Category Archives: outdoors
We don’t have any sort of cable or satellite TV subscription, as we’ve decided we much prefer streaming stuff on Hulu (or marathoning an entire season on Netflix) rather than trying to watch our favorite shows during their actual air time. Every once in a while though, we find we want to watch something that isn’t available live online in good enough quality, like the World Series or Sunday Night Football. So we bought an ugly little antenna that sits on our TV console and mostly works:
What, you can’t see past the cute baby? 🙂 It’s the silver thing sitting up on the top left-hand side of the console table in the background.
Unfortunately, for some stations if you walk too close to the antenna the picture gets messed up for a few seconds. And for NBC, we only get signal if we stack a bunch of books (or board games, in this case) underneath the antenna:
So we bought an outdoor antenna, which requires a coaxial cable to run from the roof to the TV. When we first moved in, there were already two coaxial cables running through the wall from the outside. One at least has an attempt at an actual outlet box, though it wasn’t very nice looking. The other was (not) charmingly shoved through a hole in the floor trim:
Easy, long-overdue cleanup… Add a real outlet box and a cover:
All better! Well except for the drywall dust to clean up. And we don’t actually need the cable coming through the floor trim, so I’m going to just cut the connector off and shove it back down.
The other side of the wall (on the outside of the house) looked like this:
The cable that comes up through the floor trim on the inside runs up the outside of the house and straight over the yard to the nearest telephone pole, so presumably that’s the cable TV line from back when a previous owner actually paid for that stuff. The other cable came out of the side of the house and just sat on the ground. Though it looked like it had also gone up the wall at some point, based on the house-colored paint on it.
To install the antenna, Dave cut a piece of plywood the exact size of the antenna base, attached that to the bargeboard, and then screwed the antenna base onto the plywood.
Don’t worry, he was lying on a towel, so no manly chests were burned or scraped during this installation. 😀
Then he hooked the cable up, (actually, I believe he had to attach a new connector onto the end of the cable, but since I didn’t get a picture I have no proof that this occurred) and amazingly enough, everything worked! I was so sure that the cable would be shot or something, but we were immediately able to watch NBC without a pile of board games and accompanying indoor antenna sitting on the TV console.
With proof that it was working, Dave attached the cable to the outdoor wall, next to the already attached other cable thing:
And this project is done!
Our front yard is mostly grass. Here’s a reminder:
That’s from a few months ago. It’s a little more uniformly green now, but otherwise it’s pretty much unchanged. It’s a pretty small yard though, so pretty much all I do with it is cut across it at the end of my daily walk. Oh and I have to water and mow it every week. There’s plenty of grass in the back yard for playing bocce and rolling around and whatnot, so I’m leaning towards getting rid of the front yard grass entirely and replacing it with something that’s hopefully low maintenance, especially when it comes to water needs.
Pretty much all of the homes in my greater neighborhood area are similarly sized with fairly small front yards, so on my daily walks I get a pretty broad view of the potential options for us. A LOT of homes still have grass in front, but here are a few of the common non-grass options that I see.
This is an all-succulent ground cover. I believe this one is an ice plant, or at least something similar. I feel like this is probably the most ecologically responsible solution for our area if you really, really want a lot of “green”. I don’t think you’d want to walk on this at all though, so it’s pretty much just keeping the weeds at bay and keeping things green-looking. Also, to me kinda looks like an alien invasion or something.
Some people go with just a small amount of grass with rocks or mulch around it. This lawn is somewhat amusing to me because in this case it’s not even real grass, it’s artificial turf. It certainly saves on the watering and mowing! But it’s not like there’s enough of it to kick a soccer ball around or anything, so I guess it’s just once again the attachment to having a green flat space in front of your house. Not for me.
This front “yard” is pretty much all hardscaping, and quite clean and pretty. A lot of it would be considered “patio” rather than “yard”, though there are a few plants surrounded by small rocks. My problem with the “small rocks” solution is that I see a lot of yards with weeds growing up among the rocks, and it seems like it would be frustrating to keep the weeds at bay without using some sort of herbicide. And while quite a few of our immediate neighbors have converted at least part of their front yards into areas for entertaining, (with seating and such) I don’t really see us going that route.
This is a nice functional yard. The trees are citrus (orange and lemon I believe) and right up against the fence are some rose bushes. I definitely don’t dig the chain link fence though, and I wish the citrus trees were closer to the sidewalk so I could grab some fruit while walking by. 😉 It would be nice to have some sort of tree in our front yard since our big picture window gives a nice clear view of our living room from the sidewalk, especially at nighttime. So we tend to always keep the blinds down, which pretty much negates the point of a picture window. On the flip side, our neighbors are awesome and watch out for each other, so I like that they have a clear unobstructed view of the entire front of our house in the event that a suspicious person is lurking around. So I guess that’s a “no” for the front yard trees for us. (Back yard is a whole different story!)
This is probably my favorite yard that I’ve seen on my walks. I wish I had gotten a better picture, and I wish I had gotten it in the spring when it’s completely in bloom, but even in the middle of summer it still looks nice. I believe pretty much all of these plants are purple african daisies. I see one or two of these plants (and sometimes yellow ones) in a lot of yards, but I love how this entire yard is filled with them. I feel like once a yard like this was established, I would hopefully just have to spread a thick layer of mulch maybe once or twice a year, and occasionally walk around and pull some weeds.
I don’t think I’m ready to start killing our grass quite yet, but I like talking through the possibilities and ruminating on what I think I’d like the best. Maybe someday we’ll actually make the change.
The front door/patio is still pretty boring at the moment, and I wanted to bring in some flower pots to sit on either side of the front stoop. There isn’t a whole lot of space between the step and the railing on the right, but I eventually found some inexpensive plastic pots that were the right size. Unfortunately they were a pretty boring color:
Matte black with some silver “highlights” so it looks a little more like metal and a little less like plastic. And there weren’t any drainage holes in the bottom, which I fixed right away.
I picked out some “outdoor” spray paint… it claimed to be all-surface but recommended a plastic spray paint primer if I wanted to use it on plastic. Easy enough! A couple coats of primer and a few of spray paint, and the hardest part was waiting for them to dry between coats. Behold:
Oh, yeah, and I picked up chrysanthemums to actually put in the pots. They have so many great color options… these were labeled “bronze”. Nice. And I loooovvveee the blue spray paint color. I may have to buy more if my swing set refurbishing makes it as far as the painting stage. Here’s the patio withe the new flower pots:
They’re a little low and small looking, but you can see that with the space I had to work with on the right I couldn’t have gone much bigger. And I didn’t want something tall and skinny, so these are just what I wanted. They’re so cheerful once you get up onto the patio:
The biggest problem is that the doormat is looking rather dingy in comparison. Sounds like I should go find a new doormat! 🙂
I have bigger things that I still want to do to the front patio: Paint the door red, switch up the columns and railings for something all geometrical and fancy, tile the concrete… But I fear commitment and I fear screwing up. So in the short term I’ll just keep adding fun decorations when the mood strikes.
When we bought this house, one of the selling points was a “play structure”. Turns out it was faded and rusty, and I declared that we would trash it ASAP. But we had plenty of yard space and it sat over in the side yard, gathering cobwebs and weeds. Since there isn’t a direct window looking out on it, it didn’t really impinge on my consciousness very often. Now that we actually have a kid and I spend a lot more time at home, attempting to fix it up actually sounds like a potentially fun challenge. But is it beyond salvaging? Here it is, and please ignore the crazy plant life around it as best you can…
So we have a metal frame with very rusty bolts and once-shiny paint in various stages of fading. From left to right there is a swing, a rope ladder, a “trapeze”, a glider, and a plastic slide.
The swing chain definitely needs to be replaced at the minimum, and a quick internet search reveals that I can probably get a sling-style swing complete with vinyl-coated chain for possibly as low as $15. The rope ladder is pretty gross looking, and in fact doesn’t look to be original to the set, seeing how it’s attached:
the trapeze and glider both look like they just need some cleaning and a good coat of paint. The slide seems a little unstable the way it’s currently attached… I’d probably have to replace the bolts at a minimum:
Poking around online it looks like I can get a similarly sized metal swing set for maybe as low as $100. I’m not sure how good the quality would be, but then I’m not sure how good the quality of this thing would be even after I fixed it up. When you add up a new swing and ladder, several cans of spray paint and possibly primer and sealer, and various replacement bolts and steel wool and who knows what else, this project might end up being more than $100 anyway. So I guess this comes down to a) whether I think it’s even possible to fix it up, and more importantly b) will I have fun attempting to do it? I guess at the bare minimum I can clean it off and see if the rusty bolts will even budge. I can pretty much scrap the whole project if I get tired of it anyway. 🙂
If you’ve been following along, you may recall that we’ve had an extra green swampy patch of grass in our front yard for a while now.
We checked to make sure that it wasn’t a leak in the irrigation system by shutting off water to the sprinklers for a few days. Considering that the swamp was right along a straight line between the water meter at the street and our water main valve on the side of the house, we were pretty sure it was a leak in the water main line. To confirm, we shut off the water main valve on the side of our house for a few hours and checked the water meter to see if it had moved, even though we clearly hadn’t been using any water. Yup.
Since water pressure in the house was still just fine, we ended up putting off fixing this for quite a while. That spot of grass just got to be extra lush and healthy for a few months. But we finally had a free weekend with good weather, so Dave dug a hole:
Well first he dug up clumps of grass and set them to one side in the hopes or replanting them when he was done. Then he made a big pile of dirt.
At first we thought we’d have to shut off the water for the digging part, but even down around the pipe things were manageable, albeit a bit muddy.
The hole revealed a join in the PVC pipe that clearly had a slow leak. So we picked up a pipe cutter and a new PVC joint that’s specifically designed as a replacement for this sort of situation, where the two ends to be joined are fixed in place.
Turning off the water at the meter turned out to be a bit of a pain, as apparently you’re supposed to use a specialized wrench/lever thing to do it. Oh and the entire meter was covered in slugs. Gross. Not wanting to buy a large, single-purpose wrench thing, Dave improvised with the tools we had. This didn’t quite work 100%, so there was still a slow drip, not ideal for cementing PVC pieces together.
After consulting the Internet brain trust, Dave stuffed some bread in the pipe to temporarily stop the dripping, then quickly glued everything together. Yup, the Internet said to use bread, so it must be true!
Actually, our neighbor suggested the same thing the next day as I was reporting our success to him. And then he mentioned that he owned one of those specialized wrench/lever things for turning off the water. *facepalm* I should have known, this is totally the neighbor that has every tool under the sun. Ah well.
We left the hole open over night, and the next day the dirt around the new join was looking nice and dry. So we filled in the hole and placed the grass clods back over top. We’ve been watering the area daily since then, and it looks like the grass is going to survive! I still need to mow the lawn though, so no “after” picture for you.
All in all, this ended up being just a few hours work. I was fully prepared for it to turn into a full weekend event with many, many trips to the hardware store, since that’s how our projects generally pan out. So I was pretty amazed that it ended up being a very manageable project, and we were only without water for maybe an hour. I guess occasionally we can get lucky. 🙂
My first attempt at growing herbs in little pots two years ago bombed… because I didn’t water them enough. Now that I’m home full time though I figure I can probably keep up with the little daily things a bit better. This time I thought instead of pots I’d try for a mini square foot garden, more like the garden box I made last year with limited success. This time instead of fancy 2×4’s I realized I could save a few bucks and use cedar fence slats. I wanted to make two boxes that were 3 feet by 1 foot, so all I needed was five 6 foot long slats. Here they are after a few quick cuts on the miter saw:
The bottoms of the boxes were just two boards side by side, which left a convenient exit for water between them. I wish I could say I thought of that beforehand, but I was just being lazy since I didn’t want to have to cut plywood for the bottoms. I only realized my brilliance afterward. Here’s a completed box:
Not the most beautiful bit of carpentry, but whatever, it works. Maybe I’ll paint the outside or something if I decide they’re too ugly. In the meantime here they sit on the back patio:
I found the little metal labels on clearance at Target. Sadly there wasn’t a label for cilantro, which I’m growing from seed since I managed that with no trouble last year, even with my limited watering. The other two empty looking spots are for garlic (I just stuck a few cloves from my CSA in the ground) and green onions. I really have no idea if I’ll get anything from them, but I wanted to stick to stuff that I used really frequently, since I figured I’d be more motivated that way.
The bucket of water is great since I only have to refill it about twice a week instead of running to the tap every day. I fill the little gray watering can from it.
The whole setup is in easy view of the kitchen. In fact here’s what I see when I walk out the back door:
I know from past experience that if I don’t make this as easy as possible I’ll start to let it slide and then I’ll be left with yet another pile of dead plants and/or weeds. This way I at least have a shot of being successful. I guess we’ll see how it goes!
So, in positive news I’ve figured out how to run the in-ground sprinklers manually. Last spring, half of the front sprinklers stopped working on the timer, but I didn’t realize it because we hadn’t needed to run them all winter. I just thought there weren’t enough sprinklers. So for most of last summer the front yard looked like this:
It’s still early in the season, but currently the yard looks like this:
And I have some hope that it will continue to look like that, as long as I keep running the sprinklers each week.
The lavender plants (on the left of the picture) are getting a bit out of control though. So it finally occurred to me that I should check and see how one is supposed to prune lavender. It turns out that it’s supposed to be cut back by a third each year to keep it from getting too “woody”. Uh-oh… I haven’t been pruning it at all, and from the back it looks like this:
I have no idea why it’s been growing like that, presumably because they get morning and afternoon sun, but are in the shade in the middle of the day? But there sure is a lot of woody stuff in there. After some indecision, I decided to cut it back by a third using hedge trimmers, not worrying too much about cutting each stalk separately and avoiding the woody parts. If they start to look bad I’ll just start over with new plants since it only took two years (without any special treatment) for them to look like this.
The alyssum on the other hand is looking great:
in fact, the flower box that I transplanted it from is even growing some more of it. I guess I missed some of the roots:
Ignore the fact that the flower box is pretty much a mess otherwise. The other flower box is a little better, but kinda gets blocked by the bushes:
I think maybe the two bushes on the right are gardenias? I should really get an expert in to look at all of our plants some day. Ah well, here’s a close-up:
The small bush on the left is definitely a hydrangea. I know this because Dave’s mom saved it from the clearance rack at the home improvement store last year. I believe at that time it had maybe three sad-looking leaves and one bloom. Over the winter I thought it had died completely, but now look at it!
So I guess the point of this post is that I don’t actually kill all my plants, no matter how much I ignore them. Yay!
I’m contemplating trying to “naturalize” the front yard to make it less water-intensive though, so I think I’m going to have to do a lot more learning if that’s something I want to try tackling myself.
Both our front yard and back yard held up fairly well through our first summer, but last summer both of them were looking pretty miserable by the end. The grass was pretty prickly and had given up entirely in quite a few spots. In the front yard this was probably due to the in-ground sprinklers crapping out and my pathetic attempts at buying and using above-ground sprinklers not working so well. But the back yard was doing pretty badly too. I made an uneducated attempt to overseed in the fall, but I didn’t really research it enough and used a warm season seed mix, which unsurprisingly did very little in the way of growing. In my defense, the vast majority of advice and how-tos on lawn care assume you live somewhere where it rains a lot and freezes for part of the year. Sigh.
I hope that I’ll be able to spend a lot of this coming summer enjoying the nice weather outdoors, but if our lawn looks like it did last summer I won’t really want to spend any time on or near it. So after some much more obsessive researching on the topic, I’ve settled on the following plan of action: aerate, topdress with compost, and overseed. Oh and actually figure out how much water our sprinklers produce and adjust accordingly. All of this needs to happen soon if we want a useable yard this summer, and with a baby set to appear at any moment, I kicked it into high gear. For aerating, we already owned this manual tool:
In case it’s unclear, you hold the handles at the top, place the hollow spikes on the ground, and give the horizontal bar at the bottom a good stomp. I actually bought this thing last year, but in the fall our lawn was as hard as concrete so I quickly gave up. This time around, with softer soil from the rainy season and an extra 50 lbs of weight to use to my advantage, this actually worked quite well. It took me all of last week working in fairly short sessions each day just to do the front yard, but of course I wasn’t pushing myself, and I was pretty happy to get some sun each day and listen to podcasts as I worked. I’m still working on aerating the back yard, and I finally came up with a method to keep my holes more or less straight. We have these plastic yellow poles that I can move over to the leading edge of holes as I make each new pass down the yard:
The dirt to the far right of the picture above is my attempt to fill in some of the dips in our yard with the most potential to break an ankle. Hopefully when I put grass seed down on the dirt it will actually grow, but non-broken ankles are more important than a pretty lawn. 🙂
Next up, I needed compost. After pacing out the lawn and doing a little math, I figured I needed just about 2 cubic yards to top dress all of the grass with 1/4″ of compost. About a third of it would be for the front lawn, and the rest of it would be for the back. There seem to be quite a few landscaping companies around that sell compost in bulk, with options to bag it ourselves or have it delivered. I ended up going with the company that seemed to be the most friendly to non-professional DIY types, based on the reviews I read. They actually had an option to rent out a dump truck so we could really do IT ALL by ourselves, but we have so many other things going on, so we decided to pay the extra money to have it delivered. And since the delivery price was a flat charge, we also decided to order 3 cubic yards of mulch. We normally end up buying bags upon bags of the stuff from the hardware store anyway, so buying it all in once in bulk should save us some money in the end.
Anyway, the delivery date we picked was supposed to be rain-free, but of course by the evening before, the forecast had changed to “80% chance of rain, chance of thunderstorms”. Being the optimistic sort, I didn’t change the delivery date at the last minute, so this morning the truck arrived, leaving this in our driveway:
We immediately covered the compost (on the right) with the tarps since we figured we wouldn’t get to it today and we wanted to protect it from the impending rain. Dave had already left for work, so Julie and I hauled out the wheelbarrow and shovels and got to work. Actually the above picture is after Julie had to stop and go to work, so we had already moved maybe a quarter or so of the mulch to the back yard. Actually most of the mulch is going to be used on the “utility” side yard, (where we keep the trash cans and such) which was crazy overrun with weeds. We did manage to start tearing through some of the weeds last weekend, but there are still many tall weeds in the way, so we mostly piled the mulch up for now:
The area on the right of the picture is where we already hoed away all of the weeds. Hopefully the rest of this area will look like that soon.
I took a nice nap after Julie went to work and then proceeded to get the rest of the mulch out of the driveway, with still no sign of rain. It did finally rain in the evening, but there wasn’t any thunder to speak of. Ah well.
Oh! and I found some baby snakes hiding under a board. Adorable!!
Anyway, the landscaping people recommended that we let the compost “cool off” for a few days. So I guess I’ll get back to aerating and hoeing, and maybe I’ll start working on my topdressing skills sometime next week… If I’m still feeling energetic next week…
It’s warmed up a bit here in the bay area, so I’ve been trying to salvage some of the horrible mess that is our outdoor space. First up, some looongggg overdue love for our little orange tree. It finally got some real sunlight this past year since we cut the mulberry tree way back. But it was extremely lopsided since it had been stuck half in the shade for so long. Dave had pruned it some last year to try and balance it out, but we didn’t want to cut away too much foliage all at once. So I figured it was time to take another stab at it. Here are the results:
Someday I’ll learn to not try to take pictures of trees in bright morning sunlight, but hopefully you get the idea. It’s still looking a bit sparse, but hopefully it’ll fill in a bit more this year.
If you lean in and squint you can see that there are actually quite a lot of fruits growing on it at the moment. They’re actually delicious, about the size and flavor of clementines, but there are a TON of seeds in them, like two or three in each section. I generally only eat them outside so I can spit the seeds out as I go. I did harvest a few ripe ones before cutting off some of the big branches:
But there are more where that came from, many more than we can possibly eat. They just need a little more time to grow.
I also FINALLY weeded and cleaned out all of the old fallen oranges under the tree. There were a bunch of random bricks placed haphazardly around the base of the tree, so I moved them to one side so I could rake, fertilize, and mulch. And then I uncovered this guy:
It’s a concrete paver with a face. At first i thought he was a bit creepy, but now that the area is more groomed I think he’s kinda sweet. He needs a name though. Fred? Marvin? I’m open to suggestions.
Speaking of the mulberry tree, here’s how it’s looking one year after being pollarded:
It did sprout and then drop a bunch of leaves, so it’s not like it sat dormant all year. And now there are many, many new branches growing out from the main limbs. The thing really is just a giant weed. But it provides some very nice shade, so I continue to resist the urge to just have it cut down. We’ll probably need to get it cut back again in the fall though.
Anyway, that ends the productive things I can report. Next on my to-do list is attempting to fix up the front and back lawn. The front lawn is actually looking a bit greener and less sparse, but there are still some big sections that are dominated by weeds. Here’s the area by the fence:
I’m actually tempted to turn that area into a row of flowers or something since it gets such good sun and it’s hard to mow. But for now I just have to get rid of those weeds! And here’s the rest of the yard; the weeds are a bit hard to see in the photo (sorry!) but trust me, they are abundant, especially along the edges where we didn’t get good sprinkler coverage and all the grass died:
Our neighbor must have finally weed-whacked his paver-stoned area (to the left of the picture) because it used to match our weeds a lot better. And OF COURSE all of the rest of our neighbors somehow effortlessly keep their lawns looking loverly, so we stick out like a sore thumb. Waa. It’s okay, they all have grown-up kids and think our attempts at responsible homeownership are cute. 🙂 Luckily, they can’t see our back yard, which is even worse:
Allow me to highlight the especially silly-looking areas:
In the yellow box we have my thriving dandelion garden. This is yet another spot where all of the grass had died over the summer, and the dandelions took over during the winter. And they’re so tall, I’m sure the roots are going to be impressive. Sigh.
In the red box is the crazy jasmine/bougainvillea growing back together again to form a crazy chimera-like monster. I had gotten that under control over the course of last winter/spring, but growing things have this tendency to, you know, GROW. It’s still not nearly as bad as it was, but I want to deal with it pretty soon before it gets completely out of control again. Maybe I’ll wait until the jasmine is done blooming in a month or so, because it’s so nice for a few weeks when it blooms, but there aren’t any flowers on new growth, so we didn’t have any last year after I cut it back. It would be sad to miss out on flowers two years in a row.
in the blue box is a spot where a few fence slats have fallen down. Boooo. In fact they’re leaning against one of the rose bushes… I’m such a bad plant mom. 😦 We’ll probably just nail those slats back into place with the help of a supporting cross-piece, because I’m still trying to stall before we replace the whole fence.
I’m not even going to take a picture of the side yards, because they are just flourishing weed jungles at the moment. I guess I should also save the apple tree from weeds pretty soon and maybe fertilize while I’m at it, but otherwise I plan to pretty much ignore the side yards. Well, maybe if I need to let out some pent up aggression I’ll attack a chunk at a time with the hoe. We’ll see. 🙂
This post is a little late, but you know, that’s me. 🙂 We managed to start decorating a little earlier this year than last year, and we managed to add a few more decorations this year. Mostly we decided that our front walk is a bit dark, so we found some light-up decorations to spice things up. We put up some orange and purple “xmas lights” lights over the garage:
They were only up for for less than a week, but since we left up the gutter hooks from last xmas, they were very quick to put up and take down. And it gave Dave and excuse to see how the solar panels are doing.
Our other illuminating addition was a series of cheap plastic light-up pumpkin heads on stakes:
They served their purpose admirably. And that reminds me! I transplanted the allysum and chrysanthemums to border the front walk here. The chrysanthemums had already been transplanted earlier this year in around the lavender, but the lavender suddenly decided to have a growth spurt so things were looking crowded. They’re still going strong, though they are overdue for some deadheading. Hurray for “annuals” when it never freezes. 🙂 Here’s the front walk from the other end:
That one allysum in the front looks like it won’t survive the transplant. And I need to sweep the walkway. Sigh. But everything was looking pretty halloweeny, huh? Here’s a closer view of the front patio:
It looks more or less like last year, though we did upgrade the ghosts from the “rags and sharpie” things we had before:
And we did add a last-minute giant spider web to go with our giant spider:
I wish I could say I was talented enough to tie together a spiderweb out of yarn, but I found it in the clearance section already pre-tied. Much easier.
Anyway, we had a good halloween and we have some leftover candy to enjoy, so we’re all happy here.