Category Archives: Home and Garden

A Little Horsey

A Little HorseyThe week ended with the sale of another one of my listings and I believe the home will be a great fit for the new buyer.  Many people looking for homes in Mason City don’t take the time to investigate the advantages of living near East Park and the swimming pool.  Since I’ve been spending more time up in that area with recent sales along with another project I’ve been working on, I’ve really grown to like that neighborhood very much due not only to it being near all the walking areas of East Park and the Winnebago River, but also how neighbors really are neighbors in an old fashioned way.  It’s not uncommon for people who’re out walking their dogs or riding their bikes to either wave or stop for a moment for a little chat.  There’s one particular rental in that area which has become very much out of place.  It seems there’s more clothes and furnishings outside than there are in.  Every time I drive past it I think, “What must the surrounding neighbors think about that mess?”  The craziness about it is that it’s owned by a person who lives in one of the ritzy neighborhoods of our City.  I wonder what their own neighbors would think of them when knowing how they’ve allowed blighting in another neighborhood.  I think with many of the landlords it’s the idea that, “As long as it’s not happening in my backyard, I don’t care.”  This brings me to a conversation I had with a dear one who raised her family here, moved away, and then came back to purchase, and now thinking of moving away because of what she’s noticed happening around town.  She said and I couldn’t help agreeing, “People’s yards are terrible, they leave junk out on their porches and front yards, and they don’t even want to hang normal curtains on their windows. Instead they hang ragged sheets and blankets.”  I agreed and added, “Yes, and they couldn’t get enough money together to buy used lawnmowers and some cheap curtains at Walmart.  Instead, we see them out on their porches with one hand eating spaghetti with their fingers while with the other playing on their smartphones, and believe me, I’ve seen it.”  I did mention to her how much our country has changed to where you really can’t get away from it unless you live in a gated community and have daily necessities delivered to your door.  I can’t stress the need for more public awareness to where people who’re not making an honest attempt at keeping their surroundings presentable, then they need to be made accountable. The turning of blind eyes should no longer be acceptable.  I do hope she chooses to remain here.

One of my clients insisted I take a horseradish root she purchased at a store.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her I have horseradish plants of my own.  Not only do I harvest them from time to time, they also make very attractive garden borders and backdrops.

There was a recipe included with what she gave me and it read as follows:
Ingredients. 1 Lb of horseradish root, 1 cup of distilled white vinegar, 1 tsp. Salt, ½ tsp. Sugar, 1 small turnip, peeled and cubed. Scrub and peel the horseradish, cutting away any dark parts and then cut into cubes. Place half of the ingredients in a food processor or blender.  Process until uniform in texture, adding more vinegar if needed. Add remaining ingredients, continuing to process until smooth.  Place in a glass jar, cover tightly and refrigerate.

Since I’m familiar with horseradish and it’s varying uses, one can create many different sauces with it once it’s been peeled and finely grated.  You can mix it with sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, catsup, and even ranch dressing.  I’ve always liked it as a condiment with red meat—especially roast beef. It can also be added to pickled beets or any other canned vegetables.  It has infinite uses and after a while, it becomes a near necessity on the table.  The above photo is of the big root of horseradish she gave me.  It’s a monster!  Words of caution:  Make sure when peeling the roots along with the processing of them, you take care to keep your hands away from your eyes and don’t be surprised if your nose starts running as your surroundings start smelling a little horsey.

Overrun by European Buckthorn

Overrun by European Buckthorn-1Coming to another soft landing with a closing today gave me great joy due to the complexity of the transaction. It was good that everyone was warned in the beginning of the possible rocky road we would be riding down before closing took place. I’m glad it wasn’t nearly as bad as expected and certainly the buyers and sellers are happy about that. With all things considered, it really is good to prepare buyers and sellers for worst case scenarios whenever I see potential problems on the horizon. I’m confident that young couple will be there for a very long time.

I have to put in another plug for 718 E. State Street here in Mason City. I have a “feeling” this home will be sold within this next month. The sellers are working diligently in getting it prepared for a public open house that I will be hosting soon and I won’t surprise me that one of the guests will end up purchasing it. I don’t get “wowed” very often simply because I’ve toured so many homes over the years, but this home is a real diamond in the rough and in one of the best locations as far as I’m concerned. It sits on a ¾ acre lot that goes all the way back to the Willow Creek running through East Park. Whether people know it or not, there are fish to be caught in that creek. I can see in my mind’s eye a young lad sitting on the bank with a bamboo fishing pool patiently waiting for his trophy size catch.

I happened to be at a clients home this morning and when walking out I noticed a large shrub growing near the front porch and without even thinking I said, “You have a European Buckthorn growing here.” She said, “It is? What’s a European Buckthorn?”

I went on to tell her they are on the top of the list of the most invasive shrubs in the State of Iowa. I said, “You really must get that cut down because the birds eat their almost black fruit in the fall and spread the seeds everywhere.” A neighbor living next door to one of my relatives has one that is about 16 feet tall and those seedlings seem to be sprouting in her hedge row all the time and those seeds are coming from that one tall bush. The following reasons are why it is so invasive:

1. Out-competes native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture.

2. Degrades wildlife habitat.

3. Threatens the future of forests, wetlands, prairies, and other natural habitats.

4. Contributes to erosion by shading out other plants that grow on the forest floor.

5. Serves as host to other pests, such as crown rust fungus and soybean aphid.

6. Forms an impenetrable layer of vegetation.

7. Lacks “natural controls” like insects or disease that curb its growth.

European Buckthorn was brought to America in the mid 1800′s and was banned from being sold in the 1930′s. At the time they were used as hedges but little did they know what a chronic nuisance they were creating. Since our farm was an old farmstead, we had them growing behind several fence lines in the dooryard likely to keep the animals from pushing against the fences. Not too many years later they were all removed. They were indeed dense and had branches that had thorn-like growth that really would scratch the skin if not careful. Let’s keep working at not being overrun by European Buckthorn.

Uglied Out

radioWith it being an exceptionally cold and windy day today, I was delighted to find myself busier than expected with customer calls as well as getting some final negotiating completed on an offer I’ve been working on over these past several days.

One of the younger couples that I was showing a turn-of-the-century home today mentioned that even though the upkeep is a little more, the long term benefits certainly out-weigh the maintenance. They said they’d been doing their research and found that the quality of building materials were more the basics without all the glues used in all of the pre-fabricated materials of today. I fully agreed in knowing much of what goes into a new construction these days. From chipboard to glued together joist systems is enough to cause me to want to walk away. One rarely ever finds solid wood flooring. Nearly all of it’s manufactured with a veneer of whatever wood is desired by the owner/builder. I’ve often wondered what the look must be on the faces of those who believed their new hardwood floors are solid when they discover that a deep scratch or gouge reveals another type of wood. I’m still not sold on the epoxy coatings people put on their basement floors. I remember going into a building that had had an epoxy coating and I could smell it for months and months due to its slow drying process. If I was there longer than normal, I would start developing the beginnings of a headache. I know each person is more sensitive to chemical odors than others because sometimes even getting a few whiffs of diesel exhaust will cause me to become nauseous. I can’t yet fathom how some people can work in repair shops where there are diesel and gas engines running during their working hours.

Another person was mentioning several days ago about how they’ve become so disgusted with their relatively new major appliances. They said they’ve had more repair problems with them in such a short period of time since the purchase than they’d had with their old ones that more uglied out than wore out. I reminded them of much of the way things are made now is of a planned obsolescence. It almost seems like magic that something happens with a gadget or appliance shortly after the warranty expires and the cost of repair is near what the replacement cost would be. I’ll never forget reading an article some years ago that spoke of some of the companies that went out of business over the years simply because the quality of their products were so great that they out-lasted the company closing their doors due to a shortage of repeat buyers. Sort of sad isn’t it? The sheer product quality drove the companies down. I’ve forgotten the name of the lightbulb company, but it was one that created a lightbulb that lasted for years and years. In time, the company went out of business due to lack of demand.

The bulbs were likely a bit more spendy but certainly worth the extra cost. Also, we’ve heard of situations where people in a naughty way simply lessen a problem to where it’s tolerable, but don’t fix it for good. It’s supposed to create a need for repeat business and continued customer base. I still hope that we get back to the idea that good business practices are geared towards long term customer satisfaction. Perhaps our landfills won’t be so frequented with items being pitched that wore out before they uglied out. I sometimes see 40+ yr. old nylon carpet that’s uglied out, but not worn out.

Tribute to the Pepper

pepperI happened to be at a client’s home today who has a garden filled with beautiful vegetables. Before I left, I made sure to take a photo of a handsome green pepper plant. It is surprising that more people don’t have a back door garden where they can at least have fresh vegetables while in season. Naturally grown bell peppers are my favorite because they have so many culinary uses. They can be sliced fresh and used along with carrots and celery as an appetizer. They can be kept whole and used as a main course of stuffed peppers. They can be chopped in small pieces and used for flavoring and texture in potato or macaroni salad. They can be sliced thin and placed on a barbecued hamburger along with onions. One of my favorite uses is in nearly every type of stir frying.

When I was young, my mother had a monster garden from which she sold fresh fruits and vegetables to local markets and private customers. The peppers we grew were some of the most picture perfect and very aromatic. We also grew purple peppers which were even more popular. The skin on the purple pepper is more firm and doesn’t get as soft when cooked. Coming from a farm where we used little or no chemicals actually spoiled me. For a very long time I found it hard to eat vegetables that were sold in the stores–especially carrots. For some reason, even to this day, they have slight taste of mold. I never found that when eating home grown vegetables.

When we grew peppers, we started them in a hotbed from seed. Their seeds take longer to germinate so one must be patient. Since peppers are related to tomatoes, they look a little bit like each other when they first start growing. One of the tricks to growing peppers is to plant two of them together. They help support each other from the wind and create a better canopy of growth. Many times when looking at someone’s garden, I find they’ve planted everything too close together. I guess people don’t realize that plants need room for root growth and sufficient ground moisture. Lawn clippings are a good ground cover as long as the grass hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals. Remember, chemicals leech into soil and is absorbed by plants. More people really should take the time to grow their vegetables from seed as sometimes the plants that are purchased could possibly contain blight which will affect a whole garden. If you have to water your peppers, try to create a rain water reservoir from one or two of your downspouts. Vegetables that are watered with city water will not taste as good due to their absorption of the chlorine and fluoride in tap water. When choosing a site for planting your peppers, make sure the soil is well drained and they are planted in an area of full sun. Tomatoes and peppers are considered hot crops. They love the heat as well as the sun.

I hope I’ve given an adequate tribute to the pepper. The photo above is the one I snapped today.


boxelder-bugAs Spring and summer is approaching, I couldn’t help but think forward of people complaining about their problem with bugs. Often times when showing homes I happen to notice bottles of insect repellants and bug killers. I can’t believe how the general population have become so paranoid about bugs. Many of the exterminators have made good livings with the number of customers they have serviced over the years.

There are a number of natural remedies to control most insect problems. My first and foremost suggestion is to keep your living area as clean as possible. I don’t mean vacuuming once a week and wiping off the countertops. I mean real deep cleaning where every surface is gone over. Insects seem to enjoy not being disturbed when multiplying and feeding.

First let’s talk about ants. Did you know that ants eat what we eat? If the tiniest crumb is left on the floor it becomes a banquet for ants. Believe me, when their feeding grounds are plenty, they send scouts back to their nests and bring friends and relatives. I will never forget showing a home once years ago where the people were not the best of housekeepers. There was a piece of cake on a small plate on the countertop. As I looked closer, there were thousands of tiny ants on the cake and as I followed the line of ants, their path ran up the kitchen cabinet, along the trim boards and back down to the floor and thru a small hole. That was really scary. I assure you there were thousands of them. With that said, it’s best to keep all food put away in air tight containers as well as refrigerated. No need to be inviting unwanted guests.

The next subject is cockroaches. Cockroaches are again insects that will eat nearly anything and feed at night. Most people don’t know that if you sprinkle a trail of borax all around the inside perimeter of your basement floor and main floor, it will detract nearly any type of insect including cockroaches. When they get borax on their feet it sticks to them and they can’t get it off and borax which is alkaline gets into their system.

Believe me, they don’t like it. Centipedes which often come up the drains are equally affected by borax. Remember, you can buy borax in the laundry section as it is a laundry enhancer. Fleas are another story. That’s all I can say is to take preventative measures before your home is infested with them. Make sure your dogs and cats are checked often for fleas.

My all time favorite bug is the boxelder. They not capable of biting. They move slowly and normally look for a drop of water or two to siphon into their system. I can’t believe how people freak out when they see them. I think they’re cute. In closing, make sure you take more preventative as well as natural steps to keep the bugs out of your home. It better for our environment.

Get Ready for the Rise

RiseIt sounds like about 10 days from now we will be seeing temps hitting the 50 degree mark. I do hope it warms, but warms slowly due to the heavy snow cover. I remember enough times when we had a rapid snow melt and subsequent flooding. I wish for everyone to think forward and make sure you are prepared. Is your sump pump working? Do you have a portable spare just in case? Do you have basement drain plugs in case water starts coming back up from the city sewers? Try to make sure your gutters and downspouts are properly attached so that water will be dispersed away from your foundation. But most of all, keep a very watchful eye on your basements and make sure you don’t see any tell-tale signs of water. Remember, ground water will seek the weakest point of entry. I snapped just this one photo of a snow mound here in the downtown today. It is just one of many around the city, so let’s be prepared by thinking forward with what happens sometimes when the temperature is quickly on the rise.


Most people live months and years in homes doing their day to day chores of keeping their living spaces in a neat and tidy condition. We make sure the floors are scrubbed clean and the carpets vacuumed as well as windows washed and furniture dusted. We walk past items many times a day that are often real culprits for spreading dust and air borne particles throughout the home. How many of you have ever removed the grates that cover the heat vents and the return air vents? Likely most don’t because it is something of which we all become too accustomed. Out of sight is out of mind when it comes to something hidden. I’m far too familiar with what rests behind these grates. I have seen dust balls the size of a small foot in return air vents along with everything else that could possibly make its way through the openings in the grates or registers. I had an opportunity some time ago to help someone clean a vacant home that had been rented for a number of years. I took it upon myself to attack the grates and vents in the home. I spent hours upon hours getting them as clean as I could. What I couldn’t reach with extended arm, I ran a long vacuum hose even farther. I could only imagine what must have been traveling back and forth in those ducts and vents. If you can think of anything that would either fall through or get pushed through, is likely what I found there. It’s no wonder people catch colds and the flu during the winter when the furnaces are blowing all those dirt particles around every time the furnace kicks on. Changing furnace filters does help but it’s not as good as taking the time before winter arrives to clean out as many of your vents as possible. You may likely be surprised when you take the time to see what’s lurking behind your grates.