field of dreams

Behold, the true owners of the back yard of our little red house:

field of dreams

If it’s true that possession is nine-tenths of the law, then the dandelions have it.

That is not our little red house in the background, by the way. I know you were thinking it.


wall buildersMan, Tim’s going to town with that shovel, isn’t he? I’ll tell you something, the guy really knows how to dig a ditch. Okay, maybe not the most ringing endorsement of a man’s skills, but still nothing to sneeze at. If we’d had to do this all by ourselves yesterday, I wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed this morning. (It remains to be seen whether or not My Darling B will be getting out of bed, and how she will be feeling following our afternoon stint of rebuilding the garden wall.)

We originally built that wall about five years ago to border a space where B could plant an herb garden. She put in chives and mind, sage and I don’t know what-all. It’s mostly chives and sage now, and the mint is growing everywhere, both inside and outside the garden. And it’s not so much a garden, because we don’t have the time to tend it much, but the flowers are pretty and the bees like it a lot, so it’s definitely worth whatever effort we can spare on it.

Then, about two years ago, the wall began to show signs that the yearly freeze-thaw cycle was pushing it way out of shape. The blocks didn’t stand in a straight line and there were what could only charitably be called bulges. Grass and weeds were also doing their work to knock the wall out of place by growing between the blocks. My Darling B kept looking at it and saying, “We’ve got to do something about that wall.” And I would take a deep breath and answer, “Yeah, okay.”

Last year, a couple of blocks along the top row fell, and they wouldn’t stay when I put them back. This year about half of the wall tumbled down. My Darling B finally rallied the troops by calling Tim up and asking him to come over at one on Saturday. With a firm date and time set, we committed to finally do something about fixing the wall.

We started the job by dismantling most of the wall, leaving about half of the bottom row in place where the blocks were still level and firmly planted in the ground. Then Tim cut into the dirt bank behind the wall so we could step the blocks back as we rebuilt it, the idea being that if the blocks were leaning back against the dirt, maybe they wouldn’t get pushed into the garden as easily this winter. But they probably will. If the wall lasts another five years, though, we’ll call it good enough.

Then we built the wall up again. Tim worked on the end where he had to tamp the dirt down so he could set the bottom row of blocks straight and level. B and I stacked blocks up from the other end, filling in the dirt behind them as we worked our way down. The ground was wet from all the rain we’ve had in the past week, but not muddy, so the work went quickly. A lot more quickly than I thought it would; we finished the job by three-thirty. Plenty of time left over for me to rest my eyes just a bit while Tim went home to wash up and B drove into town to fetch some pulled pork from That BBQ Joint for our weekend feast.


I can just barely bend at the waist after spending an afternoon working in the yard yesterday. I certainly can’t touch my knees. That’s how out of shape I am.

This happened last year, too, and after groaning and shuffling our way through last spring, My Darling  B and I vowed to enroll at a gym where we would at least do a light workout twice a week through the winter, or take yoga, or something. 

But guess what? We didn’t. Big surprise.

All I did was get the lawn chairs down from the garage attic, wash them off and put them on the deck in the sun to dry. While I was washing them off I kept getting distracted by the windows that have been propped up against the side of the house since I replaced them, ah, two, three, maybe five years ago. Mean to do something with those last summer. I tend to procrastinate a tiny little bit. [Added: It was five.]

So when I finished with the lawn chairs, I got some tools from my basement lair that I used to carefully knock the frames apart because I didn’t want broken glass all over the yard. And what do you know, it worked! So I’ve got a pile of scrap wood to get rid of and two panes of glass to convert to cold frames, or use in windows, or something. Or probably just throw away if that procrastination thing kicks in again.

While I was taking trash to the garbage can I got distracted by the paving stones the cans stand on. They’re not actually garbage cans in the sense of those galvanized steel cans everybody used to have back in the day. Does anybody still have those? We have the plastic wheelie bins that the city bought for everyone in town because the city has a contract with a certain sanitation service that uses one of those trucks with a robot arm, so all the bins have to be a certain size and shape. I laid paving stones in the corner where the garage joins the house and parked the wheelie bins on it, which worked great during the winter. The paving stones conduct heat from the house and stay clear of snow and ice all winter long, and they’re a nice, level surface. If you’ve ever tried to park wheelie bins in the snow, you know how quickly that can get you pissed off.

And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about my trash cans. Anyway. We have lots of paving stones stacked in a heap in a corner of the back yard. One of the previous owners apparently collected them. Not in a heap; I did that when I dug them up from various places around the back yard. That was when my back was a little stronger and I was in better shape. Now I have to load them up on a wheelbarrow to move them around the yard, and even that was too much for my hollow back to handle, I guess. I won’t be moving any of them today. Probably not until after next week.

But while I was wheelbarrowing the paving stones around the yard I bumped into one of the stumps left behind after I cut down a stand of lilacs a few years ago, just before we put in the garden. The stump was so rotten and the ground was so loose that I could easily kick it out of the ground, so when I was done moving paving stones I got the pickaxe out of the shed and dug up the rest of the stumps. All but one of them came out very easily. Now I’ve got a big pile of stumps to burn after they dry out. Bonfire!

And that was all the yard work I did yesterday, honest: washed chairs, broke down the windows, moved the paving stones, and pulled stumps. The way my back is throbbing today, you’d think I’d moved the pyramids.

B was the workhorse, cleaning out the garden shed all day. She says she’s not sore much at all, but I think she’s putting on a good face. 


My Darling B has a whole new attitude about mice since she opened her garden shed and discovered they’d pooped and peed on just about everything in there. Before she was on Mother Nature’s side, making me trap them live so we could release them in a nearby city park, but now that she has to hose down everything that was in the shed and throw out all her gardening gloves, her ideology has gone from bunny-hugger to “Kill Every Stinking One Of Those Little Poop-Machines!”

I knew she’d come around eventually.

lawnmower hack

I had to destroy our lawn mower to save it.

The handle of our lawn mower broke off. I don’t know whether or not you’ve ever tried to use a lawn mower after the handle breaks off. If not, I can tell you it ain’t easy to do. Damn near impossible, would be my best estimation. If you have been in this situation, you already know this so what am I telling you for?

The handle was attached to the deck of the lawn mower in the very loosest sense of the word “attached.” The handle is like a wishbone, and at the forked ends there are pins about as thick as my pinky pointing inward, or there were before one of the pins broke off. The pins fit into holes drilled through a couple of brackets on the deck of the mower. The idea, I suppose, was to make it easy to put together after unpacking it from the box. The reality is, without either one of those pins the handle flops around uselessly, making the lawn mower useful only as a boat anchor.

I probably broke the pin off by being stupid. Grass clippings tend to get matted against the underside of the deck and when the mat gets thick enough, it starts to fall out in clumps. Whenever that happened, I would help it along by pumping the handle up and down as quickly and roughly as I could to make the deck jump up and down. I would be surprised if that kind of treatment didn’t put a teeny-tiny bit of stress on the pins.

Anyway, one of them broke off and there was no way for me to put it back on. It was welded in place, not screwed or bolted, and I don’t have a welder or know how to weld. I tried to solder it, but that was a disaster. Solder doesn’t stick to just any kind of metal and apparently the steel that the handle is made of is one kind of metal that makes solder ball up in a puddle. It wouldn’t even make a cold joint.

So then I tried bolting the handle back on, and here’s where I found out that the people who designed our lawn mower were sadistic, or idiots. I could easily shove a bolt through the hole at the end of the handle, but bolting it to the bracket on the deck of the lawn mower was a problem because it was sandwiched between the engine cover and the thick plastic hood that covers the deck. There wasn’t enough room to squeeze the bolt in there once it was stuck through the handle. There wasn’t enough room to sneak the bolt down there on its own, either. There was barely enough room to hook a finger down there when the bolt slipped from my grasp and I had to fish it out.

This kind of engineering pisses me off no end. What kind of asshole makes it all but impossible for a do-it-yourselfer to fix a broken lawnmower? Or nearly impossible. That asshole must have figured that the possibility that I would have a sawzall would be pretty slim. That asshole figured wrong.

They say that, when it comes right down to it, the only tools you need in your toolbox are a hammer and duct tape. It’s a clever sentiment, but wrong. For a start, I don’t use duct tape nearly as much as other guys seem to. Hardly ever, really. And your minimalist toolbox had better include two kinds of screw driver, a flathead and a Phillips head, or you’re never going to get anything fixed around the house. But after a hammer, the most important tool in your tool box is undoubtedly a saw of one kind or another, and if you’re not a woodworker but you will be fixing things around the house, you could do worse than to get yourself a sawzall.

Vaguely shaped like a bazooka, the tail end of a sawzall is a pistol grip with a trigger. That right there makes it one of the most awesome power tools in your kit. At the other end, a piston sticks out of the nose of the sawzall. You can stick all kinds of cutting things into this piston and clamp them down. A powerful electric motor shakes the cutting edge back and forth at high speed when you pull the trigger, making it possible for you to demolish just about anything. Except maybe zombie hordes. But anything short of that would be a walk in the park. I would feel confident about taking down a wall, or even a whole house if I had a sawzall in hand.

And because the blade sticks straight out of the nose of a sawzall, it’s perfect for jobs that no other power tool can do, such as sawing holes in the plastic cover on a lawn mower. After fitting a sawzall with a fine-toothed blade, I easily cut away the parts of the hood that prevented me from sneaking a bolt down through the narrow gap between the handle and the bracket. That done, I needed only a minimum of cussing to put things back together the way they were supposed to go. There was a short hitch while I figured out how to get a wrench down in there to turn the nut, but I was back to mowing grass not too long after that.

TL,DR: Don’t buy the Black & Decker lawn mower with the handle that breaks off. Get yourself a sawzall. Not instead of the lawn mower. You’ll have to read the whole thing to find out why.


I spent two and a half hours slaughtering dandelions this morning, and I’m bushed.

I was going to say “doing battle with dandelions” instead of “slaughtering” but, unless you count their ability to reproduce faster than rabbits, they can’t really fight back much, which makes it kind of a stupid metaphor.

“Slaughtering” is totally accurate, however. I waded into our knee-high crop of dandelion flowers with a weed eater, swinging it back and forth like a scythe as I advanced, and where they were so densely packed together that they formed a supercolony as thick as my thigh, I turned the head of the weed eater until the floss was cutting perpendicular to the ground so I could effectively mow them all the way down to the dirt. It was a bloodbath, or whatever the vegetative equivalent would be. A sap-bath? Doesn’t sound nearly as gruesome and awful as it should.

This is the third time in eight days I’ve mowed the lawn, the first two times with a lawn mower, this time with the weed eater because at this point I was just cutting down dandelion stalks. The grass wasn’t growing nearly fast enough to need mowing already and the mower isn’t effective at all in cutting down dandelions. The stalks get pushed to the ground by the front edge of the lawnmower’s deck, helpfully holding them down as the blades pass harmlessly over the majority of them, so that the next day the yard is a forest of dandelion stalks once again. Hence, my unconventional use of the weed eater.

Seriously, some of those dandelions have grown so old and thick that they should’ve evolved arms and legs so they can scramble away when I come at them with certain death. Life would certainly be a lot easier for me if they had. I’ve been reading about ways to control dandelions, not because I don’t want them in my yard, I do. I think they have pretty flowers and I don’t particularly care that other people don’t. I only wish there weren’t so many of them. Our front yard is practically nothing but dandelions. We could do with fewer.

As far as I can tell, though, there are just two ways to keep dandelions down: Poison them or pull them. Both methods have their problems. We don’t want to use poison in our yard, even though all our neighbors do, so that option is out. Pulling them is not really an option, either, because there are too goddamn many of them. If I had the leisure and/or the mental instability to commit eight hours every day to pulling dandelions, I’m pretty sure it would still take years to bring them under control.

So at this point it’s possible that the only way we’re going to make our yard presentable again is to cover it in black plastic, kill off every living thing and start over next year, a project I’m more than a little daunted by. I’ll need to think about this a while. If you need me, I’ll be in a lawn chair on the back deck, thinking.

after the devastation

If you were driving down Sylvan Lane in Monona this morning, you would have seen yard after yard of neatly-tended, uniformly green lawns, and then you would have seen a yard where Chemlawn had obviously not been welcome for many years.
imgage of more dandelions than you've ever seen in once place before

I finally mowed our field of dandelions this morning because, even though I think they’re pretty, I can obviously tell that the rest of the neighbors do not share my sentiment, and I have some sense of shame, so out came the lawn mower and, after the devastation, our yard looked normal once again, if you think looking like everybody else is normal. It’s not, but that is again only my opinion.
image of field of slaughtered dandelions

I left the patches of uncut grass around the base of the tree because a rabbit has made her nest in a hole there, so I wanted to leave her some cover.

measurable laziness

A list of things I should get done this weekend:

  • mow the back lawn
  • pick up all the crap laying around in the back yard (should probably do that before I mow)
  • clean up all the crap that’s accumulated on the deck
  • mulch the branches I’ve pruned off bushes over the summer and piled in the back yard
  • mow the front lawn
  • prune the ivy that’s overwhelmed the front porch
  • clean the crap out of the garage (there’s a lotta crap around here)

What I’m going to do this weekend:

  • ask My Darling B to go to breakfast with me
  • ride my bike
  • ask My Darling B to ride bike with me
  • play with trains in the basement (I’m going to stay up all night, if I have to, to make sure I get to this one)
  • mow the front lawn, if I can work it into my busy schedule

Laziness: It can be quantified.


I ruined evening silfay last night, but it had to be done. The back yard needed mowing in the worst way. I sort of got out of the habit of mowing at all during the summer-long heat wave when there was nothing to mow. It was all just turning brown and shrinking away, but not dying. I thought it died out, but I guess grass and dandelions are tougher than that, way tougher. Especially dandelions. They came back with a vengeance. And rabbits love dandelion leaves. The back yard was like a walk-through all-you-can-eat buffet for the family of bunnies that’s living under our back porch. I found one of them out in the middle of a thick patch of dandelions, munching away, when I stepped out the back door yesterday evening in my ratty work clothes and thought, Aw, man, I’m going to spoil his dinner! I could put it off until another day. But I really couldn’t. I’d already put it off too long. The dandelions were as big as cabbages. Out came the lawn mower. It took an hour and a half to convert a yard full of green, leafy dandelions into a tossed salad.


I love yard work! Wow, do I ever love yard work! I love yard work so much, I did it all Sunday afternoon, and man did I have a good time! I wish I were doing it right now!

This just in: The power of positive thinking is a load of crap. Yard work sucks, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise.

As originally planned, I wasn’t going to do much more than mow the front yard. As it turned out, though, I painted the walls of the bathroom in the morning, then had to wait for four hours to hit it with a second coat, and mowing the yard only took an hour and a half. I suppose I could have taken a nap but I was trying to make that positive thinking thing work, so I got a few tools and implements of destruction from the shed and went after a few things in the yard that I’ve let go a little too long.

Like the weeds growing through the joints in the driveway. There was so much of that going on that the driveway looked more like a row of stepping stones, if you can imagine stepping stones that big. The joint across the middle of the driveway is almost an inch wide, wide enough to support its own ecosystem. I dug enough purslane out of that joint to make a salad that would have fed a family of four, and there were so many rolly-pollies it looked like one of those “what does one million look like?” school projects.

Digging all this up should have taken no more than fifteen minutes, twenty tops, but I made the mistake of using a weed eater that wasn’t sure it wanted to eat any weeds that day. It was much more interested in eating its own floss. An hour after I started, I was still trying to get the last clods of weeds out of the joint at the end of the drive. When the floss broke three times in less than five minutes, I threw the weed eater down in disgust, fetched an old toothy steak knife from the garage and sawed off the last of the weeds by hand.

Then I cleaned off the driveway with the garden hose. I tried to tell myself at first that this was the best way to do it, because the green leaves of all those dandelions and purslane were going to be impossible to sweep aside with a broom until they dried out and I didn’t want to leave the mess laying around that long. I didn’t try to tell myself that for too long, though, because I knew, deep down inside, that I was just a boy with a garden hose playing in the water, and I let it go at that. Driveway looks really nice now, and I had a little fun cleaning it up.

Finally, there was a row of bushes along the front of the house that were looking pretty sad on account of the hot weather. They were mostly tumbleweeds, really, and I knew from experience that they were the kind of bush that would grow back if I just hacked them off at the base and let them start over. I tried to get rid of a row of similar bushes in the back yard by mowing them to the ground with the lawnmower, but they kept popping back up and eventually I had to dig the root balls out with a pick and shovel. I didn’t do either to the row in front; instead, I gave it a crew cut with a pruning shears. That was the worst part of the afternoon. There was a murder of mosquitoes hiding out in those bushes.

When I was done with all that, I had enough time to surf the internet for some Mars porn and drink a couple glasses of water before I went back to painting the bathroom.