Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The mystery of mowing

OK, I'll just come right out and say it up front: I enjoy mowing my lawn.

Once a week I'll gas up the ol' lawnmower and, usually in the heat of the afternoon, give my yard a trim. It's generally not a big project, either. I have a small front yard and a mid-sized (I guess) back yard that together take less than 45 minutes to mow with a push mower. So it's a good way to get me outside, get some exercise and make me feel like I accomplished something worthwhile.

I try hard to keep my yard presentable. When we bought our house about eight years ago, the previous owners had a dog they kept in the back yard. Consequently, there were some patchy areas where grass did not exist. The front yard also had some issues, particularly between our two maple trees, which fostered another grassless area, no doubt because of all that shade.

Somehow, over the years, I've been reasonably successful in getting grass to grow in these previously balder-than-my-head spots.

Which presents me with a pair of why-is-the-sky-blue dilemmas for which I have no answers:

• How is is that grass often grows in areas where I don't need it to grow, but there are some areas where it simply refuses to grow where I need it most? A case in point is my driveway, or even better, my sidewalk. Grass seems to flourish in the cracks of my sidewalk. How is this possible? Concrete? C'mon. I feel ridiculous running my power mower over my sidewalk, but hey, what are my choices?

And yet, there is a patch in my back yard, near the wisteria, that apparently repels grass. Unless it's bermuda grass (this is another issue entirely). I didn't know grass could be so selective in its nourishment policy.

I've had the soil tested, I've limed, I've fertilized, I've watered, I've overseeded, I've underseeded, I've Patch-mastered and I've coaxed on bended knee. About the only thing I haven't tried in the bald areas is Rogaine. Hmm. Rebel Yell Rogaine. Hmm.

• Another absurdity hit me last week as I hurried to finish mowing so that I could water the lawn.


I needed to water the lawn because of the grass seed that I had spread a week or so earlier. The young seedlings were taking hold (in some areas) and I wanted to make sure they had a decent chance at survival. So, I watered the lawn the moment I finished cutting it. Yikes. I hope nobody was looking.

But then, I've been know to have my sprinklers on when a thunderstorm comes through. Maybe it's not the lawn after all. Maybe it's me.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Where's the rapture?

From the desk of my unpaid correspondent Malla Propp:

So, did you mangle to escape the rupture this past weekend? I think I did. Not that I was looking forward to all the fire and grindstone, mind you, because I'm pretty sure I wasn't going to be one of the chosen ones in any case. But I had a motion there was a certain amount of fuelishness behind all these burning tissues.

Or brilliance.

Family Radio preacher Harold Camping, who at 89 years old might be soon facing his own personal rupture, predicated judgment day this past Saturday. That didn't happen, but now a lot more people know about Family Radio than they did a few days ago. Pure genus. I suspect from his true receivers, denominations are simple pouring in.

I designed myself to the fact that if the rupture did come, I'd be sent straightaway to the inferno legion, where no doubt I'd be with many of my friends. That's OK, because as long as there are golf courses and kegasuses of Miller Light there, I think I can get bye through all paternity.

Camping explained the missed rupture as a result of miscalibrating his numbers, but for the unbeholders among us, we're still not out of the woulds yet. The end of the world is actually October 21, 2011 and will be dismayed by fire, according to Family Radio. Sigh. We have to go through this again?

I suppose if Camping misses out on this one, we still have 2012 to get through. Notre Damus, a great predicator from the past who often rode in speeding quatrains, has written that the earth will be pumiced by comets in 2012 (Quatrain 46: "In the sky will be seen a fire, dragging a trail of sparks.")

The ironing of all of these prevents, of course, is that we've already had great floods and fire (the Family Radio Activity in Japan) and winds through the first five months of this year. I suppose these could be precursors (swearing before the fact) to the real Calamity Jane that abates us hence.

But I don't know. I hope not.

Hang in there
— Malla Propp

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Patience, my son

I've spent two of my last four Saturday's in the emergency room at Forsyth Medical Center.

And it has nothing to do with me, or my a-fib, or my high cholesterol.

But it has everything to do with my latest diagnosis, father-in-law disorder.

I'm sure for those of you caring for elderly parents, this is a familiar tale.

About a month ago, dad (I call him "dad" for the lack of a better — or more respectful — word, since he is 81 years old after all) got the notion in his head that he needed to drive to the post office at 9 p.m. to mail off what he considered to be time sensitive material to Publisher's Clearing House. He had been informed by PCH that he's one of the finalists for their annual bazillion dollar sweepstakes that he just knows he's going to win. Never mind that he's one of 100 million other "finalists."

Anyway, he apparently fell off the curb as he returned to his car. The police found him on the ground and called us at home. He did not want to be taken to the local hospital by ambulance, so my wife and I ended up taking him to Forsyth, where we spent the next three hours or so. Brain scans were taken, and as I like to say, revealed that there was nothing there.

Because he's on the blood thinner Coumadin, he bruises easily. Consequently, a day later, his entire head was black and blue. He looked like he'd taken a Nolan Ryan fastball on the forehead. Weeks later, he's still partially black and blue which, if you get paranoid enough as his caregiver, makes you feel as though all eyes are on you condemning you as his obvious elder abuser.

On Friday, we had a similar episode. Dad fell at home, on carpeting, while getting out of bed to adjust the thermostat. My wife found him on the floor when she went to check on him. Once again, we made the trek to Forsyth, where we spent the next five hours with examinations and waiting on results.

This time, it was determined that his blood pressure drops when he rises from a sitting or recumbent  position, which may result in some lightheadedness and so could induce a fall. He was also dehydrated and an infusion of fluids seemed to change his entire persona for the good. One thing we learned is that most adults over 40 are not nearly hydrated enough.

So we took him to the beach on Sunday, which was part of our original plans. Things went relatively well, although he requires constant attention. We hurried back home by Tuesday. Part of that was because dad thought the PCH sweepstakes patrol was going to be at his house that day — until he found out the winners aren't informed of their new wealth until the end of the month.

Our quandary, of course, is trying to decide whether or not to put him in assisted living. He's still of an independent mind, and doctors have not given us any real reason to put him in a home as of yet. Furthermore, there is the question of how do you pay for something like this? Costs can run from $5,000 to $7,000 a month, or more. It's a god-awful dilemma.

So for the time being, we just carry on. Sigh. Maybe dad will win the sweepstakes after all. How's that for irony: win a sweepstakes to pay for your assisted living. I'm usually not one for such frivolity as PCH, but here I am holding my breath...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cover the world

Man, I love painting.

Not pictures. Houses.

I love dipping a brush into a fresh can of paint and sweeping it across plasterboard walls and ceilings and then watching a room suddenly come alive with personality. Or, if it's an exterior job, rehabing a worn and weather-beaten wall or porch or fence or carport back to functional beauty.

I've been doing this for about three or four years now. I started doing this to make some supplemental income after I retired from 30 years in journalism and found, somewhat to my surprise, how much I liked it.

Mostly, I like the fact that there's no stress involved. At least, not the deadline pressure stress that I experienced in 30 previous years in the newspaper business. In addition, almost all of my customers are people who I know, and I like to think that kind of familiarity is a bonus for both of us.

So far, it's resulted in a nice little world-of-mouth business, averaging five or six jobs per season.

I do point out to my potential customers that at 60 years old I don't climb ladders, although that's a soft rule that I do bend on occasion. I will use a step ladder for some interior jobs. I will use an extension ladder to work outside if I don't have to paint anything above 10 or 12 feet. In that case, I guestimate whether or not I can survive a fall off a ladder before I accept a job at a particular work site. If I figure that a fall won't kill me — say, if a potential fall can be broken by some boxwoods or snap dragons or impatiens with the result of only a few broken bones and not brain damage or worse — I might take the chance.

However, I sometimes do have an uncomfortable urge to take a step back to see how my work is progressing. Not a good idea while standing on a ladder, though.

I don't do wallpaper, plaster or carpentry. Hey, I'm a sportswriter, remember?

Since I don't consider myself to be particularly experienced, and I certainly don't have a vast array of equipment such as sanders or paint eaters (or even a ladder, for that matter. I usually borrow my neighbor's extension ladder or use ladders my customers might be able to provide), I charge $12 per hour, or essentially $100 per eight-hour day. This is basically an apprentice rate. This is what I've been charging for all those years. The price of gas soars daily, but I remain the same.

I also feel like I'm filling a niche in the painting universe. I happily work in a small-job world that might be ignored by larger, pricier contractors who might be out for the larger pieces of the painter's pie.

My slice suits me just fine, thank you.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

News cycle is in the wash

Is it me or has the 24/7 news cycle begun spinning wildly out of control?

In a span of eight weeks, from March 11 until today, there's been an almost constant, unrelenting stream of news. It began with the devastating earthquake in Japan, quickly followed by an equally devastating tsunami, quickly followed by those fears of nuclear meltdowns and radioactive free falls.

That in itself seemed enough news to consume us all for a year. Indeed, the news from Japan stayed with us for several weeks. I was wondering what I could do to help, even if it was just a small check to some relief agency somewhere.

But then came our own brush with the news cycle when tornadoes and high winds clobbered North Carolina, knocking down trees in our very own neighborhood, and knocking out the power in our very own house for nearly a day.

Last Thursday came the devastating tornadoes in the Deep South, hitting Alabama particularly hard. I'm still appalled and shocked by the death toll, which now has reached 328 people across seven states. So when did the South become Tornado Alley? I'm not sure we're done with this: traditionally, May is the worst month of the year for frequency of tornadoes.

There was a brief respite from reality when the royal wedding gave us pumpkins and carriages and glitter and silly headwear the very next day. I wasn't going to spend much time with this wedding thing, but it turned out we actually might have needed this diversion.

Then, on Sunday, we learned that that unholy terrorist Osama bin Laden was finally taken out by a SEAL team, the very same team that Lexington's late Josh Harris was a member. I thought of Josh, who died in Afghanistan in 2008, almost immediately when I heard the news and wondered if it was his unit that was involved. It was. I wondered, too, if some of the SEAL commandos who attended Josh's memorial service here in town at First Baptist Church several years ago were in bin Laden's compound in Pakistan on Sunday. I can only guess: probably. At least, I hope so.

I wonder if one of them pulled the trigger?

At any rate, the news cycle seems to be spinning unfettered these days. Even a news junkie such as myself is getting a little weary of the constant onslaught of media, data, pundits, charts and animations, and yet, I can't seem to walk away from the TV.

Maybe a little 23/6 is in order for now.