At home with Harriet: the backyard before & after

When Blue Eyes and I moved into this house the yard was kind of a disaster. Whoever lived here prior to us moving in was, well, generally pretty disgusting. The house had been empty for over a year, and whoever flipped it didn’t do a super thorough job of getting rid of the grossness. In the yard, they decided to just put gravel in most places, with one very VERY sad palm tree in the front yard, and a couple of new palmy-frondy plants in the back. The real estate listing photos mostly showed a newly cleaned and possibly resurfaced pool, the rest was literally just crushed rock. We have a lot of property, but with this kind of, um, “xeriscaping” it was completely unusable.

Arizona Backyard Before 2_feistyharriet

Prior to tackling the backyard (the front yard will be next year…or the year after) I did a lot of research on different types of trees and plants that do well in the blistering desert heat, and how to keep flowers and vegetables alive through the endless summer. I also decided to look at Google Earth and see if there was any evidence of what the previous family had as far as landscaping.

Um….that was a mistake. Our yard was, without question, the grossest one in the neighborhood. The gravel that I really dislike is a step up from the scruffy dirt and weeds and the drained, yellow-puddle-left-in-the-bottom swimming pool.

Arizona Backyard Before 1_feistyharriet

Yep. The worst in the neighborhood. There are a couple of enormous shade trees in this image that have all been cut down for reasons I cannot imagine. WHY!? STOP GETTING RID OF SHADE TREES! THIS IS THE VALLEY OF THE SURFACE OF THE SUN! SHADE = NECESSARY!!!

Blue Eyes and I definitely had our work cut out for us. We went back and forth on the backyard. He wanted low maintenance, I desperately wanted a patch of grass. Without it, I knew I would never go outside. We compromised with a small patch of grass, several raised boxes for vegetables and what-not, a new patio, and a handful of trees.

Arizona Backyard After 7_feistyharriet_May 2016

The trees went in first, a Willow Acacia on the west side to eventually shade my office window, a lime tree, pomegranate tree, and grapefruit tree. I am ridiculously excited to see tiny baby limes and grapefruits on those citrus trees! We will have a very, very small harvest this winter, like, maybe three or four grapefruits and about a dozen limes, but I am thrilled about their future! Ditto the pomegranate, which had gorgeous flowers but lost it’s fruit due to moving-stress.

Arizona Backyard Gardener_Grapefruit_feistyharriet_May 2016Baby grapefruits

Arizona Backyard Gardener_Limes_feistyharriet_May 2016
Tiny baby limes!

Blue Eyes spent several weekends building me a solid set of four raised garden boxes. I filled them up with seeds and veggie starts and am anxiously awaiting the day the green tomatoes are ripe and the peppers and zucchini are ready to be picked. The squash and watermelons won’t be ready until later in the summer (that is, if they don’t roast to death first). I have been picking basil, rosemary, and oregano leaves every few days to add to my kitchen experiments. Those tiny little veggies bring me a ridiculous level of happiness. We planted mid-March, but next year I think I’ll start them as seeds inside about Christmas time, there isn’t really a frost here, so I could probably plant in February and be juuuust fine. (Garden tomatoes in early May? YES PLEASE!)

Arizona Backyard After 3_feistyharriet_May 2016The tomato patch!

Arizona Backyard After 4_feistyharriet_May 2016See all those bell peppers!

A few weeks ago we had a break in the already blistering summer heat, and with weekend temps in the 70’s and low 80’s we decided to pour the patio. Now, Blue Eyes is a civil engineer and things like “pour a concrete patio” don’t scare him. I was super nervous. It was just going to be the two of us, and the patio is….not small. As he was doing the math and adding up the number of bags of cement mix we’d need…I started to genuinely question if we shouldn’t just hire it out. Blue Eyes made a few calls, our large gate to the backyard was just a few feet too narrow to get the smallest cement mixer truck through. So, we were back to the DIY route.

Arizona Backyard Patio 1_feistyharriet_May 2016

We rented the largest cement mixer Home Depot has (you need a pick-up truck to pull it) and ordered four pallets of cement mix: 60 pound bags, 56 bags per pallet =  THIRTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS OF DRY CEMENT MIX! And then some. Hoooooo boy. We dug up the gravel, and the weird brick stripe in the center of the back yard, and pulled the weeds and leveled the ground as much as we could. Blue Eyes built the frame we’d use to keep the wet cement contained, and we set our alarms for ridiculously early the next morning.

Arizona Backyard Patio 2_feistyharriet_May 2016

To make a batch of cement you dump two 5-gallon buckets of water into the mixer, and 13 bags of cement mix. A few minutes later it’s ready to go, you dump that mix into the wheelbarrow and trundle it over to the soon-to-be-patio. Dump, spread, smooth, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Each batch made about three heavy wheelbarrow’s full of cement, and we made batches all damn day. ALL damn day.

Arizona Backyard Patio 3_feistyharriet_May 2016

Dump, spread, smooth, repeat.

Arizona Backyard Patio 4_feistyharriet_May 2016

We finished up about 3:00 in the afternoon, both soaked with sweat and concrete water, flecks of cement in our hair and embedded in our skin. Truly, Blue Eyes took the brunt of the damage, I can lift a 60 pound bag, but I can’t lift it to my shoulder and dump it into a spinning cement mixer. I tried, bless me, I tried, but I nearly fell in to the mixer, or got my arms caught in the paddles, and it just…no. I hoisted and opened and filled and mixed, but Blue Eyes is the one who, literally, did most of the heavy lifting.

Our patio is not perfect, we are not professional patio pourers, but it is the exact shape I wanted, it will be lovely with big pots of flowers and some pool chairs and maybe a black and white stripey umbrella for a little more shade. I have plans for twinkly bistro lights and, after the heat of the summer, maybe one of those little fire pits and a couple of chairs.

That same week a load of sod was delivered for the rest of the backyard. Blue Eyes finished up the sprinklers and laid all the grass himself. We rigged up some shade cloth to shield the south-west facing garden beds from the Arizona sun, and my little vegetables are still going strong. (We still need to finish off those boxes, they’ll get a layer of mortar on the front so you don’t see the cinderblock seams, and finished off with flat wood planks along the top.)

Arizona Backyard After 2_feistyharriet_May 2016

We have a real backyard! One that we can use for at least most of the year. Heavy on using the pool side during the summer/daylight hours, and the rest during the not-as-sweltering part of the year (so, November-January). I will be slowly adding more plants and pots and things, but for now? I’m going to kick back with a very cold drink and enjoy it.

Arizona Backyard After 1_feistyharriet_May 2016

Mr. Blue Eyes deserves a standing ovation and a pony ride for all his hard work. I tend to dream up mostly doable things, and he usually figures out how to make it happen. That man is a dream boat, I tell you.

Arizona Backyard After 5_feistyharriet_May 2016

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A Tale of Two File Cabinets: A DIY Success

I live in a very spacious apartment and have lived here for a decade, these two things have combined into a remarkable collection of stuff. Now, I like my stuff, not all stuff, but my stuff. I get a measure of happiness from a shelf full of books or a closet full of clothes or shoes that I love, or a stack of adorable salad plates just because they are more fun than regular white ones. That being said, the combination of not moving and not running out of space has led to MANY MANY shelves of books, an almost obscene number of shoes, and more stacks of plates than any one person really needs. I am not apologizing and I will not be ditching everything to live in a Tiny House with an e-reader, a spork and multi-use dish, and only two pairs of underwear. However, over the last few months I have been slowly weeding out my collections and donating, recycling, or giving away things I have no use for and/or will not fit into the Arizona house. Some of this has been really hard and left me in a sobbing heap on the floor. Other times the cleaning out and tidying up has been invigorating.

Over the years I’ve collected a number of small tables and side chairs, some from thrift stores, many as donations from friends or relatives, and a few that I picked up off the side of the road, clean up, and use on a regular basis. Two such items are small two-drawer file cabinets, one a donation and one a thrift store find. In a spurt of genius and productivity I tackled both with some serious DIY juju and the results were far better than I had anticipated.

Metal File Cabinet DIY:
New Paint and Patterned Contact Paper

Metal file cabinet DIY_feistyharriet_July 2015 (1)

My Dad had this laying around his basement and while I was doing some rearranging after Blue Eyes moved to Arizona I thought I could use it to house my growing collection of camera equipment (lenses, lights, tripod, monopod, cases, tubes, extra bulbs, cleaning equipment, a few books, etc.). This cabinet was in good working condition, but was pretty rough. I scrubbed it twice and scraped off the stickers and wiped it all down one last time with acetone. I pulled the drawers out, figured out how to take off the label plates, and taped off the handles before I sprayed the drawer-fronts with a coat of primer and then two coats of white from my stash of spray paint. I found some pretty butcher block contact paper on Amazon and carefully cut it to cover the frame of the file cabinet. I used some strong clear tape on the edges to make sure nothing peeled up and tried to keep everything as straight as possible.
Metal File Cainet DIY_feistyharriet_July 2015 (4)

Metal File Cainet DIY_feistyharriet_July 2015 (3)

Ta-daaaaah! For $11.00 in contact paper I have something pretty and clean and modern-looking. I’m sure you could spray-paint the whole thing, but to be honest it seemed easier to just order some contact paper for the body of the cabinet instead of lugging the whole thing down a flight-and-a-half of stairs and then all the way back up.

Wood File Cabinet DIY:
New Paint and Awesome Hardware

Wood file cabinet DIY_feistyharriet_July 2015 (2)

I found this at a thrift store twelve years ago for probably $5 dollars and at the time I was a poor starving college student who needed a bedside table that would double as storage for my socks and underwear. This was narrow enough for my tiny, shared bedroom and the insides of the drawers were super clean. Sold. Ahem…that was twelve years ago, and other than a little dusting here and there this has remained unchanged ever since.

I unscrewed the drawer handles and sanded everything with 150-grit sand paper, I wanted to scrape off the top layer of the shiny veneer so the paint would stick. After wiping everything down twice to remove any extra dust I used several thin coats of this gorgeous deep red paint/primer combo I had leftover from another project. It took about three coats to fully cover the veneer and I added another one just in case. After a lot of deliberating on how much of a splash I wanted to make with hardware I ordered these chunky hexagon Chinese door knockers and a few packages of brassy corner plates.  As soon as I saw the hardware in person I knew I had made the right choice in those hefty pulls: go big or go home! My friend B. had to drill me a new hole for the hardware and I came home, drilled drawers in tow, and promptly ordered my very own cordless drill. The paint made a huge difference, but after screwing in the handles and adding the corner plates I was speechless and completely in love.
Wood File Cabinet DIY Chinese Hardware_feistyharriet_July 2015 (1)

Wood File Cabinet DIY Chinese Hardware_feistyharriet_July 2015 (2)

Hello! Look at them knockers!! I still think I need to pull the casters off, but for now it’s nice to be able to roll this around instead of scraping it along my hardwood floors or hefting the whole thing with my puny arms.

Each of these projects was a single evening of happy painting or papering. Amazing what a little imagination and elbow grease can do, right? And kick-ass hardware improves everything. EVERYTHING.

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