Monday, June 1, 2015

The lawn cult

summer lawn by Rachel Pasch

Picture a typical summer and what comes to mind? The beach, surely. Ice cream cones and bike rides, perhaps. For the 80% of Americans who have a lawn, summer just isn't summer without a fantastic living green carpet to enjoy it on.

What's the deal with Americans and their lawns anyway? I mean on one hand, I get it. I'm as enamored with the idea of treating my tootsies to a walk across a cool, soft, perfectly manicured lawn as anyone. Or I was, at least, until I understood how much work goes into them.

There's the constant mowing, the twice-yearly (or more) fertilizing, applying pesticides to kill weeds, edging, weed-wacking, aerating, de-thatching. I didn't even know most of these were things existed before becoming a homeowner.

Collectively, we use 90 million pounds of fertilizer and 78 million pounds of pesticides on our grass, not to mention all the watering we do to avoid the shame of having a brown lawn in say, July. Horrors. Let's not even mention the absurdity of all the water wasted watering lawns planted in desert communities, because that's just beyond stupid. With our present environmental woes, you would think we'd have moved on to something else by now.

Really, it's no wonder lawns were originally only owned by European aristocrats. With all the upkeep they require, maybe we should have left them there. Of course you can always hire someone else to do the work. Lawn care is a $40 billion-a-year industry in the U.S.

But it's not just the upkeep these non-native monolithic monocultures require that really gets me. It's that everyone is so darn obsessed with the idea of the perfect lawn that it's practically a competitive sport. Neighbors try different lawn care regimes to see whose can be the greenest and most lush. Let your grass grow too long? Too weedy? Shameful! A lackluster lawn is one of the worst embarrassments to my grandparents' and even parents' generation. My grandmother got sunstroke once because the lawn needed mowed and she simply couldn't wait for someone else to get to it. So she mowed midday, despite the fact that she was over 80 and it was in the 90s out with air quality index warnings. Heck, if you let the grass get really out of hand, you could receive a fine from your homeowners' association or a citation from your friendly local government.

During my marathon landscaping session Memorial Day weekend a neighbor from down the street stopped to commiserate with me about the state of my neighbors' lawn. They let it grow a good 8-12 inches long, so even I agreed it was looking pretty bad. But on the list of things we have to worry about, should the neighbors' lawn even get a mention?

I'm hardly the poster child for a great lawn. I fertilized the lawn exactly twice in the 10 years I've lived here. I applied corn gluten to try and kill the weeds just once. The grass regularly gets too long before we mow it and my parents used to scold me for it during every summer visit. It's just grass. I can't see postponing real plans to mow. Oh and the only times I've ever watered the lawn was when we planted grass seed. Our yard is proof that the grass can go dormant and live.

When is the last time you walked across the lawn barefoot anyway? Or played a game with the kids on it? For all the time that we spend primping our lawns, I don't see nearly as much time spent actually enjoying the darn thing. Which makes the whole thing even more ludicrous.

But despite my griping, I still don't know what the solution is. I'm not even close to ready to rip out all my grass and plant something else. In the long run that might save time, but can you imagine that project? Did I mention it took me 13 hours to get one little garden bed in good shape?

What about planting gardens instead? Um, I can't even keep up with weeding the three flower beds I do have. And while I may keep the lawn for now, I'd rather not add to its environmental sins by applying pesticides to the weed-filled backyard. So for now I seem destined to live in crappy, weed-filled lawn purgatory. Cause it kinds seems like you're dammed if you do or if you don't.

So what about you dear readers, are you pro- or anti-lawn? Has anyone ditched the grass for something more environmentally friendly?

Monday, May 25, 2015


I've never been big on change just for change's sake. No, I'd much rather get things exactly as I like and have them stay that way. But the thing about gardens, houses, and, well, life, is that even if things seem quite perfect for the moment, they eventually change. Sometimes they change for the better, and sometimes not. And we have little choice but to adapt.

Last year was a big year of changes and I've been trying to adapt ever since. This long holiday weekend I continued on our efforts to get the garden back in order. Tiny steps you know.


From a distance it was still somewhat passable, but eventually I could no longer deny that the front yard needed some serious help. The white picket fence I'd once loved was in need of a good coat of paint, which I considered until finding out the wood was mostly rotten. And the purple barberry bushed were overgrown and dying. Not to mention their copious thorns which stuck me every time I tried to garden around them, no matter how thick my gloves or careful I was.

So early this spring the boyfriend pulled out the bushes with his truck (I guess there's a redneck side to all of us, but it was fast and it worked) and pulled out the fence. We loaded up the bushes in his truck and after a stressful drive where I fretted about us losing our precariously balanced load all over the road, we made it to the compost site and got rid of those suckers.

Then I weeded and weeded, and planned and shopped for something to replace the bushes with. The boyfriend campaigned for flowers only (no more pesky overgrown bush issues with those), while I thought we needed something bigger to fill the large gaps.

Thursday evening I went to the garden center and spent a lovely evening picking out two dwarf butterfly bushes, a baptisa smoke, three Veronica speedwell plants, lavender and an obedient plant. Then on Friday and Saturday I weeded some more, amended the soil, moved plants, planted new ones and mulched.


My body still aches from the effort, but finally it's finished and I'm pretty pleased with the result.

That's one small corner of life sorted. For now, at least.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


As I've mentioned before, I don't mind cleaning. In fact, I find it kind of relaxing. And I really, really enjoy it when the house is clean.

Plus, one of the bonuses of living in a small house is that it takes a lot less time to clean.

Sure, sometimes I go for my lighter cleaning routine (vacuum, dust, and clean the kitchen and bathrooms only) versus a full-on deep cleaning, but I rarely skip cleaning entirely.

Even though I'm in the minority of people who don't completely loathe cleaning, I still often need some inspiration to stop my relaxing-drinking-coffee-and-surfing-the-internets Saturday routine and start cleaning instead.

That inspiration comes in the form of cleaning and decluttering shows. There's just something about seeing people clear out, clean and fix up a dirty, cluttered home that really makes me want to clean.

First it was Clean Sweep on TLC. Then came Sell This House and Sell This House Extreme on A&E (yes, that was a real estate show, but it still involved clearing out the crap, as well fixing and tidying up things, so it worked for me). Then after both those shows stopped being syndicated, I found Clean House on Netflix.

But then, horror of horrors, Netflix dropped Clean House from its instant streaming service. And Hoarders never really worked for me because those shows seem to be less about helping people clean up and more about finding the grossest houses possible.

I began procrastinating my Saturday morning/afternoon cleaning into the evening and beyond.

Luckily, I found a nice stash of episodes of How Clean Is Your House on YouTube so I can get my fill, for now.

But sometimes I wonder, how come decluttering shows aren't as popular as they once were in America? Are they just passe or could it be that it's easier to get sponsors for shows that encourage people, directly or indirectly, to buy a new home, remodel or go vacation shopping, rather than encouraging people to pare down and use what they have?

Am I the only one who uses these type of shows as clean-spiration? And, if not, how do you get your fix?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What home items have you had the longest?

"What home item have you had the longest and what is its story?"

This question on Apartment Therapy really got me thinking and finally spurred me out of my long, unplanned blog hiatus.

It didn't take long to figure out which home items I've had the longest....

My mom had just gotten a "big tax refund" and we were on our way to the Lazarus furniture store (the long-ago closed furniture branch of a now extinct local department store chain) in our nearest big city to spend it. 

I was in my early teens and my mom had decided it was time for me to have a bedroom set of my very own. It was just the two of us then, and working as a bank teller my mom didn't make a whole lot of money. We had everything we needed and enough for small luxuries, but something like new furniture was quite the splurge. 

Looking back, I'm sure there were many new things my mom might have liked to have for herself at the time, but that's how she's always been. Doesn't have a selfish bone in her body and seems to get much more excited about giving rather than getting.

I already had bedroom furniture of course, a mismatched set, patched together from my mom's antique collection and items purchased or borrowed out of necessity. It worked perfectly well and I don't recall lusting after new furniture, but of course I was soon thrilled at the idea of picking out something brand new that would be new and mine alone.

my first grown bedroom set in its original home, my childhood room

After seeing all the options I chose a pine four-piece wood set, with very orange tones and a carved ivy leaf pattern. It included a bed complete with headboard and footboard, a tall dresser, a second dresser with mirror (which I've always used as my pseudo vanity) and a nightstand.

Turns out it was an unexpectedly good choice because 20 years and many decorating fads later, I still like the furniture enough to have kept three of the original four pieces. Maybe that's what mom had in mind, especially considering that she kept her own girlhood bedroom furniture for decades after moving out of her parents' home.

I left it at home during college, taking an old set of my grandmother's instead and leaving my good furniture at home. That was wise as well considering the amount of not-so-careful moving I did in college. That furniture I had no affinity to whatsoever and gladly gave it to friends after graduation.

Once I got a job and moved into my first solo apartment, my old friends came with me and we've been together again ever since. Due to the tiny size of my bedroom I use the nightstand as a side table, but both dressers are still used as intended in the bedroom. I did finally sell the bed a few years ago after keeping it in storage for several years. The full size just no longer worked and I long ago grew to feel that footboards might look nice, but were way overrated when it comes to the practicality of actually using a bed.

Nightstand as side table

The item I've personally owned second longest, but has been in my family since before I was born, is my great grandparents' drop-leaf kitchen table. I love the idea of eating off of a table that's been in use by members of our family for four generations now. A new kitchen table is in the plans if we ever finish the full kitchen renovation--to enable having four people comfortably eat at the table--but I'll continue to love this little workhorse.

What home items have you had the longest and what's their story?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Year Winter Came Back

Winter is back this year with a vengeance and I know we Buckeyes aren't the only ones caught in another brutal spell of cold and snow. Living in the northern U.S. (Ohio), you might think we're used to this kind of winter weather, but this one is extreme. We haven't seen temperatures this cold in 28 years, according to local meteorologists. And we're most accustomed to seeing snow come and go in 24-48 hours, but this year the snow is sticking around.

Winter started unusually early. Our first snowfall was a few days before Thanksgiving, with three inches of snow falling well before the December 21 official start of winter. This weekend we received another five inches with a bit more to come possibly. The wind was so strong yesterday that at times you could barely see the house across the street. So far this season we've received 26.5 inches of snow, with months of winter to come, compared to average winter snowfalls of 27.5 inches. Snow is pretty and all, but it is also a giant pain to shovel, drive in, etc.

yesterday's blowing snow made it hard to see across the street

But the really painful bit of this winter, to me at least, has been the number record low temperatures and below zero wind chill days. The worst so far being January 6 and 7, where we saw a new record low of -7F (-22C) and wind chills of -25 to -40F (-32 to -40C). And they're calling for it to be even colder than that tomorrow and Tuesday, with an extended period of extreme cold slated to last until mid-February. Mid-February? Seriously? It's sad that our usual January average of 30F feels like a heatwave in comparison.

Living in a house built in the 1940s means that even though the inside temperature remains unchanged at 68F, or even a degree higher, it definitely feels chilly on extremely cold days. I layer up with a long sleeve shirt, my warmest sweater, socks, slippers, a blanket and often a cat and still sometimes can't get warm and toasty. I've put extra blankets and pulled the cat bed out of storage so they have plenty of warmer sleeping options. And forget going outside without my warmest parka, a hat, gloves, a scarf and boots. Even then my block-long walk from the parking garage to work is brutal.

cold weather makes the cats extra cuddly

This winter has also meant a lot of hibernating, which can be fun for a weekend or two but can get old when you feel like you can't, or shouldn't, go out.

While these temps seem newsworthy today, it's only because we're not used to cold snaps which were considered normal in the past, according to Treehugger. While I worry about the consequences of global warming, not dealing with this crap every year doesn't seem all bad...

How are you faring in this weather (or for some of you, the record heat waves)?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Serial Decluttering

Magazines are cheap, published monthly and designed for limited use, so why do I and many others hang on to so many?

In the age of blogs and online decorating sites, does anyone even need  to keep magazines anyway? Yet, there is something I enjoy about a shiny new decor mag.

I've decluttered my magazine collection many times, maybe more than any other item, yet I still count 48 magazines in my current collection. I've culled my magazine subscriptions down to zero, then added a subscription or two that I missed back in. I've tried getting my magazine fix at the library only, which I found to be more trouble than it's worth.

First, the non-negotiables. I have 27 issues of the discontinued Domino (25) and Cottage Living (2) magazines that I'm still not able to part with. At one point those Dominos were almost worth their cover price on ebay, although prices seem to have peaked and dropped like a rock since then.

endtable magazine storage
I find the "William Morris criteria" (That is, Morris' famous quote to "Have nothing in you home that you do not that find to be useful or know to be beautiful"), to be helpful for deciding what to cull or keep. Accordingly, I should probably declutter them all, as I don't really look at the magazines often or consider them particularly useful. But, I'm not willing to do so. I don't need the space they take up and I like having them, for whatever reason. Maybe outing myself on the blog will change this as it has before, but for now, they stay.

That still leaves 21 magazines up for grabs. After one last flip through 3/4 of them I let 12 go, which is enough to eliminate one stack under the coffee table. A 25% reduction isn't too bad, I guess.

Do you find it hard to let go of magazines or have another decluttering weakspot?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Small, Stylish and Low-Maintenance: Lustron Homes

The idea of well-designed, small homes taking less time to maintain while being just as pleasant to live in is not a new one. Lately I've been fascinated by one such example from years past: Lustron houses. These prefabricated enameled steel houses were developed in the post-World War II era. Marketed as "the house America has been waiting for" the small, yet well-designed homes were promoted as affordable, low-maintenance solutions for modern families.

The Lustron Company, headquartered in my town, Columbus, OH, manufactured just under 2,500 two- and three-bedroom homes between 1948-1950, before declaring bankruptcy. This was much less than expected, with production delays, the lack of a viable distribution strategy, and the escalating prices for the finished product all contributing to the company's demise.

Four Lustron homes remain in my neighborhood, and this summer I was able to fully explore the one pictured here, which is on display at the Ohio Historical Society until 2018.

master bedroom vanity
The exhibit was fantastic, and one I highly recommend if you're in Columbus. Not only is it amazing to have a entire house inside a museum, but the decor is completely period and they encourage you to explore, open drawers, etc. Or you can take a video tour.

Although compact and built to be shipped in pieces and assembled on-site, the rooms were a good size (bigger than my house anyway) and surprisingly full of storage. There was a built in bookshelf/display area in the living room, tons of closets, a built-in vanity in the master bedroom, and great bathroom storage. Plus, since they're constructed from metal, hanging a picture is as simple as throwing up some magnets.

The Lustron house exhibit was also appointed with something I've never heard of before, a Thor Automagic hybrid washer/dishwasher. Now there's something that makes me go hmmm, and I guess it made a lot of other people do the same since it never really caught on.

If you're curious about how Lustron homes appear with current decor, check out this Columbus-area Lustron.

As cute and cool as they are, I'm not sure I would want to live in a Lustron, especially as their advanced age takes away the low-maintenance aspect in many cases. Could you live in a Lustron, or is there another small home from an era gone by you lust after?


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