Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

Sarah: Get on Board! December 10, 2013

Keith is in graduate school.  I’m hoping that these long years and many dollars of investment into an engineering degree will pay off.  As a reward for me putting up with late homework nights and student loans, Keith has promised that, when he’s finished with school, I can do anything I want.  I’m thinking  that lounging with books and wine is the way to go.  Friends tell me that I would be bored within a week.  I think I could do it for at least a year or two.


But I digress.

How I feel about Colorado winters.  Yes, even if I'm indoors.

How I feel about Colorado winters. Yes, even if I’m indoors.


The upside of Keith being in graduate school is that we live in Fort Collins, which is a pretty awesome town in most ways–other than the loud parties outside our bedroom window.  But again, I digress.


Fort Collins is also in Colorado, which is a rather cold, mountainous state, especially if you’re a gal from the South.  I make do, though.  I put on long-johns in November and don’t take them off until April.  I snuggle under blankets.  I make a lot of hot chocolate.  And I blast the heater anytime I drive around town.


Until the heater started pouring smoke two weeks ago.


And then this happened.

Our poor pick-up truck, Steady Freddy, is so cold he's turned blue!

Our poor pick-up truck, Steady Freddy, is so cold he’s turned blue!

You might ask why we haven’t repaired the truck heater.  Graduate school, remember?


Well, all that snow was enough to give me second thoughts, so I looked up a bus timetable.  It turns out that I can get to work in 20 minutes by bus.  When I added up the time I would have spent shoveling snow off the truck, driving s-l-o-w-l-y to work to avoid skidding, parking the truck, and then walking to my building, I really come out about the same.


So I tried it last week.  Aaaaaand I’m sold.  Not only does someone else do the driving while I drink my coffee and try to wake up, the bus has HEAT.  Bonus: I feel like I’m back in Europe where almost everyone commutes by mass transit.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.21.32 PM

Bus map, Fort Collins, CO (from the website)


I started wondering why I hadn’t done this months ago!  I think Americans have a bias against public transit.  I know, I know.  I’m lucky to live in a place that is close to a bus route.  And yet…I wonder how often there are actually other options (whether carpool or vanpool or bus or metro or bike), but we get so attached to the convenience of our cars that we forget there’s another way.  I admit it.  It took a massive inconvenience before I looked for something different.


Even if the car fairy comes tonight and leaves us a new vehicle (or a new heater), I think I’ll stay on board with the bus.  After all, where else can you get in great people-watching time at 6:30 a.m.?


Sarah: Why the Neighbors Hate Me May 31, 2013

I’m in the process of killing our grass, bit by bit.  It started last summer when we moved in.  I just didn’t water it.

It was slightly embarrassing.  I have to admit that just a little part of me does care what the neighbors think (especially since we’d just moved in and I hadn’t yet had the chance to make a first impression of any kind).

The yard, admittedly, was nothing to boast of when we bought the house.  In fact, it looked like this (and keep in mind this is the real estate photo, so it’s taken in the best possible light):


It looked even worse by the end of the summer.  My embarrassment was somewhat assuaged by realizing that not going to the trouble of watering the lawn also meant that I didn’t have to spend time mowing dead grass.

The first step this spring to re-landscaping was to get rid of the lawn once and for all–or at least to get rid of the hardy bits of lawn which miraculously came back in spite of my best efforts last summer.

Why kill the lawn, you ask?

Well, I could talk about the whole Food Not Lawns movement, but it’s really only in the back yard that we’re growing vegetables because we can’t possibly keep up with a half acre (front and back combined) of garden.  We had to do something else in the front.

A scientist friend of mine points out that lawns aren’t really as bad as people sometimes think because at least they lower the ambient temperature around the house and help retain moisture.  She’s right.  But think of all the other things that go into lawn maintenance: mowing (usually with fossil-fuel-driven mowers), fertilizing (often with chemicals), watering (with a precious resource), and weed-eating around the edges (frequently with a tool that uses electricity).

So the lawn had to go.

Step 1: collect newspapers (if you don’t get your own newspaper, I highly recommend taking the ones that are rotting in people’s driveways–we found the Denver Post to offer an abundance of pages for use).

Step 2: spread the paper out on your grass 6-8 layers thick over your grass (just do it by sections–I especially enjoyed using the lawn and garden section for this project).

Step 3: heap mulch or straw over top, several inches thick (Fort Collins offers free mulch at The Gardens on Spring Creek or sometimes at the recycling center at Riverside & Prospect–check with your city government or local botanical gardens to see if your city offers the same).

Step 4: let the lawn die a slow, painful death under the newspaper and mulch layers.

Step 5: if you want to plant shrubs, perennials, succulents, or native grasses the following year, you can just mulch all the newspaper into the ground–it composts itself!

Do the neighbors still hate us?  We’re not sure, but the yard is looking now like a work in progress instead of a fire hazard, so we’re hoping that our neighborhood standing will be redeemed.


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