Snowmageddon III, Stalemate?

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I just came in, my fingers are freezing, I need to warm them up before returning to the war zone.  Snow,  5;  Koerners, 1!

Despite all the help I had, I have one large job ahead of me.  I finally managed to clear off the snow overhang in the front and then I unleashed one car from the snow.  I then moved the car to a clean zone so I can more easily clean the snow between the house and fence.  At this point, the snow must be lifted quite high to get it over the snowbanks.

Ali is having a great time.  She insists on my throwing the snow in her face but it is particularly hard to as the snowbanks are so high.  She is totally resistant to cold and snow and loves it.  She was virtually swimming in it, as seen from the pics.

The boys are all out all over the place with snowblowers, plows, and shovels.  We, the parents, are trying to “man the fort.”  Other than removing the extraneous snow, our job is to provide warm food, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and the like.  I am hoping that the battle we are having against Mother Nature will add more to the “family glue” by cementing our relationships.  Life is far too short!

The snowfall seems to have let up some for the moment.  It is time to get back out there, extricate both cars from their snowy prisons, and then clean up the aftermath. Wish me luck!

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I am certifiably ________ (you fill in the blank)!

I am certifiably _______________ (you fill in the blank).  I realize I must be totally crazy. It is freezing outside and I went out with the idea of ostensibly picking up a few twigs left in the aftermath of heavy winds, recent tree trimming, etc.  I got outside, took a gander at my estate (this statement alone makes me certifiably _________), miniscule as it is, pulled the leaf grabbing net off the pond, realized I had a koi that hasn’t survived this part of the winter, tried to take it out, could not because of the ice covering and started picking up twigs.  I realized during my view of the pond that the new apparatus to keep a “blowhole” in the ice is working, so I am wondering what killed my eight inch fish.

Anyhow, went up front, the wind is blowing in typical Chicago fashion and I decided to rake.  Thought I would get me a little workout since I wasn’t hitting the gym today, hadn’t managed to fit myself into the time window that the gym has today.  Raking was exhilarating, but my fingers started freezing despite my gloves, so I came in for a breather and hand warm up.  I bet everyone knew keyboarding is great to get the blood flowing in the fingers, so here I am.

I am going out in a few minutes to complete the job.  Ali accompanied me and was so unhelpful to my venture.  I am wondering if she and Mary Kay have some sort of silent dog/person contract to keep tabs on me and/or maybe keep me busy.  No sooner had I started raking the lawn that Ali went in the back yard and located a branch somewhere which she pulled out into the front and proceeded to tear it apart.  Is this in the master plan for my yard cleanup?  A dog hell bent on keeping me in my aerobic pursuit of bits of wood?  Mary Kay, did you pay her in dog treats?

While doing all this I am pleased to say that I am using my latest iPhone app which allows me to hear a pop music station in France, NRJ.  It is kind of funny listening to so much American music that is introduced in fast deejay French and a real treat to bide my outdoor time.  Right now, they are playing a song that has nothing more than orchestral music interrupted every few minutes by an Anglo saying, “Barbra Streisand.”  Odd, to say the least.

Okay, my fingers are warm and I think I should continue my workout.  Later!

Recycling your Christmas Tree

I open up the Chicago Tribune today and see a huge article on the recycling of Christmas trees.  It amuses me to no end that in our society we can often take something simple and render it complicated.  I find it so interesting that some of the simplest things are totally ignored.  Does no one take the time to think anymore?

For years I have been taking my Christmas tree and throwing it in the backyard as mentioned in a previous blog entry.  I might decorate it with food for the birds if I am so inclined.  Usually I just put it within vision of the kitchen window.  We enjoy seeing it for some time before spring sets in.

I take simple pruning shears that I use in the garden and I snip off about six inch or longer branches.  The idea is to get something that will lie flat once cut.  Because of the nature of the tree, making cuts on it are simple and in fact don’t require a saw for anything but the main trunk of the tree.  So I continue removing the branches bit by bit and I take the cuttings and use them as simple mulch under and behind bushes all over my yard.  I have to say that these branches always decompose with great speed.   I usually put regular, more decorative mulch over this. 

Time to do this?  Between twenty minutes and a half hour.  The only catch is to wear gloves you don’t mind a little sap on, otherwise you will have to pull out something like turpentine to remove what you get on your hands!

In the past, when I did more vegetable gardening, I would take one of the “poles” left from my tree and insert it in the ground for climbing beans or such.  It could be used for flowers as well.  My favorite is to take three of these Christmas tree “poles” and put them together in the shape of a tepee framework, tied at the top.  This works very well for climbing plants.  Think of clematis or morning glories decorating these frameworks; simple, natural, beautiful, free!

Sometimes, when I see huge articles on these issues, as I did in today’s Trib, my thoughts are that it must be a slow news day or people just have no clue.  Is it one of these or is it both? Should I send my idea to Martha Stewart?  Nate Berkus?

Betty Koerner turns 80

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My mom, Betty Koerner (aka Elizabeth A. Koerner, Grandma, or EAK) turned 80 in 2001.  Upon this date we did all sorts of things to celebrate the moment.  She received a book with all this information as well as letters from important American dignitaries and birthday cards from my kind students.  We moved her to the Chicago area in 2003 since she was having issues with getting around and dementia and only recently was moved into a nursing home (January of this year) since she is now no longer mobile.  Perhaps in reading about “Betty” you might understand this blogger better?  These things are all true, by the way!

Some of the suggestions are great and some are just off the wall!  So, here goes:

 

January 8, 2001 is a special day!  Betty turns 80!  Born Elizabeth Ann Bori in Cleveland, Ohio of modest Hungarian origin, married in 1945 to Ernest J. Koerner, widowed in 1959, moved to Parma, and now renowned for her famous book (fictitious statement, here!):  Grandma K’s Hints for Life.  Helping her in this new venture are her son, Richard and daughter, Carol.

Health and Medicine

Practice Medicine:  motherhood bestows this right on you.

Prescribed Medicine:  only take half…medication shouldn’t be overused.

Prescribed every day?  Take it every other day.  Always take ½ the prescribed amount.  Too much destroys the effect.  If you’re desperate, take the normal dose. 

Aches and pains?  Complain about them but forget to mention to the doctor.

Stomach upset?  Boil water and sip it very slowly (you have to, otherwise you’ll burn yourself).  Your problem will disappear.

Beware of drafts!  They can make you sick.

A major “movement” in the bathroom?  Cover your toothbrushes with a paper towel. Caustic fumes could cause you health problems later on, don’t contaminate something you would put in your mouth!

Wear hats in the sun and in the cold.  Otherwise you’ll get sick!

Keep your neck covered.  Otherwise you’ll get sick.

Don’t get sick!  What will your mother say?

Have a cold?  Trouble breathingCamphor oil on a cloth diaper attached with a pin to your shirt or blouse will do wonders!

Betty K’s reverse logic:  Don’t use dental floss, the dentists and floss companies are in cahoots!

Laugh, laugh, laugh, even at yourself, it’s healthy!

Nighttime!

When seated at night, rub your feet together while hissing in delight.

Afghans are the best!  Use whenever you watch TV.

Read, read, readyou can even fall asleep while reading!  Make sure that you also watch TV at the same time.

Eating!

Practice collecting food for famineBuy on sale and stockpile, stockpile, stockpile.  Totally disregard dates on the cans.

Eat leftover foods even when you think they might not be any good.

Save all leftovers no matter how little you have and no matter whether there is any chance anyone would eat them.

Keep your refrigerator filled so that food falls out when you open the door.  This helps insulate food so that it lasts longer!

Eat homemade foodyou can’t trust food from the restaurants.  Eat good bread.  Don’t buy breadcrumbs ever!  Store old bread in the oven and grind into crumbs.  Keep bread in the fridge so it doesn’t get moldy.  In the morning, always eat toast before you eat anything sweet.  Eat something greasy?  Drink hot tea to dissipate its effect.

Greeting Cards

Send cards religiously! When you receive them always say, “…if they only meant it!”

 

The Flower Corner – or – “How I started my floral collection with one snip!”

Flowers, flowers, flowersyou all love them.

By them when they are half dead and revive them.

“Snitch” pieces and start you own using rooting hormones, water, vermiculite, and/or mason jars to cover them while they root under your bushes.

Want to really embarrass your children or grandchildren…here’s what you do: steal pieces of plants at the Botanical gardens or at the store.  Remember that a beautiful violet can be grown from a single leaf.

Recycle your tea leaves and coffee grounds in the flowerbeds.

Dig in your garden.  Dig so much that you can no longer get up from a stooping position and are so sore you can’t sleep at night.

Use Epsom salts: ½ cup around each rose bush in the spring.  The foliage will be beautiful.

Want really beautiful roses? One of Grandma’s friends used to recycle…you guessed it…(brown, smells) and it really worked.

Wait to mow your lawn until it’s too long.

Use an impossible electric lawn mower.  You’ll be so happy to finish (like the proverbial knocking your head against the wall to enjoy how good it feels when you stop).

Every so often, when using a shrub trimmer, cut the cord to be adventurous, it will add more variety and a complication to your life.

Compost, compost, compost.  It’s the natural way!

 

The “Forties” approach to cleaner clothes!

Washing clothes?  Save water!  Buy a washer that will save your wash water in the laundry tub.  Re-use numerous times.  Multi-task:  run up and down the steps between the kitchen and laundry area despite your arthritis or bad knees.  Save even more water by washing by hand!

Exercise:  Hang out your clothes!

“Nothing makes clothes cleaner than a wringer washer!”

Remember to wash a few clothes at a time and separate more than conventional wisdom dictates.

Rinse clothing more completely when you wash…wring out by hand.  Betty even takes the already rinsed out clothing from the automatic washer and either rinses again by hand or throws it in the wringer machine.  Remember that clothes properly rinsed will last longer.

…from the frying pan into the fire…Grandma’s Kitchen!

Plastic bags?  Recycle, recycle, recycle! Wash them and hang them on the line.  Re-use ad infinitum.  Remember those plastic bowl covers with elastic?  They’re back!  Buy tons before they stop making them again!

Aluminum Foil can also be re-used:  wipe off, unwrinkled, and fold for next time.

Dishwashers really don’t clean dishes well and besides, they are a harbinger of germs.

Washing dishes?  Do not use the entire sink, use a small bowl.  Save water.

For butter, use only a butter knife.

Always use the proper tools in the kitchen when cooking.  Don’t improvise.

Make sure to buy what you need.

Buy milk in the cardboard cartons; put kitchen refuse in them before putting in the garage.

Don’t ever leave the house with garbage in the can.  Remove!

Save old frying oil in an old-fashioned metal coffee can.  Purify by frying a potato in it and strain!

Wash your kitchen floor every two weeks, dirty or not.

 

Grandma’s secrets for hair, fashion, decorating, and shopping!

In her long reign as Parma’s “Martha Stewart,” Grandma K has come up with some grand ideas about hair, fashion, and decorating.

Hair: Out in the wind or rain?  Avoid that windblown look and stay dry by wearing a Parma plastic rain bonnet.  It will maintain your coiffure indefinitely.

Need to maintain your coiffure?  Sleep on a silk pillow case and/or roll your head in toilet paper.

Wash your hair once a week whether it needs it or not and tease it to maintain its shape until you wash it again.

Change your shampoo every week.

Keep your life easy; never, ever change your hairdo.  It’s easier that way.

After styling, use “Aqua Net,” the premier hairspray, to keep it looking nice.

Fashion:  This is the easiest! Mix plaids, colors, stipes, etc.  If your kids are embarrassed, so what!  Match what you like and set your own style.

Decorating:  Surround yourself in the house with cutesy, kitsch figurines and fake flowers.

Clutter your home…then when you remove it you will feel better.

Bring the garden into your home…have lots of house plants.  Enjoy their colors, especially during the winter.

Shopping:  Bargains, bargains, bargains!  Even buy things when you don’t need them because they are on sale!

Buy ornaments and knick-knacks that are on sale.  Give as gifts.

Disregard writing on these gifts like “Baby’s First Christmas” and give to anyone!  It’s the thought that counts!  The beauty of the object is of prime importance, not the statement on the decoration!

Betty’s inside views on appliances, technology, cars, and household repairs

Appliances:  Need a new one?  Save money and wait until the original one goes!  Given a new appliance as a gift?  Don’t use until the old one goes.  Keep it in its box until you need it!

Technology: A man landed on the moon?  Poppycock! It was staged in a Hollywood studio.  Computers?  Forget it…they just make life difficult.  Pictures?  Buy cameras that you get deals on.  Fill out that form in the magazine and send it in.  Keep more than one camera around, so many that you cannot remember how any of them work.  When you take pictures, forget to take off the lens cap.  You can entertain people this way.  And don’t forget to take all the time you want when taking photos, you are entitled!

Cars:  Let a man drive your car periodically and let him “railroad” it.  This will help keep the carbon from gunking up the engine and prevent your car from being an old lady’s car that conks out all the time.

Maintain your cars, don’t use the indicator lights, they will wear out.  Do the same for the brakes.  You’ll be amazed how much money you will save.

Driving?  Stop signs are great, but don’t stop, just glide through and save the brakes. 

Household repairs:  Small repairs needed?  Do the “shoemaker” job and just get it done.  Improvise.

Tired of waiting for someone to help out?  Take matters into your own hands, climb up into weird places that you cannot get down from. It is a great conversation piece.

The bedroom, in-laws, and the health craze

The bedroom: Wear pajamas in bed.  People who sleep in the nude get unnecessary oils all over their sheets!

Air out your beds. Turn your mattress every month and flip it over as well.

Change your room periodically; move the bed and dresser, you’ll enjoy the change.

The in-laws:  Do like your sister-in-law, to make dishwashing easy, don’t stack plates on top of each other, then you won’t have to wash both sides.

Don’t serve more than one burger to a person, serve each person one large on.

Problems with your in-laws?  Don’t tell them, tell your children.

The health craze:  It’s all a crock.  If you do your daily work, you won’t need it.  For exercise, I use my trike!

Miscellaneous info to make your life a dream!

Entertainment:  When you are in the $1.50 movie theatre and the show is X-rated or bad, stay!  You paid for it, after all.  Remember Madonna and “Truth or Dare?”

Dance, dance, dance till you drop!

Baby Care :  Put mittens on their hands to keep them from sucking their thumbs.

Babies getting cold?  Tie down their blankets so they don’t get out from under their covers.

Keep babies on a schedule, life is easier for them (and for you)!

Advice to daughter-in-law:  nursing babies is not good.  How do you know if they are getting enough milk?

Finance:  Don’t use direct payments, you’ll be cheated!

Pay your utilities at the local bank or store.  Don’t do it unless there are no fees.

Pay off your charge cards completely each month.

Politics and Philosophy:  Never, never, never say anything that is politically correct.

Always vote as a Democrat!

Confess to the belief that you are perfect, more people will respect you.

Steer clear of the neighbors; if you get close, it can cause problems.  Your neighbors may think you’re after their husbands.

Money Saving:  Save hand soap, remove the wrappers and place in a shoebox in your linen closet.  The soap will last longer and your linens will smell great. Place bars between the sheets on the beds of the guest rooms.  They will provide great smelling beds and amusement as your guests search out the soap!

Is your mattress too soft?  Place a piece of plywood between the mattress and box springs.

Leftover pieces of hand soap?  Put them in a jar with some water and make new bars of soap or cook and make the soap into soft soap.

Cover your sofas and chairs to keep them clean.

Buy industrial strength carpeting and you’ll never have to replace it!

Always buy on sale.  Use coupons.  Travel long distances to get bargains.

Really miscellaneous: Different clocks in the house?  Make sure they all chime at different times.  You will enjoy them more.

Always, always, always maintain the ability to laugh at yourself.  It makes life easier!

Arrow to Ugliness

I am not boasting, but I am probably one of the nicest neighbors one could ever have.  I am the neighbor you would borrow from, the neighbor who would help you with the leaves when you couldn’t get to them. 

I am also a person who seems to have a certain magnetism for some of the oddest people around.  That can be good, but that can certainly go bad as well.

Mary Kay and I had several things we really wanted to have in a house.  Way back in 1976 when we bought our first house we definitely had to curtail our wish list and just be happy that we got a house at all.  We got an adorable fixer upper in La Grange Park, IL with two bedrooms and a great yard, unfortunately by the train.  The train was something that happened in house two as well, it took three times to make that go away, and much to the displeasure of our son, Richie.  We,  however, were happy that we were able to talk on the phone and not pause the conversation until the train was past.

Obviously, in a house we wanted location.  We were always pretty successful in that area.  We needed a certain number of bedrooms and little by little with successive house purchases, we got that as well.  Actually, the fourth bedroom was had by remodeling, but the remodeling story might well be another blog article to come.  Our real desires, if I recall correctly, were a staircase and a fireplace.  The staircase eluded us until house three.  By this time, we were called the gypsies since every five years we moved.  Year twenty saw us do an addition instead of moving.  We usually bought a house that was structurally sound but in horrible need of decoration.  Our third was the anomaly, actually looked pretty good other than the redwood painted yellow, but that is another blog story.  The staircase we obtained was decidedly not what was on the wish list.  Being a bi-level, the staircase was and is quite short going up and going down.  But it did have a nice, handsome banister suitable for garlands at Christmas.

So,  given the fact that we didn’t get the fireplace, procuring one was the cause of the title of this blog.  I will admit the title is odd, but then I did mention that I have magnetism for the oddities of life. 

At a certain point, Mary Kay and I decided that we would have a fireplace installed.  This required all sorts of research, decisions as to where to place it in the house, the ramifications of the loss of space in an already less than huge house with five people and a dog living in it.  We finally decided that our living room was the location, that it would afford a good place to get people together and talk, in close proximity to the dining room.  Plans forged ahead, they installed a metal box in its location and voilà, a fireplace.  Within a short period of time we found someone to put in a mantel, surround the fireplace with red brick, and we were good to go.  We enjoyed and still do many a fine family bonding moment there.

How could something as simple as a fireplace create the title of this article?  That is easy.  On the outside of the house, coming out of the roof was a metal pipe, set to code, allowing smoke to be exhaled from the fireplace.  One day, my neighbor stopped me and asked me about its exterior appearance.  I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about it, it was an afterthought.  I explained to him upon his questioning, that I was intending to have a surround made for it which would be more decorative and more like a standard chimney, either out of brick or wood to match the house.  I explained, although I didn’t really have to, that funding within the house being what it was, the chimney was on a waiting list.  After our conversation, I didn’t give it a though until…

The “Arrow to Ugliness” suddenly appeared next door on the lawn…

Honestly, I had no idea what this was.  I remember one day that the neighbors were gone, that I just had to see what the heck that thing was.  If I am not mistaken (please note the picture of it), it was made of wood about two inches wide and perhaps eighteen inches in length.  It was set vertically, on a stick and looked a bit like a model rocket pointing to the sky.  And on it, it said, “Arrow to Ugliness.”

To this day, I cannot remember if I had a conversation with my neighbor about it, but his wife sure spent a lot of time looking sheepish and doing her best at not being seen.  I cannot even remember how long the arrow was up and visible.  Numerous visitors asked about it.  We did deduce that it was in reference to the pipe coming out of our house, which was not all that ugly. I looked around our neighborhood and ours was not the only one.  Apparently, in our neighbor’s eye, our pipe was affecting the Feng Shui of the neighborhood. 

I don’t remember how much later we had the chimney installed. Since the siding of the house is redwood in vertical panels on the house, we had a similar look made out of cedar stained the slate blue gray of the house.  I think it looks quite nice.  I never did understand the concerns on the neighbor.  I must say that if the architectural police were to critique his house that…

Once again, life is far too short for such silliness!

Thoughts about being green and saving money

In many ways, the Koerners have been ahead of the times.  I have been composting for as long as I can remember.  I have been recycling coffee grounds for years.  Actually, my grandmother taught me to do that when I was a kid.  In Deerfield, where I live, any yard waste has to be placed in specially purchased bags and put near the street on garbage day.  I have lived in this town since late 1981 and I do believe I have only purchased these bags once, and not even used them all.  Virtually all of my leaves go in the back of the yard.  I have used this compost to build up the yard, as it is low and prone to flooding in the late spring.  We have also purchased a small container to keep scraps in until they make their way outside.   Once outside, these scraps go into our latest composter which is a barrel which can be turned to further the speed of the composting process and also provide “compost tea” which can be used to water flowers.

Our latest venture is in the area of rain barrels.  These have come in very handy for watering plants and for replenishing water in the koi pond.  I have two large ones and am thinking of getting others.  It is a known fact that rain water is far better for plants than the chlorinated version coming from the tap, anyway.

Another thing we do, which I borrowed from the French, is to dry clothing on racks all year long.  In the summer, we had always been the people in the neighborhood who hang clothing out to dry in the sun.  We still do this to this day. In our unfinished room beyond the laundry room, we have purchased a large Amish made rack to hang clothing on.  We have several of the smaller variety that you so easily find in the local hardware stores.  There are several good reasons to use these racks.  First of all, when clothing is hung on them, it tends to wrinkle less.  It is far easier to fold.  The other main reason is especially important during the winter when those of us who live in homes heated by gas forced air complain about the dryness of winter.  We have found that our dryness has been helped immensely by the drying method we have chosen.  Our gas dryer still gets used, just less so, sheets and towels are pretty much the only thing we dry other than a short period in the dryer for the low maintenance shirts that are not supposed to need to be ironed.

Obviously we have replaced our regular light bulbs, in almost every instance with CFLs.  We have very few incandescent bulbs left.  We try to make sure to unplug rechargers when we are done with them and even unplug the coffee pot when we are done making coffee.  We have purchased high quality thermoses from Germany to keep coffee warm during the day and save on our coffee production/consumption.

To make our house look nicer, we have all sorts of plants which also often do double duty by purifying our air and adding to the humidity.

Our lawn is a generally a pesticide and fertilizer free site.  I gave up the chemical weed control years ago.  I have decided that I am okay with clover; it is green and enriches the soil.  In the spring I do spend time, once the dandelions start to bloom, to remove them by hand.  This sounds incredibly tedious, but it is a good low key exercise and it is also something which, with time, diminishes.  What happens is the more you work at it, the less work you have.  In the beginning of spring, it may seem overwhelming, but it soon settles down to almost no work at all.  After several years of this, it becomes more and more doable.  Our only attempt at fertilizer is to mow the lawn frequently with a mulching lawnmower.  I try using the old family push mower when I can, something that can be difficult since my neighbor has a pine tree which is constantly endowing my lawn with numerous pinecones.  The result of all this is a lawn that I don’t worry about for my dog or for my granddaughter as we only use chemicals if we absolutely have to. 

Watering, in the summer, is usually reserved for the flowers and we use the rain barrels to provide most of this.  The lawn is usually allowed to go dormant.

In the house, during the summer, to keep the house cool, we have a protocol.  Windows are kept open as long as it is cool.  Once the sun starts beating down and causing it to warm, windows get closed and our blinds are drawn. Small fans and a large fan or two are used to keep air circulating.  If at all possible, we have often used a large fan to pull air from throughout the house, it being placed in the upper level.  It is then a good idea to crack a window in the lower level of the house.  The result is cool air circulating through the house.  If it cools off at night, windows get opened once more.

Once the air conditioning is necessary, we still utilize fans so that we can keep the air conditioning at a temperature which will not break the bank.  It is amazing how the fans make it feel cooler.

In the winter, as in the summer, we always make sure that the thermostat is used to change the temperatures of the house according to its usage. I f we know that no one will be in the house at a certain time; the temperature can be set accordingly.  At about 10:30 PM or so in the winter, the house temperature goes down to about 55°F, which may seem excessive, but for our bi-level house is perfect.  We prefer that it be cool in the house and use our down or silk quilt to keep warm.  Although the lower level is 55°F, the upper part of the house is significantly warmer.

We use our dishwasher religiously, waiting until it is full to turn it on.  We also invested in a European dishwasher for several reasons, although I believe you can now purchase an American one to do what we originally purchased the European one to do.  I remember being in the kitchen of my friend in France and seeing her load the dishwasher.  I was amazed to see that she wasn’t rinsing the dishes as I had always been taught to do back home.  I asked her about it.  She responded to me, “Why would I use a dishwasher if I had to wash them before loading them?”  That set me to researching.  The biggest issue I had was noise pollution; our dishwashers had always been noisy.  I found out that the noise was produced by a sort of “food grinder” that emulsified the food matter left on the dishes.  The European dishwashers did not have this, they used more heat and more pressurized water to achieve the same goal.  When we first got our new dishwasher, which was more expensive, we couldn’t believe that we could hold a phone conversation while washing the dishes! 

Another thing that we found out in our usage of washers and dishwasher is that we are told to use entirely too much detergent and that this over usage is not only costly but also makes the machines less effective.  Cutting down on this helped immensely.

During the summer months, we always “vacation” our plants outside in sheltered areas where they can recover from being in the house.  When we bring them back in, instead of using pesticides on them to clean off any pests they may have picked up outside, we take a mild solution of dishwashing liquid to spray on them, saturate the soil, and then rinse off.  My hibiscus, which winters in the house, sometimes gets whiteflies; this treatment takes care of the issues.  Dishwashing liquid used this way is a disinfectant and a mild fertilizer.

The skinny on all of this is, there are many ways that you can more positively affect your environment, all while saving money and doing good for all.

Fall, leaves, trees, gutters, and ponds

I absolutely love trees.  One of the crazy things about my youth is that, for the most part, I lived in an area devoid of trees.  When I came to Chicago for the first time, I was a bit surprised by the literal forests in the suburbs.  Not that there are  not suburbs like that in Cleveland, I just lived in a suburb that seemed to thrive on tree destruction and then the planting of strange trees that didn’t get very large.

Trees, however, as much as I love them are a lot of work.  During this particular summer, our locusts and maples were naughtier than usual regarding the aphids that plague them.  For some reason, our tree spraying company changed their spraying schedule and the aphids were worse than normal on top of that.  Thus, we spent a summer trying to remove what the tree people call “honey dew,” that nasty gluey sap-like substance that the aphids defecate all over.  Our cars, patio table and lawn furniture were constantly sticky in the onslaught.

The other issue is the gutters. It amuses me to no end the different solutions that companies have put out regarding gutters.  I must say that I am willing to offer up my roof to some company willing to test their gutter guards.  I have two locusts that are very close to the house and dump their tiny leaves and, more importantly, the twigs to which the leaves are attached.   The latter is the real problem as they combine in the gutters and sometimes the downspouts to make what I call “treel wool,” which is like steel wool but made with mini branches.  It makes the removal of the leaves next to impossible as it clumps up and stuffs everything up.  The day they produced the blower (for yard cleanup), I was in heaven as I no longer had to remove all this stuff by hand (often in a decaying state and smelling like a sewer).  Even with the blower, I must be on top of the roof quite often to keep up with the mess.  I seriously think there are some people who think I actually live up there because of the frequency of my visiting the roof. This year, since I have more home time due to the recession and my job, I have really been good about it.  I even found a new downspout protector that actually seems to work.  Although there are leaves and “treel wool” everywhere, the water still manages to drain.  I must say that all of the gutter guards they sell probably wouldn’t work for my situation.

Leaves are a part of the fall season.  I have been told that I am a bit crazy in almost everything I do, fall cleanup is probably one of the times that my neighbors wonder about me.  I think I am the only one who actually vacuums up the leaves on my patio and front stoop.  Thank goodness for the new shop vacs with the huge hoses that don’t get plugged up all that much.  They have been a major time saver!

Several years ago, my sons decided to take the area way back in the yard and remove the swing set and put in a koi pond.  It is amazing, a great source of pleasure, but also of work.  This year instead of putting the net on it (to prevent the leaves from fouling it) closely, I raised it up about 4 feet or so.  It has worked out really well.

In Deerfield, IL, where I live, leaf removal is as simple as waiting for the weekly municipal vacuum to clean up the leaves I have left by the street.  To be honest, I am one of those people who uses this benefit the least.  I pretty much compost all of my leaves in the backyard, putting them under my bushes in the way back.  I am a firm believer in using as little chemically in my yard.  I try to use them only when I have to.  The only way I am currently fertilizing my lawn is my dog and the frequent clippings I leave for it!

Now that this work is almost over, I shall be into the next phase of outdoor work, Christmas lights.  That is another chapter.