Bye Bye, Weed Trees

In the wake of last week’s post showing an in-depth look at the sorry state of our backyard, I’m happy to report on some progress made on one of the things we wanted to tackle back there — namely, these scraggly “weed trees” growing along the back fence:

Back Fence And Alley

Due to the way they were just sort of growing out of control there, and had a distinctly weedy and overgrown look even under the best of circumstances, we knew we wanted to get rid of them. Here’s a closer view showing the three separate trunks sprouting up from the mess of bricks and cinderblocks back there:

Weedy Tree Closeup

This is the part where a good home and garden blogger would talk about their experiences and tips for chopping down scraggly little weed trees, but we actually didn’t tackle these trees ourselves — our next-door neighbor volunteered to remove them, both as a sweet neighborly gesture and to use the wood in his wood-burning stove. It was a win-win arrangement, and after giving the go-ahead, we weren’t even there when he came back to chop them down and help himself to the wood.

It was like a magic trick: now you see ’em, now you don’t. Here’s what the back fence looks like with those scraggly weed trees gone:

Backyard Without Weed Tree

Much better, right? And since these photos were taken over a week ago, things have started to green up quite a bit more in our backyard, especially in the aftermath of all that rain we got.

There’s still obviously a lot on the to-do list, like upgrading the fence and dealing with those random bricks and blocks, but it feels good to see progress happening back here. And now that we’re heading in to another weekend, we’ll see if we can keep the progress moving steadily along — stay tuned for the next exciting installment of the backyard saga!

In the meantime, have you ever had a neighbor volunteer to chop down unwanted trees in order to claim the wood? Alternatively, if you’ve chopped down any little trees yourself lately, feel free to share any stories or tips!

Big Bouncy Ball, And Other 18-Month Adventures

Lillian turned 18 months old yesterday — it’s so hard to believe she’s getting closer to two than to one! So for today’s post, I thought it would be nice to share some of what we’ve been up to lately, starting with the fun we’ve been having outdoors since it’s (finally) started getting warmer around here.

Toddler With Bouncy Ball

We picked up this gigantic pink bouncy ball from Wal-Mart for $3.00, and Lillian was in heaven. Look at the size of that thing — almost as big as she is! She mostly ran around while holding it, and occasionally set it down to test out its springiness.

Toddler With Giant Pink Bouncy Ball

We’ve been having lots of fun outside. Lillian loves just independently running down the sidewalk, as far as we’ll let her go — with us following closely behind, of course. She’s gone almost entirely around the block without being picked up or getting tired, and is endlessly fascinated by the random little things she finds on the ground. Pebbles, twigs, flower buds, pinecones. One time she picked up a piece of bark and sweetly handed it to me, and any time I “accidentally” dropped it, she’d make sure to pick it up and hand it to me again!

Looking at something interesting out in the big, big world.

Looking at something interesting out in the big, big world.

Sometimes when we’re outside and we see one of the neighbors’ dogs, she’ll make woofing noises at them, which is really cute, and she gets all excited at the sight of birds and squirrels. She points at everything these days, and sometimes says “what” or “whatsat” while pointing out something particularly interesting, leading us to say all kinds of new words that I’m sure she’s soaking up like a sponge, even if she doesn’t repeat them right away.

Speaking of going places, we’ve finally reached that wonderful stage where we can go to a restaurant and order Lillian a meal from the kid’s menu rather than lugging along bottles and/or baby food. I suppose we’ve technically been at this stage for a while, since she’s been eating real adult foods for months now, but we don’t eat out very much and it feels like a somewhat recent revelation.

Sitting at the table with a sippy cup at a local family restaurant.

Sitting at the table with a sippy cup at a local family restaurant.

Taking her out to restaurants has been a complete pleasure so far — she’ll sit at the table for the entire meal without getting too fussy, and eat her food and drink her milk and exercise her superpowered utensil-using abilities. (Even when we order finger foods, like a side of french fries, she’ll try to eat them with a fork.)

Not that everything is completely perfect 100% of the time — we’ve weathered the occasional toddler tantrum, like that memorable incident where we wouldn’t let Lillian run freely through the Ikea warehouse like it was the world’s biggest indoor playground. But in general this phase of toddlerhood has been smooth sailing and loads of fun — it’ll be interesting to see how things progress over the coming months!

And that’s the latest update on our adventures in Toddler-Land so far. Check back tomorrow for an update on the progress we’ve been making on the backyard!

Flooding In Chicago

Hurricanes, tornados, droughts, blizzards — it seems like there have been so many severe weather events in the news in recent times. And every time there was rough weather going on in some distant part of the country, I’d find myself thinking, “it’s only a matter of time before something hits Chicago.”

Starting last night, severe weather came to Chicago in the form of heavy rains and widespread flooding. I was a bit slow to catch on — I woke up this morning and got showered and dressed like usual, without looking outside or turning on the news. And then we got a call from Lillian’s daycare saying they were flooded and had to close. (“Well snausages,” Joe said.)

We called my mom to see if she could watch Lillian for the day, and that was when I heard about the highway closures. It seemed like pretty much all of them had some kind of flood-related disruption except for the one I take to work — which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on whether one prefers to be a good employee or a hookie-playing slacker. This was the scene out front as I was leaving in the morning:

Flooded Lawn, Chicago 2013

The ground was so saturated that water was just standing on the lawn, but as the (slightly blurry) photo above shows, the streets themselves were good and drained. And happily, our basement didn’t flood — we had some seepage down there, just enough to get the floor wet, but it had already mostly drained by the time I went down to take a look this morning.

Surprisingly, though, we did have some water come in in an unexpected location — in the dining room of all places. Nothing severe, but you can see the evidence that a bit of water trickled all the way down the wall:

Water Leaking Down Wall

Upon investigation it didn’t seem like there was anything major going on in the attic, but this is definitely something we’ll want to look into further — based on the location, we think it might be related to where the chimney attaches to the roof.

All in all though, considering that this is the worst flooding our city has had in years, and the governor has declared a state of emergency, and the guys on the radio called it “almost biblical,” it was a huge relief that we got off so easy, with just some minor dampness in a few places.

Just to give an idea what was going on elsewhere in the city, though, I wanted to share a few things I found while browsing the Chicago section of Reddit this evening. For instance, a view of the Kennedy expressway into downtown flooded so badly as to be almost impassible:

Image from here.

Image from here.

Or this view of a guy paddling some kind of canoe right by Harlem Irving Plaza, a mall where we sometimes do some of our shopping:

Image from here.

Image from here.

Or perhaps craziest of all, this massive sinkhole that opened up on the south side and swallowed three cars (the white one on the right eventually falls in, as this video shows):

Image from here.

Image from here.

So that’s the scoop on the most severe weather-related thing that’s happened around here in quite a while, even if we (luckily) weren’t really in the thick of it.

What about you guys? Any severe storms rolling through your area lately? Any midwest folks feeling the effects of this flooding situation? Feel free to share in the comments.

The State Of The Backyard, April 2013

Shortly after we bought our house, I wrote a post featuring a “virtual tour” of the exterior and yard (which can be found here). All of the photos from that post were taken in June of 2011, before we’d moved in or done anything with the yard. And now, almost two years later… we’re moved in, and finally unpacked the last of the moving boxes, but still haven’t done much of anything with the yard.

This summer, I’m hoping we can change that — especially now that Lillian is running around on two feet, and it’s starting to feel like more of a priority to make some improvements to the yard (and backyard especially) for her to play in. So for today’s post, I wanted to do a quick review of the current state of the backyard, with updated photos for the first time since summer 2011, and talk a little about some changes we’d like to make.

Before getting into the photos, though, I’ll repeat that virtually nothing has changed — and to the extent that anything has changed, it’s in the direction of looking shabbier. But I think the biggest difference with these photos (taken within the past week or two) is that they still have the “winter” look, whereas the last batch was taken in the early stages of summer when everything was lush and freshly green.

So to start off, here is a view of the backyard looking toward the garage:

Back Of The Garage

It wasn’t until looking at this picture that I realized that random little American flag has just been sitting there in the flower box, lopsided and ignored, for almost two years. Yikes! It’s been relocated to the inside of the garage now. It should make a good manly garage decoration in there, right?

Speaking of the flower boxes, those largely-ignored red things beneath the garage windows could use some love and attention as well — it would be nice to actually plant some flowers in them this summer, and maybe give them a fresh coat of paint since they’re starting to look pretty dull and faded.

Moving further toward the back of the backyard, here’s a view showing the fence and gate, and the alley behind it:

Back Fence And Alley

The chain link fence means we get a good view of the alley and its garbage cans, and anyone walking or driving past can easily see into our yard. Upgrading this chain link fence to a 6-foot privacy fence (similar to the ones you can see across the alley in the photo above) would go a long way toward making the yard feel more private, and I think it’s one of the biggest things I’m hoping to accomplish with the yard this summer.

The other thing you’ll notice about the photo above are those three scraggly-looking tree things — believe it or not, they’ve about doubled in size since the original tour of the yard, and since they’re what some people would call “weed trees,” we decided that they had to go. The good news is that some progress has actually been made on that front already — more details to be posted shortly!

Turning back from the fence toward the garage, this next photo shows a better view of the side of the garage with its window box, and the ground in front of it:

Side Of The Garage

The flowerbed planting area along the garage is bordered off by big, dull cinderblock brick things, which would be nice to upgrade to a more decorative-looking brick or stone border. But really if we can just keep this area from getting overrun with weeds this summer, I’ll consider it a victory!

Moving on toward the back of the house:

Back Of The House

I’m not sure how clear it is from the photo above, but the area closest to the house on the right side isn’t grass, but rather what used to be a patch of some kind of out-of-control viney plant. I raked up a lot of it last fall, so it looks pretty bare now, and it would be nice if we could make it stay gone.

Also, one of the biggest shortcomings of the backyard (aside from the fishbowl feeling you get when looking out toward the alley) is the lack of any kind of lawn furniture or patio for hanging out outdoors. That area along the house seems like a good candidate for such a space — though we’re probably getting into unrealistically ambitious pie-in-the-sky territory when words like “patio” start to come up.

This next photo shows the storage space under the mudroom, right along the basement stairs:

Unsightly Storage Area By Basement

Kind of an unsightly junk pile, I know. And that rusty round thing is our dearly departed hose reel, which fell off the house last summer. I don’t know why we stashed it here — maybe out of hope that it could be repaired, though that doesn’t seem likely. It was very old and rusty.

While it might seem like the best solution to this junk-filled eyesore is just “get rid of the junk,” this is such a convenient storage area for stashing small to mid-size outdoor tools and supplies. I think it would be really nice to figure out a way we can close it off with a lattice or something, which would also serve the purpose of keeping Lillian from trying to randomly wander back there.

And finally, here’s a view of that awkwardly-placed rose bush right up along the fence:

Rose Bush Next To Fence

It definitely looks different when it’s not in full bloom like it was in the original backyard tour. We’ve been thinking it might be nice to try to transplant this guy to another location (maybe even the front yard?) both due to the awkward placement along the fence and the fact that it’s covered in thorns, which doesn’t seem like the most toddler-friendly thing to have lying around if we’re hoping to spend a lot of time hanging out in the backyard this summer.

Anyway, that’s the state of the backyard as of April 2013! Based on these photos it seems like we really have our work cut out for us, so hopefully it’ll serve as some good motivation, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what we can do with it over the coming months.

What about you guys? Any big plans for your outdoor spaces this summer?

Early Springtime Buds And Blooms

Despite the tendency of our local retailers to behave as though summer starts in February, winter here in Chicago has a way of lingering on and on, long past the point where it’s welcome. But finally, over the past week or so, it’s been getting a little more noticeably spring-like around here. We’ve been getting a ton of rain (April showers!) and this past weekend was beautiful, making it up to almost 70 degrees on Saturday.

So even though we haven’t quite reached that critical mass of “everything is turning green” just yet, for today’s post I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the sprouts and even blooms that have started popping up around here.

It actually started almost three weeks ago, on March 22, when I spotted this first little green sprout poking out of the ground in front of our house:

First Spring Sprout

They were actually forecasting a bit of snow after that, which made me worry for the little sprout! But luckily the snow never materialized and the intrepid little sprout has continued to grow in the weeks since.

Then, on March 30, I was shocked to go out into our backyard and see these yellow flowers blooming:

Yellow Ground Flowers

From a distance I thought they were dandelions, which made it all the more surprising to get closer and see that they were some kind of yellow petal flower growing along the ground. (This is in the back yard, on the side of the garage facing the house.)

One of the challenges I ran into with our (somewhat neglected) yard last summer was that there were flowers from the previous owners mixed in with weeds and other unauthorized plant life, all just sort of tangled together. Just before winter, when everything was already dead, I didn’t feel as many qualms about indiscriminately raking it all up so we could start fresh the next spring — and all I can say is it’s nice to see that these yellow flowers were more resilient than the weeds!

And then more recently, on April 6th, I snapped this photo of these guys coming up in the backyard, right near the house (around the corner from the back door):

Spring Flowers Sprouting

I think they might be daffodils, but I’ll confess that I didn’t really notice these before — we didn’t plant them, and there’s always been such a mess of overgrowth back here that I think everything just sort of blended in. It’s nice to see them coming up, though, and we’ll have to work a bit harder to keep this part of the yard tidier this summer!

And just to bring things full circle, here’s an updated photo (snapped yesterday morning) of that teeny little sprout from that first photo. It’s shaping up to be a hyacinth, and from the looks of it, it’ll be blooming any day now:

Growing Hyacinth With Dark Stem

Sorry for the poor quality, these were all taken with my phone — I’ll have to do a follow-up post with some fancy-camera pictures once they finally bloom!

Anyway, that concludes the recap of the springtime growth spotted around our yard so far this year. To anyone reading, how’s spring coming along in your neck of the woods?