January 28, 2015

Back yard plans, part 2: The Overall Design

Now that you've seen what we're working with, here's what we've done to get "Operation: Beautiful Back Yard" started.

First David whipped up a "floor plan" and printed several copies for us to doodle on. (This is just one of the MANY reasons why being married to an engineer is the best thing ever.) We each drew our rough visions for the yard, shared them with each other, then critiqued and revised and discussed ad nauseum. He needed a clear path from the shed clear around to the front yard for mowing purposes. I needed a clear view from the kitchen and living room windows of any play areas. We both wanted seating under the patio and better privacy from our neighbors. After several revisions, discussions and disagreements, seemingly brilliant ideas and discouraging vetoes, and finally we ended up with this:

It might not look like much to you but it makes my heart go all pitter-patter because plans! Projects! Possibilities! I love that stuff!

Here's the key (you can cross reference with this post to see pictures of what things look like now if that helps):

1. This is the storage shed. Nothing's changing here.

2. This is the kitchen, which has a huge window overlooking the yard and a door opening onto the patio. I only included this to help you orient yourself.

3. Since we already have pavers and a cabinet here, we plan to use it for our cooking space. Not sure yet how much will be freestanding and how much will be built-in, but we'd like a grill, possibly a brick oven, and some storage in this corner. (There's a photo in this post that shows what we're thinking.)

4. The sandbox is here, and it's like three times the size of the one in the image below. There is plumbing and a spigot right next to it which David plans to turn into a drinking fountain.

5. David wants to put a platform around the mulberry tree. I'm leaning more toward a bench...nothing too big but still surrounding the tree. We're still figuring out details here.

6. We will be pouring a series of long thin concrete slabs to serve as a walkway to the alley gate.

7. A raised bed planter will go along the back wall. I want to fill it with a bunch of succulents and desert grasses.

8. We'll build a playhouse around this big tree. I showed a really simple and pretty idea in this post, but David has something else in mind. It's more complicated but could be really cool if it works out. Since that's his baby, I'll let him tell you about it as it comes together.

9. More raised beds, including a peninsula out into the yard. Most if not all of this will be vegetable garden.

10. I'm not sure if we'll pave this or not, but this area will remain clear so David can wheel out the lawn mower and access the shed as needed. We'll also put a small planting bed against this wall for something bright and pretty to climb--probably bougainvillea or yellow bells. We're LOVING this trellis as inspiration.

11. The patio will have a freestanding table and chairs for eating, as well as a built-in seating area by the pillars, which will be bulked up to be part of the bench seating. We both like this concrete and cantilevered wood bench. Storage will probably be added under the windows so we can have picnic blankets, throw pillows, toys, and other outside things handy.

You can look at our Pinterest boards to see more images that are inspiring us right now (David's and mine). We're leaning toward a sleek, minimalist, slightly industrial look that uses lots of concrete and wood. To soften that, we'll have a billion plants, give or take a few, both in the landscaping and in hanging baskets and pots.

We will have to strike a balance between our not-at-all-modern house and what we do in the backyard, so don't expect to see anything ultra-modern or avant garde. But you may be surprised when you see what colors I'm testing out on the block wall!

(Spoiler: we're going black and I'm so excited!)

All images except the floor plan are from Houzz.com.

January 27, 2015

Project Paralysis and Careful Cropping

Before I tell you more about our plans for the back yard, let's talk about our biggest and longest-running project to date: the kitchen.

It's beautiful, isn't it?

That's because I spent an hour yesterday wiping down cabinet doors, sanding and oiling counters, and polishing appliances...in ONE CORNER of the kitchen.

This is what the rest of it looks like:

So many things that need new homes.

Hard water residue and fingerprints on everything.

I'm not even going to show you the floor. Yikes.

And that's just mess. From living. Today I'm tackling the fridge--inside and out--and tomorrow I'll take care of whatever is left. But when will we finish the actual remodel? The sanding and painting and installing the final pieces?

That I don't know.

But I've been thinking about a couple things.

1) We so often reach a point in projects where things are "good enough" and we stop. Our kitchen is fully functional. It meets our needs. With the exception of the range hood, we really don't have to finish anything. And because of that, there's not much motivation to make time for it right now. When it looked like this?

We wanted to bust our buns to get it done. Now? Eh. We've come a long way. It'll do.

How do you push yourself to complete things? I am legitimately looking for answers here, as I've been stuck in kitchen limbo for nearly six months now. Where is the drive to just get it done already?

2) It's easy to look at carefully cropped and staged images of homes (or people, or anything really) and think, gosh that's gorgeous. And it is! But you have to remember that you aren't seeing the whole picture...which might be equally gorgeous but might instead look like my cluttered counter and smudgy fridge.

Sometimes it's good to see the whole picture because it reminds you that life isn't staged. It's raw and real and sometimes messy, and that's okay.

On the other hand, sometimes it's good to focus on those cropped vignettes because those perfect little moments can be restful and inspiring. Seeing my little fruit bowl next to my clean stove and beautiful backsplash makes me really proud of what we've accomplished thus far. It also makes me want to get the rest of the kitchen to that point: shiny and happy and done.

I don't have any profound conclusions here. I do think, however, that I need to schedule a kitchen warming party and a photo shoot. Maybe I just need a deadline and some people to show off to. Because I am lazy and vain. And because once it fiiiiiinnnaaaalllllyyyy gets done, it really will be amazing.

January 26, 2015

Mila Monday

Amelia: 191 weeks + Margot: 93 weeks

I've been trying to find more sources of quality, local produce, so on Saturday we went to the Gilbert Farmers Market. The girls rode in the truck wagon David made for them last Christmas.

Eventually David wants to write up a post or two about how he made it. They love being pulled around and almost always attract a crowd when we take it places. No surprises there: the wagon and its passengers are pretty dang cute.

January 21, 2015

Back yard plans, part 1: Creating Zones

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Also, all the images are from Houzz.com, which is officially my new favorite resource for home ideas. The images contain links; if you like one, click on it and pin it from that source. Please and thank you.

Once our kitchen remodel started winding down (Don't worry! We'll post photos and share all the details when it's done! I promise!) we got to talking about the back yard in earnest. The weather is beautiful right now; it's hard not to want to be out there enjoying it. But you've seen what it looks like out there. Not exactly relaxing and inviting.

We decided pretty quickly that while we want to maximize the available space, we don't want to crowd out the existing lawn with patio furniture and play structures. We want the yard to feel peaceful and happy, not overwhelming and overfull! In order to make the best use of our square footage, we needed to answer one big question:

What do we even want to do in our back yard?

Answering that narrowed things down fast. We identified five "zones" to meet the wants and needs of our little family:

1) A zone for playing. This seems obvious, but we want to have a place for our kids to have fun. We live just around the corner from a huge park with swings, slides, and ample space for playing sports. However, we still want to provide our girls with a space of their own to explore and imagine. For us, this means some grass for running, a sandbox for digging, and some kind of play house. That's mostly David's domain, though, so I'll let him flesh out his ideas for you later.

2) A zone for cooking. At its most basic, this means getting a freestanding gas grill . But an evening eating gourmet pizza with the Proof people got David's wheels turning. Who am I to argue with him when good food is involved? Maybe we'll build our own brick oven...or maybe we could just get something like a Blackstone outdoor oven and call it good. We'll see.

3) A zone for eating and socializing. I don't want to just cook outside when the weather is nice, I want to be able to eat outside too. And we both really want to be able to have friends over to join in the back yard barbecue fun. Fakesgiving is coming, after all! Right now we're thinking about a mix of built-in seating and moveable furniture.

4) A zone for relaxing. I would like nothing more than to spend my afternoons kicked back with a good book and some iced mint lemonade while the girls entertain themselves. I need a hammock. Or a swing. Or a chaise. Or something along those lines. I'm not super picky. I'd love something like this hanging patio lounge chair but it's a leeeetle out of my price range. But doesn't it look like a cozy little nest? Sigh.

 5) A zone for growing. We keep chasing this dream of growing our own food. Thus far we've been terrible at it, but we intend to keep trying till we figure it out. Plus I need more landscaping out there in general. This one is my territory, so I'm researching low-maintenance, high-impact plants that will thrive in particular areas of the yard. Adios, oleander. Hello, bougainvillea.

Now that we know what we want from our back yard, we just need to figure out where to put everything and what we want it to look like when it's done. You know. No big deal.


We spent a lot of time on Pinterest and Houzz, but there's only so many inspiring pictures you can look at before you have to start making some decisions. The next step for us was to take some measurements and start the real planning. David drew up a "floor plan" so we could map things out...but that's a post for another day! Stay tuned!

What do you think? Did we miss a "zone"? What would you include in--or leave out of--your dream back yard?

January 20, 2015

Our back yard is sad.

Remember how I told you there's be a lot more messy reality around here? Well, here's one of our biggest messes.

When we were house hunting, we really wanted a home with a yard. In this land of urban sprawl, that's harder to come by than you might think. Newer houses practically spoon each other! We knew we wanted space for our kids to run and play, space for a garden, and space to entertain. While it's not a massive amount, our house definitely has enough space for all those things. And that's all we wanted.

The problem is that we haven't used it the way we wanted to. Our back yard has looked approximately like this for the last two and a half years. (Cue embarrassing photo dump. I moved/cleaned/retouched nothing when taking these. Don't judge us too harshly.)

Let's start on the patio. It's big! It's covered! It's a disaster!

And yes, our Christmas tree is still out there. Our chest freezer needs a permanent home--maybe in the garage--and we need to get rid of all those empty boxes. The previous owners had a large dog (you may remember the stained carpet in the master bedroom?) so the walls are filthy where the beast rubbed up against them. There is one harsh light and that's it. Spiderwebs cover our windows and a hornet is building a nest on the sliding door to the master bedroom. I'm not proud of any of it. Looking from the house out to the yard isn't much prettier.

It's just a cheap builder's grade patio. Those pillars make me nervous, since the bottoms are starting to deteriorate. David doesn't like that we can see into our neighbor's house (and, he assumes, they can see into ours) so he tacked up those lovely blue things. And any time the ground gets wet, someone slips and falls. It needs work.

If you turn right from the patio you see this:
There's a lot of entertaining potential here that we're not taking advantage of. Doesn't help that the cabinet is in terrible shape--the doors are crooked and falling off--and we have no grill. (We did once. It's still a source of contention in our marriage. I don't want to talk about it.) Along that same side wall we have our new sandbox:

David still has some work to do, but it's already a happy place for the girls to play...if the neighbor's cat would stop pooping in it. We'll talk more about the sandbox another day. This is also where we put our original garden which did not end well. This corner is where we moved the garden, with a little more success.
Those piles of dirt are from where the sandbox is now. We have plans for them. For now, they sit. David used the frame from one garden box to frame out the cement for the sandbox, so that's what happened there. The big tree is fantastic, although it could stand to be pruned, but the oleander has to go. 1) It's poisonous and I know my kids will try to eat it because they try to eat everything. 2) I'm allergic to oleanders. Ugh.

The other corner on this side looks like this:

We feel pretty lucky to have that big shed to store yard maintenance equipment and all kinds of other things too. We also feel lucky to have a decent sprinkler system that only needed a few tweaks to be functional (and on a timer!) after we moved in. This patch of grass is where we put the kiddie pool in the summer and sprawl on a blanket to read in the spring. Before the sandbox, it was probably the most used bit of the yard.

Just for perspective, here are two more shots:
The yard is narrow but quite long.

It's just not being used very well. AT ALL. We want to change that.

We've been looking at a lot in inspiration photos on Pinterest, taking measurements, and making, discussing, and revising plans to maximize all this space that we are so happy to have. We'll be sharing some of our ideas and our thought process with you soon. Until then, maybe you have some suggestions of your own.

What would you do with this wide, boring yard? Maybe more helpful, what do you have going on in your own yard and you're happy with? We'd love to get some outside opinions!
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