I’m back!  We’ve been busy with major life changes and lots of projects I hope to share soon. Our awesome niece came to live with us right before Christmas and we have been going non-stop getting settled into our new routine. Before I show you what we’ve been working on IN the house during the long winter, I thought I’d celebrate the new warm weather and share our work from this last weekend!

Last year when we moved into our house we immediately planted veggies and herbs in the planters edging our deck. About two months later, just about the time we started seeing the fruits of our labor we got little baby Thunder.

baby black lab

So cute, so sweet, such a demon. It wasn’t long before he ate all our plants. (Eating things is kinda his purpose in life.)

Then Thunder started learned how to dig. Once he grew big enough to run around with his big brother, Samson, they started doing daily sprints in the backyard making sure to do their slide and turns right where they could scrape off all signs of the new baby grass Montana and I spent so much time and money getting started.

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This year we’ve given up on growing grass in that corner of the yard and decided to work around the pups by making that our new garden area. That corner of our yard is a bit awkward anyhow, since it slopes down and water runs out there.  Hopefully later this year or next we will have the time and money to install a french drain and fix our water issues as well as install a new stone patio across the back of the house. Knowing that we’ll have to be digging ditches that run through that corner I planned on doing our garden in planters again this year when I stumbled upon this beauty on pinterest.  (Unfortunately I couldn’t find the original source.)

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Love! It was a bit hard to find the troughs/stock tanks at a price I was willing to pay but I persevered. They’re available on Amazon if you can’t find them locally and want to buy them online, but Lowe’s and Tractor Supply also carry tanks in various sizes slightly cheaper.  Unfortunately Lowe’s only carries them as an “in store” item and only at rural stores.  Thankfully Montana was willing to drive out to the Leesburg Tractor Supply on his day off and pick some up for me.  The half barrel planters are sold at all Lowe’s and Home Depots as far as I know. They seem to be much easier to find.

I also lucked out recently and after a year of searching on Craigslist for used oak wine barrels under $200 that I could use to make a rain barrel, I’ve finally found a winery down near Virginia Beach that sells them for $100! Score! Now I’m no hippie, so for those of you that know me well you might be a little surprised that I would want to make a rain barrel. However, it rains so much in Northern Virginia during the summer that I can’t stand the idea of paying for water out of a faucet to water our garden that I could be getting (chlorine free) and for FREE to water my plants. Also, wine barrels are pretty.
To go along with the barrel theme, I decided to make my garden markers out of wine corks. Unfortunately I had half as many corks as seeds so I only marked the herbs. (Truth: As of this writing, a mere 2 days after planting, Thunder somehow snuck over and ate ALL of my garden markers and some of the dirt/unknown seeds. I cannot win.)

Wine Cork Garden Markers

Sunday we spent the afternoon planting seeds. (Make sure you drill holes in the bottom of your stock tanks as they are water tight.) We planted a few of everything including: green beans, zucchini, sunflowers, basil, oregano, arugula, lettuce, parsley, cilantro, bell peppers, tomatoes, and carrots.
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Eventually we’ll have to move the planters out of the way when we install our train but that should be easy peasy. Then we’ll put gravel down in that area before we put the planters back so we keep down the mud.  Now we wait.  Hopefully in a month or two we’ll have some fresh food! If not… we might have a dog for sale. (Kidding… I think)
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Can you believe it’s already Labor Day Weekend!? This summer flew by!

Montana loves doing “man” stuff outside like cutting anything with a chainsaw, sleeping on the ground… you get the picture.  I’m outdoorsy in that I like to drink Mojitos on patios.

When we moved in to our house in mid April we immediately set about tearing out ivy that had taken over the fence line, digging up bricks that had been randomly half buried throughout the yard and doing general cleanup. As I’ve mentioned before we have big plans for redoing the patio area in the future when time and budget permit, but in the meantime I wanted to get some outdoor furniture that would fit our lifestyle and we could use now, but also would be nice enough to hold onto after we redo the patio.

We love to entertain at home and usually eat on the couch so decided that a lounge set was probably more practical for us than a table and chairs. We’re fans of eating outside, but unless the chairs are really comfortable, it’s not so great to hang out at a table for hours after you’ve done eating.

My search began in early May for a set that would be high quality, durable, and attractive.  Something like these would be perfect…

Pottery Barn Palmetto All-Weather Wicker

Crate & Barrel Ventura Lounge Collection

Restoration Hardware Majorca Collection

…but then I forgot to mention the last requirement. I didn’t want to spend twice our mortgage payment on some furniture that would sit outside. Seriously? Do people really spend over a grand per chair for their patios?  I must be in the wrong line of work.

So my search focused mainly on craigslist, Target, World Market and Pier 1 for a while. I found a few sets that looked like they might work such as this one from Pier 1:

It was a great price, but I didn’t like that the individual chairs didn’t have armrests. I thought they might be uncomfortable for sitting for long periods of time.

I almost pulled the trigger on this set from Target but was scared off because of the reviews saying that  it had arrive broken and returns were difficult. Love the general look though.

Well, I finally found the perfect set!  I don’t even remember what made me decide to look on Amazon, but wow am I glad I clicked over.  Introducing the new patio! It’s called the Strathwood Griffen All-Weather Wicker Set. The best part was that it’s Prime eligible! That’s right, free 2 day shipping!

Remember when we first moved in and our backyard looked like this?

It’s ok to shield your eyes. I’m so happy those days are behind us. More pretty pictures?

On the left side/corner of the deck are my last remaining veggies from this summer. We got a new addition to our family in June named Thunder and he likes to eat things.  Things = zucchini plants, green bean plants, melon plants, cucumber plants, and spinach. Apparently he doesn’t like Basil, Mint or Lettuce because that’s all he left us. Brat.

The wine barrel table was a gift from our neighbors after we helped them clean up the jungle of fallen trees in their backyard from the Derecho* that came through the Mid Atlantic the last weekend of June.  I asked them where they had purchased the barrel since I am on the lookout for them to build a rain barrel** and they gave us their extra half barrel!

The candles are citronella I found at Home Goods and the pillows are usually on our couches inside but are outdoor pillows from a few years ago at Pottery Barn.

We love it! Here’s hoping the humidty goes away for the fall sooner than later so it’s not so painful to sit outside!

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*No joke…I’ve pretty much taken the derecho as a sign from God that he’s cool with us cutting down the trees that used to be in the backyard. That storm was no joke.  All our neighbors called us genius the day after.

**I’m still looking for wine barrels! If you hear of anyone in Northern Virginia selling them for under $200 each let me know! That’s the best price I’ve been able to find so far online.

23. July 2012 · 5 comments · Categories: Backyard

Something we noticed about our property during our very first walk through with our real estate agent (love her, if you need one let me know) was that the fence while cute, was WAY past due for a replacement. According to our neighbors, a previous owner who built this fence died 15 years ago… that’s how long it’s lasted. Pretty impressive actually, especially considering we have crazy weather in Northern Virginia.

Apparently the sellers of our house were aware that the fence should be replaced too since they replaced one section… yeahhhhh. Keeping it classy.

Honestly though it’s a good thing they didn’t replace the entire fence because if we had a new 4 foot tall fence that might have been a bit of a bummer. Samson (our killer beast of a dog) can EASILY clear 4 feet when he jumps, and he’s good at “up” so naturally we needed a 6 foot fence. We’re also into having privacy in the backyard, you know, in case I want to plant a smooch on Montana, so the “neighborly” paneled fence wasn’t really the look we wanted.

Montana is going to school year round so we have to plan our big projects around his breaks. Clearly replacing the fence was a big project so I requested 3 days of leave from work. That would leave us with 5 days of work time to tear down the old fence and get up the new fence. We figured we could worry about staining it later. Totally do-able right?

Our beloved Lowes has some pretty great “How To” planning guides and videos on their website. We planned on doing a 6 foot privacy fence with 4×4 posts and use the pre-made fence panels that come in 8 foot sections. Our back fence was 64′ across, the right side fence was 61′ long, and then we had two 20′ sections and a 12′ section, which together equals…. a crap ton of fence and posts. Thankfully our neighbors on the left already have a 6′ privacy fence so that saved us a lot of time and money. By doing the pre-made panels we also wouldn’t have to worry about renting or buying an air compressor and nailer so that would save us some more money. (Unfortunately the closest Lowes or Home Depot to us that rents tools is about a half hour away, so renting is sometimes more inconvenient than its worth.)

That Tuesday night when I got home and started going over our plan one last time I had a major slight breakdown as I looked outside. For some reason it only sunk in at the 11th hour that our plan to use pre-made section was ridiculous. There are no flat parts of land in our backyard, and the fence along the back of the property is shaped like an upside down U. Technically I suppose we could have used the panels, but we would have been forced to use the stepping method which personally I think is less attractive and looks lazy, though admittedly would save boat loads of time during the install.

Thankfully there wasn’t too much involved in reworking the plan since we still were going to put the posts 8 feet apart.

Wednesday we spent all day either at Lowes picking out the supplies or waiting for the Lowes staff to load the truck. How on earth it takes 2.5 hours to load a truck I have no idea, but thankfully they only start charging you for your hour when you actually leave.

I had high hopes that once we actually started the work that things would go more smoothly. Don’t laugh! Remember we’re new to home ownership.

Thursday morning we started tearing down the fence. I used our reciprocal saw to cut the panels close to each post and then Montana came behind me and knocked/pulled the posts out of the ground. We had the whole thing down in about 2 hours. It was marvelous. Of course my hand was numb for a day afterwards from the vibrations but at least it was quick! I posted on Craigslist that we had free fence panels and people came to get all of them in 2 days. Not a bad way to get rid of stuff we’d otherwise have to pay to take to the dump!

By Thursday late day we started measuring and digging. You would think that measuring 8 feet sections would be easy enough but I think we measured each section about 3 times and still had problems. When we started digging our holes with the auger we found that it wasn’t as easy as the Lowes video makes it out to be. We’d dig about 4 inches and hit a rock.

Then dig another 2 inches and get stuck on a large root leftover from our monster trees that we’d have to go get the axe and try to break up enough to get it out of the way of our whole. It also doesn’t help that we have clay and our neighborhood was built on an old stone quarry (Hence Stoneybrooke). Needless to say getting to 24 inches deep took FOREVER and in some areas we gave up at 18 and called it good enough. We also had to stop and take out 5 stumps from trees along the fence line that had been removed by the previous owners but never dug up. Of course one of those stumps was on top of where a post needed to go.

We ran into another problem when we got up to the side of the house and started digging out the hole from the previous post and found that the cement was right up against the brick outside wall of our basement and went down about a foot. After staring at it for a while pondering and calling in a life line (Dad) we decided to just reuse their hole and put in a metal post. My dad said that it would probably be good bug wise to not have a wood post right up against the house anyway. I’m just thinking it will be nice to reuse the stainless steel post again for the next fence in 20 years. I’m optimistic like that.

Digging post holes took all day Friday and Saturday morning. Some of our besties from our old condo rental came over and helped dig the last of the holes. It’s good to have friends. Really good. The first half of the posts finally went up Saturday afternoon. Before cementing in any post we held up our 8 foot long 2 x 4 stingers to quadruple check that the posts would be in the right spot.

Unfortunately since some of our holes ended up being WAY wider than necessary because of all the rocks and roots we ended up with not enough cement. Also on Saturday night we had a rain storm so all our holes filled back up with water. I mentioned how this project was one pain in the butt after another right? I may or may not have started to shop-vac the water out of the holes before Montana pointed out that we could just mix the cement with the rainwater instead of carrying buckets around. He’s a smart one that husband of mine. Even the posts that were complete on Saturday were too wobbly because the dirt was still saturated on Sunday so we went to bed after our weekend with only our posts up. I was pretty bummed considering I had used up 3 days of my 20 yearly vacation days and we had so little to show for it but I guess that’s how things go. I told my mom on the phone that this was when I realized that house projects always seem to cost 150% of what you expect and take at least 3 times as long.

Monday I went back to work and left Montana and his brother home to start putting up the stringers. I returned home to this:

It was glorious. Simple pleasures. The three of us worked until dark that night and were thankfully able to get all the stringers up that day.

Tuesday after work we fastened our leftover stakes to the top of our posts and tied off string where we wanted the top of our pickets to sit. After a week of incredibly slow progress it felt soo soo good to see those pickets go up so quickly. I stood back to make sure the board was at the right height, Montana’s brother held the board in place and Montana screwed.

We decide just to put in 2 screws per board to place them and go back later and fill in the other 4 screws. That way we’d at least finally be able to let Samson run free again the backyard. He was not a fan of being tied up every time he went outside.

To be fair most of his days were spent like this:

There’s a free loader on every work site.

Ahhhh.. Finished at last!

Did I say finished? What I meant was ready to put on Thompson’s Waterproofer, which took no less than 3 weeks to complete between the sprayer being a total piece of worthless poop, and having to wait for the weather to give us at least 48 hours of no rain at a time (24 hours for the wood to dry out and 24 hours for the sealer to set). Harder than you would think for this area. But in the end it looks so nice and it the water beads up just like its supposed to!

Bottom Line: This was WAY harder than I thought it would be. But $1500 in materials and a bunch of work = better than $7-$10 grand!

**This is probably the longest post I will ever write… I’m pretty sure you’re not even reading this anymore. If you are… see me to collect your free drink. 🙂

31. May 2012 · 1 comment · Categories: Backyard

It’s been forever but I’m back! We’ve been busy bees working around the house so I have lots of stuff to post but haven’t had a break from the doing to talk about it!

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Crysta from Fern Gully is after me. Well… at least I think so. If you don’t know what Fern Gully is… then somehow you missed one of the early 90’s greatest eco-propaganda movies for kids.  It was fantastic.

We took down a few trees from the yard at the beginning of May, and by a few I mean five HUMONGOUS trees.  Even though I don’t at all regret the decision, I still can’t help but feel guilty about it. I blame Fern Gully.

When we moved in, our front yard had two maple trees and an oak tree. Our house faces south so the trees in the front yard are great for blocking out the sun and heat. Unfortunately they were so overgrown that although we have a ton of windows, our house was really dark during the day.


In the back we had two large maple trees (along with a handful of smaller ones that had sprouted up over the years and been allowed to grow), an oak, a cedar, and a crepe myrtle.  Although our lot is .20 acres, it felt like one of the smaller lots we had looked at during the buying process because the trees were so large in proportion to the yard.

When we moved in, I thought I just wanted to remove the maple tree closest to the house in back (about 15 feet away) because I was concerned about the massive root structure and that it would damage the basement walls eventually if allowed to keep growing.  Then we found out from our neighbors that when they removed the maple tree from the back corner of their property a few weeks before we moved in, its roots had already reached their house.  That convinced me that we should take out the second maple. The oak in the back was hollow so we knew it would have to be taken out eventually though it could probably have stayed a few more years.   The cedar was growing right up against the fence and didn’t make much sense where it was planted.

The first week we were in the house we received an estimate from the tree service that had done our neighbors yard.  Their proposal included removing the four trees from the back and pruning the front three trees.  It was higher than we anticipated but didn’t seem completely unreasonable.

The second company, Absolute Tree Service, pointed out that the oak tree in front was not only hollow but infested and considered a hazard.  They suggested we take that tree down because they thought it was likely to fall in a storm.   Luckily even including taking down an extra tree, the second service was able to save us a few thousand dollars off the first estimate.  They did a great job and we definitely understand why they were rated so high on Angie’s List.  I would highly recommend them for anyone in Fairfax County needing some tree work done.

Now that the trees are gone our yard looks huge! I can’t even believe how much room we have now that we don’t have to work around the trees.

Of course even when you’re paying someone else to help out, one project always leads to another. The roots from the backyard have been redistributed since they were bug free (unlike the infested tree in front), and we saved a piece of stump to eventually use in the house as soon as I settle on a location.   I’ll admit the yard looks pretty rough in these pictures but we’ve been working hard every weekend since to clean things up  and I’ll have posts up detailing those projects soon. Soon-ish? Ok, eventually!

How do you decide which projects to contract out and which to do yourself?

Does anyone else have guilt over removing plants and trees from their yard or am I just crazy!?