The cicadas have landed. This is the 17-year cycle of cicadas. The Brood, they’re called. Tell me that doesn’t make you think of  horror movies.

I pictured Hitchcock’s “Birds.” I pictured “Damnation Alley:” hoards of fat, flesh-eating roach-like beetles spilling from walls, abandoned cars, closets, refrigerators, to leave only skeletons behind.

So, like good preppers preparing for the apocalypse, my spouse and I screened in the porch. We added a lock to a screen door, as if the cicadas would suddenly grow sentient and insistent. I had heard that there would be 200 cicadas for every 3 square yards, that the sound of the lawn mower would call them in: clouds of cicadas swirling around your head, latching on to your flesh with their little hooked claws…

The rains stopped. The sun warmed the earth. I waited. I watched. This is what emerged:

“17 year brood cicada emerging, looking like a rock star.”                                                            Photo credit: Danielle Amman Young

And, as it turns out, these monsters are kinda cute. They fly around making music. They land on your napkin and fall asleep. They don’t eat your flesh. They don’t even eat your plants. They’re just hanging out for a few weeks, buzzing around. Checking out the bright  lights big city. Swiping right, Tinder-style. Living large. Living their lives. Just trying not to get eaten.

It makes me think.

Maybe my fear of the cicadas (completely unfounded, and–to be honest–pretty underwhelming, as it turns out) like so many things we’re afraid of in life–just listen to the news, read the comments, watch your Facebook feed for all the stories that people tell you about what might happen, what could happen–like when the cicadas come …or, maybe, when we’re confronted with new ideas, or new people, or new ways of being and loving and existing with one another in the world.

Who, exactly, is the monster? And what, exactly, are we  so afraid of?



Growing Season

I don’t mean to say there hasn’t been some partying in the back over the past year. And by “partying” I mean drywalling ceilings (good gracious that’s the worst), painting cabinets, running electrical, refinishing reclaimed hardwood floors (and by “reclaimed” I mean any wood from any decade, dumpster, or Re-Store trash bin, and with any finish, blemish, or unidentifiable stain… as long as it was $Free.95), …BUT doing all of these things with a fancy can of blue-ribbon somewhere near by. And I don’t mean to say that the garden hasn’t suffered maybe a little…though don’t tell that to the roaming bands of neighborhood cats who seem to love the giant garden/litter boxes in our front yard…

But it’s been a tough year. Maybe the toughest. I used to have two sons and two daughters–and maybe this isn’t the right way to say what I mean exactly–but now I have one son and three daughters. And if you’ve been paying any kind of attention to the world right now, you might understand the kind of trauma my oldest daughter (who is transgender if you didn’t get that) has been going through. My other children, too, have suffered with their own hurts, their own crises–some of it a very traumatic family history rearing its head and–if I’m honest-which this past year has forced upon me: the truth of my own failings twisting and turning inside my chest like a barbed wire wrapped around my heart…well then maybe a lot of the pain my kids have been buckling beneath has been because of my own failings, my own painful and necessary growth as a human who didn’t understand, yet, what it meant to be the kind of mother my children needed.

And I’m pretty sure if I was a better blogger, I’d make some sort of connection to gardening here–to the way you plant a seed in unforgiving ground and then–by some miraculous algebra of sun and rain–a tender green shoot bursts its way up into the world, against all odds really.

But the thing is, and maybe this is the real truth: Being a parent is, in a way, like being a gardener, except the growing season never ends, the harvest is always and never here, and you are always waiting for the sun, always listening to the robins call for rain, always watching for tell-tale signs of damage (a darkening at the edges, a brittleness, a limb bending beneath the weight of the heavy sky) so that maybe, this time, you can head it off. Maybe, this time, you can make it better. Because  once you give life to something that didn’t exist before you, when that tender growth emerges beneath your hand and you watch it grow and you nurture it in the best way you know how, and you learn, sometimes painfully, what you should’ve done even though you’ll never get the chance to make it right–not in exactly the same way ever again–well, here’s what you might learn:

When you give life to something, or someone, you are bound to them. Forever. They are  part of you. They are you. And so, this is the thing: you have to grow together.

It’s been a long growing season for me. For us. But it’s time, maybe, to till the ground and start again.



Seriously, green beans. Chill out.

What the flying figgity lawdamn cuss word?

Neglect your green beans for a few days of margaritas, a modicum of partying in the back with visiting friends…

and partying in the side…

…and maybe the other side, too…

The point is, leave your green beans on their own for just a little while and they will hide out in the shadows, multiply, get full of themselves,


Wiggle wiggle it.

Green beans. Don't be alarmed.

To put this into perspective, I have man hands.


Hand on the left = grown 6'5" man. Hand on the right= me. So don't mess.

Hand on the left = grown 6’5″ man. Hand on the right= me. So don’t mess.

So these beans, nearly as fat as my man fingers and twice as long, are not goofing around! These are some meaty beans. They got some junk in the trunk. They are, however, still delicious–surprisingly, not pithy or stringy at all. I’ll cut them up tonight with a batch of beets I harvested today, too.


See? My hands are so big, I can’t keep them out of the picture.

In other news:

1. Screw it. You win this round, weeds.

She is of zero use pulling weeds.

She is of zero use pulling weeds.

2. Gladiolas wpid-20140731_111558.jpg

3. Bell pepperswpid-20140731_111533.jpg

4. Who knew squirrels would dig up your onions? And for no reason other than squirrels are assholes.

5. Speaking of assholes, Paris Hilton the Cat is gone. Her family has moved to West Virginia and now there is a poop-in-my-garden-box sized hole in my heart. Sure, she was a mean-spirited, filthy, spiteful, pink-collared, entitled, brat of a cat, but she was my Nemesis. I guess you could say: Paris Hilton, you completed me.





Vegetables Not Lawns.

On my walk this evening, I snapped a few photos of other front yard vegetable gardens in my neighborhood. Our town, Athens, OH, is forward thinking and a group of concerned citizens petitioned the city to make made front-yard gardens (and chickens, but not in the front yard) code-legal within city limits. This isn’t the case for a lot of people trying to do some good for themselves and the world by growing food instead of grass.  It’s a shame, particularly as front-yard gardens can be beautiful as the following examples show us:

Vegetables and Perennials. Beautiful.

Vegetables and Perennials. Beautiful.


The "Flying Rabbit" Garden around the corner.

The “Flying Rabbit” Garden around the corner.

Lovely, right? Kale, tomatoes, all sorts of goodies...

Lovely, right? Kale, tomatoes, all sorts of goodies…


It’s silly, our obsession with front lawns. Particularly as they’re just a throwback to the English aristocracy we worked so hard to be free of. Grass lawns were, and are, pretty much useless–nothing more than a symbol of land-ownership and, thus, wealth (just like those fake designer jeans we all wore in Junior High). They’re a waste of water, a waste of energy, and need pesticides, poisons, and fertilizers to stay appropriately “Hey, look at me, I’m a wealthy Englisher, I am.” Worse, they’re a waste of space we could be using to grow healthy, fresh-off-the-vine fruits and vegetables. Also, front-yard gardens are lovely. They’re interesting, creative, and people–trust me–will stop to take a look.

One final bit of inspiration: .

This is a neighborhood in Geneva, Switzerland. Every home grows food instead of a lawn, often planning their crops in consultation with their neighbors so they can all share with each other. It’s called “Foodscaping.” Brilliant.

If you don’t like green beans then don’t even bother reading this post. Unless you’re a good person. Then you should read it.

I picked the first crop of Blue Lake bush beans today. It was a touch overwhelming, because that’s the way it is with beans: one day they’re nothing but pale blossoms swinging gently in the breeze, then BAM, you’re drowning in beans.20140707_111037

So here’s everything I know about picking green beans:
1. You should pick them when they’re ready. Which is harder than it sounds because everyone knows what beans look like in the cans but on the vine they come in all different sizes. How small is too small? Where’s the cut-off? Should you save it until the next picking? Pick it now? There’s no definitive answer (other than, “pick them when they’re firm.” Umm. The only time a green bean isn’t firm–no matter how small–is when it’s a flower).

2. You should not pick them when the plants are wet because fungus.

3. It’s very easy to accidentally pull the whole plant out of the ground if you don’t snap the stem of the bean off cleanly. So either use two hands to twist the bean off or else look around to see if anyone’s watching and then shove the plant back in the ground and give it some water.

4. No matter how thoroughly you search the plants, no matter how diligently–or ruthlessly–you pick them, you will NEVER EVER FIND ALL THE BEANS. They will hide in the shadows, blend in to the surrounding stalks, disappear in the tangle of leaves, sometimes even in packs where they will grow sallow and fibrous and sad, like sullen teenagers smoking cigarettes behind the dumpster.

5. This is the most delicious way to cook those green beans:

  • STEP ONE: Saute them for a little while with some butter and olive oil (a little of both, but more butter is always better. No matter the situation.), onions, and garlic (or, if you’re me: onion flakes and garlic powder)
  • STEP TWO: Add chicken broth, enough that the beans are swimming
  • STEP THREE: Cover the beans leaving a little gap for steam to escape and cook until tender, 20 – 25 minutes.
  • STEP FOUR: A dash of lemon juice for brightness.
  • STEP FIVE: Salt and pepper to taste.

I’m telling you, so easy and SO DELICIOUS.

Finally today, in party in the back news. I have teenagers. This is what happens to the kitchen while I sleep:


They did this OVERNIGHT, people. Like Teenage Mutant Ninja RACCOONS!

Someone’s partying. But it sure ain’t me. Also, look closely, there’s an ironic bottle of dish soap just hanging out way way at the back.

Almost stepping on a snake is way better than the rest of my week has been.

So I’m not gardening in the front today, but partying, of sorts, way in the back of Western Pennsylvania. It’s been an incredibly tough week because teenage daughter, so I packed a pair of flip flops and some dirty t-shirts and drove up I-77 to my in-laws’ place by the side of the Allegheny River.

Heaven. At least for today.

Heaven. At least for today.

Even though Paris Hilton is probably desecrating my garden boxes as I type, my day here has gone pretty nicely so far. My seven-year-old daughter, who is not yet old enough to realize how much she has always hated me, brought me breakfast, water, coffee, cherries in a bowl, and an adorable new puppy named Forrest Gump to play with (he’s half Boxer and half Chocolate Lab. Get it?). Then she massaged my neck with her sweet little hands and took me down the bike trail to see the grassy bank where the leatherback turtles lay their eggs. Sadly, the raccoons know about the grassy bank where the leatherbags (that’s a Freudian slip, but I’m leaving it) lay their eggs, too, so there are broken egg-shells in piles here and there.


This is after showing me its prickly behind. BTW, is it true or urban legend that porcupines can shoot quills?

Then I went on a walk.

And I saw this porcupine:






And I saw this useless sign:

No Parking on the ancient oil tank.

No Parking on the ancient oil tank.








And I saw this t-shirt just chillin’ on a bench:

Or maybe it was the rapture and I missed it.

Or maybe it was the rapture. And I missed it.











And, messing with my Pandora music feed, I almost stepped on this:

I screamed. I won't lie.

I screamed. I won’t lie.

Dramatic Re-enactment of me almost stepping on the snake.

Dramatic re-enactment of me almost stepping on the snake.










Which, all in all, wasn’t nearly as bad as changing a wiper blade, in the rain, by the side of Interstate 77. Or teenagers.