Lawn Care Craziness (Or in Spring, Anything Seems Possible)

I have never cared deeply about having a perfect velvety green lawn. Or rooting out dandelions, creeping charlie, and crabgrass. And yet, lately I’ve been trying to rehabilitate my lawn.

My neighbors care even less than I do, so creeping charlie crept over from one neighbor and dandelions blew in from the other neighbor. Crabgrass sensed an opportunity and launched its own attack. After only one inattentive year, our yard became The Bad Example. Clearly, its sorry state doesn’t bother my neighbors, but it does bother me.

I’ve invested a lot of time creating and cultivating flower gardens, so having a ratty weed-choked lawn seems incongruous.

Creeping charlie is the worst. I can live with it around the perimeter. But I thought it would be nice to have some actual grass in the main part of the lawn. Being organically minded, I didn’t want to nuke the yard with chemicals that would kill the weeds but poison the butterflies, bees, and birds I’m trying attract.

I read up. Several websites suggested covering the offending patch with cardboard and plastic in the fall. The heat and lack of light would kill the weeds and then I could rake them off in the spring. We tried it and all that did was kill the grass. The creeping charlie was alive and well. Sigh.

So then I began digging it up. A s l o o o w w w process. Until The Perfect Husband got involved. Boom. Done. Except for the oh-so-tedious process of knocking the soil off the dead weeds so the city would agree to take them as yard waste.

We reseeded. Lush grass is due to sprout any day. 

Meanwhile, all those dandelions I dug up last year are back and showing me who’s boss.

This focus on lawn care may be a fool’s errand. But hey, it’s spring. Anything’s possible.

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Staycation Therapy

While driving to my class in downtown Minneapolis, I passed a young woman riding a six-foot high blue bike. How’d she get up there? On a different day, I noticed another woman creating a large chalk drawing on an overpass sidewalk. How generous to put so much effort into something so temporary. Yesterday, I saw cyclist riding hands-free and joyfully playing the air drums. What song was he hearing in his head? I really like the lively energy of my neighborhood, but I don’t feel completely at home yet.

IMG_1340It’s hard to explain. My husband and I have been in our new smaller house for close to a year. The rooms are comfortable and attractive. The garden and yard are just the right size. I know where everything is, but something about it still feels like temporary housing. This is where I’m staying, but I don’t have a deep sense of home yet.

John felt at home here even before we moved. The house reminds him of his grandmother’s house and the first house he lived in, so it’s familiar. When he moved out on his own, he chose duplexes from the same era as our house. His collage of memories immediately made this place feel right.

What attracted me to the house were the kitchen’s old-fashioned flour bin and the tall narrow cupboards, like those in my grandmother’s kitchen. I think of Mimmie in her homemade apron, frosting banana cupcakes and teaching me how to doctor up mayonnaise for egg salad.

The house and I are still getting to know each other.

It’s more than seeing a home in all four seasons, though that’s part of it—how the living room dims by 4:30 on winter afternoons, how sunny the deck is before the trees leaf out in spring, how light fills our bedroom at 5:30 on summer mornings. IMG_1343

You also make a place yours by the repetition of ordinary activities: wiping the counters, passing dings in the wall as you run up the stairs, and walking around in the dark without bumping into things.

Carrying over traditions from the old house to the new one helps, too. We’ve celebrated Christmas, Easter, and several birthdays here. Even better are the impromptu gatherings when our sons drop by and we pull out several kinds of leftovers and beer—a feast!

When I realized that I still feel faintly unsettled, I decided a staycation would help—simply be here day in and day out for 11 days. So far, so good.

A friend, who grew up in a military family and moved every three years, says that every time she moved she was reminded that it takes a full year to fully feel at home. After 365 days have passed, something clicks and then it becomes your place.

I’m heartened by her wisdom and trust that, in time, I’ll be completely at home here.

Trying on a New Lifestyle for Size

My husband and I have been peeping in strangers’ closets. Opening drawers. Pulling aside shower curtains. Wandering in backyards. That’s what house hunters do.

Now that our nest is nearly empty, imagining a new urban life is fun. Can we embrace alleys? Funky one-car, unattached garages? Being able to see into our neighbors’ windows just across the way? Hear their TVs? I don’t know, but we’re trying to find out.

We’ll definitely enjoy being closer to the lakes and rivers that the Twin Cities are known for. Walking to neighborhood restaurants and coffee shops sounds good, too.

But it’s odd to step into these intimate spaces and glimpse the telling details of a stranger’s life:

One house has a small bedroom has a single bed with a flower power bedspread. A teal formal dress hangs from the closet door. Inside are classic black Converse sneakers. What does this teenage girl dream of when she lies in that bed—the homecoming dance? Wandering around a college campus in those sneakers?

In another house, there are two much loved cats. They have cat beds, food bowls, and water dishes upstairs and downstairs, so the kitties won’t have to go far for a drink and a snack. In the living room, two middle-aged women with their arms around each other smile out from what appears to be an engagement photo.

The next place we visit is across the river. The front door handle comes off in our hands and the backyard is full of weeds. The carpet is old and shabby and the bathroom has mismatched tiles. A motorized scooter sits in a corner of the kitchen. This place is sadder than the first two and looks like the owner was too ill or too tired to keep up with maintenance and yard work.

Another place we see has great landscaping and a newly remodeled kitchen and bath. It looks as if the family has out-grown the house. Upstairs is a pink little girl’s room with a large girl-sized decal of a purple My Little Pony on the wall.  She has her whole life ahead of her, but it will be in a new house.

We too have a whole new life ahead of us—maybe in a year or two it will be in one of these neighborhoods.  For now, we’re just trying on this lifestyle for size.

Big porch

Stucco w red door

Our Handyman, Tim

Tim 004This is not a paid advertisement.

On April 28th, an article in the Star Tribune written by Paul Muschick stated that in 2012 the home repair industry was the most-inquired-about industry at the Better Business Bureau (BBB). It was also the second-most-complained about.

My family is lucky we found Tim.

When you have children you acquire (whether or not you want it) – a calendar – that posts events in your mind that are Before Kids or After Kids.  Tim belongs in the Before Kids category.

Our relationship started simply enough. Leaving the YWCA in Uptown, Jody lifted his business card off of the advertisement board. We were dating then. She had witnessed my attempt to block birds from nesting inside the air vents on the roof. Thank goodness a storm blew through Richfield breaking my windows and leaving me with hail damage. Insurance would pay for a new roof and I’d have to hire someone to do the work.

Tim, Antonio, Crystel

Tim, Antonio, Crystel

I had a history of floundering as a homeowner. An electrician I had asked to make a repair in the bathroom mangled an outlet and the wallpaper. It was never the same again. The contractor I hired to put on the new roof was unable, even after many attempts, to fix the leak on the porch roof.

Finally, I put a cake pan inside the ceiling to catch the dripping water.

Until Tim came.

Tim smiled, handed me my cake pan.

He fixed the leak and has been with us for over ten years. We’ve had him longer than we’ve had the children. I think of us as growing up together: Tim, Jody and me, Antonio and Crystel.

Our relationship has matured to the point where we keep a running list of any repairs we need done and schedule him in the spring and fall. Tim lets himself in and finds the list on the counter.

004I look around our home and there is little that he hasn’t touched. He’s painted and tiled, painted and tiled. Put in an egress, trimmed trees, planted trees, tilled our garden, put up fences, taken down fences, removed the window that kept slamming on Crystel’s hand and in its place put in a patio door. He’s taken apart and put together exercise equipment, desks, futons, and beds. He’s put in windows, taken out windows, the same with doors.  He’s tuned up what needs tuning in the spring and fall.

I have even had him change light bulbs.

Jody couldn’t believe that. She said she could do it. I told her, that I knew that she could but that it goes on the list and if it wasn’t done by the time Tim came then he’d do it. Now she’s a believer. The kids are too. When something needs repair, even a toy, they say, Tim can fix that and we put it on the list.

Tim working on our porch project

Tim working on our porch project

Tim is a person of few words. He never said anything when I had him make a jungle gym on the second floor for the kids. If I could imagine it, he could do it. They had a swing, a climbing rope, trapeze bars. He never said a word when I had him take apart Crystel’s bunk bed and move it to the finished basement letting her transform her closet into a cave. Hopefully, he’ll have few words when I have him bring the bunkbed back to her room.

Phone May 2013 344Our latest project has been changing our 3-season porch into a 4-season and taking down the wall between the kitchen and the porch. First, he added new windows and a door on the east side, then he added windows to the west side, and he just finished the mudroom – from conception to completion. The couch he built has storage underneath the cushions.

Next year the wall will come down.

In-between the large projects, Tim has lists.

This summer, if all goes as planned, he will be working with Antonio and Crystel to build a tree house in the backyard. We wanted someone to show the ten-year-olds how to use tools. Who do you call for that? Tim, of course.

The BBB advises homeowners to take the time to choose a trustworthy contractor.

What I like most of all is that at any given time, I have a home that I am proud of.

I have Jody and a handyman to thank for that.  Email timschwartz@wwt.net for an appointment.