Archives For The Great Outdoors

Even though we’re not planning on selling for a few years, Nick and I want to start working on some of the things that need to be done before we can even think about putting our house on the market. There are some big ticket tasks, like a new roof and a fresh exterior paint job, and plenty of smaller ones, like this broken fence gate. In this photo it’s just propped into place (upside down!) to provide some privacy and deter trespassers. It was too heavy for me to move on my own and would often get knocked over by strong winds.

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We’ve been putting it off forever but we finally tackled fixing it this weekend. First we removed the old, rusty hardware.

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One of the reasons Nick had been dreading this task is that he thought he would have to hold the heavy gate in place while I attached the hinges, so he was pretty thrilled when I told him my plan to block it up with some scrap wood.

These big hinges were about $5 each at Lowe’s. I had no idea what type was best suited to our circumstances so I just picked these.

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Luckily they were a cinch to install! We moved the location of the bottom hinge up a little so it would be better secured to the frame, and actually added a piece of scrap wood on the other side to reinforce it. I think the poor placement of that hinge might be what caused the old hardware to fail.

With the hinges installed I added a new latch to the backside of the fence. Our neighborhood is not dangerous, but there are a fair amount of burglaries and so we prefer to keep our home on the secure side. We’ve never been robbed, knock on wood, though someone did try to kick in the back door once when we’d just moved in and didn’t have signs from the alarm company yet. A determined burglar could jump the fence or reach over to unlatch it, but this at least creates some resistance.

And last but not least I installed a handle on the front. We actually didn’t think of this until after we’d fixed the gate, so I picked up the handle yesterday and installed it while Jack was napping. I shut the gate to see how it looked, then realized it had latched closed and the front door was locked. I had to drag a chair around from the front porch to reach over and unlatch the gate. This makes me wonder about how the guy who reads our electric meter will get back there, as well as the guy who mows our lawn. Perhaps I didn’t think this whole “backyard security” thing through. Do you think most men are tall enough to just reach over and unlatch it? It’s really amazing to me that in this day and age a person still comes out to literally look at my electric meter. He scared the crap out of me one time when I was in the backyard by myself. I could tell that he felt bad about it-he had actually called out to let me know he was there before I saw him, but I had my back to the gate and practically jumped right out of my chair when a strange man’s voice came from nowhere. Anyway, I digress. The handle makes it easier to pull the gate open when it’s unlatched.

The other problem here is that the gate sticks big time. You have to really throw your shoulder into it to get it closed. Is there a magic way to fix that? A planer perhaps?


So I posted yesterday about how I’d sort of impulsively torn down the railing on our deck.

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I’d been thinking of replacing the railing for a while, but the plan was to replace it with a new railing or something similar. I even got a quote from a handyman to tear it down and construct something like this in its place:

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This Old House

The bench surround is definitely too complex for Nick and I to take on ourselves, but having it professionally done is out of the budget. We still may get a handyman to help us with leveling the deck if necessary but I’d like to try tackling it ourselves first. Besides, once I actually tore the railing down I loved the open look and decided that a bench surround would be too much. So then I started thinking of doing terraced steps around the two edges, like this:

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The idea of terraced steps stayed on my mind for most of last week, but the more I thought about it I knew that it would be a big project for Nick and me to take on ourselves. So now what I’m thinking is to add a second set of steps on the other side of the deck to provide easier access to the herb garden (something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time), and plant monkey grass around the rest of the perimeter to help define the edge and hide the support posts. Like so:

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Cottage and Vine

The easiest and least expensive option seems like the way to go, right? I have some really lush monkey grass (also called liriope) growing in my front yard and I’ve read that it divides and transplants easily. It’ll be easier if I trim it down first and the best time to do that is fall, so I’ll have to be patient I suppose. In the meantime, I can focus on getting the deck and house cleaned up a little, leveling those uneven boards, and maybe even sanding away the reddish-brown stain.


When we bought our house it had this small wooden deck and a weird concrete walkway in the backyard. This photo is from the listing and the tropical plants pictured were gone by the time we toured the house.

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Because we bought our house in 2010 we got a nice tax credit for being first-time homebuyers. We used a chunk of that money to hire a handyman to expand the small deck almost immediately after we moved in.

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It was an awesome decision-the larger deck is much more functional and inviting-but there are some things I would do differently if I could go back.

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Most significantly, the railings. Not only do they close the deck off from the rest of the yard, they’re falling apart after only a few years (maybe because I painted the pressure-treated wood not knowing that it needed to dry out first?).

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Last weekend when we were sitting in the backyard I noticed for the billionth time how annoying it is that I can’t keep a close eye on Jack playing in the yard while sitting comfortably on the deck because the railings block the view. I mean, the railings aren’t even helpful anyway. The deck is less than two feet off the ground and as previously stated they’re not exactly sturdy. So, I figured, why not knock them down? I started with this small piece by the house and it went down with shocking ease.

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Although Nick had initially been opposed to my plan he jumped in pretty quickly once he saw that I was getting to destroy stuff. It was around this time that we realized we should probably come back to finish the project after Jack was in bed for the night instead of continuing as he played nearby.

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After maybe half an hour of total work we had all of the railing removed. We’re still working on getting it all out of the yard, but we’ve knocked down any exposed nails in the meantime. PS we really need to clean the exterior of the house. Add that to the to-do list.

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We’ve got some more work to do before this little makeover is complete. For example, this one post is a smidge higher than all the rest and the deck has always bowed up in this spot. I’d like to fix it. We’re also going to do something different with the transition from deck to yard, though exactly what that will be isn’t yet clear. I get my best ideas when I take my time so I’m not rushing into anything.

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This is one of those projects that I couldn’t believe we didn’t do sooner. The yard feels SO much bigger! I love that I have a clear view of the whole yard from the deck. It feels much more open and being able to supervise Jack while seated at the table is a big plus.

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little overwhelmed with all the work there is to do back here, but just like the kitchen makeover that started with impulsively prying off some tiles one Sunday afternoon, I know that I can take it one step at a time. Also, does this indicate a pattern of impulsively demolishing pieces of my house on Sundays? Even the porch door demo happened on a Sunday and with no premeditation.


So a crazy thing happened. I talked about getting a butterfly bush and then I did it. And then Nick, who I usually have to cajole and beg to do yardwork, volunteered to plant it (he correctly assumed that I’d let him watch any number of college baseball games without complaint as a reward). This area of the yard has a lot of gravel under the grass but he managed to get a decent hole dug and then we back-filled with good soil.

I need to get some mulch for it, I think. I scattered some oak leaves over the soil for now but a good solid layer of mulch would do better to shade the dirt. It was overcast and about to rain when I took these photos but from my previous post you can see that this spot gets a big dose of hot Louisiana sunshine every afternoon.

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It really doesn’t look like much, and I guess that’s fair seeing as it cost less than $15, but up close the blooms are pretty. I’m looking forward to someday having plenty to cut and bring inside.

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Next thing you know I’ll be buying some hinges to fix that fence gate! If I hurry maybe I can get Nick to tackle it while he’s still trying to ingratiate his way into watching the entire College World Series in peace. Sadly, LSU was eliminated from the running last night but previous experience tells me he’ll adopt another team or two to root for.