Things I learned while working on my backyard

This summer was supposed to be all about Project Reclaim The Backyard. Unfortunately the scheduling of this project conflicted with Jersey’s monsoon season (yes, I already used this joke on Twitter/Facebook). It started strongly enough, as I cut down hundreds of feet of vines in a couple weekends, but their actual disposal has dragged on for a couple months. Still, we got a patio installed so that The Woman and Kayleigh can hang out and watch me drop rocks on my foot and branches on my head for the rest of the summer/fall. It’s a family thing.

For the past week the crux of the work has been removing the remainder of the shoddy walkway that used to lead to the basement door. There is still no definite plan for replacement, but walking on dirt is a better alternative to navigating the concrete minefield that was left behind by an unnamed backhoe operator. And at the very least, I finally got to use the sledgehammer that was left behind in our basement. That’s a lot of fun – at least when the concrete is less than 2 inches thick. My next lesson will hopefully involve how to dispose of broken slabs of concrete.

After wiping out the walkway, I learned just how heavy Belgian Block is – VERY. I also learned that wheel barrows are not very good at transporting 6 or more blocks o’ Belgian at a time – especially when rolling them over the muddy holes they were dug out of. So the migration of blocks to another corner of the yard became a week long process because carrying one at a time significantly reduces the chance of breaking a foot but has the unfortunate side effect of taking way too long and tiring me out way too quickly. Maybe that stone fort I had planned is not such a good idea…

But by next spring, gosh darn it, we will have a usable backyard. Either that, or I’m going to start subletting it to a small farmer.

Take my money, please!

We’ve been itching to get some work done on our house. Nothing too big…actually we wanted something very big. There is a plan. A master plan. A master plan that involves knocking out walls and parts of the roof and rearranging plumbing. A master plan that would turn our humble “3” bedroom cape (our office/den is counted as a bedroom while the ones upstairs are awkward and small) into a spacious home with plenty of room on both floors.

But that plan had a flaw. And that flaw was the need for money. Specifically a need for money when the global economy decided to flush itself down the proverbial crapper. After a couple months of toying with the idea and speaking with some contractors I finally caved and called a bank. And they laughed at me. Alright, maybe they were actually polite about it, but some words were bandied about that didn’t put me in the best of moods. Words like “not economically feasible” and “decreasing property value” and “fat chance” and “stupid”.

It was disappointing because we managed to find a local contractor that seemed like the perfect choice to do the work. He suggested ways to cut costs even though he was already cheaper than other estimates, showed us some of his other work, took us to his office, bought me coffee, and was just generally a friendly guy. Once the money started to evaporate, we talked to him about doing the outside work that we need for safety reasons with the hope that next year some of the master plan could go into effect. And that’s where it currently ends.

And I’m left wondering, why do contractors not want my money? You see, we already started talking to some people last year about our crumbling front steps, potholed driveway, and collapsed retaining wall. They came in with some great ideas and put together some initial estimates. But once serious adjustments were made… where’d everybody go? Seriously, doesn’t anybody want money these days? Or are all contractors required to be flighty, inconsistent, and at least slightly unethical?

Unfortunately the hardscaping is not something I can do on my own (or even with the help of drunken friends). This isn’t like ripping out sheetrock or putting up shelves or replacing electrical components. We’re talking about demolishing brick steps, removing a concrete walkway, hauling lots of dirt and rocks, building a wall, and paving a driveway. My cordless drill, reciprocating saw, Wonder Bar, and large tub of joint compound just ain’t gonna cut it. Even if I drag up the sledge hammer chances are a few more bricks will be loosened and we’ll end up be using the side stairs for the next 3 years.

For all I know by this time tomorrow someone will get back to us with some concrete (har har!) numbers and we can start making plans to upgrade the decaying rubble look of our front yard properly. But I’m beginning to think the next time The Money Pit is on TV I’ll mistake it for a documentary…


Work on the nursery is finally coming to a close. Hopefully this weekend the tremendous task of removing inch-thick velvet wallpaper, washing off 30-year old glue, sanding down the “textured” ceiling, skim-coating everything with joint compound, priming all surfaces, painting the walls and ceiling, and installing wainscotting will come to an end. And hopefully a good one.

Of course the fact that we’ve got a baby girl heading our way soon is bringing out The Woman’s inner princess. Not that she hasn’t always loved the color pink, but the nursery has given her an excuse to really use it as a primary color. Her last attempt was in our stairway. She didn’t even get halfway through by the time I got home and could only tell me, “It’s really pink.” I concurred and eventually covered it up with a somewhat burnt orange color that I originally wanted (win for me!).

Since she is currently limited to painting in 2 minute increments, the task of “pinking” the nursery fell to me the other night. It’s a rather emasculating task – even for a closet metrosexual such as myself. I have a love/hate relationship with the color. On one hand it can look absolutely fabulous when used right, but on the other hand it isn’t used right 95% of the time. And let’s face it, I’m not necessarily manly enough to pull off pink (and a skirt) like some guys. Thus I remain torn on it’s use.

Thankfully Boris’s Pink was recently added to eMusic, and was readily available to ironically get me through the process with gusto. And if you don’t understand that, you are neither as metal nor as wannabe-hipster cool as I am