the sort of sturdy leather shoe that tough working men wear to protect their feet – men like the roofers who just finished putting new shingles on a house on the other side of the neighborhood. As a matter of fact, if I weren’t writing this right now, I’d lace them up and head outside in the cooler weather to tackle a tough job of my own – removing the fake spider webs I draped over the shrubs in front of my house for trick-or-treating.

Tough jobs require tough footwear. And while I am pleased with my new boots, they aren’t the only news from my front stoop this week.

For one thing, our son, the one who never calls home from college, has shaved the sides of his head. My daughter alerted me to his new look. She showed me the picture he posted to Snapchat in which he claimed peer pressure made him do it.

Also, my wife took a couple days off work this week so we could spend some time together. We ended up stuffing the back of her Honda CRV with junk from the basement and taking a nice romantic trip out to the dump. The fire is still there.

Our friend David would have been a third wheel if he had gone with us, but he’s down in the dumps all the same. He’s been a Los Angeles Dodgers fan since childhood and is taking their World Series loss hard. Be nice to him.

If you see Nic, offer him congratulations. He’s taken a new job leading economic development efforts in the next county over from ours. He starts later this month.

Tammy’s orange and white tabby cat is back home safe and sound. He went missing near the end of September and now we’re all wondering just what that cat was up to.

Despite cooler weather, the neighborhood mom-walkers in their sensible reflective vests are still getting up before the sun for their morning march. The dentist who lives on the other side of our town park is still riding his bicycle by my house, and when I finish this I’ll be taking our dog Rodney out for our usual afternoon constitutional.

While the weather doesn’t seem to have crimped anyone’s normal routine, something has spooked the neighborhood deer. They’ve stopped harassing me and Rodney as we make our daily circuit and now I think I finally figured out why.

Our City Council has approved a new ordinance allowing bow hunters to hunt them within city limits. The deer must have read about it in the paper and decided to make themselves scarce. If council members had approved the ordinance sooner, maybe my wife would still have a garden and I wouldn’t be taking countermeasures as if the Russians were spying on me.

In any case, Rodney and I are now walking the neighborhood free from worries about a big buck leaping in front us in an effort impress the does and bum some beer money. And it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll be back, at least not anytime soon. The city’s season runs through the end of December.

I’m not letting my guard down, though.

Deer are wily opponents.

Vigilance is required.

I finally have something to say and I’m a little spooked about it

Has it really been since the first week of August since I posted anything here?

More than two months of nothing?

Zilch for 11 weeks?

Nada for 77 freakin’ days?

I’ve got to get better at this blogging thing.

In case you were worried by my online silence, my ID badge still unlocks the doors at work. And this week, management even let me renew my benefits for next year, so it seems likely that I will remain employed for the time being.

Also, I still have my health. I’ve even lost a little weight since the last time I posted here. Not enough, mind you. It’s not like I’m walking our big dog Rodney around the neighborhood with my pants slipping down around my butt. But while I’ll never be that fashionable (as I am often reminded by my wife and kids), at least I can cinch my belt a notch tighter around my waist. A small victory over middle age.

As I type this in the comfort of my favorite chair, I’m trying to think of how to catch you up on what’s been going on around my neighborhood. Yes, the kids are back in school, but you knew that. Our teenage daughter has her plate full with classes, show choir and this fall’s high school play. I assume her gregarious older brother is busy entertaining his fellow members of the West Virginia University Marching Band, but I don’t know for sure. He never calls home. My wife and I are going with the “no news is good news” style of parenting a college kid. At least, he’s not asking for money.

Let’s see, casting a wider net – the neighborhood mom-walkers wearing their sensible reflective vests are still marching up and down our street each morning. Working guys with hammers are putting new shingles on a house that Rodney and I stroll by each day, and the neighborhood is showing enthusiasm for Halloween. Signs pointing the way to candy have turned up outside some homes. Faux spider webs have been draped over shrubbery at others. And pumpkins and tasteful arrangements of fall mums are on display, including the one my wife put together on our front stoop.

Several doors down from our house, there’s a wooden pallet leaning against a tree. It’s been painted pumpkin orange and its black eyes seem to have a twinkle in them. At another house, the inhabitants have stuffed pumpkin-themed trash bags with leaves and left them to haunt the yard for the holiday.

One thing we look forward to each year is the neighborhood haunted trail. It’s created by the owners of a home at the head of our corner of town. As an added attraction this year, some newcomers to the neighborhood have placed a sign in front of their house promising a haunted hotel. I somehow doubt they’re really taking reservations, though.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I like to kindle a fire in our portable fire pit to keep warm while I hand out candy on the front stoop.

This year, however, I’m spooked about the whole thing. My enemies, the neighborhood deer, have been curiously absent for the past several days. They usually trail Rodney and me while we’re on our walks. And they are often stationed outside our house when I leave for work and probably know exactly when I arrive back home. They’ve had me under surveillance for years, the better to destroy what’s left of our garden. But now they are nowhere to be found.

The change in strategy makes me jumpy, but that may be a good thing what with trick-or-treating scheduled for Tuesday night. They may have eaten our hostas down to their nubs, but I’ll be damned if I’ll surrender the candy bowl without a fight.

Heat, humidity and a hike up a mountain

My neighbor across the street has this thing going in which he loves to ask “how I’m liking the weather today?”

He NEVER fails to ask me that question. Each time we run into each other, I can expect him to grin, ask me about the weather and then chuckle to himself when I scowl.

He doesn’t really care what I think. He’s just tweaking me. He already knows how I feel about sweating through a sticky, soupy West Virginia summer – and, just to be clear, IT’S NOT GOOD!

Frankly, I’d rather join our big dog Rodney atop an AC vent and stay there until Labor Day, but circumstances conspire against me.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Nic texted me. He wanted to know if I’d like to join him and another friend of ours on a quick overnight backpacking trip.

Knowing what you now know about my hostility toward heat and humidity, you’d be right to think it a safe bet that I wouldn’t give the matter much thought, that I would flatly refuse and then give Rodney a nudge (he’s a vent hog). But, in this instance, if you had actually made that bet, you would have lost.

I can’t really explain why I went against the odds other than to say the cool air emanating from the vent must have made me temporarily delirious. In any case, I agreed to hike Shockeys Knob, a mountain about a half-hour from my home in Martinsburg, along West Virginia’s border with Virginia.

Last Wednesday, I found myself struggling up the mountain path with Nic and our friend John. Actually, I huffed and puffed more than either of them, but my feeble efforts to keep up aren’t the point. While temperatures weren’t nearly as hot as they were last week and it rained off and on, it was still humid. I was dripping with sweat before we even got halfway up the path.

Did I mention I prefer AC vents even if I have to nudge Rodney to make room?

I do.


But despite the humid, and sometimes rainy weather, that hike was worth it. And not just because we rewarded ourselves with the beer we had iced down and lugged up the mountain in our packs. It was because we had accomplished something, we had met a shared goal, we had been through the crucible and Shockeys Knob was ours.

But despite that sense of satisfaction, I’ve made a promise to myself. The next time my friends want to hike a mountain when it’s humid outside just to share a few beers beside a campfire, I’m going to suggest they come over to my house, instead. I’ve got plenty of AC vents and Rodney doesn’t mind sharing. Plus, the beer will be colder. I’ve got a fridge.

I don’t like humid weather.



Ugh, Summer is back

Good thing I like to sit on my front stoop and watch the world go by in the morning. Right now, any other time is out of the question.

After several days of relatively nice, cool weather, temperatures are rising and so is the humidity.

Heat and humidity – summer’s double whammy. Consider me disabused of any hope of escaping typical West Virginia weather for this time of year.


As I prepare to post this, it’s about 3pm EDT. A glance at the weather app on my phone shows it feels like 96-degrees outside my front door. That’s hardly Death Valley heat, but it’s more than enough to keep me indoors for the time being. It’s also enough to keep our big dog Rodney near an AC vent.


I am in the habit of taking Rodney for a spin around the neighborhood in the afternoon. Not today. It’s too hot and humid – for him and me. He’s just going to have to contain his boundless enthusiasm for walks for when his mom gets home from work this evening.

Stop looking so sad, Rodney. It’s for the best. If I took you, your tongue would drag so low it would have road burn by the time we got back home. Besides, you’d just have to make room for me atop that vent