Saturday, July 15, 2017

Tables, and the Evolution of a Patio

I'm a little mental about tables. They're really important to me. Not just the aesthetic stuff, what it's made of and what it looks like and if it's the right size to fit your lifestyle, but the metaphorical stuff too.

As years pass, the more I realize how much of life happens around the table in a home. Not just the meals, but all the moments. The first baby bites with tiny spoon. The birthday parties. The wine-y sessions with women friends. Christmas cookie decorating. Boxes of pizza. Milk spills. Sullen silences from kids who do not like the chicken casserole. Board games and popcorn. Late nights alone with worried thoughts and darkness. Praying. Arguing. Laughing. Crying. Talking. All of the talking.

I think about this every time we are gathered here. All those times of togetherness, friends and family who have joined us, as well as those who won't be any more, and all the joys and griefs and daily living that we pile up on the simplest of human furnishings, the thing on which we serve our daily meals. It begins to take on the significance of a totem--a sacred object that represents the ways of a tribe.

It's possible I'm overthinking it (because that's what I do), but it's been on my mind a lot lately, as Tom and I have gradually grown our lives together in this house, and as his kids and my kids grow into adults and take flight, flying back and forth from the nest as they test their wings.

Our life together needed a table. A big table. And since our patio needed some grander scale furnishings, that was where this new, big table was going to go.

Since the beginning of my time in this house, the patio has seen its own evolution. It started as a bare expanse of concrete, and not much more. I put a little money into a modest table and chairs, ones that held just me and my kids.

It began looking a little better when I was able to paint the house. But you can still see the old and crumbling (and mauve) screen porch on the right side.

Late summer of last year, we tackled the screen porch, which also helped with the overall look of the patio area, too. 

This April, Tom made the table. We saw plenty of plans we liked, many of them similar to this one, but in the end we cobbled together a bunch of design ideas from various places, and then Tom made the table big, a little over 8 feet long and over 4 feet wide.

While he was at it, and to give us more seating options, he built a bench to match the table, from his own design. 

Most of the time, the bench is going to live here, against the screen porch wall. The pots were a recent sale find at Lowe's and they had to come home with me.

Here's a little bit of a look at the undercarriage. And my unswept patio. The cedar tree is the world's best patio roof because it's green and cool and dappled light, but it's also the world's worst, because it's always shedding little needles all over the place. And I was too hasty to sweep for this photo session, because the sun was going down and I was losing my daylight for pictures. 

I also need to weed the seams in the concrete. Sigh. The strings of patio lights were an impulse buy of mine, and it turns out they were essential. We love them. 

The table has already hosted several birthday parties, a Mother's Day brunch, a graduation barbecue. It's hosted stay-at-home dates and happy hour glasses of wine. It's been my office space on a few work-from-home days, and it's been the place I staged my boxes of dahlia and gladioli tubers when I brought them up from the basement to plant in the garden. I even stretched out on it, full-length on my back, to look up through cedar boughs, fireflies and stars, all at once, on an evening that seemed too whole and perfect to end. What we finished with a layer of varnish we in turn have also begun, living the layers that make it truly shine in the way that matters most.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Doorstep Gets a Front Door Facelift

Readers may remember that some summers ago my Dad swooped in like a hero and helped me get the front of the house painted. 

At that time, one of the things that went undone was the front door. I'd intended to follow up almost immediately painting it, but between the fact the weather never seemed right any weekend I wanted to work on it, and well, just life in general, it remained the weird brownish-mauve color, with peeling layers down to white. It was not a pretty thing. 

Later on, once upon a Thanksgiving, I painted the inside of the door, pictured here, and fell in love with the color. That's Valspar Cinnamon Cake: 

It's a warm, spicy, pumpkin-y color. This year, finally, as Tom has helped get the rest of the exterior house painting done, I tackled the front door on nice weather weekends in little half-hour increments. 

Charming. Also, pay no attention to the ripped linoleum floor. Usually that's covered up by an area rug, and is a home-improvement tragedy for another blog post.

The risk for irritation painting doors while they are still hung is high. Especially a door that's heavily used. And of course my children, who leave doors hanging open as a matter of maddening habit, are now slamming it shut religiously, simply because you've got wet/tacky paint on it. Of course.

Here it is, almost finished with the prime coat. I scraped the big chunks, leveled with wood filler, caulked gaps, and sanded before priming. I'm pretty sure this is the original door, and while I like it, it's been used pretty hard and is about at the end of its life, including the hardware. The budget being what it is, though, we decided we'd throw a fresh coat of paint on it to see if we couldn't get another year or two out of it before taking the plunge on a replacement door and screen door.

Here's the finished product. I spray-painted the door-knocker black to coordinate with the light fixture, mailbox, and address plaque.

I love, love, LOVE how this color coordinates with the sage-y, olive-y green of the siding paint. I still need to paint the threshold trim the dark green color that you see on the awning trim, but the improvement has been so vast I'm kicking myself for not having done this sooner. It's made all the difference in the world.

Monday, June 26, 2017

One Last Post about the Porch

To say we've been basking in screen porch glory is a little bit of an understatement. All the work we accomplished in the waning days of summer last year felt good to get scratched off our list (HERE), but it wasn't until this year that we finally got the furniture rearranged, the pillows fluffed, the rugs down, the planters planted, and we could really use the space. It's been nice to end the work day here with a drink and a conversation with your sweetie, or begin the weekend with a cup of coffee and birdsong. 

I had a few more views of the screen porch to share, and then I'll move on to other parts of the house, because Tom and I have gotten a lot done since I was last blogging regularly (and all that work was part of the reason I wasn't blogging regularly). Remember this oldie but ugly? 

That chair used to be in my living room, and was a rocker from the home I grew up in. I've decided its wood form is not so bad as patio furniture, but I have plans to recover it with a slightly less loud fabric. It's a really comfortable chair, so I hate to give it up entirely. It's sitting in one corner of the screen porch to the left of the sliding glass door into the kitchen. 

On the other side of the sliding glass door into the kitchen is an old bar cart I found in the basement and repainted. I'll admit for the most part it's just filling space, though the bottom shelf does keep my flower vases handy for when I'm cutting flowers from the garden. 

I am in love with this golden ceiling, made of stained grooved 1X8 car siding. It's a cheap material, but it diffuses light in a warm way that makes the porch seem shaded and cozy without being dark. I'm less in love with the light/fan, but the price was right (free, from a fixture replacement project at my mother's house), and we can upgrade later when we find something we really like. 

On the exterior, we went from this: 

To this:

A proper gutter on the front wall of the porch means no more rotting foundations. My summer plants are just getting started on the patio, but we are already enjoying the strings of porch lights in the evening. 

Next up: A much smaller project, at the front of the house. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

It's Complicated (Or What My Garden Has to Do with the United Nations)

The worst thing about the internet--to me, anyway--is that it reduces any issue to two sides, usually the two of them as diametrically opposed in every way possible. It's annoying as hell to me, because life isn't really like that. I'm usually interjecting in the middle of discussions, on the internet and off, "It's more complicated than that!" and wishing I had the speaking skills to explain how incredibly interrelated everything is, or can be, if you resist the urge to reduce every argument to A or B, yes or no, this or that, pro or con. In reality, everything has a lot of moving parts.

Take, for instance, my bees.

When I moved into this house in 2011, the garden was mostly weeds and broken concrete chunks, and lawn that I hated (and still hate) mowing.

Every year I've tried to add a little more to my own little piece of planet--digging into the dirt, trying to get more good things out of it. We're about at this point, as we were when this photo was taken last June:

Even six years ago there had been years of spreading alarm about the bees--honey bees, and really, all the types of bees, wasps, and other wild pollinators that support the reproduction of plant life. Many things--colony collapse, pesticide use, loss of native habitat, and climate change-- have been deemed responsible. Even with years of frantic scientific research, there is much experts still need to learn. But just like I said about internet arguments, the understanding and the solutions won't come with the simplistic generalizations, but with the hyper-specific-- learning the intricacies and details of the problem, from all the angles, with all the data we can gather at hand.

But being hyper-specific doesn't mean that I personally should become an expert entomologist, even if I could (and I can't). It just means that if I'm concerned, I believe it's my responsibility to learn as much as I can, and bring my own talents or actions to at least one aspect of the problem.

That's where my garden grows, literally and figuratively.

I can't stand generalizations, intellectually. I know I alone can't grasp any global problem presented in big gloomy simplistic weighty boulders without getting overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed. I think that's why the news is so often too much for me-- a collection of too many massive problem-boulders piled into the narrow thought-space of black/white thinking.

So I planted flowers instead. A little more every year, picking ones that extension and garden guides said that pollinators especially liked. I avoided using pesticides.

And the bees came back.

Did I single handedly rescue the planet from its bee problems? Of course not. Not even close. But here in my large front yard perennial border, bumble bees especially have made a big comeback. Left to their work, they're surprisingly gentle garden companions, and I often weed nearby while they're quite active. Honey bees too, have returned, though in worrisomely smaller numbers.

My attempts to bring bees back to my yard was a tiny thing in the grander global scale of environmental problems. But when I did that one thing, other things besides bees began to happen.

Lots of other pollinators-- flies, beetles, and wasps, most I've yet to identify-- arrived in my garden. They each have their own little niche, some with the lilies, some with the flowers that have centers, like daisies, some with the roses.

I read that letting the garden go a bit, not being so tidy, also had advantages for pollinators, so I did that, too (always looking for a good excuse to be lazy). Not only did birds show up to feast on the dried seed heads, chickadees and goldfinches, I had plant visitors that arrived from other places, and decided to stay, including Missouri primrose, joe-pye weed, and two kinds of milkweed, both asclepias tuberosa and asclepias syriaca.

Those visitors, most importantly the milkweed, were responsible for the butterflies showing up. Specifically, monarch butterflies, though others have as well, like swallowtails, sulphurs and skippers.

Monarch butterflies have had their own survival struggles, much like the bees. Now that I've got milkweed in my garden, healthy and established for the first time this summer, I've seen monarch caterpillars aplenty.  I'm thrilled, and looking into getting my garden designated a Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch, a conservation effort supported by the University of Kansas (link HERE.)

I'd started out just wanting to help bees. I did, just a little. But when I did that that one or two things to help bees, a whole bunch of interconnected things I didn't even think about (other insects, birds, plants, and butterflies) also found habitat in my garden. That was a far more powerful effect than I was expecting. It makes me realize that "it's more complicated than that" can work both ways, positively as well as negatively, and want to do more.

By now you're probably wondering where the United Nations comes in. This is where I get to that part. It's old news that the U.S. has decided not to participate in the Paris Climate Agreement. (you can read a handy and brief explanation HERE.) As a citizen of this country, I strenuously disagree with this decision, and it's obvious many others do as well, since mayors of major cities and state governments have pledged to meet the terms of the treaty without official U.S. participation. Corporations have pledged the same. And the economy, chugging along without the say-so of our country's elected officials, has decided that the renewable energy sector is one of the fastest growing job markets globally (you can find a little background about that HERE.)

The point is this: if I, acting alone, can intend to move the needle on just one small thing (getting the bees back to my garden) and end up improving not only that but other things that I didn't even think about (birds and butterflies), think of the rippling positive consequences of the actions of 196 nations committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as the citizens, companies, and non-profit groups in the U.S. that support it. That's a basis for hope, even with all the negative things heard in the news.

I'm going to take that basis for hope and run with it. In the meantime, I'm going to keep planting flowers, and spend time with all my fuzzy bees.