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Life with Liz: End of mowing season is in sight

One of the happiest days of the year for me is the morning that I wake up and find frost on the ground. It is my sincere hope that signals the end of lawn mowing season. While it was never my favorite chore to begin with, it has taken me to new heights of frustration since it became solely mine.

I was spoiled when I was growing up. We had sheep and goats, and they did a marvelous job of keeping our uneven, un-landscaped lawn and fields from looking like overgrown messes. As a child, I just assumed that things like poison ivy didn’t exist, because the goats had completely cleaned out it off every tree and rock pile where it might have taken root. Of course, there were other chores to fill the void, most notably milking the cantankerous “lawn mowers” twice a day. I would happily return to doing that right now, rather than mowing our lawn every week.

We also mowed my grandparents’ lawn for them every Sunday after church. However, my brother and I divided and conquered this chore, and the grounds had been subject to the meticulous rock collecting practices of my grandfather for decades.

Over the first few years of living back on the farm, Steve and the boys took care of the grass. I didn’t pay much attention to things, other than to notice that it seemed to suck up most of the weekend, which I thought was surprising for a grown man and two tough teenage boys. But, then again, there was weed-whacking to be done, banks to be careful on, and quite simply acres of ground to cover. What did I know? It managed to get done.

After the first summer, I noticed little islands of landscaping randomly popping up. I assumed it was to feed Steve’s penchant for planting random things, but eventually, he explained to me that at the center of each of these was a stubborn rock that he couldn’t seem to budge, no matter how much he dug around it. Then, gradually, more little islands started to take over the bank that made him a little nervous on the riding mower. Pretty soon, little shrubs and ornamental trees ended up all over the place, each of them surrounded by a ring of rocks, hand-picked by Steve from elsewhere on the lawn.

It was sort of pretty, in a haphazard sort of way, but again, I didn’t think too much about it. The lawn was Steve’s territory. Until it wasn’t. When the time came to start mowing the lawn that awful spring, I decided that I didn’t want to burden the boys with it. Not only did I need the distraction, I also figured the manual labor would be a good outlet.

I was a little intimidated by the riding mower, so I decided to start off with the small areas around the house that needed to be done with the push mower. It had been sitting all winter, but I remembered the basics of starting it up from my days working with my grandfather. When that system didn’t work, I started looking at YouTube videos. It still didn’t work. Finally, I broke down and asked the boys. G was quick to chime in with a “oh yeah, that one never starts, Dad always had to do something to get it to work.” Of course, neither of them knew the magic sequence that it took to start it and I did not need one more level of frustration, so I went to Lowe’s and bought the most basic lawn mower I could.

It worked for a while. However, I soon discovered about a dozen hidden rocks/stumps/mystery objects that it most definitely did not like. Try as I might to avoid them, it seemed like every time I had to mow, a new one popped up. After awhile the lawn mower was still cutting, but it was making some very peculiar noises. I did the sensible thing and ignored them.

I also braved the riding mower. Once. And, it threw some kind of belt. A few hundred dollars later, it was fixed. So, I used it again. And it threw the same belt. G was only too happy to inform me that “that always happened to Dad, too.” At least Dad could fix it on his own. I wasn’t ready to add tractor repair to my resume and I was starting to understand why grass cutting was a chore that took three of them all weekend. It wasn’t that they didn’t have the tools, it was that the tools they had were just not up to the task of cutting our monstrous yard.

We limped along last year, and I worked out a better system this year, but lawn mowing is still one area where we have a long way to go. I’m currently weighing the cost of keeping and maintaining a small flock of goats. Unfortunately, they still need to be fed even after the grass stops growing.

There are, of course, other more suitable machines out there meant for maintaining this kind of area, but that will require another skill set for me and the kids to learn. Like it or not, whatever I figure out is going to have to be something I can manage long after the kids are gone, as well. In the meantime, I can hope for cold springs, dry summers, and early winters.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing columnist who appears weekly in the Times News.