ORC Week 6: Cursing the Queen and Hailing the Halo

Jarrod looked over while I was typing this, saw the post title, and said “Are you writing Harry Potter fan fiction?” This is a quick post about one magical addition to our yard and one difficult eradication.

In 2016, our landscaper installed an assortment of native plants in our backyard.


In the mix were three plants that have since proven to be far too aggressive for our small garden plot: sneezeweed, goldenrod, and queen of the prairie. Those are the tall plants you can see in the back of this 2017 photo.

Garden 2017

These plants started taking over the bed, crowding out the variety of other plants, and toppling over from their own weight.

Navite Garden

For scale, here’s Jarrod standing behind the goldenrod in 2018: he’s 6’2″.

Goldenrod vs Jarrod

Early this spring, I decided it was time to rein it in. I started by digging up the huge patches of queen of the prairie.

Backyard Garden Early Spring

Then, when the goldenrod came in, I tore that up as well. You can see that in the back. I also upgraded our birdbath with a new one from Wayfair.

Goldenrod 2

It was a bummer to lose this several-year investment in plant growth, but… it had to go. I offered up the queen of the prairie on my neighborhood gardener Facebook group – no takers. They all probably know better!


The queen of the prairie is not letting her reign end easily. The root system is intense. I’ve been digging up new starts nearly every day for the past month and continually pulling out previously undiscovered roots.

Digging Up Queen of the Prairie

Today I threw some mulch down on the razed area. This season I will continue to keep the aggressive plants at bay and hope the other plants fill in the bald spot. I added some common bluestar, which I’m excited about – it’s not native to this region, but it is native to the US and the specs sound like a good fit for this plot.

Native Garden 2

Speaking of backyard aggressors: our bird feeder was getting ransacked by house sparrows, starlings, and red wing blackbirds. They’d empty out the feeder in a day. The house finches and gold finches never stood a chance. A friend told me she had great luck with the Magic Halo, so decided to give it a shot with a new Squirrel Buster finch feeder.

Two Goldfinch

It looks a little tin-foil-hattish, but it blends in well enough and it’s worth the slight visual clutter for how effective it is! The combination of the wires and sun bouncing off the nuts repels the house sparrows like, well, magic. Here’s a house sparrow getting totally flummoxed by the Magic Halo while a house finch dines.

Magic Halo

I have a suet feeder elsewhere in the yard for the other birds, and this is now a VIP lounge for finches. I’ll share more on the rest of our yard in another post – here are a few shots in the meantime!

Native Plant

Native Plant 2

A bee flew in when I photographing the shooting star plant.


You can check out all the other guest participants on the ORC website.

ORC Week 4: Our Bungalow’s Front Yard Landscaping

Hey, we’re out of the basement and back into the fresh air! This week’s One Room Challenge post is about our front yard landscaping. I believe this is the last view you saw of this area, when the plants were installed in spring 2016. Things have filled in since then, though it hasn’t been a 100% success. I’ll get into the hits and misses below.


At the beginning of May, I installed a row of paving stones. I prefer a clean edge along a garden bed. I used these Oldcastle Mini Beltis Tan Charcoal Concrete Retaining Wall Blocks from The Home Depot.

Front Yard Edging Installation

I’ve learned to install stones a little higher than I want them to be ultimately. They quickly settle into the ground.

Front Yard Edging After

This is how the landscaping bed looks now.

Front Yard Landscaping Bed

The company where I work previously used three ratings for annual performance reviews: you could be Among the Best, Getting Results, or Falling Behind. That is how I’ll rank my plants. I won’t get into their specs – I’ll link to The Morton Arboretum or Missouri Botanical Garden, if you want to read details. For reference: we’re Zone 5b, our soil is very heavy with clay, and this area gets sun exposure from the south and the west. All of our plants are native to the region.

Among the Best

Shrubby St. John’s wort (link): Great rounded shape, hilarious name.

St John

Prairie smoke (link): Solid performer. Very cool flowers without making a big deal about it. Spreads slowly – we have a lot more now than when we started, but they’re not taking over the bed.

Prairie Smoke Plant

They attract bees – a team player!

Prairie Smoke Bee

Getting Results

Bayberry (link): One of our compact cranberry viburnums died, and I replaced it with a bayberry. This is its second year on the job and it shows promise.


Bush honeysuckle (link): Amorphous shape, which fills in the space behind the serviceberry tree. Tends to spread a little aggressively but is manageable.


Star sedge (link): Fine when it stands up straight but tends to flop under pressure.

Star Sedge

This plant (link): I do not remember what this plant is. I look forward to its growth this year.


Falling Behind

Serviceberry tree (link): Disappointing! I was so excited about this tree when we hired it planted it, but I think it exaggerated its qualifications. All of the lower stems/branches break off, so the only leafing happens at the top, and that leafing is sparse. The house kinda feels like it’s up on its haunches, so I really wanted something to soften this corner, draw up the eye, and ease into the house.

Serviceberry Tree

The serviceberry trees I see on the North Park University campus (just north of our house) are bare on their lower half, so I think this is common. If I had known that, I would have chosen a different tree.

Cranberry viburnum (link): As I mentioned above, one of our five shrubs died for reasons unknown. The remaining four have always struggled, and now they’re under attack by viburnum leaf beetles!

Cranberry Virburnum Beetles

These pernicious larvae arrived in Chicago only within the past few years, and cranberry viburnum are highly susceptible to them. They have decimated our shrub leaves – one of the shrubs is a ghost now.

Cranberry Virburnum Beetle

Cranberry Virburnum

The landscaper we’ve worked with recommended we spray the shrubs with a mixture of water, vegetable oil, and dish soap. We did that this past weekend, and it seems to have worked: the larvae on the leaves are dead now. Time will tell if the shrubs are dead as well!

You can check out all the other guest participants on the ORC website.

ORC Week 3: Basement Flood

This week’s post is not what I had planned because of an unexpected Hauslermo catastrophe. Those of you who follow me on Instagram already know this story, but I wanted to document here for posterity.

First, some background: when we bought our house, we learned our connection to the city’s sewer system was blocked by tree roots. We have a mature tree in our front parkway, and it had invaded the sewer line. The sewer line isn’t a continuous stretch of pipe – it’s clay/terra cotta sections pieced together (like this), which provides easy entry points for roots.

In August 2015, I paid ASAP Plumbing $2,400 to have something called a “cleanout station” installed. A cleanout station (AKA clean-out pipe) gives plumbers easier access to your home’s main sewage line, so they can rod it out – e.g. run a machine down there to remove obstructions in the clay pipe.

Cleanout Station

I do not like the term “adulting” but if I were ever to use it, it would be in this situation. Paying over two thousand dollars for sewer line rodding is some real adult bullshit. Here’s a photo from our plumber’s Yelp profile because Jack C. did a better job of documenting this work than I did.

Cleanout Station 4

Jumping from August 2015 to May 2020: I took last Friday off work so I could go to a nursery on an off-peak day. Illinois recently allowed garden centers to reopen for business, and they’ve been really busy.


If you’re based in Chicagoland, Urhausen Greenhouses in Lincolnwood is a hidden gem. The plants they sell have been grown on-site in their two-acre greenhouse. They don’t have shrubs and trees, but they have lots of specialty plants I don’t see elsewhere, like native plants.


The prices are a little high, but it’s worth it to support a local place – especially since it’s so pleasing to explore a giant greenhouse.


Here’s my haul:


Back at home, I was excited to spend the afternoon planting.


I went down to the basement to get a hanging planter and…. discovered a pond.


There was 3+ inches of standing water throughout the entire space.


Chicago received a biblical amount of rain this month – especially the night of  May 17 – and the sewer system overflowed. For reference: we have a river dock a few blocks away where Jarrod puts in his kayak. This is what it usually looks like:


And this is what it looked like last weekend:


We’ve always had a small amount of seepage around our foundation, but this sewer backup was an entirely different situation. We frantically Googled for an hour and learned 1) we should not wade into the water in case it was electrified, and 2) there was nothing we could do without a plumber. Tom arrived first thing Saturday morning.


They rodded out our sewer connection via the front yard cleanout station.


I went to the basement and heard the water rushing down our floor drains. It was like someone pulled the plug on a giant bathtub. It took less than 2 minutes for all the water to recede. Turn up volume in this video – others have described it as “something from Stranger Things” and “the sound of my depression.”

We were lucky: our basement is unfinished (technically, it had been finished, but we gutted it – something I’ll get into another post) and most of our things are up on shelves. The stuff we had to toss wasn’t special or expensive…


… except for this customized Caboodles case: it was special and expensive for this 1980s pre-teen.



We emptied out the basement onto our lawn.


And then we dragged our hose into the basement and hosed down this floor.


One of Jarrod’s work-study jobs at Grinnell College was mopping the dining hall. He’s pretty cocksure about his mopping skills. THIS WAS HIS MOMENT TO SHINE. We bought him an industrial mop bucket as a special treat. You know what’s hard to find in a global pandemic? Disinfectant. We were lucky to get one of the last bottles of bleach on the shelf at Home Depot.


The cleanout station I mentioned earlier? We definitely should have had that serviced at least once since we had it installed. I am usually on top of home maintenance, but I dropped the ball on this one. Please let my tale of woe be a cautionary tale for you, dear reader.


All in all, this ended up being a best-case worst-case scenario. It cost us a sleepless night spent worrying, a $150 plumber visit, and a hard day’s work. Now we have a very clean basement with less junk in it. I plan to write a Part 2 post tomorrow to show off the very clean basement that most likely no one cares about but me. Get excited!

You can check out all the other guest participants on the ORC website.

ORC Week 2: New Bungalow Roof

When we purchased our house in July 2015, the roof was pretty high on our inspector’s list of “things that are bad about your new home.” That was no surprise to us because a big section of shingles was on the sidewalk.


Our inspector advised us to fix the worst areas immediately and plan for a replacement within a few years. A big section blew off again during a strong wind storm in early 2016, and I paid $150 for another make-it-work repair job.


When a small section of shingles landed on our front stoop early this spring, it was excellent motivation to finally get a new roof. We had it done in early March.


Picking out a new roof was easier than most house decisions I’ve made. There are two major options for high-quality asphalt shingles: Owens Corning “TruDefinition Duration” and GAF “Timberline HD.” The roofers I spoke to said they’re comparable products, so there was nothing to stress about there. And, unlike paint, there are only a few color options available. So, it was easy to land on Timberline HD in Charcoal.

The only ~special~ thing I chose was a ridge vent. As I mentioned a while back, we’ve had issues with ice dams. The heat in our attic causes snow to melt off our roof, which refreezes in and over our gutters.

ice-dam-diagram(Diagram from the Chicago Bungalow Association’s Bungalow Maintenance Guide.)

To prevent ice dams, you’re supposed to improve your attic insulation and ventilation. We already did the former, and now we have the latter. A ridge vent lets warm air escape from the attic before it melts the snow on the roof. This Crash Course in Roof Venting article is helpful.

I got quotes from three roofers. They ranged from $10k to $15k. Adam Milewski’s quote was the lowest and he was recommended by my window/sunroom contractor – hooray for another easy decision! Our roof replacement job included:

  • Removing all existing shingles down to the wood decking
  • Inspecting the wood condition – ours proved to be in good shape, so no replacement was required
  • Installing new ice/water shield on gutter edge – in the event of future ice dams, this underlayment helps protect the wood
  • Installing new felt underlayment
  • Installing new ridge vent and shingles
  • Installing new chimney flashing and counter flashing on the walls

Amazingly, all of this only takes a day. Adam and his crew were hard at work by 8am. They started by scraping off the existing roofing materials.



At 10am, Adam took this photo of the bare roof:


It’s quite messy work.



They used this sweet ladder platform hoist to lift the heavy bundles of shingles to the roof:


And they used this sweet job-site microwave for their lunch:


The crew worked remarkably quickly.


By 3pm, they were all done! They did an impeccable job of cleaning up our yard and, more importantly, our neighbors’ yards.



And now – the spring greenery is a big improvement, too!


And now – the new black vent caps on the garage were an unexpected bonus of this project:Back-roof-after

Adam shared this photo with me – you can see the ridge vent at the peak of the roof:Roof-view

I started this post talking about our home buyer’s inspection, so that’s where I’ll end it. Our inspector included this chimney photo in our report, noting the poor roofing job, the failing tuck pointing, the insufficient flashing, and the missing chimney cap. Over the years, we’ve fixed all of those things!

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 6.27.13 PM

And here’s where we are today:


I literally never see this view, but it feels really good to know that slowly and steadily we’re making this house a better place, and not just cosmetically. I think that’s a good reminder during the One Room Challenge – while it’s super fun to have dramatic makeovers within 6 weeks, homeownership is also about the long game.

You can check out all the other guest participants on the ORC website.

One Room Challenge Week 1: Our Bungalow’s Exterior

I made an impulse, last-minute decision to participate in the One Room Challenge! Over the next 6 to 8 weeks, I’m going to blog once a week about assorted outdoor projects. Here’s Hauslermo in March 2020:


With Covid-19 and Chicago’s stay-home order, our yard has taken on new importance for me. I’m grateful to have a small patch of land that lets me get out of the house, and seeing our yard come back to life this spring has been therapeutic.


Additionally, last week was my 10 year anniversary of blogging. I’m not a consistent poster, but I continue to value this blog as a record of our home. I’m excited to use the ORC as an impetus to blog regularly.

I did the ORC in fall 2018, documenting my mudroom makeover. That project was more straightforward because, well, it was a room and I had a clear plan for my end goal.

Mudroom North Corner Before

Mudroom North Corner After

To be honest, I’m not fully sure what I’ll be covering each week with this ORC, but it is my hope that we’re able to end with photos of our new windows! My window replacement and sunroom renovation timeline is uncertain because of the coronavirus. Either way, here are some things I plan to cover:

  • Our new roof – this has already happened!
  • Tuckpointing repair
  • Paint removal from limestone – maaaaybe
  • Landscaping – past failures and new additions
  • Birds!

That’s all for now. I hope you and yours are well.

You can check out all the other guest participants on the ORC website.
New posts go up every Thursday for 8 weeks.