Monthly Archives: May 2013

Fielding balls in the backyard

Behind the house where I grew up was a tennis court. It belonged to a neighbor whose extensive property included several acres behind our house. We didn’t have much of a backyard; it abutted a low stone wall behind which was a standard, neighbor-separating wooden fence.  Towering above that fence was a practice backboard. Most of the year, weather permitting, we’d hear either the soft plop of tennis balls being hit back and forth on the clay court, or the bang, bang, bang, of a solo player practicing on the backboard.

Sometimes there’d be a “Darn!” and a ball would fly over the fence. Sometimes it would be the other way around. Then, from the kitchen window, we’d watch someone climb over the stone wall, drop into the yard, take a quick look around, scrabble through the pachysandra and hop back over the way they’d come.

If we were outside at the time, and heard or witnessed the event, we’d call, “Hang on,” and send the ball flying back over. However, there were times when we’d be out sun-bathing, or reading, or otherwise hanging out, and we’d be oblivious to the advent of the ball and surprised by the appearance of the tennis player. The surprise was often mutual and we’d watch the ball chaser’s visage change from slightly annoyed to hang-dog when they discovered that they were not alone in our yard either. I never minded these intrusions. In fact, I quite enjoyed them.

Some people guard their privacy. I am not one of them. As I write this I am sitting on my front porch, listening to the bees in the wisteria and keeping an eye on the world as it wanders by; willing it to wander by. If I’m lucky, someone will notice me and wave hello, or venture up to the porch for a chat. If I didn’t want to be bothered I’d stay in my office upstairs, or enjoy the weather on my back porch where, until recently, I would have had all the privacy anyone could want.

We have new neighbors on the far side of our backyard fence, a lovely young family with two small children. We’ve had several neighborly interactions with them and last weekend they invited us, via text message, to come to a barbecue to celebrate their little boy’s first birthday. Feeling a little awkward and shy, we ventured over. Most of the guests were visiting family members from New York and Pennsylvania, including an eight-year-old whose batting prowess was such that several balls had to be retrieved from other neighbor’s yards during the course of the party.

The next day, while I was sitting on my front porch, one of the out-of-town relatives and his eight-year-old appeared from behind my house and strolled down the side, looking for a lost ball. I was surprised, but not unhappily. I joined them in their search, even introduced them to another neighbor so we could look in their yard, too, but we couldn’t find it. Later, when I told my daughter this story, she said, “Oh, they found it.” She had just watched the new neighbor cross our backyard to retrieve it.

Now that I’ve shared this snippet of my life, it occurs to me that it’s less about the relative merits of privacy than it is an admission of how much I like company, no matter where it comes from, or how it gets here—as long as no windows are broken in the process.


Appealing for a curb

Every winter, the snow plows destroy the front edge of our lawn. Some years are worse than others. The damage this past winter was particularly egregious. Maybe that’s because this was the winter that my husband gave up trying to protect said lawn from said plows. In the past he’s planted white metal rods tipped with a bit of fluorescent paint, at the edge of the lawn to telegraph to the snow plow drivers that there was, indeed, a lawn under the snow. It worked, nominally, but there was still a mess to clean up every spring.

If it was just a question of re-seeding, Andrew might have hung in there, but even that turns into the project from hell once you factor in the need to water twice a day. And the reality is, re-seeding alone doesn’t do the trick, because instead of sloping gently down to meet the asphalt, there’s a shorn off strip of lawn that is several inches high. How do you plant grass seed on a vertical expanse?

Here’s a picture of this year’s mess.


I decided enough was enough and called the town to ask them to put in a curb at our address. The Town Engineer told me that they would love to put in a curb—the next time road work was being done on my street. However, that work is scheduled three years in advance and my road is not on the plan, nor is it likely to get on the next three-year plan either.

“We’d be happy if you’d put in a curb yourself,” he said, “as long as you use one of our authorized contractors.”

Why would the town like me to put in a curb? Because then I would be beautifying their property. It seems that we don’t actually own the bit of lawn that meets the road. I’m not sure what the exact measurement of the easement is (I don’t even know if I’m using the word easement correctly), but I do know that the town insists that the curb be set much further back towards the house than where the lawn meets the road today.

This will not be an inexpensive job. Aside from putting in the curb itself, the road will have to be patched to connect it to the new curb. I asked the Town Engineer, “If we do it ourselves, will the town pay for putting down new road?”

“I doubt it,” he said. Really? I know we don’t own the road. If the town is dictating how the job must be done, doesn’t it seem fair that they put some skin in the game? I ask that knowing full well that they have us by the proverbial short you-know-whats. If we want to keep our property from being damaged annually by the snow plows, we need to put our money where their maws go.

We’ve arranged to have the work done and I’ll be dogging the contractor every step of the way to make sure we don’t give up one iota of lawn that we don’t absolutely have to, and in the end, I’m sure it will be a massive improvement over what you see above. Our pretty property deserves a more appealing curb.


But I’m going to ask the contractor to bill separately for the road work so I can continue the discussion with the town. I know times are tough, and the town doesn’t have spare money, but there’s a principle at stake here. If this is something they’d pay for if they were working in the neighborhood, don’t you think they should reimburse us? Please let me know before I make a fool of myself tilting at a windmill.

My nemesis, the dandelion

Each year, in the spring, a day arrives when I realize I cannot wait one more minute to replace the storm door with a screen. I act spontaneously, forgetting that it will trigger an emotional domino effect that will drive me to put in all the screens—which can’t be done until the windows are washed. If I stopped to count the windows I’d have to take a nap before I began, so instead I treat each room as a discrete project. I retrieve the screens from the basement, wipe off the windowsills, wash the windows (inside and out), and finally, put up the screens. In this fashion, one by one, each room is readied for the new season.

Once the windows have been dealt with, I turn my attention to the yard. Andrew is the gardener. It is entirely thanks to him that we have such lovely landscaping. Other than mowing, I have only one more lawn-related job that generally begins after the forsythia bloom and the windows have been washed; dandelion removal.

Despite the fact that we have lovely gardens, the lawn itself is not in very good shape. There is an awful lot growing that can’t be called grass no matter how you stretch the definition. Given the woeful state of the lawn, one might find it a bit odd that I’m compelled to root out dandelions while ignoring other weed-like things. But it’s not odd at all. I do it because (to mangle an Arabic proverb) the enemy of my father is my enemy.

My father is a skilled and dedicated dandelion hunter. He goes after them with a vengeance and even though he tsk-tsks each time he sees one, the gleam in his eye belies his dismay. For a man who is constantly at war with crab grass and chinch bugs, dandelions offer him some respite, because he knows he can defeat them. When I was old enough to help, he taught me how to pry them out of the ground without destroying the lawn. If I pulled one up and left the root behind he would shake his head and I felt the weight of his disapproval.

You have to be vigilant to rid a lawn of dandelions. It is imperative that you get rid of them before their bright yellow flowers turn into puffballs of doom. The first foray into the yard to hunt dandelions is exhausting. No matter how good a job I did the year before, dozens of them pop up each spring. And while the initial pass is satisfying, it is always a disappointing surprise to look out the window the next day to see more of the bright yellow flowers dotting the lawn. Over the course of a week or two, though, the job is mostly done. I know that for the next few weeks I’ll spot one or two as I’m mowing, but they’ll be easily dispatched.

It is our misfortune that my father’s lawn never suffered from a mushroom problem. They are ugly, vaguely disgusting things without even a pretty color to redeem them. Andrew has studied the problem a bit, but has not yet found a way to defeat them. When mushroom season arrives, I do my best to ignore them. After all, my work is done. The dandelions are gone.