Widening the Front Steps

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

For the past couple of years we have spent all of our time and energy working on projects inside the house.  Andrew has tried every spring so far to convince me that we should hire a lawn care company to help turn our pathetic patchy weed-scape into a luscious green lawn worthy of being seen in the same neighborhood as those of the beauties that surround us.  We're talking real first-world lawn envy.  Every year, I have said "next year."  

So.... he finally held me to it.

While hubby was having his lawn envy, I had a wishlist of other curb appeal projects.  Since some of our landscaping dreams for the front of the house included hardscape items that would tear up the lawn, we decided to get those out of the way first.  

The front yard had a few trouble spots that we wanted to fix: the entry, the garden design, a depressed area in the center of the lawn, and the absence of a tree.

We planted a tree a few weeks ago, which crossed one thing off our list.  It's a Pink Flowering Dogwood and I am so excited for this baby to bloom!  It should blend into the Bradford Pears that fill the front lawns of our neighborhood in terms of size (eventually), but I'm so excited to see the pink flowers against all the white in the neighborhood.

As far as the steps, we wanted to make them wider so they would match the width of the existing landing, which is about 6'.  As it is, most people don't like using our front door because of how narrow the original steps are, and these awful bushes on either side encroach into the already narrow space, making it a tight squeeze.  Besides that, the builder slapped them in without much prep work and the angle is terrible.  It feels like you are walking up a huge incline even though the ground barely slopes here.  If we leveled the area, we would actually have space for two steps versus the original one, making the entry even more spacious and comfortable.

Researching our options for new stairs was rather overwhelming and unfortunately we realized that most stone options were not easy to come by in our area, especially in the 6' width we were dreaming of.  We also considered repouring the steps from concrete and covering them with brick or veneer, but that proved to be just as overwhelming and eventually led us to settle on the fact that increasing the size and opening the area up would be amazing regardless of the material we used.  Plus, making the concession to do plain poured concrete steps lowered the cost of the project and made it easier for me to convince Andrew to recreate the sidewalk with pavers!

Thankfully, my dad is a pretty handy guy and a super hard worker, so between him and our oldest, AJ, the bushes came out and the old steps and sidewalk got busted up in about an hour.

Then the real work began.  In order to lay the pavers we had to dig the entire area (plus about 6" on each side to allow space to work and place the edging) to a depth of about 7".  This was the most labor intensive part of the whole process and please take me seriously when I say it was a lot of hard work.  If it wasn't for my dear old dad, we never would have gotten past this point.

The silver lining was that it also created a lot of dirt.  Since the dirt had to go somewhere, we decided to dump it into "the hole".  This large sunken area right in the middle of our front yard was another item on our wish list to fix.  Since the opportunity presented itself, we decided to use what we had and fix two problems at once.  In the end, we had more than enough dirt to fill in the hole, another area that had needed filling, backfill around the pavers, and we still had a couple wheelbarrows to dump elsewhere.  It never ceases to amaze me how much dirt fits in such a tiny space.  Of course, we realize that we will need to add more dirt to this area once this settles, but I intend to purchase some nice topsoil for this later in the year once the fill dirt settles a bit on it's own.  I have had enough tamping for now, thanks, nature can just take it's course and we will deal with the half-brown lawn for a few months.

You can really see what a mess we had in our yard during this process!  It definitely motivated us to keep the project going and finish it up as quickly as possible.  Hubby built our form and my dad filled it in and did the finishing work on the concrete.  Because the day we poured was so sunny and hot, my dad was convinced he needed to build a shade to block the sun and prevent the steps from drying too quickly... I'm not sure that's a thing, but he's a quirky guy and I'm not one to look at free help too critically!

Once the steps were poured, we laid in paver base, tamped like crazy, added leveling sand and finally the pavers.  After the digging was done and the steps were poured, which took four partial days of work, Andrew and I spent about 10 hours in one day on the pavers themselves, but that included some downtime for dinner and kid stuff.  (We hired the older kids to babysit the littles so that we could make this happen, normally we wouldn't have had so much time for both of us to work!)

We absolutely love the transformation!!

Of course, pulling out the ugly bushes and piling a bunch of dirt in the middle of the yard left us with a whole lot of brown and barren-ness, so the garden will be the next thing to tackle from our list.  We need some color!  We definitely have more work to do for our curb appeal, but this was a huge stride towards our goal and probably the biggest thing on our list.  Now we have the focal point with which to build everything else around!  

A Day in the Crazy Life

Monday, May 8, 2017

Most of the time here at etcLife, I tend to save the blog for our Pinterest worthy projects and pictures of our family during "cute and cuddly" moments.  My facebook and twitter followers tend to see more of the "real" moments such as the trouble my two year old causes when my back is turned, the adventures of the three little boys and other day-in-day-out moments of our life.

However, I have been MIA from my blog for a couple of months because in addition to the daily crazies, Andrew and I have also spent the time preparing to sell our old house (the one we moved from 3 years ago and had to keep as a rental until now), have kept up with a lot of sicknesses that kept jumping from one child to another (seriously, tons of viruses going around this winter!), gotten braces for child #2, been to a bazillion appointments for the littles, celebrated the one year anniversary of adoption day, visited with sick family members, oh and I had to take an embarrassing amount of time to learn how to use the new Cricut I got for Christmas!  We also celebrated a few birthdays in April so we now have two teenagers and two two-year-olds in addition to a preteen and a baby!

In case that isn't enough to blow your mind and explain my absence, I thought it might be fun to share a typical daily schedule of events because even if it isn't that interesting to you out there in reader-land, I'm sure I will love looking back on this at some point in the future!  So brace yourselves because here goes ...   

Although the three little boys wake by 8am (or earlier... thanks to daylight savings time and longer daylight hours in the spring), my day typically "starts" at around 10am.  Those first two hours are all about immediate needs.  Getting myself up and presentable.  Changing three diapers and outfits.  Cleaning up any nighttime messes and making beds.  Getting everyone down the stairs.  Breakfast.  Cleaning up from breakfast.  Another round of diaper changes.  And last but not least, attempt number 1 to settle the boys into toys, a show or an activity for the morning.

10:00am - I almost always start with dishes.  But I definitely always start in the kitchen.  For some reason a messy kitchen is a huge distraction to my entire day and I have learned that I simply can't concentrate on other household tasks until the kitchen chaos is tamed.  Especially since on a typical morning, the kitchen looks something like this (on a mild day)...

Because the boys see me in the kitchen, they think this as an opportunity to get a drink and talk me into a snack, even though breakfast is barely over.  A few minutes later I then have to leave the kitchen to clean up a drink spill in the living room.  I remember I also need laundry done (who doesn't?), so I run upstairs to start load #1.  The toddlers need a little love, cuddles, and playtime so for 30-45 minutes, this is what I do.  At exactly the moment the toddlers get engaged in a solo activity, the baby decides he's ready for his morning bottle.  

While feeding the baby, something like this nearly always happens...

At 11:45, I begin to prepare lunch, which feels about like I imagine the lion keepers would feel prepping a lion's lunch inches away from the lion himself...

When we sit down for lunch at 12:00, I have the first load of dishes running in the dishwasher, half a dozen dish/bottle items hand washed, and a load of laundry upstairs that needs switching.  This is the extent of my progress for the day.  

Eventually I clean up lunch, do a quick clean of the toys, messes and such in the main room and then migrate everyone upstairs.

This is bath and laundry folding time.  This can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the moods of everyone involved.  Then the toddlers go to their room for naptime.

Best case scenario, I look something like this afterwards...

Naptime is when I actually get things accomplished.  The toddlers typically sleep for about 2 hours, but some days it takes them quite a while to fall asleep, which both stresses me out and allows me more time to get things done, so it's bittersweet.  Thankfully, the baby is now napping on a fairly predictable schedule, so I mostly have this time to myself.

During this time laundry gets switched, I finish cleaning up food and morning messes, the floor gets swept (because it is practically impossible to do so when the toddlers are underfoot and it needs done at least 10 times a day), I catch up on phone calls and messages, to-do list items, and/or work on the current project.

Of course, it's also possible that I will give in and take a nap of my own ;)

Alli gets home from school at 2:40, at which time she likes to tell me all of the exciting details of her day.

Sometime between 3:00-4:00pm, the toddlers get up from nap, have their snack and play.

At 4:30, the big kids and Dad get home, which signals the beginning of the peak crazy time.  No matter how content the littles are, the moment the garage door opens they lose their little minds.  The big kids burst in with a flurry of activity and chatter.  They start flinging their stuff here and there around the main rooms, get their snacks, ask questions, share information, and then disappear as suddenly as they appeared in the first place, leaving behind very wild littles that need to be redirected into something productive for the 59th time today.

Andrew and I take turns cooking dinner while the other person keeps the littles occupied so that they don't overrun the kitchen.  Remember prepping the lion food for lunch?  Dinner gets even more interesting.

And because toddlers are gross....

Then there is what I call the after dinner calm or crazy.  It's a toss up on any given night, but about half the time the big kids disappear to their rooms and the littles play in peace, which allows Andrew and I to take turns working on projects or taking a few minutes for ourselves.  The other half of the time, the big kids stay and play with the littles and it's the craziest, loudest, wildest and funnest thing to watch in our house.  Balls fly through the air, ride-on-toys become fit for all ages, screams and squeals of delight and laughter echo throughout the neighborhood (I'm sure the neighbors love us), and running through the house is totally encouraged.  Either way, calm or crazy, it's typically the highlight of my day.

At 8pm Mom goes off duty.  When our oldest children started outgrowing the 8pm bedtime, we made them a deal that they could stay up later as long as they entertained themselves and found quiet activities to do.  At that point in the night I am almost always too tired to do any big projects, but I frequently do paperwork, plan for future projects, get lost in the world of Pinterest, or work on small projects.

I typically collapse in bed around 11:30pm-12am.  At 9 months, the baby is just beginning to sleep through the night, although it still isn't consistently every night, so I'm getting pretty good at running off of a series of nightly naps.

Of course, there are days when I am barely home due to shopping, errands, appointments, and shuttling to and from kid activities, but there you have a picture of a "normal" day around here.

So, how do we have time to do all of this stuff?  The short answer is that I have no idea.  The answer that I tend to default to is that it's all about priorities.  During naptimes and bedtimes, either my projects get done or my chores get done.  It depends on the day as to which one takes precedence.  Andrew and I also often "trade time" on the weekends, where we take turns managing the household and doing our own thing.  The point is, that no matter how busy and crazy life gets, everyone needs to have a hobby.  Something that is important to them, that they enjoy, that they can take pride in, that one thing that counts as a "happy place".  I have friends who run, play video games, scrapbook, garden, decorate their home for every holiday, take pictures, read books, watch movies, and everything in between.  While I enjoy doing lots of those and other pasttimes, I mostly live for projects.  I'm not finding the magical source of never-ending time, I just use the time I have for the stuff that is most important to me.

Of course, we wouldn't trade it for all the calmness in the world and I treasure as much of each day as I can.  Just please be patient with my absences from the blog, we call this the Crazy Life for a reason!    

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