Archive for the 'House' Category

Backyard Labyrinth

Monday, June 1st, 2015

In our thirties, my husband G and I moved into our house in 2004 with our then 1yo son Drake, who was joined by little brother Guppy a year and a half later. This is the first house either of us had owned. Prior to that we’d lived in condos or apartments, and had never been responsible for a yard or a home. We had a very kid-friendly backyard, with a playset and a treehouse the former owner, an architect, had built upon a giant stump.

We did not distinguish ourselves, however. Within the first year, weeds took over the play area in the backyard. We waited so long to attend to them that they went to seed. Every year after that was an ongoing, losing battle with the weeds, the most difficult of which was the Canadian thistle, joined a few years later by the stinging nettle. I tried vinegar, we tried digging up the whole playset area. G removed a huge number of thick, stubborn roots, but still, they came back.

Two years ago, I leaned against the huge stump, and it moved. The termites had bored through it, and the bunnies had tunneled under it so that the only thing holding it in place was the tree house, which immediately became off limits to the kids. We had a treehouse removal party, (kind of like a reverse of the barn raising scene in that Harrison Ford Amish film, Witness), and the treehouse went off and became a hen house. But the stump remained, a huge, heavy albatross in our backyard.


We had a stump destruction party, with axes and Sawzalls, but the stump was harder to dismantle, even rotten, than we’d hoped. We had to call in a professional, with professional tools. to chop it to bits.

Removing the tree house got us the momentum in our backyard we needed. We were also helped by the advancing age of our sons, who rarely helped, but at least stayed out of the way and could play on their own without supervision. We got their OK to dismantle the playset, which G had always been prejudiced against. Encouraged by this, he finally took down the ugly chain link fence he’d vowed to get rid of in 2004. Removing the fence and the playset was superficially easy; the hard part was digging out the sunken concrete bases, but he did that. Then, we bought some tarps. A LOT of tarps. And we covered over all the thistle-y and nettle-y areas. We’ve been told by yard experts that if we leave the tarps there from spring to fall of this year, that the summer sun will bake the weeds down to their roots.

Up till a few weeks ago, the tarps were weighted with chunks of trunk, as well as a mix of bricks and paving stones that had come with the house or been used in various ways, like a bumpy, weed-choked patio, that we’d rescued them from. About a week ago, it occurred to me that I could put a labyrinth atop the tarps, and that I had to materials. Walking a labyrinth was something I did prior to having kids. After kids, though, taking a jaunt to walk quietly slipped down, then off, the priority list.

I found patterns online, at and The Labyrinth Society, measured my yard, and started to move the bricks, blocks, and trunk chunks around. This was more complicated than it looked for several reasons. One, a labyrinth is built off a base that is not in the exact center of the space to be used; it’s down and to the left. Two, once I had put in about four of the brick arcs I realized I should align it to weigh down the tarps, and had to start over.

The tarp surface isn’t ideal. The ground underneath is uneven from bunny tunnels and stump removal, plus hard and bumpy from numerous bits of wood. But, it’s not bad, plus, having a labyrinth would be way more attractive than having tarps covered with random stumpage.

It took almost a week to put it together, and I’m still tinkering with it. But we’re killing the thistles and nettles, plus I now have my very own labyrinth, that I can walk whenever I want, built from existing materials that I’ve been meaning to put to good use since 2004.


I’m a slow learner and a late bloomer, but I may finally be getting the hand of this “having a house” thing after all. It’s in no small part to my youngest being 9, though. I don’t think I would have had the energy any time before to do this.

A Moment of KonMari

Monday, May 11th, 2015

My two sisters and I visited my parents to help them clear out decades of stuff. Before you ask: No one died. They’re not moving. This visit was prompted after I got my mom one of my new favorite books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

After reading it, my parents started to sort through the basement and attic, but soon realized they’d need to ask each of us if we wanted this or that thing that belonged to this or that relative. Our solution was to go, without partners or kids, to my parents’ house for the weekend, identify what sparked joy, and move out what didn’t.

We spent the weekend going through bags and boxes. We laughed, we cried, we recoiled in horror. And we had the great good fortune to spend a whole weekend with each other, our nuclear family, as adults.

My mother was the most reluctant participant. She has trouble letting things go. When she and had a few hours to tackle her books, we weeded four shelves, plus one cabinet (not pictured). We filled five banker boxes to donate, and by the end she was getting the hang of it.



What you can’t see is that the four shelves are actually double stacked, with books behind and in front. Both in front and behind, many were stacked horizontally, not vertically, so Mom could pack more in.


After KonMari

There are no longer books hidden behind; all books are visible. Almost all the books are stored upright, with extra space on each shelf.

I think the biggest challenge my mom had was with books she’d bought in the past, fully intended to read, still wanted to, or felt she ’should’, but hadn’t.

I had the same problem when I went through out books. What helped me was to ask, do I feel excited to read this book? Is it something I could read now, if time and too many book groups allowed? Or, is it something I feel I ’should’ read because I bought it, or it was given to me, or I wanted to really read at one point and didn’t get around to. Giving the latter books away was a huge relief to me, and really opened up my shelves to show me the books I really wanted to read.

Have any of the rest of you tried the KonMari method?

Laundry Advice

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

I am working on edits to my young-adult manuscript in progress, and letting myself take laundry breaks but other than that, trying to focus.

Which, as you can see, I’m not doing very well. But, writing is writing, right?

So anyway, a brief housewifely post.

My advice on laundry: When you don’t want to do laundry or are hopelessly behind, do two loads a day. Eventually you’ll catch up but not burn out.

My friend Becky’s advice: When you don’t want to do laundry, do a load of pants. They’re easy to fold.

This guy named Steve I used to know’s advice: When you’re in a bad mood, do a load of laundry. It probably won’t make you feel better, but you will have a load of laundry done.

My current nemesis is that my boys have dark patches on their shirts that I can no longer ignore, because they get greasy hands then use their shirts as napkins. Gah. Need to find a non-toxic solution to get rid of them. Tried Dawn; too stinky floral. Tried Motsenbocker’s; too stinky industrial. Tried Dr. Bronner’s peppermint; cussing useless. Wondering if I’m doomed to having to treat every single stain on every single shirt.

“Around Beauty” by Barbara Barry

Friday, July 12th, 2013


See, sometimes I surprise you, right? Have I ever included a decorating book before? I don’t think I have. And if you saw my house, you’d know why: because decorating is not a priority. It’s more like an expensive foreign country I dream of going to someday, if I can ever get the laundry done, my articles written, and my book groups prepped for. Oh, and if I could afford it.

Over a decade ago, when I worked for a department store, I tried to learn about furniture. One of the few things that took was that I liked the style of designer Barbary Barry, both in furniture and china. A helpful furniture salesman told me that Barry’s style was highly influenced by Eileen Gray. At the time I think I imagined reading up on these women, spelunking in furniture and antique stores, and somehow living in a grownup’s house. Instead, we had a kid, I resigned that job to stay home with him, then we had his brother. And now my sofabed upholstery is hemmed with masking tape. (Hey, at least it’s hemmed, right?) My swivel chairs jingle tantalizingly when they’re shifted. (What’s inside there? Legos? Quarters? The earring I lost three years ago?) But still, a girl can dream. And so, I borrowed Around Beauty by Barbara Barry from the library.

And a lovely book it is. Heavy, with rich photographs on thick paper. With nice, large, accessible text that I didn’t expect to read, but somehow found myself halfway through the book without even noticing, though appreciating and continuing on. Barry shares anecdotes and photos from particular clients, her life, and her own home. She writes about her creative process, and the things that inspire her. I wished for a few more photos of interiors and fewer (hey, just realized as I was typing that that “a few less of” isn’t grammatically correct!) of California flora. I wished for perhaps more solid detail on her life. For example, when she writes that she knew someone in a past life, she’s using metaphor, right? But this is a lovely, diverting book, the kind that is pretty inside and out. A perfect coffee table book. For those of you who have a coffee table, and would buy a book to put on it.

Me, I’m taking this back to the library tomorrow.

Random Thoughts and Laundry Hints

Monday, February 25th, 2013

My friends often ask, “How do you read so much?”

First, I’m a freelance writer and stay at home parents of two kids in school full time. I don’t make much money, but I have a lot of wiggle room in my schedule.

Second, I tell them to come look at my house and its escalating level of filth.

Alas, sometimes the filth gets so noticable, or I need something and unearthing it starts an accidental organization project, which is what happened this morning, and lo and behold, I did some cleaning.

No reading, no writing. Alas, some time on Facebook kibbutzing about the Oscars (which I mostly enjoyed. Socks in the dryer and giant-eyed sock puppets! Shatner! My boyfriend Channing Tatum dancing!)

For me the same thing is true of cleaning that is true of any other work like writing: I don’t like doing it, but I feel good about having done it.

So, in honor of my recent burst of housewifery, some advice I’ve received, or things I’ve learned over the years about laundry.

1. If you’re in a bad mood, do a load of laundry. It won’t make you feel better, but you’ll have a load of clean laundry. (shout out to the Steve who said this, wherever he may be.)

2. Do two loads. No matter how backed up laundry is, if you do two loads a day, you will eventually catch up, and two loads won’t kill you (See #1).

3. Always empty the lint trap before you start the dryer. Clothes dry faster (one of the lessons I learned in college. An expensive one, my parents would agree, but useful.) plus if you forget and take it out once it’s started, things can get clogged and flame-y in there, sez a friend named Jen.

4. If you can’t face doing laundry, do a load of pants. This one’s from my friend The Hoff. They’re easy to fold. Leave the socks and underwear and dish towels for a day you’re feeling more resilient.

5. Powdered detergent, and not much of it. Liquid detergent is a scam.

6. Borax does not dissolve very well and will clog your machine. Beware.

The Great Grout Experiment

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Back before I had kids, I was a once-a-week cleaner. Having kids, and especially moving through a bout of post-partum depression, taught me to tolerate a greater level of filth in the interest of self preservation.

However, now that both my kids are in school all day and my work is occasional freelance writing from home, I must admit that there’s little excuse for the copious dirt and blowing and drifting piles of crap in the house. Other than that housekeeping sucks. To use one of my favorite British-isms, which I think I got from Bridget Jones’ Diary, I am a poster child for sluttish housewifery.

Yesterday the kids had off from school, and I decided to tackle the shower grout, which had reached alarming levels of yuck. It was especially icky in the corners. When I began to research home-made, less-toxic cleaners, though, I found so many options my head spun. Always very curious, though, I decided to make an experiment out of it. I pitched it to the boys, and amazingly, they bought it.

The raw materials:


First, I made solutions using various mixes of water, vinegar, peroxide, baking soda, Barkeepers Friend, Bon Ami, Borax, Dawn blue soap, Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds:


I made a chart so I wouldn’t forget which was which. This was an official science experiment, after all:


Then I applied each solution to a section in the shower, including two control sections at the bottom of Comet with bleach and Clorox Bleach Pen.


I waited about 15 minutes, wiped off, then scrubbed off with an old toothbrush. My experiment returned meaningful results. I was chagrined to find the bleach worked best (though online sources say there’s a risk of it yellowing the grout over time.) BUT pleased to find the natural cleaners worked nearly as well. Anything with Dawn blue turned the grout a little blue, so that was out. Baking soda whitened as well as Bon Ami, Barkeepers Friend or Borax, so might as well use soda–cheaper and less toxic. Water worked as well as vinegar, but perhaps a smidge less well than peroxide.

Here, however, is what convinces me that I should avoid bleach and other toxic cleaners, no matter how effective:


After the test, the kids and I used the remains of the 12 non-toxic solutions to clean the rest of the shower. I am including this incredibly unflattering photo of myself so you can see the cleaner spattered in my hair and on my face and glasses. Cleaning the shower properly is a time-consuming and messy business. Doing it with something toxic like bleach seems ill-advised given the spatter zone, and especially because I had the kids working with me.

Full disclosure. After the boys stopped helping and went off to listen to Harry Potter #4 on CD read by Stephen Fry (which kept making me start and think that there was a strange man in the house, which was kind of true.) I used the bleach pen on some of the most-stained corners. I’m sure it is probably the most expensive of all the options, but it did provide precise application in all the grout lines.

In the end, I have vastly improved grout.


For now. Alas, based on what I read on the interwebs, which is of course always to be believed, what I should do from now on is spray the shower walls down with a solution (I recommend peroxide/water), wipe it down, clean regularly with paste (I recommend a paste of peroxide or water + soda). Alas, alack, I probably also need to remove some of the grout, regrout, then seal and maintain once a year.

Sigh. I miss being a renter and having this be someone else’s problem.

End of Summer

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Summer doesn’t officially end till mid-September, but my older, Drake, starts 2nd grade tomorrow, and Guppy starts kindergarten on Wednesday, so today was really it for the season.

It’s been a long crazy summer with several car and home repairs, a family trip, some health issues that have been addressed, swim lessons, soccer, day camp and I’m sure there was more in there. Nothing serious.

Here’s what I thought I’d do this summer: get to the bottom of the mending pile. Clean the whole house at least once. Stop the thistles in the backyard. Read about half again as many books as I did. Catch up with friends. Ride my bike a lot.

Didn’t happen. I darned a few socks. Cleaned a little here and there. Read some books, saw some movies, hung out with friends and rode the bike, though not nearly as much as I’d hoped. I did my best, and will try to let go of all the rest that didn’t happen.

I’m not sure how to make next summer less crazy than this one. Do less stuff isn’t necessarily the answer. Unless I kept my boys occupied, they fought. And one or both ended up crying. Not fun for anyone. There’s got to be something between exhaustion and pugilism, right?

Some Things That Cheer Me

Friday, April 8th, 2011


A pretty box that a lovely gift came in.

Totoro. If you have not seen the animated film My Neighbor Totoro, do so immediately. No matter your age. Even if you don’t have kids. It’s lovely and probably one of my favorite films. Full stop. The director Hayao Miyazaki is like the Kurosawa of animation.

(Imitation) cherry blossoms. When I lived outside of Philly, spring was my favorite time. I lived in a neighborhood that had a lot of mature weeping cherry trees and I would take walks just to admire them. Minnesota is too cold for cherry trees, so I procured these at a home design store. The sight of them makes me very happy.

Before and Afters

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I am not an efficient or effective purger. My husband is actively opposed to purging. And since the birth of now 5yo Guppy, our house has gone into a slow, steady decline in neatness and cleanliness. I’ve vowed to clean and organize before; my organization tab on this blog is from 2007 (*wince*).

This time, I think I really mean it. I have two cleared horizontal surfaces to show for it. Fingers crossed that I can keep this up.

The magazine table, before (covered with things to donate):

magazine table, before

Magazine table, after:


Entry table, with five years of accumulated non-urgent mail (keep in mind, none of this is quite junk, either; I’m on the DMA’s do-not mail list plus recycle anything that’s obvious. This is all the non-obvious stuff, mostly financial statements):


Entry table, after:


What More Do I Need?

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

At the Sun Times (link from Morning News), Roger Ebert remembers wondering, as a student:

What do I really need that isn’t here in this room? Its dimensions are a little more than twice as wide and deep as I am tall. I don’t know, maybe 150 square feet? Here I have the padded wood chair in which I sit tilted against the wall, my feet braced on my straight desk chair. I am holding the three-inch-thick Paul Hamlyn edition of Shaw’s complete plays. This room contains: A wood single bed, an African blanket covering it, a wood desk and its gooseneck lamp, a small dresser with a mirror over it, my portable typewriter, a small wardrobe containing my clothes, a steamer trunk serving as a coffee table, and two bookcases, filled to overflowing. What more do I actually need?

I enjoyed reading Ebert’s description of his book collection and office, and his admission–only toward the end!–that he’d miss his wife. I am a reader, but also a weeder of books. This has led to moments of regret, though few compared to the number of volumes I’ve gotten rid of. My husband G. Grod is more of Ebert’s stripe. Given his druthers, he’d never get rid of a book. (Alas, we are not the king and queen of infinite space. Or many bookshelves.)

I was thinking along the same lines as Ebert just this morning, as I worked in my office, organized books on our shelves, and spent time in our back bedroom and porch. Those three spaces–bedroom, porch, “office” (aka closet) are about all I’d need in a living space. They comprise my fortress of solitude, for whatever scant time I spend there to read, write and rest. Food and company I find elsewhere. (The latter, in the form of my two boys, usually finds me, first.)


reading porch

I Did This

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

I Did This

Nemeses: small trees
are volunteers no longer
victims, you are now

This morning and afternoon, I worked on this side bed. I cleared a blanket of weeds and about a dozen volunteer trees, digging out roots from 18″ and 24″ down, then pruned the peony. Archeology: I found three matchbox cars from previous homeowner(s?).

Stuck in the Muck

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

“Hear that hum?” my husband G. Grod asked before he left for work. “That’s the sump pump. It’s running continuously. I think it’s blocked. Probably not good.” He paused to shoulder his messenger bag. “Thanks for letting me vent my anxiety about that. I’m off to work.”

I picked up that anxiety right where he left it, as the hum droned on. I went outside to check the outtake pipe. Sure enough, the end of the pipe was frozen solid after yesterday’s thaw and last night’s freeze. I got a shovel, poured boiling water and salt on it, and managed to get the end clear. But the pump hummed on, trying so hard to get water out of our basement. I knew if something didn’t happen, the motor would give, or our basement would flood.

I checked the internet. I called my dad. Turns out the freeze probably went up a ways into the pipe, which was about eight feet long. One suggestion was to hook a hose to my hot water heater, put it out the window, and up the pipe, and move it up as the water melted. This worked, so I set about trying to warm the pipe in other ways, in and out of the house, donning and doffing my muddy boots, and braving the above-freezing but grey, windy and snizzling day. I heated water to boiling, but could only pour it on the pipe at either end–the middle was buried in dirt and ice. I tried a hair dryer on an extension cord, but that made hardly any difference in the wind. I chipped away at the mulch, dirt and ice first with a rake, then with a hand tool, then with a shovel, then with the edging tool. I made little progress through the layer of ice beneath. I also turned off the pump, to save the motor. I’d periodically plug it back in to see if things were clear.

After EIGHT HOURS of in and out, shoveling, ice chipping, water boiling, etc, the sump pumped, and then stopped. That silence was perhaps the happiest moment of my day.