Cutting the Tree/Vine Weed

Once we had our new shed site level and the 4x4's marking where we would build the shed, we realized that the tree-vine hanging into our yard from the neighbor's yard was going to be in our way. So S pulled out his ladder and cut back a whole bunch of branches.
Which just left us a with a huge pile of brush to be cut down to four foot lengths for the county to take away.
The giant tree/vine grows like a weed so it's probably going to be overhanging the new shed again in a few weeks. We'd really like for our neighbors to cut it down and replace it with a nice crepe myrtle or some other pretty tree that doesn't drop tons of ugly, messy, dirty weedy things that stain everything they touch each spring. Unfortunately I think it's just a big old battle that we're going to have to fight with a ladder and a saw a few times every season.

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Leveling the Shed Site...Again

After the big revelation where S's only response was, "have I told you how much I love you?" We each called our parents for second, third, fourth, and fifth opinions. I don't know what opinions three and four were, but I do know S's parents wondered why we wanted the shed in the middle of the yard in the first place. My parents, on the other hand, thought that we'd like it wherever we put it, but were pretty keen on the idea of putting the shed at the top of the driveway.

We convened on the back step after our respective phone calls and decided that yes, even though it's a ton of work, we'd probably be better off with the shed at the top of the driveway instead of where S spent days leveling in the middle of the side yard. What? I wanted a private yard and I didn't really know that a four foot high fence would satisfy me, I can change my mind, right? Plus, having the shed at the top of the driveway would leave us with one long continuous green space in the side yard, if we remove one of the giant acuba bushes, that would be much better for throwing the ball with Feeney, or for wooing potential buyers with a big green "back yard," if we ever decide to sell.

We took a bunch of 4x4's leftover from Friday's fence installation and laid them out where we wanted to build the shed. S had to dig out a few big pieces of concrete that use to be directly in front of the old fence, but were now over a foot in front of the new fence, which was built directly on our property line.
We arranged the 4x4's so that the left side of the shed will be exactly four feet from the fence that surrounds the basement entry, which is four feet from the side of the house. However, we needed enough space to fit our trashcans so we can wheel them to their new home in the tiny strip of "back" yard, and the four foot on either side of the basement entry fence measurement means the whole area will look nice and symmetrical. Unfortunately this means that the front door of the shed will open half to grass and half to pavement, which is totally not the look I want. I'm hoping we'll be able to dig up a bunch of pavement and replace it with grass, since it's an absolute eye-sore and we don't use the area next to the house as a driveway anyway.

With our rough plan in place, S spent much of Saturday afternoon and evening leveling off the new shed site at the top of the driveway. Since half of the shed will sit on the concrete & asphalt of the driveway S only had to dig out a 7x10 area of sod, which he placed in the nice level dirt area where he had just removed sod from the old site last week. I am feeling plenty of guilt over the whole change of heart, but this new plan is what S wanted in the first place, so I'll just keep telling myself that he won.

On Sunday morning S, now an expert, placed concrete squares in the corners and leveled the entire new site.
I did a little math to figure out our diagonal measurement, marked the length on a string, and we squared up the concrete pads to the 10x14 dimensions.
Feeney inspected:

We moved all the extra lumber leftover from the fence away from in front of the new shed site and over to the old shed site. While we moved it we counted the boards and were happy to discover that we have enough leftover wood to replace the chain link fence surrounding the basement entrance with a wood fence.
See, the chain link is ugly, which is compounded by the junk hanging off of it and the rubbermaid totes of free plants hanging out behind it.
We should even have enough wood to build two three foot sections perpendicular to the surround to create a hidden nook for the trash cans, which means we won't have to use those two grayed picket fence sections that we saved when we demo'd the old fence.

Things are really starting to take shape out there. Tomorrow we'll share a few more photos of the work-in-progress and explain our current master plan for the yard.

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I Love You Enough to Dig and Dig and Dig Some More

This weekend I told you about our new fence, and I mentioned the area that S leveled for the shed we're going to build. We positioned the new shed in the middle of the side yard so that it would create a private area to its left, in the back corner of our yard. S had to dig into the side of the slope of our yard so we could build the shed as close to the property line as possible, hence the need for our faux retaining wall to make everything look neat.

I also mentioned that the new fenced-in "J" yard felt very private even though it only has a four foot high fence surrounding it. We put our lounge chairs in the area and when we're sitting down it doesn't feel like our little dead-end street is just on the other side of the fence. On Saturday as we ate our lunch on the lounge chairs in the new yard area, looking over the new faux retaining wall and the perfectly level shed site, I said to S, "do you think that's still the best place for the new shed?"

Love is spending multiple days and evenings digging and leveling and moving sod, and drenching yourself in gallons and gallons of sweat in 90+ degree heat only to have your wife mention that she thinks that perhaps you were right in the first place and could you please level off that area over there so we can build the shed where you originally wanted to put it?

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Building a Faux Retaining Wall

After the fence guys left we zipped over to the Depot, where we bought ten 16 foot long 1x6 pieces of pressure treated lumber for our faux retaining wall.
I wish I thought to take a photo of the lumber in S's car, 'cause it didn't exactly fit and at least three people stopped as we were loading the lumber to tell us that we needed to get red flags for the ends of the boards. We took their advice (we were already planning to) and made it home safely.

We laid the first 16 foot boards in place, leveled it, and screwed it into place. From there S alternated eight foot and 16 foot sections to stagger the seams like any real wall. After S had a few courses of boards screwed to the 4x4 fence posts, we carefully filled the dead space behind the faux wall with the pieces of concrete that had been in the same place before.
Each piece is nestled into the ground as they had been before and the gaps are all filled with dirt. As soon as the heat breaks we'll spread some seed on the back side of the wall so our neighbors won't have to look at dirt until their grass eventually fills the space.

We quit work when it got dark around nine o'clock on Friday night, and yesterday morning S was nearly finished with the faux wall when, you guessed it, we ran out of wood.
So now we have the fence, a 90% complete faux retaining wall, and a level site for the shed all ready for our next big project off the to-do list.
We'll pick up another few pieces of 1x6's to finish the faux wall when we rent a Depot pickup truck for the big shed shopping trip this week. So far we're really liking the way the faux retaining wall looks and even though we didn't cut very much slope off of the yard, it's making the area feel bigger already.

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A New Fence & Backyard

Our major summer to-do list lists windows, shed, fence. We finished the windows a while ago and yesterday the fence was installed. Two fence guys showed up at 8:30, another two joined them at 2 and they were cleaned up and pulled out of the driveway at 3:30. Pretty amazing considering they dug all the post holes by hand.
Which all just made us really appreciate that we paid for this job instead of doing the labor ourselves.

We had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to place the fence and how we wanted it to look. Because we live on a corner lot it sometimes feel like we're living in a fishbowl when we're out in the yard. S doesn't mind so much, but I grew up on 20 acres of farm and woods, so while I'm all for being friends with the neighbors, being under a microscope every time I step out the door just isn't my thing.

With that being said, we didn't want to box out our neighbors' yards, so we asked the fence guys to take the six foot fence along our back property line and step it down to four feet in line with our neighbor's porch. And just to make sure things all looked neat and pretty, we had them taper down between the two heights with a section angled to match the angle of the neighbor's porch rail.
After all, it is their front yard and we wanted to make sure we were improving everyone's view, not just our own.
To create a private space for ourselves and a safe place for Feeney, we had the guys install a "J" shaped section of fence enclosing our side, front yard. This was an entirely new design for the Hive so we went in blind on this idea. I could not be happier with the result.
Feeney is pretty psyched about it too, but unfortunately he needs a gate across the driveway or an invisible fence; squirrels are just too fascinating for him to stay confined to the yard. Maybe we'll use some L.L.Bean gift cards from our wedding on an invisible fence for the Feen.
We chose to go with a four foot high fence along our side property line because with the height difference between our yard and our neighbor's house a six foot fence wouldn't have provided any more privacy than a four. This is also the side where S dug into the side of the little hill to level an area for our shed. We had the fence guys dig the posts three feet below the grade of our yard, which left several inches of exposed fence posts where we'll put the faux retaining wall we told you about last week. The open area is a little shocking, and we're really glad we didn't go with a taller fence. Once we have the faux retaining wall boards in place it should all look quite spiffy.

We're really happy with how the fence turned out and I'm in love with the new "backyard" we created. S will create the faux retaining wall this weekend and on Sunday he and his dad will rent a truck from the Home Depot and pick up all our shed supplies.

By this time next week we'll be showing you progress photos of our new shed; we're really tackling the summer to-do list with a vengeance!

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Special Delivery!

Yesterday I woke to the sound of a truck backing up our street, which juuuust happened to have a delivery on it for us. No, it wasn't our office furniture finally arriving from Crate & Barrel, it was something even better. Our fence pieces arrived!
After work S finished up the last of the digging for our faux retaining wall and made sure everything was ready for the big fence day.
We're pretty excited for our new fence. I think Feeney might be the most excited since a new fence means a safe area for him to chase his ball.

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Free Plants!

Earlier this week S's dad forwarded us a craigslist posting from a family that wanted to get rid of all the plants in their backyard. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the house with all the plants was only a few blocks away from the Hive. So after a few emails back and forth with the plant-giver-awayers, we headed over with a couple of rubbermaid totes, a shovel, and a shower curtain for the trunk of my car.

To say we were shocked by the sheer number of plants the family was giving away would be an understatement. Apparently the previous owner had the backyard landscaped prior to selling it less than two years ago, but when they did they overfilled the space with plants so it would look good for the sale. Now the new homeowners just want a grassy space for their young kids to play and were eager to get the over-planed area cleared out. We were happy to help.

We spent 45 minutes furiously digging peonies, boxwoods and other shrubs and flowers. We lowered the seats in my car and filled the entire space chock full of plants. It was amazing.
The timing was perfect since we want to landscape the space in front of our new fence as soon as it's installed this week. We wanted to plant a bunch of boxwoods and had planned to visit a nursery over the 4th of July weekend. No need for that now.
I had hoped to plant the peonies in the same area, but my mom said they need full sun, so we planted them last night, alternating with daisies from S's parents, in front of the renovated office/sun porch.
It also gave us the perfect opportunity to install the white square lattice trim that we ordered from Lowe's weeks ago and finally picked up last weekend.

We wish we could go back for more plants, but for now watering the totes full of plants we have and just trying to keep everything alive during this week of record-breaking temps is all we can handle. If we can keep all these plants alive, then it will be just the finishing touches our yard has been begging us for.

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Even More Light in the Kichen!

When we tackled the recessed lights project in the kitchen last winter we cut a hole in the ceiling above the sink with the expectation that we would hang a pendant lamp there at some point in the near future. S and his dad strung a wire to the space from the closest recessed light, so the pendant would switch on at the same time as all the recessed lights. It turns out that we should have strung a separate wire directly from the wall switch so we could turn the pendant on by itself, but in the middle of the winter we weren't thinking about how much heat the recessed lights would throw off, and that in the middle of a summer heatwave we'd really prefer to just flip on the one light. We could go back and string an entirely new wire to the wall switch, but that would require removing several recessed lights, which inevitably means patching chips in the ceiling, a task I'm just not up for again.

As you may remember, several weeks ago we bought a hand blown seeded glass pendant lamp to hang in the empty space. It has been sitting under the kitchen table for two weeks now, next to the broken book shelf that we're waiting for Crate & Barrel to exchange. We did the mad weekend cleaning yesterday in anticipation of the brownie sundae father's day celebration we threw last night, and while I was upstairs scrubbing toilets, S pulled out the drill and a junction box and went to town hanging the pendant. How's that for a contribution to the cleaning effort? Even though we don't quite have the final wiring scheme in place, we decided having the light hanging is a lot more aesthetically pleasing than having it under a table.

S trimmed the hole in the ceiling just a tad bit to fit the junction box and then screwed the box into a joist. Because there are two joists running parallel about three inches from each other, we decided to mount the bracket that the pendant hangs from to the joists themselves. The box we used could have supported the weight of the pendant, but we figured that the extra security by using extra long screws into wood would serve us well in the long run - ya know just in case we have kids some day who decide to swing from the ceiling or something.
Hanging the pendant itself was really a two person job. And by two person job I don't mean S hung it while I took photos. The lamp was seriously heavy. But we made quick work of hanging it, which is a good thing since we only gave ourselves about an hour to get it in place and the kitchen cleaned before the sundae making commenced.
We can't say that the kitchen is finished since we still need to figure out how to get the new light on its own switch (and by figure out I mean wait 'til my dad's next visit), but we can say that it's 99% finished.
And we can enjoy having this beautiful light hanging above the sink, which happens to look fabulous both when it's switched on and off.

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Father's Day Napkin Origami

If you're having your dad over for a father's day meal, you have to check out this cool origami tutorial showing how to fold a napkin into the shape of a collared shirt.
Of course if you're like us you'll invite your dad over, ask him to wear his work clothes, hand him a shovel or a hammer, and ask him to work for that meal. Geesh, they're such good sports; we love our dads!

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How to Hire-Out and DIY the Same Fence

fence, outsideA few weeks ago I told you that we were trying to decide whether to tackle building a fence, a shed, or both. After calling in several fence companies the quote we received for the best price happened to come from the company whose post-holes would be the deepest. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal since our frost line is only 18 inches deep, but along one edge of our property we have a short steep hill right where we want the fence to run. We wanted the fence company to dig the post holes at least two feet below the lowest grade at the bottom of the little hill.

Before we made our final selection we asked the sales guy from our chosen fence company to come back for a second visit. Not only did he agree that our request to go below the lowest grade would be our best plan, he helped us figure out a way to make a hired-out fence job into a major DIY project for us. You didn't think we were going to pay someone to install a fence and not figure out how to make another huge project for ourselves did you?

So before the fence installers arrive next Friday, we'll be quasi leveling the lot and cutting off the side of the little hill in preparation for our faux retaining wall. You can see where S started the Big Dig here:
Along the back 16 feet of this side of our yard, the fence will be four feet high, measured from the top of the grass closest to our neighbor's house (that's their house, above). But below that four feet of fence 12-24 inches of fence posts will be revealed. We plan to attach 1x6 boards horizontally to exposed fence posts, creating a short faux retaining wall.

We're not totally crazy gluttons for punishment; the only reason we're creating this faux retaining wall is because we need a level area for our new shed, which we'll be building as soon as the fence guys depart. Because we want to place the shed as close to the property line setback as possible, we had to dig into the side of the small hill. I suppose we could have planted some grass behind the shed and called it a day, but we think this will look much nicer, and it will allow us to claim that we DIY'd at least a small portion of the new fence.

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Defining the Sun Room's Functions with Rugs

We finished the sun room / office renovation a few weeks ago, but at that time we couldn't reveal the new space. My bookshelf didn't fit in the room and we needed to find some new storage furniture before we could make any finishing touches worthy of a big reveal.

Along with housing my new office and my office-y supplies, we intended the room to have a seating area, or at least have a spot where S could sit and talk to me when he got home from work. I originally intended to use furniture to break the room into its multiple sections and I hoped to find a natural fiber rug to unify the oddly shaped room, but the $800 price tag for a custom sisal rug had me looking at other options.

The room is 7x14.5 so a 5x8 rug, which seemed to be the primary option for most rugs, centered in the room would leave too much of the black and white tiles, currently on the floor, visible around its edges. On a whim this morning I went to the Pottery Barn Web site to assess their rug options for the gazillionth time, our wedding gift cards burning a hole in my pocket. And that's when I saw what I hope will be perfect in our room:
Pottery Barn's 6' round jute rug, on sale. I emailed S the link to the rugs and while I waited for his response, a sign arrived in my inbox in the form of a 10% off coupon from Pottery Barn. How could I not buy the rugs with that kind of intervention? I bought two of them, one for the "seating" area and one for my "office" area, to define each of the spaces while giving an overall sense of uniformity to the room. 

Now we just need to wait for the delivery truck to arrive with the rugs from PB and the storage furniture from C&B. Oh and we have to find some slipper chairs to actually sit on in the newly defined seating area...details.

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How to Cut a Watermelon

It's summer and it's hot out, which means it's time to eat watermelon. Lots and lots and lots of watermelon. This tutorial shows you how to cut a watermelon, or any melon, into perfect little cubes.

1. To start cut your watermelon in half from core to end, and then in half again to make four quarters.
2. On one side slice the watermelon 3-4 times, each an inch apart, holding the blade parallel to the side you're not cutting. Here, a photo explains that better:
3. Repeat this step on the other side:
4. Cut across the top, each cut an inch apart, perpendicular to the slices you just made:
5. Remove all the loose cubes you just created:
6. Cut off all the remaining cubes by slicing along the rind on both sides of the watermelon:
7. Repeat with the other three quarters

And there you have it: perfect little cubes of watermelon. Toss these guys with some feta and mint, throw a burger on the grill, and you're ready to enjoy your back yard.

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Multiple Frames Hung with Precision

Even though we're not ones to display photos of family and friends around the Hive, a few months ago I bought five big square frames from Ikea and had several black & white prints made of a few of our favorite wedding photos. Since then the photos have remained untouched as we tackled other more major projects. During a recent visit with my parents super hot temps and sticky humidity had us cooped up inside, so as S and my dad tackled more electrical work, my mom and I set to work displaying our wedding photos.

Armed with picture hanging wire, hanging hooks, a hammer, tape measure, and calculator, we set to work calculating exactly how to space the photos along the tall, narrow wall above the landing in our stairwell.
First I measured the entire wall height from the ceiling to the baseboard. Then I measured the height of each frame, and multiplied by five, since I wanted to hang all five frames on the narrow wall. I subtracted the total height of the frames from the total height of the wall and divided by six - four spaces between each frame and the space below the bottom and above the top frames. This gave me three and some odd inches. Since "three and some odd" wasn't going to cut it, I decided to make the spaces at the ceiling and at the baseboard four inches. I went back to my calculation, subtracted eight from my original number (four times two) and then divided by four (a space between each of five frames), which gave me 3" between each frame. Perfect.

Next I had to calculate exactly where to hammer each picture hanging hook into the wall. Since each frame's hanging wire was secured at a slightly different height, I took the frame with the photo we decided should go on the bottom - the one with Lexi in it so I could look directly at her every time I walk upstairs - and literally hung it from the tape measure. This step is key; you have to have the entire weight of the frame pulling on its hanging wire or the measurement will be off. I measured to the top of the frame and subtracted this number from the height of the frame to give me the measurement of exactly where the hook needed to be. To this number I added four, since I wanted the entire frame to be four inches from the baseboard.

I then measured the width of my wall and divided by two to find its center point. I measured up from the baseboard, marked where the bottom of the hook should sit and then put a piece of masking tape where the nail would enter the wall. The masking tape trick keeps a plaster wall from cracking and crumbling when nailing into it. Then I lined up the bottom of the hook with my mark and nailed the hook into the wall. Don't forget that your mark is where you should place the bottom of the hook, not your nail!
With photo one in place, I did the same hang-from-the-tape-measure trick with photo number two, except this time after subtracting the measurement from the height of the frame, I added three, the number of inches that I wanted between each frame. Thankfully my math was correct and number one frame and number two frame were precisely where I wanted them.
I continued on up the wall until all five frames were hanging with equal spaces between them. I only had to ask S for help once when I couldn't reach the spot for the very top frame while hanging off the banister and holding my breath. Instead I held the ladder while S reached around from the top landing with the hammer. I was grateful we didn't make headlines saying "woman loses grip on ladder while husband hangs wedding photos," not that the irony wouldn't be amusing on some level.

Now when we walk upstairs we're greeted with this montage of wedding photos, which is a nice reminder of how much we love each other, especially on those days when I look to the left and see dirty socks hanging from the banister. ;)

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New Helping Hand, err Paws

As I mentioned yesterday, we were at a friend's wedding in North Carolina last weekend. It was a pretty significant weekend since my birthday was on Friday and we got to hang out with a bunch of friends we hadn't seen since our wedding. But perhaps most exciting is that we picked up our new dog, who is now our new helping hand.
Well, maybe not a helping hand, but it's kind of fun to have a big black furry thing to talk to when you're outside taking apart the shed that's falling in on itself, smashing fence posts with huge chunks of concrete to bend and break time to fit in trash bins, or digging sod and leveling the yard for a new shed.
And I'm particularly happy to have a buddy to run with me, even if he isn't setting any land-speed records.

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Surprises Under the Shed

S had the day off today, which was pretty cool since we were away all weekend at a wedding and didn't get to do any work around the Hive. He went outside early this morning with the intention of mowing the lawn and cutting a few more fence posts so they would fit in our trash barrels. A few hours later he came into my office asking me to come outside to see what he found.
He had moved on from cutting fence posts to disassembling the shed that's falling in on itself and he found lovely white Lee jeans with big tears in the rear and knees that are now sitting in our trash bin. I tried to convince him to keep them to wear out on special occasions, but they're a little funky and it's probably best if we don't mess up our washing machine with these beauties.

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Hydrating our Cutting Boards

We got a few great wooden cutting boards as wedding gifts last summer. I love the way the look and how they don't dull the blades of our knives, but the cuts and marks left behind by the knives were starting to bug me. The nearly-new boards were looking kind of dingy. So the other day when I was shopping at Crate & Barrel for storage for my office I popped on over to the kitchen section and asked the ladies how to upkeep our boards.

I thought the kitchen ladies were going to tell me to just deal with my not-so-new looking boards, but instead they showed me a specialty oil for our wood cutting boards. I bought a bottle and last night I treated all of our wooden cutting boards.
The one on top is years old and has never been treated so it doesn't look as good as new, but trust me, these cutting boards look infinitely better than they did just a few minutes earlier. I'm sure a little olive oil would hydrate the boards just fine, but this stuff worked really well and it promises to "penetrate, condition and seal unfinished surfaces, even protecting [my] cutlery from corrosion. Regular use prevents cracking, drying and odor absorption" No odors? No mangoes that taste like onions? Great, I'm sold!

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