“Reel” Pesky Grass

I don’t necessarily take “signs” too seriously. I don’t believe in astrology, horoscopes, fortune cookies, or any of that. I do, however, seriously hate cockroaches, and as my wife and I came closer to buying our first house, the cockroaches in our apartment impelled us with every step forward proportionally to the increasing frequency with which we met them.

Notwithstanding, the cockroaches weren’t the reason we wanted to buy a house. We actually really liked our apartment, and were very thankful for how well managed they were for being in our frugal price range. No, the apartments themselves weren’t bad apartments, and the neighbors were as friendly and peaceful as we could have asked for. What drove us to look for a house was grass.

We always wanted a lawn–a lawn big enough to kick a ball in… without dog droppings. I wanted a lawn so that I could plant a garden. My wife Cristina wanted a lawn so that she could deal with messy projects outside with the garden hose. We both wanted a lawn so that we could let our children get out of the house and play in the comfort of our own home.

With this desire in view, we pinched our pennies, and last year we finally closed the deal on a dandy little suburban ranch home with a level front and back yard. Having closed on the house in the Fall, the grass had already gone dormant, and we had plenty of time to figure out how we were going to arrange our lives inside the house before we ever had to deal with pesky yard work.

Before we had ever spent a dime on the yard, we decided that we wanted a reel mower. I didn’t want to contend with mixing 2-cycle gasoline for a brat mower that needed servicing every couple of months. Cristina wanted a mower that would be safe around our small children, so that they could play near her in the yard as she mowed. I also just didn’t want to be dependent on gasoline for a task as simple as cutting my grass.

So we had the idea that when the grass began to grow, we would buy a reel mower, but we didn’t really have any idea where to get one. Granted, we didn’t do much shopping, and we had actually planned on procrastinating that purchase until we needed it at the last minute. I had figured that we would have to order one from the Internet, where good ones seem like they go for around 100 bucks. Months went by…

Now, Cristina and I love to shop at thrift stores for children’s clothing. So, speaking of signs, lawns, and reel mowers, the Lord would have it that one day as we were shopping for clothing at one of our favorite thrift shops, we happened upon a beautiful, used Scott’s Classic reel mower for $25. BAM! Talk about a sign.

Now, the mower wasn’t in our budget at that time, but with Spring fast approaching, we knew we would need that bugger soon, so we grabbed that mower and guarded it like jewelry, and checked out our brand new (used) mower (and some much needed children’s clothing) with our handy 30% off coupon.

It was finally ours, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. When we got home, I pulled the mower out of our trunk, and set it on the wet grass in our front lawn. The blades were really dull, and initially I thought they would need to be sharpened before I would be able to cut anything. Notwithstanding, I couldn’t be stopped in that moment, and I began to push a reel mower for the first time in my life.

To my surprise, the grass got shorter! I didn’t quite understand what was happening, but I was well pleased with the results. I found out after closer examination that the “blades” on the reel don’t need to be sharp. Their job is to push the grass against a straight blade in the chassis and clip the grass at the chassis’ height. I was delighted, and mowed the entire front yard that first day.

So when Spring came, and the grass began to grow, Cristina and I often took turns mowing our little suburban yard and would take great pleasure in having a quiet, clean, odorless mower that was safe for our son Gershom to play near. Gershom, only 19 months old, even insisted on taking a turn pushing the mower himself. He needed assistance to make the blades turn, but had a blast regardless.

Over the next couple of months, we continued happily mowing our lawn with our bronze-age chopping machine, but we began to notice a few things about mowing with a reel mower. For one, it was harder to mow taller grass, and sometimes we had to double over patches of grass that were particularly tall to cut it “all the way”. We noticed that even very small sticks could jam the reel. Though it was easy to unjam by moving the blades with our toes, it was an extra thing to be aware of while mowing. We also noticed that if some grass got too long, the mower wouldn’t be able to cut it at all, because it would bend under the chassis. No problem–just don’t let the grass get that long, right?

In April, we left for a small 6 day vacation, during which time it rained nearly every day. When we came home, refreshed and spry with new youth, we realized that we weren’t the only ones being rejuvenated during our long weekend. Our lawn had become a new creature, and had grow to nearly a foot in some parts. Horrified, I took the mower out on the next dry day, praying for a miracle.

Have you ever had a friend that was really into sharp stuff who would proudly brandish his pocket knife and brag about how he could shave with it? Then you might say “Yeah, right,” and try to shave a patch of arm hair, and notice that, sure, your friend’s knife can shave hair, but it only shaves some of the hair. Some hair would be shaved, some half its length, and yet some would be entirely uncut, making that “shaved” patch on your arm look worse than either hairy or clean. The only way to actually shave off all of that hair would be to go over that patch of hair on your arm again and again with your friend’s stupid knife until it’s all the way clean shaven (or until your skin comes off).

Okay, so that’s never happened to you, but it’s a perfect illustration of what it was like to cut my yard that day. If I only went over the grass once, it was almost like nothing happened. If I went over the grass twice, it looked horrible, and worse than if I had left it uncut. To clear a small patch of grass when it was that long, we found out that we had to go over it nearly a dozen times in different directions to cut it down to a point where almost all of the grass was short enough. Even after passing over the grass so many times, there would still be a few pesky stalks that would refuse to get cut, which we would actually have cut afterwards with hand clippers!

Needless to say, getting the yard back into shape wasn’t a one day project. Indeed, it is now several weeks after the fact, and we have just finished reclaiming the yard a few days ago, cutting one small patch at a time every day, while making sure that the parts of the lawn that have already been cut stay short.

All of this trouble may seem like a needless waste of time. In fact, you might say that all of that struggling with long grass, a reel mower, and hand clippers would be a sign to ditch the reel mower and buy a “real” mower. The fact of the matter is, I don’t necessarily take “signs” too seriously. With our current mower, I know that the engine will never need to be serviced. I know that I will never run out of gasoline. I know that my five year old will always be able to mow grass without danger of injury.  I know that on top of actually being kind of fun, and on top of being a great workout, these are all things that, all in all, gain me liberty, and that makes a reel mower good enough for me.

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How I Killed my Chickens

In my previous post, I told the story of how I got my chickens. Summarily, we decided as a family that they would be  a good learning experience for us if we ever move out into the country and keep our own farm, as well as a great experience for the kids in general. We bought two chicks, one orange, and one black, and three pounds of chick feed.

Bringing them home

We decided to put our humble, two-chick stock in a nice sized diaper box while they were still small. We put newspaper down on the floor of the box, and gave them a bowl of food, and a bowl of water. For warmth, we attached a clip-on desk lamp with a 60-watt incandescent bulb. Gershom, about 18 months old, loved the chicks and talked about them constantly. It was my constant delight to let him into the chicken room (our unused dining room) and watch him use his baby-gentleness skills to pet the wee birds.

Keeping chicks is actually pretty simple. Each day I changed their newspaper, water, and food. I found out over time about how much food they would eat per day. I also found out that they would often step on the edge of their water bowl and spill it all over their home. I mitigated this problem by inventing a new kind of water bowl out of an old plastic bottle that I attached to the side of their box with twist ties.

Eventually, after a couple of weeks, the chicks were taking up too much space in their diaper box, so I upgraded their brooder to a 2’x2’x18″ cardboard box from the hardware store. They were elated with their new home, but it took quite a bit more newspaper to keep it covered and clean.

Taking them outside

I took them outside as soon as the weather was warm enough. I wanted them to get used to the grass in my back yard, and to learn to following their “momma” (me) around. After taking them outside a few times, I started to dig in the garden beds for small worms for them to eat. The orange bird seemed to understand that I was feeding her, but the black chick didn’t quite get it. I don’t think the black chick ate any worms that I gave her until she was almost ready to be let outside. I never left the chicks unattended outside during these early weeks, and only took them out for a few minutes at a time.

As the days warmed, I started taking the chicks out more often. Eventually the chicks were big enough that I could leave them outside unattended for short periods of time. It came close to the time that I really couldn’t put off building a coop for much longer. I soon got tired of taking the chickens in every night and letting them out every morning.

Building the coop

One day I finally cracked down and bought the lumber to build a coop. I had spent a whole week looking at coop designs and deliberating on what I would decide. I sketched a draft of what I wanted my coop to look like, and after a few days finally made the trip to the local lumber yard to load my ’02 Dodge Stratus full of wood. To my surprise, the lumber all fit. I decided to get pressure treated lumber because I figured that the coop would rot quickly if I didn’t. Looking back, I might have opted for a more kid-friendly wood selection after hearing about some of the dangers of treated lumber. (But don’t take my word for it that treated lumber is bad; I’ve been too lazy to research the subject on my own. At any rate, I would prefer to not have to worry about whether my chicken coop is poisonous.)

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What the coop looked like when the chickens died. I struggled with building the “cabinetry” for the nests. I figured that 6 nests would be a good number to allow our little farm to grow.

As the coop came together, I began to run into some difficult carpentry. Without getting into the details, the coop was taking a few days longer to build than I had hoped. Meanwhile, I had become even lazier with my chickens. I would leave them out all day unattended, very proud of their ability to take care of themselves. They were growing every day, and it was my pleasure seeing them grow feathers and combs. I enjoyed stepping out onto my back deck and watching them fight over small bugs and cluck at each other. They were young enough that their clucks sounded quite chirpy, but in a guttural way.

And then they died…

Within a day or so, before I was able to finish the coop, I had a very stupid idea. I was already so exasperated with taking the chickens in and out every day, and with not being able to leave our home, that I decided to try putting a small door in their cardboard brooder and sticking it in a dry place under my back deck. I rationalized, thinking that I had only seldom, if ever, seen a feral animal in my back yard. Since I live in a suburban area and my entire backyard is enclosed with a chain link fence, I figured that my chickens surely would not have the same problem with predators that country chickens would have. I quickly convinced myself…

I was only encouraged in my childish laziness after they survived the first night outside on their own. After two nights, I was wondering if I even needed to finish my coop!

It only took three nights of leaving the chickens outside for me to learn a very valuable lesson. When I went outside on that third day, I didn’t hear any chirping or scratching. My back yard was silent. The chicks weren’t in the brooder. I began to look through my yard to see if I could find where the chicks had spent the night. I gasped when I found the black one torn to shreds a few feet from the garden. I looked further for the orange one, and could only find a carcass and a few orange feathers. Evidently a cat or raccoon had eaten the orange chicken first, and then killed the black one before disappearing out of my yard.

What I learned

The lesson: I should have had a coop before I bought chickens. It was rather foolish to buy chickens thinking I would prepare for them later. The Boy Scout motto is Be prepared! I really knew better.

But I also learned deeper lesson. It was my negligence and laziness that had ultimately killed the chickens. I know that if the chickens had belonged to Jesus, he wouldn’t have allowed them to be predated (John 10:11). He would have cared enough to take them in every evening until the coop was ready.  I realized that it is the same spirit of laziness that leaves so many children in need every day, without sufficient care from their parents.

I would never allow my child to be left to the elements, and would never take my chances with their survival. It spooked me a little bit, however, to see that I would do that to another creature that was totally dependent on me for protection and nourishment. God forbid I should ever allow my own laziness to the detriment of my dependents again.

With these important lessons learned, hopefully now I know what to expect for my next set of chickens. I’ll just make sure to finish the coop before I get them.