There’s a framed saying next to my computer that says, “She turned her can’ts into cans and her dreams into plans.”

(It’s right next to a Hemingway quote, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” But we won’t go there right now.)

That inspirational message was a gift from some friends who did just that, opening an upcycled-furniture shop that has grown into a successful boutique.

Now it’s my turn.

By the time you read this, my little framed saying will be packed in a box, and my desk in the Beacon Journal newsroom will be clear. After 30 years at the newspaper, I am turning my dreams into plans by taking a leap into a whole new career, real estate.

It’s scary. It’s exhilarating. And it’s really hard to say goodbye.

I have been blessed with an enviable job. People invite me into their homes and let me stroll in their gardens. And all I have to do is tell their stories.

I’ve gotten to squire actor John Lithgow around Akron. I’ve chatted with humorist David Sedaris, who sent me a charming and oddly digressive thank-you note from Paris. I’ve worked on a construction site for the TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. OK, I served food. It wasn’t glamorous.

I’ve done some pretty oddball things, like scuba diving, eating bugs and examining writhing beehives up close. And oh, yeah, there was the time I tried a yoga class in full view of patrons at a winery. To them, I apologize.

But my very best memories involve average people with simpler stories.

People like Juanita Geiss, a shut-in who made it her ministry to send greeting cards to folks at her church.

People like Ken Cochran, who built Secrest Arboretum into a showplace and was tireless in sharing his knowledge and his love for plants.

People like Larry Smith, who turned his grief into a giving opportunity by starting a free clothing closet with his late wife’s garments.

For every Juanita and Ken and Larry, there were a hundred others. They were people who touched my life, who humbled me, who reminded me just how privileged I was to write about them.

I’ll miss that, just as I’ll miss the phone calls from readers looking for advice or event information or just someone to talk to on a lonely afternoon.

To all of you who have read my words all these years, thank you. To those who were kind enough to offer a compliment or an encouraging word, an extra-big thanks. Those interactions were always the highlight of my day.

If you can grant me one wish, it’s that you continue to read the Beacon Journal and support responsible journalism. Newspaper work is a calling, not just a career. My colleagues work harder than you will ever know to uncover wrongdoing, make complex issues understandable and bring color and life to our community. More than ever, they need you — and me — ­behind them.

In the meantime, I’ll be around. For the time being, at least, you can still find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ and on Twitter[email protected], or you can email me at [email protected].

Keep in touch.

Mary Beth Breckenridge was the Beacon Journal’s home and garden writer. You can reach her brilliant and ever-patient editor, Lynne Sherwin, at 330-996-3856 or [email protected].

About the fanciest I’ve ever gotten with Easter egg decorating is using the stickers that came with PAAS dye.

So when my high school friend Michael Walkowiec invited me to join his family in making the traditional Ukrainian eggs called pysanky, I jumped at the chance.

I’ve long admired those elaborately decorated Easter eggs. Now I have even more appreciation for the patience and artistry — and the steady hands — of the people who create them.

Pysanky (pronounced PIH-sahn-kih) are adorned using a wax-resist method and dyed in stages, from lightest to darkest. The artist builds the design layer by layer, applying wax before each dye bath to protect the color beneath.

Walkowiec, whose father and maternal grandparents were born in Ukraine, has been creating pysanky since he was a kid. He taught the art to his wife, Crystal, and now they’re passing the tradition on to their children, Delia and Zenin.

Last weekend, I joined the Walkowiecs and a couple of Delia’s friends, Emily Jackson and Haley Nock, for a pysanky-making session at the family’s Boardman home.

Since I was pretty good at art back in high school, I was fairly confident about my abilities to pull this off.

That self-assurance didn’t last long.

Right off the bat, I struggled to sketch a simple design onto a raw egg with pencil. Ever try to draw a straight line on a curved surface? Yeah, it’s harder than you’d think.

(We used raw eggs, I was told, so the contents could later be removed. We didn’t blow out the yolk and white first, because that would have left the shell too fragile to work with.)

Mastering the kistka — the stylus used to cover the pencil lines with wax — was the next hurdle. Sometimes I’d manage to create a neat line. Most of the time I’d produce blobs and shaky scrawls.

Still, that part was fun. The kistka is a little like a fountain pen: You heat the tip in a candle flame, poke it into a block of wax to liquefy the wax and fill a tiny reservoir, and then use the tool to draw designs onto your egg.

In fact, drawing a pysanky design in wax is called writing, because the word pysanky comes from the verb pysaty, which means “to write.”

It’s an exacting process, and it was at about this point that Zenin bailed. “Can we just paint ’em?” he asked.

Smart kid.

The first layer of wax covers whatever you want to remain white, and then the egg gets dyed a light color — in my case, light green. I then used the kistka to cover whatever I wanted to remain green, dyed the egg blue, and kept repeating that process until the egg reached its final color of black.

It looked pretty ugly at that point, but that’s when the magic happened.

After Crystal removed the egg’s contents with an egg-blowing tool, I gently rubbed my egg with lighter fluid and a paper towel to remove the wax. Well, I tried to do it gently. At one point the egg popped out of my hand and into the sink.

Oh, well. I can live with a few cracks.

That’s one of the risks of this delicate art. Even without clumsiness, “the egg can crack at the very end after you’ve put all that work into it,” Michael told me. “We lost many eggs.”

As I rubbed, the design slowly revealed itself. And you know what? It wasn’t terrible. My egg won’t win any prizes, but hey, there’s beauty in imperfection.

OK, lots of imperfection.

At least it’s better than those stickers.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ or on Twitter[email protected].

Eggs may be fragile, but the folks who decorate them are anything but.

Back in 1998, eggshell artists were rocked by the news that Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens had canceled its annual show of decorated eggs, a tradition at the historical estate for more than a quarter-century. They learned of the cancellation just weeks before the show was to take place, leaving them to, um, scramble to find a new home.

Undeterred, those resilient artists managed to find a new roost at Quaker Square just in time. They banded together as the Ohio Egg Artists Guild to keep the event going, and this weekend the group will present its 20th egg show. It’s open Saturday and Sunday at Our Lady of the Elms, the show’s home since 2014.

Getting to the 20th year is a testament to the group’s perseverance. It’s had to struggle periodically to find suitable locations for the show, now called the Elegant Egg & More.

In the early years the show bounced from Quaker Square to Chapel Hill Mall, but neither place drew the kinds of crowds the guild wanted. Then volunteer Suzanne Gibson — now the guild’s president — suggested the former First Presbyterian Church on East Market Street, which proved a happy partnership for 10 years.

“They were truly an angel to our guild,” charter member Denise Di Geronimo said.

Unfortunately, the arrangement didn’t last. When the congregation moved to Copley to become the Vine Fellowship, the show was left homeless again.

This time it was welcomed by First United Methodist Church on Mill Street, but the relationship “just didn’t work out,” Gibson said. So after one year, the guild moved the show to the Elms, and it’s been happy about that decision ever since.

Such tenacity probably isn’t surprising for people who will spend untold hours on the meticulous work of turning eggshells into art.

The ways they do that are mind-boggling. Artists at the show represent a range of methods — techniques such as carving and decoupage and Zentangle, beading and hand-painting and sgraffito, which involves scratching a design into a dyed shell.

Gail Mercer, the group’s vice president, didn’t even let a broken thumb deter her from taking a class to learn how to carve an egg with an air tool. “I did it all left-handed,” she said.

Mercer’s delicate creations include an egg carved with wildflowers and outlines of the state of Ohio, as well as a teeny ladybug house made from a button quail egg with an acorn cap for a roof. Two of her eggs won regional competitions and are part of the permanent collection at the Ohio Governor’s Mansion.

Di Geronimo’s specialty is pysanky, a traditional Ukrainian art form that uses symbolic folk designs and a wax-resist method. Ironically, she learned the technique from an Irish friend, and for 43 years she’s been turning out jewel-toned eggs with intricate designs as well as teaching others the craft.

“My sister says it keeps me off the streets,” she joked.

Gibson doesn’t just decorate eggs; she collects them. She’s in awe of the work that egg artists produce, including jewelry, miniature dioramas, bejeweled Faberge-style eggs and even a tiny fish created by covering a quail egg in beads about the size of nonpareils, painstakingly applied one by one.

The variety of styles represented at the show keeps some people coming back year after year and surprises others who are encountering it for the first time, the organizers said.

“You can always tell someone who’s come into an egg show for the very first time,” Mercer said. New folks are so overwhelmed by what they see, she said, that they often stop dead in their tracks.

Gibson said the artistry is almost unimaginable.

“You have to come and see it,” she said. “That’s the only way you can get an idea of the beauty.”

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ or on Twitter[email protected].

Eggs may be fragile, but the folks who decorate them are anything but.

Back in 1998, eggshell artists were rocked by the news that Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens had canceled its annual show of decorated eggs, a tradition at the historical estate for more than a quarter-century. They learned of the cancellation just weeks before the show was to take place, leaving them to, um, scramble to find a new home.

Undeterred, those resilient artists managed to find a new roost at Quaker Square just in time. They banded together as the Ohio Egg Artists Guild to keep the event going, and this weekend the group will present its 20th egg show. It’s open Saturday and Sunday at Our Lady of the Elms, the show’s home since 2014.

eggs

(Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)
These Pysanky eggs were created by egg artist Denise DiGeronimo, an officer with the Ohio Egg Artists Guild. They will be part of the guild’s annual Elegant Egg Show held at Our Lady of the Elms.

Getting to the 20th year is a testament to the group’s perseverance. It’s had to struggle periodically to find suitable locations for the show, now called the Elegant Egg & More.

In the early years the show bounced from Quaker Square to Chapel Hill Mall, but neither place drew the kinds of crowds the guild wanted. Then volunteer Suzanne Gibson — now the guild’s president — suggested the former First Presbyterian Church on East Market Street, which proved a happy partnership for 10 years.

“They were truly an angel to our guild,” charter member Denise Di Geronimo said.

Unfortunately, the arrangement didn’t last. When the congregation moved to Copley to become the Vine Fellowship, the show was left homeless again.

This time it was welcomed by First United Methodist Church on Mill Street, but the relationship “just didn’t work out,” Gibson said. So after one year, the guild moved the show to the Elms, and it’s been happy about that decision ever since.

egg

(Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal)
Gail Mercer of Akron of the Ohio Egg Artists Guild created this scene depicting a lady bug home and garden using a button quail egg. The guild will be holding its annual Elegant Egg Show held at Our Lady of the Elms.

Such tenacity probably isn’t surprising for people who will spend untold hours on the meticulous work of turning eggshells into art.

The ways they do that are mind-boggling. Artists at the show represent a range of methods — techniques such as carving and decoupage and Zentangle, beading and hand-painting and sgraffito, which involves scratching a design into a dyed shell.

Gail Mercer, the group’s vice president, didn’t even let a broken thumb deter her from taking a class to learn how to carve an egg with an air tool. “I did it all left-handed,” she said.

egg

(Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)
Gail Mercer of Akron of the Ohio Egg Artists Guild created this Ohio themed design on a goose egg. The guild will be holding its annual Elegant Egg Show held at Our Lady of the Elms.

Mercer’s delicate creations include an egg carved with wildflowers and outlines of the state of Ohio, as well as a teeny ladybug house made from a button quail egg with an acorn cap for a roof. Two of her eggs won regional competitions and are part of the permanent collection at the Ohio Governor’s Mansion.

Di Geronimo’s specialty is pysanky, a traditional Ukrainian art form that uses symbolic folk designs and a wax-resist method. Ironically, she learned the technique from an Irish friend, and for 43 years she’s been turning out jewel-toned eggs with intricate designs as well as teaching others the craft.

“My sister says it keeps me off the streets,” she joked.

Gibson doesn’t just decorate eggs; she collects them. She’s in awe of the work that egg artists produce, including jewelry, miniature dioramas, bejeweled Faberge-style eggs and even a tiny fish created by covering a quail egg in beads about the size of nonpareils, painstakingly applied one by one.

egg

(Karen Schiely / Akron Beacon Journal
This carved decoupage egg was created by late egg artist Jackie Davis who was also a founding member of the Ohio Egg Artist Guild and is shown as an example of the artistry of members of the guild. The guild will be holding its annual Elegant Egg Show held at Our Lady of the Elms.

The variety of styles represented at the show keeps some people coming back year after year and surprises others who are encountering it for the first time, the organizers said.

“You can always tell someone who’s come into an egg show for the very first time,” Mercer said. New folks are so overwhelmed by what they see, she said, that they often stop dead in their tracks.

Gibson said the artistry is almost unimaginable.

“You have to come and see it,” she said. “That’s the only way you can get an idea of the beauty.”

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ or on Twitter[email protected].

Hilary Farr has loved refurbishing homes ever since she fixed up and sold the London apartment she’d bought when she was 18.

But becoming the TV designer whose job is to persuade people to love their homes rather than list them wasn’t an obvious destination on her career path early on.

Back then she was pursuing an acting career under her maiden name, Hilary Labow. She even played bride Betty Munroe in the 1975 camp classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

In the late ’90s, though, Farr ended up in Toronto, which at the time lacked a thriving entertainment industry. So she started staging houses for realty agents, then flipping them, and Farr was on her way to an interior design career and eventually a role as co-host of HGTV’s popular Love It or List It.

This weekend, she’ll be at the Cleveland Home + Remodeling Expo, sharing her advice for making any home a place its occupants can love. She’s scheduled to speak at 1 p.m. Saturday at Huntington Convention Center.

Farr promises a fairly nuts-and-bolts presentation. Among other topics, she said, she’ll offer guidance on envisioning new purposes for a space and give the skinny on what’s involved in big renovations, particularly kitchens and bathrooms.

The vision part is often hardest for homeowners, Farr said by phone last week, just after shooting the reveal of her latest renovation. It’s difficult to see a home with new eyes after you’ve lived there a long time, she said, and it’s hard to imagine using space differently from the way you always have.

That’s probably why so many people look for bigger houses when their own homes aren’t working well.

“People love space. They tend to think that bigger is better,” but that’s not necessarily true, she said.

She uses large kitchens as an example. “If it’s not set up right, you’re going to spend your time traipsing back and forth,” she said.

In fact, Farr said smaller homes can have advantages over larger ones. When there isn’t space for everyone to hole up in their own separate rooms, families spend more time together and communicate more.

Renovating a smaller home doesn’t always mean knocking down walls, though. Sometimes, she said, it’s as simple as creating a cohesive look for the whole house or figuring out a better way to use a room.

One of her favorite renovations on the show involved widening the opening between a living room and kitchen to allow space for a kitchen island. It was a fairly simple change, she said, but one that allowed the house to better suit the owners’ needs.

Talking homeowners into modifications and dealing with problems that arise isn’t always easy. In fact, Love It or List It is really about relationships as much as home searches and renovations, Farr said.

The central relationship is the one between Farr and co-host David Visentin, who are known for butting heads on the show. He tries to talk clients into selling their homes; she tempts them to stay put with a renovation.

The sparring is genuine, “but it’s with much respect,” Farr said. Just as genuine, she said, is the admiration she and Visentin have for each other.

Farr describes her approach on the show as tough love, and that’s real, too, she said. She’s had to learn over the years how to deal effectively with clients and contractors, and that can require a firm hand.

But being tough in business doesn’t necessarily mean being tough all the way through. Farr has a soft spot for the vulnerable, she said, particularly for animals.

She often posts on social media about her two cats — one of them with only one eye — and her dog, a nearly 14-year-old Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix who accompanies her everywhere and has “no interest in me getting another dog.” She even has a raccoon that lives with her off and on, coming into her home when it’s cold.

They’re a centering force in a busy life, which typically finds Farr juggling five projects at one time.

She’s quick to point out, however, that she doesn’t do everything alone. “I depend upon an extraordinary team to be able to do what I do,” she said.

When you have a hectic and very public job, that’s the kind of support that allows you to keep on loving it.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ or on Twitter[email protected].

Years ago my father-in-law kept a stash of Juicy Fruit in his underwear drawer so he could roll up the sticks of gum and poke them into mole holes in his backyard.

He’d heard the trick would kill the pesky critters, apparently from a buildup of undigested gum. But all he got out of his efforts was fruity-smelling underwear.

That’s because the Juicy Fruit ploy, like many folksy lawn and garden remedies, is pure hooey. And Eric Barrett, an educator with the Ohio State University Extension’s Mahoning County office, is out to set the record straight.

Barrett recently busted a few widely held gardening myths during the Saturday Gardening Series, an educational program organized by the Summit County Master Gardeners.

Here are some of them.

Myth: Chemicals are bad for your landscape.

Fact: Any substance you use in your yard or garden has a chemical makeup, whether it’s natural or synthetic. What’s more important, in Barrett’s view, is the effect the substance has on the environment.

It’s important to find out about the properties of any treatments you use, he said. Even natural or organic remedies that seem benign could harm soil, wildlife, water or other elements of our natural world.

And remember, too much of anything is never a good thing, he cautioned.

Myth: Adding eggshells to the hole when you plant tomatoes will prevent blossom end rot.

Fact: Blossom end rot — a disease that causes dark spots to develop on the bottom of tomatoes — happens when a plant can’t take up calcium from the soil, usually because the plant has gone without water for too long. That can happen even when the soil has plenty of calcium in it, be it from eggshells or any other source.

The best way to prevent blossom end rot is to make sure tomato plants get a consistent and adequate supply of water, Barrett said. An Ohio State fact sheet recommends 1 to 1½ inches of water a week.

Myth: Epsom salts are a cure-all for countless garden problems.

Fact: This is a case where too much of a good thing can be bad.

Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate, so they add magnesium — an important plant nutrient — to the soil.

The problem is many gardeners use Epsom salts indiscriminately, which can cause too much magnesium to build up in the soil. That can prevent plants from taking up other nutrients.

Better to test your soil to determine whether it needs magnesium, Barrett said. If it does, correct the problem by adding dolomite lime in the amount recommended in the soil test report.

Myth: Adding aspirin to the water will keep cut flowers fresh longer.

Fact: Aspirin won’t keep flowers fresh. Neither will adding wine, pennies or a drop of bleach to the water.

Barrett said it may help to use a floral preservative, but it’s more important to sanitize the vase, recut the stems, remove any leaves that fall below the waterline and check the water level daily. Keeping flowers away from hot or cold drafts also helps prolong their life, he said.

Myth: Peonies need ants on them to bloom properly.

Fact: The presence of ants has nothing to do with successful blooming, Barrett said. The reason ants often congregate on peonies is they’re attracted to the sugary liquid secreted by the flower buds.

The ants aren’t helpful, but neither are they harmful, he said.

Myth: Putting gravel in the bottom of flowerpots improves drainage.

Fact: Surprisingly, research shows this common practice doesn’t help and might actually slow water flow, Barrett said.

A better strategy, he said, is to use a soilless potting mix instead of a mix containing soil, and to make sure the container has drainage holes.

Myth: Spread diatomaceous earth around plants to deter slugs.

Fact: Gardeners often recommend creating a rough surface out of diatomaceous earth, crushed eggshells or other sharp substances, in the hope that slugs won’t want to crawl over them. But in reality, slugs create so much slime that they can even cross a razor blade, Barrett said.

He has a better approach: Lay pieces of damp cardboard around the plants. The slugs will congregate under the cardboard, making it easy to collect and destroy them.

So if these widely held gardening beliefs are wrong, how can you tell what’s right?

University researchers are constantly working to determine what works in our landscapes and what doesn’t. While there’s still more research to be done, Barrett said, their findings offer reliable guidance on pretty much any lawn or garden issue.

The extension services at land grant universities such as Ohio State are great resources. It’s the job of those services to share research-based information with the public.

OSU’s Ohioline website (http://ohioline.osu.edu) is a good place to look for help online, or you can add the words “university extension” to a Google search to narrow the results to research-based information.

Let’s all commit to gardening better — and more responsibly.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ or on Twitter[email protected].

I guess most of you are as stumped as I am.

When I put out a call for ideas for repurposing Amazon gift bags, my phone line and email inbox didn’t exactly catch fire. I guess those faux suede sacks aren’t all that inspiring.

Fortunately, a couple of readers did come through with good suggestions.

Laura Shawlson of Fairlawn recommended filling the bags with items homeless people could use, such as toiletries, socks and snacks. They could be dropped off at a shelter or just handed out to folks on the street, she said.

What a generous thought. And I suspect those sturdy bags might be useful to people who have to keep all their possessions with them.

Judy Ripple of North Canton wondered if the bags could be decorated and then donated to Akron Children’s Hospital, so young patients could use them to store their belongings during their stays and then cart home their stuff when they leave. An applique design such as a crown, lightning bolt, dog or superhero logo would turn the boring bags into kid pleasers.

“Cuter than the plastic patient bags!” Ripple wrote.

My Amazon bag, by the way, got split up the back so Beacon Journal photographer Leah Klafczynski could fit inside to pose for colleague Phil Masturzo’s clever photo illustration.

The sacrifices we journalists make.

Skunks on the move

You don’t need to be told this is skunk mating season. You can smell it in the air.

From mid-February through April, skunks are on the move looking for love, and they’re especially defensive. So this is prime time for dog-skunk encounters and their malodorous results.

You’ve probably heard just about every skunk odor removal recommendation out there, from tomato juice to Massengill douche. But according to veterinarians and wildlife experts, the best and safest remover is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and liquid soap developed by chemist Paul Krebaum. It chemically neutralizes the smelly compounds called thiols that make up skunk spray.

I wrote about it last year, and I’m sharing the recipe again, along with some cautions about its use.

In a clean plastic bucket, thoroughly mix 1 quart (two 500-milliliter bottles) of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda and 1 to 2 teaspoons liquid soap, preferably Softsoap or Ivory Liquid hand soap. If the dog is very large, you can add one quart of lukewarm water so you’ll have enough to cover the whole dog.

Wash the dog thoroughly, working the solution deep into the fur and trying to keep it out of the dog’s eyes. Leave it on about 5 minutes or until odor is gone, and then rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water.

If the odor remains in some heavily oiled areas, wash those areas again.

Some things to note:

• Never make the mixture in advance or store the mixed solution in a closed container. Pressure will build up until the container bursts.

• Mix up the solution right before you use it. Once mixed, the peroxide starts to break down, and it gets weaker over time.

• Wear latex gloves if you have any cuts on your hands. Otherwise the solution will sting.

• You can use liquid dish detergent instead of hand soap, but grease-cutting types such as Dawn will make the peroxide break down faster.

• Use a plastic container and a plastic utensil to mix the ingredients. Metal encourages the peroxide to decompose.

• Use only 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Any other strength can be dangerous. Check the expiration date to make sure it’s fresh.

• Use baking soda, not baking powder. And make sure you don’t use washing soda, which can cause skin burns.

You can read more of my skunk-encounter guidance at http://tinyurl.com/dogvsskunk.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ or on Twitter[email protected].

Lawns are a touchy subject in my house.

I think they’re boring and environmentally questionable. If I had my way — and plenty of time and money — I’d replace much of the grass with native trees and shrubs that don’t need fertilizers or pesticides and don’t have to be cut with a polluting lawn mower.

My husband, on the other hand, likes turf. While he makes sustainable choices such as using organic fertilizer and not watering unless absolutely necessary, he’s still not ready to give up that big swath of green. And since he takes on most of the lawn care in our family (God bless him), I tend to defer on this issue.

Now it looks like science has his back.

A new study at Purdue University shows lawns might not be the ecological liability I’ve come to perceive them as. That’s not to say they’re the most environmentally friendly landscaping choice, but with good management, they don’t have to have an adverse impact.

In fact, a properly managed lawn can even reduce greenhouses gases to a small degree, the study found.

That came as a surprise to me, but Quincy Law knows why. Law, who led the Purdue research, said many people’s thinking was swayed by a 2010 study that got a fair amount of press for its dire findings about emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from lawn care equipment and fertilizer production.

Trouble is, the researchers in that University of California study goofed in their calculations. Lots of people missed the correction they published later — a correction that, like Law’s study, concluded well-managed lawns could capture more carbon dioxide than what’s produced in their maintenance.

Law’s research looked at how soil is affected by different species of grass and the methods used to mow them. It was funded by the United States Golf Association and the Midwest Regional Turf Foundation.

Law, a Ph.D. student in ecological sciences and engineering, explained that turf grasses remove carbon dioxide from the air and deposit it into the soil. When grass clippings are left on lawns, the decaying grass returns even more carbon to the soil, along with nitrogen.

Carbon provides a number of benefits in soil, Law said. It helps improve the soil structure so air can reach plant roots and water can be retained just long enough to hydrate plants but not drown them. In lawns, carbon also helps produce healthy grass that reduces erosion and runoff.

Of course, healthy, growing grass needs to be cut periodically, and gas-powered lawn mowers emit carbon dioxide. But a lawn that’s managed well will capture more carbon than the mower produces, Law said — at least for the short term. While he doesn’t have the long-term data to demonstrate it, he said it’s possible that as carbon builds up in the soil, a point of equilibrium could be reached and that balance could tip.

Lawns don’t play a significant role in reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, he said, but at least they can offset the greenhouse gases produced by mowing. And as mowers become more efficient and more alternative fuel sources are developed, the benefits should become greater, he said.

So what does it mean to manage a lawn well?

For one thing, it means choosing a grass species or mix that performs well in your region, so the lawn has a better chance of staying healthy. Law recommended checking the information provided by National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (http://www.ntep.org).

Mowing your grass properly is also critical. Law recommended these steps:

• Follow the one-third rule. As much as possible, avoid removing more than one-third of the grass blade in one mowing.

• Return grass clippings to the lawn instead of removing them.

• Keep your mower blade sharp. Sharpen once or twice a year, or when you notice the blade isn’t cutting cleanly.

• Mow high, about 3 inches or so for most lawns in our area. Taller grass can root deeper, recover better from stress, stay healthier and crowd out weeds.

If you apply fertilizer to the lawn, do it at the right time, Law said. Here in the Midwest, fall is the optimum time.

He also recommended relying on good sources for guidance and advice. Your local university extension office is a trustworthy source of information that has been scientifically tested and is subject to the least amount of bias, he said.

Here in Ohio, you can find contact information for your local extension office at https://extension.osu.edu. Click on the “Locate an Office” tab.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ or on Twitter[email protected].

Somewhere in the stash of gift-wrapping supplies that will outlive me is an Amazon gift bag.

Maybe you’ve received one of those. It’s Amazon’s excuse for gift wrapping, a blue, faux suede bag with a gold ribbon that the e-retailer uses to disguise gifts of pretty much any shape without having to try too hard.

“Faux suede” is probably too elegant a description for the material. It’s kind of cheapy, plasticky suede.

I can’t remember what came in mine. I just remember thinking I’d reuse it for gift-giving someday, which is silly, because anyone who has received one of the bags will recognize it instantly and a) expect that the contents came from Amazon, and b) shame me silently for being too lazy to do a proper wrapping job.

But being the child of Depression survivors, I can’t bring myself to throw away a perfectly good fabric bag.

Neither could my colleague Dottie Shinn, who thought a column on repurposing Amazon gift bags would be a fine idea.

I agreed. I just didn’t know where to start.

My first stop for inspiration was Pinterest, where I turn for ideas for everything from how to strip paint off door hardware to what shoes to wear with flared pants. This is always a risk, because any visit to the social media site triggers my PIADD (Pinterest-induced attention deficit disorder), and before I know it I find myself distracted by backsplash tiles or cat enclosures.

Pinterest, however, wasn’t much help. All I turned up were ideas for turning the gift bags into Mad Hatter top hats or pirate costumes — cute, but not on my to-do list.

(Curiously, my search for “blue Amazon gift bag” turned up a bunch of instructions for making mermaid-tail blankets. They’re pretty cute, but I fail to see the connection.)

A little frustrated, I went to my next-best source: Facebook.

I posted a somewhat-desperate plea for ideas, and as usual, my friends came through. Their suggestions:

• Tamara Mitchell, who runs the personal-chef service Dine-In Diva, suggested poking holes in a bag and using it to store onions or potatoes. But not both in the same bag, she cautioned with a smiley-face emoticon.

I think she sensed there are no recipes on my Pinterest boards.

• Maxine Bates suggested putting one of the bags around a vase of flowers or thought she might use one to hold a change of socks after one of her running races. She mentioned a half-marathon. I am in awe.

• Karlie Graf of Graf Growers uses a large gift bag to hold an air mattress and its pump. “It makes for easy traveling and it looks pretty good!” she said.

• Chrissy Phillips DeVono thought of using the bags to hold shoes or dirty laundry for traveling. One glance at her Facebook page told me why she thought of that. It’s a veritable travelogue filled with pictures of ziplining, kayaking and what appear to be Rockefeller Center and the Grand Canyon.

So how about the rest of you? What would you use the Amazon bags for?

Share your ideas with me, and I’ll publish my favorites in a future column. You can send suggestions to me via email at [email protected], or write to me at Mary Beth Breckenridge, Akron Beacon Journal. P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640.

Please be sure to include your name and the community where you live, so I can give you proper credit. Include a daytime phone number in case I have questions.

I’ll need to hear from you by Feb. 20, so I can wrap this up, so to speak.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

You may know Scott McGillivray as one of HGTV’s heartthrobs.

But don’t assume he’s just another pretty face.

The plaid-clad star of the long-running series Income Property knows what he’s talking about when he helps home buyers purchase houses and remodel parts of them to create rental units. McGillivray has been investing in rental properties since college, and he’s the co-founder of a company that trains others to do the same.

He’ll share some of his expertise in an appearance at the Great Big Home + Garden Show, which opens Friday at Cleveland’s I-X Center. He’s scheduled to take the stage at 2 p.m. Feb. 11.

McGillivray got into real estate when he was still a business student at the University of Guelph in his native Ontario. He and a friend had always talked about owning a student rental, he said during a recent phone interview, so he did a business analysis as a class project and then went in with his buddy on a house. They pooled their student loan money for the down payment, fixed up the place and rented it out to other students.

The next year he bought two more. By the time he was 25, he owned 25 properties.

Today his holdings include about 30 rental properties in Ohio, including some in the Cleveland area. He bought those Northeast Ohio properties during the housing slump in 2009 and 2010, he said, and the gamble has paid off as the market has rebounded.

McGillivray can’t teach people the intricacies of real estate investing in one home show appearance, but he said he will share insider tips and tricks for getting the most value from a renovation. He’ll address the benefits of updating kitchens and bathrooms, share some renovation trends and talk about the importance of long-term performance when you’re buying products such as flooring and fixtures.

The latter is particularly important, he said, because he preaches long-term ownership over quick flips. He wants his work to last, “so I want that value and I want that quality long-term,” he said. “I don’t want junky products.”

The concept of carving rental units out of family homes has become familiar to Income Property viewers, but McGillivray said it was a hard sell when the show debuted in Canada in 2008 and in the United States in early 2009.

“It was definitely a struggle” to get homeowners to buy into the concept, he said. “I think people didn’t even know this was an option.”

Off the screen, McGillivray and business partner Michael Sarracini train people in real estate investing through their company, Keyspire (http://www.keyspire.com). The Canadian company currently offers workshops across Canada but in only three states in the United States — Florida, Texas and California, with Colorado to be added soon.

The workshops focus on building long-term wealth in real estate, he said. “The get-rich-quick stuff that you see isn’t necessarily the best for you.”

On top of all those demands, McGillivray is still building his TV brand. Income Property recently ended production, but he’s now working on a new series called Buyers Bootcamp, a show he describe as “a cross between Shark Tank and HGTV.” The premise is that first-timers investors compete to have him sink his money, his muscle and his know-how into their renovations.

The pilot was broadcast in 2016 on DIY and HGTV, and the series will start airing near the end of this year, he said.

But don’t worry, fans; you won’t have to wait that long for your Scott fix. Moving the McGillivrays, a 10-episode series about his family’s construction of their new home, is expected to air in the U.S. in three or four months. It aired in Canada in the fall.

And when does he sleep?

“I don’t believe in sleeping,” he said with a laugh.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

Yeah, I’ve reached that age.

I’m starting to think about downsizing.

Even though my husband and I truly love our house, it’s no longer the best fit for a couple of empty nesters. Things like heating 2,200 square feet, cleaning four bedrooms and mowing a half-acre are starting to seem pointless.

But it’s hard to let go, and I’m not quite ready yet.

Still, Matt Parker has me thinking ahead. Parker is a realty agent in Seattle and the author of Real Estate Smart, a book that looks at the ways your home affects your physical and emotional health. His goal in writing it, he explained, was to help people make better, more balanced decisions about where they’ll be spending a big chunk of their lives.

Decisions like downsizing.

There are good reasons to consider moving to a smaller home, he said. Using tax information and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, he calculated that owning real estate costs about 32 cents per square foot every month — and that’s not counting a mortgage payment or nonessential improvements like installing granite countertops. If you’re leaving 1,000 square feet of a house essentially unused, “that’s $320 a month that you’re wasting,” he said.

Wow. I could be putting that into a travel fund.

Hanging onto a house with excess space also makes it too easy to accumulate stuff, which often gets forgotten in drawers, closets, attics and basements. Those excess possessions can turn into anxiety-causing clutter.

And then there are the physical and time demands of homeownership. The novelty of caring for a house and yard tends to wear off over time, and the tasks might even become physically difficult, Parker said. You don’t want that to happen, because slacking off on maintenance harms your home’s resale value, he pointed out.

So how can homeowners like me get their heads around downsizing?

Start with the obvious: Pare your possessions, Parker suggested. Make a habit of going through your stuff every year. If you haven’t used it in 12 months, consider selling or donating it.

He conceded that isn’t always easy, because we get emotionally attached to our things. But Parker said it may help to think of your children. “Ask yourself, ‘Do we want our kids to have to deal with this?’ ” he said.

Then comes a more fun pursuit, dreaming about your next home.

Pinterest is a great source of ideas, Parker said. He suggested starting a “My Next House” board and pinning all the pictures you want of luxurious bathrooms, organized pantries or whatever else you’d like to have. It will help you get excited about the prospect of moving and develop a sense of ownership in that dream home, he said.

When it comes time to take the plunge, take care to choose a house that meets your new needs, Parker said. Americans tend to do most of their living in the kitchen and the room right next to it, so focus on those spaces, he recommended.

“You want to go big in your kitchen,” he said. “You want a kitchen space that you feel wonderful about.”

Put a priority on the home’s layout, too. An open floor plan with high ceilings feels spacious, even in a smaller home. Homes built in the 1950s and ’60s often have those layouts, he said, or are more easily converted to an open concept.

What should be low on the priority list? The master bedroom, Parker said. “People don’t spend time there,” he said.

Think of your next home purchase not so much as a money expenditure, but as a time expenditure, he suggested. Knowing that time is your only irreplaceable resource can help you narrow your choices to homes that will help you conserve that precious asset.

As he put it, “Do you want to be with your grandkids, or do you want to be weeding?”

Even for us gardeners, that’s a no-brainer.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

I’ve often said my fireplace is one of the things that gets me through winter, and now I have an explanation for why:

Hygge.

Hygge is a Danish concept that roughly translates to a feeling of coziness and conviviality, and it’s gaining traction far beyond Denmark’s borders. Apparently the rest of us are starting to recognize not only that savoring life’s little pleasures makes us happy, but that being intentional about that pursuit is important to our emotional health.

Hygge, pronounced HOO-gah, is derived from a Norwegian word meaning well-being. It’s is a little hard to explain, because it’s a feeling, a you’ll-know-it-when-it-happens kind of experience.

It’s dressing in yoga pants and curling up with a book and a cup of cocoa. It’s putting away the electronic devices and enjoying comfort food with good friends.

For me, it’s spending an evening in front of a crackling fire, preferably with people I love.

The pursuit of hygge isn’t limited to winter, but winter is the perfect time for it. Dreary weather drives us to seek warmth and comfort, and that’s largely what hygge is all about.

The Danes certainly aren’t alone in knowing how to make themselves at ease, but they’ve elevated it to a priority. The very fact that they’ve given it a name shows the conscious effort they make to seek out an atmosphere of togetherness and comfort, said Meik Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge (William Morrow, $19.99).

Wiking is also CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, a think tank in Copenhagen that focuses on well-being and quality of life. He thinks there’s no coincidence that hygge-obsessed Denmark is consistently ranked among the happiest countries in the world, despite its cold, dark winters.

Now, Wiking said, hygge is sparking interest in societies like ours, where wealth hasn’t necessarily translated into well-being. We’re trying to find satisfaction in stuff, when we should be focusing on experiences.

“[Our] societies have become richer, but we as people have not become happier … and therefore people are looking for new sources of inspiration to improve quality of life,” he said in an email interview.

“Danes are not the only ones who can have hygge or identify it, but what is unique for Denmark when it comes to hygge is how much we talk about it, focus on it, and consider it as a defining feature of our cultural identity and national DNA.”

His hope is that other people will start talking about hygge the way the Danes do. “Our language shapes our behavior,” he pointed out, “and our behavior shapes our happiness.”

So how can we add a little hygge to our lives?

Wiking suggests starting by creating what the Danes call a hyggekrog, a nook in your home specially designed for getting comfortable. It might be a window seat filled with pillows or a cushy corner of a sofa, a place where you’ll enjoy snuggling up in a blanket and maybe reading or watching the world go by.

Then make a point of sharing that cozy feeling with your friends and family. Maybe arrange to play board games together on the first Friday of every month, or plan to prepare a simple meal together. “Any meaningful activity that unites the group will knit everyone more tightly together over the years,” Wiking said.

Certain elements can help you set the stage for hygge, such as candles or soft lamplight, a fireplace and things made from wood or other natural items. Throw on some warm, comfortable clothes, indulge in something delicious to eat or drink, and enjoy that good feeling.

While you’re experiencing hygge, live in that moment, Wiking advises. Be grateful for it. Gratitude, after all, is linked to happiness.

And happiness is what hygge is all about.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

If you’ve been reading this column awhile, you know I love a project.

You also know I love saving money.

Put the two together, and the combination is irresistible.

I’m the queen of cheap room makeovers, and my latest undertaking is no exception. I gave my laundry/mud room an overhaul this fall, and it didn’t cost me an arm or a leg.

A little skin off a finger or two, maybe, but no limbs.

Mostly this was a paint-everything-except-the-floor kind of project, although I did splurge on a laundry vanity to replace an unsightly utility sink. (What’s a laundry vanity, you ask? It’s like a bathroom vanity, but with a deep laundry sink. Who knew such a thing existed?)

Besides lots of paint, though, I also used a few cheats and creative solutions in the process. So I thought I’d pass those along.

• My laundry room had painted cabinets that were solid but boring, with flat doors just crying out for a little interest. After repainting them, I framed the doors with 1½-inch-wide lattice molding from Lowe’s, which I painted the same color and adhered with construction adhesive. Voila! Shaker-style cabinets.

• I was going to spring for an Ikea butcher-block countertop for over my front-loading washer and dryer, but then it hit me: My favorite Swedish home store also sells table tops, and they’re closer to the size I needed. I bought a Gerton butcher-block table top, removed the metal braces from the underside and had a helpful friend with a table saw trim it to fit.

• I wanted my new countertop to be easily removable in case the washer or dryer needed repairing, so I engaged in a good deal of mental wrestling over how to support it. Then I took the easy way out: I simply stuck some plastic door bumpers on the underside of the countertop and laid it right on top of the appliances. And you know what? It works just fine. The bumpers keep the countertop in place and prevent it from rattling, even during the spin cycle.

• Ikea came to the rescue on another problem, how to hide the ugly drain hose and electrical outlet that stick up behind my washing machine. I pondered all sorts of solutions, from having the hose and outlet relocated to building a removable box to cover them. Then, during my Ikea trip, I spotted some great fake plants in little galvanized buckets for a few bucks apiece. I just set the plants on top of the washer, and now you don’t even notice the eyesores behind them.

A laundry basket hides another receptacle behind the dryer and gives me a place to collect dirty kitchen towels and cloth napkins.

• My cabinets stop short of the ceiling, so I topped them with storage baskets from Michaels to take advantage of the unused space and add a little decorative interest. The baskets hold things like china and glassware I use infrequently, so that freed cupboard space for items I use more often.

• Coat hooks on one wall and a temporary over-the-door hanger give me places to hang clean laundry, but I needed a place to keep hangers within easy reach. An inexpensive spring tension rod mounted inside the laundry vanity does the trick. I just hang the hangers on the rod and close the vanity doors to keep them out of sight when I don’t need them.

• The laundry room has a door that leads to my garage, a plain steel fire door with no architectural interest whatsoever. I thought it was a perfect place to mount a chalkboard so we could jot reminders we’d see on the way out the door, but I didn’t want to make that a permanent feature. So I painted a rectangle onto the door with chalkboard paint, made a frame out of decorative molding and attached the frame to the door with 3M Command hanging strips — removable hook-and-loop fasteners meant for mounting picture frames. Now if I get tired of the chalkboard, I can just pop off the frame, peel off the fasteners and repaint the door.

• The brass-look knob on the door had gotten pretty battered, as had the one on the door to the powder room that’s just off my laundry room. I originally planned to buy new knobs, but I decided instead to try giving the old ones a coat of Rustoleum Universal metallic spray paint in oil-rubbed bronze. I figure I can still replace the knobs if the paint doesn’t hold up, but so far they look great.

As much as I’m enjoying my new room, I’m almost sad the creative process is over.

I guess I need to find a new set of problems to solve.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ or follow her on Twitter[email protected].

What’s on your list of New Year’s resolutions?

I’m going out on a limb here and guessing decluttering is on there someplace. With Marie Kondo selling books about tidying up faster than you can empty your junk drawer, many of us are being shamed into thinking we need to pare our possessions.

Not so fast, Christina Waters urges.

Waters is author of Inside the Flame, a new book from Parallax Press that’s part memoir, part self-help guide. It’s designed to help people become more mindful and appreciative of their surroundings.

And those surroundings, she says, include the things we choose to keep.

Waters fears that in the quest for a low-maintenance existence, super-straighteners like Kondo are pushing us to get rid of objects that serve no practical purpose. But those include objects that elicit memories, bring us joy and spark creativity, objects that turn houses into homes, Waters said in a recent phone interview from her home in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Without them, a house is more like a Hyatt, she said — clean and attractive, perhaps, but devoid of individuality.

That sense of home is important to Waters. She grew up an Air Force brat, living in 16 places before she even left high school. She longed to stay someplace long enough to fill the attic with vestiges of her family’s past.

That’s why she cherishes the windowsill gallery she describes in her book. It’s a collection of eclectic treasures, things like a door knocker from a Cairo bazaar, a cluster of peppercorns from her mother’s tree and a mirrored ornament from an import store.

Those sorts of things, she writes, “reflect our joys, our memories, and our interest back to us. … They create coziness, a feeling of belonging, often for little or no cost.”

For that reason alone, they’re worth holding onto, she insists.

That’s not to say Waters advocates messes. There’s a difference between displaying some knickknacks on a shelf and piling it with unpaid bills. The latter represents clutter you didn’t invite into your life, she said, and that can cause anxiety.

“Nor am I talking about dirt,” she said. “That’s not my idea of creative clutter.”

Still, she acknowledged the need to limit the mementos that surround us. Most of us want to live in homes that are clean and more or less orderly, and that requires some editing.

“I think being selective … is really important,” she said. “You’ll know. Your body will respond. Your emotions will respond.”

To that end, Waters suggested a few strategies for deciding what to keep and what to give up.

• Give yourself time to assess each object and decide whether to keep it. Read the note. Try on the prom dress. “Don’t be careless in your trashing,” she said.

• Hold the object in question in your hands. See if your body responds to it in a positive way. If not, it’s probably safe to let it go.

• Keep only a limited number of samples from a collection of items. Say you have a box full of love letters. Choose one or two to keep that are especially evocative. You’re more likely to reread those one or two periodically than you are to plow through the whole box.

• Instead of cramming your closets with clothes you never wear, consider turning pieces of favorite or important garments into a patchwork quilt.

• If you just can’t decide about an item, keep it a little longer if you have the room. You can always come back to it later.

Waters noted she isn’t trying to give people advice, but just to inspire and caution them.

“Stripping down your entire life is like removing who you are,” she said.

Sometimes, she believes, a little clutter can be a good thing.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

I gave myself a little dose of holiday cheer last week by taking a walk through some Christmas trees.

They weren’t pines or spruces or firs, though. They were hollies.

Most Ohioans don’t think of hollies as trees, but that’s just what American hollies are — trees with spiny, glossy-green leaves and sometimes clusters of berries. They’re nature’s Christmas decorations, supersized.

American hollies aren’t native to this part of the country, but Ohio State University’s Secrest Arboretum near Wooster has a whole grove of them. Those trees have managed to survive less-than-ideal conditions for close to 50 years, and some of them reach as tall as 40 feet, to my best guess.

That’s where I did my exploring on a chilly day, in a woodsy patch where remnants of a snowfall clung to the carpet of fallen leaves. Being immersed in such natural holiday beauty was just the mood lift I needed.

I found maybe a couple of dozen trees, with names like Ling, Judy, Sherman and George E. Hart. I found trees with bright red berries and one called Morgan Gold with yellow fruit. I found a sign for a tree called Cheerful that marked a bare spot, a gravestone for a long-dead specimen.

American holly — Ilex opaca — grows naturally in the Southeast and along the East Coast. Supposedly the Pilgrims were cheered by the sight of American hollies when they landed in the New World shortly before Christmas in 1620, because the trees reminded them of the English holly that played such a big part of their holiday celebrations back home.

You don’t see American holly around here that often, however. It’s not naturally suited to Ohio’s climate or many of our soils.

In nature, holly is what’s called an understory tree, one that grows beneath taller trees in a forest. That much shade makes holly spindly, though, and it reduces fruit production. American holly trees grow into more pleasing shapes and produce greener leaves and more berries if they get more sun.

Holly is what’s called dioecious, which means a tree is either male or female. Only the females produce those cheerful berries, which birds love for their taste the way people love them for their looks.

Secrest’s American Holly Orchard is noted on the map published on the arboretum’s website (http://secrest.osu.edu), but there are no signs to identify it.

If you want to see it yourself, make a trip to OSU’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at 1680 Madison Ave, Wooster Township. Once you’re on the campus, follow the signs to Secrest Arboretum.

The orchard is just north of the arboretum’s Green Drive, between Pine and Oak trails. Look for a sign on the south side of Green Drive with a picture of Ohio on it and the words, “Deciduous Tree Evaluation.” There’s a parking area not far east of that sign where you can leave your car.

Head north into the woods directly across the street from the sign, and go about 40 yards until you see a tall Austrian pine tree that’s well marked by an identifying sign. Turn left at the pine tree and go another 40 yards or so. You’ll see the holly orchard on your right.

Better get there soon. The birds really do love those berries.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

When I look at clear glass shower doors, I think soap scum and water spots.

I can’t help it. I just know if those doors were in my bathroom, they’d never be clean enough to make me happy.

I think a lot of design trends are like that. They look great in magazines and on HGTV, but they don’t always work so well in real life.

That’s not to say they’re bad ideas. After all, if you’re willing to diligently squeegee after every shower, by golly, you should have the doors you want.

Just be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Apparently I’m not alone in my hesitation about some of today’s popular looks. When I asked some interior designers which trends merit a bit of caution, two of them jumped right in with their own thoughts.

So with their help, I’m suggesting a few trends to think twice about.

• Open kitchen shelves. This look is huge right now, but think about the upkeep required when all your dishes are on display. Are you willing to keep them neatly stacked and clean them when they get dusty? Do they even all match or at least complement each other? And how will those shelves look holding only two cups and a plate, when everything else is in the dishwasher?

• A foyer shelf – you know, that window ledge above the front door in some two-story entries. “What does one do with the space?” asked interior designer Susan Lobalzo of Bath Township. “Make a vignette of objects that looks like a showroom display and does nothing but collect dust until you get the energy and/or nerve to climb a 10-foot ladder to knock down the cobwebs.”

• Raw barn wood. I’ve seen doors made of it. I’ve seen walls paneled with it. I can’t figure out how anyone dusts it.

• Masses of throw pillows. This is a peeve of both Lobalzo and designer Robin Brechbuhler of North Canton. An excess of pillows looks messy after you sit on a sofa, Brechbuhler pointed out, and pillows on chairs and beds usually end up on the floor.

• Kitchen islands wider than 5 feet. As Lobalzo noted, they make it necessary “to either climb on the island or hire a window washer to get the center cleaned.”

• Bar-style seating. I don’t understand the appeal of extra-long kitchen islands that seat people in one long row, like you’re eating at Woolworth’s. That arrangement is fine for three or maybe even four seats, but beyond that I can’t imagine how you could carry on a conversation. Just getting the attention of the person at the other end to ask him to pass the salt must be a struggle.

• Arched windows and window walls. What’s the point of installing such grand windows if you’re only going to ruin the look by cutting them in half with window treatments? Lobalzo recommends thinking about your needs for privacy or light control before you choose the windows.

• TVs over fireplaces. Mounting a TV above a firebox is fine if the TV can be positioned low enough or you can sit far enough away. But if you have to crane your neck to watch a football game, you’re likely to be sore by the third quarter.

• Mudroom cubbies. I love the look of those locker-style cubbies, but if you’re short on space, think again. You can store a whole lot more coats and other gear in a closet, and you can close the door on the mess too.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

I don’t know why I do this to myself every year.

The gorging. The guilt. The feelings of inadequacy.

I’m not talking about overeating. I’m talking about reading the December issues of home magazines.

I just can’t help myself. The sight of a sprightly boxwood wreath or a star-shaped cookie on a magazine cover this time of year sends me into giddy anticipation. I can hardly wait to settle into a corner of the couch to pore over pictures and dream my way to the perfect holiday.

In that little hour of bliss, anything is possible. Yes, I can rewire lanterns to hang from my trees! I can fold sheet music in complex shapes to make an exquisite wreath! I can bake that torte for Christmas dinner!

Ha.

The reality is I can barely find time to lug the same bedraggled garland I’ve been using for 15 years out of the basement and drape it over the front door. How do I think I can manage to whip up knitted Christmas stockings and adorn the fir trees in my yard with handmade bird-seed ornaments?

But that’s what people do in magazines, right?

I don’t know who those people are, but I’ve come to conclude they all lead better lives than I do.

I wonder what it would be like to occupy such a perfect existence. It seems like all the subjects in home magazines are attractive and prosperous, with three well-scrubbed children who dress in J. Crew (or alternately, a hoard of spirited grandchildren, all of whom have their own vintage cruiser bikes at Grandma and Grandpa’s weekend house on Cape Cod). These are people who make adorable handwritten labels for their party snacks, print their own wrapping paper and garnish their Wednesday meatloaf with sprigs of rosemary.

They cannot be real.

Don’t they ever leave the breakfast dishes on the kitchen counter and their shoes on the steps? Don’t they ever run out of energy while hand-cutting their own pop-up Christmas cards? Don’t they ever give in to the urge to binge-watch holiday movies and eat popcorn instead of gathering the neighborhood children to make gingerbread houses?

OK, I admit I can get swept up in the quest for a flawless holiday, too. My sister and I have spent years one-upping each other with our cut-out cookie decorating. And I have to admit, I tie a pretty mean bow.

But sheesh, I think I know when to draw the line. I’m pretty sure my guests are happier eating chocolates from the candy store than hand-dipped bonbons sprinkled with my sweat.

So this year, maybe I’ll just think of those magazines the same way I do novels — something to get lost in for a time before going back to my normal life.

Which I hope involves popcorn and movies.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

Back in September, I ran a list of charitable crafting groups that were asking for volunteers or donations of supplies.

And the requests just kept coming in.

Because there’s so much need and so many people willing to donate or help, I decided to publish an addendum. Below are more groups that can use your leftover fabric, your bits of yarn, your sewing skills and other things you might have to offer.

I’ll add these to the original list, which is posted at http://www.ohio.com/breckenridge. When you’re looking for a project this winter or cleaning out your craft closet in the spring, I hope you’ll use it as a resource.

Lenna’s Ladybugs uses T-shirts and men’s polo shirts to sew clothing for children in need in Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and several other countries. It needs donations of new T-shirts and fabrics, as well as Hot Wheels cars and children’s underwear to be sent with the clothing. Used items cannot be accepted.

Donations can be sent to Lenna’s Ladybugs, P.O. Box 2781, North Canton, OH 44720.

The group also needs volunteers of all skill levels. It meets from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the last Saturdays of January, April, July and October at Greenwood Christian Church, 4425 Frazer Ave. NW, Canton, plus occasional work days.

For details, visit http://lennasladybugs.weebly.com or contact the group at [email protected] or 330-966-7428.

Warm Up Portage Lakes knits and crochets afghans, hats, scarves and prayer shawls for homeless veterans, victims of house fires, cancer patients and others in need. It accepts yarn donations and needs volunteer knitters and crocheters, as well as people who want to learn.

The group meets from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays at Messiah Lutheran Church, 4700 S. Main St., Green. For further information, contact Pat Butke, 330-322-5677 or [email protected], or Judy Hunter, 330-644-1540.

Knitting for a Cause does knitting, crocheting and/or stitching projects for Freedom House, Harry Donovan Jr. Valor Home, Akron Children’s Hospital, Tallmadge Good Neighbors and the Mother Bear Project. The group seeks volunteers, including beginners. It meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the Giant Eagle Cafe, 205 West Ave., Tallmadge.

For information, call Dianna Phillips at 330-606-3930 or [email protected].

The Cocoon Quilters makes bedrolls for needy and homeless people and quilts for their children. The items are distributed through Kent Social Services, Center of Hope, Salvation Army, Loaves and Fishes, Catholic Charities and private individuals.

The group needs volunteers as well as donations of sewing machines, sheets, blankets, upholstery and drapery fabric, polyester fabric and curtains, towels, sewing notions and thread.

The group meets from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays at Rausch School, 3582 State Route 59, Ravenna. For information, contact LindaSue Hall at 330-297-6368 or [email protected], or Olga Kitzmiller at 330-389-2207.

Philoptochos Women’s Group of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 129 S. Union St., Akron, makes afghans that are sent to Germany to warm wounded warriors during their recovery. The group needs people to crochet or knit 8-inch squares to be combined into afghans.

It also accepts donations of acrylic 4-ply yarn. For meeting times and other information, call Jean Boyazis at 330-644-3986.

Warm Up Barberton makes afghans, blankets, hats, scarves, mittens and baby items for people in need.

It needs donations of 3-ply yarn (sport yarn) and regular yarn. The group meetings at 12:30 p.m. the Friday of each month at the Barberton Public Library, 602 W. Park Ave. For information, contact Margerie Bass at [email protected] or 330-825-5497.

Seville Day Center makes comforters for disaster victims, which are distributed all over the world through Lutheran World Relief. Volunteers are needed to tie quilts and to piece quilt tops and bottoms, as well as to do hand-quilting for clients to raise money for the purchase of batting. Donations of cotton fabric, sheets and similar fabric are accepted. The group meets from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays at the Guilford Township Hall, 3800 Greenwich Road. Contact Barb Wszelaki, 330-336-5996.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

When Candace Perkins Bowen first noticed a pheasant in her backyard, she approached cautiously to take its picture. She didn’t want to frighten the bird, she explained.

Ha.

“Course, now I know that Phred doesn’t scare easily,” she said.

That’s an understatement.

Phred is the name Bowen and her husband, John, gave to the wild fowl that inflicted terror in their Stow yard for about a month this fall. Candace Bowen entertained her friends on Facebook with tales of its tenacity and stalker-like antics.

She first spotted Phred in late September as she was out filling her bird feeders, she said. She was intrigued by what she thought was a rare visit from a docile bird.

But Phred kept hanging around. And pretty soon, he started making a pest of himself.

When John Bowen tried mowing the yard, Phred followed so closely that he feared the pheasant was going to peck his heels. His wife tried to shoo Phred with a broom, “and he attacks the broom and keeps advancing toward me,” she said.

Phred wasn’t even fazed when John Bowen used a leaf blower once to try to scare him away.

Candace Bowen tried reasoning with Phred, asking him diplomatically to leave. That didn’t work, either.

Phred chased cars. He harassed the furnace technicians who were working at a neighbor’s house. When a worker shrugged off the Bowens’ warnings before venturing into their yard to shut off their sprinkler system for the winter, he discovered they weren’t kidding. “That bird didn’t back down,” he told the couple.

Candace Bowen eventually called the Stow police, who sent an animal control officer. The officer managed to snag Phred with a snare pole — a sort of noose attached to a long stick — “but then Phred flopped over and played dead,” she said. When the officer tried to adjust the loop, Phred slipped the snare and flew off.

The behavior puzzled the Bowens, but Jamey Emmert of the Ohio Division of Wildlife thinks she knows what was behind Phred’s aggressive behavior: He was hungry, and he regarded the Bowens as human vending machines.

Phred probably was raised as either a game bird or a pet and escaped from captivity, Emmert speculated. He came to associate humans with food, and he lacked the fear of people that a pheasant would have in the wild.

In fact, Emmert suspects the Bowens’ humanitarian urge not to hurt Phred just fed his aggression. Phred read their efforts to drive him away as fear, she said, and that just egged him on.

The Bowens were amused by the whole thing, but by last week, Candace Bowen admitted the bird’s antics were wearing thin.

“I do want it out of there,” she said. “because John’s going to need to mow the lawn again sometime.”

At last the Bowens called in a wildlife trapper, who managed to capture Phred late this week and, at last report, was pursuing a Phredricka who’d been reported nearby.

“I’m pretty sure they are going to the little farm near us where the people have turkeys and chickens — and totally enclosed pens,” Candace Bowen said.

With good latches, we hope.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.

I’ve been dying to see inside the house actress Monica Potter renovated in Cleveland. And boy, was it worth the wait.

This week, HGTV started airing a series about the renovation, Welcome Back Potter. It follows Potter, her three sisters and their mother through their renovation of the house in North Collinwood where Potter grew up.

(Did you miss it? The first two episodes will be repeated this weekend, starting at 1 and 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The next two air at 11 and 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.)

Potter told me about the project when I interviewed her about a year and a half ago, as she prepared to open her first Monica Potter Home store near Garrettsville. She was fresh off the NBC series Parenthood at the time and trying to manage details of the opening from her home in Los Angeles while juggling a TV project, and she was admittedly exhausted.

Maybe that’s why I could hear the emotion in her voice as she talked about the house, her old neighborhood and her love for Cleveland. But I suspect that emotion is often close to the surface when it comes to those subjects.

Tears flow a few times in Welcome Back Potter as the family members reminisce, and particularly when they talk about Potter’s late father, Paul Brokaw. But it’s hardly a somber show. The sisters and their mom are funny and irreverent, and they all appear to share that Northeast Ohio lack of pretension.

Potter may be a star, but she’s not above swinging a sledgehammer. “We’re Irish women from Cleveland,” she says as she knocks down a plaster-and-lath wall. “We can do it.”

Nor do her sisters hesitate to give her a little ribbing. When she asks a woodworker whether the mineral oil coating on a butcher block will cause diarrhea, sister Brigette chimes in, “Your cooking might.”

The first two episodes show the process of remodeling the kitchen and opening it to the dining room, as well as the makeover of the living room and foyer. The results are bright, cheerful and far more livable than the house’s decrepit state when Potter bought it, still with some of the family’s old furniture and belongings inside.

Cleveland comes off looking pretty good, too. There are lots of glamour shots of the Cuyahoga River and its bridges, footage of kids scampering down sidewalks and images of flags and flower baskets. The city seems like a poster child for idyllic America — never mind that Collinwood, where the house is located, is a worn, working-class neighborhood struggling to rebound from the recession.

Although Potter doesn’t live in Cleveland anymore, she told me she wanted to make the house a place where the family can gather and where she can stay when she’s in town.

It’s a big undertaking, and how much she’s sinking into the project isn’t specified. Clearly, her pockets are deep.

In just the first two episodes, floors are repaired and sanded, cabinets and appliances are replaced, and windows and a French door are installed. Even though the family members do part of work, the expense has to be significant.

But what price can you put on restoring a bit of your childhood?

For Potter, the two-story red house with the big front porch and a view of Lake Erie has long held a special place in her heart. She never got over her sense of loss after her family sold it in 1987.

“I couldn’t let it go,” she said. “You know, this is our home. This is our heart.”

And it’s coming back strong.

Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or [email protected]. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter[email protected] and read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.