The Grass Is Not Always Green

Currently operating within my recently-developed parameters of First Retirement (no clue if not working will actually take) I have been able to spend more time at my keyboard reading and commenting on other blogs, as well as tending to my own site.

When my computing status changes to Away From Keyboard, one of the reasons why is the weekly endeavor of tending to the lawn…armed with my edger, my blower, and last but not least…my trusty push mower.

You may recall from a prior post I had an unfortunate event with a riding mower at our last residence…

We had a Zero Turning Radius mower. When we bought it, the advice was given to us not to operate it in wet conditions, especially on uneven terrain. After a light rain one afternoon, I insisted to my wife it would be OK to mow. Not agreeing with the decision, she grudgingly came outside to do some gardening. When she got to the large rose bush I had skidded into at the edge of our driveway, I tried my level best to assure her I was OK…even though my face felt like half the skin was gone. She gave me a once-over from head to toe…and calmly stated, “You’ll be fine.” Two years later, she admitted she thought those cuts would never heal.

Our current yard features a fairly steep slope, a bit more severe than our prior home. My wife “strongly suggested when we moved here this lawn not be cared for with a riding mower.

The property here isn’t quite a half-acre, so a push mower really is more than capable of getting the job done. To be honest, using a riding mower on this yard might find me in the backyard of the house behind us…with the mower on top of me.

We have lived at our current residence for about seventeen years. In that time, the yard has seen anything and everything weather in the Northeast US can provide. Thirty inches of snow and ice at one time. Eight inches of rain in an hour. Two months with 90 degree temperatures and no rain. Numerous demented squirrels.

You can find great advice on the Internet about taking care of your lawn and in many cases it is 100% contradictory. The only 100% foolproof advice I have ever gotten for lawn care actually came from my wife. It was the year I accidentally grabbed the nonselective herbicide RoundUp instead of the selective herbicide Ortho Weed Clear and sprayed several dandelions in the front yard with it. Her advice was if I ever did that again, she would round up all of my sports memorabilia and spray RoundUp on it.

One of the things I obsess over a bit is when to execute the very last mow of the year, trying to guess when grass-growing will slow to a crawl, as well as how high to leave the lawn for the off-season. Seven years ago, there was a particularly snowy and icy period one Fall before the yard had a chance to freeze, and with the grass also sitting a bit higher than I’d usually let it go, we had a resulting touch of what is known as snow mold. Snow mold does not do any permanent damage, but it was weird seeing parts of the lawn a shade of pink. At least we were fortunate enough to get the colorful version, as the other shade of snow mold is apparently a very dull gray. However, you might not be surprised a partially pink yard isn’t that visually appealing either, so the goal since that incident is to keep any snow mold from happening so the lawn has a nice, quiet transition into and out of dormancy.

I am a bit sad when the last mow of the year takes place. While the front yard is for the most part level, the lawn on the sides of the house slope down fairly severely through the backyard until it reaches the invisible yet defined property line with the home behind us. Mowing our yard does provide good exercise, and not mowing for a few months means I try to incorporate other activities to replace it. Snowfall removal certainly gets the blood pumping, but that’s sporadic and we don’t get quite as much snow as we used to. It is a good thing I am a “winter person” to begin with, and I do like to get outside no matter what. Hell, I’ve been known to go down to the basketball courts and shoot hoops even in snow flurries.

I’ve also been known to mow even in snow flurries. I’m actually a bit of a celebrity in that regard. One of my neighbors told me after one late-year mow five years ago I had amused both her and her husband.

“Hey honey, come here. Bruce is mowing in the snow.”

Maybe I do try a little too hard to coordinate and calculate the end of the growing season and getting the length of the grass just right. Looking back over the last few years, my last mow of the year has occurred as follows:

2014 – 11/8; 2015 – 10/31; 2016 – 11/19; 2017 – 11/20; 2018 – 11/8; 2019 – 11/1; 2020 – 11/20; 2021 – 11/10

The irony is not lost on me the very fact I have a record of these dates may very well be a sign I take this a bit too seriously.

In any event I am now monitoring the weather forecasts, examining the length of the blades of grass, and trying to time that final mow perfectly to ensure the lawn has the best chance of staying greenish instead of pinkish. Or grayish. I know if it changes colors again, the lawn will eventually be fine, but I really don’t want the yard to be stressed out.

I could just hire a lawn service to keep myself from being stressed out, but can I really put my trust in others…even if they appear to be as competent as I am?

 

Pictures Courtesy Advanced Turf/Great Lakes Landcare/Universal Studios

Aging Pizza

During a workplace lunch just a couple of years ago, we were all talking about the aging process. I was the oldest in our department. A couple of co-workers were about a decade younger than I. The rest were much younger. The question of the day in the lunch room for the three “more experienced” of us was…when did we first feel definitively older than we hoped we were?

My response took little time to formulate.

In March of 1992, I was in Minnetonka MN as part of a business training seminar put on by a high-technology water purification and filtration company named Osmonics. The company I was working for at that time was a distributor of their products, and six of us went out there to get training in their product line so we’d have a better understanding of how to market and sell their products.

I had never been to Minnesota before, and I was very impressed with what I saw traveling from the airport to our hotel. Beautiful countryside and residences, and that time of year provided a chill in the air and a touch of snow on the ground, making a “winter person” like myself quite happy. After arriving at our hotel, we learned that as guests we had complimentary passes to utilize the fitness gym across the street. Since we knew we only had a half day of training one day during the seminar schedule, we all agreed to head over to the gym and get in a workout then.

After product training all Monday and Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon found us at the gym. It was gigantic, looked brand-new, and offered plenty of workout options. First class. Three members of my group went off to the weight room, but myself and a couple of the other guys went over to the basketball courts. There was a full-court pick-up game in process, so we sat nearby until it ended so we could get into the next one.

I did feel a twinge of concern as to how I would do playing in a full-court basketball game. Sure, I was in good shape for someone soon to turn 35. My conditioning wasn’t bad as I regularly played half-court hoops. I was looking forward to showing off the fact I still “had game” to my buddies, but was definitely picturing that happening in the smaller footprint.

The game in progress ended a few minutes later, and we hit the court for the next one, pairing up with a few players from the team that just lost. I played well, even though we didn’t pull off a win to guarantee a spot for the next game. That was fine by me – one run was enough for the day. I had accomplished the main goal of getting exercise…while also feeling just a little bit younger by hanging in there and playing a solid, “regular-length” game of basketball.

Back at the hotel, I needed to take a well-deserved shower. Having my own room, I figured I’d just clean up and hang out there before heading to dinner. We were being taken out by Osmonics to a very fancy steakhouse, but there was still a couple of hours before I needed to be in the lobby for the ride out.

It was during the shower I first noticed something was…off.

In 1963, there was an episode of The Dick Van Dyke television show called, “Don’t Trip Over That Mountain.” In it, Rob Petrie (Dick) promises his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) he won’t get hurt during a ski trip with his neighbor Jerry (Jerry Paris), who happens to be an expert skier.

Of course, once on the slopes they proceed to run into each other…two skiers…and a goat.

After seeking medical treatment, Rob reports to Jerry he was given the diagnosis of a “sprained body.” The only thing on Rob’s body that didn’t hurt was the left side of his upper lip.

I thought about that TV episode as I ended my shower.

I had a sprained body. The only good news was my upper lip didn’t hurt at all. The lower lip didn’t either. But everything else did. I went to comb my hair and once I got my arm high enough, a new discovery…

My hair hurt.

Maybe that was just part of the full-on headache experience now underway. Anyway, I shuffled over to the bureau to get some clothes, and about halfway through getting dressed I realized dinner out…was out. I could barely move my arms and legs. My body was off-line.

I phoned around to let my co-workers know I’d be staying in my room for the night, mentioning I was tired and thought I was coming down with something from the plane ride. That actually was a legit excuse because they all knew my 90% deviated septum often lost the good fight with air flight, so they wished me well.

Using the phone hurt.

I figured as far as dinner was concerned, I could use room service…but I had a real craving for pizza. I checked the hotel info out and found there was a Domino’s nearby which would deliver to the hotel. Perfect. I’ll get dinner delivered and not have to leave the room at all.

Placed the order. Got my money together. Laid down to rest.

When the knock on the door came about a half-hour later, I immediately remembered one thing I hadn’t thought about when placing the pizza order.

How would I get to the door?

A good minute or so later, I stood before the delivery person and exchanged money for food. I am quite sure that guy thought something was wrong with me, and if he had asked if I was ok I was fully prepared to tell him I had a sprained body.

Pizza. Soda. Advil. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any trouble sleeping. I attribute that to the fact once I fell asleep, my body had no ability whatsoever to adjust itself.

The next day, not much had changed. Limited, strained movement. Soreness. Pain. I placed another call, letting my group know I would be unable to attend the training that day. I’ll admit I was also egotistical enough to have considered the impact of my co-workers seeing me in such a state. For sure, it would negate all the street cred I earned from my stellar basketball performance. News of how poorly my body handled exercise was way more likely to spread through the office than how well I played.

I laid in bed watching TV for most of the day, and eventually felt a tiny bit more in control of my body when the same Domino’s employee appeared at the door that night with Pizza #2.

The following morning was our final day of training, and we’d be heading home thereafter. I was able to gather myself and get to the bus for the short ride over to Osmonics, putting a brave face on and forcing myself to appear normal. I got through the training, the ride out to the airport, and the flight home.

That trip was quite a memorable moment in time, leaving no doubt I definitively felt older than I hoped I was. I could not believe how much my entire body had shut down.

I’m hoping any similar moment in time, while likely inevitable, isn’t for a very long time.

 

Pictures Courtesy TripAdvisor/GoComics

 

Being Chill

The above greeted me when I walked into our Acme grocery store a couple of days ago.  The gentleman pictured is none other than Jalen Hurts, who is the quarterback for the only undefeated team in the National Football League, our hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Before I entered the store, I had no earthly idea a company named Lemon Perfect even existed, let alone they had a product described as Hydrating Lemon Water.

But I immediately wanted to try it.

Sales and marketing to consumers….some is subtle, some is subliminal, some is a punch in the face. All are designed to separate our money from our wallet. Intellectually, I know this. But emotionally, I also know I sometimes get an immediate desire to acquire based on the advertising alone. Not just for what the product is, but for what feeling I’m supposedly going to experience from using it.

Now, just because Hurts is pictured with a bottle of hydrating water, I’m not instantly inclined to buy it. But of course, it doesn’t hurt.

The primary reason I immediately became fascinated with this product is because of lemons. I love lemons. If I come across something with lemon represented to be in it, there’s a sort of invisible, irresistible magnetic beam which inevitably draws me to it. Even if it’s something I don’t need, ever wanted before now…you get it.

Because I was in a bit of a time crunch at that point, I only had time to procure the milk, bread, and eggs we really needed…but Lemon Perfect Hydrating Lemon Water is now atop the grocery list for the next stop. While I remain highly skeptical of how much more hydrated this product will really make me than plain old H2O…if this tastes like real lemons it could be a “need.”

Later in the same day, I saw a TV spot for a product called Honey Lemon Chill Vicks VapoCOOL Severe Cough Drops.

You know where this is going, don’t you? These are already in the medicine cabinet. I don’t have a cough, but I am all for preventive medicine so I’ve already sampled this product. Not bad at all – enjoyed the lemon taste.

What you don’t know yet is the marketing on this product wasn’t just attractive to me because it was represented to be lemon-y, but because of the use of the words “cool” (VapoCOOL!) and “chill.” And this is where I pivot from what’s supposedly in the product…to how it will be received by my sensory receptors. Cool and chill are very much purchase trigger words for me by themselves…more so when used together.

I already use a product because it is “arctic”…

Now, I don’t know exactly where this all began. I’ve liked Winter for as long as I can remember, but when a food or beverage product is marketed as arctic, ice, cool, cold, chill, etc. it creates an emotional response within me which often leads to me buying and trying the product. I have the exact opposite buying emotion when it comes to products marketed with descriptions including words like tropical, sun, warm, hot, heat, etc.

Yeah, it probably IS a Winter thing.

Putting lemon, cool, and chill together in the same description made it just a matter of time before I bought those cough drops. If Vicks had advertised them with the lead ingredient as horseradish instead of honey, I would still have bought a bag.

I will confess neither the Vicks cough drops or the Altoids mints made me feel cool or chill or in the arctic while using them. I remained at 98.6 F. In the instance of the word chill, maybe the sales and marketing folks are just using it like cool kids use it these days?

No matter. It’s cool. I’m chill.

While thinking about ad-driven purchases, I also remembered another item I buy that falls into this brisk category…caramel cold brew coffee. You know by now they had me at “cold” brew, right? Be advised, I also love me some caramel…as much as lemons. If someone ever successfully grows a caramel lemon tree, I’m purchasing it.

While I know there is a defined, unique process to creating cold brew coffee, I really have no idea if my local Dunkin’ strictly adheres to it all the time because they are super-busy all day long. Hell, with the three pumps of caramel I get added to each order for all I know it’s just yesterday’s regular coffee not reheated. Regardless, it helps get me going in the morning. It’s definitely cold…and it’s positively caramel.

It also should be noted here our local Dunkin’ franchises are huge Philadelphia Eagles supporters. (Did I mention the Eagles are undefeated?)

The sales and marketing gurus got me once again yesterday…when I noticed a food article online. It was about a product that won’t even be on store shelves until February, 2023…M&M’s Caramel Cold Brew Candy.

I sprained my wrists getting to the M&M’s website.

I’ll admit to being skeptical these will be colder than other M&M’s. No matter. The website asked if I’d like to be notified when this new item will become available. Yes, please. However, I am taking no chances. Once the calendar flips to 2023, I’ll be pro-actively calling around asking stores ”DID YOU GET THEM YET?”

Sales and marketing pros look to connect with consumers any way they can, not only promoting what their products are all about, but also by creating an expectation of how we will feel using them. This new M&M candy is a perfect example of this. According to M&M’s, the Caramel Cold Brew Candy will be represented by the new Purple M&M, which they note is distinguished by her authenticity, self-awareness, and confidence.

Who wouldn’t feel good buying Caramel Cold Brew Candy from that spokescandy? There’s a legitimate potential when this product comes out…it might just sell out.

Maybe I’ll start calling around in December…

 

Pictures Courtesy Proctor & Gamble/Mars Incorporated

Not A Dry Ice In The House

I once asked my wife to come up with a list of all the really dumb, idiotic, and stupid things I’ve done since she first met me.

That went on for a while.

For your amusement…a brief history of poor decision-making (in no particular order of stupidity):

The Tire

We got up one morning to find a car tire which was a little bit low on air. I eventually located the head of a small nail on the very edge of the tread. I insisted to my wife I could easily remove the nail, and the tire would be just fine until I could drive our vehicle to the shop. She protested, but to no avail.

A half-hour later, the spare tire had been installed and the now-completely-flat tire was resting in the trunk as I headed off for repairs.

The Ladder

I had the day off from work, but my wife did not. I really wanted to take a look at our gutter drains in one location to see if I could clean out some leaves before the next round of steady rain rolled in. I was confident there was some type of blockage up there. My wife insisted we should put it off until the end of the day so she could steady the ladder for me. I said I’d be just fine…not to worry…and off she went to work.

Later that morning, I exited the ladder from about a height of seventeen feet. Somehow, I was not injured. No, I didn’t tell her it happened when she got home…hell, I didn’t tell her for two years.

The Deck

We have lawn underneath our patio that requires mowing with a push mower. I needed to lower my head about a foot to avoid smacking it against the patio’s base. I insisted to my wife I’d always remember to avoid hitting my head with each pass.

At no point did I ever think I was going to black out, but it did leave a mark for a while…both times…OK, the two times she knows about.

The Cars

We had a horrible ice and snow storm one January. Our two automobiles were encased like fossils in the Ice Age. The morning the weather broke, I told my wife to stay warm inside while I ventured out in the tundra to clear them off. To expedite things, I used a snow brush from one of the cars to crack the ice off. Because it was quite cold, I decided to use the end of the scraper itself on the ice, not the brush.

Several friends felt we could go to insurance adjusters once we had our next hail storm, and they’d insure us for the dents on the hoods and trunks. Years later, the trade-in values reflected this morning in question.

The Codeine

I got so sick one day that by nightfall, my temperature was a robust 102. Fortunately, the doctor had evening hours that day and I was prescribed codeine syrup. I told my wife I was well aware of its effects, and if I had to get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities not to worry. I could certainly decide if I was OK to go to the bathroom.

She found me on the bathroom floor. She said she heard a thump – “did you fall?” I have tried to convince her ever since that night I simply got tired and decided to lay down. She remains to this day completely unconvinced.

The Movie

My wife wanted absolutely no parts of a movie called “Mortdecai.” She begged me to wait for it – if we had to see it at all – to come out on cable and didn’t want to spend any time and money on it at the theatre. I insisted we could both benefit from seeing what was promised to be a funny film.

We now have a name for the look my wife gives me when she’s thoroughly disgusted with me. It is known simply as the “Mortdecai Look.”

The Sticker

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires owners of vehicles to renew their registrations annually. This used to involve – after payment – sending a sticker to owners to affix to the license plate in question. One day I arrived home first, and got the mail. The sticker had arrived and I decided I could manage the simple task of making our car legal for the twelve months ahead.

We found out just how serious the Commonwealth was regarding making sure their stickers stayed put…as we tried in vain to remove the newly-arrived sticker…which I had put on the wrong car. Pennsylvania has since eliminated the sticker aspect of registration renewal, but there is no truth to the rumor my actions helped lead to discontinuing the sticker requirement.

The Face

We had a Zero Turning Radius mower. When we bought it, the advice was given to us not to operate it in wet conditions, especially on uneven terrain. After a light rain one afternoon, I insisted to my wife it would be OK to mow. Not agreeing with the decision, she grudgingly came outside to do some gardening.

When she got to the large rose bush I had skidded into at the edge of our driveway, I tried my level best to assure her I was OK…even though my face felt like half the skin was gone. She gave me a once-over from head to toe…and calmly stated, “You’ll be fine.” Two years later, she admitted she thought those cuts would never heal.

The Rose Bushes

We had a couple other, smaller rose bushes that resided happily side by side for years thanks to my wife’s loving care. She was working weekdays at the time. I was not. Fall was nearing conclusion, and the rose bushes needed their annual trim (a technique I later learned was called “deadheading”). She took great pains to train me on exactly what needed to be done, but still didn’t feel confident in letting me fly solo. I defended myself vigorously, assuring her the rose bushes were in good hands.

After arriving home and reviewing my work, she didn’t talk to me for a couple of days. Surprisingly, the rose bushes were not dead. I might as well have been.

The Dry Ice

My wife’s parents sent us a gift from Omaha Steaks one Christmas. We had never gotten anything from the company before, but were impressed how frozen the food was considering how far it had travelled. After we got everything out of the big styrofoam cooler, all that remained was a large packet of dry ice. I noticed the label said “Do Not Touch.” Moments later, when my wife said she wanted to keep the cooler, I reached in and attempted to take out the packet.

Medical professionals compare injuries like I sustained as similar to burns, and often require medical attention. Fortunately, I was able to peel both of my hands off the dry ice. My wife told me to get it out of the house so I wouldn’t injure myself further, suggesting maybe I put gloves on this time around.

If anybody can identify with these or similar incidents, please outline your experiences in the comments. It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one who has made a poor decision…or ten…in life.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

The I In Team

The first thing that comes to mind when I consider what I would be like as a head coach in a team sport is…I would work hard to ensure every player got to see at least some action in every game.

That concept was forged when I was just thirteen years old. At that age, I was a 7th grade, third-string quarterback on my junior high football team, which consisted of players from 7th-9th grade.

The starting quarterback was a 9th grader, a son of one of our senior high school team’s coaches. Mind you, he did not become a starter on that pedigree alone. He was an excellent player who went on to play some college ball as well. The back-up quarterback was also older and more experienced than I…not nearly as good as our starter…but definitely better than me.

Our school enjoyed a healthy advantage when it came to student enrollment, and as such were dominant against most schools who had a lower number of students to draw from. In this particular season, our team won all six of its games. I believe the “closest” any team got to us all year may have been 21 points. We overwhelmed all of our opponents that year.

The head coach of our junior high team (who was a coach on the senior high team also) visibly enjoyed not only defeating opponents, but annihilating them. In that spirit, our starting players played almost every play of every game.

In our last game of the season, we went up by 30-0 fairly quickly and maintained that score to the final whistle. I did not play in that game.

I did not play in any of our games that year.

Even though we dominated the opposition in every one of our games, with outcomes never in doubt, I did not play one single play.

As I recall, the second-string QB did get into one game that year…but at another position. Our stellar, super-star quarterback – for whatever reason – had to take every snap from center that season. We not only had to win, but had to win by as much as possible.

Football is a challenging game to play. Practice for upcoming seasons often begins in relentless heat and humidity…and I grew up in a time when water breaks were still considered quite the luxury rather than mandatory. And then of course…there’s all those repetitive collisions with other people to consider. It’s a brutal sport at any age.

I knew I’d have a big adjustment at my new school, and I will admit things between my parents could have been better at that time, but I really wanted to play football and was determined to do so. I kept my grades up, made some new friends, and showed up for football practice every single day.

Yet, practice football was all I was accorded. I did not get to actually play football.

I was devastated.

After that season, I focused on basketball and baseball. I also played a year of soccer…but football was over for me. Yes, in those other sports there were still times when I was the guy not playing so much, and other times when others were most often watching me play. It just wasn’t as severe as that 7th grade football season.

I think back…what if I had played just one play that year…played in any of those games at all? Would I have stuck with football? I just could not reconcile returning to it after sitting on the sidelines the whole season. For sure, being better at those other sports certainly factored into the decision to step away from it as well.

Next month, the Little League Baseball International World Series will once again return to Williamsport PA. It’s not that far from where I live, and I have attended a couple of them. This season marks the 75th anniversary of the World Series, and it once again will be a late Summer ritual for fans young and old alike. Several years ago, there was a new category of rules added to Little League Baseball called Mandatory Play. It is as it sounds, making sure all players on a team actually get to play in actual games…not just practice. I think it’s a great thing.

I fully recognize the priority of a head coach, especially at “business” levels, is to win. It’s just my feeling to help ensure an entire team stays actively engaged throughout the year, what better way to do so than to have each player alert to the fact they’re going to be called upon to contribute at any moment? Seasons are long. I think a no-brainer way to keep your players motivated is to assure them they aren’t just going to practice…but play…all year.

I hear high school, college and professional head coaches lament the fact they don’t have enough depth on their teams, are lacking at certain positions, etc. These are often the same coaches who never use their benches no matter what. Maybe their substitutes would be better if they let them into competition once in a while? Who knows, they might find out one or more can contribute more than first thought? Some athletes shine brightest when the bright lights are on…and the minutes actually count for something.

If my team’s substitutes were clearly a couple notches down in ability below my starters, I would still work hard to find a way to get them onto the field, onto the court, etc. I’d be rotating them into play with the majority of starters still playing. I would find ways to not compromise the team’s chances of winning, but still making sure everyone truly felt like a part of the team’s fortunes.

I acknowledge there are team sports where getting everyone onto the playing surface each time out isn’t feasible. I also get the tremendous amount of pressure on head coaches at any level…to just win.

Still, I’d like to think even if it sounds naïve or idealistic on the surface, deep down I’d aspire for my teams to always play together…not just practice together.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock