I Got 99 Problems But the Deck Ain’t One

Like most homes in the south our little abode has a deck in the backyard. There’s nothing really special about it…just a standard rectangle deck.  Other than the red color, there was nothing offensive about it. It’s redeeming feature was it’s size (that’s what she said). The deck spans almost the entire length of the house. So, in that regard…nice.  However, after spending some actual time living and using the deck we discovered a “usability” problem. This giant deck only had one tiny, crooked staircase to get into the yard.

Let me back up a second and explain why that’s such a big deal. The backyard is a main attraction…an oasis if you will. It’s a fenced in beauty that neighbors have actually admitted to coveting (Yeah, it’s weird). My point being, this deck was actually preventing you from really enjoying and accessing the the yard.

I mentioned it in passing to my dad. Or as he should probably be called “The Deck Master.” This man just really loves building decks…really nice decks. As I was saying, I mentioned my annoyance that there was only one way to get off the deck (unless you were willing to hurl yourself over the rail) and before I could finish he said “I’ll come over this weekend and take a look at it.” Oh, sweet. This was a bit surprising because he was so adamantly against helping us build a TV built-in. “You stick to what you know,” he said.

That weekend he came over and took a look and he didn’t seem too impressed. I could see his eyes judging its inferiority. Then, like fate he was walking down the staircase and the last step collapsed! And if you knew my dad, he’s not a big guy…muy tiny in a masculine way of course.

The Deck Master: “How the hell did this thing pass inspection?”

The Deck Master: “Look at it, it’s crooked!”

Me: “Uh, I dunno. It’s always been like that?”

The Deck Master: “We’ll have to start over.”

Me: “Ooook.” I’m gunna go inside…it’s hot.”

Honestly, I’m not sure how this conversation concluded…but I’m sure it was me going inside. Here’s a picture of the culprit. The death staircase!

CrookedStairs

Over the next couple weeks we discussed ideas for the deck. Our ideas ranged from simple. Aka, adding another set of stairs and rebuilding the crappy crooked staircase. To what evolved to the epic deck we have today. Whilst we were brainstorming my dad said:

The Deck Master: “You know what’s a shame? That stupid railing prevents you from actually seeing the yard.”

Me: “Huh, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about that.”

The Deck Master: “Why don’t we build it so it doesn’t have railings?

Me: “Duh!”

I mean look, he’s totally right. The railing totally separates the yard from the deck rather than them naturally leading into each other.

blockedView

So, he sketched out an idea…a crazy smart idea. Keeping the base/foundation and size of the deck. But instead of adding railings and 2 staircases, we were going to add a staircase around the entire deck. Brilliant! Keeping safety in mind, we added some built-in seats to prevent people from falling off the corners/ends.  Once we all agreed, we started building. By ‘we’ I mean The Deck Master and T. (Not me)

diagram

First things first…the boys got to destroy something. Their smiles were un-matched as they took a sledgehammer to the railings. In order to keep the deck usable while it was being built we decided to build it in 2 stages. First we’d tackle the left, then the right. Everything went pretty smoothly. I guess that’s what you get when you work with a Deck Master. The only tiny snafu occurred when they got to the corner (where the staircases had to connect). While they are building this section I came outside to check it out and here’s how it went down (some drama may or may not have been added):

Me: Uh, guys the corner isn’t straight.

Boys: Yes it is.

Me: Um, no. It’s not.  (This went on until the next day).

Dad: The next day. I think it is actually crooked. I was aligning it to the original deck.

Me: You mean the one that we are replacing b/c it’s crooked?

Dad: The stink-eye and a smile were given.

Boys: Man, we’re going to have to redo this WHOLE section. Tear it all out and start over.

Me: Um…

Boys: All that work and time was for nothing…DAMN.

Me: Um, guys…

Boys: We’ll have to go get so much more wood…

Me: Guys…

Boys: We’ll have to cut all these pieces and pull up all these boards.

Me: GUYS! Why can’t we just cut this little piece and just pivot the frame?

Boys: Huh.

Me: I’ll be inside if you need me.

mic drop

After this, the build continued on flawlessly…here are some in progress shots. Because there’s something so fascinating about wood framing. (Maybe that’s just me?)

inBuildDeck

I would have loved to say that nothing was harmed during this project. However, we did have casualties of construction. We lost three beautiful hostas, sad face. We tried to move them to another location…however we unknowingly handed them to the voles on a silver platter. Lets have a moment of silence for the plants that were lost.

Hostas

Ok, that’s enough. 🙂 Without further ado, here’s the new deck. Isn’t she pretty?! It’s so functional, incorporated, and modern. It really does link the house to the backyard. We couldn’t be more happy with the outcome! I mean look at it …

BeforeAfterDeck

Q: How many guys does it take to remove a shrub?

A: 3 guys, 1 truck, 1 chain and 1 girl.

We moved into the house during the fall so we eagerly awaited our first spring. Particularly, I was excited to see this large mass of azaleas in the front yard.  Spring came, spring went, fall came again and fall went…and nothing. Not one bloom. Turns out they had gone rogue…or “wild” as my dad put it. Meaning, they would just continue to get more spindly and may never produce flowers again.

I felt bad and wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, when I got up close I discovered tons of HUGE spider webs. That was the straw…they had to go.  So,  I called my dad and our convo. went something like this:

Me: Hey, so you know those gross bushes in the front yard?

Dad: Yeah.

Me: I’m thinking we should get rid of them…

Dad: …I’m on the way. I’ll bring the truck.

Growing up, he’d find any excuse to use the truck to pull something. It was great fun. So, he showed up like he said…with the truck, a chain and my brother-in-law. They started assessing the situation, and how to attach the chain.

All3GuysAt one point we even lost my dad… that’s true love right there.

DadInBushThe truck made the job pretty simple. They just wrapped the chain around each major section of stalk? Base? …the stick part! And then literally let ‘er rip!

The spot looks so much neater now with the gnarly bushes gone.  We’re trying to figure out what to plant in their place. We’re pretty sure a crepe myrtle or 2 would do well there and add some summer color.

before&Afterbush

Our Little Homestead – Veggie Update

I’m sure you all remember the riveting account of my semi-crazy garden planning process. If not, you can review. Well buckle up kids you’re headed for a full-on garden update! Yep, we’ve got veggies, and heat. (You like that cliff-notes summary?)

As soon as the weather started warming up our veggies took off. In fact we’ve got wild strawberries growing in the yard next to the driveway! It’s been fun to watch the plants grow and start to produce fruit. We planted a variety of things just to see what would do well. Check out the garden in full bloom!

First out of the gate were the herbs: rosemary, dill, oregano, basil, mint, lemongrass and chives are still going strong. Some are doing better than others. (I may have to put a muzzle on the mint it’s getting a little rowdy!) We’ve also had a lot of luck with eggplant, squash and jalapenos. These three plants must be in their prime location because they are still producing obscene amounts of produce. We’ve resorted to freezing most of it for later use because we just can’t eat it all! Speaking of the jalapeños or as I like to call them little hell demons. They are UNBELIVEABLY hot. We casually cut the first up and threw a few rings on our tacos. BIG mistake, my mouth burned for hours. For some reason they are much hotter when you grow them yourself. Noted. You win this round jalapeño.

Our tomatoes, chili peppers, habaneros, swiss chard, onions and carrots are just now starting to peak. So we expect to get a lot more off them in the next few weeks. (We’re actually a little afraid to try the habanero because we’ve tasted how much hotter the Jalapenos are. We’ll see who draws the short straw.) Our more delicate plants like, lettuce, spinach, bell peppers, and fennel did well in the spring but quickly died out when the heat closed in. Which is different than when the night closes in…(in case you were wondering.)

Speaking of the heat. It’s hot…like really hot. The southeast is in the middle of one nasty heat wave. I know what you’re thinking:

I know its summer but I still wanna whine about how hot it is! GAH! Actually, it has been hotter than normal here in good ol’ NC. In case you’ve been living under a rock and hadn’t heard I’ll tell you that NC had about 5 days at 106 degrees. It was so hot a road melted. That may sound like a redneck statement but this one is actually true! This heatwave obviously meant that everyone and their mom had to post photos of their thermometers showing the heat…like we hadn’t heard it on the news all day.

ANYWAYS, rant aside. This smoldering heat has played a huge role on our yard. Our grass is brown and we may have lost a few plants (RIP: hanging fern), but we’re watering daily and we think most of the plants will make it.

We’ve been trying some new recipes that utalize our bounty and they have been delish. I’ll be adding the recipes soon so you can make them at home! So far we’ve made:

  • Lemon & dill fish
  • Tomato soup
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Stuffed jalapenos
  • Eggplant and zucchini lasagna
  • And dried herbs

We’re only halfway through the summer which means we’ve got a lot more growing to do. I’ll keep you posted on new harvests and any new meals!

Veggie Tales

After college I moved into a townhome and lived there for about 5 years. I loved the low maintenance and convenience of it; however, I missed having a yard. Some of my fondest childhood memories are helping my dad spread pine straw or helping with an outdoor project. So, when we were thinking about moving we knew a nice yard was a must. Since my last post, our yard has burst into a rainbow of colors and fragrances…it’s truly stunning. The previous owners did a great job of choosing some really beautiful plants. What do we have? Well, now that stuff is actually flowering I’ve been able to figure out what some of those mystery plants were! We’ve got Hostas, Lilac, Peony, Spiderwort, Japanese Maples, Cherry trees, Azaleas (the large and small variety), Lilies, Iris’, Rroses, and various flowering ground cover to name a few.

We’ve also loved watching the landscaping come to life in the natural areas around the house. I’ve included some photos below. The top photo is one of the most beautiful aspects of the yard, the trellis between our property and the neighbor. Recently, delicate yellow roses have completely covered the trellis…it’s quite a sight. The bottom four photos are landscaped areas across the yard. The two photos on the left were taken in the main natural area along the side of our home.  The photos on the right are the natural areas beside the front porch. We’re absolutely in love with the red Japanese maple. We recently also added some additional plants including:  some hanging flowers, a hydrangea, iris’ (because people are just giving them away) and Lilly of the Valley (because they are my absolute favorite).

Now on to the edibles! We both really wanted a vegetable garden but we couldn’t get much to grow at the townhouse. So, we knew we wanted to try again since we have a little more room to grow. I don’t even want to admit how many hours it took me to decide what and where to plan, but I will. Prepare yourselves because you’re about to get a glimpse of the crazy.

Step 1: Where to plant?

  • We live in a rather shady neighborhood, literally shady not sketchy, which I love! But it makes things a bit difficult when I need at least 6 hours of sunlight for vegetables to grow.

Step 2: Chart the sun/shade in your yard

  • My dad suggested that I sketch the shaded areas of the yard at 9, 12, 2, and 4 o’clock. Once I was done I layered the sheets on top of each other to find the sunniest spots. Kinda brilliant?! This technique actually worked! It was really easy to see where the sunniest parts of the yard were.

Step 3: Step outside your comfort zone.

  • After referring to my sketches I discovered that the largest sunny spot was on the outside of the fence. GASP! A garden that people can see from the road!? I know, blasphemy. I had to get over myself and the thought that vegetable gardens were meant to be hidden away in the back yard. While working on our garden we’ve actually gotten a lot of complements on it. I’m proud to say that we’re officially working outside the box on this one.

Step 4: Create the garden bed

  • If you live in the South you know about our clay situation. If not, let me break it down. We’ve got about an inch of dirt and meters of red clay. So, we had to create a raised bed to accommodate the veggies. We enlisted the help of my dad (he had all the tools and know-how for this sort of project). We decided to use half-round garden timbers because they were inexpensive and durable. It was a rather simple project if you have the tools to do it.
    • Level out the ground so that the wood sits flat
    • Cut the ends of the boards at a 45 degree angle so they fit flush in the corners
    • Nail the corners together
    • Drill holes every few feet and hammer in ¾ in. x 2 ft. rebar into them (to keep the boards from moving around)
    • NOTE: Don’t smash your finger with the hammer. My dad was the victim of a vicious hammer attack that led to a broken thumb. So, be careful and go slow.

Step 5: Fill garden with dirt

  • We decided to use a combo of equal parts top soil and manure. To get a good mix we alternated bags in the planter then cut and mixed them together. This was the simplest task to accomplish.

Step 6: Decide what to plant

  • This was the most stressful part of the process for me because I couldn’t find a single source for gardening. I looked at books, websites, blogs, and took advice from friends to get the answers to my questions. Why can’t there be just one place that all this stuff is held?! Sigh. It took me days to figure out the combination for our garden…and I’m not even convinced I did it right. But one day while I was buried in a chapter on “planting combinations” it hit me. I realized that this is my first try and I’m not got to get it perfect so why stress about it. So, that’s what I did.
  • A lot of plans included veggies that were cool but we’d never really eat and I wanted to make sure we’d eat what we planted. We went with tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, spinach, lettuce, carrots, egg plant, oregano, basil, chives, fennel, and Swiss chard.

  • We also planted a few other herbs in pots around the house including: rosemary, orange mint, Thai basil, parsley, and cilantro. These were put in pots around the house because we’ll be using them a lot or they tend to take over vegetable beds.

Step 7: Water regularly

We’ve decided to water in the mornings for a few reasons.

  1. As it gets increasingly hotter during the day they will need that moisture for as long as possible.
  2. It’s cooler and more comfortable for us to water in the morning rather than in the afternoon
  3. Reduces the prevalence of slugs. Apparently, if you water at night (when they are active) they are drawn towards the water. And at that point you’re basically inviting them in to your garden. NOTE: I found one of these guys hanging out under a potted plant. He’s so pretty I let him stay — with the agreement that he’d leave the garden alone. 🙂

We’ve put countless hours into our yard and we couldn’t be happier with how it’s coming along. We’ve enjoyed watching the yard burst into life and can’t wait to see what summer brings.

Spring has Sprung All Over the Place

When the third “Dutch Bulb Catalog” arrived at the house we knew that spring would be interesting. The previous tenants were garden enthusiasts to the max and they apparently have great taste in flora.  We closed on the house during the fall so we never really got to see the yard “in it’s heyday.” So far, the spring has brought us a whole lot of new growth. It’s a beautiful mystery because we’ll have to wait till the buds bloom before we can tell what’s growing out there. So, if any of you can identify these little guys…I’d love to know! I’m in the process of writing a super long garden/yard planning post. So be on the lookout for more on the great outdoors soon!

Wanted a Moat but Settled for a Fence

I’ll admit that I Googled “moat diggers NC” before deciding on a fence for our property. My inner child was convinced that a moat would be a fantastic idea. However, the Mr. told me that the piranhas wouldn’t make it through the winter…and no moat of mine will be piranha free. So, a fence seemed like a logical second option.

The fence project was actually accelerated because of, Reese’s BFF, Mika. She’s coming to stay with us for a few days while my parents are out of town and her majesty demands a fence.  We were planning on building a fence for Reese so it really wasn’t a big deal. Like our sofa, we had mandatory and “would be nice” qualities.

Mandatory:

  • Safe and secure
  • Good quality product (i.e. treated lumber and/or chain link)
  • 4 foot fence
  • Fit within our budget

Would be nice:

  • Wood fencing
  • Multiple entrances

So, we collected a few quotes from local fence contractors and we were totally overwhelmed by the prices. I started feeling down because I saw all our interior updates flittering away until summer to make room in the budget for this fence project. I mentioned my frustration to a friend at work who told me a great tale of a local fence guy that was affordable and created a great product. I gave him a call and he became our knight in shining teeth (seriously, he had gold caps on his teeth).

We ended up getting a combo of wood and chain link fencing for a couple of reasons:

  • It was more affordable
  • The wood was more attractive for the front yard
  • The chain link section lets more light in on the north side of our yard where we want to put a garden eventually
  • The chain link can’t be seen from the roads…so why waste wood? (hehe)

I drew a diagram for you visual people:

And here’s a photo that I took standing on the deck looking out towards the street. Pretty snazzy huh? Look at those toppers and those solid gates!

Once the fence was in place we only had to complete 2 tasks to finish the project:

  1. Waterproof the fence:
    We’re still in the process of spraying the fence. It seems like it has rained every weekend since we’ve put the fence up. And the wood has to be 100% dry before you apply the sealant. So, the Mr. has finished about half of it and is waiting for sunny weekend to finish. The process is actually quite painless if you know this tip. We thought we’d have to buy the expensive paint sprayers to apply the sealant to the fence. However, we bought a $10 garden sprayer and it worked perfectly. So, don’t waste your money on those expensive paint sprayers for this kind of job.  (NOTE: make sure you run water through the nozzle after you’re done using it so it won’t get clogged with dry sealant).
  2. Add lattice under deck:
    The way our side yard is organized  the fence had to go up against the corner of the deck. This left about 15ft. under the deck that needed some lattice so the dogs can’t get out. We decided save some money and do it ourselves. So, we went to Lowes and bought 2 sheets of plastic lattice. (NOTE: We went with plastic lattice because it was pre-stained to match our deck and wouldn’t splinter when you cut it.)  Here are the steps we took to add the lattice work:
  3. Nailed a 2×4 to the bottom of the deck to give ourselves a surface to nail the lattice all the way around.
  4. Cut the lattice into 3 sections so the lattice overlapped each vertical stud about halfway.
  5. Placed a nail at each diamond to ensure that the dogs couldn’t push their way out.
  6. Hint: When cutting the lattice we found it much easier to cut on the ground than on a bench or the back of a truck. So, put a 2×4 on the ground, lay the lattice over top, then cut.

The builders did such a great job with the wooden fence because it looks really sturdy and classy. They added a few extra details that I wasn’t expecting including: finials on top of the door posts and a wooden topper that keeps all the boards from bending/twisting and warping as it ages. It looks like it just belongs there…like it’s been there forever. I think it’s a useful and attractive addition to our home.

Just Another Pile of Leaves…

"I spent nearly two hours blowing the yard that day, until I ran out of both gas and daylight."

The season of autumn has been one of transitions for Christine and me: new jobs, marriage, moving into a new home. Apparently, the trees around our little house decided all at once they were tired of the changes, and so we were left with a thick layer of leaves all over the property. Knowing there would be some leaves to clear off the lawn, I bought a 18V battery-powered leaf blower a few weeks ago. However as the leaves began to fall and accumulate, I quickly realized I had to call in for backup from my father-in-law.

Actually, it was his backpack – the gas-powered, leaf-blowing variety – that saved the day. I assured Jeff that I had used one of these blowers before, but he still wanted to show me how to get it started. And I’m glad he did, because that was a very persnickety piece of machinery.

Here are the step-by-step instructions he walked me through: With the blower resting on the ground, first lay down the throttle arm as straight as it will go and move the throttle itself to the “running bunny” position. Then, flip the choke switch on the back to the “cold start” position and press the starter/lubricator several times. Finally, pull the crank cord.

For Jeff, the engine turned over on the first pull. He quickly switched the lever on the back to the running position and moved the throttle to the “walking turtle” position. Ready to go! He made it look so easy…

The tutorial went down at his house, and so I would have to start the blower on my own. Luckily, the engine was still warm enough to get it started without any hassle when I got it back to our place. I spent nearly two hours blowing the yard that day, until I ran out of both gas and daylight. I was able to get most of the leaves off of the grass, at least, but  left lots of giant piles on the fringes of our property that needed to be blown to the street.

Jeff brought the blower the following week and I was able to finish the job after a few more hours of work on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This time using up a tank and half of fuel, the chore was limited only by the setting sun and a final family meal of the holiday weekend. I was beyond grateful for the respite, although all signs from above suggest that our trees have a few more leaves to shed.

Lilies, Iris’ and Spiderwort

No, this is not the beginnings to some sort of Halloween themed concoction. These are the first perennial flower additions to the yard. My aunt Mary was thinning out her own garden and asked if we’d like some plants.To which I replied: “Um, yes!”  She dropped off 4 heaping bags and some much appreciated care/maintenance suggestions.

  • SPIDERWORT: Is a beautiful little wildflower that blooms during the spring and summer. Spiderwort is commonly seen as a border plant because it’s easily propagated and only grows knee high. Its flowers can be pink white or blue.  What color do we have? I don’t know, we’ll have to see what color pops up next spring. I did a little research and it turns out that the stems, leaves and flowers are edible. Spiderwort is a welcome addition to our yard…and stomachs!
  • IRIS: I’m sure you all have seen an Iris. They are gorgeous
    perennial plants with big colorful flowers. There are over 300 species of Iris’
    so I dunno which one we’ve got. But I’ll get some photos of it this spring and
    see if I can figure it out. Fun fact of the day! We all know that blue roses
    are unheard of right? Well, Iris’ have difficulty being red. They typically are
    seen with blue, purple, yellow, and white combinations.
  • DAYLILY:  Another beautiful flowering perennial. I’m sure you’ve all seen these gems lining the NC highways because they are extremely hearty and drought tolerant. These guys are great runners so we’ll have to make sure they don’t take over the whole back yard.  However, they wouldn’t be the worst thing to have overtaking a yard.

We’ve gotta figure out where we want these plants to live based on all their specific needs. I’ve got some ideas on where these flowers could be planted. However, I’m keeping our future yard plans in mind and trying not to plant stuff willy-nilly. (There’s a southern word for ya!) I can’t wait to see how these little beauties really enhance the yard when they bloom next spring.

Lawn Mower Mayhem

As a wedding gift from Christine’s parents, we received a brand new lawn mower. Our grass was pretty tall from just a couple weeks of lacking attention, but this was difficult to see due to a thickening blanket of fallen leaves. Last week I took the morning to stay home for a service call on our washer and dryer units, and I saw my chance to finally cut loose on our unkempt lawn.

The mower wasn’t difficult to put together, really. Remove a few bolts, attach the handle, re-attach the bolts and vioala! Once all the bolts were tight, I filled the tank with gasoline and poured in some oil. There was no primer button to press, and so I grabbed the starter cord and pulled. The engine turned over with ease on the first try and I immediately began making a mulching path through the yard. After nearly five minutes, everything was going great. I had already done a couple laps around our property, with a growing sense of confidence that I’d be able to check this “to do” off my list before lunch.

My confidence quickly transformed into confusion when the mower began to struggle, with smoke erupting from its engine. It appeared she was overheated and so I released the throttle to avoid doing any further damage. Luckily, Christine’s dad, Jeff, is a regular handyman. When I told him what happened, he came over and revived the mower, along with my confidence to finish cutting the lawn.

And finish I did, during weekend that followed. However, the yard looks about the same as before, a new blanket of leaves covering our freshly cut grass. Next task: borrow Jeff’s industrial-sized leaf blower!