Archive | April, 2011

Improving the Lawn, Naturally

April 5, 2011

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I recently wrote an article about pet-friendly lawn fertilizers, and the topic got me thinking more about my own lawn and my methods. Chemical lawn fertilizers, despite their claims of non-toxicity, are still chemical agents. These chemicals may remain in the lawn for quite some time. Dogs romp in the grass, and may absorb the chemicals into their skin. Cats nibble the grass and lick their paws. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like chemicals, period, and I don’t want my pets rolling around in it.

A Boy and His Cat

We want Fuzzy to be safe in the lawn.

There are ways to fertilizer and improve your lawn naturally, without any chemicals at all. And even better, the natural methods are less expensive and better for the environment, too. Here are some tips I have gathered throughout the course of my research.

1. Aerate your lawn.

Over time, grass lawns become packed down from foot traffic, lawn mowers, and thick growth. Grass needs air just like any organism. Use a lawn scarifier to aerate the grass. The scarifier, available as manual or powered devices, roll across your lawn. A roller with peg-like appendages puncture your lawn. Some fancier models remove dead grass, moss, and weeds, too. The small holes will be barely noticeable to you, but they provide little channels where air, water, and minerals can soak directly into grass roots.

2. Mulch the lawn.

Leaves are nutrient-packed mulch, like liquid gold for your lawn. It’s best to compost them the year before– pile up leaves in a bin in the fall, and allow them to decompose. By the time spring arrives, the leaves should have decayed into a dark loam. Sprinkle the mulch onto the lawn with a shovel, in broad strokes, and rake the mulch into the grass. This is THE best fertilizer for your grass.

Round Bed2

Look for natural mulch without added colorants and chemicals.

3. Shred the grass clippings.

Some folks mow their lawns, then rake up the grass clippings and pile them on the street curb for the town to pick up. Know that if you do this, you are giving away some very valuable (and free!) fertilizer. Instead, invest in a lawn mower that shreds or mulches the grass as you mow it, and leave the clippings on the lawn. The clippings will decompose and provide the lawn with nitrogen and other yummy nutrients. Never leave clods of grass in your lawn, however. The clods block the sunlight and can cause fungus or mold to grow. Rake up large clods of grass clippings.

Dregs of Snow Jan102008

A badly damaged lawn full of weeds may need to be replaced.

 

4. Don’t over-mow the lawn.

If grass is cut too short, it cannot photosynthesize properly to produce enough food for growth. The weeds will eventually overpower the weakened grass. For most grasses, the lawn mower should be set to 2 to 3 inches. A good rule to follow is called the 2/3 rule: mow only the top third of grass, and leave the other 2/3 intact.

5. Keep weeds at bay.

Weeds are fellow competitors, contending with grass for water, sunlight, and soil nutrients. Large weeds such as burdocks and plantain should be removed quickly before they establish a party in your lawn.

Weeding the lawn is a tough one for me. My front lawn used to be a lush, beautiful lawn. Then came several years of destructive flooding, where muddy waters and silt covered my lawn. The flooding introduced a profligate number of weeds seeds. My lawn has never really recovered, and it is not possible to root out all the weeds that wiped out my lawn. So sometimes, in serious cases, you can only do so much before you have to completely re-sod the lawn.

I hope these tips help you! There ARE ways to make your home environment an enjoyable place– and a safe place– for your pets.

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Remodeling Projects that Improve House Value

April 4, 2011

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When I first bought my old 1855 home, I wanted to retain as much of the original character and materials as possible. I read up on remodeling articles by the National Register of Historical Places. I looked for grants or other ways to fund the job. But it was all to no avail. For one, my home, while old, is not terribly historic. It’s a middle-income home in a middle-income town amongst low- to middle-income families. Two, it would have been prohibitively expensive to remodel my home according to the NRHP. They follow stringent regulations, too stringent for this place (not unless the 1920s knob and tube electric and 1960s linoleum flooring would be worth salvaging. NOT). Anyway, I gave up on my dream of owning a pure, historically accurate home and focused my attentions on making the blasted place livable.

Through the years, I’d done extensive reading on good remodeling projects, and poor ones. If you have a clunky old house like mine, you may appreciate a few tips I’ve gathered over the years. Here are the nest remodeling projects you can do to improve the value of your home (in my humble opinion).

Replace the Electrical System
This is the most important advice I can give. I know! I know! It’s a hard job especially if you have plaster walls. But I am haunted by one story I read in my local newspaper, years ago. A young man had purchased a beautiful, grand old painted lady in a nearby city. He gutted the rooms, insulated, restored, lovingly painted the gingerbread molding, etc. A month later, the house burned to the ground, a total loss. The reason? The guy hadn’t replaced the electrical. It was the old 1920’s electrical, and the homeowner did not realize what a fire hazard it was. Oh, my heart cried for the guy, it did.

Crazy Old Wiring

This disaster was behind the dining room switch plate. Yikes.

 

Electrical is not easy to replace… well, the actual wiring is not hard at all. I did all mine (although a wonderful young man from my church helped me with the kitchen and baseboard heaters). The hardest part of electrical — I think– is getting the wiring throughout the house. You have to hack, drill, gut, slam, tack…. it’s tedious, it’s arduous… I hated that part. But I sleep better now, knowing that all my electric is updated to 2011 standards.

Replace the Old Heating System
When we bought our house, that was the first thing we had to do (and replace the old 1940’s fuse box electrical with a circuit breaker system!). The old 1970’s furnace was horribly inefficient (only 80%) and was killing the old chimney. For an old home, I STRONGLY recommend that you vent your gas furnace directly outside (direct vent) and not through an old chimney. Old chimneys were not built to accommodate the intense by-products of combustible gas furnaces (water vapor and carbon monoxide). The heated, moist air going up the chimney combined with the cold, dry air outside will cause your chimney to deteriorate very rapidly. Get a direct vent system and pipe the exhaust and moisture outside.

Replace the Windows, BUT….
…retain the style of the home.

Maybe you’ve seen them– the old homes that have been SO OBVIOUSLY remodeled. The beautiful 62-inch Victorian panes have been replaced with clunky aluminum panes half the size. It looks like the house has a patched eye or something. Terrible.

Old houses have an elegance to them. Builders constructed them on basic mathematical, architectural principles. My old Greek Revival is done in sets of 3’s, 4’s and 7’s.

House Front

The house obviously needs new windows....

Can you see the symmetry of the windows with the spaces between the windows? To meddle with the symmetry will ruin the aesthetic appeal of the home. Someone once suggested I remove the two bottom windows and insert a big picture window in their place. Oh my gosh, that would be awful! If I had a Brady Bunch 1970’s home, that might do, but in 1855 they did not have super-large picture windows. It would ruin the appearance. Even the existing windows look out of place. Those windows were installed in 1910, about 65 years AFTER the house was built. The original windows, which had smaller panes, were a much better fit for the Greek Revival style. Two of the 1855 windows are actually still installed in the back of the house! If I can afford it, I’m going to get those 9/6 windows (9 panes on the top sash, 6 panes on the bottom sash) when I replace my windows.

Garage Window

An original 1855 window behind a 1990 storm window addition.

 

One note: don’t worry about altering the window style for room additions or the kitchen. I added a huge 5-foot window to my kitchen (in the back) but decorated the room to match the rest of the house. You can fudge a little, but keep the front of the house compatible with the overall architectural style.

Insulate the Walls
Like the electrical system, this job is not easy. But old homes are rarely insulated. Kiss your energy bills goodbye, folks. Old homes BREATHE outdoor air. It’s how they were built– to ventilate. Centuries before power companies, this was not a problem. But it’s a costly problem now. Besides saving some money, insulation helps you maintain a much more comfortable environment. Only half of my house is insulated (the downstairs). Even doing only half the house has made a world of difference. I don’t need heaters in the 350-square foot kitchen, because it’s so well insulated.

kitcheninsulation2

I gutted the walls to add fiberglass insulation. You may or may not be able to do that. But at least have the insulation blown in. ANYTHING is better than just having cold space in the wall cavities.

Plant Gardens
OK, well, I can’t PROVE that adding gardens to the lot will improve your home’s value, in dollar signs. But it will sure improve everything else.

When I was househunting, I was totally smitten with properties that had nice gardens. I was even willing to compromise on small closets or no garage if there were perennial gardens. Gardens add a lot of value to the property– maybe not in dollars, but it tells everyone that you cherish your land and take care of it.

To Secret Garden 3

Anyway, I hope my travails and experiences have helped you in some small way. There’s an awful lot to do when you have an old home. These projects will give you great comfort and make your home instantly safer and more valuable.

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Tax Time Draws to a Deadline….

April 4, 2011

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Oh my gosh, it’s April already. APRIL! We haven’t got our taxes done yet. Usually the husband gets them done in the first few weeks if February. But this year, we might actually owe money. So, haha, we’re putting it off until the bitter end.

Because I am self-employed, the sheer amount of paperwork is overwhelming. Then there are the deductions, the interest calculations, the child credit, the charitable giving, the blahblahblah and blahblahblah. WHY does it have to be so stinkin’ complicated?! I am all in favor of a flat tax, across the board. It would simplify everything and would enable each citizen to be an active part in the government. Plus, it would lower taxes. And federal salaries. It’s just a good thing all around! lol!

Here in New York State, we are taxed to the hilt, several times over. We’re taxed on our income. Then if we buy something with the income we have left over, we have to pay sales tax. And if we buy a service with the product we purchased, we have to pay tax on that. So when all is said and done, we’ve paid taxes multiple times on the same chain of products or services. There’s something evil about that….

My area of Upstate New York is a popular “senior citizen” hub. I’m not sure why– winters are bad here and you figure they’d all move to warmer climates. It sure isn’t for the weather or the political climate…. I don’t know much about the quality of life for the older folks here. Eons ago, when my husband was working in insurance, there was a new kind of insurance marketed to folks– extended care insurance (I think that’s what it was called). It was insurance for when you had to go into a nursing home. It was REALLY popular at the time.

But senior citizenry for me is a long way off. If I make it that long. Because I have to get through the income taxes first…. *sigh*

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BYOS: Buy Your Own Sofas

April 4, 2011

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Thinking about it makes me very queasy, but the topic must be covered. Bedbugs. *gag* *wretch* And I thought fleas were bad.

Bedbugs are making a comeback, especially in New York. Bedbugs were practically wiped out from the industrialized nations thanks to DDT. But DDT is now banned, and critters like malaria-bearing mosquitoes and bedbugs are coming back. The nasty disgusting creatures are spreading like wildfire in schools, hotels, even lawyer’s offices. YUK!!!!

I am a bit of a bug-o-phobe. I hate bugs, HATE the disgusting, dirty little creatures. The family is on quarantine— that is, no more thrift store clothing, and no more curbside or hand-me-down furniture. Not unless it’s fumigated!

We have some very nice furniture, some are pretty hand-me-downs from family members. But the sofas are much too large for my living room (which is crammed with desks and office equipment). We are thinking about downgrading to a smaller living room set. And to be honest, I’m very hesitant to take another hand-me-down, just because of bedbugs. Oh it would be horrible to have them, horrible! So no more second-hand anything. I’m going to have to be a very savvy shopper and get my discounts from the retail or online stores and etc. I’m not taking any chances.

How about you? Has news about bedbugs changed the way you do things? I am not 100% sure that bedbugs have been discovered in my county, but I don’t live dangerously. I’m allergic to fleas and God forbid a nasty bedbug touches my skin! From now on it’s BYOS– Buy Your Own Sofa!

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Find the Kitty Friday 4/01

April 1, 2011

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FTK4.01

šŸ˜€

Unfortunately, I was a little too late with the camera. Thirty seconds previous to this moment, she had hopped in the laundry and nestled underneath the warm clothes. Then, one of the kids moved a sock and she started to wriggle out.

She sure likes laundry day. šŸ™‚

Happy weekend, everyone!

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Two Year Anniversary for Memory Foam…

April 1, 2011

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I always wanted one of those *real* memory foam mattresses. I’d endured the spring coil for many decades before the darling husband shelled out the big bucks for a memory foam. We got a Tempurpedic on sale, and I did a review shortly after. It remains one of my most popular blog posts, surprisingly.

We’ve had ours for almost two years now! Has it really been that long?! But I’m happy to say that it’s still very, very nice. And SO comfortable.

Because of herniated spinal disks and sciatica, I was in a lot of pain with the regular spring coil bed. Since we have had a memory foam mattress, I have not had one “big” bout of back problems. So I’m very partial to the memory foam. šŸ™‚

What really stinks is the foundation. We got a generic brand name foundation for the set, and after 6 months, it started squeaking like crazy. Apparently, the foundation is constructed of cardboard and plastic ribbing! Very cheap. We’ve replaced the foundation set every 6 months for 18 months (warranty) until the furniture store said they wouldn’t replace the foundation anymore, and we’d have to buy a new set. :-p I won’t get into how much that totally stinks. I guess I could sue them for breach or warranty, perhaps…. šŸ™

Anyway. The memory foam mattress itself is outstanding. After two years, here are some things I’ve learned.

The memory foam mattress IS a little hot. It’s constructed of some kind of plastic something or other, and therefore retains heat very well. I am a hot person by nature, so I get overheated sometimes. It’s not blistering hot as some reviewers would have you believe, but it’s a pretty toasty mattress in the winter, and warm in the summer. On the plus side, if you live in a cold climate or your house is cold all winter, this is THE mattress to get.

Waiting for Tooth Fairy

Livvy loves the mattress

 

The complete bed set sits lower than the average bed. So you drop into it at night and crawl up out of it in the morning. I’d rather have a higher bed. Someday, I’m going to build a bed frame out of solid lumber. This will raise the bed and replace that lousy, squeaky foundation.

The memory foam does soften over time. When we first got it, it was firm. It’s loosened a little. It’s still very comfortable, but it is softer. Also, when it’s cold, the bed is firmer, and when it’s warm, the bed relaxes. The material is sensitive to temperatures.

The mattress is extremely heavy. VERY heavy. It takes two guys to haul it up the stairs, and even then, I wondered if they were going to spill back down again….

Overall, I recommend the memory foam mattress. You can no doubt get much better deals online than retail. It was expensive, retail. You cannot use regular box springs with the memory foam, though– it must have a solid foundation. I recommend you stay far away from the generic no-brand labels and stick with the big names for the foundation. Or, build your own solid wood bed frame.

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