Wednesday, October 20

Let there be light.

Once again the chainsaw has brought down another round of trees. I never thought I would be responsible for the simultaneous destruction of so many trees, but it really has made such a difference in the backyard. Of course there are still a ton of trees, they are just a little less crowded now. And there is one in particular that I don’t have to worry about falling on my house anymore.

The canopy over the yard has been significantly decreased, mostly by the one crooked tree (seen below). I’m glad I wasn’t home for this round. I would not have been able to watch as those monster trees fell so dangerously close to my house. From what I’ve heard, and what you can see below, the large crooked tree had a close call. Luckily it just missed the house, landing on top of my rock wall, and just next to the picket fence behind the garage. Good thing my little wall is solid. The upper yard in the back is really taking shape now. Removing a few of the smaller trees right in the middle has given us a pretty large open space.

The tree in the middle is the "crooked" tree. It was very tall, and relatively skinny, but it also arched quite far over the house. Its leaves blocked a lot of light over the deck. And that menacing arch made me nervous, especially for such a thin tree. My pretty little pines are staying, at least for now. They provide some great privacy, especially since we don't have a lot of curtains up yet. They also look much better once they have been cleaned up, and the surrounding trees cleared out.

Eeeek! See! Close call there. I love how you can see the fumes from the chainsaw in this picture.

After: still at work on the other trees. The pines now stand alone, and there is already so much more light on the yard. Many thanks to our experienced tree removal crew. From what I hear, they enjoyed the work as much as I enjoyed coming home to the results of their efforts.

Firewood anyone? This is just one of the large piles. Which reminds me, I need to call someone to come clean the chimney.

This is a great view of the new yard. We've cleared out a ton of trees, and leveled some of the higher areas. We have a bit more filling and leveling to get it all nice and flat, but it is much improved already. Just out of view on the left is where the Pieris Japonica bushes are planted. They'll grow to make a nice border at the back of the yard. As you can see, Maybe is inspecting all the changes.

Tuesday, October 19

If you build it.

I am completely amazed, and completely exhausted, thinking about what we accomplished this weekend. The first of three retaining walls is built, and it came out better than I ever could have imagined. We've also started the foundation for the second wall, which is almost the longest part of the process.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that the weekend forecast was going to be quite mild. All the rain that had been predicted earlier moved on, leaving us with sunshine and a perfect working temperature of about 55. Saturday morning we reviewed our directions over breakfast, then headed out to get supplies. We hit up the local Home Depot, the first of many trips this weekend. We found a great Home Depot associate in the tool department who walked us through most of what we needed, including a shiny, new circular saw and a selection of drill bits. Then we headed to the garden department to grab gravel to make the base for the wall. While over there I found a pallet of Japanese Maple trees, on clearance for $15. They were a little worse for the wear, after living all summer in their tiny little pots, but I picked one with great shape.

What was to be our last stop was the lumber department. After tracking someone down we learned they were completely sold out of the 6"x6"x8' pressure treated timbers we were looking to buy. Just two weeks ago we had an employee check the stock and they had nearly 100. So while we loaded up the rebar we needed, I called the nearest Lowe's to see what they had in stock. They did, in fact, have a large number of the timbers.

So off we went to Lowe's. The employee I spoke to over the phone led us to the end of a long aisle, where the 6x6x8's were stacked. As we walked down we told him how many we needed, and then he went off in search of a cart.

We stood dumbstruck in front of the stack. These things are massive! I tried to lift the end of a solo timber that was on the front of the shelf. It didn't budge. Uh-oh. We quickly started brainstorming our other options, because clearly, these were not what we wanted. Just as the employee was returning we settled on the 4"x4"x8' timbers, and we took every last one in stock, about 80 total. Unloading them from Lowe's rental truck was not fun. We later did some investigating to find that each timber weighed about 40 pounds. We estimated we moved about 1 1/2 tons of wood, in about 15 minutes mind you. I moved about a third of that, but by the end of the load, my arms had just about given out on me.

All of this took almost five hours, not leaving us much daylight to work. After dinner we cut a few timbers in half, and then headed off to bed with the hopes of getting up early to start work.

Sunday morning we started, not quite as early as we'd hoped, and with a small list of additional things we needed from Home Depot. I made it there and back in record time, and joined Dave at work out back. The base for the first wall leveled out pretty quickly. All of our directions, and everyone we talked to said the same thing; level, level, level. And so we did. I kept checking with each new layer, and it was dead on every time.

Above is the first three layers of timbers, a close up shot of the "deadman", a perpendicular support that will hopefully keep the wall from leaning. This wall is 12' long by about 3' high, with two deadmen for additional support. The bottom two layers are spiked with rebar deep into the ground, and each subsequent layer is connected with galvanized spikes down through the two timbers beneath it. This thing is solid.

The finished product! We decided to stagger the end a bit to better match the slope of the hill behind. We still need to fill in around it a bit more, and plant some plants to make it all work together. We can't stop checking out our work. I can't wait to see the other wall finished along with it. A very special thank you goes out to our friend Carl, who generously loaned us his tamper, sledgehammer and 6' level, none of which we could have done without. Sorry about that egg, Carl!

Monday, October 11

I'm in love.

With this paint color. Behr "Harmonious", a beautiful greenish-blue that has far exceeded my expectations. I can't find my original swatch, and the Behr site is all Flash, and the link won't work, sigh, so you'll have to take my word for it until you get to the end of this post. No peeking!

Over the summer we'd collected a stack of swatches for the guest bedroom, all a variety of blues, greens and greys. We wanted it to be different than anything we'd used so far, and we thought we could go with a bit of a bolder color than we might normally chose.

The final selection process for this color went something like this...Of course I always struggle trying to make up my mind with these things. We'd planned to go to Home Depot for a few things on a Saturday afternoon, and paint for the guest bedroom was on the list. So Saturday morning I sat myself down at the kitchen island with a mug of tea, a laptop, and a stack of paint swatches. Knowing how differently colors can look on the walls, I tried to google each of my favorite colors to see if I could find a photo of a room in that color. I didn't have much luck with the Behr swatches I'd selected, probably due to it being a new color line. So I looked up similar Benjamin Moore colors until I narrowed down my final choice.

I walked into Dave's office, where he was on the computer, and planted the swatch on the desk. "This is it. Don't let me change my mind."

Hours later at HD, swatch in hand, we stop to look at paint colors, as we always do, hoping something new and wonderful will pop out at us. "Do you think it's too much like the living room color?", Dave asked, looking one more time at our selection. Eyebrow raised, I turned, "No, not even close." As we are sifting through swatches, looking through booklets, we spot a sample room with two-toned walls, both colors similar to what was to be our final choice. We like the darker one, but it's a bit too dark. We pull the individual swatches to see what they look like. Damn it, now I'm doubting my choice.

Determined not to be swayed I point out that the darker color is very similar to our choice when you look at the individual samples. We go back and forth, comparing levels of green, lighter versus darker, etc. Finally, ah yes, we agreed, back to Behr UL220-6, aka Harmonious.

This was several weeks ago, and I've been itching to get it on the walls ever since. We've been trying to get everything done outside before the snow comes, so inside projects have been on hold. Until this weekend, when I found myself home alone for the better chunk of a Saturday afternoon. As soon as I was alone I set straight to work on the guest bedroom. It took forever to get it prepped and ready. This must have been a child's room, because the walls were nicked, the trim was dingy, and and I found remnants of glitter stickers when vacuuming out the corners. It was a mess. It had at some point been painted a flat white, and in keeping with this house, someone did a crap job. There is flat white paint all over the glossy cream trim, which will have to be touched up at some point, assuming there is some leftover in the basement. If not, matching will not be the easiest task.

Anyway, after nearly two hours of patching, sanding and taping, I was ready to get some color on the walls. I loved it again the minute I opened the can, and even more with just a small section of trim done. I was giddy, working my way around the room until I finally had the first solid coat on. The room was a lot bigger than I realized, and I thought I might not have enough paint to cover a full second coat. I decided to wait until morning to finish in case I ran out, that way at least the store would be open so it would just take a quick trip to finish up. Turns out I had enough to finish, barely. There is even a tiny bit left for any touch ups down the road.

Every time I go up or downstairs I stop to peak at the new room. The color is so gorgeous it almost makes me forget about the hideous white carpet in the room. Or maybe that's because I still have all my drop cloths down. Hmmm.

So without further ado, the before and afters of the guest bedroom (so far)...

Before: Nothing to write home about. White walls, white carpet, off-white trim. I hung a pair of pale gold curtains on the existing curtain rod. A small end table with a lamp and a large printed canvas were the only bits of color. It was very undone, to say the least.

After: I'm not sure if these photos are really capturing the true beauty of this color. It really has some nice depth to it. I can't wait to pull the rest of the room together. We've already picked out some artwork, as we have a theme of sorts in mind. Next up is picking out some fabrics, and I've been on the hunt for the perfect lamp. Wish me luck!

Sew cute.

One of my afternoon projects this summer was fixing up this little sewing table. Found on the side of the road by a skilled and experienced trash picker, all it needed was a little love. Some of my favorite pieces of furniture have been plucked from the trash, here is the latest...

This is perfect size for the guest bedroom. We didn't need a full dresser, but still wanted a small table for a lamp and for guests to set small things down. Seeing that it still has a full, working sewing machine in it, it's quite heavy for such a small piece. The top drawer even has spindles for little spools of thread, and a pin cushion built right in.

After much sanding, I was ready to paint. I'll admit I was being lazy, and skipped a coat of primer. This probably cost me a few extra coats of paint, but I had plenty to spare from a quart of a pale Benjamin Moore yellow, called Candlelit Dinner. The yellow is a bit paler than I thought it would be, it ended up being more of a really creamy off-white, which I'm just fine with. I didn't paint the inside of the drawers, or underneath the folding top, as I didn't want anything to stick shut, but I may go back later and clean up those parts with a fresh coat.

Luckily the missing knob was found in one of the drawers. I'm still debating whether to put the original ones back on, either in their current state, or painted another color. Or to possibly find new knobs, but I'm afraid anything too small might look out of scale. Even though it's a small piece, it has some weight to it, so nothing prissy or petite would really work. Along with a few really cute accessories, including a manual, and a red box and pale blue tin containing sewing odds and ends.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out, and I can't wait to see it in the finished room. Now all I need is a lamp, curtains, a chair, a headboard...

Sunday, October 10

More outdoors.

One of these Sunday nights I'd love to not be stiff and sore as hell. But I fear, until the snow falls, that will not be so. There is so much still to do, but it is really starting to shape up outside. I'm nearly finished rebuilding my stone retaining wall, and we've moved a significant amount of dirt to flatten out the upper and lower lawns. When I say we, I mean Dave watched me struggle trying to push the old, rusty wheelbarrow full of dirt up the hill before relieving me of my duties. I went back to weeding and my rock wall.

Living in the woods your work outside is never really done. Sometimes I feel like I could rake the entire yard, and sweep the driveway, Leaves, acorns and sticks are constantly falling, so keeping up with that is enough to keep anyone busy.

It's inspiring to see how much we've done already, and so we keep plugging on. We can't build the wood retaining walls until we have a few of the larger trees taken out. Hopefully those can come out in the next few weeks, so we can get moving on the walls. I hope I'm not underestimating things when I think about the actual scope of that project. We've already done much of the work to get ready for the walls. We'll have to dig a trench to fill with gravel, level the timbers (which will be pre-cut to length), and stack them, inserting metal spikes or rebar to keep them in place. Although the timbers will be pressure treated, I'm thinking about putting landscaping cloth against the back of them, just to give a little bit of extra protection from moisture. We have three small walls to build, each only a few feet high, nothing too crazy or overwhelming.

Sooooo yes, still more to do. At least all this yard work is a good substitute for the gym. And although I complain now, I'd much rather shovel dirt than shovel snow.

Monday, October 4

Andromeda lives to tell!

Pieris Japonica, otherwise known as Andromeda, is the newest addition to our landscaping projects. We were looking for something to plant that would grow enough to give us some privacy from the neighbors behind us. Lovely people as they are, we just wanted a little something. Of course with all our obstacles (lots of shade, deer, sandy soil) we were worried about finding something we'd like. Thankfully the guy at our local nursery is very knowledgable. He led us to the Pieris Japonica, a beautiful evergreen ornamental shrub, that could grow up to 10' tall and 8' wide (although they usually don't). We planted three, in a neat little row at the back of the upper yard.

They are said to be deer resistant, but as we've come to find, nothing is ever safe from a very hungry deer. Not to take any chances however, we concocted a homemade spray to keep the deer away. Based on some recipes we found online, which we of course added our own touch to. This site has some great recipes. We made ours with 2 raw eggs, 5 cloves of garlic, and 5 serrano chili peppers, all in the food processor, then mixed with water. We used a garden sprayer, one orginially bought for wallpaper removal, and doused my new babies with our toxic sludge. Hopefully that is enough to let the deer know they don't want to eat them.

Our neighbors are more careful, coverering everything in their entire gorgeously landscaped yard with burlap. Not taking any chances I guess.

Did I mention we did all this spraying out in the pitch black at 11pm? With a flashlight. Good thing all our neighbors are old and were hopefully in bed sound asleep. So my little beauties lasted the first night. I'll be keeping a close eye on them.

Moving mountains.

Literally. I can only imagine how sore my back will be in the morning. It was only two weekends ago that we woke up on Sunday morning, barely able to move, our bodies revolting against what we may possibly put them through again. That weekend we spent about seven hours outside on Saturday working on the backyard. Digging up stumps, raking sticks and leaves and debris, starting to move dirt to clear room for the retaining wall.

This is Dave's master plan. And to my bewilderment, it is slowly coming to shape. It seemed a daunting undertaking at first, clearing and leveling out our upper yard into something usable. When we bought the house we weren't even aware that the hill behind the house was part of our property. There was a row of evergreens with a hill rising behind, and we assumed that row of trees was out back property line. We were pleasantly surprised to find that row of trees was just the beginning. Our yard stretches another 45-50 feet beyond that!

Again I'll remind you that nothing had been done in the yard in about ten years. We live in the woods so there is a lot of debris, branches, a hundred million acorns and leaves in various states of decomposition. It has all made for great compost. Instead of trying to get rid of all the little stuff, I've taken to raking it into big piles which I occasionally turn. Depending on the weather, it doesn't take long for the pile to break down. Lots of that came in handy for filling the holes where stumps used to be. That way, we could use all the extra dirt to level out other areas of the yard.

There is also the matter of several stone walls which were in quite a state of disrepair. Along with a jumble of stones in various places throughout the yard. Which have now all been relocated, hence my poor sore back, to another area of the yard until they can be used again. I've taken down the small curved retaining wall close to the house and started to rebuild it. I flattened out the curve a little bit so it's more of a gentle slope than the S shape it used to be. That worked out to be a few wheelbarrows full of dirt for the upper yard as well, hooray!

We've been plugging along, working three days last week for a few hours after work, until it was too dark to see what we were doing. Thankfully Saturday was a fun day, but then on Sunday the sun came out to remind us to get back to work. I'll post pictures very soon. I can't wait to show our realtor when this is all done. We also joked last night about inviting the town DOT workers who've been collecting our yard waste each week to have a few beers and show them the before and after pictures. They must be wondering where the heck all this stuff is coming from.

Our goal before winter is to get the retaining walls in place, and remove several of the big trees that are leaning over the house. I'm hoping that will open up the canopy and give us a bit more sun. I also have a ton of planting to do. My aunt pulled a carload of plants from her garden, all mature, shade loving plants to donate to us. I think her garden needed the room, and ours certainly needed the plants, so it worked out perfectly. She gave us ferns, several large Astilbe, a huge clump of Peonies (one of my favs!) among other things. I can't wait to see everything in place.

Pictures coming soon I promise! For now, more Advil please!