Me and my Yard – part 2

Before reading on, be sure to read part 1.

The next thing on my list of yard chores that day was the trimming.

Previously that week, I had gone online and researched string-trimmers. I found that one of the best electric string trimmers was a fairly inexpensive model that I could get at my local Kmart. This unit had a rotating head that could swivel and perform both trimming and edging tasks.

It also had a nice wide 18″ cutting path. As most string trimmers go, it had the standard “bump ‘n feed” feature, as well as an auto-length trimmer, which was simply a small blade fastened onto the safety guard at 9″ from the base of the string. This blade would ensure that the string wouldn’t go beyond the safety guard and pose a potential threat to unsuspecting/unprotected ankles and shins; a neat little feature. The “string” is not actually string at all, but a spool of thin plastic polymer-based compound that is supposed to be stronger and more durable than string.

After the mishap and frustration in the back yard, I decided it would be better to just mow the front yard, sans-aeratoin shoes. I took the shoes off, threw them back in the shed where they landed with a satisfying “thump,” and took a quick break to get a glass of lemonade and calm down my temper. It was a hot afternoon and heat doesn’t help one’s composure.

After mowing the front yard and putting the mower away, I pulled out my new shiney string trimmer, along with my new 100’ extension cord.

I plugged in the cord and powered up the trimmer, checking first to make sure there was enough string to do the job adequately.

There was that moment of anticipation; the excitement of trying a new power tool for the first time… I pulled the trigger and the motor did nothing.

A bright yellow question mark popped up over my head as I inspected the trimmer, the cord and the outlet. Apparently, in the commotion of managing the cord, it had inadvertantly unplugged itself from the outlet.

I popped the cord back in, pulled the trigger and the motor whirred to life. It was a nice, high-pitch whine, similar to a high-performance speed-bike. I felt the glorious vibration in my hands as the tool shook with power. An involuntary grin crossed my face as I walked over to the side of the house where the grass was long and out of reach from the mower. As I lowered the trimmer to the long grass, the string-trimmer went to work and easily chopped the bothersome fringe grass to bits.

The aeration shoes had been a disaster, but this experience more than made up for that pathetic disappointment!

Then, suddenly, the trimmer’s motor-whine went high and the vibration stopped. The grass stopped being chopped to bits and the grin on my face disappeared as another glowing question mark appeared over my head.

Upon unplugging the trimmer and turning it over, I discovered that the problem was nothing more than the string having broken. I plugged the trimmer back in, pulled the trigger and bumped the bottom of the trimmer on the ground to feed out more string. …that’s what the instructions said to do, anyway.

Those of you with string trimmers know that this “bump ‘n feed” feature works with mixed results. Sometimes the string feeds, and sometimes it’s wound up around the spool so tightly that it won’t allow itself to feed properly.

I unplugged the device, pulled off the spool, refed the string through the hole, (a task much like trying to thread a needle) and I was back in business.

A few moments later, the string broke AGAIN. Again, bumping the trimmer on the ground would not initiate a feed. Unplug; pull off the spool; loosen the string; thread the feed; reattach.

2 or 3 feet down the line, the string broke again.

This process repeated itself 4 or 5 times across the back stretch of the house, a distance of only maybe 30-40 feet. I had only been trimming along the perimeter of the house and hadn’t even gotten to the chain-link fences yet.

When I DID get to the fences, the breakage happened more frequently and within shorter distances. By the 6th or 7th time, my patience was exhausted. I was holding the trimmer up over my head, ready to bring it smashing down on the pavement. The adult in me spoke up and said, “you’re an adult. You can handle this. Take it easy. Maybe you’re not pulling enough string out. Try one more time, but this time be sure to pull out plenty of string and see if it works any better for you.”

What I believed to be the adult in me turned out to be that little devil that pops up on your shoulder and tries to convince you to do foolish things that will result in horrible consequences.

I pulled out a good amount of string (roughly 12 inches or more), took a deep breath and pulled the trigger, full throttle.

Remember the little auto-length feature I’d mentioned? This feature makes sure that if I take out too much string, it’ll cut the string to a safe length. The problem with this feature is that it actually flings whatever peice of excess string that gets cut off direclty at the user.

Since I’d listened to the little voice tell me to pull extra string out, I now had a thin, 4 inch-long peice of polymer-based durable compound hurling at my left shin at roughly 550 feet per second.

Think of it sorta like being snapped at point-blank range with a rubber band that’s been pulled back about 3 feet. That ever happen to you? …say, in Jr. High during study hall, third seat from the left and three rows back?



…Uh… yeah, me neither, I was just askin’. Hypothetically, it would be enough to make you cry.

…or give you a 4-inch blood-blister on your left shin.

If the neighbors who had been out watching me since the aeration shoe-incident had fallen asleep, they were quickly woken-up by my howling as they nudged one another and asked, “ooh, what’d I miss?”

Needless to say, the tall grass by the house in the backyard was the only portion of the house that was trimmed that day. The front and sides would just have to wait until my morse-coded-dotted-and-slashed shins had time to heal.

This concludes part 2.

Me and my Yard – part 1

People have asked why I haven’t blogged about my adventures with my yard. Well, now that we’re in an apartment, I don’t have a yard.

…however, the stories of my yard are quite good and worthy of mentioning in my ramblings.

So I give you, “Me and my Yard.”

My neighbors must have really enjoyed their time living next to me when we had our house in Toledo. I was a source of constant entertainment as I tried to come up with new and inventive ways to groom my yard using both conventional and “innovative” techniques of increasing efficiency (being lazy) and lowering costs.

As many of you may know, when you buy a house for the first time, there’s an emotional progression. At first, you feel as though “you’ve arrived” and you’re so proud of the investment in the home in which you and your spouse are so sure that you’ll grow old together. There’s that whole satisfying feeling of coming “home” after a long day’s work and settling in to YOUR couch in YOUR living room for the first time.

There’s also the yard.

You dream of having BBQ’s and imagining all the children in your life playing in the lawn; running around as the adults beam at you in your apron, grilling their steaks proudly at your shiney gas grill, professional grilling tools in hand and a freshly-squeezed lemonade on the side-table on a beautiful sunny day.

I had such a house with such a yard.

My neighbor was an older gentleman with a perfect yard. His yard had nicely squared edges and every blade of grass was neatly trimmed within 1/32″ of one another. To the naked eye, it looked perfectly flat, like a green, plush carpet. There were no bare spots, uneven terrain, or variations in grass-type.

His yard and the two next to his were the same: meticulously manicured, watered, and perfect.

Then there was my yard.

Mine had a tree in the front yard that had roots that were sticking out of the ground, making the ground uneven and difficult to traverse with a lawn-mower. Moles also made my yard difficult terrain. I had chickweed, dandilions, broadleaf of every kind, and multiple variations of grass-type when I bought the house.

In the back yard, someone had evidently tried to extend the driveway into the back yard, but didn’t bother framing the cement; they just poured it, saw that it wasn’t working out well, didn’t pour ENOUGH cement, and then gave up and started parking their leaky cars there anyway.

The first thing I did when we bought the house was spend a fortune on rakes, shovels, hand-tools, a self-propelled 6 horse-power mower with a mulcher, rear-bagger and a 21″ wide cutting path. This was a sweet machine.

I also bought various chemicals, lawn-treatment mixes and the tools with which to spread them.

Naturally, a tough lawn like mine would also require aeration, so I purchased a pair of strap-on aeration shoes– the kind that look like sandals that strap on over your shoes and have long metal spikes on the bottom.

In addition to those, I purchased an electric trimmer with self-feeding/cutting line and a rotating head that could do both trimming and edging.

Surely, with all of these state-of-the-art tools, I was well on my way to making my house look up to par with my neighbors’ and feeling mighty proud when our friends came over for that imagined cookout (once we recovered from the expenses of the yard tools and could afford a grill).

Now, first, a note about aeration: Aerating your lawn is the process of putting holes in the ground, allowing the nitrogen in the air to penetrate deeper into the soil, allowing the roots to get more water and air to grow healthily. Using the aeration shoes requires nothing more than the simple process of strapping on the shoes and walking around your lawn, feeling like a moron as you walk circles around your yard for no apparent reason.

When I used the aeration shoes, I prefer to try to “kill two birds with one stone.” The first time I used them, I took my spreader out there and applied fertilizer, mixed with a pesticide agent. That seemed to work well, but the aeration shoes need to be used freqently because they aren’t as effective in a one-time-application as the type of aeration device that the professional companies use that drills holes in the ground and pulls out plugs.

One particular afternoon, as I was preparing to mow the lawn, I had a thought:

“I’m going to be mowing, which requires walking around the yard in circles. Why not mow and aerate at the same time? If this works out, I could aerate EVERY time I mow, enriching the soil and increasing grass-seed germination.”

So, I strapped on the aeration shoes, waddled over to the shed, gassed-up the mower, checked the oil and began my two-in-one adventure. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was even trying to conjure up a song in my tiny brain about “a-mowin’ and a-aeratin’.”

The plan worked for the first couple of strips that I mowed, until the left aeration shoe started to come loose. Apprently, I’d not tied the strap down tightly enough. Easy enough to fix! I stopped the mower, bent over and tied the shoe on, this time with a bit more force than before, just to make sure that everything was secure. Then I continued on my adventure of “mowin’ and aeratin’.”

Two more passes later, the right shoe began to loosen. A deep sigh, a chuckle, and a few moments later, I was bent over, mower stopped, securing the right shoe. Surely now there would be no further interruptions.

Two passes later, the left shoe became loose again. In frustration, I stopped the mower, bent over and TIED the straps to my feet in square knots, ignoring the buckles and their apparent engineering flaws.

Two passes later, the identical situation took place with the right shoe.

Another two passes. The left shoe actually embed itself into the ground as I walked out of it because it was so loose. This time, I tied it SO TIGHTLY that I swear my toes were turning purple. To save time, I tied BOTH shoes down in this manner, just in case the right shoe had any thoughts of getting away from me.

By now, the neighbors were probably sitting outside in their lawn chairs, sipping sweet tea and enjoying another exciting episode of “Lawn Adventures with Paul,” calling up their friends to invite them over to witness the festivities.

I was almost done mowing the back yard when the right shoe slipped off, but it failed to come all the way off. One strap clung loosely to my sneaker as the spiked sandal dragged uselessly along the ground, causing my right leg to slow. Self-propelled mowers don’t bother to wait for you in a situation like this, which means that my mower was now beginning to get away from me as my right leg dangled behind with me, hopping on my left leg. Unfortunately, hopping with 3″ spikes on the bottom of your foot doesn’t allow for much actual “hopping” action. Instead, it buries the spikes in the ground, as your body hops up and down on the shoe, driving the spikes in deeper.

At last, I nailed myself to the ground and the mower got far enough away from me that my hand could no longer hold down the lever and the emergency release switch shut itself off, the mower now a foot out of reach.

With one leg firmly planted, the other flailing with a spiked shoe dangling off of it, and my “support walker” now out of reach, I was not going to be able to maintain my vertical position.

I went down, facing forward, and landed on my palms. When I managed to get back up, seeds and fertlizer granuals were stuck to my palms. I looked down to see that my whole body was covered with little tiny granuals of seed, pesticide, and fertilizer.

The right shoe was still dangling helplessly from my foot.

In sheer rage, I shrieked, “FINE! GET OFF MY FOOT!” and utilized some of my karate skills to perform a very forceful (and impressive) front-roundhouse kick to fling the shoe from my foot.

One thing you have to know about roundhouse kicks. …their sweep patterns are….round. Things that are attached by a strap tend to mimic and follow through with a round sweeping pattern.

The spiked shoe, still hanging on by a strap, followed through with the kick’s smooth motion and flipped the shoe up and around, deadly spikes now facing toward me. They embedded themselves in my shin and once again, more out of surprise than lack of balance, I fell down.

The event left in its wake a pattern of small red holes in three neat rows on my right shin and a very frustrated little Paul, stamping around in his back yard.

…the years following, I hired the aeration of my lawn out to the guys with the plug-drilling tools.

This concludes part 1. Continue to part 2.