Yep, I’m from Kansas. Bite me.

As I gear up and plan for another international trip, I began to  think about our place in the world. Not me, not my family, per se, but Kansas. My larger family. I’m consistently surprised at the misconceptions people have about our state.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some things they get right:
We’re hard workers.
Generally warm and gentle folks.
We are welcoming to strangers within our midst.
Family is important to Kansans.
We love the wide-open spaces our lovely state provides. No claustrophobic and crowded cityscapes for us. Even our cities have enough room to breathe and view that expansive, blue sky.

But there is a lot they get wrong about us. And I hear it. Every. Freaking. Time I leave the state.

Tornadoes. No, a tornado doesn’t touch down every day in Kansas. And when it happens, we band together like the strong Midwesterners we are and get that shit cleaned up and our towns rebuilt. It doesn’t take us long. We’re resiliant. Oh, and tornadoes never pick up houses and sit them down gently elsewhere. Sorry, the Wizard of Oz isn’t real. Get over it and stop romanticizing tornadoes. They are powerful and destructive forces of nature – we can attest to that because we stand on our front porches and rooftops to watch them go by, if they aren’t too close, that is. (If they are close, we do head for shelter, we’re not stupid.)

Dorothy. Let me start this section by stating that I love the Wizard of Oz. I’ve loved it since I was a tiny girl, hiding under a blanket every time the green-hued witch came on the screen. Now, as an adult, I enjoy sharing it with my girls and watching the wonder in their eyes as the story unfolds. Even at my age, the original Oz movie still has the power to enchant me. Judy Garland … well, she was just perfect. However, since I’ve actually left the state a time or two in my life, I can guarantee with certainty that I have HEARD EVERY WIZARD OF OZ JOKE THAT IS IN EXISTENCE. Sorry. You’re not funny. My dog is named after a Beatle, not Toto, and I cannot skip my flight and simply click my damn shoes together to get home.

We’re a bunch of hicks. Oh, I love this one. Let me make this clear. I’m not married to my cousin. Surprise! We live on a city street and we have sidewalks and running water and electricity. There’s a tiny kitchen garden out back, but no sign of wheat anywhere on my property. I don’t hunt varmints nor do I eat squirrel, although I do know some folks in Oklahoma that do (ugh). I do own a pair of shitkickers (that’s cowboy boots to those of you who can’t two-step) but they’ve never seen any shit – just sawdust on the dance floor of a country music bar. And while we’re on the subject of country music, Garth Brooks lives happily beside Jay-Z and Metallica on my iPod. We’re well-rounded and just as in-tune with the rest of the world as anyone else.

Beef. In addition to growing wheat, Kansas is also cattle country. We harvest locally and eat it locally. Tofu sucks. We like beef. It’s what’s for dinner. Deal with it.

Clothes. Wichita was recently ranked as the worst dressed city in America.  Yee-haw. It’s true. At the airport, you can always tell which gate has a flight leaving for Wichita because that is most casually-dressed bunch in the whole airport. We don’t dress up for silly things like running to the grocery store or to Home Depot. You’re lucky if we put on our good Wichita State Shockers tee-shirt and clean jeans to go to church or the theatre – in fact, I’ve seen my own minister deliver a sermon in a WSU tee. We are a relaxed, comfortable, laid-back kinda folk who don’t need designer clothes and $500 pairs of shoes to make us happy. Not to say that some of us don’t have those for the office or hanging in our closets (guilty) but, for the most part – if we’re not working, we’re dressed for comfort.

No Sports. We don’t have a bucketload of professional sports and athletes here in Kansas. A couple of soccer teams, some lower-level baseball teams, sure. What we do have is college sports. And, in general, they consistently do well. And I know that ticks off fans of bigger conferences, say the SEC, when a team from “lowly” Kansas kicks their ass. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll know that Wichita State is currently the top basketball team out of Kansas. I could spend another 1500 words here, heckling our friends from KU and K-State, but I won’t. I’ll just say Go SHOX! #playangry

The Kansas City Chiefs are ours, too. They may officially play on the Missouri side of the border, but we don’t hold that against them. Every fall, we trot out our Chiefs sweatshirts and ballcaps, tune in and faithfully watch them tank yet another promising start or blow a barely-grasped wild card playoff berth. The Chiefs are the reason my two children know all the good swear words and can properly use them.

Flyover state, my ass. Personally, I think Kansas is just as beautiful as any other state in the Union. And other countries, too. I remember taking a train north of London a year or so ago and thinking that the rolling hills looked a lot like the Flint Hills in the spring. Except they have sheep and not cattle. And they spray-paint them, which our cattle would not stand for. But my point is, if you can’t stand in the Flint Hills in the green of spring or on the plains of Western Kansas when the wheat is golden and reflects the sun – and appreciate a sky that goes on forever and the most beautiful sunsets on earth? Well, you don’t deserve the beauty that is Kansas. Go away.

Teens, music and the curse of the earworm

If you happen to see me sitting in the parking lot of my eldest daughter’s school, reading and not-so-patiently waiting for her to sprint out of classes, you might be surprised to hear the music that is seeping out through my cracked window.

Justin Timberlake. Lorde. Lady Gaga. Imagine Dragons. Ahem…One Direction.

It’s not my fault. Doodlebug is thirteen. You remember what those early teen years were like, right? Full of music that stirred previously unknown emotions, soothed the pain of unrequited first crushes, fueled the angst raging in the cage for unfair parents, and, frankly, helped distract from all of the awkwardness that is puberty. Ugh, I still cringe in memory. But, I gotta admit, some sweet tunes from Michael Jackson, Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon, Bryan Adams and Air Supply made it a little bit easier.

So, when her iPod iHome gets a bit louder than I truly appreciate while I’m attempting to sound intellectual in a paper for some part of the dissertation process, I try to remember how miserable I was as a young teen and let it slide. (For the record, however, Doodlebug seems to be the type of happy, well-adjusted kid that I always aspired to be – but only seem destined to parent.) The problem is, in my attempt to be a cool mom, I am slowly losing my dignity.

You see, as I’ve aged, I’ve matured in my musical tastes. I never really gave up on pop music, but I did grow to love country music in my 20s and since then have discovered classical music and, in particular, choral music. I have added music from the Rat Pack era to my collection and even some jazz – I thought I was getting all grown up.

Not so fast, mom.

I’m ashamed to admit that my new iPod is populated with music mostly stolen from my children. Some of which, I admit, are seriously addictive earworms that are currently ruling my workouts.

Katy Perry. Girl can sing, no doubt, but she also gives a good workout. I especially appreciate her angry songs, such as Circle the Drain and Roar. Her cute little figure is inspirational, too. Darn her. Biggest earworm: California Gurls with Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion now?)

Lady Gaga. While I’m not a big fan of Applause, her latest, I have to confess that the Madonna of the Milennials is pretty kick-ass. She’s got the same showmanship as our Madonna, but this girl’s got the pipes, too. Throw in a few too many trips to the New York Fringe Theatre Festival in her youth and I really think this is one performance artist that has staying power. Biggest earworm: Black Jesus.

One Edition, er, New Direction, er, New Direction on the Block? Oh, yeah, One Direction. If Doodlebug compares New Direction to my Beloved Beatles one more time, I wll be forced to retract this particular statement, but these kids aren’t bad. They are cute. I can vouch for that because they populate the door of my daughter’s closet. I hear they play soccer, which brings them up a notch in my estimation. And I didn’t have to decide between the explicit or edited versions of their CDs because, well, these kids are the definition of clean-cut. I don’t have any of their music downloaded, but I have been known to sing along when they are on the radio. Yep. Guilty. Biggest earwom: What Makes You Beautiful.

Speaking of explicit CDs. Sigh.

Miley Cyrus. Miley, Miley, Miley. Girl is laughing all the way to the bank, I think. But, in the interim, she’s making it hard for a mom to support her daughter’s lifelong Miley Cyrus habit. Say goodbye to the sweet days of Hannah Montana and even “Party in the U.S.A” and hello to the foam finger. I squinted and tried to look past the antics and listened to the music from her new album Bangerz, then ground my teeth a few times and hunted it down for the last birthday. When the salesman at Barnes and Noble showed both the clean and the “parental advisory” versions to me, I only hesitated a moment before grabbing the latter – prompting an unsolicited “you are the coolest mom, ever!” from the aforementioned salesman. Doodlebug concurred. Subsequent time with the CD proved my instincts were correct, it’s not that bad. Thanks for making me cool, Miley. By the way, love Wrecking Ball, babe. Biggest earworm, however: Kicking and Screaming.

Royals by Lorde. I must confess, the first time I heard this song was at my daughter’s school, during a talent show for middle schoolers. Yeah, the trio that sang it there was actually better than Lorde, although lacking in the worldliness ingrained in her slightly-older voice. Not only an earworm, this one is a singer harmony-worm, I can’t stop singing along.

The most-played song during my workouts? The brilliant Holy Grail by Jay-Z, featuring Justin Timberlake. Mostly embarassed that her mom knows every word, I think she is secretly pleased I like to rock out to this particular song, as it’s her favorite right now. Me? I’m just secretly pleased she hasn’t figured out what the lyrics “sippin’ from your cup ’til it runneth over” means.

Until she figures that out or I die from the horror of explaining that particular …ahem…pleasure of life to her, if you see me tooling around town and hear that “thumpa-thumpa” generally associated with a car driven by a teenager? Don’t be surprised, I’m just being a cool mom.

Things my husband should never know…

My mother is beautiful. Oh, yes, inside she’s beautiful – kind, generous, all of that. The kind of mom that makes you chocolate chip cookies just because when you’re little. The kind of grandma who has infinite time to spend with grand kids, coloring for hours and patiently watching the Disney Channel. But she’s also physically beautiful. Short and petite, a fashionista of the first rank during her day, still immaculately groomed at all times. In the 1960s, when Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra was so popular, she copied the look to great effect. In fact, she looked just like the beautiful Liz Taylor.

So, of course, lucky me? I look just like my dad. A little more like if Johnny Cash and John Wayne had an offspring together and a little less Liz.

To be completely honest with you, dear reader, as I make my mad dash toward middle age, I find I am not doing it gracefully. I fret, I dye, I tease, I wax, I work out, I eat rabbit food. And I still look increasingly like someone’s Great-Aunt Myrtle. Gee, thanks, Dad!

The maintenance is absolutely astounding. Can I get a “Hell, yeah?” from my sisters? Not quite so old that sky-high stilettos have stopped calling to me from the shops (yeah, I’m talking to you, my beautiful patent-leather Kate Spades, you just wait until the after-Christmas sale, darlings) but I’m not so young that I can just forget to work out for a week, or God forbid, skip a month coloring my hair. I look at peers such as Jennifer Aniston or Victoria Beckham and wonder, how do they look so good?

Oh, yeah, right. They get paid to look that good. And have a team. But I would bet my next pedicure on the fact that even with the aforementioned team, they are appalled at the maintence required as they progress to middle age. And I guarantee that they are not interested in letting their partners know exactly what it takes to get them red-carpet ready. Hell, I don’t want the Man of the House to know exactly what it takes to get me…er…Red Lobster and a movie ready. So, here it is ladies, the things our husbands really do NOT need to know. Because seriously, even after nearly 20 years of marriage, the truth behind the maintenance just spoils the fantasy. Or what little fantasy is left.

1. Lotions and Potions. Let’s start with the basics, in case any gentlemen are reading. No darlings, we were not born with silky-smooth skin. That 15 minutes your wife spends in the bathroom, post-shower? She’s slathering on half a bottle of the latest in a line of disappointing gels, creams and lotions that promise to make her skin as soft as a baby’s butt. She’ll try another one next month when this one proves to be just as useless as the last two dozen she’s attempted.

2. Waxing. After a few years of marriage, your husband knows and complains during your wintertime “Sasquatch months” sans-razor or waxing, but it does take some time to maintain our legs. I’m trying to visualize my husband, in attendance as I receive my “spring cleaning” of leg and bikini waxes. He’s frankly a little horrified at the aggression with which I push back my cuticles, so I’m not sure he would actually survive such a violent appointment with me. I am quite certain it would ruin any future movies he may watch with hot-wax sex scenes for him. Not that we can manage to wrest the telly away from the kids and the drone of the Disney Channel, but, hey a girl can dream about watching rated-R movies with her husband, right?

3. Layers and layers. I carry this clunky Laura Mercier compact with heavy-coverage powder in my handbag and there is a twin in my makeup drawer. I have a sneaking suspicion that’s all he thinks there is to the process. Well, I have adult acne (dammit!) so he is aware of the miracle of concealer. But, I’m not sure he realizes the extent to which the war paint goes. First, of course, the face primer to keep those pores unclogged. Next, a mattifier to reduce that nasty shine. Now, a tinted primer in light green to reduce redness. Then eyelid primer. NOW I’m ready to start with foundation, concealer and loose powder. That’s all before I start on any color – i.e. eyes, cheeks and lips. He’s generally in-and-out of the master bathroom while I’m getting ready, so he misses most of the process. I’m glad. I’m especially glad he has no idea how much all of this crap costs.

4. No, that’s to clean my face with, it’s not a vibrator. Speaking of costs, how much I paid for my Clarisonic is on a need-to-know basis. And the Man of the House does not. need. to. know. However, if I get one more joke, smirk or sophomoric giggle about the little buzzing sound it makes as I desperately try to eradicate the zits before the wrinkles set in while taking a shower, I might just have to tell him. (Although I do fear it might be the last thing I ever say to him.)

5. Nose hair exists. Sorry. Gross topic, eh? Well, we all have to take care of this little matter. And while the Man of the House has no problem whipping out his little grooming tool (which, now that I think of it, buzzes quite loudly itself) and letting me see him, er, trim things. Personally, I like to keep this process a mystery.

6. My workouts. I’m not athletic. I’m not even that coordinated. When I workout, I look a bit like a drunken ostrich doing a mating dance on hot lava. It’s not pretty. To be perfectly truthful, I cover the mirrors in our bedroom and I even lock the cat and dog out when it’s that time of the day. I swear the cat was laughing last time he caught a glimpse. As far as the Man of the House goes, he can just appreciate the fact that I no longer weigh more than he does. Without getting a visual.

7. And lastly, SPANX. Sadly, the cover-up about these fat and jiggle cover-uppers is over at our humble home. The more fat you try to squeeze into Spanx the harder it is, and dear friends, I admit I needed help so I could get into a dress a full size smaller than was I. Nothing is more humiliating than having the love of your life yanking and pulling the stretchy stuff to its limits before helping you shoehorn into a dress and then attempt to zip it for you. And he had the fortitude to kiss me on the forehead and tell me how much he loved me, afterwards.

So, perhaps, ladies, I am wrong. Perhaps if he can create a wife-sized, human sausage with Spanx and still love the squished creature within, he can handle the truth of the rest of it.

And maybe he can’t. But, I think I’d still like to keep the mystery. As long as I can manage to hold “Great-Aunt Myrtle” off for just a few years more.

Force fields, chaos and family

In BountifulChaos-land there are many mysteries. Time manages to pass too quickly. Weeks zip by and suddenly it’s the weekend again. Children grow into young women, dogs suddenly have gray around their noses. Mom magically has a tummy and realizes she will never be called young, or cute, ever again. The Man of the House somehow watches more football than he plays in the backyard.

The days of homework, housework, holidays, everydays, school and rehearsals, church and work, hours volunteered, school lunches packed daily and dinners as a family – all vibrate together in a pulsating hum of living, of chaos.
It’s the same hum, I think, as the one generated by the invisible force field surrounding all the toilets –or loos for my Brit friends – in my home.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

Some of you may recognize the hum – it surrounds areas of your otherwise pleasant and cozy home that are only accessible to Moms. Like the aforementioned toilets. And toilet paper roll holders. And all towel racks and hooks. And laundry.

In my home, a very special force field has developed around all three toilets. When we bought our 100-year-old home, I thought I was oh-so-fortunate to have found a remodeled and upgraded gem with three bathrooms for our growing family. At the time, I rejoiced. Now, I realize that three toilets and two children equals constant maintenance – not the scrubbing and swabbing kind, oh no – I’m talking about breaking through the force field for the big stuff. Unflushed number twos. Exactly why pee is easier to flush, I’m uncertain. This force field, I’ve discovered, is particularly stubborn and prone to leaving skid marks on the porcelain. I have yet to take this force field down, but its ravages are easily remedied with big, stinky, blue tablets – they stain your fingers, stain the inside of your toilet tank and blessedly, cover all manner of ills.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

Then, there’s the big one – the replacing of the toilet paper rolls. I’ve explained it, demonstrated the process, left sticky notes with instructions and extra rolls nearby. There have even been family meetings called in the name of the loo roll. I currently have an animated PowerPoint Presentation in progress in fact, but I despair that anyone in my humble abode will ever replace an empty roll with a crisp, cotton-smelling new one. Ever.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

While I have capitulated to the TP, I may never stop trying to eliminate the force field around all things laundry-like. Clean laundry, smelling strongly of Purex and bleach, can languish at the foot of a child’s bed for days on end. I’ve made my midnight “mommy rounds” and discovered one of my little darlings curled up into a tight ball on their pillow – carefully avoiding the clean laundry, stacked and sorted for them and lovingly placed at the foot of the bed. I believe my youngest, the Princess, holds the record for this laundry avoidance tactic at two weeks. Of course, she is also the shortest member of the family, so her prowess at laundry co-sleeping might have more to do with size than skill.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

My eldest, Doodlebug, is the queen of mating clean laundry with a dirty carpet. Purex-scented crystals and their saturating fury be damned. Her filing system is all her own, no one else can decipher which of the pieces strewn across the Berber expanse is clean or dirty. And, while the youngest has great aim at hitting the old laundry basket – thinking dirty undies in particular are nasty – the eldest suspiciously wears the same school logo tee over and over. Ad nauseam. I’m not sure I’ve washed it yet this school year, to be honest. I’m actually waiting for the shirt to walk out of her school on its own one day, leaving Doodlebug behind. I am not entirely positive she knows where the laundry basket is, either. Perhaps a second PowerPoint Presentation is in order?

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

There is another force field at play in our cozy American foursquare. It is a movable feast of cotton, gallons of bleach and the constant, nose-burning smell of mildew. I can see some of you nodding as you read this, yes, the force field is in existence for me, too – I call it the wet towel conundrum. I have yet to understand this one fully, as the towels are apparently unprotected by the field when hung on towel racks and dry. Then, and only then, may children actually touch a towel. At some point, however, I believe the towel reaches a certain saturation level that triggers the force field and causes any child using it to abruptly stop and drop it to a heap on the floor. Preferably in a bedroom with a carpeted floor instead of a tiled bathroom, just so the mildew has a chance at greater purchase. Left unattended, these same towels somehow multiply, creating slightly smelly loads requiring copious amounts of eye-burning bleach. Back to the towel bar they go, minus the force field, just to start the cycle all over again.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

There are many more force fields in the house, some that even target the darling Man of the House. For example, Q-Tips never manage to travel from his ears to the trash can, only to the bathroom counter. The dogs are under the governance of yet another field outdoors, as they steer clear of their designated potty area and head instead, of course, to the river rock decoratively surrounding our newly-restored deck. That’s one heck of a force field. So far, though, there is no field too strong to defeat mom. Armed with a powerful attitude and the ability to both berate and bribe small people in a single sentence, this mom is ready to tackle any force field, big or small. So, it’s with a light heart I leave you, dear readers. Tonight, I must finish tackling the laundry. And at least two force fields await me and my “mountain fresh” laundry as we fight the good fight. Wish us luck.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

wub-wub. wub-wub. wub-wub.

A better centerpiece

I have this fantastic, custom-made dining table. I’m not bragging, it’s the only piece of furniture that was worth anything my husband and I have invested in. We special ordered it from an English craftsman. It’s old barn oak salvaged from Northern England, shaped into a 7-foot-long football with two drop leaves that make it the perfect, 2-foot-wide rectangular buffet. Parties rock with it, as I can really decorate it as a buffet and then pull in the folding tables for seating. It’s huge and I can seat 10 people at it – 15 if they are kids. And since it’s made with reclaimed wood that is more than a hundred (or two!) years old, I have to say I don’t panic about a scratch here and there. Oh, and the finish is to die for…

So, the table is perfect. But, I have no clue how to dress it. Oh, at Christmas it’s fantastic. I have this enormous 2-foot tall abstract-y metal reindeer in red and gold that slides under the chandelier and is absolutely perfect. I generally puddle some green netting at his base to protect the table and soften things. At Halloween, yep, I have that covered with a giant fake pumpkin full of seaonal, dried and preserved flora. It lasts through Thanksgiving.

But the rest of the year… blah…You see my dilemma though, right? Dining table of my dreams, it needs some oooomph.

Not this…

It usually at least has not-dead flowers in it, but it was the end of this bouquet's life when I took this. You can see the size/scale though.

It usually at least has not-dead flowers in it, but it was the end of this bouquet's life when I took this. You can see the size/scale though.

I wanted something grand, but then I’m not a huge fan of silk flowers. Real is good. Real is also out of my little budget. You can buy flowers at Aldi for about three bucks a bunch, but it would still take a small fortune to supply a large centerpiece every week.

And, sadly, I’ve been obsessed with the following dining room since it appeared in Traditional Home. And I have set the bar at this gorgeous, show-stopping, heart-breaking centerpiece in Heather Christo’s home. (She’s a fellow blogger, give her a click!)

The perfect tablescape for a lovely Sunday dinner.

The perfect tablescape for a lovely Sunday dinner. Click the image to see more of her lovely home and blog!

Yeah, see how I managed to set my expectations far, far too high? You should see the rest of her house. Let’s just say my husband is a social worker and hers is an Internet marketing guru. (In fact, when I first read about Heather, I already knew who her husband was and felt incredibly well-read, being the Web-head that I am!) Anyway, Heather has a champagne display here and I have a Kool-Aid budget. But, I bet even with this specatcular dining room, she doesn’t feel the need to rock something that big and bad every day, so I shouldn’t feel too badly about my Kool-Aid budget. Kool-Aid Fizzers rock, after all. Right? Smaller can be tasty.

Let’s see, I digress. I have spent a year or so looking for something that gave me the same feeling as the “Heather flowers.” No dice. But, I picked up Better Homes and Gardens this month and I found something that might be a nice substitute. A living, succulent centerpiece.

It’s living.
It’s got some scale, since it’s in a pedestal bowl.
It’s got visual interest from the different textures and colors.
It’s not cheap looking (although it was).
And it’s -hopefully – going to stay around for a while.

Here’s an example from their Web site that inspired me…

Isn't it pretty?

Isn't it pretty?

They actually have nearly 30 examples of using succulents in containers on their Web site. I think I might have to try another one or two for the back deck – it’s hot and needs something tough and spikey, since it’s dog territory. Here is the link: http://www.bhg.com/gardening/container/plans-ideas/succulent-container-garden-plans/

And here’s my version…it’s an old pedestal bowl from PartyLite Candles. I had a three-wick candle in it, but just never really liked it. I tried putting potpourri around it, beads, sparkly stuff – but it just never looked right to me. So, one big $4 container of healthy looking hens and chicks, two bags of polished stones from Dollar General ($2) and about three minutes and I have a centerpiece. The color is good, the scale isn’t bad – I may go find some taller succulents to add in, now that I think about it – and I really like that it is “alive” and not some dried or silk arrangement.

The new centerpiece.

The new centerpiece.

A closer look.

A closer look.

Do any of you have succulent gardens or containers? What is your favorite succulent plant? Do you have recommendations for others?

I love my garden!

Lovely squash blossom!

Lovely squash blossom!


Last year, we dug up and tilled a small patch of earth at the back of our yard for a garden.
Miracle Gro

Miracle Gro works! So much for going all organic, eh?

The Great Sewer Line Replacement Hell of 2010 destroyed much of the work we had done and we only managed to rescue a couple tomato plants. And of course they were those teensy-tinsy tomatoes that seemed so cute when I bought them, but were very sad as the sole, destroyed garden survivors.

This spring, we decided to do two raised gardens instead. The thought was that a raised garden was a big “pot” and we could possibly move some plants if we ever needed to. Plain old Kansas soil went in the bottom of the reclaimed fence-board gardens, topped off with Miracle-Gro soil with moisture control. Then went in the veggies.

A view of the raised beds, from old fence boards, made by my lovely hub.

A view of the raised beds, from old fence boards, made by my lovely hub.

My lettuce was planted in three “rounds” a week or two apart and my first batch is still going strong – we have given away a bunch and still have plenty for ourselves. It’s a bit bitter and is wonderful with blue cheese dressing. Yum.

Crunchy lettuce, which is home to many ladybugs, much to Bethy's joy!

Crunchy lettuce, which is home to many ladybugs, much to Bethy's joy!

Then there are the onions, I planted a whole row of them, 3-4 across and have been thinning them as I use the sweet little green onions in salads and pastas and potatoes. I plan to leave a few through the summer to grow and get sweet – they might get steamed as a side dish for Thanksgiving. If I can wait that long. Behind these onions is a little foot-square batch of garlic. I’ve never grown garlic before. I’m winging it. I’m hoping the plants will let me know when they are ready. But, I have to tell you guys – a green garlic stem chopped up in sour cream mashed potatoes is NOT a bad thing. Can I say yum again?

Little forest of solid, tasty onions.

Little forest of solid, tasty onions.

My tomatoes are doing very well, also! And not just the dinky ones that can get lost in a cavity. Two “Early Boys” have nearly 20 little green dudes between them, my “Big Boys” have half a dozen and the dinky ones (grape tomatoes) are starting to bloom. We’ll see if any of them ever get to be red – as my favorite food, my last meal request, the best thing I ever ate — is fried green tomatoes. Oh, yum, I’m drooling as I type and resisting the urge to go grab one of those too-small green orbs of love and fry it up for breakfast. C’mon Miracle Gro, get those tomatoes goin’!

Some of the Early Boy 'maters!

Some of the Early Boy 'maters!

And then there is the squash. Every morning for the past week, I’ve gone outside to a riot of color in one bed. Sunny little blossoms smiling at me and promising lovely zucchini to be steamed, baked and fried. I have so many blossoms on my three plants that I have been tempted to cook some squash blossoms, I even looked up a recipe or five: http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/tips-techniques/five-ways-to-eat-squash-blossoms-087564. I am especially intrigued by the quesadilla recipe at that link! But, since I’ve never grown squash before and I don’t know how well they will actually produce – I’m going to hedge my bets and stick with letting them fruit. But, any new blossoms that come on after the Fourth of July? They are fried. Literally.

Another sunny little squash blossom.

Another sunny little squash blossom.

So that’s a tour of my little gardens. They are a bright spot in a still-somewhat-destroyed backyard (thanks to sewer guys and one large dog), and there is something almost primal about being able to feed your children food that you’ve grown with your own hands and hard work.

The great porch tune-up

Well, the in-betweener porch tune-up might be more appropriate. Our front porch might just be everyone’s favorite room in the house. Out of the house? You know what I mean. Anyway, it houses a little fish “pond,” lots of plants (usually, give the crazy Kansas weather a week or so to convince me we won’t have snow before May), a little wicker set of chairs and a sofa and a porch swing loaded with pillows and a cozy fleece throw.

I borrowed Dad’s trusty power-washer and squirted it all down last week – a little paint flew off the railings and around the windows, but otherwise, a successful day. Powerwashed the wicker and repainted it with a few cans of white spray paint, which is always a great refresh. Washed down the pond and got it ready for the fish (which have been weathering the winter in Belle and Bethy’s bathroom and taking up far too much counterspace in there. Squeaky clean. I even took some Old English polish to the battered wooden front door – whose refinishing is on the long to-do list – and spruced it up a bit. I was pretty satisfied.

Then I looked up.

Yuck.

I know some people love brass. I really don’t. Unless it is completely tarnished and jacked up. The shiny, 1980s look? Yuck.

Let me say it again, YUCK.

And the brass lights were staring back at me.

Ugly brass light.

Ye olde ugly brass light.

I don’t want to spend $100 or more a piece on new outdoor lights. I have sort of categorized this summer as the “make-do” summer. Fix what I can and do it on a budget. So, it was off to the craft drawer (I say craft drawer, I really mean crap drawer, but craft sounds as if I’m organized so play along, okay?) in the kitchen to locate some metallic craft paint. It’s for indoor projects, I believe I used the Antique Gold and Bronze sparklers to reinvent a pair of 1980s green painted picture frames. Want not, waste not, right? Next I grabbed a sponge from the kitchen supplies drawer (this one really is a kitchen supply drawer, honest) cut off a small corner and, squirting a liberal amount of both colors onto a foam plate, deemed myself ready.

The lights were spotless from the earlier scrubbing and since they were old I really didn’t need to prep the surface in order to get the new paint to stick. So, I began dabbing and swirling the two colors on randomly until I came up with a faux finish that wasn’t perfect (I’m far from that!) but at least wasn’t glaring shiny brass. It looks best from a few feet back, but still not bad up close. In fact, the next day my mother dropped by and complimented me on the new lights we had installed on the front porch! Score!

Better.

Better. Much better.

Next up? A simple revamp of the world’s ugliest mail box. Wish me luck.

Icky mailbox.

Icky mailbox. Poor mailman.