Yesterday my husband Tom and I attended the last day of the Gauguin exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum, Paul Gauguin: The Art of Invention. Our friend Mike went with us and treated us to the tickets that he had earned from doing volunteer work.
When I first became interested in studying art, I wanted to be a painter. When I took ceramics and printmaking for the first time, I lost interest in painting and stopped reading about it as much as I used to in favor of my new passions. Over the years I also have done some pretty intense study of fiber arts, various crafts, collage, Dadaism, neo-Dadaism and Mail Art, ‘Zines, book arts, Outsider Art, Pop Art, photography, computer animation, web design, architecture, graphic design, the decorative arts, archaeology and anything Mid-Century Modern. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism were the first kinds of painting that drew me in but over the years I came to prefer Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism as painting styles. I hadn’t done any reading on Gauguin for a long time.
I really enjoy artists and designers who work in a variety of media, such as Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse and Frank Lloyd Wright. A lot of times I feel guilty about having so many interests and dabbling in so many different occupations and areas of study. Today’s society seems mostly to expect you to do only one thing but that is not and never will be “me”. So at this Gauguin show I was very intrigued to see some of Gauguin’s ceramics, wood carvings and woodcut prints alongside the paintings. There were ceramics and decorative objects from Gauguin’s personal collection as well as Oceanic and Peruvian art that was representative of the cultures Gauguin was influenced by. He was also at various times a sailor, a stockbroker and a writer. People like this make me not feel so weird!
As a former ‘zine publisher (Lime Green News 1991-1998), I was excited to see a woodblock print graphic in the exhibit that Gauguin carved to help him publish his own newspaper, which could be considered a type of ‘zine. I’m currently taking a Mass Communications class and in our textbook Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future by Stanley J. Baran and Dennis K. Davis, I’ve highlighted a very intriguing sentence: “Extremists were often forced to rely on older media like pamphlets, handbills and political rallies.” I don’t know if Gauguin would have been considered an “extremist” in his time but he was critical of religion and government and his lifestyle was, to put it politely, pretty “bohemian”. When I read the above sentence in my textbook I thought of the history of self publishing and the many forms it can take. Before movable type printing presses, documents were hand written or perhaps laboriously printed with hand-printing methods such as stamping and wood block printing. Later there were typewriters, carbon paper, mimeographs, copy machines, desktop computers with printers and the World Wide Web, making self-publishing easier and more accessible.
When I was ‘zine publishing, I used to make my originals on paper to be copied on a copy machine at the office supply superstore. I started out with text printed out on an inkjet printer on my 1983 Commodore 64 computer, which I used for all my word processing until 1995. I essentially made big collages for my pages, combining the printed text with a variety of graphics, collages and hand-drawings. If I wanted to add color I would sometimes carve a rubber stamp and stamp it on the finished prints. I think the largest edition I ever made of my ‘zine was 100, so stamping 100 times to add a bit of color was feasible.
I got a Windows computer in 1995 with a black and white laser printer. At that time I got Internet access for the first time and started reading on the World Wide Web. My first web site went live in 1997. Gradually I made my ‘zine using more modern desktop publishing methods and by learning software such as the Microsoft Office suite, Corel Draw and Photoshop. The last years of my ‘zine incorporated more and more “modern” techniques but were still made as big collages with some hand-embellishments before copying. In 1998 I just switched my ‘zine content over to my web site, which although a bit out of date in spots is still live (www.limegreennews.com). It needs some (ok a lot of) work because I’ve been neglecting it in favor of the blog you are reading now.
Publishing online is very satisfying, but I miss the lower-tech, handcrafted methods of self-publishing sometimes. I still like book arts in various forms. I’d like to write about or engage in some self-publishing as I work on my master’s degree if possible. It’s been on my mind ever since reading that sentence in the textbook. I got out some of my old ‘zine originals to go down memory lane and think about some possible research ideas. ‘Zine publishers do a lot of trading and I had a big collection of other people’s ‘zines plus material they sent me for consideration for publication. I donated the bulk of my collection to the Poetry and Rare Books collection at the University of New York at Buffalo some years ago but I did save a few things I especially liked. I have no idea what they kept of my collection if anything, but they did have a subscription to my ‘zine when it was in publication and I didn’t know of anyone else who might be interested! I didn’t save much of the “extremist” stuff for my own collection because it frankly scared me and was one of the reasons I dropped out of the printed ‘zine scene – it helped contribute to a major anxiety attack that I eventually received treatment for and recovered from. I don’t think I’ve ever said publicly why I dropped out of the ‘zine and Mail Art scene suddenly but that is a major part of why I did that. I do miss aspects of it though. I’m kind of hoping that working on my degree will bring opportunities to do some research on this era of communication or even get back into it in some way. I might even re-publish on this blog some things that are not too embarrassing that aren’t yet online. We’ll see!
Just for fun, since the art show I just saw included Oceanic art and some work by Gauguin that shows how he was influenced by that art , here is what the cover of Lime Green News #2 looked like. I took a postcard with rubber stamped art work that I liked from another mail artist and taped down some sketches from my then-current Oceanic art history class. I drew and stamped crudely around the sketches and the postcard to make a cover. On the left is my original, on the right is a simulation of what the cover would have looked like after copying it on a black and white machine at the office supply superstore. I don’t know if I even have a printed version of this issue in my archives, I probably just have the original. At that time, if my memory is correct, I used to print about 10-15 copies just to trade with people.
What do Ross Perot and Oceanic art have to do with each other? I had no idea then and don’t now, but one thing I have not ever grown out of is making collages out of random things. Now I call it Art Journaling and use it as one of my artistic outlets since I don’t really try to make “Fine Art” type art any more. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of ideas, I do, I just don’t see what good it would do for anybody. But I never know what older ideas I’m going to go back to!
DISCLAIMER: The following is graduate student work. I’m uploading it after grading from the Professor but no corrections were made. I made a couple of minor formatting changes for online viewing, the printed version attempts to conform to MLA style. Comments on any of my blog posts are encouraged at any time and if you have critiques that would help me write better I especially would welcome those.
The Film “Good Night and Good Luck” and Theories of Propaganda
Propaganda is a communication strategy that aims to influence the ideas and behavior of people without the subjects being consciously aware they are being manipulated (Baran and Davis 43). 20th century theorists in the United States differentiated between different types of propaganda. White propaganda was defined as the suppression of some ideas in favor of other ideas favorable to the goals of the propagandist. Black propaganda was the deliberate spread of misinformation (Baran and Davis 43). Gray propaganda was defined as information that made no claims to being either true or false (Baran and Davis 44). White and Black in this context are old-fashioned terms that are not accepted today because they can give offense but at the time these theories were first promoted they were shortcuts for Good, Bad and ambiguous (Baran and Davis 44).
The effectiveness of propaganda had been demonstrated to the satisfaction of many elites and social theorists by the events of WWI and the rise of totalitarian governments in Europe by the 1930s. In the United States there was concern about whether democracy could survive when the world was full of enemies willing to use propaganda as a weapon (Baran and Davis 45-46).
New York Times columnist Walter Lippmann was one of those who advocated for the formation of an intelligence bureau that would disseminate information selected by scientific methods to be distributed to government decision makers and media (Baran and Davis 51). An example of opposition to Lippmann’s view was philosopher John Dewey who believed that education was the best defense against propaganda (Baran and Davis 51). The educational prophylactic approach as a guard against propaganda came to be known as media literacy (Baran and Davis 51).
World War II and the Cold War further encouraged mass society theorists who nurtured ambitions to control information for the public good, although a formal government intelligence agency for that purpose was not formed at that time (Baran and Davis 51). Limited-effects theory advocates conducted studies that gave them confidence that leaders and the public could mitigate the effects of Communist propaganda on average people. Senator Joseph McCarthy did not share that confidence. As an apparent mass society theory believer, in the 1950s he and his allies began a campaign to purge communists from the United States government and media which came to be known as the Red Scare (Baran and Davis 22).
The 2006 film “Good Night and Good Luck” is based on historic events and chronicles the public clash between journalist Edward R. Murrow and Senator McCarthy (Clooney). George Clooney is the director of the film, the co-writer of the script and also stars as Murrow’s producer Fred Friendly. As depicted in the film, Murrow is host of a television news segment on CBS. He and and his team decide to produce a story about an Air Force officer who becomes collateral damage as a result of the Senator McCarthy’s anti-Communist actions. They fear McCarthy and his power to bring ruin to people by accusing them of being a Communist or associating with Communists. Because of their concerns about civil liberties they decide airing the story is worth the risk to themselves (IMDb.com, Inc.). Murrow is depicted as someone who is conscientious about avoiding factual errors, reporting both sides of the story, preserving his reputation as a serious newsman and taking the role of the media in a democracy very seriously (Clooney). Both antagonists try to use their best weapons to take down the other after the fight gets personal toward Murrow and some of his associates (Clooney).
George Clooney stated in an interview that his father was a news anchorman who greatly admired Edward R. Murrow (George Clooney Talks…). In another interview, Clooney told of sitting in on his news director father’s meetings and learning how to do his own news reading (Lear). Clooney looked up to his father for writing his own copy and insisting on sufficient sources for stories (Lear), qualities in common with his film’s depiction of Murrow (Clooney). Clooney admits to being concerned about being labeled a traitor and suffering a career backlash for speaking out against the US invasion of Iraq and the Patriot Act. He made “Good Night and Good Luck” when he did in response to things he was observing in post 9/11 America that reminded him of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare (Lear). Later in the interview Clooney states that he thinks the American people as a whole can understand subtleties in programming and don’t have to have their content simplified as much as the establishment thinks is necessary (Lear).
What attitudes about programming and propaganda does “Good Night and Good Luck” try to promote? The film ends with an excerpt from a famous speech that Edward R. Murrow delivered on Oct. 25, 1958 at the Radio Television News Directors Association convention (On October 15…).
A comparison of the onscreen version of the speech with a transcript of Edward R. Murrow’s speech in real life shows that while the onscreen speech has been severely truncated and rearranged, the main message behind the speech is intact (On October 15…, Clooney). The onscreen Edward R. Murrow (Clooney), the real life Edward R. Murrow (On October 15…) and George Clooney (Lear) himself all appear to support the premise that democracy is best preserved if the people are given a chance to consume news and information without having it selected or filtered by decision makers that know better than they what is good for them to hear. The film becomes a powerful argument for a media theory similar to that of John Dewey who believed that media should not be used to manipulate but to facilitate the free exchange of ideas (Baran and Davis 52).
Did director and writer Clooney make his film in a way that shows that he really believes in Murrow’s preferred approach? Some critics did examine whether the film attempted to manipulate the depiction of historic events in “Good Night and Good Luck”. Phillip Lopate includes in his review some mild criticism for film-making flourishes that increase Murrow’s heroic stature (Lopate 32). Reviewer Terry Teachout criticized the film for leaving out information showing that while many accusations of Communism were in reality false, some were not (Teachout 71). Thomas Doherty points out that several historic incidents were shown out of order and attacks on McCarthy that did not originate with Murrow were omitted from the film to give Murrow more credit for his victory over McCarthy than was actually due (Doherty 55). Clooney is also credited for giving nuance to some of the characters (Doherty 55) and including amounts of information and detail in the film that elevates it in quality from many other comparable products of his industry (Doherty 55, Klawans 48).
Clooney may have intentionally blended a benignly intended message about the role of the mass media as a source of information in a free society while simultaneously attempting to protect the interests of himself and his industry associates from the ill fates suffered by some of their on-screen counterparts (Clooney). If that was his goal, “Good Night and Good Luck” is an example of a skillful use of “White” propaganda (Baran and Davis 43, 56).
Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.
Clooney, George, director. Good Night, and Good Luck. TVA Films, 2006.
Doherty, Thomas. “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Cineaste, vol. 31, no. 1, Winter 2005, pp. 53–56. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fah&AN=19418527&site=ehost-live. Accessed 7 September 2019.
“George Clooney Talks About Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck.” Watchr Media, 2005, movieweb.com/george-clooney-talks-about-edward-r-murrow-in-good-night-and-good-luck/. Accessed 6 September 2019.
IMDb.com, Inc., 2019, www.imdb.com/title/tt0433383/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ql_stry_2. Accessed 6 September 2019.
Klawans, Stuart. “Lessons of Darkness.” Nation, vol. 281, no. 13, Oct. 2005, pp. 48–52. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=18506171&site=ehost-live. Accessed 7 September 2019.
Lopate, Phillip. “The Medium and Its Conscience.” Film Comment, vol. 41, no. 3, Sept. 2005, pp. 30–37. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aft&AN=504082227&site=ehost-live. Accessed 7 September 2019.
“On October 15, 1958, veteran broadcaster Edward R. Murrow delivered his famous “wires and lights in a box” speech before attendees of the RTDNA (then RTNDA) convention.” Radio Television Digital News Association, 2019, www.rtdna.org/content/edward_r_murrow_s_1958_wires_lights_in_a_box_speech. Accessed 6 September 2019.
Teachout, Terry. “Journalism, Hollywood-Style.” Commentary, vol. 120, no. 5, Dec. 2005, pp. 69–72. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=18962558&site=ehost-live. Accessed 7 September 2019.
Unused interesting links: These are links that I found while researching the above that I did not use in my paper. They might be interesting reading for anyone who read my above paper and is interested in the topic(s).
Here is my first paper for my Media Communication class, MEDC: 5000-01, with Professor Robert Dixon at Webster University.
The reason I chose this topic for my first paper is the authors of our textbook, Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future by Stanley J. Baran and
Dennis K. Davis said that Mass Society Theory does not hold up to scientific studies but it does resurface again and again during turbulent times. I will define Mass Society
Theory toward the beginning of the paper. This information is very interesting to me because I can think of many times in my life that I have behaved as though I believe in it even though I was not familiar with the name of the theory. My parents also behaved as though they fully accepted it. I did an informal un-scientific poll while I was working this paper by asking people in my life if they think the media has a major influence on our society. Some said they believed the effects varied depending on how you react to it but all I talked to agreed it had some influence and some thought it was a major influence. In the class I’m taking now we are not going to be doing our own data collecting, we are going to be using data already collected, but if data collecting and polls were part of this class I know some I’d like to do! I certainly know how to do online polls technically but I don’t have any training in how to do them scientifically (yet).
This paper was difficult to wrap up because I kept finding more and more fascinating pieces of information and I couldn’t fit them all in because it would take me off topic and make the paper too long for the assignment. After the paper, I’m including links to some of the interesting tidbits I found but did not use at this time in case you want to do some more reading. Some of these sources or ideas might be things I come back to in the future but either way they are interesting and I think anyone who enjoys the topic enough to keep reading after my paper might find them useful.
DISCLAIMER: The following is graduate student work. I’m uploading it after grading and corrections from the Professor. He had three formatting/citation changes he wanted me to do but the content was not changed before uploading. One of the main objectives of this class is to learn how to write at the graduate level in an academic style. I made a couple of minor formatting changes for online viewing, the printed version attempts to conform to MLA style. Comments on any of my blog posts are encouraged at any time and if you have any critiques that would help me write better I especially would welcome those.
Mass Society Theory Still Influences Media Use in the Contemporary United States
When mass communication products and ready audiences were first brought together by industrialization in the Western world, the changes that occurred were examined by social theorists of the day. Some were optimistic about the potential for information to improve the human condition while others warned of resulting unrest and moral degeneracy. Many believed that people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum were particularly vulnerable to manipulation by the popular media of the day, which included advertising and sensational journalism (Baran and Davis 20-21).
As the halfway point of the 20th Century approached, some researchers attempted to test mass society theory using scientific methods. Many of these researchers concluded that the data did not support mass society theory media after all. Their interpretation came to be known as limited-effects theory (Baran and Davis 22).
Postpositivist researchers, that is researchers who use scientific methods to gather data, left mass society theory behind as the century progressed in favor of newer media theories or other research fields entirely (Baran and Davis 14, 23). In addition, mass society theories lost favor in academic circles because they were associated with the Red Scare of the 1950s headed by Senator Joseph McCarthy in his attempt to prevent Americans from being influenced by Communist ideas (Baran and Davis 22).
Baran and Davis believe that mass society theory is not valid but acknowledge that it keeps popping up again and again as technology and society go through unsettling changes (Baran and Davis 20). Are there examples we can see in the recent history of the United States that show that many mass media consumers and creators still accept mass society theory as credible?
Baran and Davis compared the early 21st century to the late 19th century as times when new technologies spurred the creation of new media institutions (Baran and Davis 27). The technological revolution brought about by rapid adoption of the World Wide Web in the 1990s and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred close together in history. Either of these injections of instability would by themselves be presumed by Baran and Davis to bring about the re-examination of media theories (Baran and Davis xvi).
A 2002 article by Robin R. Means Coleman, “Prospects for Locating Racial Democracy in Media: The NAACP Network Television Boycott” illustrates at that time some media users still accepted mass society theory enough to take some kind of action against the “old media” while others were examining how the “new media” might be more effective. Included in the article is an account of the early 2000s NAACP boycott of major television networks motivated partially on the grounds that under-representative or negative portrayals of African Americans in entertainment have a detrimental effect on the real-life conditions of African Americans (Coleman 25). The author includes quotes from members of the public obtained from a 2001 poll on the NAACP web site about whether such a boycott is worthwhile. Three individuals quoted are skeptical about whether it makes any difference while another is supportive but wants to explore ways to make the effort more effective (Coleman 26-27). It’s not stated whether skepticism is the dominant opinion in the totality of the public’s responses that were not highlighted. As the author points out in the footnotes, the comments were not obtained under controlled conditions (Coleman 30).
Does the NAACP still consider portrayals of African Americans in mass entertainment as significant? The NAACP current web site contains eight categories of issues of current interest. Media Diversity is one of the categories. On the Media Diversity page, the NAACP reminds readers that the organization has been fighting racial stereotypes since the notorious 1915 film “Birth of a Nation” (Media Diversity). In 1915 the mass society theory would have been the dominant theory as the limited-effects trend in mass communication theory did not start to take hold until the late 1930s (Baran and Davis 20-21). The mass society theory still seems to have some traction with the NAACP in 2019 as they maintain a Hollywood Bureau which promotes economic opportunities for African Americans as well as encouraging and showcasing positive images (Media Diversity).
The NAACP is not alone. There are many other instances of behavior that indicate activist media users are working hard to combat what they see as the detrimental effects of mass communication. Elites who incline toward mass society theory but have diverse political views have the following in common – they believe they know better than the average person what ideas are ok for public consumption (Baran and Davis 21). According to the article “The Business of Boycotting: Having Your Chicken and Eating It Too”, boycotts can be used to coerce behavior by inflicting economic damage (Tomhave and Vopat 126). That is not the only motivation for boycotting. The aim behind some boycotts is to silence certain views (Tomhave and Vopat 125).
Searches for “right wing boycott list” and “left wing boycott list” on the search engine Bing performed on August 31, 2019 produced examples of lists of organizations that consumers are urged to boycott for political reasons.
Regardless of whether the proposed boycotts bring about the desired outcome, the advocacy of such boycotts in recent history demonstrates that mass society theory still has traction among a non-scientific sampling of activists.
The consumer side of information also appears to still give some credence to mass society theory. Most Americans report that they have encountered fake or made up news and have modified their own information consumption habits to compensate (Pew Research Center 3, 21). 50% believe false news and information is a bigger problem for the United States than violent crime, racism, illegal immigration, terrorism and sexism (Pew Research Center 11). Americans consistently rate themselves as better than most other Americans at detecting misinformation in several categories (Pew Research Center 25).
It appears as though mass society theories are still considered useful to some consumers and those attempting to influence the masses. According to Baran and Davis this condition is to be expected when society and technology are changing at a rapid pace (20).
That’s the mascot of Webster University where I just started to work on a Master’s Degree in Marketing and Advertising Communications. I had to look up what a Gorlok is – it’s a Cheetah/Buffalo/St. Bernard mix made up in the 1980s inspired by the intersection of Gore and Lockwood streets. I got the above coloring page in my welcome packet. It’s good to see adult coloring is still really popular! It always will be popular with me I think. However disloyal I’m afraid my favorite mascot will always be the University of American Samoa Land Crabs!
I’m going to be writing a lot of papers, so look for them to appear on this blog if they turn out well. I write all the time so thinking of something to write about does not scare me but it’s literally been decades since I tried to write in an academic style so that will be a bit of an adjustment. My first few papers will likely be dealing with some aspect of marketing theory. That might sound kind of dull at first but after giving it some thought, people and institutions make important decisions based on marketing theory all the time. In our culture we’ve been living with mass media for the entirety of our own lifetimes and so have multiple generations of our predecessors. Because of the type of work I’ve chosen to do, it’s obvious I think media is interesting, important, and influential. If I can learn and share some things about how to better understand this complicated culture we’ve created, I think that is worthwhile. I have to decide by tomorrow morning what the topic of my first paper is going to be. Some topics I’m kicking around in my head are:
How do people perceive the influence of media on their lives?
How important is media in decision making in certain groups of people?
Do people in our culture feel the need to protect themselves from the media?
Does the media manipulate or emotionally abuse us? If so, are people aware of it?
Does the media affect mental health?
How do people use media to achieve their goals or add meaning to their lives?
Do people see themselves as active or passive media consumers?
What factors make a person an active or passive media consumer?
How do people determine what media is trustworthy?
How do people take control of media in their lives?
What makes certain forms of media fall in and out of favor?
How do people think media affects other people?
Do people have different perceptions of how the news media should conduct itself depending on political affiliation?
Do social scientists follow different theories of mass communications depending on political affiliation?
Do people in the United States feel that the mass media supports democracy?
Do people in the United States feel that the mass media should support democracy?
As you can see I won’t have any trouble thinking of something interesting to explore. What I will have trouble with is making it fit into a three page paper!
Although I am out of practice in academic writing, I’m not out of practice in being a student. It’s been 26 years since I’ve received my B.F.A. degree but in the meantime I’ve taken numerous Continuing Ed classes and worked in jobs that required constant learning of new material. When I studied for my Master Gardener certification in 2016, that sharpened my mind quite a bit because I had to get used to studying for tests again. Tips we were given in class about helpful technology made that pursuit easier than it used to be. Being tech and media savvy are big help when you’re a returning student as well as in life in general. When I graduated from St. Louis Community College with my A.A. degree, I was the commencement speaker. I haven’t re-read my speech since I gave it because I don’t remember it as being very good and I don’t want to cringe! Some of my writing from that time I still like but I don’t know about that one! My overall theme however, to encourage lifelong learning and to not stop after you graduate, was something I was passionate about and at least following my own advice in that instance has served me well. I’m still passionate about it and that is why I love to learn and to teach.
I just left this letter on a neighbor’s door handle:
“August 27, 2019,
Hi, I’m your near neighbor at (address) – the house where the red Jeep is parked a lot. I’m sorry to bother you but I inadvertently caused a weird problem. I saw the landscaping company that does your lawn working at your house this morning. I have an urgent need for mulch, and grass clippings are perfect for my needs. I asked the workers at your house to fill a few containers with grass clippings for me if they were going to dispose of them and leave the containers there and I would just walk across the street and pick them up. I’ve worked as a landscaper so I know most of the time they just put the grass clippings in a big dumpster that goes to the yard waste facility to be processed. I gave them a small tip for their trouble. What I didn’t know is that they didn’t understand that I wanted them to leave the containers out in front of your house for me to pick up when they were done. They brought the containers back to their shop. It’s not their fault – I should have anticipated this and made a note of what company they work for – but I did not do that. Can you please give me an email or a phone call to let me know what company they work for so I can call them and get my containers back? I thought this would be a simple request that would not cause anyone any hassle but I misjudged. I would have given them a lot bigger tip if I expected them to fill the containers at their shop, I just wanted the sweepings since they had to do cleanup anyway!!!
On Saturday, August 24, 2019 Tom and I participated in Operation Clean Stream sponsored by the Open Space Council and many other supporting organizations. I’ve done several of these trash cleanup floats before but this was Tom’s first time. We had a blast because we love to get dirty, we want to do our part to keep our rivers clean and any excuse to get out and be on the water is a good one! We brought our kayaks to the beach on the Meramec River and met up with other volunteers who brought their own vessels. The people I end up floating with on these cleanup days are terrific and we hope we get to float with these folks again. I floated with leader Tim before in 2016 – here is an article I wrote about that day: Fit and Healthy on Route 66: Two Sections of the Lower Meramec – Part I
I found some water hyacinth along the way and picked up as much as I could. I want to use it in our pond which should be finished soon, but even more importantly I want to get it out of the natural body of water because it’s an invasive species. More info about water hyacinth here: http://stopaquatichitchhikers.org/hitchhikers/plants-water-hyacinth/
This is the first time I can recall seeing water hyacinth in a natural body of water in Missouri. Our winters should kill it – that may or may not mitigate the threat – I don’t know. What if some floats downstream to a warmer state? That’s why I grabbed as much as I could. Here is some Missouri specific information: https://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2008/01/not-state
In this project you can practice your skills in fabric painting, fabric coloring and applique. I had a lot of fun with my stashes of fabric, trim, buttons and threads to create different blends of colors and textures. I used blank burlap bags and fabric remnants to make festive and reusable containers for small holiday gifts of different kinds. I wrote this last year and it didn’t get published by Canvas Corp at that time because they got sold to another company and disbanded their Creative Crew that I was on. It might seem a little early for Christmas projects but if you make your Christmas gifts it’s really not unreasonable to start working on them now. Also you can use the same techniques with different themes to fit the season. I had a ton of fun making these. Enjoy!
Printed canvas sheets
Burlap wine sacks
Burlap shoulder bags
Assorted burlap, trim and other fabric remnants
Gold fabric paint
Assorted sewing and embroidery thread including gold metallic
Clean scrap paper
Small paint brush
Sewing and embroidery needles
Iron and ironing board
Select images from printed canvas sheets by Canvas Corp and cut around them with fabric scissors. Tape an assortment of cutouts to a piece of scrap chipboard or cardboard. Outline the images with gold fabric paint. Let dry, and heat set the paint with an iron if necessary. Place the fabric pieces between two pieces of clean scrap paper to protect the iron and ironing board from paint and ink.
Color the images with fabric markers, and heat set if necessary. The particular fabric markers I used did not require heat setting.
Lay out the burlap blanks that you are going to use on a work surface. For my samples I used Canvas Corp wine bag and tote bag blanks. I also had some remnants of burlap that I decided to cut into rectangles to make into little Christmas themed door hangers with pockets that could be used as ornaments or to hold object such as greenery or small gifts. These burlap remnants had a very loose weave so I backed them with green fabric pieces. Match up your decorated printed canvas cutouts with a burlap bag or piece and go through your fabric and trim stash to find scraps that look good layered behind the printed canvas pieces. Pin the trim and fabric remnants together with the printed canvas pieces on top. You might want to leave some fabric edges raw or hem them for slightly different looks. You can explore a lot of design options by working on several pieces at a time. Pin your printed canvas piece on top of the fabric and trim arrangements. Don’t pin the canvas/trim/fabric assemblies to the bags yet – some of the sewing will be easier to do before the assemblies are attached to the bags. Here are a couple of burlap wine bags with pinned assemblages ready to be sewn…
…plus a couple of burlap shoulder bag examples…
…and some rectangles that will become door hangers with the addition of a loop of braided trim for hanging.
Sew around each printed canvas cutout with gold embroidery thread. Secure the trim pieces with embroidery thread in a complementary color. If you want to, add a few buttons or other embellishments as accents. Once all the layers on your assemblage are sewn together, pin the assemblage to the front of your bag and sew in place. You are done!
While making items for my wedding last summer I used a lot of nautical themed papers made by Canvas Corp. I saved a lot of the paper scraps to use in one of my favorite card-making techniques. I like to glue paper scraps onto narrow strips of scrap cardstock then apply rubber stamping ink to the edges to unify the strips. They make interesting parts to use in all kinds of paper crafts. I’ve previously written other articles that show this technique in action.
Materials and Tools
Canvas Corp paper sheet Sand & Sea Art Pages on Kraft CCP2883
Assorted paper scraps with a nautical theme, mostly from collections by Canvas Corp
Black permanent rubber stamping ink
Permanent rubber stamping ink in colors that complement the project
Strips of light colored scrap paper that harmonize with the chosen paper scraps
Pieces of cardstock that harmonize with the chosen paper scraps
Clean scrap paper
Computer with scanner and graphics software
Eraser for stamping the edges of the paper
These very detailed strips tend to look good in designs next to areas with less detail. To make thank you cards to acknowledge wedding gifts and other help people generously gave us for the wedding, I made some scrap paper strips edged in red and scanned them for use in a digital file which I had printed on cardstock at a copy shop. I spelled out the word “THANKS” in nautical flags by making little flag collages with Canvas Corp nautical themed papers and scanning those as well. After digitally manipulating the scanned paper pieces, this is the digital card design I came up with.
The red-edged strips that I scanned were now free to use in actual handmade cards and not just the digital design. I decided to combine the strips with imagery from the Canvas Corp paper sheet Sand & Sea Art Pages on Kraft CCP2883. The six images on the paper sheet are just about the size of the cards I want to make and the subtlety of the designs will really set off my paper strips. I decided to make six 5.25″ x 4.25″ cards. I selected six pieces of cardstock and cut them to 5.25″ wide and 8.5″ long then folded them in half to make the cards. Next I selected strips of light colored paper in colors that harmonized with my color scheme and stamped the sentiments “just a note” and “thank you” with black permanent ink. I made more strips than I thought I would need so that I would have lots of options. Also, I can use the extras for making other cards and for the card making classes that I teach.
To begin assembling the front of the cards, I cut each of the six images on the sheet Sand & Sea Art Pages on Kraft to just a little bigger than the card front. I cut the image in two then I inserted a strip with the words “just a note” then a scrap strip edged in red between the two pieces of the image. I glued the parts to the front of the card with a glue stick then trimmed away the excess. Then I glued the circular paper punched out piece with the stamped words “Thank You” onto the front of the card.
In the spring of 2018, before Tom and I were married and I wasn’t yet living at his house, I started making a garden plan and beginning work on what would become our garden. I could see right away that drainage was a big problem in his yard and the garden plan would need to address it. Tom and I were also very concerned about the state of his basement. There were numerous large cracks and a couple of small rivers that ran across the floor every time it rained. Shortly after our marriage in August of 2018, we hired an engineer to tell us how serious the problems were and what should be done about them. The engineer confirmed our opinion that we needed to keep water away from the the house foundation and seal the cracks. He said this would probably be enough repair if we fixed the drainage problems on the outside of the house. If it got worse, we might need about $10,000.00 worth of pier work. We had the cracks fixed and next went to work on fixing the drainage issues.
Here are three photos of cracks in Tom’s basement that I took on July 29, 2019. The left photo shows a repair that was done some time before I knew Tom. The two right photos are repairs that were done in September 2018.
The garden plan I came up with is mostly my idea and I take responsibility for it. I based my plan on the following sources of information:
2. Completion of training to be a St. Louis and Missouri certified Master Gardener in 2016. (Link to photo of certificate). I have kept my certification current which involves at least 10 hours of continuing education and 40 hours of volunteer work per year.
Relevant quotes from the MSD web page on Rainscaping (link here):
“Stormwater runoff is created by hard surfaces that cannot absorb water, like concrete, the footprint of a house, and compacted soils.”
“This (rainscaping) can be done through any combination of plantings, water features, catch basins, and permeable pavement, among other activities.”
“In a properly designed rain garden, water will soak into the ground within a day or two, long before mosquitoes have the opportunity to breed. They can be designed to attract the kinds of insects and wildlife that feed off mosquitoes, reducing their numbers around your property. Rain gardens can also help eliminate yard ponding, in which water can pool long enough for mosquitoes to multiply.”
“A rain garden gives water runoff a beneficial and safe place to go, helping to keep it away from your foundation where water problems can occur. It can also help reduce or eliminate water ponding on your property. Since rain gardens reduce the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system, they can help prevent basement backups and sewer overflows.”
Rock weirs – I have installed two of them at the Southeast corner of the property so that if there is any runoff that overtops the dry well at the end of the rain garden, soil will not be lost into the street.
Bioswale/Rain Garden – I have made several of these and am in the process of planting them with rainscaping plants to absorb more of the rainwater than the clay soil can currently absorb. Quantities and names of rain garden plants that I have added:
Lawn alternatives – we are allowing four different kinds of water-loving groundcover grow in place of turfgrass in parts of the lawn close to areas that collect water.
Soil amendments and mulching – we have added 13 cubic yards of soil (that’s a whole dump truck load) from St. Louis Compost that is 50% compost to improve the water absorption ability of our clay soil. So far we have added half a pickup truck bed full of mulch with more to come.
5. I read over the St. Louis County guidelines for land disturbance. We are within the guidelines because we are disturbing less than 30 square yards, less than 2000 square feet, are doing residential landscaping in a one family dwelling and have provided safeguards against erosion (the dry well and rock weirs).
6. I consulted with the owner of a landscaping company that I worked for part time for two years doing consulting and labor on client’s properties.
Here are some pictures that document what the yard looked like before we started working on it:
North West and North areas of our yard on March 27, 2018 showing that we had problems with standing water before I started any rainscaping. Also note that the neighbor’s yard accumulated standing water before I did any rainscaping. Here is a link to the shared photos to prove the date I took the pictures: Tom’s Yard March 2018
The image on the left of this pair shows water collecting around the house foundation on March 27, 2018. The right photo shows water collecting around the house foundation on November 1, 2018. Here is a link to the shared photos to prove the date I took the picture on the right: Tom’s Yard November 2018
Here is a graphic that shows where the neighbor’s water discharge pipes are located (red) and the area of our yard that was prone to collect water (blue) before I started rainscaping.
Yes I drew on the satellite picture where the neighbor’s drainpipes are and where the water collecting areas were. Don’t just take my word for it. Here are some videos showing the water flow happening in real time during a rainstorm. These videos were shot on July 1, 2019.
https://youtu.be/UIGlDAK3McY – the two back downspouts in the neighbor’s backyard are shown. I don’t know if you can tell from the video, but in addition to the drainpipes being aimed at our yard, the neighbor’s yard is sloped downward to drain directly into our backyard.
https://youtu.be/usO0kYKr7Ko – this video shows how the front drainage pipe is aimed right at our driveway. We had to have our driveway replaced in November of 2018 due to cracks and damage caused by years of this water flowing over it and freezing and thawing in the cracks.
Here is a link to photos I took on November 1, 2018 showing new driveway and other pictures around the house foundations. November 1, 2018
https://youtu.be/Up2nHlhyf_c – here is a video showing how wet the backyard gets and how I connected the neighbor’s low spot to ours to faciliate drainage of her yard and to avoid interrupting the flow from one yard to another.
These photos were both taken on July 1, 2019. As you can see, the area was dry before it rained. Here is a link to the photos I took on July 1 before and after it rained so you can verify the date and that the photos were taken on the same day and that the rain garden areas do drain in between rains like they are designed to. Also note that the neighbor’s yard and our yard drain better than they did before I did any rainscaping work and the areas of standing water are smaller than they were on the March 27, 2018 photos. As I get more plants in the bioswales and rain gardens and the existing plants get bigger and the soil continues to improve, the ground will absorb water even faster in the future. As I add plants I add humus and the plant roots penetrate the clay below to facilitate drainage. The 235 plants I already have are doing a good job. More are coming, but it’s not easy to get anything to grow in clay and you can’t do transplants into clay and expect them to live during the hottest time of summer. July 1, 2018
My garden plan was designed to help alleviate the following problems:
1. Soil is almost all clay and absorbs very little water.
2. Clay soil not only resists absorbing water, it expands and shrinks in wet and dry weather causing cracking in the foundation.
3. The existing soil cannot absorb the runoff from our own house. In addition, the majority of the drainage from the neighbor’s property to the west is directed onto our property so that we not only have our runoff to deal with, we have most of hers too.
4. Our back patio and back sidewalk were tilted toward the foundation directing water right into the cracks and making them worse. In addition, since they were solid concrete they inhibited water from being naturally absorbed into the soil.
I decided to draw up a plan that addressed these issues and employed rainscaping techniques because my conscience will not allow me to direct water right into the storm sewers when I know that MSD is spending billions of dollars to try to alleviate flooding in our area caused by too much storm runoff AND I’m well aware of how to manage our own storm water responsibly and avoid contributing to flooding and poor water quality downstream from us. How much damage has been done across the Midwest this spring and summer by floods? We’re trying to deal with our excess storm water in a way which does not just push the problem onto someone else. I know most people don’t take our neighbors downstream from us into consideration when making landscaping choices but we are not those kind of people.
Here is a 3 page PDF file showing the first citation, the summons to go to court, and the second citation. We took care of the invasive honeysuckle within two weeks, and the bricks before sundown the next day. Please note the dates of these three documents – May 20, June 25 and July 23. I am confused about why we have to go to court when we fixed the problems mentioned in the first citation in the time limit set by the county. The court summons was issued on June 25 when the work was completed by May 31 (to clarify, the bricks were fixed by sundown May 4 and the invasive honeysuckle trimmings by May 31 as required in the first citation). Furthermore, I also don’t understand why we got another citation before even having the court date yet.
Here in summary here are the reasons why I do not believe we deserve any citations or fines from St. Louis County:
The next door neighbor who called the county to say she doesn’t like our garden admitted to me that she called because she thinks it’s ugly, not because it was causing her any problems. She revealed this after I offered her some of the dirt we bought from St. Louis Compost to help her raise her wet spot (which existed before our rainscaping as you have seen) and some premium grass seed with really long roots to help absorb water. You can’t get this grass in big box stores, the hybrid is only sold in select garden centers. I couldn’t understand why she was refusing and she said she just thought our garden was ugly. Her yard is much uglier in my opinion and one of the reasons I’ve planted plants along the fence is to hide the view of her yard. You can see from the videos that her yard is full of invasive weeds, concrete, trash cans, brush piles, yard tools and the like.
Ugly is kind of in the eye of the beholder isn’t it? This photo was taken on July 30, 2019. On the left is a very nice Assumption Lily in our neighbor’s yard with invasive weeds (Mimosa, Japanese Honeysuckle) around it. On the right we have an unplanted area on our side of the fence in the foreground and an herb garden barely begun behind it. So far we’re growing in this section Bronze Fennel, Garlic Chives, Peppermint and Korean Hyssop and protecting the soil in the unplanted areas with mulch. Which side is uglier? If different people were to give different answers it would not surprise me.
We could have sued this neighbor for ruining our old driveway. We didn’t do this because we thought peaceful relations with neighbors were more important. This is what we get in thanks for that. I never spoke to her until I went over to ask her why she called the county on us instead of just asking us to fix what she didn’t like. It’s not like I went out of my way to cause problems with her. My computer desk faces her back yard and I’ve observed her glaring at me before through the window but since we never spoke I had no idea what her problem was.
We have improved the drainage in her yard and the neighbor on the other side of us no longer has our runoff going over his driveway, therefore we have helped the lifespan of his driveway and possibly saved him thousands of dollars. (We know how much it costs because we just got one.) We disagree that we have caused a drainage nuisance to our neighbors, rather we have provided a solution to an existing problem and both of their properties have been helped at no cost to them.
Water does not stay in the rain garden areas long enough to grow mosquito larvae so we don’t agree that we have caused a nuisance there either. As you can see from the photos I showed you, we already had a worse standing water problem BEFORE the rain garden was started. Some breeds of mosquitoes can breed in as little as a teaspoon of water. You can see from the photos that we had a lot more than a teaspoon of standing water BEFORE I started the garden. It also hung around a lot longer than one or two days. As a precaution I also treat the water when it occurs with BTI (Bacillus thuringiensis serotype israelensis) just in case we have more than a normal amount of rain for a few days. This makes our yard and neighborhood SAFER from mosquitoes than before we did anything – therefore we believe we should receive commendations for what we have done, not citations. Since we have improved the existing situation, we don’t agree that we have created a nuisance.
Here are three areas of the rain garden that I consider finished or nearly so. These photos were taken July 30, 2019. They have been planted with plants that can take varying water levels and clay soil. Their roots improve water penetration into the ground. I also added some better soil and mulch after planting. As you can see there is no standing water, even though it rained at least three times yesterday.
The day before we received our first notice from the county, (May 2) I was out in the front yard working and I saw a St. Louis County work truck slow down in front of our house. The driver stared me down and gave me a foul look. She stepped on the gas and sped off. She didn’t even stop the truck all the way. If this is what passes as an inspection it’s no wonder the inspectors don’t understand the drainage situation and how the rain garden fixed most of it (still have to work out the driveway pipe situation so our new driveway doesn’t get ruined – was hoping to do it peacefully but quickly losing hope for that.) Note that the first inspection document says the yard was inspected on or around May 20, but the day we actually got the citation on our door was on May 3. (Strangely enough, on a Friday, the only day of the week we are both gone all day at the same time, and also the day after the county truck came by – suspicious enough behavior that I made a note of the date.) If everything is above board, why is stealth necessary? How do the inspectors know if there is standing water if they “inspect” on May 2 or 3 but claim it’s really May 20, when we go through long periods when it rains nearly every day? If the inspectors make a point of only coming on days when it rains or are not truthful about what days they come of course they can make claims that are misleading (if that’s what they are trying to do). Yesterday (July 29) it rained three times. There will probably be a time when we won’t have any standing water even during rain – when our soil is better. Remember we were starting with clay – we did not strip off good soil and cause these problems, the problems were decades in the making and started when these homes were built (in the 1950s). We paid over $350.00 to St. Louis Compost to ADD good soil.
Improving our soil. From left to right: Taking delivery of a full dump truck of 50% compost soil from St. Louis Compost on May 2. A full dump truck load is 13 cubic yards. 2nd photo – Tom spreading soil over where the old concrete patio was on May 6. We took out the concrete patio to make the ground more permeable so there is less standing water. Soil and mulch will be here until we are ready to install a new patio. It will be made of permeable pavers or mulch so we don’t bring back the previous drainage problems. 3rd photo – Picking up mulch in a rented pickup truck. Mulch makes soil drain better and protects it from erosion and compaction.
The large hole next to the future patio will become our new pond and waterfall area. We will stick to the county determined limit of 24″ of depth. It will have a liner, filter, aquatic plantings, two waterfalls and all the bells and whistles. We wish it was done already too. It takes time and money to build. For example I could have been working on that the last couple of days but so far I have spent 9 hours working on a defense for our court date and I’m not done yet. Plus there is the time we have to actually go. That’s a lot of hours that we aren’t getting useful work done. Edit: total time I spent on defending us in court was 17.4 hours.
The inspectors, if they come at all, seem to only come by when we aren’t home. Our neighbor can easily tell when we aren’t home and can tip them off. Therefore they can’t ask us questions and we can’t explain. That makes me suspicious about what is really going on. Yes completing our garden plan takes time. I don’t know of any construction sites that look good during the whole project. If construction sites had to be shut down every time it rained and there was a puddle or it looked ugly to someone nothing would ever get done. I think we are being treated unfairly and unethically and are not guilty of any violations. I’m considering setting up a webcam to see what the county people look at in our yard assuming they come at all so that we can defend ourselves more effectively. Should I spend this money on more garden improvements or more surveillance technology? Which will protect us more from fines and having to go to court? Questions I’m asking myself.
We don’t mind dealing with our neighbor’s runoff responsibly when she won’t, because the most important thing is that it gets done, but I think it’s wrong for us to be punished for it. When I talked to her to try to work out what she was really upset about she complained that our garden was ugly, that she had water in her basement, and her property taxes were too high. I can do something about making the garden less “ugly”, but I can’t do anything about her basement or property taxes. I don’t see why we should be punished for those things. We had the same problems in our basement and instead of attacking her we just fixed it and now we are being dragged into court for it. I have a co-worker who lives a few houses away and has water in his basement too. The whole neighborhood probably does because the whole neighborhood is built on clay. We’re trying to do something proactive and neighborly about it.
If we have not already addressed all the court’s concerns please inform us of how you would like us to proceed in order not to be fined. We’d rather spend the money on garden and property improvements. We still have a lot to do. My garden plan was intended to be a multi-year project. Phase 1 was expected to take three years. The more times we have to stop and go to court the longer it will take.
Update July 31, 2019
Last night in court the charges against us were dismissed. As for the second citation from July 23, it appears that our neighbor waited until we were on vacation and there was a day with a lot of storms to call the county inspector again and say there was standing water in our yard. Of course there is when she has directed nearly all her runoff to our yard. I thought of filling the bioswale areas that didn’t have plants in them yet with mulch so this didn’t happen when we were gone, but I wanted to be home when I tried this in case the storm water pushed the mulch around too much and made dams that would cause worse problems. I did expect her to try something when we were on vacation but I’m surprised the county inspectors go along with it and don’t see what she has done to us by directing her runoff to our yard. The county is displeased that we interrupted the flow of water from her yard to ours, but her entire yard is a barrier to water flow. You can see from the satellite photo that it is concrete from one end of the yard to the other, and we got taken to court for about 10 bricks in a raised bed that took 10 minutes (or less) to remove. Well the inspector was also on vacation last night, so the county inspector helping out in court last night gave me his email address so I forwarded the this article to him. I had no way of contacting him before to explain what is going on. I hope after this he will just talk to us. In the meantime, I have no problem with putting some mulch in the bioswales that don’t yet have plants and don’t yet absorb water very well. They would still be porous and function as designed until I can get more plants in. It will take a little time for new mulch to get “sticky” and “spongy” and absorb water well so I’ll need to keep a close eye on it.
Update August 15, 2019
This was left on our door August 15. This is promising. I have a specific person I can contact with a phone number. I’m going to call him tomorrow morning. How do you think the conversation will go? Any predictions? I’ll let you know what happens!
Update August 19, 2019
I called and left a message for Anthony V. and he called me back within an hour or two. He sounds like a great guy, nice and reasonable and professional like the other inspector who helped us out in court on July 31st. At first he was talking to me about a different property and then he remembered which was the right property and told me I have to fill in the rain garden. It’s clear he didn’t read the article above that I emailed to him, or if he did he didn’t remember it. I explained to him the drainage issues the rain garden was designed to repair. I explained the damage to our house and driveway and how we had already spent thousands and were trying to prevent spending thousands more. I explained how the neighbor’s runoff is directed into our yard. I asked him to email to me a copy of the St. Louis County policy on rain gardens so that I could see what I was in violation of because I know of many rain gardens in St. Louis County and some of them are huge and they don’t seem to be a problem. He said that was covered under the land disturbance guidelines and I told him I had read those and I was following the restrictions in there. (I have a link to the Land Disturbance Guidelines above). He said he’d talk to his supervisor and get back to me. I missed his next voicemail which was not too long after and I gave him a return voicemail message so we are playing phone tag. I don’t know what the message is other than to call him. I gave him my email address so he can email me the statute I’m violating (assuming there is one). If I’m going to fight it in court I need to know what it is first! I’m very glad we can communicate instead of Tom and I just finding “nastygrams” saying see you in court that are dropped off when we aren’t home.
Before we got off the phone, I asked him how to report the neighbor’s drainage pipes discharging onto our property. He said to report any that are closer than 10 ft to the main office. So I measured the four pipes in question and there are two closer than 10 feet. I opened my measuring tape to 10 feet and took these pictures to illustrate.
I reported to the Neighborhood Services main office. I know it seems incredibly stupid and petty to be measuring the neighbor’s pipes and reporting how close they are. This is what I’m forced to do because our neighbor was not content to let us deal with her excess stormwater at no cost to her. She is the one who involved the County, so now they are involved. I would have much preferred to not involve the government and waste taxpayer’s money, I’m sure they have much more important things to do. I’ll let you know what happens!
Total time I’ve spent up to this point on our defense: 18.5 hours
Update August 20, 2019
Here is the answer I got from St. Louis County about the neighbor’s pipes being too close:
“St Louis County has no jurisdiction in Marlborough you will have to contact Marlborough concerning this matter. St Louis County only covers unincorporated areas .”
I thought we were in an unincorporated area, but if we are not, why is St. Louis County hassling us about our garden? Why is St. Louis County in charge one day and not the next day? When I have time, I’ll put in calls to Anthony, St. Louis County main office at the County and Marlborough City Hall and see where that goes.
Turns out don’t need to the above that just yet – response from County is we are unincorporated, St. Louis County has jurisdiction, and the complaint has been entered.
A little later I got a voice mail message from Anthony saying he talked to his supervisor and we have to get rid of the rain garden. I left a phone message for him asking him to send me a copy of the specific law we are violating and the name, phone number and email address of his supervisor. That’s the second time I requested a copy of the specific law. I have searched for things like “rain gardens St. Louis County guidelines” and “rain gardens St. Louis County restrictions” and I have found nothing.
Total time I’ve spent up to this point on our defense: 19.5 hours
Update August 23, 2019
Over the last couple of days I have contacted a lot of environmental organizations who might have in interest in this process and I asked them for advice and also if they have heard anything about rain gardens being illegal in St. Louis County. So far no one has let me know that they have heard it’s illegal. Some people are still looking for information or people for me to contact. I’m following up on contacts people have given me. So far the most specific advice is to request a copy of the actual law they think I am breaking. I have requested that twice this week and still don’t have it. I have asked the inspector I’ve been dealing with to also send me the name and contact information of his supervisor. I don’t have that yet either. He has my email address, I have given it to him at least twice, once by phone and once by email.
“Hi, inspector Anthony Vecchio left a notice on my door on August 15 saying he wanted to talk to me about our property at 7405 Rockwood Drive. I have spoken to him on the phone and he says that his supervisor told him that I have to get rid of my rain garden. I have not been able to find any information online about what my rain garden is violating. He said it was covered by the Guidelines for Land Disturbance which I have read and I haven’t been able to find anything in that document that we are violating. I asked him twice earlier this week for the specific law and I also asked him for the name and contact information for his supervisor. I have not received either yet.
I have contacted a great number of environmental organizations in the area for advice. I have also contacted MSD, Project Clear and Missouri Botanical Garden since they advocate for building rain gardens and I know that MSD has spent a lot of money testing and promoting rain gardens. What I have heard back so far is that they don’t know anything about rain gardens being illegal and I should request a copy of the specific statute that they are concerned with. I have requested that twice, on Tuesday and Wednesday and I don’t have it yet. I’ve also requested the name and contact information of the supervisor of Anthony Vecchio and I have not been provided with that information yet. Can you please send me those items ASAP? Thank you very much for your time!”
It rained a lot on Wednesday evening (Aug. 21), enough to necessitate the City of Brentwood (where I used to live and still own a condo) sending me flash flood warnings on my phone and in my email. I checked the rain gardens and bioswales to see how they were draining. They did look like they were probably on track to drain within 1 to 2 days if it didn’t rain again, but I realized I needed to take action because Tom and I are both going to be at work on Friday and I thought it likely that on that day we would get another inspection to try to catch us out and accuse us of having stagnant water. The last time I got a flash flood notice (July 22 when we were in Yellowstone National Park) we got another citation (see the July 23 document in the PDF file linked above) the day after. AND it looked like it was going to rain again. I can’t skip work to intercept the inspectors and try to explain the situation so I did my best to give the rain gardens a prophylactic treatment just in case.
First I put BTI in all the areas where water was present on August 22 (the day after the heavy rain) as a safeguard against mosquitoes. This biological control needs to be reapplied every couple of weeks and these areas have been bone dry for awhile so I wanted to re-innoculate. The BTI is the brown crumbles floating on the surface.
The next thing I did to speed up the drying in spots like the above was to weed along the edges so that more sunlight can get to it when the sun does come back out. I also made the bioswale that drains it a bit bigger to draw more water out into the grass.
Until I can get more transplants in, I have to make the clay soil more permeable. I used a metal pole to drive holes into the bottoms of the bioswales and rain gardens. Then I sprinkled in some organic matter in the form of wood chip mulch and dried up plant debris that we use as mulch. I kept adding organic matter until the water disappeared. Unfortunately it started to rain again before I could finish and the water level went up again, temporarily. The rain fell slowly enough that I didn’t inadvertently cause dams where I didn’t want them. In time micro-organisms and fungi will help the mulch stick together and be more sponge-like.
I can speed the process up some by adding organic fertilizer that contains nitrogen and maybe an innoculation of untilled mature soil or a product designed to accelerate compost. When it dries out a little I’ll try this. I have some blood meal and a really good product called Love Your Soil by Jonathan Green that helps loosen bad soil. I did this process once before in late spring or early summer and it helped a great deal. Over time, as I drive in more holes the plants will have more soft spots to push roots into and break up the clay. Some of the native plants I’m putting in are adapted to penetrating clay with their roots alone which can only help.
Total time I’ve spent up to this point on our defense: 25 hours
Here is some correspondence that will catch you up on where we are today:
August 23rd, 2019, Anthony Vecchio to me
In regards to your inquiry regarding the notice of violation you received for the trenches dug around your property, the code violation specified is listed on the notice that was posted on your door and mailed to you. No grade may be altered in a way that prevents the natural flow of water or causes stagnant water theron. Should you have any further questions, please contact my supervisor Mr. John Gieler. He may be reached by calling 615-4100 where you can be directed to his extension.
August 23rd, 2019, Me to Anthony Vecchio
We have not prevented the flow of water or caused stagnant water. Rather we have prevented standing water and facilitated the flow of water from one property to the next. The water flows better than before, therefore we have not made the problem worse or created it. If we fill in the rain garden the problems that you think we caused will come back and then we’ll get in trouble for that. The evidence is in the document I sent you on July 31. Here it is again:
If you have not done so, please read it, look at the pictures and watch the videos. Then you will understand what is going on. Then please send me the rules I am violating. It’s not in the Land Disturbance Document. There is nothing in there that says you can’t have a rain garden, there is nothing in there that says you can’t fix existing problems with standing water and there is nothing in there that says you can’t make the water flow better and stop puddling in the neighbor’s yard. It does not say you can’t capture your runoff to keep it from going on your neighbor’s driveway so it doesn’t buckle like ours did. What you are saying we did is what it was like BEFORE we started fixing it.
If you send me the email of your supervisor I will send him a link to it also. I got his name from someone else at the county and I have his phone number. I can’t call him now because I am at work. I have contacted him on Facebook and LinkedIn in the meantime. I will call him Monday if needed. We are not willing to go back to having a wet basement and the house falling in. There are cracks upstairs that have not gotten worse since we fixed the drainage problems. We put a piece of tape at the end of one of the cracks to check. We care a lot about keeping our house erect and intact and we like the dry basement. I don’t think it’s legal to occupy a house falling in either. We would be negligent if we did not fix it.
Thank you very much,
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
August 26th, 2019, John L. Geiler to me
I have contacted the County prosecutors and we will refrain from pressing charges at this time. The ordinance number that you have not been looking at is:
SLCRO 1110.507.1 General. Drainage of roofs, paved areas, yards and courts, and other open areas on the premises shall not be modified or altered to discharge in a manner that creates a public nuisance.
Should a complaint come in about a public nuisance created by the ditches you’ve dug in your husband’s yard we will be required by law to re-issue the NOV and seek compliance. If you want to create a “rain garden” at some time in the future, and the necessary changes involved with that process are in violation of County ordinances, you will need to seek a special use permit or a zoning variance. Those actions can be taken by visiting the Public Works office in Clayton and presenting plans for your installation.
John L. Geiler
Assistant Chief Residential Inspector
St. Louis County Public Works
August 26th, 2019, Me to John L. Geiler
Hi, thank you very much for your reply. I read the ordinance many times. The neighbor’s yard has drained completely every time it rains since May 3. (my edit – that’s the day after her complaint and therefore the day I started checking after each and every rain). Her yard used to collect water as ours did BEFORE I did anything. She told me the reason she complained is that she thought it was ugly. I will concede that most construction sites are ugly when they are in progress.
She is the one who caused a nuisance for US. It’s actually the other way around according to the law you cited. This blog post will explain. I couldn’t get Anthony to look at it as far as I know. Mike looked at it and he understood it. That’s why the charges were dismissed.
I’m sure you are very busy today with the flash floods and all. Please look at it when you have time. If someone would just read it and look at the pictures and watch the videos they would understand the situation. At any time you are welcome to make an appt. with me and I’ll show you around personally.
I hope someone is addressing my complaint about her pipes discharging water into our yard and contributing to the destruction of the foundation of our house. There are two that are closer than 10 feet.
Total time I’ve spent up to this point on our defense: 27.81 hours
While going through some old papers recently, I found a partial draft of an artist’s statement paper I wrote in the early 90’s when I was applying to the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at SIUE. I don’t remember what portions of this draft ended up in the finished paper – I did not find a printed copy. I’m sure I have the finished paper saved on a Commodore 64 floppy disc somewhere! In college I sometimes hand wrote drafts, but I typed up all finished papers on the old Commodore 64 we got for Christmas in 1983. (Yes I still have it and yes it still works but I’m sorry it’s not for sale! If you have working Commodore 64 joysticks or a “Give My Regards to Broadstreet” Commodore 64 game I might want to buy those though!)
I could go off on a tangent and write a little bit more about the Commodore 64 and why it’s so special to me, but I want to get back to my artist’s statement draft because Father’s Day is coming up. I wrote about my Dad’s influence on my work and I think he’d get a kick out of reading it. My Dad’s name is Don and you’ll find out who “John” is as you read. I also will enjoy remembering what my artistic passions were so long ago. I hope you will too! Contemporary additional comments of mine are italicized.
B.F.A. Paper Draft Part 1:
“While looking back on my artistic influences I can’t help but reminisce about my childhood and the factors that must have had some kind of influence on my artistic interests today. My father has had a lifelong habit of picking up every little nut, bolt or other piece of hardware lying on the ground and taking it home in the hope that it will come in handy to fix something someday. He is quite a handyman – after he fixed our old Ford Maverick with an old pencil and a piece of wire my friend exclaimed “Your Dad IS McGyver!” Whether we were on our way to church, to the store, or on vacation he would never let one of these little objects pass without picking it up. Over the years he has acquired a huge collection of such objects, many of which do eventually get used. If he knew what the objects he was picking up were, he would explain them to me but if he didn’t know he would take it anyway.
I was always encouraged by my father from a very early age to watch him work at his bench in the basement and learn the uses of all the tools myself. I remember burning my hand rather badly with a soldering iron building an electromagnet for the science fair at school while Dad left the room mistakenly thinking that I had the hang of it already (I was six years old). I haven’t touched a soldering iron since (no longer true as of the early 2000’s) but I did continue to hammer, saw, drill and glue on my own projects while my Dad repaired appliances or built furniture. He used to turn over his box of junk to me and supply me with odds and ends of wood, nails and glue plus drills and hammers to use. My favorite things to build were model ships for some reason. I have always loved water and boats and I used to create floating monstrosities studded with junk to play with in wading pool in the backyard or in the bathtub. Long nails became masts, brackets became the bridge, bits of tubing and pipe became smokestacks. When I was tired of the boats I would pull all the parts off and build a new version. The use of found objects in my art is just a continuation of one of my favorite childhood pastimes.
Another formative influence from my childhood was John Brower, the contractor who built our house and most if not all of our neighborhood. The neighborhood kids all called him “John the Builder”. He lived about four lots away from us in a very mysterious house that was surrounded by huge old trees. It was one of only two older houses in this part of the subdivision, which was still under construction when we moved in. Vacant lots flanked our house on two sides and these and the other future home sites in the neighborhood provided endless hours of fun for the kids. Huge weeds, mounds of fill dirt, wood piles, abandoned vehicles, vast puddles of mud and bits of old junk protruding out of the ground created an endless variety of play situations. (Not SAFE play situations mind you, but more FUN than I can describe!)
John the Builder was one of the most eccentric people I have ever known and as a result among us children he was beloved. He refused to paint his outbuildings, trucks, or equipment any color other than Pepto Bismol Pink, Decayed Neon Orange or Pea Green. He routinely painted new homes in putrid shades of Lavender or Lime Green with glitter mixed in! We never could figure out if he just had weird taste or was color blind. His own house was given the same treatment so we assumed that he considered it attractive. (The house to our right when new even had, I am not kidding, glitter Lavender metal banisters!) Despite this, all the houses were quickly sold as they were built and promptly repainted by their new owners!
To us kids, John the Builder was a godlike figure. He rarely drove down the street without a crowd of children running alongside his car yelling “John! John!” We loved him because he allowed us to play on his vacant land with all it’s fascinating “forbidden” features. In return for us staying away from the current, active construction sites he would save special dirt piles for us to use. We turned one into a mountain environment for Hot Wheels, complete with tunnels and winding roads. I don’t know if I’ve worked on a more enjoyable project in my entire life! Many times we came home covered from head to toe in mud and had to be hosed off in the yard.
John the Builder also endeared us to him by occasionally letting us “work” for him by holding up surveying posts while he took measurements, or by carrying his tools. He would pay us each a quarter for such a task and at a time when that amount was a whole week’s allowance it was quite a boon to get one. The quarters he handed out were always encrusted with gunk and very old, usually from the ’40’s or ’50’s. We used to take them home and put them in vinegar to bring back the shine. We usually intended to keep the oldest ones for our “collection”, but they inevitably ended up at the Quick Shop along with all our other money in exchange for candy, paper kites, or little toy boats.
(Notes to self) Write about – Tire moving and fires, outbuilding moving, Dad being sprayed with tar, haunted “crashed” bus, Ruth back in time.”
That’s where Part 1 of my draft leaves off. Someday I might write about those tantalizing topics hinted at at the end of part one! I still know what those notes mean! Part 2 of my draft deals more specifically with art influences. I’ll share Part 2 in a future blog post.
I wrote about Dad and John together because they had quite a bit in common. Dad was maybe not as eccentric as John but they were both into collecting old stuff and creative re-use before it was a “thing”. They both taught me to appreciate the old, the grungy, the humble, the simple pleasures of life. They also showed me the fun of building things. I had a very involved Dad of my own but John was kind of an additional father of the whole neighborhood because of his kindness to the kids and his willingness to teach us things now and then when he had time. Dad and John were friends and had a good understanding of each other I thought. I associated the two together in my mind even when I was very small. One of my favorite things to do with Dad at a certain age was sit in his lap and play with his hair. They both had black hair, but John’s was receding while Dad had a full head of the same wiry, wild, thick hair I have (that we both got from Grandma Ludwig). In the 70’s Dad had a big thatch of it on his forehead that was kind of like bangs – the closest thing to bangs our type of hair could get anyway! I used to push this section back to show his forehead and say “John!” then let it down and say “Daddy!” I’d do that over and over until one of us got tired of it! (Dad I’m sure got tired of it quicker!) John’s wife Ruth was just as kind and was very motherly to my Mom as well as welcoming to the kids.
I think both Dad and John had unusually laissez-faire attitudes toward kids, even for the 1970’s. Can you imagine anyone today letting kids do what we did back then? I will admit, everything we did was not necessarily condoned, but that which was tolerated would probably be considered child neglect or abuse today! There were so many things that could have gone wrong – pits of water and mud, mounds of dirt, climbing-sized old trees, rusty nails, splintery boards – they are genuine hazards. Despite all this, I never got any injuries that Mom couldn’t fix at home with Bactine or Campho-Phenique. I’d get hosed off, maybe tweezed a bit, smeared with anti-bacterial stuff and sent back out to my activities. It was worth it – has any kid ever had more fun than I did growing up? I seriously doubt it!