Friday, September 30, 2011

That’s Some Good Grass

If there’s one thing that makes the great outdoors enjoyable during the lovely weather months, it’s having some good grass. Our little home was previously owned by a couple of advanced years who didn’t really care about grass – they just let the weed grow wild. And while weed is better than nothing at all (hey, it's free, and it covers the dirt!), most people really want grass covering their outdoor ‘scapes.

Before we even moved in.  Our REA is on the porch.


The terrible yard and evergreen thingy bush that everyone loves to hate.

Clear shot of the little trees that are now no more.

So, when the weather started to cool off, and grass-growing season neared, we got to thinking about burning up all that nasty weed and planting some sweet, lush, grass. The first step was to visit the cool guys at The Grass Pad in Olathe (“High on grass for over 50 years” goes their slogan) and learn about what types of grass would suit our needs.

Our needs are simple – we need a grass that won’t be needy. A grass that, with minimal care, remains thick, green, and a pleasure in which to roll and frolic in the nude. We want something that thrives on the water mother earth gives it while we ignore it as much as possible. Free-range grass, we decided, is the key. 

But it still needs to look good. We want the neighbors to be jealous of our grass and encourage it to grow over to their side of the lawn so they can have some of it for themselves. We want the dog walkers to admire it so much that they no longer allow their dogs to soil the knoll nearest the sidewalk, because man, finding turds in your grass is such a buzzkill!  So we settled on a fescue well-suited for Kansas City weather, read: hot as hell summers, snowy winters, and glorious in-betweens.

After purchasing seed and fertilizer, we had to prepare the dirt as much as possible to accept our new grass. After mowing the scrub and weed down as low as possible, I rented a machine called a verticutter to chew the surface of the soil into bits, the better to accept our offerings.

After the chewing up the dirt, I rolled a spreader full of seed around the dirt, followed by fertilizer, and then set to watering the crap out of it. Of course, we would choose to do this during the driest September on record, so mother earth is being a bit of a square and refusing to help us out. Watering, watering, watering, and a few weeks later, this is the grass we’ve got so far.

So much better.


No ugly little trees, either!

Yeah, it’s a bit patchy in places, but overall, this grass is damned near 5000% better than the nasty weed we had before. Hopefully, it will sink some deep roots before going dormant for the winter, and pop back up green and lush next year. I’m looking forward to rolling around in this stuff come spring. I know it’s going to be a hit when we have people over to party, for sure!

Plus, the kids approve.

Great job, Dada!  I can't wait to learn how to walk so I can play in the grass!

Grass makes me smile!

Uh, I'm not totally satisfied, Mom and Dad.  I see an empty spot over there.
And yeah , I'm wearing a bathing suit on Sept 30.
Wanna make something of it?

For those curious, our new yard had the following costs: $190 for seed/fertilizer/winterizer,   approx $35 for the seed spreader, $35 to rent the verticutter, plus watering expenses.  All estimates based on Starr's failing memory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Art of Manliness (Revised Standard Version)

Much to the initial surprise (but eventual delight) of my in-laws, my wife chose to marry me. I am a man -- and a manly man at that. At least, by my own definition. Let's discuss that briefly while I make some pita bread.

Get out your breadmaker. You have one, right? OK, get on Amazon and buy one.
Spend at least $100 for a decent one. It's worth it.

While I am certain that we may disagree about the finer points of what makes a man, I am just as certain that we'll agree on the one core characteristic: a man has the ability to take care of his loved ones.

Makes sense, right? Put food on the table, keep shelter over their heads, keep the power and water turned on, and make sure the bad guys don't get 'em.

Find a recipe for pizza dough. Odds are your bread maker came with a recipe book that includes one that will work really well.  Insert ingredients; start machine on Dough cycle.

How we go about that, of course, will vary widely. For example, I am not currently capable of growing and hunting sufficient food to feed my family. I could not build a house from raw materials. I cannot generate electricity on my own, nor have I the ability to dig a well. I am currently spending time at the gym to make myself more intimidating looking, and I'd like to think I'd fight like a cornered lion if someone threatened my wife'n'kids, but I've never been trained to fight.

So, like most men, I work a job, which enables me to pay for someone else to provide all of those necessities.

When your dough is ready, toss out some flour on the counter to make a work surface, and get out a rolling pin. Rub some flour on it, too. You're good at rubbing, aren't you? You did say you were married.

Now, every man thrives on the satisfaction that comes from keeping his family. It's an instinct as old as the first Og that smashed Ogette over the head with his club and dragged her back to his cave for some snu-snu. I am the provider and the protector -- my existence is relied upon wholly. HRRARARRRR! 

Toss an upside-down cookie sheet into the oven. Bare metal is better.
Set it to bake at 400F.
If you've got a dinosaur like mine, you'll want to do this as soon as your breadmaker's cycle is over.

However -- when I am not the one directly providing all of those essentials, the satisfaction of Og is diminished. My toil is not in the woods hunting oxen (that's the wild version of beef that you hunt, right?), burying baby carrots so they'll grow into adult carrots, or pedaling on my homemade bicycle-generator in the basement to run electricity to the tele-vision so my family can watch The Biggest Star or Dancing With The Losers

Plop your dough out onto the flour. Doesn't look very appetizing yet, does it?

My toil is in front of a computer. My challenges are publication deadlines, satisfying editors, pleasing clients, and doing it for eight full hours every day, five days per week.

Pound the dough into the counter. Fold it over and pound it some more. Do it again.
Are you imagining your mother-in-law's face? Stop that! She loves you!

So what's left for me? Well, there are household projects like building the kids' playset, watching grass grow, and replacing boob lights with more eye-catching fixtures. 

Hack it up, hack it up, hack it up, hack it up. A big knife works best.

Use the roller to smash 'em flat. Don't worry about the shape. Circles are boring. 

And there's kitchen mastery. While I am and will for a long time remain Starr's apprentice, I'm getting pretty damned good at the few things I do.

Directly onto the sheet, two or three at a time. Five minutes or so.

Like baking pita. Which, as you've just seen, is really freakin' easy. Try it, guys. Grilling isn't the only culinary pursuit out there, and if you're like me, and have a wife who is sort of meat-indifferent, you'll win a lot more snu-snu with the oven than the grill. Unless you're really, really good at it, leave the meat smokin' to the likes of Joe and Corky (no, not the kid from Life Goes On). Your buds might not be as impressed with your baking skills, but the wife and kids will sing your praises.

Freaking delicious. Best when hot, but also really tasty reheated in a toaster oven.

And that, my manly friends, is much, much more satisfying.

I linked up to Type A Decorating, A Bowl Full of Lemons.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My hero

Dear fans,

I recently stumbled upon the blog No Minimalist Here, and while I like to think I'm leaning more toward minimalism than not, I have found my new hero.  Sherry is frugal, witty, and has great taste.  Just like me.

Why is she my hero?  Because she has figured out the secret of happiness.

That is, she has figured out how to make chalk paint.  I'm not talking about chalkboard paint--that's inexpensive and available just about everywhere.  Chalk paint, on the other hand, is very expensive, and you can only get it online, or at a few resale places around the country.   It leaves a matte finish (kind of chalky--duh), and looks great on furniture. Since our decor budget is currently about $9.99/month, I was getting depressed that I'd have to bluff about projects on this blog until the day a long lost relative dies and leaves us her/his fortune.  And then I found Sherry.

You can find the recipe at her site.  Apparently, her post made some people very angry since, obviously, making your own stuff is dumb, right?  That makes me even more of a fan.  Sherry is a rebel.

Anyway, expect to see some paint projects around here.

Gorgeous, right?  It also doesn't go with anything in our house. Not even close.  But that's just an idea. I might design a room around it instead.

A lovely desk given to me by my brother Ryan. Yeah, you read that right. I married a Ryan, but I also have a brother named Ryan. No, they are not the same person.  Where do ya think I'm from?

These please-refinish-me side tables that Ryan scored from his work's classified ads.  By the way, isn't my husband quite awesome for getting these?  Without me even asking.  I'll have that boy trained soon enough!  

Stay tuned, peeps.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Did you know...(and giveaway winners announced!)

...that you're not actually supposed to sit on the seat during a Spin (indoor cycling) class?  I learned that the hard way.

...that you can watch grass grow?  We'll post pics this weekend of our budding lawn. It's gorgeous!

...that step class is easier *without* the step? Who knew?

...that when you host a giveaway, maybe you're actually supposed to give something away rather than keep all 21 of your followers waiting anxiously?

You are in luck, my people.  YiaYia finally sent another package.  This one was a doozy.

Nutella!  and Oreos!

Yes.  The Oreos were opened and already more than half-eaten.  YiaYia was on to us and got in the joke.

Fantastic rice, delicious coffee.  And lentils, as usual.

An article from the Times-Picayune.

So we had a whopping three entries into our contest.  And no one guessed the contents of the package.


However, because we are benevolent lords of our manor, we decided to give each contestant a prize!  Here are the lucky winners and their respective prizes:

Pete, with her answer of: 1)    Leftover Easter candy

2)    Packages of expired or almost expired garden seeds

3)    Individual packages of Kleenex

4)    Assorted, mostly unrelated collection of leftover Christmas cards from the past 10 years

5)    A  pocket/purse-sized sewing or eyeglass repair kit

Pete gets...drumroll please...


Katie, with her answer of, I'm going to say.... a toilet seat. :)

Katie has three sons and a husband living with her.  We thought this was fitting.

And finally, Christie guessed, Well, I'm going to guess that you'll  be receiving some sort of preserve--maybe jam or pickles.  :-)

Now, before anyone gets their panties in a wad, keep in mind that Christie is getting CD's.  Bulky, early 90s CD's that may or may not work anymore.  

Also, she lives in Canada, and they're kind of crazy up there sometimes about food crossing the border, so I figured something non-food would be better.  They might, however, try to confiscate this because Beethoven tried to steal jobs from Canadians, so I hope it makes it there.

So that concludes our first giveaway.  Winners, send me your addresses, and I'll mail these out in the next few weeks.  


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Amateur Photography Win

***Before reading this blog post in its entirety, please read, print, sign, and submit this waiver.***

I, ______________,  understand that the opinions stated below are no judgement of me, my artistic eye, my design choices, or anything heretofore forthwith related to the things stated above.  I will not cry, moan, nor leave nasty comments about how we should all respect each other because really, Starr already agrees with me on that one.  I also will not make senseless political statements here because I can do that on my own blog.    Finally, if I find myself angry about whatever is written here, I'll go make cookies and eat them.

I swear this statement to be true.



Okay, now that we've gotten through the mumbo-jumbo, lemme offend you a little.  I really do not like getting my kids' pictures taken all that much.  When Katie was a baby, there were a few times when I took her to one of those studios where you pay too much for candid shots.  I still like the pics, but these days, I'm kind of over it.  Because I can get what I like by myself.  Or should I say, by asking Ryan to take photos while I critique and then ultimately choose.

Oh, but Starr, we got awesome shots of our newborn wrapped in these gorgeous swaddling blankets, topped off with precious oversized hats.  You know, like Ann Geddes!  

Well, that is awesome for you.  Those pictures are indeed very cute.  In fact, I support using small business owners (like photographers) because it helps the economy.  But we don't do those around here for several reasons.

A) They are expensive.  The only time we've done a solo session with a photographer was when my pal Alexa was doing sessions free for her portfolio.  The photos were stunning, and I'm so grateful for what she did.  I don't have a link for her work, but I'll add one if any of my friends know of one, although here is one of my favorites:

Yes, I know I posted more than one.

B) We have a teeny tiny problem with skin issues.  Katie seems to scratch herself every time we want to formally take photos.  Poor Drew was allergic to something in the hospital and had a rash that precluded our getting his cute little pics done there (here in KC, the hospitals use professional folks, not just the drunken middle finger picture-takers you find at many places).  This was not a rash you could photoshop out.  Of course, that's a newborn problem, but that's okay.  I've got some other excuses, I mean, reasons.

C) My children do not behave on schedule.  I remember with KB feeling very frustrated about whether she'd wail during photoshoots. I have one pic of her where she's smiling sweetly with her face covered in tears.  I bet MY child would behave.  Ah, yes.  Your child is an angel and mine is a demon, okay, and it's all my fault, and they'll be paying millions for therapy because of all the damage I've inflicted. You're a better parent. We've now established that. Moving on.

D) I can get pictures I like with the equipment and expertise found in this house.

Ryan purchased a used consumer-grade SLR for a reasonable price, and every now and then, he manages to take an excellent picture.  You professionals out there might be scoffing, and you have every right to.  Every Tom, Dick, and Harry thinks that a big-ass camera makes them good photographers, but we're not all artists, right?

Of course we're not! I was telling the gals at book club that after reading Patti Smith's Just Kids, I realized that I am not an artist.  I do not struggle in the name of art, I play piano because it's fun and brings me some joy, but I'm not driven to do it all the time.  I remember in college, going with my friend Pam to the apartment/studio of an art student at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore).  I have two memories of the outing: 1) Running somewhere--perhaps to a party?--to/from the gal's house because 10 years ago, the area around MICA wasn't that safe, and the only women walking anywhere were selling what they were strutting, and 2) Paintings of ears all over her place.  She said she had a thing for ears and had to paint them.  I have never had such an urge.

So we've established that I am not an artist.  But that doesn't mean Ryan and I can't do fun things with pictures.  The trick? Take lots of them; then there will be plenty to choose from.  Trick 2?  Blow 'em up and frame them.

The photos we chose:
Katie wears costumes year round.

Andrew at the beach. Sure, you can see Winslow's booty in it, too, but absolute perfection is dull.
Winslow is usually the prettiest in photos.  It was fun finding a goofy pic!
You've seen the frames before in my post about my "art collection".

The flowers worked for staging a home, but are a little too boring for me otherwise. I have a painting of a red-headed fetus in my bedroom, remember?

I'd been thinking of putting something new in them for awhile now. Of course, I'd be the *only* mom who'd put real, untouched, shots of her kids on the walls.  Or so I thought until I walked into my friend Sarah's house recently to see that She had done the same thing!  Ugh.  It's okay.  I'll assume she read my mind and preemptively copied me.  I forgive you, Sarah.

Anyway, I blew up the photos to 12x18 posters. The size was a bit longer than the cut-out on the mat (FYI I've seen that word spelled a dozen different ways all for the same use), but we figured out placement easily enough.

All it took was taking the back off the IKEA pics, inserting my posters (ordered from Snapfish), attaching them to the mat, and closing the frame back up.  Ryan wants to change out the pictures at least annually.  I think that's a great idea, but these frames might not work because the little hold-the-pic-in thingamajiggers were pretty weak. Some broke.

So here they are.  We could've gone black and white, but Winslow's hair is bright red.  Dumb to hide it.

All we have left to do is choose where they're going on the wall.  They are temporarily hung on whatever hangers were already up there. And the photos of the finished products don't do them justice (bad lighting be damned!).

So there ya have it.  You, too, can make your photos look like art.  It's relatively inexpensive, it's fun, and can make you feel a little smug when folks compliment them.  Because now you are an ar-teest, no?

I linked up to A Bowl Full of Lemons, Type A Decorating, The Shabby Nest.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The price of homemade

Here at the Kiefer Cottage, we pride ourselves on making things from scratch.  Store bought pancake mix? Nah.  Cut and bake cookies?  Nope.  It's nice to know the ingredients in our foods.  And often, it's cheaper and more importantly, better tasting.

Marshmallows? Well, until today, I'd just purchased those at the store.  Rarely.  I'm not a huge fan of them.

But last month's issue of Sunset featured tons of recipes for camping.  By the way, I love that magazine. I might not live in the West, but I get tons of info.  Lots of recipes, ideas for the garden, and of course, pure envy of all the natural beauty.

Anywho, one feature included a recipe for homemade s'mores.  As in, you make the marshmallows, you make the graham crackers, you tote them to the campsite and then make the s'mores up fresh.  Since my  mom told me that years ago she made crackers and it took approximately 72 hours and shaved years off  her life, I decided to try the 'mallows instead.  (FYI Mom also made chocolate truffles about a decade ago, toiling for hours.  She stuck 'em in the fridge, moved 'em to New Orleans from Memphis, and last I heard, still had a few left.  Apparently, they're still good.  Right, Mom? Only the lucky ones get to try them. Perhaps I should be grateful I have not been so lucky.)

So in honor of my father and stepmom's trip to Yosemite (oh, I think it's that park. I get them all confused), for which they arrived tonight, I made s'mores.  And drank wine.  I did it without a candy thermometer, and they turned out very well, despite the cussing and the questioning--Is that soft ball? Or ultra-hard ball? Or are they chocolate salty balls? Did I just say balls??  hehehe.  Dammit, the sugar is getting too hot.

You can find the recipe here.

I do not have many photos.  The recipe requires about three dozen things happening at once, and my resident photographer wasn't around, so I've got after-shots.

The finished marshmallows.

Oh, yeah.
We didn't have an open flame to heat them up over, so I melted the chocolate in the microwave and smeared it on the insides of the graham crackers.  

Don't you love the dessert plate--that gal is getting the boob discount, too.

Happy customers enjoyed the dessert.  They did not enjoy the bath afterward.

Nor did we enjoy dealing with the mess afterward, either.

Verdict?  The marshmallows tasted good.  But not good enough to make again anytime soon.  I'm fine with buying them as often as I need them, which is pretty darn infrequently.  Maybe once a year.  

I am thinking about making the graham crackers, however.  Ryan's younger than I am, so it's okay if I lose a few years from it.  Starr, are you drunk? that makes no sense. Why, yes, apparently I was when I wrote that. I meant that *Ryan* could afford to make some for me!  Is that better?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Un-funness of Home Ownership

I'm sure you've noticed by now we haven't been doing as much decorating.  I mean, some blogs post something new several times a week--spending hours on DIY projects, prowling around the web looking at the thousands of other blogs out there to get inspiration (and actually then following through), buying new homes so they can start all over again.  Sorry, we won't be doing as much of that.  Please don't un-follow me, though.  Please???

Since we moved in at the end of May, we've had to tackle some non-negotiable projects that have cost us the shirts off our backs.  No, not the downstairs bathroom with its 10 inches worth of clearance between the vanity and shower door.  That is still negotiable--however, have you seen my ample bottom?  I can barely squeeze past!--because the bathroom works...for now.

When the inspector, though, said EEEEEEEEEEEEEEK! about the gutters and You might consider upgrading your electrical panel if you want to get homeowner's insurance, we had to put off taking care of the butt ugly paneling.  When we had no water a week after we moved in, we figured that *might* be important, too.

Worthless downspout.

Rusted out. Not pretty.

I know you'd like to see all this work.  Brace yourself.  It is stunning.  It will be the toast of the blog world.

First project?  Plumbing.  A few days after we moved in, it became apparent that we had a major water pressure problem.  The next weekend, all faucets stopped working completely.  Apparently, our old pipes were full of muck.  Now we have new.

Gorgeous, right?  I'm sure some photog genius could make this look pretty, but you still get the picture. We have PEX. It's kind of cool

Second project?  Electrical.  Our panel was 60amps but according to the electrician, we needed at least 1.21 gigawatts to make time travel possible.  Plus a flux capacitor. And some angry Libyans.  Or maybe he said 100amps.

The up-to-code panel is illuminated by an illegal light,
which the electrician pointed out 2 minutes before the inspection.  

It took 10 hours of work (read: no power) and several visits back because the house has some wiring issues.  Yay.  It is inspected now and complete, thank goodness. Only the panel is complete, Starr.  You still have to re-wire the entire house.  I know.  Please pour me a drink.

Third project? Gutters.  That's where we are today.  We got four or five quotes, ranging from 1200 to 3200.  My dad, construction guru, gave us an idea on what we should spend and according to Ryan, we might have gotten the boob discount ("because men do dumb shit for boobs").  Whatever, it's getting done.  We decided on white in case we want to change the color of the house later (likely) and the material is aluminum.  Anything more expensive would be a serious over-improvement for this neighborhood.  What about copper? Seriously?  No.

Isn't it pretty?  We got new fascia board, too.

What a lovely corner.  You're green with envy.
And I've been relieved of all extra green in my wallet.
Now I know that some bloggers would have stretched this out into multiple posts. I'm not that clever.  Also, it's not as if we did the work ourselves and can now teach you.  All I know how to do is plunge a toilet,  switch an electrical breaker, clean out gutters.  But the big stuff?  I can write a check. And I think you know how to do that.

Oh, and if you're expecting a really nice present from us for Christmas, now's the time for you to check those expectations.  It'll be last year's fruit cake.
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