“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.

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.


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.

Snowzilla gave me a break, but now the dogs are back at it

For a while there I thought we’d never completely dig out from under the massive snowstorm that crawled up the East Coast two weeks ago. The storm dumped so much on our neighborhood, it seemed as if the snow would linger all the way into April before finally melting.

That’s not to say all that snow on the ground didn’t have its upside. For instance, it gave me a welcome break from the daily barking contest our big dog Rodney holds with his nemesis.

Rodney is in the habit of meeting the neighbor dog at the backyard fence to see who can bark the loudest.

The two hold their pissing match every day almost WITHOUT FAIL, but the snow that piled up in the backyard made one-upping each other too much of a struggle. Rodney is big and often goofy, but he’s not stupid. He recognized that even he risked floundering in a snow drift if he tried to make it all the way out to the fence.

I have no idea how the neighbor dog coped, but Rodney was forced to content himself with staring mournfully at the fence from the safety of the only cleared space around the back of the house –  a path we cut through the snow between our deck and the back door into the garage.

We carved that trail mainly so (a) Rodney would have a place to do his business between walks, and (b) so we would have a path to our geezer of a heat pump. It’s not getting any younger and must be watched to ensure it doesn’t get swamped by winter weather.

Every time Rodney went out the back door and down the path he faced the snow barrier. He would then give me his sad face as if to say, “a good friend would clear the way.” Then he would nod toward the fence.

I don’t always think things through to their consequences. You could even say I’m known for not thinking ahead, but even I could see that shoveling a path to the fence was only asking for trouble.

Soon, however, the only evidence that anything unusual happened will be those big mounds of dirty snow piled up at street corners. And eventually, even they will disappear.

As the big snow of 2016 began retreating this week, things got back to normal at our house.

Instead of the dismal prospect of more shoveling, the kids were back in school and my wife was happily busying herself at her job.

As for me, after I finish writing this, the biggest strain I’m facing is a little routine housework: the laundry that’s spinning in the dryer needs to be folded, the pots and pans need to be put away when the dishwasher finishes with them and I really ought to run the vacuum cleaner.

I would catch up with my busy nap schedule, but without thigh deep snow on the ground, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

Rodney and the neighbor dog are back it again.

Snowzilla: What would Jack Burton do?

Last weekend’s massive snowstorm is giving me an excuse to quote from one of my favorite movies.

Before you stop reading, it’s not “Star Wars” this time. Nor is it “Star Trek.” It’s the classic Kurt Russell martial arts flick “Big Trouble in Little China.”

Russell’s character is Jack Burton, a hapless but full-of-himself trucker whose catchphrase is “it’s all in the reflexes.” When he gets caught up in San Francisco’s Chinese underworld, his antics, inexplicably, help the good guys defeat an evil sorcerer.

In fact, the way the sorcerer dies seems to prove Burton’s “reflexes” mantra, but the audience knows better. We’re in on the running joke that is Jack Burton. He’s a bumbler who gets away with a lucky throw of a knife.

The films ends the same way it opens: Burton is behind the wheel of his truck on a dark and stormy night holding forth on his CB radio before no one in particular:

“Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”

What did I do when the poison arrows fell and the pillars shook like they did last weekend?

I abandon my family faster than Burton’s reflexes, that’s what.

You might think me a cad, but I left my home early Friday afternoon because duty called. I work in a radio newsroom in Washington, D.C. And newsroom people don’t let a little weather stop them. At least, not the ones who stay in nearby hotels.

However, I still plead guilty to leaving my wife and kids with nothing but a couple of shovels to see them through to the other side of the storm.

They started shoveling Friday night while I was enjoying warm food in the hotel bar, sleeping in my cozy hotel room and being chauffeured to work in a big SUV. And they still had shovels in their hands when I arrived back home from my winter vacation Monday afternoon.

Our driveway was clear when I pulled up to our house. When I got out of the car, I saw our son helping a neighbor clear snow. My wife was happily chatting with another neighbor and her son while the three of them walked up the street in front of our house. She had just finished uncovering the fire hydrant in our yard.

Seeing them made me feel like I missed the kind of shared experience that pulls a neighborhood together. So when my wife handed me the shovel she was carrying, I went to help my son and my other neighbor. I was just in time to get my shovel wet. Only a small mound of snow remained in my neighbor’s driveway.

As I stood there with nothing better to do than to complain about how terrible it was to spend the storm in a comfortable hotel room in downtown D.C., I had a shocking thought. This winter is likely the last one during which I can rely on my son to help his mother clear snow. He’ll be away at college next year.

Time to buy a snowblower.

Even clueless heroes like Jack Burton would do that much.

Snowzilla could make me take one for the team

I have just one question as the Washington, D.C. region faces a snowbound weekend: Whatever happened to team spirit? To the esprit de corps that spurs people to go the extra mile for their teammates? To the collective elan epitomized by “The Three Musketeers” motto “all for one and one for all?”

Answer: It must have melted away with the inch of snow that paralyzed the District Wednesday night.

The small storm blew in just in time to turn the commute into something straight out of a disaster movie. Major interstates came to a standstill. Cars were abandoned. Police were overwhelmed and frustrated motorists spent a long night just trying to make it home in time to do it all again Thursday morning.

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang called it a sneaky storm that was overshadowed by the blizzard forecast for this weekend.

For my part, I was happily drooling on my pillow while the situation was unfolding, comfortable beneath warm blankets and totally oblivious.

I’m not this weekend.

I’m writing this in my hotel room in D.C., where the Wednesday night dusting was just the warmup act for the main event – the storm that forecasters say could break regional snowfall records.

Call it the price I pay for choosing a career in radio journalism.

The show must go on.

Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom understands that. You could even say journalists have taken the mailman’s creed to heart.

“Neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night” and all that.

Duty calls. It’s what we signed up for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to get out of it.

Just be prepared for the consequences.

Earlier this week, when we started getting word of the storm that’s outside my hotel window right now, I started pestering a colleague to fill in for me.

He was a good sport, but he wouldn’t be moved. Not even after I made like Tom Sawyer and told him how much fun he’d have cooped up in a hotel and working through the weekend. I even tried the old “take one for the team” gambit.

He didn’t bite.

So much for team spirit.

Truth be told, I was just kidding around (sort of). But what goes around actually came around.

The storm is expected to drop so much snow there are fears my co-worker and others won’t be able to make it to work Monday morning.

So guess who may end up taking one for the team now?