In the yard

Drew and Kevin make the most of a beautiful July evening. O'Fallon, Illinois, 2004

Drew and Kevin make the most of a beautiful August evening in O’Fallon, Illinois, 2004

“My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, ‘You’re tearing up the grass.’ ‘We’re not raising grass,’ Dad would reply. ‘We’re raising boys.'” — Harmon Killebrew

This is a perfect time of year for this quote.  The All-Star break is coming up, and many lawns in warmer regions are getting a bit of heat fatigue.  A lot of parents may be out in the yard playing fungo or catch with their kids who are aspiring athletes.  Now that the spring enthusiasm for having a nice-looking lawn has died down somewhat, maybe we can worry a bit less about tearing up the grass.

But no matter what time of year it is, I think Killebrew’s quote is worth taking to heart for all of us, even if we have no children living at home.  It’s great to garden and work outside, but if it becomes more important than letting people and pets enjoy our yard, it’s time to adjust priorities.

This year, I hope to convince Jeff that it’s just as important to spend time outside sipping tea and relaxing, as it is to mow the grass and edge the lawn and trim the shrubbery.  He simply doesn’t love sitting in a swing and reading as much as I do, but I’d like to have his company out there sometimes.  So I’m going to try to convince him to bring his Kiplinger magazine outside and sit with me some cool evenings before the weather turns cold again.

Killebrew probably grew up seeing the yard as a playing field, a place to have fun. That attitude apparently served him well.  I’m afraid Jeff sees our lawn mostly as something to take care of.  For me, it’s mostly something to sit and enjoy (although I admit that enjoyment is made possible by Jeff’s diligent custodial attitude).  Somewhere between Jeff’s conscientious care-taking and my lazy recreational temperament, there must be a happy medium.

How do you see your lawn and/or garden– as a chore, or a place to enjoy?  Do you spend as much time relaxing outdoors as you do working?  This week or sometime soon, if you are blessed with a cool evening, I hope you will make time to enjoy your home from the outside.

One year ago today:

You wouldn’t be ashamed



  1. HarryS

    Somewhere between Jeff’s conscientious care-taking and my lazy recreational temperament, there must be a happy medium.

    “Inside every problem, there is a solution”! 🙂

    • Exactly! Now, does this mean I should just chill out and be grateful that Jeff is such a worker? 😀

  2. Brian

    I loved today’s reflection. My wife and I bought a new house two weeks ago. As I read your blog I am sitting on my spacious back porch drinking coffee, listening to the songs of birds, feeling the cool breeze and communing with God. Inside, boxes and projects await – the back yard is my imperfect oasis. Thanks for sharing!

    • Brian, I am so happy you could connect with this. There is nothing more blissful than enjoying a lovely morning or evening just taking in the birds and breeze and green. Good luck with your new home! Having moved at least 10 times during our marriage, Jeff and I learned that the boxes and projects can wait, but moments like the one you describe won’t be sitting there waiting for whenever you have time for them (like those boxes will). 😀 I’m glad you were wise enough to enjoy your blessings in between all the tasks!

      • MaryAnn

        “I’m glad you were wise enough to enjoy your blessings in between all the tasks!”
        Well said, Julia!

        • Thank you. Some days it’s easier than others to find the time to do that.

  3. singleseatfighterpilot

    Isn’t Kiplinger just the Lawn & Garden magazine of the financial world?

    • Yes, it actually is! I think it’s a great magazine. I would advise most anyone to read it. Not every article will apply to every person or family, but there is a lot of practical explanation and advice there. Plus it’s very well done, friendly and interesting to read.

  4. I’m reading your blogs while my luggage sits in the bedroom waiting my attention…:)
    I had my smart phone and kindle with me as we traveled… I was too interested in the world around me to use them. 🙂

    • Merry, I don’t even have a smart phone, and have no plans to get one! I love my Kindle but like you, I would rather look around when I’m traveling. They do come in handy for reading at night, on planes or after Jeff goes to sleep. Over the years I got in the habit of unpacking a little at a time, and sometimes my suitcase will sit there for several days before I completely unpack everything. Once I take the dirty laundry out of it to be washed, I’m in no hurry to get to the rest. 😀

  5. Sheila

    Julia, we have spent much time outside this weekend, much of it putting up our 5 umbrellas and taking them down again with threats of rain so often. We had “company” here (in sleepy hollow) this weekend from North Carolina. It was Karla’s first trip back to Garden City without Russ but we really had a wonderful weekend. She stays busy with her RN job and has a son’s wedding to plan so she’s in a good place now. We laughed, talked so much, and really had good southern food (speckled butter beans with fried flounder, slaw, corn bread and sliced tomatoes). I just thought I’d throw that menu in for fun! 🙂 Love, Sheila

    • Oh my goodness Sheila, that’s almost cruel and unusual punishment to talk to me about speckled butter beans, corn bread and sliced tomatoes, my dream meal (Jeff will eat the flounder and slaw). Where does one get speckled butter beans nowadays? Do you buy them at a farmer’s market and shell your own? I can remember sitting around shelling them when I was a kid. I never minded because I so loved to eat them. My Granny used to fix them often. Yum!! One thing I started doing when I was on my own is adding cheddar cheese to the corn bread. As if it didn’t already have enough calories! I love skillet corn bread.

      • Sheila

        Julia, the brand is Pictsweet and it’s in the frozen foods section. You noticed that the speckled butter beans were the entree. I season with chicken broth and they’re so yummy! 🙂

        • Sheila, we have Pictsweet at the commissary, but I don’t remember ever, ever seeing speckled butter beans there. Maybe they have them at Kroger? I’ll have to go hunting for them there! I use broth to cook my brown rice, but I never thought of using it for butter beans – I will definitely try that. Trader Joe’s has some good all-natural broth that is fairly low in salt.

  6. Rene

    Summertime is porch time for me. I have my morning devotional/coffee/reading time in the morning. I’ve added late afternoon/evening reading time just this year. It’s not as nice as past years, as we had to get rid of the pepper tree earlier than we planned; the past few mornings though, I’ve noticed a mourning dove using the wood scraps that fill the hole in our yard to build a nest in the neighbor’s tree, which has somewhat staved off the guilt about the tree.

    • Aw, I’m sorry you had to part with your pepper tree. Jeff and I had to get rid of a few unsightly trees a few years back, but I still hated to part with them. Shade in the summertime is a wonderful thing. I’m glad the dove is able to benefit from your loss. Are you going to plant anything in its place?

      • Rene

        The tree was beautiful, but it was attempting to take down the house (it had pretty much succeeded with the lawn). We have a landscaper friend drawing up a plan for the whole yard. We want to go water-wise due to the drought, but we’ll have to see what he comes up with.

        • Yes, that’s the downside of these beautiful trees. In CA we had a gorgeous willow in our back yard, and another in our front yard. Both created lovely views out our dining room and living room windows, but landscapers repeatedly advised our landlady to get rid of them because they were too close to the home and the roots were inevitably going to cause problems with the foundation or pipes or whatever. She knew how I loved them, so she agreed to leave them in place until we moved. I guess they are long gone now. Water-wise is the way to go, especially if you live in a climate where watering the lawn is restricted. In Texas there were only two days per week on which we could water, and then only in the morning or evening. I think there were times in CA when we were restricted too. Here in Virginia we haven’t had that problem so far, since this is a very watery part of the world!

          • Rene

            We’ve read a couple of articles about the worst trees to plant near homes, we’re not sure what’s left worth planting. Maybe Saguaro cactus.

            • Well, if you plant a Saguaro in your yard, you would be the first person I know who has one! I think animals can nest in them, can’t they? Can you grow fruit trees? Our neighbor in Northern CA had some and he let us eat all the fruit. I don’t think they caused any problems. He didn’t want any of the fruit, I guess he just liked the way they looked. The lemon trees were my favorites.

              • Rene

                Yes, I believe when I did my 5th grade state report on AZ, I learned about the “cactus wren;” I would love to have citrus trees, I wonder how they are water/root-wise. I’ll have to bring that up to the landscaper.

                • I can’t remember how often our neighbor watered his. The climate was typically Californian; NO rain for 8 months of the year, so he must have watered them at least 2-3 times per week? I can’t imagine citrus trees not needing water. I do think they probably are not problematic as far as roots go, because I was always seeing people advise homeowners to plant them as good landscape trees out there. That must be why our neighbor had them; he certainly didn’t take any of the fruit, which left the whole crop for us to enjoy!

  7. raynard

    Julia if my memory serves me correct the Arthur you mentioned played for the Twins during the 70s in the American League. I remember watching his former teammate also Rod Carew .The last house In NJ I lived in had two acres of grass for me to was a all day job.But the yard looked great rose bushes and all.Do I miss all that? Not really but I admire people who take pride in their yard

    • Raynard, we actually met Rod Carew and got his autograph while he was the hitting coach for the Anaheim Angels. Somewhere I still have it. I think he is still the Twin’s all time highest lifetime batting average. Two acres of grass would be a lot to cut, I hope you had a riding lawn mower! We only have about 3/4 of an acre at York but Jeff has always refused to get a riding lawn mower and said that he likes to use a push mower. Even before he was diagnosed with cancer I kept telling him that I was going to buy him a riding mower for his retirement gift. Maybe he will actually like to have one now. He hopes to go back to doing the mowing himself next year. He might tell those who dread it that it’s a blessing to be well enough to do it. I don’t think I would miss it either, but I’m glad he does, I think it’s a good sign; one more reason he wants to get well.

  8. kjyaccino

    Ohhh, I miss that yard — having a lawn where I can safely tread barefoot! Our former house is up for sale right now; Sarah said I should “buy it back”! Summer evenings are fun, altho we tend to head to the pool, instead of the yard this time of year. Thanks for sharing the photo and memory of Kevin & Drew; I hadn’t remembered that pictures.

    • Hmmm, “safely tread barefoot” made me wonder if you are referring to those ever-present red ants we used to deal with while we lived in San Antonio? The think I liked least about living there was not being able to enjoy being out in the evenings, because it would stay so hot and the insects would eat me alive. When I see that photo of your yard, I don’t know if it’s memory or just imagination, but in my mind I always see Molly and Kayla there, eager to go running.

  9. LB

    I hope you can convince Jeff to come on out and relax with his magazine. Even if briefly 🙂
    Good luck!

    • Thank you LB, I’m hoping to have better luck when the first bit of autumn cool sets in. Jeff grew up without air conditioning and oddly, that makes him want it MORE now. For me, I have never liked a/c and so we’ve had the traditional thermostat wars over the years. Sometimes Matt can convince him to go outside and sit in the swing for their reading. So maybe there’s hope. 😀

  10. raynard

    Julia, I just noticed the share buttons and wanted to ask you. If you mind if I share your blogs with others on my FB page for encouragement ?

    • Raynard, I would be honored to have you share my blogs! Thank you.

  11. Michael

    We have a pretty big lawn – in four sections. It takes about an hour to mow all of it. I don’t like repetitive tasks and every time I mow I complain. Then my wife says,”Yea, but it is good exercise isn’t it?” I suppose. She also reminds me that a lawn is much easier to maintain than a perennial flower bed.
    My sunflowers are coming along nicely along with some wildflowers that I planted and can’t really identify.

    • Michael, Jeff would also tell you to give thanks that you are physically able to do the mowing. I think he really misses it, and still does yard work (pruning, clearing debris, etc.) as much as he can. He complains about it a bit but would never consider a lawn service until he got cancer. I would add, be thankful for that big yard! That’s one thing I didn’t like about living in Hawaii; I referred to our yard as “postage-stamp-size” and that wasn’t too much of an exaggeration. Jeff was in combat casualty medic training back on the mainland for 6 weeks while we were there, and I think that’s the only time in my life I’ve ever done the mowing, but thank goodness there was not much to it. I think starting the mower was my biggest challenge. If you take a photo of your wildflowers and send it to you local agricultural extension office, they can probably tell you what they are.

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        A six-week combat casualty training course — perhaps that was the source of your painting in my mind the visual image of field-grade officer, J.D., carrying a stretcher? It’s a little like Carlyle talking of being a crewmember on a TBF Avenger; or me talking about firing 2.75 Inch folding fin rockets. (Much more imagination, fueled by military training than substance.)

        • Eric, I think you are remembering the periodic “field training” the medical groups had to do, where they spend a few days camping out, eating MREs and dealing with simulated combat situations. (I used to refer to it as “playing M.A.S.H.“) He had to do this fairly regularly many years ago. There is a lot of stretcher-carrying that goes on in those! The combat casualty training was mostly in-hospital I think, in San Antonio. That’s where he learned to provide first aid to chest trauma and other injuries commonly seen in battle (the idea apparently being that, in an emergency situation where no doctor or nurse was available, a highly trained dentist would be better than the average bystander). Ideally, (if one could speak of any war situation as ‘ideal’) dentists mainly would be tasked with things they are trained to do (injuries to teeth and jaws, anesthesia, pain control etc.) but the military did do a lot of cross training for combat care. I remember explaining to a friend of ours who is a paramedic that Jeff had been taught how to place chest tubes. “Wow, you know how to do chest tubes?” he asked Jeff, who replied in his usual laconic manner, “Yes, but you would not want me to.” Seriously, I am grateful that he never had to use that training. In those years, we would never have imagined that our country would, before Jeff retired, be involved in a set of wars that stretched over a decade, and involved wounds very different than those sustained in the types of combat that were seen in Vietnam and Korea. I’m glad none of us knew what was coming.

  12. Michael

    Speckled butter beans?

    • Yes! I always thought they were really pretty before they were cooked, and delicious afterwards.
      See for yourself.

  13. Michael

    Yes health is another issue -taken for granted. I saw a lot of stroke patients yesterday at the hospital. Some younger than I with devastating whole body strokes. I remember the prayer often said in African American churches-“Lord-I am thankful I can move all my limbs.”
    The house above looks a lot like my son’s place in Canton. i.e yards- As he is a fireman with a fair amount off time- he has been talking about starting a lawn service on the side.

    • I too feel so thankful that I can move about freely, and that my joint pain, which seems to get a bit worse as I age, is still easily controlled by taking a Motrin or two. If your son does start a lawn service, I imagine he will have plenty of business during grass season.

  14. I love spending time outdoors year round: in my garden, the woods, or simply walking the neighborhood. I work in the garden, but its a labor of love so not really work in the tedious sense.

    That photo is amazing. I’m struck by all that open space.

    Lovely post, Julia.

    • Thank you Alys! I agree with you about garden work; it really does feel like “work” but only in the best sense. Even when it’s a long project, it’s so rewarding. Nothing at all like the stress of dealing with computer problems, paperwork pile-ups, etc. Kathy’s yard was really HUGE and beautiful. That was a perfect summer night, too.

      • I remember a few perfect summer nights: the weather, the camaraderie, everyone outside having fun. I loved those carefree days.

        • When I look back on such times, it all seems so simple that I realize I must not be remembering every detail. I’m glad it’s the happy things that stay with me.

          • It’s a gift from our minds, isn’t it?

            • Absolutely! A sign that we have wisdom inside that is not always obvious to us.

              • I’ve been caught flat footed a few times, when I realized my brain got there before my heart did. Sometimes vice versa.

  15. Michael

    NPR had a story today on Southern dialects and I missed most of it. A couple of idioms were included like -“walking in the tall cotton” and lost as a “ball in the high weeds.” I did catch this blip on most attractive accents however. And I did not realize there are at least 5 separate dialects in North Carolina. Fascinating stuff. Linguistics is pretty amazing. There was a quiz on speaking Tar Heel and of course I don’t know what a tar heel is. It is raining a fair amount today- almost 1.5 inches- another record, while record fires rage in Eastern Washington and the parsonage was burned to the ground at the United Methodist church in Pateros.

    • Michael, I had seen the headlines about the Washington fires and wondered whether you knew any of the people affected by it. I was sorry to hear about it. Re: accents, think there are countless dialects for many regions; it reminds me of the opening scenes of My Fair Lady where Henry Higgins is dissecting the speech of various people in London. When I went to college in Nashville, I began to realize how many different southern accents there are. I had always known our relatives in north Alabama sounded different that people we knew in Atlanta, but in Nashville I heard all kinds of different southern voices. I’m sure that’s true for New England and even, in a more subtle way, for places such as the midwest or northwest.

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