Luck be not the lady for me

I tend not to pay attention to luck as I’ve resigned myself to having very little of it. That’s not to say I’m a pessimist, I’m just not the one to win playing scratch tickets and my number is rarely drawn for a prize.

However, I’ve got a pretty great life, but luck has very little to do with it. For me, I think it’s more about simply doing the best I can and trusting that things will work out. And they always do . . . just usually not according to my plan or timeline.

Take my string of bad luck last week. It was a classic case of “if it could go wrong, it did.”

bad luck lpIt started on Thursday afternoon. I was in Milan for an appointment when I received a call from the school, my son was laid up in the nurse’s office with back pain. He woke that morning complaining his lower back hurt so I gave him some ibuprofen and sent him on his way.

Maclane is rarely one to cry wolf so I cancelled the appointment and headed back home. While in route, I contacted our chiropractor in Clinton who told me to bring him in.

When I got to Northeast to fetch Maclane, the boy was in tears. Unfortunately, once we got to the chiro, he said Maclane’s muscles were too locked up to be adjusted and suggested we visit our doctor and have him x-rayed, though Maclane could remember no trauma.

I opted to try one more thing before heading to the doctor, my soft tissue therapist in Davenport who has also treated both kids for posture and muscle issues.

I started seeing this guy a year ago and his ability to find the problem, workout the pain then identify exercises to strengthen the affected area is AMAZING. Luckily, he was able to see Maclane yet that night.

Back to the Quad Cities we went and after a number of strength tests, the therapist opted to do a cupping on Maclane’s back which involved placing 12 plastic vacuum cups over his lower back. Leaving them in place for 10 minutes, the therapist explained the technique creates negative pressure on the skin’s surface allowing the soft tissue underneath to release.

Within seconds Maclane started joking and giggling about how weird it felt. The boy was getting relief! After removing the cups, the therapist covered Maclane’s lower back with an analgiesic then kinesiology tape, assigned him some exercises and scheduled him for a follow-up.

Maclane practically danced out of the office and to the car only to have another monkey wrench thrown at us: my car wouldn’t start. Two hours later, with an auto service looking it over and Marty waiting in the wings to rescue us, the service guy reprogrammed my key fob and brought the car back to life. Whew!

But the next morning my car barely started so we took it directly to DeWitt’s Bauer Repair. Eventually we’d learn it was a battery issue—that as a battery weakens, it shuts off service to various systems. I’m just grateful it was such a simple fix.

But the luck issue was far from over.

Last Friday, if you’ll remember, was a gorgeous day, and since I had no transportation, it was perfect for catching up on laundry and mowing the lawn. My plan was to quickly mow around the clothes line and lp tank which was nearby, hang a couple of loads of on the line and then proceed with mowing.

Our 1,000 gallon lp tank had been listing terribly and literally mere moments before jumping on the mower, I’d been looking at it, its left side sinking into the ground, knowing it needed to be moved.

Well . . . it got moved alright.

As I was mowing around it, the back tire of the lawn mower may have made contact with the tank. If it did, it was a light nudge, hardly a push, in fact, it was likely the wind, but whatever it was, as I drove my new mower away from it, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. The tank was rolling after me.

It sounds horrible, but it only rolled forward a foot or two, the line didn’t disconnect and all was well. (My lack of luck? Maybe I’m luckier than I thought because several people said it could’ve easily resulted in an explosion. Yikes!)

As it turned out, Eastern Iowa Propane was able to move it to a different spot and all is well.

Except one final “grrr” happened before my bad luck streak would be complete.

While a writer really only needs pen and paper, in today’s world, computers are vital. Mine seized Sunday as I was working on a project and stayed frozen until Wednesday when I was able to get it to a tech person. Of course it started right up for them! The techies claimed it was a glitch in one of my programs, but it solidified the disdain I have for my dependence on technology!!! (And my belief that computers have personalities and that mine is a passive-aggressive jerk.)

That said . . .

My son is again chasing soccer balls,

My car is purring like a kitten.

My fuel tank is sitting solidly safe

And my computer isn’t giving me fit(ten)s.

I sure hope these days of bad luck are done,

That blue skies and happy faces return.

But I guess it helps to count my blessings

And consider this week a lesson learned. . .

Originally published 27 Sept 2014 in The Observer.

Adventures in lawn care & life north of Hwy 136

Just so you know, I kind of love mowing lawn. It harkens back to those pre-teen years when cousin Laura (Olson) Wallace and I would spend hours and HOURS grooming Gramma Olson’s expansive front lawn, orchard and sprawling east yard that doubled as a baseball field.

More than a job or task to sweat through, mowing Gramma’s grass offered a sense of pride. The clean lines. The level grass. The smooth results. Could there be a more visual example of the term: perfect?

Like a spotless kitchen, a clothesline filled with laundry or a re-organized desk, the feeling of order—albeit brief—is one of the best feelings I know!

And it’s in the grass, a perfectly coiffed lawn, where I find my greater peace . . . or at least I did.

For the first chunk of Marty and my marriage, we were “townies” living in DeWitt, Iowa, and the mowing of our corner lot was his domain. I was used to caring for big spaces with big lawns, not small, fenced-in plots of grass.

A phrase like “clipping the lawn” sounds cute and suggests a job that requires minutes, which is how long it took Marty when we lived in town. A cool 45-minutes of sauntering behind a push mower and that was that.

So when we left town and took over the old Joe Brown place, I was stoked at the idea of having a big lawn. What I wasn’t prepared for was how unruly that lawn would be!

Initially I envisioned using our push mower on the three mow’able acres that made up our four acre parcel. I saw my legs getting buff, my arms, toned, but then reality hit me. We needed a riding lawnmower and went with what we could afford, a hand-me-down freebee from Dad Reed.

That old John Deere lasted a few passes before chugging to its death, mid-job. It didn’t even make it to the end of the season. And because we lacked the necessary moving equipment, the poor thing sat in our front yard for a couple of weeks while grass grew up around it.

If Joe Brown’s spirit still hangs about our farmette, I’d like to think he and his late wife Marge find our efforts to tame their wild land humorous. I’d hate to think he’s put a curse on us.

But when you consider our history with lawnmowers, it’s hard to think otherwise. Joe Brown’s has shown to have the exemplary talent for weed growth and lawnmower extermination.

To date, Joe Brown’s has killed not one, but TWO old John Deere mowers, our once-new push mower as well as a new Poulan. And our current used Sears Craftsman looks as if it won a lawnmower demolition derby (and mows like it, too).

The serenity I used to find in mowing my parents’ and grandmother’s yards has yet to be found at Casa Reed Murrell. Who knew you could actually take smooth ground for granted, but you can. I did. Having grown up along Hwy. 30, between Calamus and Grand Mound, the ground is flat and the lawns have a near fairway-like quality.

After nine years of working to make Joe Brown’s ground behave, fighting with it to smooth itself out, Joe Brown’s ghost has been laughing his tail off.

The early years were fraught with spring thaws that would have the lawn heaving various forms of detritus: glass and bricks, car door handles and lug nuts, batteries and hub caps. The first mows of the season were very much like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.

You’d think I’d get used to the loud bang that results from running the mower over these objects, but when the blades find an old wrench and send it banging around the undercarriage and out the side, that’s a sound (and feeling) from which you don’t quickly recover.

And then there were the imaginations of our children when at ages three and six, Maclane and Moira, would take large rocks and make “dinosaur nests.” The kids, especially Maclane, were huge into dinosaurs and one day they hatched the brilliant idea of pretending the decorative river rock around the house were dinosaur eggs. They’d take these rock “eggs” and build nests throughout the yard. Sometimes at the base of trees, other times, out in the middle, blanketed by grass “so they’d stay warm.”

Imagine, bouncing along (there’s no smooth rolling), focusing on how grateful you are that the machine was actually working, only to have one’s reverie harshly interrupted by the horrific sound of large river rock being chewed up by your already-ailing lawnmower?

Nope. Not fun.

Along with this, let’s not forget the oodles of trees Marty’s planted every year. Adding to the handful of young firs already established, he’s added countless variety of trees and bushes. Between the trees already here, the stumps of trees lost and the ones Marty and the kids planted, we have exactly 95 trees (and two stumps) around which we now mow.

It’s a job requiring much patience, many hours and lots of “Marty” since he’s the only one who can get the Craftsman mower to start.

Just as I’d begun to think I would never again experience the Zen-like satisfaction of a day’s worth of lawn work, I went and got myself an early birthday present!

For the last year I’ve been sniffing around for a new (or newer) mower. But it couldn’t be just some ordinary rider, Joe Brown’s was proving to be a wily foe. It was time we got serious and until recently, it was an expense I simply couldn’t justify.

The Pat Howell quote: “Grass is the cheapest plant to install and the most expensive to maintain,” couldn’t be more true.

Tune in next week for adventures in zero-turn mowing . . .

Originally published 6 September 2014 in The Observer.

Lady Justice descends on serial-killer lawn

So I love mowing lawn, right? Well, I did . . . back in the day, when still a minor living at home.

The smooth, evenly cut grass of my Gramma Olson’s big yard was a thing to behold. Sure my lines could get a little crooked, especially when ground squirrels whizzed by, diving for their burrow right in front of my mower. But her lawn was flat, the grass was smooth and all felt right with the world.

I thought every lawn was like this. How naïve.

Tnew mowerhe nearly three acres that make up the mow’able portion of our Joe Brown farmette are anything but flat. And smooth? Hardly. Though fitting, given Joe Brown’s used to be a horse ranch, I didn’t think it possible to get saddle sores from mowing. You can.

Our “lawn” is made up of several areas: the front yard, the back yard, the yard in front of the corn crib and the yard behind the corn crib. I’d estimate the only flat, smooth portion is a 10-foot by 40-foot plot northwest of the house. The rest is a mine field.

Hindsight being what it is, I shouldn’t be surprised the four ordinary lawn mowers we’ve operated over the last nine summers would simply falter when faced with the monumental task of taming the beast that is the Joe Brown yard.

I never knew Joe Brown, but am often regaled with wild tales of goats in the bath tub, horse kibble in the kitchen, engines in the dining room and assorted saddles and bits in the living room. I never tire of hearing how nutty and open-hearted he was, but shaping up the Joe Brown place is no small feat.

It was clear, as Marty endlessly toiled to sustain the life of our fourth mower, a used, beat-up Sears Craftsman, we could no longer get by with a common, ordinary machine.

And given Marty’s work schedule coupled with his involvement at the Rock Creek Eco Center, not to mention managing the Charlotte Little League and coaching both baseball and soccer, he was eager to rid himself of the chronic pain that is the maintenance of the Joe Brown yard.

Which leaves me . . . and my lack of education in the industrial arts.

For a year I’ve been nosing around at local dealers, perusing the Internet, eye-balling sale ads and basically looking for something to smack me alongside the head.

Not only did I have my brother, Matt Reed, on the hunt, but Mom and Dad Olson, as well. The hunt was fruitless or maybe I was just gutless, how could I not be?! Our Joe Brown yard had killed three mowers and the fourth was dying a slow, hard-to-watch death. This yard was a serial killer!

Depending on whether it was Marty or I doing the mowing, the job could take anywhere from four to six hours. After, of course, the battery sat on a charger for a couple of hours. And the result of all that labor? A crappy looking lawn.

By Labor Day weekend, after wasting Friday fighting to get the dang thing started and burdening Marty with the task after he got home from work, I snapped. We were either going to fork over the cash for an appropriate mower or buy a herd of goats.

With Dad Olson available to “window shop,” he and I went to G & H Mowers in Grand Mound, Iowa, where he showed me what he’d wanted to buy last spring before Mom went and bought a new house.

I can’t help but feel like Tim ‘The Tool Man’ Taylor when I speak of this beast: a 48” Simplicity Champion XT commercial zero-turn riding lawnmower. Arw arw arw!!!

G & H co-owner Dennis Galloway reviewed the specs, told me about the four-year warranty and what they offered for maintenance. I figured if it was good enough for Dad, it was good enough for us and by Tuesday afternoon they’d delivered it and schooled me on the wily ways of zero-turn mowing.

First, I’ve never felt like a bigger idiot than when making the first passes around the front lawn. It was an all hands, no feet operation. To move ahead, you pushed the hand levers forward. To slow down, you pulled them back. There was no cruise control and no foot break. When I went forward it was either like a snail or a rocket. Clearly this took more finesse than I expected. And straight line? How ‘bout squiggles?

The turning was pretty awesome, but the looking out for low-lying tree limbs was another thing. The Champion XT came with a roll bar that Dennis warned we would likely remove if we had a lot of trees. (Remember, we have 95. NINETY FIVE!)

After snapping a couple of limbs and almost getting thrown off by one particularly strong branch, I parked it and let Marty remove the bar.

I’ve since mowed one other time and I’m quite smitten with the machine. Our grass looks level, the mounds of hay-like clippings are decreasing and the time? The first mowing took 3.3 hours and the second, 2.9!

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Originally published 13 September 2014 in The Observer.