Poppy colors, playful patterns, and cheeky accessories bring life to a blah bathroom. Welcome to your new happy place.
Hay Tann Toothbrush
If you’re going for color in your spa space, these tinted-from-top-to-bottom toothbrushes will provide an unexpected pop.
To buy: $5; momastore.org.
Photo by momastore.org
Angeline Terry Cloth Towels
Choose from pink and purple or yellow and blue (or mix and match the two) to incorporate a vibrant, yet sophisticated accessory to your bath.
To buy: Washcloth, $13, hand towel, $30, bath towel, $72; rikumo.com.
Photo by rikumo.com
Flex Shower Mirror
Hang this turquoise rubber-wrapped mirror from your showerhead or use the suction cup instead to mount it directly to your shower wall. Either way, this bit of color will brighten up your everyday routine.
To buy: $13; umbra.com.
Photo by umbra.com
Mint Striped Trinket Dish
Use this small ceramic footed bowl to corral jewelry or small soaps on the countertop and provide a sweet surprise for guests.
To buy: $12; anthropologie.com.
Photo by anthropologie.com
Alabax Medium Fixture
Incorporate color even in your light fixture with the help of this sunny yellow flush-mount.
To buy: $119; schoolhouseelectric.com.
Photo by schoolhouseelectric.com
Snapp Pedal Bin
This bright three-gallon tapered bin boasts a removable liner and an easy-to-carry handle at a bargain price.
3 Genius Solutions for Living Room Layout Problems
The hangout zone of your home can be hard to arrange. So Real Simple asked two designers to sketch out solutions for three of the trickiest scenarios. Pull up a chair and take some notes.
Problem: If Your Living Room Has No Foyer
You can fake one with your choice of clever work-around. The idea is to create a pause before the seating area. Check out two solutions below.
Solution #1: Introduce an Entryway Position a rug and some key pieces of furniture just inside the front door.
Set Up Drop Zones: Bookend the doorway with two greeting areas. “A bench-and-hooks combo on one side lets people know right away that this is an entry area,” says Shea McGee of Studio McGee in Salt Lake City. On the other side, place a chest of drawers with a tray on top for grab-and-go essentials, like sunglasses and keys, and a mirror above “for that last check on your way out.”
Bridge the Gap: Center a rug between the drop zones to help define the “foyer.” “I like a rug that’s a foot wider than the door-way on either side,” says McGee. “Any smaller and it can feel puny, like a doormat.”
Add Strategic Sitting: Connect the foyer and the main living area (couches plus TV) with a pair of poufs or low stools. “It’s cumbersome to have to walk around a sofa or two big chairs,” says McGee. “And those pieces would also block your view of the room.”
Related: 33 Modern Living Room Designs
Solution #2: Block With a Bench Set up a divider—a bench, a bookshelf, or a console—and lay down a runner to carve out an entrance corridor.
Bring in Greenery: Pop a plant into the corner facing the entry door to fill out that blank space. It’s in your line of sight when you walk in, so it makes the room feel instantly welcoming, says Amber Lewis of Amber Interiors in Los Angeles. (A snake plant is a good option if that corner doesn’t get a lot of light.)
Decorate With Doubles: Structure the main seating area with some symmetry: a pair of end tables with lamps flanking the sofa, a pair of accent chairs on either side of the coffee table. “Symmetry looks deliberate, so it helps define a space and makes it seem finished,” says Lewis.
Anchor the Main Area: Lay down a rug in the middle of the larger seating section to establish it as a separate space. “I like the outer pieces of furniture to rest partially on the rug,” says Lewis. “The room feels more easygoing, less stiff that way.”
Problem: If Your Living Room is Super Long and Narrow
Divvy up the space to get the most out of the oddly shaped square footage. Opt for either two defined spots or a more fluid layout. Take a look at some ideas below.
Solution #1: Rectangle + Circle Section off the room with dual, seating-heavy groupings—a linear one and a piecier one. Filling out the space actually makes a room feel less confined, says McGee.
Start With a Pair of Sofas: Set up the main seating area with two same-size couches and a coffee table in between. “Some people like a sectional to squeeze in more seating,” says McGee. “But in a tight room like this, it makes traffic flow tricky. A pair of sofas opens up the space better.”
Create a Circle Seating: Turn the second half of the room into a loungey area with four accent chairs surrounding a cocktail table about 18 inches high. “It gives you an intimate spot for conversations or playing cards or board games, and it balances the other side’s chunkier setup,” says McGee.
Add a Flowing, Organic Element: Ground the accent chairs and cocktail table with a cowhide rug. “The curvy shape helps a narrow room feel less boxy,” she says.
Related: 6 Things to Eliminate From Your Living Room Right Now (That You Won’t Miss)
Solution #2: All-Inclusive Break up the rectangle into areas that function well on their own or in tandem: a big, communal spot and a smaller, cozy, nook, says Lewis.
Choose Double-Duty Pieces: Cap the main seating area with a bench that can be reached from either side. “The bench adds extra seating, and because it’s low, the division it creates is very subtle,” says Lewis. “You’re utilizing the narrow space better if you keep an open flow in the room.”
Decorate on an Angle: Outfit the smaller spot with an ottoman and two plush armchairs tilted to face the center of the room. “That way, you can use that nook on its own, or if you have guests over, it morphs with the larger grouping into one big seating area,” says Lewis.
Keep the Nook’s Floor Bare: “I love all kinds of rugs in all kinds of spaces. But in a narrow room, an area without one can open the space and help it feel airier,” says Lewis. “In this scenario, it’s often better to go with one attention-grabbing rug for the main area.”
Problem: If Your Living Room Has Lots of Windows
Build the room from the inside out. (You have no wall space, after all.) Let the setup support your vibe: casual or formal. See two options below.
Solution #1: Homey Hub Keep the area around the windows clear to make them the focal point, and concentrate the coziness in the center of the room.
Use Seating in the Round: This setup creates a comfortable conversation area—just be sure that you have enough space to pull it off, says McGee. “You need about three to four feet in the walkways and about two feet of breathing room in areas that don’t get foot traffic.”
Choose an L-Shaped Couch: A sectional sofa isn’t just a savior for spaces that can’t comfortably fit a sofa and a love seat. It’s also a great choice for anchoring a furniture arrangement in the center of a room, because it’s so weighty and substantial.
Bring in a Little More Bulk: To balance the scale of the furniture, pair the sectional with an oversize coffee table or ottoman (ideally, about half or two-thirds the length of the sofa). A side table topped with a tall lamp adds visual height and draws the eye up to accentuate the windows.
Related: 16 Decorator Tricks for Small Living Rooms
Solution #2: Structured Symmetry Double up on sofas and accent seats to maximize the middle of the room, and utilize the scant wall space you have, says Lewis
Section Off Your Space: Usually the walls delineate space in a room, but if you don’t want to block the windows, you have to do it with furniture. Floating two sofas around a coffee table creates a framework, says Lewis. But keep in mind: “You need at least five feet of space between the sofas and windows so the room isn’t cramped.”
Sprinkle in Shiftable Seating: Extra ottomans that can move around keep everyone happy, says Lewis. You could also add two chairs at the other end of the coffee table if you have enough room for people to sit comfortably there.
Sneak in a Sleek Accent on the Side: Balance the heavy pieces in the middle of the room with a clean-lined console on one wall. “Often people put tables behind the sofas,” says Lewis. “But if you have a little wall space between windows, a console is a slim pick that offsets the bulkiness in the center.” ￼
The brand new marketplace for craft supplies is launching today. Take a look at these three projects that you might want to tackle this weekend.
A few months ago, we announced that Etsy was launching a new site, Etsy Studio, which is a marketplace dedicated to craft supplies. The new site will feature eight million craft supplies to choose from, making it easier than ever to create DIY projects. Consumers can find everything from traditional and vintage craft supplies to hand-dyed fabrics and hand-carved weaving looms. In addition to the supplies, you’ll also find original craft projects and tutorials to inspire you.
Etsy gave Real Simple a sneak peek at three new projects—take a look below and get started on your next DIY venture. See more craft supplies and ideas at EtsyStudio.com.
Driftwood Jewelry Organizer
Photo by Etsy Studio
Tangled necklaces or bracelets in your jewelry box can get annoying—and even cause some damage. This pretty driftwood jewelry organizer will keep your items safe and put them on display. Once you complete the project, hang it on your closet wall or in your bedroom so you can easily grab your favorite pieces when you get ready in the morning.
Party-Ready Paracord Coasters
Photo by Etsy Studio
Cocktail hour just got a little more fun with these colorful coasters. They’re made of paracord and wound in a spiral design. You can experiment with playing with the patterns and colors to match the rest of your table décor.
Wood Bead Keychain
Photo by Etsy Studio
We guarantee you’ll never lose your keys again when they’re on these colorful, pattern-happy holders. Made with wooden beads and tassels, express your creative side by pairing different patterns and colors.
The $6 Kitchen Tool Real Simple Food Editors Are Obsessed With
Every home cook should own one—but most don’t.
There are hundreds of specialized cooking gadgets you can buy, from strawberry hullers toolive pitters. Even if you have a big kitchen, we believe less is more: you really only need 3 knives and a streamlined set of tools. But the one tool we can’t live without (besides the knives) is the Ateco Small Offset Spatula. It’s an inexpensive multitasker that takes up barely any space in your kitchen drawer.
Technically a baking tool, the offset spatula has a long narrow flexible blade with a rounded end. You’ll see the Ateco spatula comes in a variety of sizes. Bakers will appreciate the largest (9.75-inch) offset, fantastic for frosting a cake in a smooth, even layer. But the tool that every home cook should own is the mini, measuring in at just 4.25-inch offset.
We like to think of it as an extension of your hand, like a regular spatula, only more precise. Because of its flexibility and angled end, it can easily slip under delicate foods without breaking them (unlike a regular table knife). You’re frying eggs, for example, and the whites look like they’re about to start cooking into one big mass. Use an offset to gently push them apart. You’re searing homemade veggie burgers and want to move one to the hottest part of the pan. Give the burger in question a lift and a scoot with your offset. You forget to put parchment paper down when you’re making brownies: slip down and underneath to neatly loosen them from the pan.
RELATED: How to Stack and Frost a Layer Cake
The Ateco offset is also better at spreading condiments than any butter knife you’ve met. Because it sits flush against bread, you spread with much more surface area than a knife, which forces you to pull spreads along on its edge. Whether you’re buttering, mayo-ing, or peanut butter and jelly-ing, the offset will become your new best friend. Check out your sandwich maker next time you’re at the deli. Chances are they’re using one of these babies.
17 Bathroom Organization Ideas to Make Mornings Less Hectic
Stop digging for Q-tips, searching for the right eyeliner, and untangling curling iron cords. The key to a calm start to the day is having everything organized and at the ready in the bathroom. Plus: Get more great bathroom ideas!
Every year, the United States chucks nearly 40 percent of its food. Dana Gunders, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the author of The Waste-free Kitchen Handbook, offers money- and planet-saving tips.
Your book says the United States wastes 50 percent more food now than it did in the 1970s. Why is that?
Portion sizes have grown tremendously since then. Plus, it’s become normal for restaurants and caterers to produce excessive menus and buffets and for consumers to buy more than they need.
We’ve come to expect large amounts of food.
Yes. Research NRDC has done found that people are not comfortable with empty white space on plates or in fridges or grocery carts. There’s an urge to fill those spaces with food. And in our culture, throwing food out is acceptable. In fact, leaving something on your plate is considered posh.
What else contributes to food waste?
A lot of produce won’t get picked for market because it’s not pretty enough to be sold. It gets tossed or turned into the soil.
What’s the environmental impact?
About 70 percent of our water and 50 percent of our land is devoted to agriculture. So when we’re not eating that food, it’s a huge unnecessary use of resources. About 33 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gases are produced to grow food that never gets eaten.
What types of food get wasted most?
Fruits and vegetables. Tied for second are dairy products and bread. Meat is third, but it has the biggest impact. If you throw out a hamburger, that’s the equivalent of taking a 90-minute shower, in terms of the water it took to produce it.
How can we waste less produce?
If you need small amounts of specific fruits or veggies for a recipe, buy them from the salad bar so the excess won’t rot in your fridge. Or buy frozen versions, which have almost the same nutritional value with none of the pressure.
What else can we do?
Be realistic. What tends to happen is you buy all these groceries on the weekend because you’re feeling aspirational about how much you’re going to cook. But by Wednesday, life has happened and you’re ordering takeout. And then the broccoli goes bad. Instead, plan for that. If you can, shop often and buy less.
How else can we be conscientious shoppers?
Use a shopping list or an app. And take a last look in your cart before checking out. Think about when in the near future you’re going to eat each item. If you don’t have a clear answer, don’t buy it.
You also talk about conducting a “waste audit.”
For two weeks, jot down what you throw out to pinpoint what you are wasting and why. Did dinner plans change? Did you get wooed by a sale and buy too much? Write down the cost so you feel the financial pain.
How closely should we follow expiration dates?
Take them with a grain of salt, as they’re not federally regulated. A “use by” or “best by” date typically says when the product will be at its best quality. There may be a change in taste, color, or texture.
So we may be throwing out food that’s still OK?
Yes. A big misunderstanding is that when food is old, it will make you sick. The main reason for illness is pathogens like salmonella and E. coli that contaminate food at the farm or processing plants.
What do we need to be careful of?
Mold, green potatoes, and rancid meat, oil, or nuts.
What are some ideas to use up food?
Toss a mishmash of items into a tortilla or in fried rice or pasta salad. You can also sauté wilted lettuce with butter and garlic. Even if you waste a little bit less, it’s still an accomplishment.
Five surprising ways you’re hurting the environment—and the surprisingly easy changes you can make to be greener.
Using Body Wash All the Time
Photo by Aaron Dyer, Prop Styling by JoJo Li
Liquid soaps require five times more energy for raw-material production and nearly 20 times more energy for packaging production than bar soaps do. “And higher energy consumption usually correlates with a higher carbon footprint,” says David Tyler, a professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon, in Eugene.
Stick with bars when you wash up. Not only do they have a considerably lower impact on the environment but also you’ll use less. A study from Zurich’s Institute of Environmental Engineering found that consumers use almost seven times more liquid soap than bar soap when hand washing, so it’s quite likely that we’re overdoing it in the shower as well.
Being Oblivious to Your Electronics Settings
The average home contains about 24 energy-sucking electronic devices, with TVs, desktop computers, cable boxes, and game consoles among the worst. Combined, they consumed about $20 billion worth of electricity in 2013, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in New York.
It’s easy to tweak a TV, so start there. Select “home” mode in the setup instead of “retail,” which is meant for a bright in-store display. If there is an automatic brightness control, turn it on. “This feature measures the amount of light in a room and adjusts the screen. This can cut energy use by up to 50 percent,” says Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist for the NRDC. On smart TVs, disable the quick-start function, which eats up extra power.
Running the Dishwasher and the Clothes Dryer During the Day
These machines produce heat and humidity, which means your air conditioner has to work harder, says Jennifer Amann, the buildings program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, in Washington, D.C. Besides, many utility companies charge higher rates during peak hours.
Use your dishwasher and dryer during off-peak hours, which typically start between 8 P.M. and midnight and end around sunrise. (Check with your provider.) For maximum efficiency, use a low dryer setting, and line-dry thick items, like jeans and towels, whenever possible.
Tossing Used Coffee Pods
Around 9.8 billion K-cup pods were sold in 2014. (They account for a reported 85 to 90 percent of the coffee-pod market.) The number 7 plastic most contain isn’t accepted at many recycling plants (also, plants won’t accept pods if they are filled with coffee), so a majority end up in landfills, says Elizabeth Glazner, the editorial director of the nonprofit organization Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Find a nearby recycling facility that will take them by searching for “number 7 plastic” at search.earth911.com. Then separate the plastic cup from the lid, the filter, and the grounds. The Recycle A Cup gadget ($13, recycleacup.com) will do this in seconds. Or mail pod plastic to Recycle A Cup for free recycling. Easier yet, use a refillable pod (My K-Cup, $15, keurig.com).
Overdoing It With Aluminum Foil
Americans discarded about 2.8 million tons of aluminum—including containers, cans, and foil—in 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Whereas soiled containers can be recycled, dirty foil can’t. And it can take centuries for aluminum to biodegrade.
Use unbleached parchment paper for baking and roasting as well as for wrapping sandwiches and snacks. It’s biodegradeable, compostable, and often reusable.
This article originally appeared on TravelandLeisure.com.
Everyone loves an extra-long weekend, but evidence is mounting that a three-day weekend isn’t just good for your peace-of-mind (or your personal life). According to a recent article by Alex Williams, a City University London visiting lecturer reporting for Quartz, just one additional day off every week could be majorly beneficial to the environment.
We already know that when working hours are reduced, there’s a parallel decrease in energy use. People aren’t commuting, and towering office buildings aren’t blasting heat or A/C.
RELATED: World’s Best Cities
Utah, for example, saved no less than $1.8 million in energy costs when it transitioned state workers to a Monday through Thursday week. Even with extended daily hours, employees still worked less—and from commuting alone, some 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide were kept out of the atmosphere each year.
RELATED: Love Beer? Here’s Where You Should Go Next
And it’s not just the environment that benefits. A shift in the workweek could reduce illness, increase productivity, and be a boon to our general wellbeing. Make your long weekend a trip to the beach, and you’ll really be reaping the health advantages.
What do you do when you’re a reluctant city dweller craving nature? If you’re ecologist Jenny Carney, you build yourself a tiny remote getaway (with a little help from Pa).
Jenny Carney was almost struck by lightning once. A field ecologist, she was using a metal tank of compressed nitrogen to measure the moisture content in a tree. “It started to drizzle,” she says. “Then out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning hit the tank.” Fortunately, the tank didn’t explode. But the simultaneous light-sound experience—“near death by natural disaster,” she jokes—was a pretty exciting moment in her (outdoor) working life.
About 10 years ago, Jenny, now 37, took her scientific-inquiry skills indoors, where she felt they could make more of an impact. She runs a sustainability consulting firm in Chicago called YR&G that advises companies on all aspects of green building and energy-efficiency. It’s rewarding work, for sure. But sitting in front of a computer all day made Jenny, who had grown up in rural Wisconsin and had traversed forests in her previous gig, ache for nature. It’s a familiar feeling, even for those of us with urban roots and desk-centric careers.
Hatching a Plan
Raised by parents who had let their kids wander free with an ethos of “benign neglect,” Jenny had fond memories of slipping past barbed-wire fences to say hello to the neighbors’ cows. She dreamed of a similar vibe for adulthood, but she didn’t have the budget for a traditional country house.
Then she read a book that galvanized her. It was by journalist Richard Louv and titled Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Suddenly Jenny had a name for the malaise many of us feel from being cooped up too much—nature-deficit disorder—and confirmation that, as she explains it, “a compulsion toward nature is a health imperative.” If she couldn’t buy a place, she decided, she would build one herself. Something tiny. Did she have the construction chops? Not yet. But she was a good learner, and she had a secret weapon: her dad, Paul, who, she notes, “could build just about anything.” She started combing online listings for affordable property relatively close to Chicago, in a part of her home state that she considered particularly beautiful.
In early 2009, Jenny purchased six acres of raw land in the Driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin, near the bluffs of the Mississippi River. She taught herself the 3-D modeling software SketchUp and spent that spring designing a small structure. Jenny had never designed anything before, but the software is perfect for beginners. “I was shooting for something more like a studio,” she says. In her head, she downplayed the fact that she would actually need to sleep there overnight. (The land was a good four hours from Chicago.) This “made the project seem attainable despite my lack of experience,” she adds with a laugh.
The structure that she drew and later built is not big and not fancy. Says Jenny: “It’s very intentionally not a house—it’s at best a shelter. I actually call it a shed. Sometimes I sleep in a tent or outside on the porch if the bugs and weather are tolerable. Sometimes I sleep inside.” Jenny’s friend Cayce nicknamed the retreat Xanadu, after the enchanted landscape in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.” It’s an apt moniker. The area features rolling hills, small farms, and country roads dotted with Amish buggies. And at 150 square feet, the shed is all about what surrounds it. “The default state at Xanadu is to be outside in nature,” says Jenny. “You have to make the active decision to go inside.”
It’s in the Genes
Jenny grew up watching both her parents make things with their hands. Her mother, Jane, is an artist who teaches reupholstering (just one of her many skills) at the local tech school. Jane taught Jenny and her sister how to cane chairs, a skill that came in handy when they needed pocket money during graduate school. Jenny’s father, a retired construction foreman who worked on bridges, built the family’s current home and several outbuildings with help from his kids and his brothers. Jenny says, “Lots of people from Wisconsin are like this. They’re industrious—they just do things.”
Raising a Shed
By most accounts, Jenny’s shed went up smoothly one extended October weekend in 2009, in large part because Jenny and Paul made a great team. She’s a planner; he’s a figure-it-out-as-you-go-er. “I enlisted his help right away to look at my drawings and tell me whether it was going to work,” she says. “But he didn’t fully engage in the project until we were actually building it.” Then there was no problem he could not solve.
They started by choosing a location for the structure. Jenny wanted to build deep in the woods, on a level road that followed an old farmer’s fence line. Her city self sought privacy. Paul convinced her to move the site closer to the field where she would park her car, in part so they wouldn’t have to lug building materials as far. (She thanked him later.) They created what’s known as a floating foundation by laying a small bed of gravel for each footing and arranging 12 concrete deck blocks (they look like cinder blocks). Working hard with Jenny and Paul all weekend were Paul’s brother Bob and Jenny’s mom, Jane, who also kept the team well fed. At one point, a couple of friends stopped by to lend extra hands.
Says newbie-builder Jenny, “When you focus on the constituent parts, [a project like this] seems manageable: Build a floor, add some walls, top it with a roof.” And that’s what they did. After the foundation was in place, they framed the floor, dropping supports of different lengths to create a level surface on the hill. Since they were building on an incline, the supports at the top of the hill are shorter than those at the bottom—and the floor appears to stick straight out of the hillside.
Days at Xanadu are spent lounging on the porch and enjoying the company of friends while waiting the 20 minutes it takes for water to boil.
Next they put down plywood floor decking. Then they framed the walls, leaving room for windows, and the roof, which would be metal, to facilitate rainwater collection.
After the skeleton of the shed was in place, they hung exterior walls made of plywood and added a layer of environmentally friendly siding (made of cement, sand, and wood fiber). “Fiber-cement siding,” Jenny explains, “is durable and low-maintenance, yet it’s far more environmentally preferred than vinyl siding. For one thing, it’s inert and noncombustible, so you don’t have to worry about off-gassing or the release of toxic compounds in the event of a fire.” Paul and Jenny finished up by installing energy-efficient windows and a sliding-glass door that opens onto a porch, sheltered by an overhanging roof.
Three and a half days after the project began, the exterior shell was complete. Jenny’s mom rewarded the team with a huge pan of lasagna made on a camp stove.
Filling in the Blanks
The remaining construction took place in stages over the course of the following year. Jenny came back by herself to build the interior walls. She used Energy Star–qualified foam insulation between the studs and finished the inside walls and the ceiling with formaldehyde-free plywood.
That fall, Paul returned, and together they fitted the space with a woodstove and a chimney so it could be used in winter. He and Jenny also built a simple, space-saving Murphy-type bed: It’s a basic platform bed whose head is attached to the wall with hinges. They added hooks to the far legs and chains to the wall so that the bed could be hinged and lifted to hang vertically, flush against the wall, when not in use. Bed linens are kept in two storage bins that, like most everything in the shed, serve a dual purpose—they’re sofa seating.
Something To Eat, Nothing To Do
Jenny researched vegetables that could thrive without care. Since she’s not around to water regularly, they needed to be OK with what nature provides. In raised beds in a nearby field, she grows onions, fingerling potatoes, and beans, which she leaves to dry on the vine, then harvests for dinner.
Days at Xanadu are spent lounging on the porch, blazing trails, hunting for wild morel mushrooms, and enjoying the company of friends and loved ones while waiting the 20 minutes it takes for water to boil on the woodstove.
The Unfinished Product
There’s still no plumbing or electricity installed on the property, and for now Jenny prefers it this way. She collects rainwater in a barrel to wash dishes, cooks on a campfire propane grill or the woodstove, uses a solar-charged battery to power a few lights, and turns to sawdust and a bucket for a loo. As long as you’re prepared to rough it, she says, staying at Xanadu feels like cushy camping.
In an effort to return the land to its original state. Jenny cultivates prairie plants, such as milkweed. (Monarch-butterfly larvae require it, and sadly it’s disappearing.) Last year, she planted heirloom apple trees, which the deer keep picking at. In a field near the garden are tree-swallow houses made by Paul from a design that Jenny found online. Birds make their home there during mating season; field mice take residence the rest of the year. Even the swallows have a second purpose, says Jenny: “They’re insectivores, gobbling mosquitoes to make lounging in the field more appealing for humans.”
Jenny dreams of a high-speed rail link between Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin, which would allow her to make the most of the trek. Until then, she does the four-hour drive whenever she can get away, staying as long as her schedule permits.
At the end of each visit, before she heads back to her city life, she has a ritual. She sits on the porch, drinking a beer and reading a poem.
Paul Carney understands Jenny’s pull toward this rustic project. During his retirement, he figures that he spends 90 percent of his waking time outside, gardening, fishing, and working on his house. “In the summer, I just come in to eat and sleep,” he reports.