The best excuse ever for taking a break from writing


Think that you have a good excuse for not completing that SAS users group conference paper, technical article, or SAS Press book chapter?  Well, whatever your excuse is, I’ve got a bigger one.  Really!

Things at the office are so busy that you need to take work home?  I can do better.  Kids out of school for the summer and you need to spend more time with them?  Try again.  You’ve met that special somebody and your social life has picked up so that you just don’t have the time.  Not even close.  Traveling out of the country on summer vacation?  Good, but I’ve still got you beat!

At about 10:30 on the night of June 29th, a severe thunder storm packing winds of up to 80 miles per hour barreled into the Washington, DC area.  We lost power, so I climbed the five steps from the family room, crossed the foyer, went into the kitchen and found the emergency candles and matches.  I could hear the rain and all sorts of small branch debris thrashing the house.  As I got the second candle lit, the whole house shook as a 100-plus-foot oak tree fell completely across the back yard, through the roof from the plate glass window at the back of my living room, across the living room, across the foyer and projected forty feet into the front yard.  It cut the house in half and missed me by eight (8!) feet.  Some of the large branches crushed the two bathrooms in the top floor of my split level, and destroyed two of the four bedrooms.  Other branches decapitated the furnace and hot water heater and punched a hole in the living room wall into the laundry room.

Despite the violence, destruction, and debris—mammoth twisted branches, hanging wires, shredded plywood, severed ceiling joists, jumbles of drywall, and mounds of insulation—nobody was hurt.  We kept our heads, gathered important things—car keys, cell phones, and one confused dog—and evacuated to a neighbor’s house 20 minutes later when the storm’s fury finally abated.

Early the next morning, an army of wonderful neighbors descended upon the wreckage to help us salvage important things—clothes, photo albums, treasured books, electronics, etc.  One of the things we were able to recover from my upstairs office was the computer containing the original draft-in-progress of my latest SAS Press book.  It was unscathed, but covered in a layer of insulation dust.  We gingerly unhooked it and passed it over the debris in the hallway, down the wreckage-laden steps, under the great tree trunk in the foyer, and out the side door.  Like many of the other possessions, it took up temporary residence in a neighbor’s basement.

The succeeding three weeks were a blur of activity as I worked with the insurance company on the property damage and possession losses, talked to a contractor about rebuilding, searched for a home to rent for the next nine months, had the surviving belongings packed out to be stored in a warehouse, and had the massive tree trunk removed from the house. Tending to those issues and more proved to be rather time consuming.

So, there you have it.  I couldn’t work on my new SAS Press book because a tree crushed my house.  Can you top that?  Oh, I certainly hope not!


About Author

Michael A. Raithel

Senior systems analyst for Westat and SAS Press author

Michael A. Raithel is a senior systems analyst for Westat, an employee-owned contract research organization in the Washington, DC area. An internationally recognized expert in the use of SAS software in mainframe and UNIX environments, he is the author of over 25 SAS technical papers and is a popular lecturer at SAS Global Forum and at regional SAS conferences. He has written four books for SAS; the most recent book is How to Become a Top SAS Programmer. A copy of the first edition Tuning SAS Applications in the MVS Environment, resides in the Smithsonian Institution of American History’s Permanent Research Collection of Information Technology.


  1. Shabnam Tafreshi on

    Michael, certainly cannot top your excuse, among my good excuses to take the rest of the summer easy is that I took my qualifier exam. :-)

  2. Mary Rosenbloom on

    Oh no, I'm so sorry to hear this! I'm really glad that you and your family (and your book) are okay!

  3. Michael A. Raithel on


    Thank you for your positive, supportive comments; both here and in private emails.

    I really do feel blessed that nobody was hurt. With that as a baseline, everything else associated with "the incident" is just an inconvenience.

    For me, the bottom line is: The tree is down, but I am still standing. Life is good!

    Best of luck in your own SAS-oriented writing.

  4. Susan Slaughter on

    That is an amazing story and I certainly hope never to be able to top it (though at this moment I am looking suspiciously out at the leaning oak tree in my backyard). What a blessing that no one was hurt. Hope your reconstruction goes as smoothly as possible!

  5. Chris Hemedinger on

    Hmm, that does beat my excuse of "had to check my Facebook status one more time" or "got sucked into watching some really funny kitty videos on YouTube".

    You know how to procrastinate with style!

  6. Phil Holland on

    Your blog entry was included in my SAS Author group on LinkedIn. The next item from the RSS feed was "Selecting the right-sized tree". I suspect you would have picked a shorter tree if you'd have had the choice!
    Hope your rebuilding work is completed quickly and you get your draft in on time. I'm sure both completed house and book will be wonderful.

  7. margelet jones on

    wow, that was a huge tree....That had to be horrifying to you and your family! I am so glad that no one was hurt.
    Take care and try to find some joy in rebuilding..... Will be a hassle, but you get all new stuff.... :-)

  8. Michael -
    So glad that you and your family are safe from such a horrific storm! Hopefully not too many memories were lost among the wreckage. Thoughts are with you as you begin to rebuild!

  9. Jan Gjestvang-Lucky on

    Michael: that is a WAY better excuse than "The dog ate my original draft."

    I am sorry about your house (and the resulting work) - I am very glad you and your family (two- and four-leggeds) are OK!

    I wish you the best of luck with all of your recovery (including your latest SAS Press book)!

    In Peace,

  10. Sandy Varner on

    Wow, Michael. Amazing picture. I'm so glad that you and your family (including your dog) are okay. Good luck rebuilding your house.

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