Sunday, June 30, 2013

First Love, Mr Sucky, Trusted Companion

I love my land. I love mowing.

"I have to mow" is not just a phrase, but more like an ejector seat catapulting me into a 2 hour slot of pure joy…especially useful when 4 kids are crabby, crying, or back when they needed changing.

I can think of whatever I want while I mow...the next section of the soundtrack I'm writing (The Ghost), my next invention (my 'one more thing' patent), or best of all, I can think of absolutely nothing! Mowing has the gift of requiring just enough brain power to keep from getting bored: focus on a straight line, decide how to cut around the next tree, or just enjoy the sun/shade/birds/clouds (and occasional B-27 bomber visiting me from the nearby airport).

First Love:
In 2001 I bought my first real riding mower. 

Since we have 5 acres, I spent hours debating a zero-turn or traditional…it all came down to time on task. I calculated (and mapped out on paper) that with a 52" zero-turn, 6mph, I could cut the yard 37 minutes faster than a 48" traditional 4.5 mph. It cost more ($5400) but for the next 10 years I knew I made a great choice. Sure there were repairs (probably $700 total over the 10 years), but quite happy with my first mower.

Then in April 2012, I saw tears. Black tears. My Toro was bleeding oil. I changed oil regularly, and figured it was a loose something so I changed filter and oil again...but it kept leaking.

End of Life:
End of life was May 27 2012. 
I was towing weed killer up a hill and the left transmission snapped. I heard a big grinding sound, slid backwards, and nearly bent my 30 gallon weed killer hauler in half. I had to travel the next day for an Analyst event so in the O'Hare airport I heard the mechanic call.

Mechanic: "I have some bad news"
Me: (to self) That sounds expensive
Me: "Ya?"
Mechanic: "The left transmission has 10 years of grass compacted inside of it, and cannot be repaired. You really should have blown the grass out after each mow"
Me: (to self) I bought it from you…maybe you could have told me?
Me: "Oh." (MN nice at its best)
Mechanic: "The repair is $1200 and I don't think the right transmission will last much longer so total would be $2400"
Me: "Oh." (that's HINTER for 'dang-flang-sucky-rang-a-dang')

Mechanic: "I don't think it's worth repairing"

Second Love?
So off I went to find a new mower.

I only considered another zero-turn and found one I liked…54" Gravely…after tax it was $4800. Ah well. I had it saved up so I walked in…

…and saw a used one listed 'as-is' for $1200. 

52" cut. Kinda beat up but for $1200 it surely would last me a few years. I bought it, had them install a hitch, and took it home.

Mr. Sucky:
I should have known by the brand name, "Sutech" that I was in trouble. Turns out it stands for "Sucky Technologies".

My first mow? Painful. This mower went from zero to fast instantly, and I was actually popping wheelies (now you'd think this would be really cool…especially if flames came out the back…which eventually they did…but not when I'm just trying to mow the grass!)

My third mow? Mr. Sucky broke. Not just in a 'patter-patter-burb-patter' subtle way, but in a CLANG-CLANK-GRIND-STOP kind of way. I turned off the mower, pushed it back, and saw metal pieces (of which I later learned was the clutch) in the grass.

The store was not very helpful but did take it for repair. Since Sucky Technologies was out of business (surprise) it took a while to find parts, and then they went on vacation. It took 5 weeks to get it back and repeated calls…not a good customer experience.

In the mean time the grass kept growing so I borrowed my neighbors (PS: He's the best neighbor I could ever have).  End of first mow with his John Deere? I didn't turn it off fully so drained the battery which wouldn't re-charge…$78 later he was the owner of a brand new mower battery.

I was so frustrated that for a brief moment I considered buying 5 of these for a total of $500. 
Imagine a combined 100" cut, no gas, oil, or hefty repairs! Plus, our 4 kids and myself would get a great workout once a week. I could see us mowing like a Zamboni team across our 5 acres!

Alas, that dream died and after 5 weeks and $300 later I got Mr. Sucky back, mowed a few times, and thankfully it got cold and started snowing.

2013 Renewal?
After hearing my prayers, it snowed a lot in 2013…even on May 2nd! I was so happy since that meant I wouldn't have to ride Mr. Sucky.

But unfortunately it got warmer and unfortunately I had to mow with Mr. Sucky.

2nd mow of 2013: I'm 1/3 done, pause to pick up trash, pull the blade engager and "RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE-CLANG" spinning blades.

DANG. I can still drive it though so I bring it to the out-building and…

…see SPARKS flying next to the fuel line. MR SUCKY is trying to kill me!

I turned on my heel and never even considered repairing Mr. Sucky. Good riddance.

Trusted Companion:
I learned my lesson. I needed a new mower that would last me a long time. I looked at all my places (other than the place that sold me Mr. Sucky), and decided. However, having recently talked to my other awesome neighbor about how he really likes Sears, I decided to take a last stop at Sears. I don't shop there, but my 13 year old Craftsman snow blower is still kicking...

…I walked in and saw a $3000 "54 zero-turn…just what I wanted.

Me: "I want this one"
Seller: "Great!"
Me: "Does it come with an optional hitch?"
Seller: "No, in fact if you want to haul, don't get a zero-turn"
Me: "Why, I did on my old one and others come with optional hitches"
Seller: "Well we are hearing that the individual transmissions on each side of zero-turns can't really handle the hauling of heavy stuff"
Me: "Like 30 gallons of weed-killer?"
Seller: "Yep. The transmission might snap."
Me: I think I love you (to self)

So the seller steered me away from the expensive one to a cheaper traditional 54" cut tractor. He threw all these deals at me. Then he mentioned the 5 year at-home service plan for $500. Steep, but with all the discounts, and tax, I was still only paying $2400…for 5 years of joy-filled-even-if-it-breaks-they-come-out-to-fix-it mowing.

Now I'm happy again. I've mowed twice, hauled weed killer, and it is just great. Not as fast nor pod-racery as my first love, but so far very dependable and more designed for what I need it for. Maybe that's what being an adult is all about…not settling, but realizing the uncool things really are the best for the real world...

...but if it's dependable and reliable, it might just be the mower I ride into years and years of sunsets.

Thus ends the mowing saga of 2012-2013.


Stay tuned next time for how I plan to train our 'working dog' to mow the lawn or scrape the driveway from snow or other fun work...

Monday, June 24, 2013

What I Saw In The Boundary Waters - BWCA

I know what you're thinking…

…You think I'm going to focus on how awe inspiring and pristine the Boundary Waters is and show amazing shots that I took like this:

…or this…

And if you asked me if it was worth going, I would respond, "Absolutely…the trip was priceless" for one reason I'll mention later.

But if I am to be brutally honest, here is what first comes to mind…

The Paddling:
It rained every day, and since we covered 32 miles in 4 days, we paddled in the rain. A lot. When the wind and rain picked up, I'd need to hunker under the rain gear, look down at my soaked shoes, and keep paddling so we wouldn't move backwards…

The Portages:
Over the whole trip we crossed 18 portages totaling 815 rods, or 13,447 feet, or 2.54 miles. Further, since we took two trips per portage, we carried our canoe and 2 very large packs 5 miles. When portaging our canoe, I saw this...

When I wasn't carrying a canoe, I was carrying a 70lb pack and saw this (with my amazing boy carrying the canoe on his own):

The Food:
We had great food, and we were usually so hungry that once we cooked it we ate it standing up, so my memory of meals was not sitting around socializing, but looking for mosquitos on my fork-full of food:

The Latrine:
I know this is reality in the wilderness, and this is a big step above a hole by a tree, but it's awkward.  

The Rain:
This is the inside of our tent waiting for the storm to pass. We were fortunate by not having a lot of thunder storms, but every day it rained…and when not looking at the inside of our tent, I looked through the hood of my rain gear.

Putting On Wet/Dry Shoes:
Thanks to our leader's suggestion, I packed shoes to get wet during the day and shoes to keep dry. this is what I saw during the transition:

Putting dry shoes on (with wool socks) in the evening was the best feeling of the day. Putting wet shoes on in the morning because it's raining out anyway, and knowing my feet would be wet for the rest of the day, was definitely not.

My Son At His Best
This was one of the toughest 4 days I've had. I think my son would agree. That said, I simply loved how it brought my son and I closer...that's why it was absolutely worth it.

Further, the most important thing I saw in the Boundary Waters I don't even have a picture of...

...I saw Cole at his best.  He not only did his part, he did so much more...he led...he navigated…he looked for things that needed to be done (without being asked)...he volunteered…he paddled hard…he cooked…he laughed...and most of all…

…he made me proud.

Very proud.

Friday, June 7, 2013

HINTER Rock Star School Final Exam

My oldest son has a passion for drums. Naturally we talked about going to music school.

Later that evening, my HINTER brain kicked in and thought about the classes he would want to take…what classes would truly prepare him for his future?  Then it came to me…the perfect class…and then I thought about what the final exam would be like...

...I give you…

The HINTER Rock Star Final Exam:

Question 035:
When the morning comes to start recording your third platnum-selling record, how do you prepare?
A) Sleep until 1pm
B) Sleep until 4pm
C) Sleep until 6pm
D) Sleep!?! Rock Stars don't sleep, we fall into an awesome-inspired coma and transport to an alternate universe where we are laser-gun-totin' space cops, saving the galaxy all day long…only to return pumped up on hero-filled adrenaline ready to rock!

Question 03:
When you shop for your stage costume, which store do you purchase from?
A) What're you talking about, I thrift hunt at Ragstock!
B) What're you talking about, I have my costume custom designed!
C) What're you talking about, I steal off the backyards of affluent communist conservative liberals!
D) What're you talking about, I play naked!

Question 65:
When you are playing your first arena gig, you notice the first few rows are filled with beautiful fans. What do you do?
A) Take the Blonde home
B) Take the Brunette home
C) Take the Redhead home
D) All of the above    (to teach them drumming skills and how to grow in their faith, of course! What else would a true rock star do!?!)

Question 035:
In your 8th week of back-to-back nightly gigs, your guitarist interrupts your drum solo 8 bars too early, ruining your catch-the-flaming-gong-mallet-with-your-teeth-while-double-kicking-32nd-notes-in-5/4-while-hi-hatting-duplets-in-7/8 finale.
What do you do?
A) Use your ejector-seat-equiped drum throne to launch yourself onto your future former-guitarist
B) Use your encore pyro rockets, alter their trajectory, and wait for the guitar-amp-on-fire extravaganza. Not only will you get back at your guitarist, he'll be legendary for playing so hard his amp blew up!
C) Remove the protective tip from your drum sticks-air gun, blow a dart filled with 'look-at-me-i'm-stupid' elixir at your guitarist, and watch the future YouTube clip go viral.
D) Smile. Because unlike your bandmates, you have a doctorate in physics, and in 37 seconds during HIS solo, you've engineered his guitar bridge to simultaneously snap all six strings if it hears a resonant frequency of 47 Hz, which happens to be the same frequency as your bass-drop floor tom  :-)  :-)

Question 30:
When you make your first 10 million, what do you spend it on?
A) A Ferrari
B) A Mansion with a series of tom-tom shaped hot tubs
C) Your Family's house - and by family you mean your puppy
D) Your puppy's rescue shelter - because any rock star that lasts needs to help those who helped him…and your puppy was there for you when nobody else was

~~~ END OF EXAM, Put your drum sticks away ~~~

If you answered "D" to these questions, YOU ARE A ROCK STAR!!! However, if you did not get them all correct, but can play the fret pattern identified in each question in one rockin' continuous riff, you are also a rock star!

Tip to Students:
Being a Rock Star really has nothing to do with how much money make, nor how many people you play in front of. Being a Rock Star has everything to do with what you make out of your life…your one, single, it's-all-possible-if-you-work-at-it, leave-no-advetnure-unturned, raise-a-puppy-at-least-once, precious, don't-waste-it, share-it, love-her-unconditionally, rock-till-you're-98 kind of life.
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