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I built a new attractive front walk and steps to replace the ugly concrete slabs.

Ever since Josh has been living here, things are getting done at a breakneck pace. I almost need a moment simply to absorb the changes.

New front door with glass to let in light.

Tara called him my Work Gremlin at one point. I came home from the office one day and the deck was stained. I glanced out my window from my home office one morning, and noticed a new, handmade bird house mounted on a tree. He cleaned the roof, repaired the gutters, then installed leaf guards. He borrowed a leaf blower and cleaned up the leaves, and heaped them all on the burn pile. He rakes, and power hoses, and organizes. He consistently takes the small push mower and mows the grass where there is no room for the riding lawn mower. Sometimes I ask for things, sometimes they simply appear. Josh isn’t able to pay me rent, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s paid up.

In my quest to bring more light to my cave-like living room, I purchased a new front door with decorative glass in it. I was quoted hundreds of dollars for the store to send someone out and install it. Josh said he could do it, and within an hour from when I brought the door home, it was installed.

I complained one day about my sloping drive into the garage. I said I had been thinking that a French drain might be a good way to address the problem of all the mud and rainwater and snow that slides down the slope into my garage. He said, “That’s a good idea.” And in a couple of days, it was done. While he was at it, he also installed new weather stripping on the bottom of the garage door, and a rain barrier to the concrete floor, so it’s much better protected inside. Then he found some of the spare house paint, and painted the outside of the garage door that had been weathered down to bare wood. All the work on the garage door disrupted the open/close mechanism, because the size of the opening had changed. I found a YouTube video that addressed my brand of garage door opener, got a stool and got up on tiptoes, and reprogrammed my garage door. With this guy around, I have to do *something* to show for myself.

In front of the garage door, a drain is installed. Now, water that runs down the hill will fall into the drain, then run through an underground pipe into the yard.

Behind the French drain, you can see the red curved bricks that make a border around my front garden. The front garden has changed somewhat. I don’t have many good photos from what it was on day one. Funny how consistently I have not photographed the “before” scenes, so that even I have a hard time remembering what it used to look like. Here are a couple:

This was in February 2016. You can see there is almost nothing planted in the garden. (also no French drain!)

This photo taken in May 2018.

I’ve always hated the concrete walks in front of the porch. I asked Josh one day to take the sledgehammer and bust them up so I could haul them away. It didn’t take him long to discover that these walks are six to eight inches thick! Whoever decided to pour such massive slabs of rock? ugh what a pain. Somehow, he got them broken into three huge pieces and drug them out of there, chained to his truck. Somehow, none of my plants were destroyed. That’s the real miracle.

Since I moved in there has been a pile of bricks on the side of the house that are left over from when the previous owner built the rock fireplace inside the house. I had the idea of using those bricks somehow to make a more attractive walk. Josh showed me how to mix concrete, and soon I was up to my elbows in it and having a blast. He built some forms for me to make steps, and then left me to do everything else.

Steps are poured, and river rocks laid down before concrete is poured on the walk.

Looking from the porch toward the driveway. Isn’t this a hundred times better? I’m so proud of myself for building this beautiful walk on my very first attempt at using concrete.

Just wait till I tell you about the new pump house and new shop!

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

Not to give a false impression: it’s not really a farm and I’m not really a farm girl. But just give me a little time…

I grew up on some land. We had pigs and rabbits and chickens to supplement our only meat supply each winter: deer, elk, and if we were lucky, bear. We chopped wood to heat the house and to cook on the wood stove. In the early days, Mom cooked all our meals on the beautiful cast iron stove. I learned how to make toast on the surface by sprinkling a little salt, to keep the bread from burning. We used the stove to heat a flat iron to iron clothes because we had no electricity. We took our baths in an big aluminum tub in the yard, beside the pump, because we had no indoor plumbing. And yes…we woke up sleepy in the middle of the night and shoved our feet into boots to trudge through the snow to the outhouse. I am a rare remnant of American history, in that my childhood was from an earlier century.

I’ve been nostalgic for decades, daydreaming of the someday when I could have a farm of my own, and now I’ve got it. But see, here’s the thing: in the meantime, I became a city girl. Not in my soul, but in my experience. Because of my job, I’ve had to live in cities. I’ve only known electric heat and natural gas water heaters for those luxurious hot showers inside my home. When I was lucky, I had a little patch of grass to mow and some dirt in which to bury some bulbs for next season.

Managing a big piece of land is going to be a big job, and I am confident I can figure it all out. I’m also wise enough to know there will be a sharp learning curve. But off I go! Look out world. 😉

The Hussies behind a fence.

The Hussies behind a fence.

Eggs in their proper place.

Eggs in their proper place.

I grew impatient with the idea that perfectly good eggs were being stashed in the forest, as a result of my wandering Hussies. I began a campaign to diligently collect the hens each day and return them to their pen. With a four-foot fence they were contained most of the time, and typically only one or two hens would fly to freedom per day. After one week I had a carton full of eggs and the Hussies were less inclined to escape. Then I contacted a local man I know to come and build me a respectable chicken fence.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

My boyfriend and I (yes!) pulled out the old fence to make way for the fence guy to build a new one. After two weeks of being returned to the old pen, the hens got into the habit of using their lovely henhouse with perfect little boxes filled with dry straw. So, while they have returned to their wandering habits, they still come home to lay. I am so pleased to be getting daily brown eggs, with thick shells and dark yolks you get from country hens.

I had to pick up two more 4x4s in the Jeep, which is not made for hauling lumber.

My Jeep is not designed for hauling lumber, but that didn’t stop me.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Fence-building is currently underway, but we had a tragedy nonetheless. Miss Lacey, whom you met not too long ago in my post about finding a stash of eggs, wandered into the country road and was hit by a car. I researched and decided not to try to eat her. First because she died by blunt force, which likely ruptured her organs, and second, because those organs likely had a chance to contaminate the meat as she laid beside the road all day long before I came home from work and found her. I am sad to lose my Lacey, as you can imagine. I’ve grown to love the bold & sassy Hussies.

The rain let up for a week and the ground dried out enough to begin using big equipment. I backed the riding lawnmower out of the shed and got it running. I had not personally cut the grass since buying the used machine, because I had friends and neighbors who took turns on it last year. It took me awhile to figure out how to get the blades going. I chose a knob that looked promising and gave it a tug. The serpentine belt went flying and the engine cut out.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

I went online and discovered that I had done the right thing, it just hadn’t gone well. I checked local repair shops and found they were closed for the weekend. And then I looked up schematics for a Husqvarna blade deck and got some tools and pulled it apart and put the belt back in it’s place. I put it all back together and tried again. Viola!

Add small tractor repair to my list of talents.

There is a lot of grass to cut here. The property is 4.3 acres and I imagine the house and pond take up the 0.3, leaving approximately 4 acres to mow. Whew. It took me 5 days of mowing to get it all done. About 14 hours total. The tractor wasn’t running well and I ended up taking it to the shop when I got done. It should be done in a week and I’ll have sharpened blades and I’ll be able to tackle all that grass once more.

I’m continuing with adding a bit of landscaping here and there: rhododendrons and azealas, honeysuckle and camelias, a bunch of hydrangeas from my Uncle who lives a couple towns over, and a few plants my mother gave me years ago: a peony, some irises, and lavender. Each day the place becomes a little bit more my own personal heaven.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

When we first bought the house in 2008

We’ve had so much fun on a little landscaping project here that I wanted to show you our progress.

We live in one of those Portland homes that sits on a hill above the sidewalk. Ours is a rather steep hill, and it makes sense that the previous owners were happy to leave the hillside covered with invasive ivy. And leave it for oh, say, twenty years or so.

ugly & overwhelming

I spent many days last summer becoming overwhelmed with happy, healthy ivy. We live in the city, and we don’t have a truck. We get one trashcan-sized “yard waste” container, which is emptied for us once every two weeks. Last summer I had a continual pile of wilting ivy. Before all of the trimmed ivy could be picked up, I would need to trim again.

needs trimming

post-trimming

Mark remains unemployed and keeps looking for stuff he can do that keeps him occupied and doesn’t cost much money. We have decided that one good thing about the rotten economy is that our ivy is gone. Mark did all the most grueling hard labor parts while I was at work.

This stuff covered the entire hill from end to end and was 4 feet deep. The roots were well established. He quickly learned that clipping each ivy branch would take too long. He borrowed a chainsaw from The Uncles and chainsawed the stuff level to the dirt. That took two days. The next step was to pull out the roots, which was the worst.

Tara and I periodically helped. It turned out to be an easier job than we imagined, despite the hot and dirty work. The neighbors have been telling us horror stories about how difficult their own ivy removal projects were. They regaled us with tales of injuries and requisite, expensive, ivy-killing chemicals, and sheets of black plastic, which must cover the ground for a year before anything else can be done with the property. We used the elbow grease method, and it was pretty effective. If exhausting.

conquest of the ivy root!

We were left with MOUNTAINS of ivy and roots and no clear plan of what to do with it all. Mark started yanking stuff out in a frenzy when Mom planned a trip here, in hopes of using her truck to make a couple dump runs. We managed one trip, but Mark had wiped out his body pulling roots for a week, and was too spent to do more.

By the time I had a weekend free and Mark was rested, Mom was gone again. So we left our piles of roots until one day a neighbor that we hadn’t met yet stopped by. They live kitty-corner from us across 86th and Morrison. She asked if we would like to borrow their truck. Mark said it would be great if they parked the truck out front. Then we could load it and take it to the dump, put some gas in and give it back to them. We were very excited.

ahhh, dirt sans ivy

The next day, Mark looked out the window in time to see the elderly couple finishing the job and driving off. Tara and I baked them corn muffins and took them over the next day. The man told me his named is spelled with only one O. (“It’s Bob, not Boob,” his wife explained.) He is retired Air Force and between him and Gigi (also at 86th and Morrison) who has completed her active duty but remains in the AF Reserve, they’ve been calling it “Air Force Corner.” They were thrilled to hear I am also an Air Force veteran. Bob is 90 and Louise is 86 and they are amazing. I can’t believe they would load up all those roots themselves. But they insisted that’s what neighbors do, and besides, says Bob, “We get the SENILE discount at the dump!”

I thought at first it would be ok to leave the hillsides of dirt. We can’t afford to landscape now, but maybe next year. My plans were changed because it turns out that I live with an 11-year-old, who has 11-year-old friends. Bare dirt hillsides are a great place to play. As the days went by, the dirt spread farther across the sidewalks. I would hand rakes and brooms to the kids and tell them to put it back, and they did a pretty good job. However, I began to think it could be a long warm season if it required hollering at kids to clean up the dirt every few days.

Mark working hard to prep for a wall

We did a little research on wall-building bricks and found the least expensive and most reusable (in case we change our minds). For only $112 we purchased enough bricks to build a bit of a wall to keep the dirt off the sidewalk. Home Depot (which is about 1 mile from the house) rented us a truck, loaded the bricks on with a forklift, and within two hours we had a pile of bricks in front of the house and a bit of eager excitement to get to work again.

Mark began by digging a trench for me. Pretty soon the neighbors came out of the woodwork. Everybody had to comment. People we had never seen before. They would walk their dogs on this side of the street in order to be close enough to give advice, critique, or ask questions.

materiel

A couple driving by stopped their car. “We live in the house with the deer on the porch.” I knew the house, but thought it was a funny way to say hello. The old man continued, “You know, most people put in three levels and terrace it.”

“Yes, we plan to put in three levels as well. But we can’t afford it. We will only do a little bit till we save up our money again.”

“Ok, well, some people put a couple of different levels.” He persisted.

“Thanks for letting us know!” I answered cheerfully.

our wall

“And that wall would probably look better if it were a little higher,” he added.

“I think you’re right,” I agreed.

He then took a good, long look at the other side of the stairs, where we weren’t done pulling out roots yet. “You should do both sides though.”

“Yes, sir. We plan to. Like I said, we can’t afford all that right now.”

“Well, ok,” he says in a friendly way. “Nice to have you in the neighborhood!”

If you build it, neighbors will come

Perry, an elderly Chinese guy on the other side of us, got home from work and came right over. “You use dirt? I have the dirt?”

“Sure, Perry, take what you need!”

Twenty minutes later, Perry’s brother David comes down the sidewalk in a work shirt and gloves and a sun hat. “I take dirt. Perry no have wheelbarrow. Ok I take dirt?”

“Knock yourself out, David!”

“I’m sorry? Knock?”

“Yes, take the dirt!” (I couldn’t help but smile) Perry came over soon after. Mark shoveled it out of the hillside, while Perry, David, and I filled the wheelbarrow over and over.

Anyway, you get the picture. It’s been a real neighborhood affair with the ivy and the dirt and the wall.

With the trench dug, I nabbed a couple of levels and started to work. I carefully leveled the 12 inch bricks front to back, and leveled them side to side, and leveled them according to the brick before. Mark finally commented after awhile, “This job is perfect for you.”  I think it was a polite way to call me anal-retentive. The first row took about an hour. My excessive leveling paid off because the next three rows took twenty minutes.

cleaning up after I finished the wall

We pulled down the dirt to fill against the wall, and realized that prime planting real estate had just been created. We’ve been talking about a garden, but were discouraged because the only real yard space we have is in the back, which is always shady and damp. The front is in full blasting sunlight all day long. Viola! Vegetable garden.

tomatoes, hens, chicks

We have cherry tomatoes, regular sized tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, yellow peppers, zucchini, cilantro, chard, carrots and beets. Of course, very few of each because there is only one row of dirt (unlike those other people who put in three levels…) We had a bunch of neglected strawberry plants under the brush in the back yard, which had produced one berry last year. We dug them all up and brought them out front. We thought with love, sun, regular watering and some fertilizer, we might coax them to make more. I built a shelf of dirt at the top of the hill because I thought ripe strawberries at sidewalk level might be TOO tempting to people walking by. The berries can only be reached from the top of the yard.

beet sprouts

In an attempt to keep the dirt from slipping between cracks in the walls, I have planted Hens and Chicks all along the wall. Rich said, “Those things will just spread!” “That’s what I want.” “No, they’ll spread all over.” “Well, if there are too many, I can pull them out.” Neighbors.

As you can see, the other side is not yet done. But Mark is still unemployed, so I imagine that will be taken care of soon! If you stop by, we will be happy to share.

Happy dance

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