Tag Archives: home repair

It’s Always Greener

6 Jun

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” the note said. “It will take time, but we can fix this.”

I knew there were problems. Hell, everyone on our courtyard could tell there were problems.  But I really didn’t think my lawn was so bad that the TruGreen® guy needed to leave me a personalized note.

The physical move from Oak Park to Naperville, IL covered only twenty-three miles. The cultural move, however, was more like going from a hippie commune to, well, to an All-American mom-and-apple-pie suburb in all its suburbity.

In Oak Park, where herbicides are only slightly less maligned than Agent Orange, my “if it’s green, it’s a lawn” attitude was applauded. In fact, if you’re not green in growing your green, you’d best not come outside until the sun goes down.

Mine was a typical Oak Park lawn. In short, I pretty much ignored it. It got mowed once a week, fertilized twice a year with an all-natural lawn food, and was watered when it rained. Sure, there was grass in my grass, but there were also some dandelions and a little crabgrass. In the shady areas, there was some Creeping Charlie and even some nut sedge. It was all green, it all mowed. It was a lawn.

In Naperville, lawn growing is a competitive sport. It’s not enough for the lawn to be green here; it should be a particular shade of green. A “good” lawn consists primarily of a single species of grass: Kentucky Blue. It’s really more of a dark blue green, but you get the idea.  The problem is that Kentucky Blue is the Naomi Campbell of the grass world. It requires copious amounts of exactly the right kind of attention or it does the herbivorous equivalent of flinging a flip-phone at you.

While a good Naperville lawn is a monoculture, mine is a veritable botanic garden of all that is low-growing and green. I’ve got Blue grass, of course, along with dandelions, some little creeping things, some other little creeping things, some ferny-looking creeping things, some thistles and lots and lots of clover.

I like clover. Clover is the right color. In fact, I think white clover leaves are an even nicer shade of green than Kentucky Blue grass. Clover has really cute little flowers. When I was a little girl, I made wreathes and garlands of white clover blossoms. My daughter makes them now. Clover is even an indicator of nitrogen—the stuff that turns grass green—in the soil.

The biggest reason I like clover, though, is the bees. Clover is perfect food for bees, especially honeybees. And honeybees are endangered. In grad school, I wrote an entire integrated lesson plan for third- through fifth-graders focusing on the importance of healthy honeybees to our food production capabilities. When I see clover, I see orchards full of fruit trees pollinated by happy little honeybees.

My neighbors? Not real big on clover. In fact, when they see clover, I’m pretty sure they see weeds. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if clover didn’t also spread so readily. One of my neighbors did not want clover in his yard so, in a pre-emptive strike, he sprayed my clover. He did this without asking while I was standing right there in front of him. Just took out his nasty Weed-B-Gone pump and blasted away at the clover on my side of the property line. I think I said something like, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. I’ll pull the clover out before it gets to your yard,” but I was thinking something like, “You presumptuous son of a goat!”

Well, the clover died. And left a very large dead brown spot in the middle of my front lawn. I left the spot there, hoping my neighbor would feel terrible about defacing my property. He never mentioned it. Finally, one day I began raking away the old dead foliage, preparing the soil for seed. Now, I may not be the best lawn-grower in the world, but I know how to prep a seedbed. I finished the raking, watered the soil to soften it and left the soil loosening for the next day. Imagine my surprise when I found that the bare spot had been seeded over. My neighbor had apparently felt guilty after all. He didn’t feel guilty enough to plant decent seed, however. This became abundantly clear when the new grass came in fluorescent green. He told me it would turn darker when it got older. It did not. It merely got taller. Eventually, I had a three-foot diameter circle of glow-in-the-dark grass in front of my house. Because the fluorescent grass was also stiff, after I mowed it, it looked like someone had stuck bright green toothpicks in the lawn. I lived with the toothpick lawn for an entire summer. My only consolation was that my neighbor used the same cheap, crappy seed to spot seed his own lawn. While I had a circle of fluorescence, he had little tufts of bright green toothpicks through his lawn.

The radioactive green grass has since died off, giving way to other things greener and hardier, including clover, but I’m thinking it may have altered the genetic makeup of my horticultural haven. Recently, my daughter came running into the house squealing, “Mommy! Mommy! I found a four-leaf clover!” Well, of course I thought she had smooshed two clover stems together to make them look like one four-leaf clover. But she hadn’t. In her hands, she held a perfect four-leafed clover. She gave it to me and ran outside to find more. “That’ll keep her happy for a while,” I thought, but she was back in the house in a matter of minutes. Turns out, one particular spot in my yard is full of four-leaf clover. My daughter and her friend even found a five-leaf clover.

I’m not a superstitious person on the whole, but I’m thinking the TruGreen® guy is going to have to find another yard to spray. In fact, the only way he’s welcome back is on his knees, looking for a six-leaf clover.

Copyright 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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Little Tract House on the Prairie

21 Feb

I had an interview with a creative talent agent recently. She was young. She was hip. She was urban; definitely a City Chick. “All of your work is really old,” she said. Ever cheerful, I said, “Ah, but I have a blog. I write and publish every week. It’s funny and lots of people like it.” She seemed impressed that I had been doing it for months.

She asked to see my blog. Her eyes shone when she pointed to the computer in the room and said, “Well, let’s take a look at it!” I pulled my blog up on the computer. “So, what is your blog about?” said City Chick. “It’s a humorous take on life in the suburbs,” I said. City Chick’s eyes glazed over like she’d taken a trip on a Krispy Kreme conveyor belt. Her mouth fell slack. You could hear the pigeons in the park thirty floors down.

City Chick didn’t read one word of my blog. That week’s post has one of my best lines in it but City Chick didn’t care; my blog is about suburban life, therefore it is of no interest to City Chick,

I used to be a City Chick. I lived in Chicago for years, both as a single and a married chick. My husband and I had a terrific apartment. We both worked downtown and took public transportation. Everything we wanted was within walking distance, including the beach. Like all proper City Chicks, I disdained the suburbs as a cultural wasteland. Then, my husband lost his job. Doing a little accounting, which is about how much accounting I can tolerate, revealed that we’d be better off owning a home. After a brief detour, we bought a house in Oak Park.

Oak Park is the suburbs for people who don’t want to think they live in the suburbs. There are nice parks, beautiful old homes and plenty of public transportation. Oak Park served us well for many years, though my husband might disagree. We had a beautiful old home. He would tell you that we had a mouse-infested old money pit. Oh, and the roof leaked. The roof leaked almost the entire nine years the house owned us. At one point, the roof leaked into the living room, the dining room and the family room. Many thousands of dollars later, the roof only leaked in the family room above the fireplace and only if it rained really hard. It wasn’t raining the day we sold the house.

A number of circumstances lead to our move from Oak Park. Finances played a role, as did the school needs of our son and the societal needs of our daughter. I made a list of our wants and needs. I wanted a big yard. My husband wanted a new house. Our son needed school programs for gifted children. Our daughter needed to live near other Chinese people. One location fit all our needs: Naperville.

Naperville. I was barely able to hide my derision. Surely, there must be some mistake. I, former City Chick, could not possibly move to Naperville. If any suburb were to me the epitome of suburban-ness, it was Naperville. Still, my research couldn’t be denied. The schools were good, my research said. The houses were affordable, my research said. The Chinese community is the largest outside of Chinatown, my research said. I will check it out, I thought. Surely it will be hideous.

So, I checked out Naperville. I found that a river runs through it, quite literally, giving the downtown area a quaint charm. I found houses I could afford that my husband would want to own. I found good schools. I found lots and lots of Chinese people. My research wasn’t flawed. We moved to Naperville in 2005.

I have a love/hate relationship with Naperville. Our house is relatively new but lacks in character. Still, there are no mice in the basement, the roof doesn’t leak and there are no carpenter ants, probably because there was no real wood used in the construction. Maybe some day a genetically mutated ant will emerge that grows to gargantuan proportions living on a diet of engineered wood. Until then, my windowsills will continue to act like pop-up sponges, growing larger with every heavy downpour.

The schools are terrific. There are good parks, though a shade structure or two would be nice in the newer ones. You can practically hear the children sizzle as they clamber over the play equipment. The downtown area is cute and we even have an Apple Store. Now, if they could just solve the parking problem.

Before I moved to Naperville, my image of the Naperville woman was a white lady in mom jeans, driving her silver minivan full of children to swim meets, piano lessons and soccer practice. While there are lots of minivans, the women and men behind the wheel are every color of the ethnic rainbow and speak every language imaginable. At one point, the families on our cul de sac (of course I live on a cul de sac . . .it’s Naperville!) included Taiwanese, Indian, Guatemalan and us. I worked at a preschool where I taught Spanish to Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican and Korean children. I think there were four white kids.

What I love most about Naperville, though, is the wildlife. City Chick may have it over us with nightlife, but it really gets wild out in Naperville. Chicago has its pigeons, Oak Park has its rats, Naperville has nature. One evening, early on in our life here, I overheard my daughter making coyote noises on the deck. When she got an answer, I hustled her into the house. In the city, people walk their pocket dogs because they have no yard. In Naperville, people walk their pocket dogs to keep the hawks from turning them into lunch.

When I lived in the city, I rode my bike along the lake and cursed the runners on the bike path. In Naperville, I run in the prairie preserve where I curse the cyclists and horse riders. But I can’t stay vexed for long. I fell in love with Naperville on the prairie trails. At the end of a long run last fall, I rounded a curve then struggled up a hill. Before me lay acres of burnished copper grass, swaying in the wind. The sky was clear, the sun was gentle. I was hot and sweaty and utterly alone with nothing but the land the way it was hundreds of years ago.

City Chick may look down her nose at my suburban life and maybe some day I’ll move back to Chicago. But, right now I’ll trade the Crobar (people still go to the Crobar, right?) for my little tract house on the prairie.

By The Book

29 Nov

Somewhere, perhaps in the Library of Congress, there is a pair of books. One is titled, The Dad Book. The other is titled, The Mom Book. I don’t think anyone will argue with me because who really knows what’s in the Library of Congress anyway? I figure maybe the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, but it’s a pretty big building, so there must be more than just that.

I know the Mom and Dad books exist because my friend, Kate, said so. If Kate says a thing is true, it either is, or you want it to be. Kate is just like that. The Dad Book, according to Kate, contains all of the things that are the Dad’s responsibility in the standard American suburban household. The Mom Book contains all of the things that are the Mom’s responsibility. The Mom Book is thicker.

Of course, the The Mom Book and the The Dad Book were written many years ago, before Moms became self-actualized and liberated. My own mother became liberated when I was about ten. I know this because she took me to a women’s self-actualization group meeting. This was a meeting in which women discussed the many roles they had in their lives and how much they hated many of those roles.

Though my mother became self-actualized and started working, she still adhered to the The Mom Book, or tried to, for a while. Eventually, my sister was given her own version of the The Mom Book; call it the “My mom works so now I have to iron and make dinner” book. My mother said my sister liked helping. My sister says something like, “I was 11 and I was ironing, for crying out loud, and just because I was the oldest.” I was very glad to be the second child.

I know some Dads cook. In our house,  The Dad Book did not include cooking, unless the cooking was done outdoors with open fire. The Dad Book also included fixing things, mowing the lawn and drinking beer afterward. We had a neighbor who liked to mow his lawn early in the day. Eventually, he and my father developed a competition to see who could mow their lawn the earliest. This put the “drink a beer afterward” rule in serious jeopardy of breaking the “don’t drink beer before noon” rule, but my dad adapted.

In my own house, The Dad Book and The Mom Book seem to have fallen off the shelf and had their pages put back haphazardly. But I have not rebooted my default responsibility settings. I grew up with a traditional Dad doing the traditional Dad things and a slightly less traditional Mom doing traditional Mom things.

I expect my husband to do the things my dad did. Problem is, my husband was raised in a home where the children were not exposed to the dirty workings of home care and maintenance. He was raised to read important books, listen to important music and converse on a range of culturally significant topics. I was raised to wipe the counters down before considering the kitchen clean-up completed. Which skill do you think is more useful in a modern suburban home inhabited by two adults, two children, a dog, a cat and a fish?

Our Mom and Dad book confusion is complicated by the fact that I lived alone for many years before entering a relationship that involved actual sharing of living space. Hence, all household responsibilities were my own. I quickly tired of asking male friends for help with Dad responsibilities. If I needed a shelf installed, I had to call a friend. If I needed a bookcase built, I had to call a friend. Eventually, I realized that I was calling male friends more for their tools, than their muscles.

I decided that the reason I couldn’t do Dad things for myself was I didn’t have that most Dad of things: the power drill. One year, my mother asked what I wanted for Christmas. I said, “A power drill.” She laughed and got me a “cute little sweater.” The next year, she asked what I wanted for Christmas. I said, “A power drill.” She didn’t laugh, but I got a cute little sweater anyway. The following year, I told my dad, “I want a power drill for Christmas. Mom is going to want to get me a cute little sweater. I want a power drill.” I got a power drill, and a cute little sweater.

With lots of cute little sweaters and a power drill, I was the empowered woman. I built my own furniture, I installed my own shelves, I screwed . . well, you get the drift.

Then I got married. I assumed my husband would be able to use the power drill at least as well as I could. Instead, I got a husband who can’t use a screwdriver without hurting himself. I had no idea that there is an addendum to The Dad Book. It reads: Any one receiving The Dad Book who also has earned a Ph.D. may, at any time, disregard the entire contents of The Dad Book. My husband has a Ph.D.

One winter day, last year, I heard a strange noise in the kitchen. It sounded like a constant, intermittent “whoosh.” I followed the “whoosh.” It took me to the basement. It took me, in fact, to the sump pump. “Sump pump” is not mentioned in my copy of The Mom Book. Actually, anything with “sump,” “pump,” “hose,” “outlet” or “filter” in its name is, and should be, listed in The Dad Book. My husband believes that “sump” is a word created so that children learning to read will have something to rhyme with “pump” and “rump.”

I Google’d “sump pump.” I Google’d “repair sump pump.” All of the results were ugly. Sump pump repair is only marginally less gross than toilet plunging, also listed in The Dad Book. I did what any self-respecting woman married to a man with a Ph.D. would do. I called a plumber. The plumber fixed the sump pump. Because the plumber has the traditional version of The Dad Book with no Ph.D. addendum, he was able to tell me how to avoid seeing him next winter.

It is winter again. I have done what the plumber suggested. I am hoping not to see him. In the meantime, my husband will spend the winter doing one of the only things he willingly does from The Dad Book. He will build roaring fires in our fireplace then fall asleep in front of them while watching a football game. Maybe I need a copy of The Dad Book?

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