Suburban Pioneers

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

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.


Lauren: Chickens October 2, 2012

Filed under: Chickens — lkcook20 @ 3:42 pm
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I want chickens. Bad. I hear they make great entertainment–and need I even mention. . . Fresh eggs!

I would love to be able to walk into my backyard and pick up a freshly-laid egg. And clean it off, of course, because apparently they don’t come out looking like they do in the grocery store. I don’t want to get too graphic, but if you are unschooled in chicken anatomy (like I was), let me share what I learned: the great manure chickens produce doesn’t have a separate exit ramp. . .

A year ago backyard chickens weren’t a possibility for us since we live in a small city. But the urban farm movement is surging and seven hundred city residents signed a petition for bees and chickens in the city. The council people had to sit up and take note of that! Fast forward through paperwork, research, and bureaucracy stuff blah blah blah and the ordinance was up before council for a vote.

A couple of weeks before the meeting the city chickens and bees Facebook group  asked people to email their representative to express support. I wasn’t sure who my representative was so I emailed. . .  all of them. Can you tell how political I am? To their credit, they all emailed back asserting their support. The only details left to iron out were setback limits. This was an important factor since city lots tend to be small and deciding on something too high would make owning birds and bees an impossibility for most residents. After I emailed them all once, I wrote again to specify what setback number I thought was reasonable. But I gave myself away by telling them what street I lived on and they stopped emailing back since all but one weren’t responsible for fielding my fiery emails.

It felt so good to write to them. I gained a sense of pride in being passionate about an issue and doing something about it. I began to think, I could get into this local politics thing. I carried this buoyed feeling with me into the council chambers as I sat reverently on the hard wooden bench, hoping my mere presence showcased my zeal for the issue at hand.

But chickens and bees weren’t the first thing on the agenda that night. First the council had to listen to a traffic expert (who knew those even existed? He got my vote for having one of the most boring jobs on earth). He gave his findings on the traffic patterns of a particular street and what would happen if they added a turning lane here or there. The discussion droned on and on. I think my eyes started to water a little from boredom and probably sympathy for the guy’s wife for when she had to hear about his day at work. And then I knew–local politics weren’t for me. But I gave those six council people and the Mayor credit. They sat there and listened and even looked mildly interested. Not one of them (that I could see) pulled out a contraband book from their purse (or murse) and started reading it like I did, waiting for a more interesting topic to come up. (I recommend Major Pettigrew’s Last stand. It really kept me entertained).

Then I knew it was only the chickens and the bees that I cared about.

Long story short and a couple of weeks later, they passed the ordinance 6-0 so I’m on my way to owning backyard fowl.

Pickle is on the left, Turtle on the right

It’s too be determined how my rear neighbor (we’ll call her Wilma) will feel about them, if she will dislike them as much as she does Turtle and Pickle, our two bark-enthused pugs. I’ll keep you updated on my chicken endeavors (designing a coop, etc) as well as the Wilma drama sure to ensue.

Who knew dogs like to spoon?


Sarah: It’s been a long road… September 17, 2012

Filed under: Beginnings — suburbanpioneers @ 4:29 am
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Colorado, the place I get to call “home” for now

…and it runs from the South where I grew up, across an ocean, halfway across another continent and back, and west across the States, finally ending in Colorado, where I have found a temporary home.  I’m referring to the road that brought me to Suburban Pioneering.

Here is what I considered healthy food growing up. Note the distinct lack of anything pre-processed.


Mine was not what you would call an auspicious beginning.  Though my mom could (and claims she liked) to cook, she could also recognize a losing battle when she saw one.  When it was clear that my dad and sisters and I preferred macaroni and cheese to anything leafy or green, she hoisted the white flag and confined family dinners to spaghetti night (noodles generously topped with Prego) and taco night (all toppings stuffed into a pre-made hard taco shell).  I don’t think I’d ever eaten a bell pepper until my husband, who’s from California and considers pepper de rigueur at every meal, forced the experience upon me.


If you’ve ever lived in the South, you know that we Southerners like our “bought air” (as my grandmother called air conditioning).  A lot.  Most restaurants make it their goal to freeze the sweet tea in everyone’s glasses (saves on making ice).  We also like to drive.  We like our indoor malls (Chattanooga, TN, my hometown, boasts one of the larger ones in the South).  And we like fried things.  Fried chicken.  Fried pickles.  Fried Coke.  Fried Oreos.  I’m serious.  This passes for food.  If this intrigues you, by the way, you can find the recipe here:  All things considered, the South isn’t really a breeding ground for Suburban Pioneers.


Then I got married and went to Europe.  My husband, Keith, and I have a penchant for combining stressful life events (see upcoming later post about buying and remodeling a house while having our first child).  So, 6 weeks into our fledgling marriage, full of boundless optimism and naivety, we went to Slovakia to teach English.


Slovakia is that country next to Austria.

We lived in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital city.

“You mean like Czechoslovakia?” people ask.  Yes…sort of.  Only 20 years later than what they’re thinking, since the Czech Republic and Slovakia split amicably in the early ’90’s.  They are now two countries, though Slovakia’s more like the poor step-child, since the Czech Republic got more of the industry and commerce that had been built since the end of communism in 1989.


In any case, living in Slovakia helped us to make more sustainable lifestyle choices–namely because there weren’t any other choices.


We rode the bus everywhere.


There was no dryer in our apartment, so we hung all our wash to dry (see my upcoming post on the proper use of drying racks).


There was no air conditioning (we learned that, in Europe, when the temperature does happen to rise into the Fahrenheit 80’s or 90’s, people just strip down and loll about their apartments…or sunbathe nude, whichever strikes their fancy).


Our apartment also was only one room, so there was a lot less to heat.

our living room/bedroom/closet/study in the Bratislava apartment

our galley kitchen in the Bratislava apartment


And, though a tomato looks pretty much the same in any country, packaged goods do not.  For nine months of that year, I thought Slovaks made all their own soup because I couldn’t find any cans.  Turns out they just have packets of soup mix instead.  But I didn’t know that at the time, so I learned to cook from scratch.


It was easy to live making less of an impact.


And then we came back to the States.  It’s a lot more difficult to live as a Pioneer when you have a lot of choices.  And it takes a lot more self-discipline.  I’m not always good at it, I confess.  It’s easy to fall prey to the temptation to cut corners by buying paper plates for a cookout (though I draw the line at styrofoam!) or using saran wrap to cover those leftovers.


The one thing I can say is that my food choices, at least, fall more automatically into Pioneering ways.  Last time I tried to expedite the cooking process by buying some Campbell’s tomato soup, I couldn’t eat it.  No amount of spicing it up could conceal the sickly sweet taste of corn syrup.  There are some things that, once embraced, cannot be relinquished.


But overall, it’s a day-to-day challenge for me, in the midst of working and keeping the house (not very) clean and raising my daughter, to be as sustainable as I would like to be.  I don’t fool myself into thinking that I can save the world by washing out Ziplock bags or composting my kitchen waste.  But this is part of how I try to live faithfully and responsibly.  It’s about fostering an attitude of caring and attention.  It’s about at least noticing that there are choices out there.  This blog is one way of holding myself accountable to keep trying.  Keep trying, my friends, in spite of the mishaps…that’s all any of us—or many of us, for there are thousands of Suburban Pioneers out there trying to make more sustainable daily choices—can do.


Definition: sə-bərb-ən pī-ə-ˈnir September 16, 2012

Filed under: Beginnings — suburbanpioneers @ 8:56 pm
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According to Miriam Webster, a pioneer is:
a :a person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development

b : one of the first to settle in a territory

We like this definition for pioneer, particularly the part about opening a “new line of thought.”  We definitely don’t think we’re originators, but we hope to be part of a group that does help to open thought about the daily choices we make as middle class Americans.  We also mean “pioneer” in the sense of a homesteader, one who settles on land and cultivates it…in this case, one who settles on land and a house in the suburbs.

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