Monday, December 19, 2005

Long live the umbrella

“The snow is piling up on the patio umbrella out there,” my wife Kara said a few days ago, as the first serious snowfall of the winter was coming down. “We ought to go outside and crank it down. The umbrella’s not made to hold that kind of weight.”

I sat up to look out the window; the umbrella indeed had so much snow on it that it looked like a giant white mushroom sprouting up in the backyard. Why was the umbrella still open and out on the patio in the middle of December? Your guess is as good as mine, especially if your guess is that I’m lazy.

“We don’t feel like going outside right now,” I said, pulling the covers up over my head. “It’ll be fine. We’ll put it down when I go out to shovel a little later.”

About five minutes after that pronouncement, I heard the crack from the backyard as our patio umbrella gave up the ghost. If an umbrella falls in the backyard and its owner hears it, it makes the sound of about a hundred dollars being yanked out of his pocket. Being lazy is awfully expensive sometimes.

So I stumbled out of bed, put on my jacket and went out to survey the damage. Noticing the whip of the wind across my legs, I came back inside, put some pants on, then went back out.

This winter sure didn’t give us much of a warm-up. We went straight from shorts weather in November to shin-deep snow a few weeks later. It’s already game time and we haven’t even had practice yet.

I trudged around, collecting the pieces of the umbrella, which had snapped right at the crank casing, flinging plastic pieces into and under the snow, where most will be found again when I mow over them in five months. After running out of swear words, I gave up on the umbrella and made my way over to the garage to dust off my snow shovel.
Our driveway is barely long enough to park three cars end-to-end, but when ten inches of snow are on the ground and I’m standing in the garage armed with a giant spoon, it looks big enough to host the Iditarod.

Using a shovel to move snow around seems so primitive, like just one step above a monkey using a rock to crack open a coconut. I’d much prefer to figure out a way for an internal combustion engine to do the work for me, but none have offered to do it for free so far. I guess that’s why people have kids.

Two years ago, when we were getting ready for our first winter as homeowners, Kara and I went to the hardware store to pick up some snow shovels. The store had about a dozen different models to choose from, with awesome names like “The Bulldozer” and “Avalanche.” I settled on a little blue number with a bent handle. Apparently, bending the handle of a snow shovel makes it ergonomic, which doubles the price. But still, the bent handle is a wonderful advancement in shoveling technology, because it truly does make it easier on your back not to have all that cash in your back pocket.

When Kara saw that I’d found a shovel I liked, she smiled and headed towards the register.

“Whoa, hold on.” I said. “Don’t we need a second one?”

“What?” she said, still walking away from the shovels.

“Don’t we need two shovels?” I asked. “I thought I might come out there and help you occasionally.”

So Kara begrudgingly came back and picked out a shovel that she liked. In retrospect, we could have saved ourselves twenty bucks.

If Mike Todd is still alive after Kara reads that last sentence, you can reach him online at


  1. oh man is that funny! I had to read this out loud to my husband and the last part about needing 2 shovels.... he was laughing pretty hard.

    Yeah - I agree... patio unbrellas aren't cheap and winter does have a way of sneaking up on us. I can never find my boots the first storm. The shovels are in the back of the garden shed and the lawnmower isn't even put away.

    Great post!!!

  2. tilt a lawnmower on the back two wheels and hack at the snow like its realy tall weeds- you will get some weird looks but inevitably one of your neighbors will do the same thing and you can snicker at him through your binoculars...

  3. Talked to the folks back home in Canaidia last night. They've a foot of snow on the ground already. I am so happy to be here right now; you never have to shovel rain!

  4. The most I've seen here is about 8 inches and that was miserable. I was shut in my house for a week! I can't imagine living in some of these places that have over a foot on a regular basis. Then again, you probably don't have to worrying about stocking the bullets for all the neighbors who steal the space you dug out for your car on the street. A typical day after snow storm on my block you'll see the street lined with plastic chairs that people put their to hold their spot. But this is Baltimore and people are rude. They simply throw your chair up on the curb and take your spot anyway. Gotta love the Baltimorons!

  5. Sheri -- You rule! I must sound like a lightweight whining about snow to a Maine, um, Mainard? Mainite? Mainiac? You know what I mean.

    Stoby -- That's a great idea. A mower and a snowblower are like the same freakin' thing. I'm just gonna mow the snow from here on out. Thanks for the advice.

    Anna -- I didn't know it didn't snow there. Does that have something to do with all the rainbows and pots of gold?

    Saturn -- Baltimorons. Haha. At least they have you to clear off all their cars for them.

  6. Seeing maybe one good snow a decade here on the coast, I just chuckle when I read about the perils of you poor, unfortunate souls!

    How was the dog house last night? A bit chilly, I presume... ;-)

  7. Mike this is hysterical. We don't get snow here in Bakersfield... so I'm still hung up on jealousy. I don't think I have ever shoveled snow in my lifetime.

    Fantastic story.

  8. You really are living the dream, man! Beautiful wife, beautiful life, a ferret in your pocket, and your wife will even consider shoveling snow.

    Clean livin'. . . . .

  9. funny.


    I can visualize Susan Bucher coming up the drive right now.

  10. Funny. Our lawn mower sat OUTSIDE, you know just in case we needed it one last time, until it had a foot of snow on it. Hubby finally put it away a couple days ago, he had to shovel it out first. Winter is SUCH a pain in arse!!!!

  11. Lauren -- I've made myself quite comfy in the doghouse. You keep enjoying your snowless winter!

    Shandi-- Don't get too jealous. This stuff is a frickin' pain, though it's pretty when you don't have to move it around.

    Jim -- Yes, it is a beautiful thing when she briefly considers shoveling. I fall for it every time.

    Buster -- I'd be visualizing Susan Bucher right now, if I knew who she was. The name sounds familiar. Was she on L.A. Law?

    Melody -- Haha. That's funny. I think y'all should try what Stoby suggested and just mow the snow. You were already halfway there.

  12. Sorry about the spelling. It's Dey, not Dey. Wait, that's the wrong Susan.

    It's Butcher:

    though google had listings under Bucher too. Four time winner and a woman to boot. (insert punchline..)

    Damn, that's hard work using HTML.

  13. Check if the Freegans's have a way to shovel snow, that does not require you to actually work.

  14. Interesting.... fellow brick hauler. I had a canopy over my sliding miter saw and finally put the saw in the garage when the weather looked like snow. Left the canopy out there... you know... protecting all the little pieces of wood I had cut off. Had to keep 'em dry... you know. Well that same snow storm that Consumer Reports tested your umbrella with did the same to mine. I woke up that mornin' and said I better get out there and push that snow off the canopy. Well, sorry to say, "It's in canopy/umbrella heaven right now." Worse bro, you can't take a canopy and just throw it in the garbage can. You have to cut it up into wee little pieces for the Sanitation Engineers to do their engineering thing. $99.99 at Dick's Sports well spent I guess. Sounds like we're both keeping the economy afloat.