Archive for July, 2016

Stretching

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

This past week we were in Green Bay for several days. On the last day we’d checked out of our hotel at noon. Alice’s appointment was for 2:30 and was supposed to take an hour and a half. Since we had our dog Franco with us, my options for hanging out were a bit limited. Without the dog, I probably would have driven to the big Fleet Farm store and hung around the hydraulic hoses for the 4 hours. It was a hot enough day that I couldn’t leave Franco in the car, so we came up with a different plan.

Green Bay is split by the Fox River, and near the place where Alice’s appointment was, there was a developed hiking trail along the river. So Franco and I spent the 4 hours hiking. We found one place along the path that had a relatively sandy beach and was intended for canoe and kayak launching. Franco cooled off in that stretch of the river several times that day. I threw his stick in the water and he happily retrieved it for me many times. When we got tired of the water, we walked a mile or so and found another bench to sit on for a while and watch the water flow by. We were unable to enter any shops because one of us was a dog, so we just stuck to the outside.

At one point we met a couple of guys hanging out under an old trestle bridge. I don’t know if they were homeless, but they were in pretty rough shape. Franco took to them immediately, and we talked and they threw the stick for Frank, who brought it back to them over and over. I thought about those two guys a lot during that time. I was kind of rudderless for that 4 hours, and saw it as a kind of adventure. For these two guys, it might just be the way they were living. It made me think about all the good things I have and how much I take for granted.

greenhouseWe drove home that afternoon, and spent the night in our own place. I think we were all very happy to be home. The next day a severe storm came through. The predicted 70 MPH winds were exceeded for a while. Our greenhouse cover did not fare well in that storm. I’ve since been able to mostly patch it up, but after this season, it’ll need to be replaced. This storm also knocked down a lot of trees, which knocked out our power for most of the day. In one way it was a kind of a good thing, because I was pretty tired from the trip, and was able to rest a bit. But once I got up and going, every project I could think of required power of some sort. We had no water, so I couldn’t bottle some of the wine. I could have worked on the greenhouse, but needed my table saw in order to make the lumber I needed. Once again, I needed to stretch myself. I was outside my comfort zone and had to make do.

Those two incidents made me think about stretching myself. You build a life for yourself that contains the things you want and need. The tendency is to wrap these things around you like a cape. But I think we can get a little lazy too, and when life throws something unexpected our way, we can be ill prepared for it. I think the trick is to march outside that comfort zone now and then. At least in my life, those marches are the circumstances I remember the best.

Carry a Stick

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

This is the third summer of mowing with my “new” Cub Cadet ™ zero radius turn (ZRT) riding mower. My first summer, I made a lot of mistakes with it, causing me to pull it out of the muck at the edge of the pond on one occasion. The second summer, there were still a few mistakes, but not as many. This summer there have been no major mistakes, and I think I’m finally getting the hang of how this thing works, and how it differs from a traditional riding mower (tractor.)

My advice to folks in the market for a replacement riding mower? These machines to a great job of cutting the grass, are very fast, and can trim close enough to most things that the push mower trimming has been greatly reduced for me. I believe that a tractor type riding mower took the design of a tractor and stuck a mower on it. The ZRTs were designed from the ground up to cut grass. I base this on an experience I had this summer.

My neighbors went out of town for about 10 days, and the rain we’ve had this summer meant they would have a hay field when they returned. They have a very nice tractor-type riding mower, and rather than driving my mower to their place, I used their mower to cut their grass for them. My goodness what a difference! I felt that using their mower not only slowed me down considerably, but that I didn’t do as good a job.

If I were a salesman and were giving advice to a new owner of one of these ZRTs, I’d explain about the spinning wheels. What makes a ZRT tick is two transmissions, one for each of the rear drive wheels. Each transmission can go forward or reverse at a range of speeds the operator chooses. Each transmission is controlled by a handle. So when the mower is running, if you push both handles forward at the same time, the mower will go straight forward. If you pull the left handle back to the neutral position while leaving the right handle forward, the mower will turn left. If you pull the left handle all the way back while leaving the right handle forward, the mower will spin in a tight circle.

Since there is no differential to compensate for the different relative speeds of the drive wheels when the mower is turning, the designers of the mower chose tires that spin easily on the lawn. That way, if you “tell” the mower to make a turn but don’t correctly calculate how much faster one drive wheel should go than the other, the wheels just spin to compensate. If they didn’t, you’d put strain on the transmissions and prematurely wear them out.

The biggest mistake I’ve made with this mower from early on was to not be aware of this wheel spinning phenomenon. Especially on the side of a hill, the mower can act strange when you are asking it to do something that causes one of the other wheel to spin. No matter how far you move the lever forward, the mower can turn the opposite of what you want it to. My mistake early on was to ask the mower to go faster by pushing the lever farther forward. This very quickly compounded the error, resulting in a dive into the muck at the edge of the pond.

If you new ZRT mower drivers out there will listen to me, I’d suggest to you to develop a sense of when the drive wheels start to spin, and then back off when it happens. Let the machine sort things out. You’ll notice it will start creeping in the correct direction, and you can continue on your merry way.

Another important lesson I’ve learned about mowing is to bring a piece of wood along about 2′ long. I don’t know how they know it, but our agile blood sucking deer flies know precisely where on my back they can land, stick their pipe through my t-shirt, and suck my blood. They seem to intuitively know the place on my back I can not reach. The seat back on my mower is not tall enough for me to give my back a “bear scratch,” so they have a wonderful time chewing on me while I writhe in agony. The 2′ stick that I put on the floor of the mower does the trick. I use it like a back scratcher and handily defeat the little blighters. Score one for modern technology.

Gift Giving

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

I remember reading one of those newspaper advice columns about wedding gifts. This particular columnist was opposed in principle bride and grooms’ gift registries. The way she put it, the newlyweds are asking you to do their shopping for them. I’ve not forgot her advice over the years, and have to admit I’m conflicted. Often these bride and grooms to be are friends from years ago, and often one or the other is completely unknown to me. I’d rather get them something they want and can use, instead of the 5th of 7 set of steak knives they receive. On the other hand, why am I gifting someone I don’t know well enough to have any idea what they want or need?

I’m lucky enough to have some very good friends who have recently given some wonderful gifts. One was a copy of the book “Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry. Not only did my friend suggest the title, but she was so sure I’d like the book (she was right) that she gave me the actual book. I happened to be buried in books at the time I received Jayber, so it sat for a while. In my life, there are some books I just grind through, that only provide a gem now and then. Jayber was a gem from the first page to the last. My friend knew I’d like it and like it I did.

Our neighbors to the west have been friends for decades, and have suggested countless books, many of which I’ve read and enjoyed. Several have been loans from our wonderful neighbors. Every one has not been a success, but most have been. I often marvel not only at the hours of entertainment I’ve gotten from these suggestions, but how I’ve changed for the better as a person because of them. In my experience, you can listen to someone talk and almost never be swayed by what you hear, but reading a well articulated idea wrapped in a clever story can change you down to the core.

weededThe final gift idea that really knocked me for a loop came the other day. Because of everything going on this summer, the garden has more rough edges than usual. In some cases, I had to learn how to just walk by certain areas of the garden, because I didn’t have the hour I would have needed to put it right. So imagine my shock when I walked into the garden the other day, and seeing the first 5 or 6 rows completely weeded and fluffed up. I had a lump in my throat when I first saw it, and have one now several days later as I write about it. Not a dime was spent, but I received the most thoughtful and useful gift I can ever think of. Yes indeed, I truly have some wonderful friends.

Speed Limit

Friday, July 1st, 2016

When I was a teen, I used to hang out with my buddies, and in the process of having fun, we often did things that were not strictly legal. These things included having more humans in the vehicle than were allowed by law, ingesting various substances that may or may not have been legal, violating traffic laws, etc. Things went along fine until someone in the car would yell, “COP!” At that point a formerly disheveled motley exuberant crew immediately shaped up, decelerated to the posted speed limit, and tried to look nonchalant. When the police car went by, a sigh of relief and sweaty brows were heard and felt.

It was during those years that I came to the conclusion that exceeding the speed limit was silly. And since then, I’ve done my best to drive the speed limit wherever I go. In my teen years, I rationalized this behavior by asking myself why I was giving the police an excuse to pull me over. How much time was I actually saving by driving 45 in a 35 zone? Not a heck of a lot. I also learned that if I drove the speed limit, I almost always had space in front of my car. I like driving with space in front of my car.

Fast forward to a day this week during which Alice and I made a trip to Green Bay for an appointment. We were gone about 13 hours, 3 of which were taken up with the appointment, and the rest either driving, getting gas, or eating a few meals. It was a lot of time in the car. Also, a large percentage of this trip was on 2-lane 55 mph roads. On these roads, thanks to the wonderful technological innovation of GPS, I can tell you I drove consistently at 55 mph.

Even though a car is an inanimate object, you can look at one in your rear view mirror, and tell if it is grumpy. There seemed to be a lot of grumpy cars on this particular trip. They drove very close behind me, and indicated that I was impeding their god-given right to progress down the road faster than I was allowing them to. I was passed often. The cars that went past me did not seem at all pleased with my driving skills.

The thing I worry about most is some folks take unnecessary chances to pass, necessitating their cutting in front of me closer than they should, and/or coming too close to the oncoming traffic.

My challenge to those of you that like to exceed the posted speed limit is: run a calculation to determine how much time you save by exceeding the speed limit, and give some thought to how you spend the time you saved. Is it worth it? Is it worth the worry that you could get pulled over and ticketed? That the amount of time you have to react to a deer running out or some other hazard is less the faster you go? I decided long ago the advantages did not outweigh the disadvantages. How about you?