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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Now it's the trimmer 

I'll bet you thought once we had the new cordless mower life here would be sweet and uneventful. It's almost that perfect except for the @#$% string trimmer. With the new Black and Decker cordless mower, I actually look forward to going out and mowing the lawn every week. Such was the case last Saturday. I had just returned from a long week in North Carolina and wanted to reconnect to home by doing homey things. You know, pulling weeds, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry...well, I did do the first two things. So I got up early Sunday, fired up the mower and in no time the backyard was as smooth as a baby's behind. Then I decided it only made sense to trim around the trees and fence to get that full manicured look.

I pulled the Toro electric trimmer out of the garage, plugged it in (after wrestling with no less than three electric cords to give me the reach I needed) and pushed the button. Within ten seconds the trimmer line had snapped off. I unscrewed the lid, pulled out the string roll, rethreaded the line, and started again. It was slicing through the weeds like butter for about another twenty seconds and then, just as before, the line snapped off. Patiently I again went through the steps and started the trimmer. You guessed it. Another few seconds and another line snap. After the tenth time I finally lost it. I was dripping sweat (glowing!), had grass clippings clinging to me from my knees down, and the mower had reached a point where it wasn't letting me unscrew the lid easily anymore. That's when I became my husband. I threw the trimmer and my gloves all the while screaming at the top of my lungs about how much I hated this tool. I then walked into the pool and began floating around trying to cool off.

Within a few seconds I had calmed down and serenely viewed the situation. The trimmer was lying on the ground none the worse for its short flight through the air. My gloves were sitting on the patio and the electric cord was piled up like a snake in the corner of the yard just waiting for me to grab for it. And my husband was standing there looking at me like I had finally lost my mind, which I temporarily had. I decided the smart thing to do was nothing. I stayed in the pool and cooled down.

After another 15 minutes or so, it was time to do the adult thing and try again. So I did. Between my husband and I we did finish the trimming as best we could. Of course it took an additional hour or so because of the continuous stops and starts. When we finally completed the job and put the trimmer back in the garage, we both reached the conclusion that it was time for it to join the gas mower in the garage sale pile. So now comes the question of what do we replace it with? I've had other string trimmers in the past and always had the same problem. My husband thinks we would be smart to get a cordless trimmer to create the zen between the mower and trimmer. I'm all for that if, in fact, we won't still have to wrestle with the string snapping every few seconds. I've been doing some research and supposedly the Black and Decker cordless trimmer will do what we need when we need it with no hassle. It promises an automatic line advance without help, and carries a two year warranty. In my internet search, I have found reviews praising this product. So it looks like back to Lowes we go to get our new trimmer. Between the mower and trimmer we will become a member of the Black and Decker family. I just hope I don't have to throw this guy around too or someone is going to hear about it! Happy Gardening.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Wildlife quiz 

Here's a little quiz to see if you know what draws wildlife to your garden. Think about what you may already have as you answer.

Pretty simple questions, eh? I thought so too although there were one or two that were not as obvious. Let's see how you did.

I found a great site that speaks to wildlife habitats and gives even more tips to draw wildlife to your yard. It even provides suggestions on how to live harmoniously with those squirrels who love to steal the seed you put out for the birds. Backyard Wildlife Habitat offers detailed information about attracting birds, frogs, butterflies, insects, turtles, and even kids to your garden. (I'm just kidding about the kids, although it does teach children about helping to attract wildlife.) There are also some pretty interesting links such as Operation Ruby Throat and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. In fact, Lady Bird's site has a quote that I hope she doesn't mind me sharing. It sure brings things into perspective for me. "The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing that all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become..." Happy Gardening and invite some wildlife to your home.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Let me reiterate, we are lucky! 

My husband and I have been blessed with a pretty good life. We have our parents still with us, family close by either by car or air, live comfortably, and have everything we need. We live in the house of our dreams in a location that takes our breath away every day. I tell you all of this because we also experienced one of the worst scares we could ever imagine when Hurricane Charley was barreling straight at us with no expected detour in sight.

Although located in an evacuation zone, we had pretty much made the decision to stay put. We are more buffered from the Gulf in this house and 10 feet up in the air, so storm surges were not going to be a huge issue. Our primary reasons to stay were these. First, our folks are our evauation point. They already had a pretty full house with my sister and her husband, their son and daughter-in-law and their two children all in a two bedroom home. And, even more aggravating, they had just lost their central air conditioning and it could not be repaired. Second, we have three dogs and two cats. All of the animals are getting up in age and don't like changes in their routines. Nor do they particularly like to get in the car and go anywhere because they always conclude they are on the way to the vet. So our decision was made, or so we thought.

As the storm gained in intensity and we listened to all of the emergency and weather folks, we realized that the winds could do some severe damage. There were also tornadoes spawning from Charley's wrath. So at about 12 PM, we made the decision to bunk in with my folks and we're really glad we did. Although no one wanted to admit it, everyone was anxious and dealing with it in their own way. My folks were trying to act like nothing was going on, but they both looked like they would blow over in a good wind, no pun intended. My sister took to mothering her 2 month old grandson and my brother-in-law was periodically saying "I don't want to hear anymore" while shaking his head. And my husband got very chatty and enjoyed his cocktails trying to act like everything was fine. I was glued to a chair holding on to the leashes of our three dogs and vowing not to move or leave them alone in the garage. You see, my mother doesn't like animals in the house so they were relegated to the garage. She could not understand how I could make the decision to stay out there with them through the storm, but she also understood I was very serious and would not alter that decision.

As 3 PM came, my sister checked the news and informed us that the storm was beginning to turn. There would be more to know in an hour. Suddenly we all got a little more chatty and breathed a bit easier. My brother-in-law said "What a let down. I was all set for more than just this little rain shower" all the while beginning to get more color back in his cheeks. By 4 we learned that Punta Gorda had been hit and the storm track was moving through central Florida and up the east coast. We all decided it was time to pack up, go back home and leave the folks with a little quiet and the use of their room air conditioner without all the bodies floating around. We arrived home around 5, unpacked the car and collapsed on the sofa.

Yesterday was a "dazed" day and we noticed many other folks were feeling the same way. People were driving more slowly and seemed less annoyed by traffic. We stopped by to make sure my folks were okay, and they were feeling tired and washed out. Today is a little better as we try to get back into our daily routines - doing laundry and housework and other household chores. But what I have noticed is this. In the 8 years of living in Florida, we have never ever come this close to staring a hurricane in the face and walking away from it. I've read articles in the St. Pete Times, particularly Mary Jo Melone, and agree with all they are saying. Our hearts go out to those who experienced the full brunt of this horrendous storm and we feel a bit guilty that we dodged the bullet. We also agree that the next time (of course we pray there is no next time) we are threatened, many people will not respond thinking the authorities are crying wolf one more time. What I have learned is this. Life is precious and Mother Nature is unpredictable. So every day when we watch the sunset and appreciate what we have, that appreciation will be just a little sweeter knowing we are still here with our dogs, cats, family and friends. Nothing could be better than that. Happy Gardening.

Monday, August 09, 2004

I finally committed...or I should be 

After all the false starts, the lack of spark, the loss of gas, the inability to pull the cord...the old gas mower went to the yard sale pile. I just couldn't take it anymore. I cannot make myself comfortable using a gas mower. And when it won't start without a bunch of gyrations including a voodoo dance and almost dislocating my shoulder, I know it's time to move on. And move on I did. We went to our local Lowes and purchased a cordless Black & Decker mower. All we had to do was plug it in, wait 24 hours, and that little baby sliced through the grass like butter with a butter knife. Wow! Even my husband was impressed. No noise, no smell, no wasted minutes and curses. It was a true joy to use.

Of course, before we got started we had to read the instruction manual, or I should say I read the instruction manual. One of the first things I read to make sure I used the tool properly was the important safety rules. What was the first thing on the list? KNOW YOUR MOWER! Ok. I took that to mean that the mower and I needed to bond. We needed to become one so we could be the best we could be. But I didn't have to tell it everything about me, did I? Reading further under specific characteristics of the battery: The battery prefers to be charged in a cool, dry place. Oops. Didn't know the battery had a preference, but guess what? It's in Florida. It's difficult to find a cool, dry place around here. Another line under the charger safety rules read: DO NOT ABUSE THE CORD. Man! I didn't know cords could be abused. Is there a hotline number where I could be reported for cord abuse? Further definition of a cord abuser, according to the manual, is someone who carries the charger around by the cord or disconnects the charger from the outlet or mower by pulling it by the cord. That's just simply too painful for me to contemplate. I know how I would feel if my cord got pulled improperly. I wonder if there's a Cord Pullers Anonymous Group I could call? Note to self - look into that one.

I have to admit I did finally abuse the instruction booklet. (At least I'm admitting it.) My husband tried to stop me and back me away from the booklet, but I just couldn't help myself. Why? Well, all the instructions referred to various diagrams, but they were nowhere near the sections referring to the pictures! Heck - they were half way through the booklet in the Francais section. Thank goodness diagrams are universal or I'd still be trying to figure out where the safety valve needs to be placed, or how to move the handle into the proper position, etc., etc. So, I tore (every so gently) the diagram page out of the middle of the book and taped it where I was reading. Anyway, instruction booklet be damned. The key (and there is actually a safety key that has to be hung on a hook on the wall when not in use) is that the machine is a beauty. It doesn't hurt the environment with gas and fumes, it doesn't make a lot of noise, there's no bulky electric cord to pull around as I manuever through the back 40. It's a dream machine and I'm proud to say I've fallen in love. Even my husband, who is not a big proponent of mowing the grass, volunteered to finish the backyard today. Let me reiterate - VOLUNTEERED to finish the backyard. He must have become one with the mower when I was reading the instruction booklet to him. How zen is that? Happy Gardening and if you know anyone who wants a used gas mower, send them my way.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

The dog days of summer 

This time of year is pretty rough on the gardens and us gardeners. While we dream about digging into the soil and planting, at this time of year that's pretty much all it is. My mother was lamenting the fact that many of the home stores around here lately are not advertising many plant sales. I had to remind her that we are now into August, which is not the best month to begin any new plantings outside.

As much as I love working in the gardens, my time has been restricted not only by the day job I mentioned before but also because of the constant rains and high humidity we've been experiencing. Of course, that's pretty widespread and not only owned by me. The weather patterns are so unreliable. Just as I begin to think I can plan a few early morning minutes in the garden (remember I'm shooting for 15), the clouds open up and pour. In the afternoon as I think about walking out to pull a few stray weeds and see how the flowers are coping, it starts again. The worst part is that if the rain isn't coming down in buckets, the bugs are attacking every inch of living skin they can as soon as the door is open. Talk about the dog days of summer. Even the boys won't stay out any longer than it takes to make a sprinkle and sniff one blade of grass. It's air conditioning for them and they're not ashamed to admit it.

So, as I sit here and dream about planting I should be reflecting more on what is still growing. The coreopsis is going strong as are the coleus. My miniature roses are lovin' life and putting out their little buds as fast as they can. Of course the grass is growing about a foot a day, so it seems, but we'll get that under control pretty soon. They say there's a cold front coming through. Maybe it will get to 90 degrees this weekend instead of 95 (with a feels like temp of 100). Wow. I feel a chill coming on - where's my sweater. Happy Gardening

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Thanks to Andrew Stenning who contributed the photograph for our masthead

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