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.

A Change Is Gonna Come

In 1967, when there were race riots in Detroit and Toledo, my hometown, I was 12. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated in 1968. Chicago policemen clubbed protesters who chanted, “The whole world is watching” at the Democratic National convention in 1968.

civil rights protest

In 1970, when Ohio National Guardsmen killed four students and injured nine others on the Kent State University campus, I was 15. Vietnam War protests took place across the country. Students took over college campus buildings. Protesters stormed government buildings. Thousands marched in the streets.

Kent & Jackson State

The civil rights movement and war protests shook our country. The old ways—from entrenched institutions like segregation to how political parties worked, and what we wanted from authorities like police—were under siege and crumbling. As a teenager, I felt the turbulence. Anything could happen. Was happening. Although I was against segregation and the Vietnam War, the violence associated with ending those ills scared me.

However, I sensed the dawning of a new era and was hopeful that real change, as well as peace and justice, were possible.

Black protests

Today, I have the same sense. Once again our country, and indeed, the Western world (Great Britain’s Brexit and the European union’s struggles with immigration and identity) is at a crossroads.


No matter what, change is gonna come. 10 years from now, our country is going to be different.

Decades have passed since I was a teenager who was bewildered by events and worried about our future. Today, I still worry about where our country is headed, and I don’t know what the coming changes will look like, but I’m hopeful.

I believe that people of good faith will work to end systemic racism.

I believe Americans will return to our core values: we’re a nation of immigrants who are committed to religious freedom.

I’m hopeful that despite our differences, we can redirect our political leaders so they once again work for all of us.

If you feel discouraged and hopeless about the possibility of change, click to this video set to Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come” to be reminded of how many unbelievably hard changes have taken place since the late 1960’s.

None of the coming changes will be easy and they will certainly be imperfect. Nonetheless, I believe that Americans’ good sense and love of justice will prevail.

“I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.”

Defensive Landscaping

In late April and early May, my mind is abuzz with gardening and landscaping plans. I research plants, dream up color schemes, make lists, haunt garden centers, and chart the hours of sunlight for my new garden—yep, I’m hardcore. In years past when I had a large suburban lot, my focus was on what to do with all that space.

One of our four large gardens in the suburbs

One of our four large gardens in the suburbs







Now that I live in the city and have a very small yard (intentionally), I focus on defensive landscaping—how to create something attractive to camouflage undesirable views, including those of my much closer neighbors’ yards.

  1. Create an inspiring view for my office window.
My current view

My current view









What if I had a silver moon clematis growing on a trellis by the garage?

What if I had a silver moon clematis growing on a trellis by the garage?











  1. Cover up my neighbor’s deteriorating garage.










Maybe a columnar birch would camouflage the neighbor's garage.

Maybe a columnar birch would camouflage the neighbor’s garage.











  1. Add native grasses to screen the view of the alley.
John's new fence adds some privacy.

John’s new fence adds some privacy.







What if we added clumps of feather reed grass along the fence like this?

What if we added clumps of feather reed grass along the fence like this?










In April everything seems possible. By August, it’s all over. But if this year’s plan doesn’t turn out as great I’m picturing, there’s always next year!

Downsizing is a Seismic Shift

The move looked like upheaval, but changes had reverberated through our lives for several years before my husband and I sold our house. Our sons no longer needed us daily, so we had stepped back into an advisory role. We focused more on fun, less on careers. The shift—from raising children and working full-time—was as natural and inevitable as tectonic plates moving.

Our old house

Our old house

We dreamed of a new life. The vision was a little vague—we wanted to live in the Twin Cities instead of the suburbs, in a neighborhood where we could walk to shops and restaurants, in a house with more character, less yardwork.

our old backyard

Our old backyard

What we chose is a 90-year-old, story-and-a-half house with a postage stamp-sized yard to replace our 40-year-old, three-story walkout with a generous yard.

Our new house

Our new house

New yard

New yard

But the change is deeper and broader than square feet and location. We chose a life that offered new possibilities. We are counting on ourselves to invent the life that goes with it.

Although I’m pleased with the new home we chose, occasionally I feel disoriented. Everything that was familiar has changed. How much room we need. How much activity we want. How much noise we can stand. How to stay connected to people who no longer live nearby. How to be good citizens in a city of activists.

Sometimes I feel like I’m on good behavior here. I pick up clutter and put away dishes obsessively—which goes against my messy nature—but I’m trying to learn new ways. I think carefully about what we bring into this house since we have so much less space. We gave away many of the fine things we’d accumulated during the past 25 years. Once we’d unpacked we needed to give away even more. But really, how much stuff do we need? And why? The habit of coveting is hard to break, though.

Walking around in my nightgown with the blinds down is odd, but our windows face the neighbors’ windows and I value my privacy. I’ve had to get used to locking the doors with a key. All the time.

But eating breakfast in the glow of the little lamp on the buffet is cozy even if the blinds are drawn. My gardens are so small that caring for them is fun now instead of drudgery. I like walking to neighborhood coffee shops and hiking alongside the creek. The energy and variety of the city appeals to me. Most days, I drive toward my new home without lapsing into autopilot and heading south of the river.

The bedrock our lives—raising children and working full-time—has given way. The foundations of our new life are couplehood, part-time work, and fun.

We’re still figuring out what our new life should consist of. So we rearrange the elements we want to keep (good meals, time with friends and family), discard ideas and activities that no longer fit (PTO and soccer practice), and relish the new possibilities (guitar practice and art history classes for my husband). For me, the choices are yet to be determined. I’m making it up as I go along.

When did cell phones become a cure-all for awkwardness and boredom?

I sat in the classroom feeling awkward. The students were on break—some of them chatting in Chinese or Spanish, a relief for them after the rigors of learning English. Others were stretching their legs. I had 10 minutes until class resumed and I was once again a tutor.

I reached for my cell phone and began checking emails. Not that I was expecting anything important, and indeed, none of the emails required my urgent attention. But I looked busy. Important, even.  Anybody looking at me might have thought I had vital emails that must be attended to NOW.texting

When did cell phones become a cure-all for awkwardness and boredom? Why did I succumb to the feeling that I have to be connected and productive at all times?

Before I became addicted to my electronic devices, I could amuse myself if I had a spare 10 minutes. Instead of isolating myself from interactions by fiddling with my phone, I might have wandered around and talked with someone. Maybe not my students. They’d be polite, but sometimes they need a break from “Teacher,” as they call me. But I probably would have found someone from another class.

Or if I wasn’t in the mood to talk, I might have gone for a walk. I could have quietly thought my own thoughts without needing to look busy. I might have sat in the atrium people-watching. The clothes, faces and manners of the new Americans who are learning English tell a story—something the writer in me finds interesting.

Before cell phones became so widespread, I would have thought it was fine to spend time doing nothing much. If I really really wanted to be productive, I could have planned dinner and made a grocery list.

But none of those options occurred to me, because without meaning to, I have learned to engage with my device instead of with people. And I’m not alone in this behavior. A recent study of college students in 10 countries found that they “literally didn’t know what to do with themselves” when they had to live without their smartphones and other electronic media for 24 hours. And Arianna Huffington acknowledged this issue when she issued her challenge to unplug for seven days.

With my cell phone handy, I don’t have to risk the slight discomfort of exchanging pleasantries with people I don’t know. I can talk with people who are far away, but I’m less likely to connect with the people close at hand.

My phone rewards me with a sense of purpose—fake busyness in this case—but it helps me pass an awkward or boring moment. And it’s always there. Somehow I’ve let myself get sucked into feeling that because I can be connected, I must be connected. Really? Why? I didn’t need to know right that minute that my online order had shipped or that a blogger I like had posted something new.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not getting rid of my cell phone any time soon. Cell phones have vastly improved many kinds of communication. But I do want to restore my ability to cope with boredom and discomfort without resorting to my phone. I do want to be more mindful of the ways cell phones can isolate people instead of connecting them.