Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Your antidote to Pinterest part 2: my kitchen

6 carpenters + 2.5 days + three deliveries of lumber + 2 dumpsters = 1 new set of walls, 1 new roof, 1 very pissed off neighbor

The neighbor is no surprise (she'll never like us), but the renovation progress is really exciting!

The new porch has a roof! So much better than the Gangplank.

Do I even need to tell you that Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! did not happen this week? Too much pounding and disruption, plus there was a book fair and open house at the kids' school tonight so we stocked up on Christmas prezzies for young relatives and hung out in classrooms before eating a late dinner of vegetable stew I had slow cooking in the oven. 

We have quite a ways to go before this project is done, but interior demolition may start as early as next week, so if I'm going to show you the current state of my kitchen, I better do it now before it's reduced to a pile of rubble (eep).

Our house was built in the early 1950s. It is small - 912sq ft on the main floor - but we had the basement finished about five years ago to include a second bathroom and space for guests, and for a while we made that work. Small bedrooms, small closets, no garage...honestly, I can live with all that. I didn't grow up in a big house and I don't really want to live in one now (more space to collect junk, more square footage to keep clean and heat and cool, more to pay in property taxes, etc) but the kitchen?! We can't live with this kitchen any longer.

As far as I can tell, the kitchen hasn't ever been updated aside from fresh coats of paint, new appliances no more recently than the mid-1990s, and laminate flooring that looks like wood but isn't. (There's asbestos underneath, too. Hooray.) When we first moved in here 11 years ago, we found the vintage green walls and painted metal cabinets charming. That wore off long ago, and for the last several years, especially once the kids came along and grew through the toddler stage, we've known that we can't stay in this house as it is. Move or remodel? was the dilemma, and for various reasons (which I will spare you now), we decided to stay.

Where shall I begin with the problems of my kitchen? Ah, the appliances. Below, you see the refrigerator. It's from 1997 and has been emitting something akin to a death rattle for the last 4 years or so. Every night, we hear it shudder and gasp, threatening to give out entirely. Inside, two of the shelves are held together with duct tape; the cheese drawer broke long ago and just kind of sits there next to the eggs. It's plugged into an outlet that's not properly grounded, and periodically the breaker trips and everything shuts off. And the best part? The microwave is sitting on top because there is literally no where else to put a microwave. Yes, I know people didn't have microwaves in the 1950s. But it's not the 1950s anymore. It's 2015 and while I don't need a smart fridge that will spy on me and report to Facebook, I do want a microwave that I can reach reasonably without the risk of dumping the steaming contents of a mug on my head.

If you look to the left of the fridge in the picture above you can see the drainboard alongside the monstrous porcelain sink. I'm sure the sink is original. Are you thinking vintage charm? If so, think again. We've all accidentally broken things in that sink. It's also chipped and so badly stained that bleach doesn't do much for it anymore.

I probably don't even need to tell you there's no dishwasher in there. 

The picture below shows more of the sink and a small counter that represents 50% of the total counter space in this kitchen. Yes, most of the counter is occupied with espresso equipment. When it comes to priorities in life, we put quality beverages before just about everything else.

Say you're so disgusted with my stained sink and pile of dirty dishes that you swivel around in revulsion, only to be faced with this:

That's the stove. It's perfectly functional, no real complaints there. But do you see how there is no hood above it? No exhaust fan? There is a smoke alarm approximately two feet away, so whenever anything starts smoking, even slightly, or even steaming excessively, the alarm goes off. Or rather, it would go off if it hadn't malfunctioned over the summer. It got going one day and wouldn't stop blaring until Stu tore it off the wall and bashed it with a hammer. (He didn't really bash it with a hammer. But I wanted to.) We're counting on the electrician to take care of that one for us. (Note to self: add smoke alarm to long list of stuff to ask electrician about when he shows up.)

The stove being where it is means that the cupboard above it and the wall behind it is coated with many years' worth of grease and grime that won't scrub off. It's disgusting. And also, who thought it was a good idea to put an air conditioning vent right there?

Here's the other 50% of our counter real estate. 

Awful, isn't it? Just looking at that picture makes me squirm. Looks like the waffle iron was out when I took that picture, so things were a little more piled up than normal. But really, that's not so very unusual. Until a few years ago, we didn't have an outlet there along the counter at all, so to use the mixer or anything else with a power cord, I had to plug in an extension cord and trail it all the way across the floor to the table. That was a delightful risk when the kids were still toddling around in diapers, let me tell you.

To the left of those cupboards there is a broom closet. A whole big tall cupboard for the sole purpose of housing A. Broom. We toss recycling in there, too, to make it a multi-purpose waste of space.

You know what? I haven't gotten to the annoying stuff yet! The kitchen, while outdated and inefficient, wouldn't be quite so bad on its own, but it's an eat-in without any real room to, well, eat in it. Here's the table:

For the past 11 years, we've made it work, even with a basement full of overnight guests and many visits from our respective families. They're all very kind about it, but I think everyone we've hosted over the past decade is relieved we're finally doing something about the space issue. You can't get up for a glass of water without bumping into the person next to you. I can't fetch something from the fridge without asking someone to scoot in closer to the table or get up entirely. Now that the kids are getting taller, we're running out of leg room and patience with the whole situation.

I saved the best for last. This area here is what, on a good day, Stuart calls "The Back Door Trifecta," and on a bad day, "The Back Door Clusterf**k":

Whoever designed this house saw fit to put the back door, the basement door and entrance to the smallest bedroom all in one cozy little area. Those doors are constantly banging into each other and there is no room for shoes or coats or grocery bags or anything a person will likely be wearing or carrying and have to unload immediately upon entry. If the basement door is partially open you can't get in the back door. It's maddening. I can't tell you how many times one of us gets home and is unable to walk in the back door because the basement door is hanging open blocking it up. There's also a chalkboard there by the window, which is cool (kinda sorta) but the chalk tray at the bottom gets in the way of the table and everything else.  

Imagine walking up to the back door loaded down with bags of groceries, unable to get in without someone shutting the basement door, then asking the child sitting at the table having a snack to please scootch in so you can actually enter your own kitchen before setting everything down and trying to find places to put away your food in your terrible loud fridge that is literally falling apart, then stooping over the table to make dinner because there is no counter space, cooking it on a crusty stove,  eating it at the same cramped table that you spent 10 minutes clearing the dinner prep stuff away from, and finally afterwards washing all the dishes by hand in the grimy porcelain sink. 

Like I said, the charm wore off long ago.  

We're remodeling to update the kitchen (among other things in the house, but more on that in another post) and give ourselves some more space. This won't make our house big or perfect. It won't solve every problem or suddenly turn us into the kind of people who host lavish neighborhood dinner parties every weekend. But it will be so much better to live here. And it's easier than moving. (I think.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday night fun cooking: only two weeks late edition!

Last time the kids and I cooked together was two weeks ago. Two weeks! And we're due for another round of TNFC tonight, but right now I've got so many balls in the air I can't make any promises. Next post will feature my kitchen and how badly we need a new one (there's progress on that front, albeit slow).

But for now, how about some catch up? We made tomato soup and cornbread a fortnight ago. Summer really stuck around for most of September (warmest on record for southern Wisconsin), so it didn't really feel like soup weather. However, we had a whole bunch of lovely tomatoes from our CSA and my garden and a couple spares from the school garden, and fortunately the excavators didn't dig up all the herbs growing in my front yard. So we made soup with rice and fresh herbs. (Come to think of it, pasta with fresh tomato sauce would have been pretty good, too. Maybe next time...)

What follows are the few pictures I could take, along with what little I remember from cooking that day. I think Daniel was hot and tired and didn't really want to help out until I told him he could be totally in charge of the cornbread. And Anya was happy to slice tomatoes for 30 minutes. And then Daniel got mad that he wasn't getting a turn with the tomatoes. Someone explain to me why my children like chopping tomatoes so much?

I find it extremely tedious to chop fresh thyme, so I opted for the spice ball.

Chopping herbs
Slicing tomatoes
Below is a picture of my kitchen table, aka my main work space. Isn't it awful? That's what happens when you have three people making two things in a confined, ill-designed space.

Sometimes I look at my kitchen and start grinding my teeth involuntarily. There's no room for anything and if you have more than one person working in there you're constantly bumping into each other and getting in each other's way. This time of year, there's a lot of stuff on the counter like onions and tomatoes and squash and apples and all that lovely fall produce that doesn't go in the fridge, so it's particularly cluttered. Stuart can't really stand to be in there. We've lived here for just over 11 years, so I think the overhaul is long overdue.

Anyway, below is a picture of Daniel's hands carefully measuring flour. Too carefully! He likes to be super-exact about measuring dry ingredients so sometimes it takes forever.

Below is another Instagram-worthy photo of colorful ingredients that tells you nothing except that tomatoes and herbs are pretty.

And here's a snapshot of my dinner right before I ate it: tomato soup, blue cornbread, a little bacon. It was pretty good, if not pretty to look at!

Tomato and rice soup with fresh herbs
Recipe originally from Williams Sonoma Vegetarian, a surprisingly useful book I picked up at the used bookstore when I started TNFC.

  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup garlic cloves cut in half (I used more like 1/4 cup because dude, that is a LOT of garlic)
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 2.5 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (I probably used twice that amount)
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (I think I used more)
  • 1/3 cup long-grain white rice
  • 3 T. mix of chopped fresh parsley and chives
  • 1 T. chopped mix of fresh oregano and thyme (I used dried oregano and fresh thyme)
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. In a heavy saucepan over very low heat, warm the olive oil. 
  2. Add garlic and onion and sautĂ© until very soft, about 15 minutes. 
  3. Add tomatoes and stock, plus 1 cup of water and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes.
  4. Add rice and herbs and continue to simmer until rice is cooked, about another 15-20 minutes.
  5. Add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 2 minutes before serving.
Blue Cornbread
Recipe from Breads of the Southwest by Beth Hensperger. I don't remember where I got this book - bargain shelf at Barnes and Noble, perhaps? - but it's a good one, featuring several recipes from Mexican and Native American traditions.

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup fine-grind blue cornmeal, or marina para atole 
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 and 1/4 cups sour cream or yogurt
  • 1/4 cup corn oil
  • 2 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 9" round pan.
  2. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In another bowl, combine sour cream, oil and eggs.
  4. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until combined. Don't overmix.
  5. Spoon batter into the greased pan and bake 25-30 minutes or until it is golden around the edges and the top is dry and springy to the touch. A cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean.
It's been a while since I've done pros and cons! Let's see what I can remember from two weeks ago.

Pros: Both recipes proved delicious. Baking with kids is always a good idea. (Always? Usually.) They like to measure and mix and stir and break eggs. Sharp knives aren't involved. And we all love cornbread. This recipe doesn't call for any sweetener in the batter but we like eating the cornbread with maple syrup, southern style. As for the soup, using fresh local ingredients like tomatoes and onions is a plus, as is harvesting fresh herbs from the yard.

Cons: This meal lacks protein (hence the bacon up there, but I think that's mostly fat.) That could easily be remedied with an egg dish of some sort, or cheesy toast instead of cornbread. 

Also, ever since Anya had to have her finger glued shut that one time, I'm a little more nervous when my kids are using knives. They're careful, I'm careful, and I take care of the trickier vegetables for them. But even slicing tomatoes with a serrated knife I'm watching them like a hawk. The other drawback to these savory recipes is that anything calling for onions sends them running from the kitchen with their eyes streaming. I wear contact lenses and don't have that problem, so I cut the onions for them and start them cooking, and by the time they come back I've got half the soup made. I'm not sure what to do about this. Get them goggles? Avoid onions for the next few weeks? Make them tough it out? 

Anyway, thanks for your patience on this post. We made another delicious soup tonight (which you know about already if you follow me on IG), and I promise it won't take me two weeks to write it up!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! Pastitsio edition

More progress on the renovation this week! Namely two days of concrete pouring. They did the footers yesterday, then came back today to set the forms and pour walls. You guys, it is SO muddy here. I can't even. 

Here's our only way in and out of the house, a ramp to the front door we are affectionately calling "The Gangplank". Part of this project is a new front porch/entryway, and you have to dig below the frostline, which in these parts is at least 4' down, hence the huge pit for a modest concrete stoop.

It will take about 10 days for the cement to dry, so nothing new will happen for more than a week. I let the kids gently scratch their initials into the porch wall (it will get covered up when they do the flatwork in a couple weeks. I'm learning all kinds of new terminology here, see?)

But believe it or not, we actually had Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! on Tuesday night this week. Tuesday is (so far) the only day of the week with no after school obligations for any of us, so as long as I plan things far enough ahead of time, we should be back to TNFC on the proper day of the week for a little while until the kitchen gets dismantled. Then we'll be getting really creative...

I decided we would make Pastitsio this week. I hadn't even heard of this dish until last weekend. We spent the holiday weekend in Indianapolis celebrating the 80th birthday of a spry friend of Stuart's family (they were in South Africa together for some of his growing up years). One evening between festivities we found ourselves at a Greek restaurant, where Daniel ordered Pastitsio, described on the menu as "Greek lasagna." He declared it delicious, so I decided we should all try it at TNFC this week.

I'm not sure how I'd never heard of pastitsio, by the way. It seems to be a popular Greek dish, but it was new to me. When I started hunting for recipes online, I wasn't sure what to think. They all call for SO MUCH MEAT (lamb, mostly, and I have trouble eating lamb because baby sheep are cute. There. I just admitted that.) and a mixture of spices I would never think to add to a pasta dish, like cinnamon. In fact, I have a vague memory of my mom once trying out a pasta recipe that called for cinnamon and she didn't like it at all. It must have been pastitsio?

So I debated...try this recipe with the cinnamon? Leave it out? Make something else altogether? Let my mother's prejudice against cinnamon in pasta dishes influence my choice for Tuesday Night Fun Cooking!? (She doesn't like Cincinnati style chili either, and I love it if it's done right.) In the end I decided to go for it and make pastitsio more or less the way the recipe said, cinnamon and all. If we don't like it, we don't have to make it again.

I know you all are mainly here for the pictures of my kids cooking, so let's get to it!

Anya consults the recipe.
Anya measures the cinnamon.
Daniel dumps meat into the pan. He can't stand touching raw meat, but he loves squishing it out of the package. My apologies to any vegetarians or vegans reading this. 
Anya chops the meat with a handy tool.
Daniel cuts up some fresh mint.
Fancy pants pasta from Italy (via the Willy Street Coop)
Daniel makes the béchamel sauce.
Crumbling goat cheese. 
Possibly my least appetizing plated food photo EVER. Really, this picture looks like I dumped it straight off a school lunch tray. But seriously, it tasted pretty good.
Pastitsio, recipe from the Food52 website with a few adaptations (noted in bold).

Serves 8
For the pasta and meat
  • 1pound dried penne or ziti pasta
  • tablespoon butter
  • 2pounds ground lamb (Lamb is too cute to eat, so we used beef and pork)
  • 2medium onions, diced
  • 1/2cup red wine
  • 1 6ounces can tomato paste (We used 16oz diced tomatoes)
  • teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (optional) (Left this out, used paprika instead)
  • teaspoon dried mint (optional) (used fresh from the garden)
  • 2cups water (reduced to 1/2 cup since we had diced tomatoes)
  • 6ounces crumbled feta
For the cheese sauce
  • tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • cups milk
  • 1/8teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4cup grated parmesan cheese
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and reserve. Stir in the butter to prevent sticking.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the lamb until no longer pink, breaking it into pieces, about 8 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a colander and shake well to drain the fat. Return the lamb to the pan, add the wine and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the tomato paste, cinnamon, oregano, (sumac and mint if using) and 2 cups of water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
  4. For the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until incorporated, about 30 seconds. In a slow steady stream, whisk in the milk until there are no lumps. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture is thick and bubbly and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 - 7 minutes. Stir in the cayenne and the Parmesan.
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Add the pasta to the lamb mixture and stir to combine. Toss in the feta and combine. Spoon the mixture into a greased 9 x13 inch baking dish. Spread the cheese sauce over the pasta mixture, smoothing the top with a spoon. Bake until browned in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven then allow to cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

It begins

So this is happening:

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! Sorry I'm late edition

You guys, it's been a long week. The last 10 days before school starts is usually excruciating (note to self: take a road trip at the end of August next year) and there have been some icky work-related and renovation-related situations causing me stress. I ought not elaborate except to say that I'll get through it, but you may notice a few more gray hairs around my temples and some extra wrinkles in my crows feet. 

Meanwhile, the kids and I did manage to eke out a tasty dinner this past Wednesday night: chapatis with eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce! This is one of our very favorite late summer recipes, an indulgence when fresh tomatoes and eggs are plentiful. I don't have a lot of pictures to share here, mostly because it's starting to feel redundant to post pics of kids cutting vegetables and mixing up stuff in a bowl. 

Here they are, mixing stuff up in a bowl:

If you follow me on IG, you saw a couple short videos of them mixing dough and Anya rolling out flatbreads. She's getting pretty good at it!

Here's some stuff cooking:

Fresh herbs are so yummy.
And here's my dinner bowl right before I ate it up.

Sorry this was the best I could do this time around. It was good, though.

Eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce:
  • 4 T. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 T. chopped garlic
  • 1 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 6-8 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 T. chili powder or ground ancho powder
  • 1.5 tsp. salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 cup fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, chives are all good) chopped
  • cheese of your choice to serve, such as goat feta, Monterey Jack, cheddar, queso fresco...
  • hot sauce or cayenne pepper to serve (optional)
  • flatbread of choice to serve (chapati recipe below)
  1. Warm the oil on medium low heat and cook the onions until soft, about 7-9 minutes.
  2. Add bell pepper and cook another 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt and tomatoes and cook down into a sauce, about 20 minutes.
  4. Break the eggs into the tomato sauce and poach whole for about 5 minutes, gently turning the eggs over if necessary to cook through.
  5. Sprinkle chopped herbs over the top of the mixture right before serving with cheese, hot pepper or sauce, and flatbread of your choice (chapati recipe below).

  • 2 cups chapati (atta) flour
  • 2 T. oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup (or less) warm water
  • extra all-purpose flour for rolling
  1. Mix flour and salt. Add oil and some of the water and mix into a dough, adding more water if necessary. You want a round, soft ball of dough that isn't sticky.
  2. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about an hour.
  3. Divide into balls about 1-1.5" across.
  4. Roll each ball into a flatbread about 5-6" across and immediately cook on a hot cast iron skillet 30-60 seconds on each side, or until lightly browned and puffy. Keep flatbreads warm in a folded towel until ready to serve.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

your antidote to Pinterest: part one - my back yard

There are a lot of reasons I am not on Pinterest, but the two main ones are: 1) I really do not need another reason to waste time online; 2) it's just too aspirational for me. From what I understand and see alluded to on blogs, Pinterest is full of gorgeous photos of other people's gorgeous houses, hairstyles, adorable DIY projects and beautiful food. Maybe on a good day those things provide inspiration, but most of the time, too much of that makes me feel shabby and lame. 

Instagram can have that same effect, but I follow plenty of regular folks there who show pictures of their lives, not just perfectly backlit bowls of soup and manicured toes relaxing in the sand.

Does this happen to you? Do you ever look at Pinterest or skim lifestyle blogs or pass by the magazine aisle in the drugstore and find yourself feeling really crappy about your house/nails/garden/meal presentation?

If your answer is YES, then read on. My friends, this post is an antidote to all those aspirational traps.  I'm going to show you a bunch of pictures of my junky, crappy back yard, and by the end of it you will all feel better about your surroundings. 

Let's start with some renovation prep.

Exhibit A: the temporary utility pole

Yes, this is temporary, and thank goodness, because if it were there to stay I'd probably try to grow some climber beans up those 2x4s holding it in place. Now that wheelbarrow without the wheel right there next to it? It's been there for a while, like at least two years, ever since the wheel went permanently flat and we couldn't find a replacement that fit. I've been meaning to drill some holes in the bottom and turn it into a raised herb planter, but I obviously haven't gotten around to it.

Exhibit B: Deck wreckage

Stairs to nowhere.
The back of our house with the deck completely gone.

Stuart spent most of Saturday annihilating the back deck, which was not in great shape to begin with. Now we have a crumbling concrete porch with a really awkward step up to the back door. 

Why anyone would cover this marvel of concrete engineering with a spacious wooden deck is beyond my understanding.
This will be gone next week when the excavators dig a giant hole there.

Exhibit C: The pile of splinters and tetanus

Attempts to preserve the deck wood so it could be repurposed did not work out. After an hour with a reciprocating saw and crowbar, Stuart had removed exactly one board. Understandably, he declared this rate of progress far too slow so he went out and bought a circular saw and started slicing. What's left of the deck is now a pile of splintered wood and rusty screws, equal parts human safety hazard and chipmunk paradise.

Now you might be thinking, but the ugly utility pole and demolished deck are temporary! They're only uglifying your back yard because you're getting ready for a big remodel that will resolve these issues soon enough. And you'd be right. But I'm not done showing you crap yet.

Exhibit D: The garden.

I garden a lot. I have a community garden plot, I do a lot of work at the school garden, and I also attempt to grow stuff at home. Eventually I want raised beds bursting with juicy vegetables, but for this year I didn't want to put in anything permanent (knowing it might get trampled during construction). So last fall I built a lasagna garden, which basically just means smothering an area with cardboard and newspaper and piling compost and organic matter on top, letting it break down over the winter, and planting vegetables and whatnot in the spring. It looks every bit as classy as it sounds.

This is what it looks like now:

Look at that squash vine! you might be thinking. Not bad! Except that I didn't plant that squash vine. It's a vigorous volunteer that is threatening to take over the back yard, and then the neighborhood. World domination might be its eventual plan, and while I wouldn't ordinarily mind volunteer vegetable plants, the squash this behemoth is producing look tough and inedible. They are pumpkin-shaped but alternately dark green and pale yellow, and will probably be too small for carving. Useless.

I also have tomatoes. Approximately 500 volunteer tomato plants sprouted from the compost I layered on the garden, and I didn't intentionally plant a single one. All my tomatoes got blight last year, and I didn't want a repeat performance. I left a few plants anyway to see how they'd do. They are sprawled all over the ground and producing a few small fruits that aren't especially juicy or flavorful, but I pick a small handful every few days to throw into sauce. The way they are growing amongst the mutant squash vine and creeping charlie, you really have to search for them.

It's like Where's Waldo for tomatoes.
If I showed you pictures of the stuff I wanted to grow, you wouldn't see anything because nothing I planted on purpose even made it except for a few leaves of chard. Whoop dee do.

Exhibit E: the mulch pile

This mound of wood chips used to be the birch tree in front of our house. I had the arborist dump all the mulch in back thinking I'd spread it all around and make good use of it. That was in May. I've used some of it, but clearly not all. It has joined the rusty wagon in being a big eyesore.

But maybe not as much of an eyesore as Exhibit F: the shed!

This shed sucks. Since we have no garage, this 8'x8' shed houses all of our bikes, the lawn mower and some garden tools - some, not all, because as you can see from the pictures below, the walls are only about 4' high before it tilts in for the roof, you can't lean anything tall inside. I suppose the reason for this aspect of the shed's design was to make it look like a barn, perhaps to bring some rural charm into an urban back yard, but I find it aggravating. 

Also, there is no concrete pad for the shed; it just sits on cinder blocks and provides safe haven for gosh only knows how many critters underneath. And the roof has no overhang, so there is some water damage along the edges.

Snow shovels and step ladder live outside all year long amongst the weeds.
Bonus exhibit: the junk that lives by the shed. 

We have that temporary utility pole and useless wheelbarrow, and to complete the look, some old buckets, extra cinder blocks, the wheelbarrow's wheel, scraps of garden fence and a small pile of sand. There used to be a sandbox there, but we gave it and all the sand toys to new neighbors whose toddler daughter seemed very excited to get them.

So that's my back yard. Honestly, I sometimes look back there at all the junk and the weeds and piece of crap shed and I despair. All we need is a battered pickup truck and an above-ground pool and we'll complete the White Trash theme we've inadvertently been perfecting the last few years.

Postscript: It's like our house knows the Big Renovation is coming and it's just giving up. Since I started writing this post yesterday, the light switches in Anya's room quit working and the back storm door broke:

I've also noticed siding coming loose and the roof sagging in front of the house over the soffits. (I'm pretty sure there's some water damage in there.) All that broken stuff will be fixed eventually, as it's part of the Big Renovation. Now that you can see how bad it is, maybe you understand why we're willing to go to the trouble and expense of fixing it.

So that's part one of my anti-Pinterest series of posts. Feel better about yourself yet? Next time I'll show you the kitchen and all its charms.