The Evolving Backyard

At this point, we’ve been in The Rambler for about a year and a half. We’ve made quite a bit of progress, but none quite so dramatic as the backyard. When we moved it, it was a crazed weed-land jungle:

Backyard_Before

We worked on clearing it out and made some progress… until we chopped down an 80 foot Douglas fir.

I call this one "Northwest palm tree."

Residential backyard with slash piles.

It looked like an ogre had stampeded through the yard, pulling out trees and throwing the limbs around wily nily. Not a pretty sight — and NOT a fun place to hang out.

Well, in September, we opened up a can of whoop-ass. We threw all those tree limbs in a wood chipper (not Fargo style), hauled in three yards of compost, and tried to tame the wild beast that is the Backyard.

And now — nine months later — we have this:

Backyard_Lawn

WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT?? It’s a lawn! A real, green, plush Eco-Lawn, with little plantings around it, and a bed off to the side with hostas and a baby maple tree! And adirondack chairs, and a small dog tied to a horseshoe stake because we still haven’t managed to complete the fencing!

(It should be noted that two days after this picture was taken, a mole came and erupted three large holes smack dab in the middle of the baby lawn. Thanks, reality, for the check.)

Working in the backyard now, it feels like a place you’d want to hang out. That trio of fir trees behind the adirondacks? That’s where the hammock colony lives. And off to the side — there’s the barbecue that Byron will be manning, next to the table and chair set we purchased last summer and haven’t had any opportunity to use. Maybe we’ll actually use that horseshoe stake for horseshoes. Once it finally gets dark out (at 9:30pm, because we live in the Northwest and Northwest summers are the best), the fire pit is ready to be pulled out for toasting s’mores.

Sometimes life can feel like one long slog, one long day of hard work after the next — but then sometimes, you actually see the payoff of that hard work, RIGHT THERE! Right there in front of you. I’ve been feeling down about my writing as of late, down about the book… but looking at the backyard, I remind myself that hard work can pay off. It’s not a guarantee, of course — but it’s the only way to get any sort of results. You gotta put in your time if you want to enjoy the hammock colony.

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Happy House-iversary

Man running a trencher machine.

Sunday marked our one-year anniversary in The Rambler. We celebrated by… well, to be honest, I think both of us forgot. Byron ran a half marathon that morning, and I spent the entire afternoon baking a cake. So, you know. Priorities.

I do feel the need to mark the occasion in some way, though. This is our first house, the first thing we’ve truly owned together (besides a cat, but let’s face it, that is a low-investment item). And damn it, we’ve worked our asses off this past year. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but from what I can remember, these are the projects we wrapped up this past year:

  • Replace the old leaky roof with a new non-leaky roof (ok, technically this was the week before we moved in, but I’m counting it).
  • Replace the “definitely will kill us” electrical box (done about an hour after we got the keys).
  • Repair bath tub plumbing.
  • Repair the “someone obviously tried to kick this in” back door.
  • Paint the kitchen cabinets and the God-awful faux brick.
  • Insulate pipes under the house (which still, STILL has not helped with the freezing water that reaches the bathroom early in the morning).
  • Clear out The Jungle that was the backyard (which involved finding a ton of buried trash, including bones).
  • Install a bathroom fan so we don’t get Mold.
  • Put in French drainage so rain doesn’t run off the roof and directly onto the foundation.
Man running a trencher machine.
Byron running The Trencher, which we had to rent to install the French drainage.
Baby roses, all ready to go. (Plus, the randomly placed maple in the middle of the lawn. Which WILL eventually not be random. But for now...yeah.)
Baby roses, all ready to go. (Plus, the randomly placed maple in the middle of the lawn. Which WILL eventually not be random. But for now…yeah.)
  • Paint the shed in the backyard and start the Hammock Colony.
  • Replace the old oil furnace with an energy-efficient heat pump.
  • Rent a wood chipper, go crazy and install a lawn in the backyard (which, ugh, is now FULL OF WEEDS! WHY, CRUEL WORLD, WHY!).
  • Fix up and paint the hole-ridden interior trim (newly finished as of Monday! woot!).

Geez. I am exhausted just LOOKING at that list. We knew the house was going to be a project when we bought it — and obviously, it has been. One project after another. But weirdly, it’s for the most part been incredibly satisfying work. Hard work,  yes — most of those projects, we completed on our own (and I’m sure Byron would like me to note that he has done most of the hard hard work). But it’s really cool to see a house transform before your very eyes, from “this has potential” to “this is starting to come together.”

I have no idea how many more house-iversaries there will be — who knows, by this time next year maybe we’ll be living in Switzerland with Swiss cats and puppies (unlikely, but YOU NEVER KNOW). But in the meantime, it’s nice to see the hard work paying off. We’ll wrangle you yet, Rambler. One project at a time.

This House

This past weekend, a miraculous thing happened: we had an entire afternoon with no plans on the calendar. Nowhere to be, nothing to do. Well, nothing planned to do — the house needed picking up. But it ended up being the “ok” kind of housework, where you just get in the zone and get shit done. We fell into a rhythm, puttering around and cleaning, talking to one another from different rooms, listening to the radio in the background.

At one point we were both in the bathroom, Byron wiping down the sink and me looking at the shower, which I had cleaned earlier that day. When we bought the Rambler, the shower was advertised as “new!” Well, technically yes. It was a new, shoddily installed shower with obvious gaps and really questionable caulk work (really, so much of our house is basically an advertisement for “hire a professional, yo!”).

As I studied the shower, I said, “Byron, I’m a bit worried some of the shower isn’t sealed correctly and water’s getting behind the panels.”

“Oh yeah, it definitely is,” Byron said.

Oh, well, ok then. “So do we have to worry about mold?”

“No, rot. Definitely rot. I’m 99% sure it’s rotting back there.”

“Oh good, another project.” I shrugged. “Add it to the list.”

“This song is appropriate,” he said.

I must have given him my ‘huh?’ face. “Listen to the lyrics.”

I did — and I laughed:

What do you know? this house is falling apart
What can I say? this house is falling apart
We got no money, but we got heart

 

Well, yes. That about sums it up in a nutshell. But what can you? We had a quick dance party in the bathroom, then moved on to the next task at hand. This never-ending project of a house may throw curveballs at us, but we’re creative, resourceful, and we have each other. We’ll pull this place together.

Rambler Update: Backyard, Reclaimed

When we moved into our house this past December, the backyard was… well, a bit of a disaster. The ivy and morning-glory had been allowed to take over, and it was apparent that the previous owners had been using the place as their own personal dump (as evidenced by the buried trash and bones we kept uncovering… fun).

I somehow got the idea in my head that we’d be able to get the yard 100% under control by summer. Can we all do this together: HA HA HA HA HA. Man, where did I get that crazy idea?

Residential backyard with slash piles.
As of last Friday, this was the current state of our backyard. Notice the THREE huge slash piles.

But, slowly but slowly, we’ve been pulling it together. Earlier this summer we took out an 80 foot tree. And this past weekend — finally, FINALLY — we achieved my dream of making this wild jungle-land begin to resemble a good old-fashioned blue-blooded American backyard.

Wood chipper.
Chip ALL THE WOOD!

Of course, there had to be big-ass machinery involved. The first step in the process was to rent a wood chipper and destroy all the slash piles that lay scattered about the yard. Which, UGH. “Annoying” is a good word to describe that process. After sitting in our yard for six months, the slash piles did NOT want to budge. The pine needles had turned into a sort of glue, holding all the branches together. BUT, the good news? We didn’t find any rat nests! Which I was 99% sure would happen. So I’m counting that as a MAJOR WIN.

(One big thing that the wood-chipping reinforced? We have awesome friends and neighbors. The neighbor to the south of us let us borrow some machinery. The neighbor across the street saw that we were working and came over to help “just because.” My dad came over to help drag slash piles around. There’s nothing like several hours of tedious labor to reinforce that you have a lot of awesome people in your life.)

After the limbs had all been chipped (oh yes, we now have a HUGE PILE OF CHIPS sitting in the front yard… next project), we turned to the lawn. We decided to put in a small Eco-Lawn to act as a sort of focal point for the rest of the yard, bordered by various drought-resistant plants.

Residential backyard with compost.
First layer of compost, ready for roto-tilling.

Putting in a lawn from scratch is… well, it’s not hard, per se. Just kind of a pain. There’s the composting, the rototilling, more composting, more rototilling raking, smoothing, seeding. A lot of steps that all add up. And at the end? You just cross your fingers and hope that it all worked. I keep peeking out the window, waiting to see little shoots of green. We’ll know in 7-14 days….

But even without the grass sprouting up yet — you guys, what an improvement.

Residential backyard.

It’s actually starting to look like a yard. It’s starting to look like a space where we can kick back and relax, barbecue, play horseshoes, invite friends over and entertain. All the potential that we saw when we moved in, it’s starting to become a reality.

The Bone, and Other Discoveries

Sunday I found a bone in the backyard.

I mean, that’s the gist of this story. Your one-sentence summary.

If you live in Seattle, and if you’re me, when the sun comes out you cannot resist the urge to say, “OMG GO OUTSIDE NOW DO ALL THE THINGS!”

So, we did. We got a free lawn mower (thanks, Craigslist!) and mowed the front lawn. We fertilized the sad rhododendron (DO NOT DIE ON ME). And we continued to tame the wild forest that is our backyard.

Can I even tell you how much trash was hidden amongst all that ivy? I seriously think some neighbor saw it and thought, “Well, they’re never going to find ANYTHING in that,” and just started chucking things over the fence. Old peanut butter jars? License plates? Rags? Check, check and check.

Byron was being a total amazing trooper and pulling out the last dreadful patch of ivy, and I was kind of half-assedly moving some dirt around with a shovel. And then I saw what was very clearly a bone.

You know how I joked that we hadn’t found a body buried in the yard? First thought: “Holy shit there IS a body buried in the backyard.”

And then I sat back and studied the thing and… well, it didn’t really look human? I mean, I don’t study a lot of human bones, but I just can’t think what part of the body this would come from. It’s kind of shaped like a fat T, and about the size of my fist when I ball my hand up. I poked it with the shovel and saw the hole in the center where once, long ago, there must have been marrow.

Me to Byron: “I just found a bone.”

Byron to me: “Huh, ok.”

Alright, he was still cursing ivy, so I let his disinterest slide. But as soon as he finished wrestling the GIANT ball of ivy into the yard waste, I said, “So…did you want to see that bone?”

We tromped back to the spot and Byron looked down at it. “Yup, it does look like a bone.”

“But what is it from?”

“Probably a cow or a pig.”

“…THERE’S A COW OR A PIG BURIED IN MY BACKYARD?”

“No, like someone was eating a steak or pork chop and threw the bone back here.”

He seemed pretty confident. I remain unconvinced. But you know what? I really just don’t want to know. If there’s a bovine carcass in my backyard, it can stay there, buried, WHERE IT BELONGS. I don’t want to find a hoof poking up among the azaleas.

And then I thought, what if it is human? What if amongst all that plastic wrap there was a body? And I came to the same conclusion: nope. Don’t want to know.

I’m not totally sure what that says about me as a person — that I’m ok with a hypothetical body staying buried in my yard. I think I’ve just settled on the conclusion that I’m lazy and don’t want to deal with a homegrown murder mystery. But let’s be honest — that’s not too much of a discovery. We already knew that.

Welcome to the Jungle

We have a BIG backyard. Grande. We figured out this weekend it’s about 4,200 square feet. And let me tell you, I have grande plans to match it. It will be an amazing sanctuary and adult play area, complete with hammocks, a fire pit with dedicated s’mores area, and of course, places to rest your adult beverages.

The only problem — this is what the yard looked like when we moved in:

Welcome to the jungle.
Welcome to the jungle.

Oh HEY there, crazy six-foot weeds! HEY ivy that threatens to take over everything! And oh, majestic cedar (fir? pine?) trees, feel free to drop your needles everywhere. Please, feel free.

I’ve been eager to attack this project, because did I mention HAMMOCKS? I realized the other day that spring is rapidly approaching, which means summer is hard on its heels… and damn it, I WILL relax in this yard come summer.

THIS is what I will look up at from my hammock. A lovely...seriously, I need to figure out what these trees are.
THIS is what I will look up at from my hammock. A lovely…seriously, I need to figure out what these trees are.

So this weekend we tackled the ivy. I’ve had a long-standing hatred of ivy, inherited from my father. It’s invasive in the area and takes. over. everything. I want it dead dead dead. I enlisted the help of a bored friend (REALLY bored) and my poor husband, who really just wanted to relax inside instead.

Sorry, Byron!
Sorry, Byron!

But over the course of two days, we got SO MUCH IVY pulled. We’re not 100%, but probably about 70% of it is OUT OUT OUT.

This is just SOME of the buried treasure we found:

  • Half a racquetball
  • A broken flower-pot
  • A ridiculously huge amount of rotting plywood
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Blackberries! Surprise!
  • Sheets of black plastic (which didn’t contain a body! yay!)
  • Crushed soda cans
  • Candy wrappers
  • The limbs of a felled tree

I mean, SCORE, right?? Thanks, former owners!

By the end of the weekend, we had gone from jungle to this:

Panoramic view of the backyard, with 70% of the ivy out.
Panoramic view of the backyard, with 70% of the ivy out.

Progress. Next steps will involve all sorts of fun stuff, like leveling and rototilling (I’m trying to get myself psyched for it).

Dad was laughing because THIS was how I chose to spend my weekend, rather than, you know, going to a movie or something. But you know what? This all feels like a new adventure to me right now, and I’m gonna ride that wave until reality comes crashing down. And it’ll all be worth it when I’m drinking a mojito on my hammock this summer.

Spring is coming!
Spring is coming!

The Rambler: Cabinet Edition

The thing no one ever tells you about buying a house is that once you do, there’s a relentless pile of projects that must be done.

HAHAHA just kidding. EVERYONE tells you that. We decided not to listen and bought a house anyway. A 1950’s rambler, to be exact.

It’s weird, no matter how much homework you do, there are still surprises once the house is actually yours. We were walking around for weeks saying, “Huh. There’s a hole in that door.” Or, “Huh. There are staples around ALL the windows.” Or (my husband’s favorite), “Huh. There are sheets and sheets of moldy visqueen stuffed in this cupboard.” SURPRISE!

But two months in, we’re getting more settled as we continue to unpack, hang up artwork, and update. For the most part, we’re enjoying the projects — it feels good to invest time and energy into something that’s yours.

But this last week… it was kitchen painting time.

Do you SEE that horrendous-ness? FAUX BRICK TILES, people. Surrounded by dirty (LITERALLY dirty) black paint. Awful. AWFUL. I actually painted those bricks several weeks ago because I Could. Not. Deal. That still left us with the raw-wood kitchen cabinets to paint (advertised as “You get to pick your own finish!”). We knew that painting the cabinets would have to be one of our top priorities, as we didn’t want them to get all grimy and gunked up. So finally, finally, we got to it.

I won’t get into all the nitty gritty details, but needless to say, painting cabinets sucks. Lessons learned:

  • Ummm, WOW these cabinets are crappily made! We knew they weren’t the highest caliber before, but gettin’ all up in their grill really confirms it.
  • Oil primer takes FOREVER to dry. FOR-EV-ER. Since the cabinets were unfinished wood, the paint guy at the local hardware store recommended we use it. NEVER AGAIN.
  • Wet paint = magnet for cat tails.
  • No matter how much masking you do, there will always — always — be goof-ups.
The Disaster Zone
Primer done, waiting to dry. Welcome to the disaster zone!

After five days, all the cabinets are finally re-hung and…

Before
Before – blah.
After
After – woo hoo!

IT’S DONE. I’ve strategically hidden all the “this need a touch-up” spots. But you know, it works. For now, I’ll consider it one more project checked off the list. Completed ones so far:

  • Replace roof.
  • Replace the “will definitely kill you in your sleep” electrical panel.
  • Repair tub plumbing.
  • Paint kitchen cabinets.
  • Add weather stripping to the “can see sunlight through it” front door.
  • Add cat door to “The Once and Future Garage”.
  • Replace broken back door.
  • Insulate pipes in crawl space.
  • Add big-ass shed to the backyard.

Looks fairly impressive, until compared to our “to be done” list:

  • Install bathroom fan.
  • Repair drainage on the side of the house (will involve trench digging — fun!).
  • Paint ALL THE THINGS.
  • Replace the ghetto single-pane windows.
  • Convert “The Once and Future Garage” BACK into a garage.
  • Replace the “can no longer see sunlight but still ghetto” front door.
  • Repair sad and slanted front step.
  • Convert laundry room into a laundry room/2nd bathroom.
  • Tame and landscape the Jungle that is our backyard.

We’ll get it done, Rambler, one project at a time….