Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Looking for Advice!

What would YOU do?

My husband and I are now three weeks into our new home and we love it, but still have a monstrous amount of work to do before it feels like it's "ours." One of the questions on the table--along with a complete remodel of the kitchen, updating of three bathrooms, and all new flooring--is what to do with the backyard.

The current condition:

It is fenced-in and measures about 20' wide by 27' long. There is a gate leading to the adjacent yard, which is confusing but not particularly troublesome. It is completely shaded most of the day; the eastern 1/3 of it gets sunlight at the day's peak. There are three raised planting beds lining the back fence, parallel to the house and one ground-level bed next to the house. I have no idea what was/is planted in the beds. Grass has not been able to survive in the yard for the past three decades, the yard is not level, and the soil is fairly impermeable.

The building-side planting bed lies directly below what was once an exit from the first floor (bottom left of the photo). Though a walk-out is still possible, that room is now a large utility room and the door has been blocked by a screened-in and locked gate. It is about four feet above ground level.

The kitchen is now on the second floor and has a screened in landing that was designed to lead to a nice walk-out, as well.

The entrance to the basement is at ground level on the other side of the building, with our sidewalk alley to its side.

Although we have not experienced any serious parking problems yet, my husband would like to tear down the back fence and pave a parking space. This would be especially helpful for my husband's need to access the basement for work and for visiting guests so they won't have to mess with on-street parking. We also believe this might increase the resale value of the home much more than landscaping would. BUT, we would sacrifice the security and privacy of our small yard--which is priceless, if you ask me. Our best idea for parking involves paving a diagonal space that leaves as much of the yard in-tact as possible. One problem: the alley in the back of the property is narrow and cannot accommodate a large vehicle. Although we don't intend to purchase a Hummer anytime soon, we will be having more children eventually and will probably end up with a vehicle larger than a Mini Cooper. So, is the parking space even worth the trouble?

Some other ideas:

-Since the ground level is fairly useless at this point, we've considered creating a parking space covered by a greenroof/deck that extends all the way to the second floor. Basically, raising the entire functional greenspace 10ft or so above ground.

-We've considered turning the utility room into a small summer kitchen/outdoor playroom with a three season patio extending into the yard.

-We could build cascading porches like those in the neighboring backyard. (We've even considered cutting out one half of one of the 3rd floor bedrooms to create a rooftop patio.)

-We'd like to level the yard and install permeable pavement or ground cover and then completely reconfigure and rebuild the planting areas.

Although it will probably be a LONG time until we have the time and resources to undertake any serious project like this, we're having fun dreaming big and making plans for our yard. I'm looking for ideas and suggestions!

What would YOU do with this backyard?

For now, we're settling for this:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Read This: The Urbivore

I've discovered a new blog--The Urbivore's Dilemma.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Prediger at Urbivore's Dilemma.

I was turned on to it by the folks over at GOOD. (Check them out if you're not already familiar.) It chronicles a New Yorker's experience of switching from a diet consisting of mostly take-out to one of primarily local produce from her new CSA share.

Since this is my first year as a CSA shareholder (I've bought into an Urban Farm Project), I immediately understood the dilemma. The challenge of a CSA is not only adjusting to a vegetable-based diet, but of learning to cook with whatever food is fresh, in-season, and available. The first few weeks of my CSA were hard to navigate--lots of lettuce and greens, beets, and turnips. (I froze a lot of the root vegetables, hoping to figure out what to do with them at a later time.) But the past few weeks have been much easier--carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, etc. It's been a relief to use the vegetables in meals I would normally cook, but still gives me a little room to experiment. The familiarity of the more recent produce makes my investment seem more reasonable.

I'm excited to follow along with the Urbivore's experiment in changing her diet and maybe get some good ideas for my own local produce experiment. Does anyone else want to share their experience of learning to eat local, in-season produce? Recipes? Funny recipe failures?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Read This: Suburban vs City Living costs

According to a recent article in the New York Times, most families will actually save money by choosing to live in New York City rather than moving to the suburbs once they have children.

There are a few caveats:
- The cost of paying for private schooling in lieu of public city schools changes the numbers quite drastically.
- The article presumes that the working parent(s) work in the city.
- As stated in the article, sometimes ideology or suburban lifestyle trumps affordability for growing families and they leave the city anyway.

You can read the full article here.

I would love to see the same article written for Cincinnati. My presumption is that the numbers would be the same: for a family whose working parent(s) work in the city, they would save money by living nearer to work. This should be common sense, no?

Maybe I'll write that article, all numbers and statistics included.