Friday, February 22, 2008

Lawns

videoOkay, I will start talking about lawns, specifically what works for me and my lawn. When Mr. Fix it and I moved here almost seven years ago there was no lawn. The house had been empty for more than four months between the months of May and August. No one thought to have anyone cut the lawn. What a nightmare. When we finally moved in the owner (or someone) was ready to spring for a lawncare man to come and cut the grass. The lawncare guy was so worried he might run into trees, debris and equipment buried under all the weeds that he did a long recon first. I thought it funny. But only as long as it took me to realize that jungle formerly known as a lawn would be my mess to clean up. Six and half years later I can honestly say it has come a long way.


We started with way more yard than we have now. Also, way more trees. Despite cutting down about 50 trees, we probably have that many still in the yard. Why do I mention trees? Well, with trees comes shade, grass does not like the shade. I like the shade though, so together the trees, us, and the grass have come to an uneasy peace which suits all. It works because I fortunately have the time to baby the grass.


Fescue does the best in shade over all other grasses. Though you can't tell that to the errant Bermuda grass which self seeds into my nice green fescue lawn. I hate Bermuda grass because it is so invasive. But, that being said, I do not begrudge anyone their warm season grasses such as Bermuda, Centipede, St. Augustine (more common further south than here), and Zoysia, they just aren't for me. Since I only grow fescue, what works for me will be tailored to my fescue lawn, but the same basic principles apply to warm season grasses with the exception of mowing height, winter color, and seeding. I will try to mention some differences as we go along.

Fescue is a type of grass that clumps rather than runs with stolons, which is what warm season grasses do. Warm season grasses are so much more forgiving and quicker to establish because they do run. Since fescue clumps, it tends to get thin during the year, not just in the summer when it is likely to go dormant due to drought. I have seeded my fescue every year for the past four years. The best time to overseed a fescue lawn is in late September, then you should plan to add fertilizer or amendments such as lime in late October or mid November. I have done it many different ways and experimented with the timing so believe me when I say this is the best way to overseed. Overseeding is really the only way to have a great looking and thick fescue lawn. I don't mind really. It is all a work of love because I do love my lawn, you might call me a desperate lawn wife as I spend an awful lot of time on it. So, first tip for fescue, overseed each year.

The next and very, very important tip is to soil test! I was always a gardener who thought that with good cultural practices I did not need a soil test simply because my soil would be good. Yeah right. When I had a soil test done two years ago it showed a ph for the front yard was something like 5.6, and the backyard was like 4.9. Very low and acidic. Lawn grasses like a ph somewhere between 6.0 and 7.0, with about a 6.5 being ideal. The soil report recommended that I add 100 pounds of lime per 1000 feet. My front yard alone is 4000 square feet of grass so that would translate into 400 pounds of lime just for it. QUITE a bit of lime in my little Buick and too much for me at one time. I instead opted for 50 pounds per 1000 square feet that year, and this year I applied the other 50 pounds. It takes a long time for the lime to change the ph and I wanted to see if adding lime would make that much of a difference. It actually did and this year I expect even sweeter things from my lawn. I had tried to use chemical fertilizers and weedkillers to get the lawn grass growing fast and that had been my mistake. Chemical fertilizers, when used over time, have a tendency to acidify a soil, so they are best used in moderation. Say, once per year in October for fescue, in April or May for warm season grasses. So, tip number two for a great lawn is to soil test and adjust for ph if necessary. Use chemical fertilizers sparingly.

Prior to overseeding I always aerate my lawn, front and back. Lawns are one of those gardens where cultivation is not really an option. But we walk and play and garden on our lawns which causes damage to the grass and compacts the soil. Compacted soil is not a good situation for any growing thing. The ideal mix of your soil should be 25% air, 25% water, and 50% soil. Compaction drives out the air so plant roots are not able to breath or move through the soil. Grass growth is stunted. Aeration, while not a perfect solution to compaction does helps the situation. Small core aerators are that can be attached to the back of a riding lawn mower are very reasonably priced and are a great help when striving for a nice lawn. I use mine about three times a year and ALWAYS before overseeding or adding amendments. Aerating in the winter works best as the wet cool soil is easier to aerate than when it is hard and dry as the soil usually is in the summer. I leave the plugs on the lawn to be washed down by the rain and weather. It is extremely muddy for a week or so, then you would never know I had aerated the lawn. The holes left by mechanical aeration help to hold seed or lime or fertilizer and to get the amendments closer to the root system of the existing grass. Also, aeration has saved me from losing all of my newly laid seed one year when we had an unexpected thunderstorm. I was sure all the seed washed away and was delighted when I saw it sprouting in the little holes left by aeration about a week later. Tip number three for a nice lawn, aerate regularly and always before overseeding or applying amendments.

Another very important part of lawn maintenance if you are starting from scratch or worse, like I did, is to get rid of the weeds. Easier said than done. I have spent countless hours all throughout the year with a fishtail weeder in hand, a wheelbarrow in tow, bent over pulling those dastardly weeds! This winter is the first winter I have not had to literally spend hours each week and I finally feel my hard work has paid off. The weeds I most have to dig are: dandelions (you really need to dig deep and dispose of the weed-don't compost it!), plantains (I love hostas but minature hosta like plants in the lawn are not what I had in mind), goose grass (the absolutely worse-see the two small pictures above), nutsedge (likes the shady moist areas in my lawn). I feel you need to remove the weeds prior to them going to seed to prevent the next season's crop, and removing weeds helps ensure you lawn grass can compete on an unlevel playing field. In the shade lawn grass needs all the help it can get. I also have problems with wild strawberries (very difficult to deal with because of the runners), and wild violets. I am still mad about those violets. I had no idea they would spread so doggoned much into the lawn when I purchased that innocent looking violet at-of ALL places-a master gardener sale here in Montgomery County. I still sting to think I bought such an invasive plant from this plant sale. I learned my lesson almost to the point of being fanatic about invasive plants like obedient plant and artemisia being sold by master gardeners. I usually don't say anything but I will definitely NOT buy any plants there. There are perhaps easier ways of getting rid of weeds, but I like to try to be organic and don't like pesticides, therefore I have not used chemical sprays or such to get rid of the weeds, instead preferring to hand dig them. This is not for everyone and if you use pesticides that is certainly your right, just be sure to read the label and follow instructions to the letter. So, fourth tip to a great lawn, remove weeds.

Another important chore for a great looking fescue lawn is to remove leaves in the fall. The warm season grasses are better equipped to deal with excess leaves since they run, but fescue will smother under leaves and debris and will not bounce back. Weeds will set in and you will be back at square one. Tip number five is to remove leaves from your lawn in the fall and compost.


The last tip is probably the most MOST important tip. It is also the easiest and simplest way to ensure you have a great looking lawn even if you don't follow the first four tips. Are you ready?! Mow your lawn properly and often. These two simple tasks are where most homeowners fail in their endeavors to have a good looking lawn. Even if they do all of the above it is all for naught if they don't mow properly. For fescue lawns it will mean mowing AT LEAST twice weekly from early March well into November. If you have a lawn person mowing your lawn, I understand it is VERY expensive to do so and you may not want to spring for an extra mowing, this would be the time to supplement the mowing with your own mowing. I can't stress this enough. In the past four years that I have been intensively gardening (since I retired from the Army), I have faithfully mowed my lawn at least twice a week with the exception of this past summer when my lawn finally turned completely brown and went dormant. In that case I only mowed about once a week. Fescue should never be mowed lower than 3 inches in the summer time. Additionally, you should never mow more than a third of the grass blade off at any one time. Therefore you need to mow the lawn when it has about an inch of new growth. This doesn't take long, especially if you fertilize and if we have plenty of rains. Even in the shade my lawn tends to grow quickly. For fescue, I do mow a little lower in March and April to encourage tillering. Once the weather starts getting hot though, the cutting heighth of the mower comes up. My lawn probably always seems like it needs to be cut but for fescue you truly want it long. The length helps to shade the grass roots and the soil. Sometimes weed seeds are not able to germinate because of the shade provided by long grass, additionally water is not lost as fast when the lawn is cut long. Now, for warm season grasses you can cut them much shorter but you still want to cut regularly and not let them get too long. Bermuda should probably be cut to a heighth of 1.5 inches or so. You can plan on cutting it when it reaches about 2 inches or so, keeping in mind that you do not want to cut off more than one third of the grass blade in any one cutting. When you cut your lawn frequently and properly, make sure you leave the grass blades on the lawn, they will quickly decompose and add much needed nitrogen to the soil. I recently heard or read somewhere that when you leave a season's worth of grass clippings on your lawn, it adds the equivalent of 1 pound of nitrogen to the soil! Now, if you don't cut properly and have gabs of grass, make sure you rake the grass clippings up for your compost so it does not smother the grass. This is not the proper way to mow and you will have many weeds and weak grass if you mow in this manner. The last and final tip of this very long post, is to cut your lawn frequently and in the correct manner prescribed for your type of grass.

If you follow these tips you will be sure to be the envy of the neighborhood (never a problem for me since most of my neighbors can't see my lawn-the way I like it!). Yes, lawn grasses take a lot of time, but it is worth it to have the beautifully maintained house with super curb appeal. Additionally, great lawns really set off the gardens. Believe it or not, in my yard even with all the gardens, the thing that takes the MOST amount of time and maintenance and money IS the lawn. That is one reason I try to take out lawn and put in gardens (hubby doesn''t agree-but then again, he does not maintain the yard-I do!). Lawn mowing, overseeding, fertilizing, raking, and weeding all take a tremendous amount of time and sometimes money, but lawns require it.

Enjoy the video. I thought it fitting since cows also like grass, not to look at, but to chew! They do a great job of fertilizing the pasture too and I really enjoy my neighbor's cows out back of my garden. I have included a couple of pictures of my lawn grass. The first picture was taken in August 07 and even without watering you can see the grass (fescue) is a lovely shade of green! I do think the shade may help, but proper mowing is the biggest, simplest, easiest thing I do for my lawn. The second picture was taken in 2004 and the lawn was not quite where I wanted it to be. It was well on its way though after having been infested with 6 foot tall pokeweed and who knows what else just three years before. Like I have said before, gardening takes time and anyone who thinks they can create an ideal garden overnight either has an awful lot of money (then the garden only looks good for a short time because you still have to maintain it!) or is a bit naive about the nature of gardening.

in the garden....enjoying the green, cool, soft grass underfoot.

22 comments:

  1. Whoa, this is a long one but very informative. We like the lime also, at first I was like you and did not believe it worked but Jack of all trades got low when spreading it one year, the last two passes were one drop spreader apart. By the end of spring you could definately tell the difference, the limed grass was much greener and healthly looking. We had stripped grass! We learned our lesson on mowing, short grass= burned grass. I've heard that up here some people stop mowing for a while during July when it is the hottest and the lawns slow their growth down? We have perenial ryegrass with a small amount of fescue mixed in.

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  2. very long! sorry. i thought it best to get it all out in one post, plus, honestly it is less work for me.i still have a few more posts before the switchover i am trying to get out. i am not preparing anymore for awhile.

    dawn with peaches. fescue is what i would grow up there so this post definitely works for you. i can see you already know most of the deal anyhow. good job!

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  3. Good day to all. No snow yet today but it is cloudy but they have down graded it to 2 - 5 inches. That means we will probably only get a dusting. That will cover the bare spots for a day or 2, depending on the temp.

    Dawn a Toby Mug are those mugs that are a character mug, mostly men that are fishermen or pirates and made by Royal Doulton. Usually they have a lotta black and reds in color. But when buying one you make sure to check for Royal Doulton on botton, if you want the true thing as a lotta companies have copied them.

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  4. mom, did the video work for you? which toby mug are you missing?

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  5. Yes Tina the video did work for the most part. It did buffer a couple of times for a couple of seconds. Might be my puter as a couple of others i have had buffering like yourtube. But all others work ok.

    I only had one toby mug and I can't even remember what one it was. It was about 4 inches tall and had the black and red. It did have a black hat.

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  6. hey mom, i am glad it worked. i kept it short. my poor camera is about to die for good but it still occasionally does videos. i tried several times to get this one. now i am having problems with pictures. sigh.

    mom, seems to me you had it in your china cabinet. isn't it plastic? with a black hat?

    wanted to tell my readers Marion Parris, customer service rep at First Federal Bank called with a warm thank you for spotlighting their bank. That was very kind of her and i appreciate it!

    this is for mr. harpel, i did notice the log cabin on dunbar cave road. i had noticed it a long time ago but thought it was a private home versus a bank owned building. the wall is beautiful and serves a good purpose there as well. now i am noticing first federal banks all over (one on wilma rudolph) and i notice they all have nice landscaping-good job!

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  7. Lots of good information there Tina! I haven't had any soil tests done on our yard yet. My focus right now is more on the bones of the landscape. Trees and stuff. I did overseed in the fall with some Kentucky 31 and it did great. I'm looking forward to it springing up to block out the weeds. I'm thinking of overseeding again in the spring. I waged a war on the ragweed last year and I'm hoping that I now have the upper hand. (I pulled up all the ragweed from the roots, no chemicals, that took a long time!)

    One other idea, use compost in a spreader as a fertilizer. Sifted compost spread on your yard 3-4 times a year will help improve the quality of the soil. I'm planning on doing this when I fill the veggie beds.

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  8. Tina I did'nt think it was in a china cabinet but thought maybe the one that has the presdiental and shaving mugs but it was not there so checked the other, not there either. But by checking the things I realized that we get so used to things that we do not even know what we have. Boy oh boy the big oak china cabinet really has some great dishes in it. Some of I know would have a very high price tag. I am beginning to think I should have someone come and go thru this house and do some selling!!! Another thing now that I am talking about this I have several boxes under knee walls that I have never unpacked. Maybe the Toby Mug is in there. And we started building this house in 1981 and moved in July 1992! I know all Nana's sliver and Fostoria Crystal is all there in boxes. A house this size and it is too full to have all that out. Guess that tells me I should do some selling. Unpacking those boxes should be a pronto project. But probably will not be.

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  9. Wow, nice book on Grass Tina. LOL…
    Another way I have heard to aerate is to wear Golf shoes or cleats while push mowing! Never tried it but it makes sense to me…

    When we first moved into this house we had little grass but in time with a little fertilizer and proper cutting it at a higher level, we have a beautiful yard of St Augustine and Centipede mix. It is as if you are walking on a carpet in our yard! But a pain in the butt to keep from running on the edges. The gas weed whacker is my friend during the summer months!

    While living in Germany, we had a gartenplatz with our German friends. We planted an area full of Kentucky bluegrass for their young grand child to play in. It worked great in the cool climate and got lots of compliments from garden neighbors!

    The cabin on Dunbar Cave Road once belong to Roy Acuff. It was a happening place back in time... Good friends of my parents lived in it before the bank bought it so they have been inside. Said it was very interesting and had lots of neat things about it....

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  10. Great post Tina --and I honestly love the fact that you tell how it all works. For a non-garden type I NEED every step of the way to understand:) So, thank you:) I never realized there is a log cabin on Dunbar Cave --hmmm --will have to check that out since I drive that way at least 3-4 times a week. Hi Jean --your cabinets remind me of my grandma's house. She had loads of china cabinets with the prettiest glass dishes, vases and all kinds of non-touchables. We could gaze in awe at all that stuff --I loved in the Sping when my mom and her sisters would clean the cabinets. It meant they actually touched all those pretty china sets and dishes and I would get a closer peak:) Wow, that stuff was so nice --I'm sure you're stuff is pretty too. I will someday have a china cabinet --hahaha no need for that nice stuff now with a housefull of boys:) I prefer plastic as the eating mode here --occasionally they get a treat with nice dishes on holidays or special occasions. They have been known to be a little rough. Dawn with peaches I'm sure your yard is great --we always had lush green yards back home --I thought it was because of all the snow:) Gave that yard a good drink --heheheh. And, we lived in the mountains so we had all kinds of natural minerals and such --plenty of fresh water springs to get a drink when out roaming the woods. Hi Skeeter --how are you today --hopefully not too sore from all that wheelbarrow work you did. Just thinking of it makes me tired. But, I must go get more firewood with the small boy --he likes to help --rofl. That would mean running around while I load and unload. Later

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  11. Great post Tina. I enjoyed it. Right on the button. I have spreading grass here--haven't found out for sure what kind. St. Augustine, I think. I don't like chemicals is why I use the milorganite--it's natural. Nothing was growing under that big oak tree when we moved here so as I made beds larger I took the grass & transplanted it under the tree. Now I have a good "lawn" under the tree. Plus I think the shade helps. I think I might need some lime also. I've never had a soil test done here. Guess I should do that too.
    The video worked fine for me.

    Hi Jean,
    Glad your weather is a bit better.

    Hi Skeeter,
    Guess we have about the same weather wise. Warm here today it rained all night & part of last afternoon. But it's too wet to do anything except plant the Gaillardia {very nice plant} in the barrel with the others. That will make it complete except I may put a couple of Pansy or Petunia as a filler till the main ones get started. I hope it turns out like I have it in my mind. Hope you're ok after all that work.

    I don't remember a cabin on Dunbar Cave. Of course it's has been eons since I've been through there.

    Hi Dave,
    I agree, bones are the major part of a lawn. The rest seems to fall into place.

    Hi Dawn with Peaches & Anonymous. Nina back yet from playing GM?

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  12. Hi Lola, I haven't seen a posting from Nina this week --she is probably still having fun with her grandaughter. I'm glad you have warm weather --it is cold and rainy here today. It has rained on and off --we went out while it wasn't raining --have to get the small guy outside for fresh air and to burn some energy:)

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  13. Tina,

    hello...I am getting to know about your garden, too. I am going to have to get your consulting help with shade tolerant grasses... I love my trees more than grass. But I think grass next to a garden bed is a beautiful way to show off the flowers.

    Gail

    I had an interesting experience trying to comment at one of the blogs that require a sign in...a message kept popping up that I looked like a virus...rare is the mac virus so I deleted all my cookies and it worked. I continue you to learn.

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  14. dave,
    bones are good and important. i too focused on them-mainly to provide privacy from the adjacent houses. now there are borders everywhere and lots of trees and shrubs. some have grown well. good to get them in early but don't neglect the lawn. glad you got rid of the ragweed and i hope it doesn't come back.

    i never enough compost to spread on the lawn-sure wish i did. i am going to try milorganite or maybe cottonseed meal.

    mom, i think you should go through your stuff. either give it us kids or sell it. years and years of collecting can add up. i try to do the same. whenever i can get all my kids together!

    skeeter, sorry about the book! i will make up for it by posting some short posts coming up. i promise.

    i had no idea about that cabin. i need to research it some more. i always thought it was a private home and was glad they put in that wall because i can tell it would flood otherwise. it is very neat. owned by roy acuff? too cool.

    anonymous, i am glad you enjoy my ramblings. you know how i can talk but i think it does help to explain the workings of things. the best way i know how to do that is tell the story. it is long though, maybe too long for on here-thank goodness the leaf has a big server! glad the little man got some fresh air. i am going to be posting some children pics. wanna send me some? for on here? let me know. i don't have any of them.

    hey lola! you are on here early today. great. i am glad you like it. st. augustine is a very good warm weather grass for the shade. it is coarser than the bermuda and i even think centipede and zoysia. i had it in alabama and found it was happy in shade, but i had to water it. you have a bunch of sun too don't you? what grows in the sun at your place? have you told skeeter yet you also grow confederate jasmine? you two love it so much i am going to have to check it out.

    nina should be back next week. she will have bunches of catching up to do but i am sure she is enjoying her visit with her granddaughter and staying busy.

    gail, i already invited myself to your garden! lol. anytime. i give free advice as you can see. and i see you do too! judging by your pics i think you need to do away with any grass and maybe use some liriope in your difficult areas under the trees. let me know. i am in nashville twice a week for school anyhow and in your neck of the woods.

    never had the problem with not being able to post, though i don't like logging in a code each time. oh well.

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  15. Anonymous,
    Glad it stopped raining long enough to let little one get some fresh air. That will make him healthier. Not good to sit in house all the time.
    No better way to have fun than with ones grand & ggkids.

    I had a few mins. earlier to get on here as I knew the kids would be over later. Their Mom needs a "rest". Little guys would rather stay here.

    Skeeter, Heard you like Confederate Jasmine!!! Me too. I love the smell. It is quite large now---would be bigger but I have to keep trimming it or it might take the roof off my shed. It's already gotten in the gutter & wound between the 2x6 overhead. I guess if it were left alone it could be a bit of trouble. I put it there so I could have a bit of privacy from neighbors. Wild honey suckle is in bloom down here. That smells good. Did you ever take honey suckle blooms pull the pistol out & get the sweet liquid off it?

    I'm surprised they didn't make a museum out of the log cabin considering who it belonged to.

    Tina, did I tell you I now have the half whiskey barrel finished? Thought maybe I'd put in a couple pansy or petunia to fill till the major plants got going. 1 job down--just water & hope it makes it. I have petunias blooming that have been out all winter.
    Is your ground still freezing?

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  16. hi lola, no, you didn't tell me you finished your whiskey barrel. send me a pic when it is blooming beautifully.

    can't believe you still have petunias blooming. i think they like cold weather but you all must not have had too much freezing weather this winter. like us too. just wind!

    our ground is not frozen. it is ready for new plants. i just planted about a dozen shrubs just this week. this is the perfect time to put them in. fall is better, but as long as they are dormant it works. i know you will truly get spring before us and i am looking forward to hearing of it from you. then we can follow spring up the coast to maine!

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  17. I have three Confederate Jasmine by the patio climbing up trees! I love the smell so much and am amazed as to how a bloom so tiny can put off such a wonderful scent!

    The Roy Acuff cabin was part of a resort in the 50's I think. They had an Olympic sized pool, horse back riding and all kinds of entertainment by the cave. Was a place to escape the heat during the summer months. I am not sure how it became State property but dont think the state owned the cabin. Dont know if they still exist but they use to have trails to walk around on. I would take my Day Care kiddies to the cave and we would watch the Muskrats, or some kind of water critter, playing in the water. We would feed the ducks and I would tell them stories by the cave entrance. Was a simple time in life back in the early 80’s and Dunbar Cave was magical for my Day Care gang!

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  18. Oh Skeeter that sounds like a great day for kiddies in Day Care! I love to watch Otters in the water.

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  19. there you are mom! wondering where you were.

    skeeter, i think the pool must've been in front? there is a huge hole that looks like it might flood. i wonder what the bank does with it. i didn't ask mr. harpel because i really wasn't sure i knew the building.

    i didn't know you did daycare. that is hard work. not for the faint of heart. you have many talents.

    mom, did you get lots of snow? we are hearing it has swamped the northeast. especially new york city. though i seem to recall they get snow every year.

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  20. Tina the swimming pool was behind the Visitor center near the cave where all the people feed the ducks and geese.... I can remember seeing it before they filled it in. Not sure why they filled it in as I would think it would have been an asset but it was State property then so who knows what they were thinking... I use to keep the Ranger (at the time) of the parks child in the Day Care! I think his name was Cody, I recall him being a good child but one of the younger ones that was in my co-workers class.... I worked in Day Care from the age of 16 until I left Clarksville in the year 1985… That is probably why I never had children of my own. I found out at an early age there was more to a child then playing dress up like a Barbie Doll… LOL…

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  21. oh yeah. i know this swimming pool. some friends in the garden club talk about it. they are supposed to be putting in a butterfly garden which we will help to maintain in the old pool location. i heard it was a happening place many years ago.

    you are so funny about daycare. it is why you never had kids? you are one of the smart ones. definitely takes more than dressing up like barbie doll. bad comes with the good and real life is nothing like playing make believe. anyone who has lived a few years-or did daycare like you did! knows this:)

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  22. What happened to the body of water that was right in front of the cave? I was there in 1956 for 8th grade graduation trip. There was also a juke box with concession stand where you could purchase a snack. Has all that been removed?

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