Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pictures of the Turf being… Murdered

Here are the photographic steps of the black plastic method I used to kill my turf:

Step 1) Mow the turf short. Grass grows from its tips so if it's short, it—and its roots—will die faster. Remember this turf murder is about effectively killing the turf’s roots so they won’t grow back, which will leave plenty of room for the gorgeous, drought tolerant plants that will be planted. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Step 2) Buy the biggest, thickest sheet of black plastic available. At The Home Depot I found one that was 10 feet x 25 feet and bought two rolls of it. The color is important because black will A) Prevent any sunlight from getting to the roots while simultaneously B) Warming in the sun’s heat, which will slowly burn the roots to death. Hey, murder is never pretty. 

Step 3) Lay the black plastic on the grass and pin it down with heavy things like bricks, wood or your heart, because having the entire front yard covered in plastic is a happiness killer to any homeowner.

And now the very hardest step:
Step 4) Wait. For six weeks.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Murdering... the Turf

Waking up to the sun shining, a mockingbird singing and children playing I said, “Today I’ll commit murder.”  Murder… my Turf, that is.

I had to kill my grass to save my soul. Or at least my water bills and/or sanity, whichever I had more of. (Answer: water bills.) My first step was finding a murder plan, so I grabbed an Agatha Christie mystery and began reading. With all the dozens of murders Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and Luke Fitzwilliam had solved, none of them detailed killing grass. I needed to speak to a professional turf murderer.

“Harold, I need help,” I said waving to my 86 year-old neighbor as he stood in his front yard. He swatted the air with a flick of his wrist while watching the lawn sprinklers douse the barren dirt patch in front of his house. His yard was so defunct it looked like a bomb had been dropped on it eighty-four times. “Wow,” I said with admiration. “Your lawn is super dead.”
“I didn’t kill it intentionally.”
“But when you don’t set out to kill something, you really kill it.”
“Since I washed my car, nothing will grow here,” he said kicking the dirt.
If I killed my lawn the same way he’d killed his, I wouldn’t be able to grow so much as a weed ever again. I took one step back, then another.
“You want my help killing your grass?” he asked.
“I can’t hear you—” I said sprinting to my front door and slamming it behind me.

Inside I raced to the internet. I found sites full of information on killing the lawn with a silver bullet. The method was so quick it took just 24 hours. What a difference one day could make! I read on—the silver bullet used chemicals. But then… weren’t these quick chemical options just like Harold’s murder method of car washing? This wasn’t a rhetorical question. It was the truth. And I answered it truthfully: Moving on!

I opened a new search window and googled “organic methods + killing grass”. Apparently vinegar was a popular method embraced by fellow turf killers but it entailed buying whole glasses, bottles and vats of vinegar to kill the grass. Full Disclosure: yes, I wanted to murder my grass but if I were going to buy vats of anything it would be water, whiskey or wine. Moving on!

I sought out wholesome organic methods of “taking care of the grass”, which is an Italian mob euphemism for “whacking the turf” and found one called “Lasagna”.  This method's recipe had my mouth watering: Lay six (6) layers of cardboard and/or newspapers on the grass then atop that, pile six (6) inches of organic mulch. Let it cook in the sun for two (2) months then with a shovel dig through the mulch and paper mess and plant your drought tolerant plants directly in the muck. Serves 1 hernia to the idiot doing this by herself.

Several things bothered me about this: 1) Where would I get enough cardboard to create six layers (?!) to cover my whole yard? 2) Who would do the back-breaking work of piling on the six inches of mulch to cover the entire lawn? (Answer: moi). And 3) A cooking time of two months?! Yes, I was lacking sanity but I wasn’t crazy! Moving on!

Approaching my wit’s end, which actually was a short journey considering how few wits I possessed to have even embarked on this Quixotic murder endeavor in the first place, I found a last option: Plastic. This method entailed mowing the grass short, covering the lawn in large sheets of black plastic and pinning the plastic sheet down with bricks, boards or the lawn mower since I wouldn’t be needing that thing ever again. Denied sunlight by the opaque black plastic for six weeks, the grass would wither and die. 

Ahhh, yes. Murdering with plastic, how shrewd, inexpensive and effortless. Or as Agatha Christie said Murder is Easy. And the Queen of Murder would know.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Farmers Market--Photos

One of the highlights of the week is going to the Farmers Market. We like the Burbank Farmers Market (on Saturdays) and the Farmers Market in Sherman Oaks next to Macy's (on Tuesday evenings). But we linger at the the one in Studio City because it's held Sunday mornings, which gives us time to stop and taste the strawberries...

Smell the corn...
And squeeze the potatoes. 

And as everyone knows, squeezing the potatoes is very important.

The handsome produce, the friendly vendors, the sunshine; going to the Farmers Market is so relaxing. Plus shopping at the market is good for the senses, the farmers and us.

The only down side is I bought so much produce this week I'll have to work 27-7 for the next six months preparing it all.

Maybe Farmers Markets aren't relaxing. But they do taste good!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sharing Grass

I’ve never done things the way others do.
I didn’t get a college degree; I got two.
I didn’t date a bunch of losers; I married one great guy.
I didn’t want green grass; but had the lushest, greenest yard in all of Southern California.
Ahh! Life's cruel ironies.

I’d already made the big decision to delete the lawn plus I’d been approved to rip it out but when it came to the logistics of actually removing the emerald green sod I… just… couldn’t… do… it.

The reason? I felt terrible tossing out a living plant—albeit one whose weekly water needs sucked the Mississippi River bone-dry and required a mowing, weeding and fertilizing regimen that was more complicated and time-consuming than a bride preparing for her big destination-wedding day. Nope, when guilt struck me, it hit hard wiping out all the painful months I had suffered maintaining the %#*$ grass and replacing rational thought with sentiments like: 

I can't rip out the turf.  It's not fair to the turf.  The turf was here first.

I was like the woman who was sick and uncomfortable throughout her entire pregnancy, but the moment her baby was born--Whoosh!--she forgot about the previous nine months of agony and got pregnant... again.

My guilt about removing the turf taught me a vital lesson about myself, I had a mothering instinct... for plants.
Clearly, I’ve never done things the way other people do.

Yes I was a plant lover and as horticulturalists know the greatest defining characteristic of plant lovers was, we never threw out plants. No, sir-ee, we shared them! 

In our neighborhood finding someone who needed green grass was as easy as giving away candy bars on Halloween. I looked at my neighbor's brown lawn and sashayed over to Harold and Norma’s house where I found Norman hoisting his American flag. Of course, they'd take my grass because nothing was more American than green grass! Except maybe baseball, oh, and football. Football was American and so was apple pie, hamburgers—and despite the name—“French Fries”, Girl Scout Cookies, yellow ribbons, oak trees, jazz, disco, grunge, crab cakes, the Constitution, throwing horseshoes, s’mores, fire pits, fireworks—okay, okay! So clearly plenty of things were American and food related. But lush green grass was on that "very American" list, too.

“Harold, do you want our grass?”
“Sure I’ll take it,” he said looking at our yard with envy.
“If you pick it up and plant it over here.”
Now I was a plant lover but not a fool. Doubling my work by ripping out my lawn and fixing up his was not in my grand plan of sharing grass.
"If you want it," I said. You can come get it. Deal?"
Harold laughed and entered his man-cave garage.

I telescoped the area and spotted another neighbor working in his garden.
"Hi Jerry," I said bounding over to him.  Jerry was a San Francisco sports fan, a rose fan and a true plant lover. He had dozens of beautiful roses in his front yard. Of course Jerry would want my grass!
“I hear you’re making some changes to your yard,” Jerry said snipping off a stalk from a rosebush.
“We’re getting rid of the turf.”
"But your grass is real nice," he said tossing a look to our yard.
“Do you want it?"
He shook his head. "But if you're getting rid of any roses, I’ll take those."
Correction: Jerry wasn't a plant lover but a rose hog. 

Maybe I could call a local library.  Donate the grass to them.  Or a—wait a minute.  What was I doing? If I wanted to get rid of the grass in my yard to improve my quality of life and decrease water bills it didn't make sense to pass the grass along to someone else because that meant the total number of yards with grass in L.A. would remain the same.

If I wanted to enact change, I didn't need to share grass but my vision of a water wise garden and push my yard from turfed to turf-free.  Without my neighbors or a charity taking my grass the only option I had was to kill my grass... myself. 

Nope, I’ve never done things the way others do.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hollywood Signs

This week I was out and about in Hollywood and from the signs I saw, Angelenos are still funny.

New Yorkers may be tough, Chicagoans friendly, but Angelenos, we have a sense of humor.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hollywood in Winter

When you're hanging out in Hollywood in the winter the first thing you notice is how similar it looks to Hollywood in... the summer.

The Mounted Hollywood Police is still working.

Restaurants still offer outdoor seating.

And the colorful bougainvillea are still blooming.

As is the rosemary; upright, prostrate and everything in between.

Newcomers often lament the lack of "real" winter, snow and the change of seasons in Hollywood. But not I. I'm thankful for the sunshine, warmth and color. Together they make winter in Hollywood a beautiful time.

Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Santa Monica Pier in Winter

The Santa Monica Pier is a fun place to visit in the summer.  But spending an afternoon here in the winter has its own unique charms.  Only in cool winter are the beaches deserted.

Can you get unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean with the afternoon sun.  

Can you go to Pacific Pier Amusement Park to ride the ferris wheel without having your legs stick to the seat with your own wet, hot sweat.  ... Score!

Ahhh, I appreciate the winter joys of this 100 year-old plus pier!

Monday, January 14, 2013

What is a Turf Inspector? Or The Steps to Remove a Lawn

I would have to follow several steps to transform our lawn from a Pebble Beach putting green to a haven for California plants.  Here are the first steps: 

Step 1: In the dead heat of summer grab the water bill and stand in the yard.  Look from my water bill to the lawn and say: I spent that much on this itty-bitty, mini patch of green? 

Step 2: Kick myself.

Step 3: Explore different options of a front yard without green grass.  Like doing a California native plant garden or Xeriscaping.

Step 4: Look up “Xeriscaping”: Xer-i-scape (noun): a decorative type of landscaping developed in the Southwestern U.S. that plunks down cacti, rocks and an American flag to simulate the moon’s surface.

Step 5: Tell the moon and Neil Armstrong, “no offense”, then opt to go the California native plant route instead.

Step 6: Take a deep, deep breath.

Step 7: Decide to rip out the grass, in toto.

Step 8a: Discover that the City of Los Angeles is operating a Turf Removal Program to encourage its open-minded homeowners—or just the stupid ones—to remove their turf to lower their water bills.  To make it exclusive—and oh, so Hollywood—the Turf Removal Program is “by application, only”.  There’s even a red carpet and velvet rope.

Step 8b: Read on the application that the City will refund me some of the costs of this Turf Removal.

Step 8c: Re-read the “refund” part 10 times to make sure I've got it right: The City will refund moi if I ditch the grass?! 

Step 9: Give myself a fist bump for googling this issue so effectively.  Maybe I’m not one of the stupid homeowners after all!

Step 10: Read the application’s fine print stating that L.A.’s Department of Water and Power will send a Turf Inspector to our home to confirm that we have grass that can be removed and we are coo-coo enough to do it.

Step 11: Realize the government will be involved.  Sigh.

Step 12: Complete the first part of the application and mail the sucker off!

Step 13: Welcome the Turf Inspector who confirms we have grass and we are nutso enough to remove it ourselves.  She tells us with a warm smile that we now have 120 days to delete the putting green and replace it with something that will rival the Huntington Gardens, Descanso Gardens and Griffith Park combined.

Step 14: Cry with sheer terror!

Step 15: Realize Rome was not built in a day and neither will our turfless yard.

This process is most definitely To Be Continued…

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Who Killed the Grass?--A Mystery

“Morning, Harold,” I said waving to our 86 year-old neighbor as he stood in his driveway.
“Hello,” he said running a hand over his bald head.
“Your lawn is looking… special,” I said gazing at the sterile brown earth in front of his house. 
“I don't need a green yard.”
“Then why are you watering your grass?”

It sounded crazy and it looked insane but Harold’s high-tech, built-in sprinkler system was dousing his dead turf with tsunami-sized amounts of water.  Forget “rotten in Denmark”, something was indeed rotten in the state of my neighbor’s lawn.   

Water was supposed to help grass grow but that wasn’t the case for Harold’s.  In fact viewing his dead lawn was so sad for plant lovers, Shakespeare could have written a tragic play about it.  Its death was so horrific for suburbanites, Stephen King could have written a horror story about it.  Its cause of death was so M is for Mysterious, Sue Grafton could have written a Kinsey Millhone alphabet mystery about it.  But since all those writers were dead, busy or otherwise occupied, I wrote this blog post about it.  Yes, I would get to the bottom of the (duhn-duhn) Mystery of Who Killed the Grass.

“Harold,” I said putting a hand on his shoulder.  “Turn off your sprinklers, your lawn is dead.”
“It’s not,” he said shrugging me off.
“It’s brown.”
“It’s winter!  Everything’s brown in the winter.”
“My lawn is green—” before I could finish he'd turned on his heel and disappeared into his garage.

When death happened to your own lawn, it was hard to accept.  Harold was in a state of denial but that would not stop my investigation.

Just then a black pickup truck arrived hauling a rake, a lawn mower and countless kitchen sinks.  Out of the cab slid a mustachioed man in a plaid shirt and straw hat.  Ah-hah!  I clapped my hands.  I’d found the killer! 
“Excuse me,” I said sprinting toward the mustachioed man.  “But I’ve seen you loitering around these parts.”
“I’m the gardener for Mr. Harold,” he said unloading a trash bin.
“You’re also responsible for… killing his grass!”
“No,” he gasped.
“Yes!"  I said peering at his face.  “Because killers always have mustaches!"  
“Not Hercule Poirot,” said the Gardener.  “Or Tom Selleck as Magnum P.I. or Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone or Tom Selleck as anything actual—”
“Stop!” I said.  This clever killer was trying to throw me off his tail by appealing to my love of Agatha Christie and classic TV shows of the 1980s.  Well I wasn't born yesterday. 
“All those men were good guy investigators and,” the Gardener continued, “had mustaches.” 
Hmmm.  He had made an astute point; astute enough to make me think I had been born yesterday.

I returned to my own property to examine the facts and drink a latte.  Not necessarily in that order.  Fact: Harold’s lawn was dead.  Fact: The Gardener didn’t do it.  Fact: What was that rotten smell?

I rushed outside to see Harold’s lawn covered in a layer of dark brown.
“Your grass stinks, Harold!”
“Bull crap,” he said.
“Then your nose is broken because—”
“What you smell is bull crap.  Bull crap mulch.  I use it every year,” he said pointing to his yard.
“That’s what killed your lawn!” I shrieked.

Harold shook his head then proceeded to tell me that mulch made from bull crap was often used in Los Angeles because 1) It was organic; 2) A fertilizer rich in nitrogen, potassium, calcium and zinc; and 3) Hollywood was full of it.  

I checked with other long-term Angelenos and their annual fertilizer of choice was… bull crap. 

If B.S. couldn’t kill Harold’s grass, who or what did?  Leaning against my car I stared at his dead lawn.  I was still there when I saw Harold partake in the common water conservation practice embraced by L.A.'s hippies: he parked his car on the lawn, soaped his vehicle and washed it clean. 

“That's what killed your lawn!” 
“I always wash my car like this,” Harold huffed.  
“But have you always used this soap that's biodegradable and phosphate-free?”  I said stabbing the label with my index finger. 
“I changed soaps this year.”
“When did your lawn die?”
“Last year—”
Ah-hah!  Ah-HAH!  "Being half-green killed your lawn!”

His head drooped to contemplate his formerly green patch of suburban idyll.
 “… My lawn is dead,” he sniffed. 
“I know,” I nodded.
“I killed it—by accident.”
“I know.”
“I tried so hard to make it grow.”
“I know,” I put my hand on his shoulder.  This time Harold didn’t shrug me off but accepted my sympathy.  We stood in silence over the corpse.  A good murder investigator never gloats. 

Back at my office, I closed the file then… did a little dance.  I did it, uh-huh, I figured it out!  I solved the Mystery of Who Killed the Grass!  Yes!  Uh-huh, I rock, oh yeah!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Inspector

"Do you live here or there?" the woman in the polar fleece jacket said crossing the street and approaching our yard.
"Who wants to know?" I said not disguising the suspicion in my voice.
"It's just you were moving the garbage bins around at that house," she said jutting her chin toward the house that Mr. Wonderful and I shared. "And now you're picking up palm tree debris from this yard," she said indicating the patch in front of Harold and Norma's house.  "So where do you live?"
"Who are you?"
"I don't mean to make you upset--"
"Then tell me who you are!" I said rushing her like an NFL defensive tackle.  
"The Inspector for your Turf Removal!"

Gee, why didn't she just say so?  

A funny thing happened once I became a homeowner, I became suspicious.  Suspicious of everyone and everything. Who's walking up my driveway? Whose car is parked in front of my house? Whose exhaling their dirty halitosis breath in my neighborhood air space? It was as if I were a one-woman Neighborhood Watch committed to eradicating the unknown for the known and passing out breath mints to strangers who needed them.

Another funny thing occurred with home ownership, this one related to possession. I referred to everything as mine: my kitchen, my house, my yard and Mr. Wonderful's weeds. Okay, the good things were mine the less good things were his. It reminded me how it had been for my wedding. As I recall Mr. Wonderful was present on that fateful day playing a major part in the "I do" department, but when all was said and done, it was my beautiful wedding, my fun reception and his expensive open bar bill.  

So when this smiling female inspector started asking me questions without identifying herself, my suspicious shackles were raised as high as Mount Shasta.

"I had to come approve your application for the turf removal," she said visibly unsettled by my nearly-played defensive tackle. "You are removing your turf, right?" 
"Yes I am!" I said and just like that, my attitude toward her did a complete 180 degree turn.  I went from untrusting to "you're my BFF!" so fast I got whiplash.  I can only imagine what it did to her.

Standing beside her I watched as she expertly examined our emerald green lawn, as she pleasantly chatted about the benefits of planting California Natives and as she graciously gave me a drip kit to irrigate our future turf-less garden. In short, she was a delight!  

"Come back any time!" I said waving to her. She smiled and said she would when my bland green yard was transformed into a colorful floral garden.  I can't wait!

Next Step: Removing the Turf!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Deleting the Lawn

“Your lawn is so lush,” our nosy neighbor said adjusting the baseball cap on his bald head.
“Thanks, Harold,” I said sweeping the driveway.
“It’s like a putting green.”
“You must be proud of it.”
I shrugged.  “We’re ripping it out.”

Before Harold collapsed from shock, I grabbed his 86 year-old elbow and steered him into his lawn chair.  He shooed me away cursing “these days” and “idiot young people.”

I think he meant us.   

As first time homeowners, Mr. Wonderful and I were learning about our suburban neighbors’ fascination with The Lawn.  In a nutshell: 1) Grass ruled and 2) The greener, the better, which was great if you lived in Scotland where it rained 490 days a year.  But we lived in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley best known for its hot, dry, desert-like conditions where people had to morph into snakes to survive.  This climate explained why Hollywood thrived here and nowhere else.  It also explained why green grass was hard to grow and even harder to maintain. 

In retrospect maybe it was this difficulty that made grass so desirable because our neighborhood was full of verdant front lawns fed by sprinkler systems that were more complex than NASA’s Mars Rover Program and dispensed more water on a daily basis than Hoover Dam, most of which flooded the adjacent streets and sidewalks.  If concrete grew with H2O, our street would be as tall as Universal Studios’ Black Tower skyscraper.  Now wouldn’t that be awkward: driving up to the 30th floor and taking the elevator down to the entrance—

But I digress.

Mr. Wonderful and I could do a lot of things, one of which was doing without the lawn, and its requisite watering, mowing, fertilizing and bragging rights.  With all the work we had to do on the house’s inside, we didn’t need any more work on the outside.  After a few inquiries with the County I learned they were actively encouraging homeowners to rethink the lawn. 

“What do you mean?” Norma said as she handed a glass of water to Harold sprawled prone in his lawn chair.
I shrugged, “They want us to remove our grass.”

As Norma fell over I slid her 85 year-old frame into a lawn chair next to her spouse.  In unison they clutched their hearts.  I was ready to dial 911, ready to follow their ambulance to Burbank Hospital where they’d be treated for dual quadruple heart attacks.  I was ready to explain to their doctor: “All I said was we were removing every blade of grass from our lawn when—boom!—their hearts stopped—” 
“Doc?  You’re on the floor clutching your chest.  I’ll call 911!”

Luckily none of this happened because Harold and Norma were vigilant about following a strict vegetarian diet meaning that, with my stress and arteries, I was imminently closer to a suffering a heart attack than either of those octogenarians. 

But I digress.

“Remove your lawn?!” Harold said fanning himself with the newspaper. 
“That’s madness!” Norma said fanning herself with the business section.
“We want low maintenance,” I said.  “So we’re replacing the grass with—”
“Concrete?!” Norma gasped.
“Over my dead body!” Harold said struggling to his feet.

I ordered them to relax or I would give them a heart attack with a free knuckle sandwich.  I proceeded to explain how Mr. Wonderful and I were planning to remove our thirsty green turf and replace it with California native plants indigenous to Los Angeles like: Manzanita, Toyon, Ceoanthus, California Poppies and Cacti.  These natives had spent thousands of years adapting to the unique climate of Southern California, so they were prepared to thrive in our blistering, dry summers right along with Hollywood’s cruelest snakes.

“Sounds nice,” Norma said.
“Thanks—” I smiled.
“It’s… different,” her spouse said.
“These days," Harold said "you never know what idiot young people will do.”

This time I knew he was talking about us.  But I didn’t care.  I did not digress from my water-wise plan for a grass-free yard.  Come summer I’d have a beautiful garden and he’d be watering the street.


Next Step: The Inspection

P.S. If you’re interested in deleting your Southern California lawn, click here for more information! 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year’s Resolutions

“It’s a new year,” I said to the cat as he walked into the living room.  “So it’s time for new resolutions!”
Jackson jumped on the armchair.
“And new beginnings!”
He curled up in a ball.
“And new habits!”
He yawned and fell asleep.
“Or… we can just keep doing the same old thing.”

Like a revolving ferris wheel, as each January comes around it happens: I begin the year with super intentions of becoming a smarter, fitter, more chocolate-free person.  And by the time the Super Bowl arrives, I’ve dumped my super intentions and I’m just scarfing from the candy bowl.

Well, NOT this year, my friends.  I’ve embraced 2013 with superb intentions that I will keep.  Starting today!

  1. Sleep every day.  (Done!)
  2. Eat every day.  (Done!)
  3. Exercise every day.
  4. Connect with friends.
  5. Disconnect from those who aren’t.
  6. Read a new book every month; at least. 
  7. Talk about what I read with others.  “Hey, I recently read Little Bee by Chris Cleave and thoroughly enjoyed the rich language and engrossing story.  If you have a chance, you should check it out!”  (Wow.  I’ve already accomplished three resolutions!  Why did I think this was going to be so hard?!)
  8. Continue redoing The House.
  9. Don’t cry because we still have so much to redo on The House.
  10. Tell people I appreciate them.  “Hey, I appreciate you.”  (Done!)
  11. Remember to share the good times with my family, friends and Mr. Wonderful. (Done, done, done!)
Okay, so today I only accomplished five of my 11 resolutions.  But tomorrow will be better.  And if it’s not I’ll follow the cat’s lead; just curl up in a ball and sleep away the rest of the year...  On second thought, if a feline's life isn’t a kick in the pants to practice my resolutions, I don’t know what is! 

Here’s to making and keeping new resolutions!  Cheers!