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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Updating that Chapter About the Screen Porch

There's a better picture at the end of this chapter!

It's June! Screen porch weather here in the Midwest. Which brings me right back to the last time I was blogging semi-regularly, in October, about what evolved into a multi-month repair job on....the screen porch. 

I've imagined the story of my porch's construction before, and I will share it again because I believe it to be true: two guys got drunk on a couple of cases of Natty Light and decided to build a screen porch out of whatever shit they could find laying around. 

That was maybe 20 years or so ago. Add the insult of many years of bad patchy roofing repairs, a leaky or non-existent gutter, and the natural processes of sun and rain, it was something of a miracle (or just plain habit) it was still standing. 

Going back a bit, I've written about how we (we being me and Tom, but let's be honest: it was mostly Tom) spent most of August and September of last year, HERE, and HERE, tearing into the rot and getting the place sound again. Going even further back, we have my superficial attempts at coping with the ugly HERE.

I'm still having some technical difficulties blogging in anything resembling an organized fashion, because in May I had no less than FOUR college students' worth of stuff show up from two colleges, and one of those students (my oldest, Grant) commenced from his university. So he was moving out of his apartment digs in a serious and permanent fashion. Where does one land? Mom's place. More specifically, her basement, her guest room, her garage. AND her screen porch. I've been waiting to get some photos decent enough to write around, and I'm still finding it necessary to do it in weird stages because of stacked boxes, trailers of kayaks (don't ask) and the flotsam and jetsam of daily life.

A sneak peak at the new ceiling: 

So what you're getting here is interior shots. But only part of it. Once the transitional nonsense of my spring is over, I'll blog the rest. It's not that I intended this to turn into "screen porch, strip-tease edition", emphasis on the tease, but it's just been that crazy around here. If I waited until my life was sane, you'd never read about it here again. 

Here's some honesty about "I-don't-give-a-crap-any-more-what-it-looks-like-I-just-want-it-done" renovation choices: the screen porch floor. The porch was built on slab, which was probably the only thing the original builders got right. But then they glued down lavender-mauve carpet that was not intended for exterior applications and all the fun you can imagine happened. It rained, the carpet got wet around the edges of the porch. It got hot, the humidity made the carpet rank and smelly. It had to go. And it went, more easily than I thought, considering how many home improvement horror stories that I've read about glued carpet that seemed more or less permanent up to and including the Apocalypse. 

It had baked in the sun to a brittle crisp, and the carpet peeled up fairly well enough. But. (There's always one more 'but' in these stories, isn't there?) while it made the carpet easy to get up, it also meant that the glue that had hardened to the floor was really ON there. That glue was stuck to the floor like, well, glue. 

So I sanded. And when I sanded, some of it came up, but some of it got hot with the friction and remelted into a sticky substance (like glue, maybe, mmmmm?) and gummed up the sand paper. Then I sanded with a wheel sander with a metal brush, and it heated up the old glue if I went over one patch too many times, and also threw sparks around, which made me super nervous. The idea of spreading chemicals around to dissolve it made me nervous too. 

Tired, nervous, impatient, and failing is not a good combination for doing a thorough job. I reasoned that if we left the glue alone, it was mostly in the corners, it was hard like an enamel or varnish coating. Let's just paint the damn thing, glue and all, and be done with it. Please. 

So that's what I did. Brown concrete patio paint, two thick coats. That brought the entire interior project to this: re-paneled walls and ceiling, repainted and rewired, windows reframed (but not replaced), new sills, and a finally finished (one way or the other) floor. 

The floor is not perfect. Then again, it's a concrete patio floor. I can't say I've cared two cents about its imperfection since we moved the furniture back in. And I so wanted to move in I started playing before I was even finished, like this: 

You can see the concrete-and-carpet-glue floor before sanding in the above shot. And the ceramic planters. Because that was really what all this work was really about-- getting those out of storage, finally. 

Everything you see is stuff I already had--8-year-old (with the original cushions, a little faded) Target all-weather wicker arm chairs, the weird little table I dragged all the way home from Kudzu Antiques in Decatur, Georgia. The hanging lamp, wire shelf (in the window) and ceramic planters I'd picked up over time and squirreled away for the right place. The little cactuses in terra cotta belong to my son Grant; I'm babysitting them while he's in between apartments. 

The area rug is a bit on the small side, but it was one I'd ordered from Overstock a couple of years ago for the front foyer. It was too thick to clear the swing of the front door and I was too cheap and lazy to ship it back. I stored it, figuring it would find a place when I needed a rug. And it did. 

I'm not a big fan of design folks talking about "use what you have" decorating like it's some gloriously free thing, because it isn't really. I mean, at one time or another you paid for it, whether you got it new or whether you got it second-hand. So while, yes, all these were pieces I already had, that does represent some years of acquiring and accumulating. It also represents the patience it took to wait until they had the right space to move into. Tom's carpentry skills (mostly) and my painting/staining/cleaning made all of the pieces fit together, and seem like home. 

In the coming weeks, I ought to be more organized (here's hoping), and will share more of the finished project, including exterior views and some new developments on the outdoor patio. Until next time!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Floral Promise

Hello, blog friends!

It's been awhile. Too long, in fact.

I'll be getting back to (semi-) regular entries here soon. Because I need to. This blog is one of the few places in the world that is exclusively my creative space, and I've been neglecting that part of me (and this blog!) for a little too long to be comfortable with it.

So I'm working on some new material, some new photos, and some news to share. But in the meantime, here's some spring flowers from just outside our doorstep to enjoy. I'll be back here soon. I've missed this place!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Short Note to Certain Women Concerned About the State of my Underpants

A short note to certain women concerned about the state of my underpants--

It's been brought to my attention often in recent months by women both near to me and from afar on the internets that I need to "just get over it, and put on your big girl panties."

I just wanted to let everyone know that yes, I do have big girl panties. Several pairs, as a matter of fact.

I got my very first pair of junior big girl panties (very like a training bra, I suppose) for having divorced parents and growing up in a low-income single-parent family.

I'd estimate that I graduated to my first full on, total ass-coverage big girl panties when I was still a teenager, paying my way through college one part-time job paycheck at a time in exchange for a full load of university classes.

Over my lifetime, I've collected quite a few big girl panties in the drawer, and at middle age I can claim I've been wearing many of them longer than some of you have even walked this earth. Paying bills and cleaning up the messes. Jobs with long hours, low pay, and bad bosses. Mortgage payments. Taxes. Motherhood. Babies who were born. Babies who died before they were born. C-section scars. Post-partum depression. Children with disabilities. Divorce. Deaths of people I loved with my whole heart. Stuff that isn't even anybody's business.

Some of those panties fell to the bottom of the drawer and I don't have to wear' em much anymore. That's a good thing. Some of them just keep coming to the top of the pile, because, well, sometimes you gotta wear 'em till you wear 'em out. Some of these old worn out knickers I'm even proud of, because I know they mean I survived something worthwhile.

So given the fact I have so many, how in the fruit of anyone's loom did anybody think I'd leave the house without any on?

I didn't.

Now, I'm not talking about my underwear in a public place like a blog post just to show off. And definitely not to complain. Because I believe my entire collection of big girl panties is nothing special. My point is that we as women, all women, have 'em, because nobody's ass escapes living a life. I'd guess that my collection of big girl panties looks a lot like many other women's, but I also know that a lot of women's big girl panty wardrobes are different. Some have a lot more pairs, for one thing, and some of those underpants are definitely a lot more uncomfortable or even painful to wear than what I've had to deal with. Some women have big girl panties we wouldn't even guess they own, but they've got 'em, shoved down in a corner of the drawer where they won't be seen if anyone goes snooping. Every woman has big girl panties they bought all on their own, on purpose or by mistake, and they've had a few (or many) given to them that they had to put on whether they liked it or not. Not a single one of us escapes having a drawer of big girl panties, whether they came to us by choice or by chance.

So when approximately a million or so women (and a whole lotta men too) all over the country take the trouble and time out of their busy underwear-folding schedule--WHATEVER kind of underwear that happens to be--to exercise their First Amendment rights "peaceably to assemble, and petition the government for redress of grievances" (That's the foundation garment called the Constitution, y'all), you're gonna tell them it's time to put their big girl panties on? Well bless your heart and thanks for caring. How in the hell did you think they all got dressed that morning? Same as I did. Same as you did. Same as we all did. Big girl panties first. Which is why labeling another woman's experience as childish, at that event or at any other time, just in order to feel validated about the contents of your own and different pile of personal laundry, is very little girl itself. Very grade school pee-pee pants, indeed.

It should go without saying that my big girl panties have been on, sturdy, and hitched way up, this whole time, before anyone decided to make it their business. Unless it's really hot outside, and I'm just out lounging on the back patio. Then I'm probably going commando and drinking bourbon. Which maybe some folks should try sometime, instead of being all uptight about the state of someone else's underwear drawer that they've never seen anyhow.

Good day, ladies.