Planning for Next Year…NOW

Future Fence Planning

So I’ve shown you a few of the images of my perfect fence when it was still underway. Now let me show you it up close, along with another fence design.

We went for a drive on Sunday to Columbus Park to take a look at two examples of metal fencing and learn more about how they were constructed. I’ll refer to them as Fence #1 and Fence #2.

This fence is about four foot tall and welded in place

Fence #1 – was about four foot tall and welded in place. It provides nice round holes and would be easy for someone to climb over.

 

The welds attach to heavy metal posts

This fence isn’t going anywhere. It looks far more solid than the newer wrought iron fencing that is actually made out of aluminum. This fence looks as if it wouldn’t so much as blink if a car rammed into it. In fact, I’d feel very sorry for the car!

The panels look as if they are woven back and forth.

Fence #2 is my cleaning client’s fence. They were looking to enclose the parking lot directly across from their loft home.

I love it even more now that they have the plantings in place. It’s gorgeous!

I was delighted to realize that the sheets are less than five feet high. I had originally thought they were over six foot, but up close I realized the panels are probably 5×8 foot max in size.

 

 

I love the arch they did for the gate and these fabulous flagstone steps!

Another nice detail is all of the motion sensor night lights they have in place…

As you can see, Fence #2 has wood enclosing it and surrounding it. From the looks of it, we wouldn’t even need to drill into the metal, it would rest inside of the wood 1×2’s that connected to the 4×4 posts.

The biggest challenge is supply. These metal panels are castoffs from metal fabricators. We are planning on using a LOT of them in order to construct our fence, and that means we may need to make allowances for a mix of different patterns and accommodating those patterns to what our needs are (for example, big open holes will need to have hardware cloth added to one side).

We may end up doing a mix of wood fencing and metal panels – alternating between each if we can’t manage to find enough of the metal panels.

The other twist is that if we have to pick them up incrementally over time, we will need to figure out a way to get them (rent a truck) and store them (lock them down so that metal scrappers don’t try to steal them) until we are ready to construct our fence.

We also walked the yard on Sunday and determined just where we wanted fencing. I drew rough diagrams and we need to talk to our neighbors when it comes to a fence on the border of Cottage East and their lot.

A rough sketch of gate placement and more. There is a chain link fence between the front yard of Cottage East and our side lot. I want to remove it and replace it with the new fence. I also want to run the new fence along the east shared border between Cottage East and our neighbors’ property.

We walked down the street to look at how we want Cottage West fence to be set up.

The fence will run along the entire front of the property until it reaches the last side lot. I want us to go about 15 feet in and end it at a double gate. That way we can drive a pickup truck through it, through the yard, and hook it up to the Airstream which is in the back.

Dave was a little surprised when I suggested creating a fence that ran from the front of the property all of the way to the back fence.

“I figured we would share our yard with the renters,” Dave said.

“Honey, do you remember how upset you were getting at the last party when there were a ton of kids in our yard whacking our flowers to death? And that was just one afternoon. Imagine a child that is not ours doing this day in and day out to our yard.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah.”

It’s important that we construct our fence to suit our needs and plan it so as to avoid potential issues. I added a gate to the side yard of Cottage West so that we can, if we so choose, invite the tenants to share the space on occasion.

I penciled in a six-foot-wide walkway between the fence and the east outside wall of Cottage West to take into account the basement tenant, who will enter and exit at the door at the back of the house.

You can also see from the schematic above that the fence jogs in about 15 feet. That is because we will eventually install a driveway there for our tenants to be able to park off the street. That’s a huge plus for potential tenants.

I’m planning on laying down a four-foot wide concrete path using the concrete forms you see below, with a foot of greenery on each side of it. Nothing out of control, just some basic flowers or a nice groundcover. Ooh, I’ve already been planting mint. That would be nice to have spread. If you step on it it would smell wonderful!

Next we will need to do some measurements and come up with a more detailed schematic than the one I sketched above.

Once we know just how many feet we are talking about, we will be able to calculate the number of panels we will need and we can reach out to metal fabricators and see about purchasing the panels!

 

All that greenery, all those weeds – filling up the hole in the ground I diligently dug.

The Pond, the Pond!

On Sunday, as we were working through our plans for the fencing, Dave said, “Next weekend I want to finish the gates, do half of the 3rd 2x4s and then get those weeds out of the future pond.”

Our plan is to pull all of the weeds out of it, dig down further in the soil to prep it for a liner and then cover it with tarps to prevent any additional growth until next spring when we can line it and install a pump.

That tiny little clear spot? That took me a half our of weeding to clear. It is perhaps 1/5 of the total size of the pond. We need to dig down as well, possibly 1-2 more feet deep.

I started digging that pond the first year we were here – in 2013 – and have been waiting patiently for the opportunity to install it completely. I think 2019 might finally be the year!

Multi-Use Tree Stumps

As we scrimped and saved to get each of the three cottonwood trees (plus one maple tree too close to the house) taken out – we would usually tell the tree trimmers to leave the trunks with us. It saved us hundreds of dollars and we slowly moved them to line the back edge of the property, some served as seating around the firepit, and the remainder were placed around the bases of our mulberry and maple trees.

The stumps that are now on the outside/alley side of the fence still have value. They serve as physical barriers during winter when folks are slipping and sliding in and out of their parking spaces in the apartment building behind us. The first year we were here someone’s car got stuck in our yard for a full week!

And they will also soon be decorative. I plan on hollowing out the tops of several of them so that this coming spring I can turn the stumps into planters and grow some annuals from seed, but mainly perennials. Pinterest has been giving all kinds of beautiful photos to use as inspiration!

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Nearly There!

Fences Make ME a Better Neighbor

Wow zow! Our fence project has really come along. Click here to see a short video tour of our progress.

A morning out in yard produced some great results today. While I worked on moving bricks and mapping out an area around our gooseberries and apricot trees we will fill with pea gravel, Dave worked on finishing the two single gates.

The enlarging of the ring around the firepit is around halfway complete.

He also needed to add some more screws to the pickets near the end of the line. We ran out of battery power and hadn’t finished them last weekend. He also set a 4×4 in place at the end and constructed the two gates.

Three gooseberry bushes and an apricot tree. We will add the metal edging and fill the area with pea gravel.

“Do you want me to install a handle on the alley side of things?” he asked and I told him no. I want nothing but smooth fence on that side.

Next spring I will order a bunch of rosebushes to plant on the alley side of things. They will grow up and produce plenty of colorful blooms and hopefully dissuade taggers from spraying the fence with graffiti and they will remind folks to admire our fence at a distance, thanks to their sharp thorns!

We have two more weekends of work ahead of us. Next weekend we will construct the double gate and begin adding a third 2×4 support to the fence. We originally started it with only two 2×4’s – one at the top and one at the bottom. A contractor we have working for us looked at it and said, “Add a third 2×4 to the middle and you will have less warping.”

Will do!

I figure that adding those 2×4’s, some fifteen of them, will take us into the second weekend since we will need to attach all of the pickets in the middle as well. But then the back fence will be done, done, DONE!

Re-laying with the landscape cloth underneath, the walkway along the side of the house.

I am so looking forward to that. It is a wave of relief to look out and see that fence there. Finally, it will feel like the yard belongs to us. It is rather disconcerting to be strolling through your yard and have someone just walk on through it without even asking if it is okay. I guess I’ve spent too many years in the suburbs.

Cottage West back fence with a gate at the far right.

Next year we will build the front fence. We had considered outsourcing it, but honestly, I think we can do it and for far less money. And when you consider that we are outsourcing a good deal of the renovation work on The Cottages, we could use a break in cost.

Here was the fence as it was in process of being built.

We are still planning on using the metal panels and wood posts. One of my clients had one installed around their parking lot across from their loft in Columbus Park. I think it looks gorgeous and it would provide semi-privacy, be rather inaccessible to those not respectful of fence lines and be visually appealing as well.

I took a bite out of it before I thought to take a picture! It was sweet and crunchy.

Well, Hello There, My Darling Asian Pear!

I think we planted our two Asian pears and two heirloom apple trees in our mini-orchard in 2014, the year after we moved here. And despite the havoc being caused by the damn Japanese beetles, we are starting to see some results!

Em noticed that there was plenty of fruit weighing down one of the trees and picked some treats for all of us. They are small and still have a ways to go to be perfectly ripe, but this was a lovely treat to have on Saturday night.

Asian pears are ridiculously expensive in the grocery store. They grow so well here in Missouri that, if you have the room, I highly recommend buying on and planting it in your yard.

We bought ours at Fedco Trees. Order in the fall for spring delivery. Their catalog comes out in September or October, and you will want to place your order quickly to ensure they don’t run out.

Fedco Trees is also where we purchased a bunch of our rose bushes that we planted on the inside of our back fence. I’ll plant a ton more on the outside, just in case folks are inclined to try and decorate with spray paint or break into our nice tall fence.

Financial Goals

As our regular contributions to savings and 401k have increased with my husband’s new job, I’m also working on us keeping our accounts “in the black.”

I recently read an article that claimed that millions of Americans are one paycheck away from the street. Often one bad health situation will leave you tens of thousands of dollars in debt (if not more). And let’s face it, as we age, our bodies begin to fail us.

Now, thankfully, we all have medical insurance now and that is a big relief, let me tell you! But I want to make sure we not only have a decent amount of emergency savings in the bank, but also have our ducks in a row in our main checking account.

Nearly 100% of our purchases are made on credit cards. We use them for their cash back bonuses and pay the amount owed in full each month.

However, that means that I’m spending money I don’t have for a month and then paying it off the next month. I realized I wanted the ability to spend the money I DO have, and have the ability to pay for it immediately upon receiving the bill, if not sooner.

To do that, I’ve set into place a series of incremental goals:

  • Goal #1 – Pay all bills at least ten days before their due date (95% there – occasionally I have to pay a bill 4-5 days before its due date)
  • Goal #2 – Pay all bills at least 15 days before their due date
  • Goal #3 – Pay all bills immediately upon receiving them
  • Goal #4 – Have one month’s worth of funds in the bank (in advance of any bills)

This protects us from what I call the “oh shit” factor. And let’s face it, the “oh shit” factor happens far more often than you might be willing to accept. To me, it is like having the level pay plan with your electric or gas company. No need to futz with the month-to-month ups and downs, if you know what your costs are, you can and should plan for that, plus a little extra.

And with that, I’m off to plot our future front fence, with all of its intricacies…

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Fences, Electronics and LESS Debt!

Just look at that fine fence!

I’m so looking forward to having our back fence done. We have made significant progress in the past two weeks – nearly all of the 4×4 posts, as well as most of the pickets, are in place.

The opening as seen from the alley side. We will put in a gate on the left and custom cut the boards and add pickets to cover the right side.

Today we rented a jackhammer from Home Depot and Dave used it to open up two holes – one was the remains of an old driveway to a long-gone garage, the other appeared to be the brick wall of another long-gone structure (probably another garage). This allowed us to dig down far enough to set the 4×4 posts in.

Taken from the alley side, this is the portion of fence we built last weekend. It’s directly behind Cottage West. We will leave these tree stumps in place, they provide protection from folks slipping and sliding in the snow while backing up out of the apartment building parking lot (out of sight on the left)

We have one post left to set in – it’s down at the very end of the line, directly behind Cottage West. We will have a gate there, as well as one about 20 feet from the Airstream – these will both open onto the back alley. And then there will be the double gate at the back parking area.

“Is the cement still wet?” Em asked.
“Yep, it’s perfect for putting your initials in!”

So three gates to build next weekend and one post to set in place.

As we worked today, a woman came running through our yard and the fence. “You are really making this impossible, you know.”

Dave yelled after her, “That’s kind of the point!”

The gates will be padlocked and once they are in place the entire run will be sealed, making it impossible for folks to cut through our yard. They will still be able to come in from the front, but that is a task for 2019. Just one more year until our entire property, including Cottage East and Cottage West, is enclosed.

Next year or the year after I hope to build a pergola here directly outside the Airstream. I’ll also lay in a gravel and flagstone path from the firepit to the Airstream now that I’m running out of bricks.

And that makes me pretty darned excited. I look forward to the day when I can open the front door and let our dogs run out into the bigger yard and hang out with us.

Just stopping folks from using our yard as a road from 10th Street to the alley or 11th Street beyond that will be huge. We have seen/experienced the following in our yard since moving here…

  • Various people stop and pee (or take a dump)
  • Illegal dumping of trash
  • Vandalism
  • Theft (they stole our wheelbarrow and other equipment)
  • Junkies off their rocker, shouting and walking through
  • Found baggies of drugs in our garden
  • Had a woman high as a kite sit down on a stump and proceed to talk to our chickens for half an hour while she clucked like a chicken
  • Had kids throw rocks at our beehive when we still had bees

Is it any wonder we are more than ready for a nice tall fence?!

It looks oddly small in this picture but that is a full sized dresser beneath it.

A Deal I Couldn’t Pass Up

Two weeks before I got the call in December 2016, we had purchased a 55″ television as a Christmas gift to ourselves. I was so excited to have a big tv there in the living room!

And two weeks after the phone call and I was back from Panama with my dad. The television, conveniently located in the living room, was immediately taken over by him.

His dementia, caused by poor diet and improperly medicated diabetes has affected him significantly. He basically spends all day watching daytime tv.

There’s nothing quite as off-putting to me as Jerry Springer or Paternity Court. At lunch I can hear the judge bellowing, “Mustafa Antone, the tests show that YOU are the father!”

Ugh. As a result, we tend to stay upstairs, leaving the living room television in the hands of my dad.

And with just a little television upstairs in our bedroom, I’ll admit, I felt like I’d had my Christmas gift taken away from me!

Our smaller tv didn’t have Roku and we couldn’t watch anything from our Plex server on it, and that bummed me out enough that, after 18 months of this, I decided to start looking for a nice tv for our room.

We ended up choosing a 55-inch Roku 4G and it came in yesterday. Dave could see how excited I was, and was kind enough to install it on the wall right away. We have an extra-long power cord coming in today that will make it less cord congested, and I love that it can tilt out, allowing it to be viewed from the other room.

I used it today to practice some yoga I found on YouTube. So cool!

Debt Reduction Too!

I was surprised and delighted to add it all up and discover that, even with our purchases like the upright freezer, fencing materials, and a big television, we have managed to remove over $15,500 worth of debt in the past seven months and we are well on our way to an overall debt reduction of around $28,000 for 2018.

That’s huge!

I’ll admit, I checked it and double-checked it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. But my Current Debt worksheet in Excel is updated once a month with all of our current debts. After so many years of struggling, it is beyond exciting to see this happen.

Our savings might be small (most of our savings is going into a pot earmarked for home renovation) but it continues to grow steadily.

Our goals remain to renovate Cottage East and Cottage West over the next 4 1/2 years, all while maintaining a steady reduction in debt and building our savings. It takes mindfulness and planning, but it is worth it. I can clearly see a day when we are debt free and have several property income streams in place that are near us and well-monitored and maintained.

Things are looking up and progress is being made!

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Phase One – Well Begun is Half Done

We took advantage of the pleasant temps on Sunday morning and knocked a portion of Phase One of our fence building out of the way. Three post holes were dug and the two seven foot portions of fence were assembled.

“Wow, we got that done fast.” It was a few minutes after 10 a.m. and we were staring at our walls of wood with the ten-foot gap in the middle.

The gap is where our double gate will go. Eventually, we will have a two-car driveway plus a side pad through the gate laid down. We will be able to park our future truck there, behind the gate and out of sight of the main part of the yard.

“Are you happy with the work?” I could see what he was doing, but I wasn’t feeling at the top of my game, too much hip pain, so I just smiled and nodded.

The double gate will wait for next weekend. We will handle it before or after the yard is mowed.

I’m hoping to have the entire fence done by the first weekend in August. I’m so excited about having it completely closed in the back.

Foreground – where our truck will eventually be parked. Background – where our Cottage East tenants will park.

After that, I plan to send folks packing if they try to sail on through my yard. Not that it would do any good, the six-foot height is a pretty good deterrent!

Note: I know it might all sound unfriendly, this idea of shutting others out of our property. But please keep in mind I’ve literally had a man cop a squat in our yard. Yes, you heard that right. The smell lingered for weeks.

We have also had our wheelbarrow stolen, a man with two snarling dogs plunge through our yard with our chickens scattering in all directions, and other less than positive experiences.

Most of our neighbors are friendly, well-mannered folks. It just takes a few bad apples to ruin it for the rest, unfortunately.

From the future parking space looking into the backyard.

 

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Three Phases of Fence-Building

The delivery from Home Depot arrives on Wednesday, the 4th – and thus the final three phases of fence building across the back of our property has begun!

I am very excited about this. Folks merrily walking through our yard is one thing, but we have had items stolen from our yard, along with trash, condoms, and even…super gross…someone used our yard for a toilet once.

Granted, as the neighborhood has improved, we have seen less and less traffic. But putting in a back fence that has no way to access the back alley from the yard (the reason most walk through our yard) will eliminate 99% of the intruders.

Eventually, I’m aiming for next year, we will be able to install a front fence as well and thereby eliminate all but the most foolish of interlopers. I say foolish because, while they are well-behaved, we have three dogs, two of which are pit bulls. And with a front fence in place, they could have run of the entire property, something I think would be wonderful for everyone.

In any case, we are breaking this into three different phases…

Phase One: Build a fence perpendicular to the dog fence. It will have two seven foot long panels on each side and then a ten-foot wide double gate in the middle. We will use this section to house our future truck when it is not in use. And the future parking for tenants of 3231 remains open with access to the alley.

My Excel schematic – because I am oh so nerdy!

Then Phase Two, finish the 32-foot long section right after we jackhammer the remnants of an old concrete garage out of the way and set in the posts.

And then Phase Three, complete the remaining 39 feet of fencing to the corner of our property.

We will add a padlock to the double gate, which will prevent anyone without a key from just opening it and walking through.

Eventually, I hope to have a cement driveway laid for our future tenants. That might be a few years down the road, however.

My Husband’s Political Protest

I have to sympathize, my husband has a HUGE yard that needs mowing. When all is said and done, we have seven city lots, nearly a full acre that needs mowing. And it all has to be done with a standard mower.

A riding mower is on our “would really like to have” list, but it falls below a truck on future purchases.

As a result, the hubs has stated he will mow every second week, “Whether it needs it or not.”

And believe me, by week two, the grass/weeds/whatever is looking rather long in the tooth.

And with the dog days of summer descending upon us, I plan on us working on the fence in the off-weekends, when he isn’t mowing and I’m not frantically weeding.

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If You Give Christine A Brick…

“The fire dancers, flickering their fiery dance.” Em’s response to my question of what to write in the caption. I have a budding poet on my hands!

Most of my parenting friends will get that reference. There are a series of children’s books out there, the first one was called If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It takes the reader on an adventure.

And I really think I need to write a book titled If You Give Christine a Brick, because damned if I won’t build a pyramid with them next.

Actually, Dave joked about that as we pushed, rolled and pivoted several 300+ pound tree trunks around today.

I’ve expanded the circle around the firepit and, with Em’s help, we have begun laying a new path that runs to the front of the house.

“Let’s build a pyramid next!”

He really should be careful about giving me ideas like that…

Do you see some of those monster logs down there? Using pivot points we were able to move them out of the way, so that I can finish the firepit ring.

I also removed the landscape stones that were on the inside wall of the firepit and I began digging down. Eventually, I hope to have a 2-3 foot deep firepit.

The fire department was pretty limiting on the diameter of the firepit, but damned if I won’t go down and get more room that way!

I was so proud of my family today! We got so much done! Em came out and worked hard right alongside of us. It wasn’t exactly her first choice in how she spent her day, but after a stern lecture on the responsibilities that go along with household citizenship, she knuckled down and did it.

I couldn’t have added fifteen feet of walkway as quickly as I did without her. She laid the bricks while I dug them up from the old, overgrown path.

My husband moved the rest of the heavy landscape bricks, some three wheelbarrow loads full to the front of Cottage East.

Dave taking direction from our pint-size dictator, Little Miss.

I’ll arrange them better later, I was just glad to have them where they needed to be.

He also finished a project I had started, one of shoveling all of the accumulated mud that had moved from the corner of Indiana and 9th down to the entire length of gutter in front of our house.

It took three wheelbarrows filled with muck before he was done!

Moving enormous logs and plotting my next big project

We burned some more brush, including last year’s Christmas tree and now that the heat is rising again, I’m done until we get another rainy, cool spell. After the ashes cool, I plan on digging down further in the firepit. The ashes and dirt mixture can go in the compost heap.

Each time I work in the garden, I feel such a fierce joy. We have accomplished so much in the five years we have been here. Imagine what it will look like in five more!

Em was tenacious (and successful) in her attempts to restart the fire today

If You Give Christine a Brick

If you give Christine a brick, she will smile, imagine a new path she wants to build and walk towards her garden.

She will likely ask you for another brick, and another, and another.

Once Christine has a pile of bricks, she will undoubtedly begin to shout orders imperiously, setting anyone and everyone near her to work on this project.

Once she has her husband ferrying more bricks, and her youngest sorting out the broken brick, she will imagine a firepit surrounded by large tree trunks and ask you for your help.

Moments later, armed with shovels and full of curiosity, a bunch of kids might show up to help dig out that pond Christine has been wanting since the first spring she was here.

As you begin to dig in the dirt, you will need a place to put it and that will make her think of all of those extra plants that need to be divided up and planted around the mulberry tree, the old stump, or the new wildflower garden and she will hand you a shovel and direct you where to plant them.

If while you are digging you find a rock, Christine will undoubtedly remember that she wanted to edge the hostas and rosebushes she planted this spring with rocks and begin carrying those over, clearing any weeds as she goes.

And that will remind her that there are still pathways to build and bricks to find. And that will likely lead to her asking you for more bricks.

Little Miss says “It’s important to hydrate.” Actually, she said no such thing beyond, “Cuppie!”

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Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize

Our 1956 Flying Cloud Airstream in its new position in the yard.

It started with an email from Greenability magazine. “Save $3,000 on a 2018 Nissan Leaf if you are a KCP&L customer.”

It’s old location there where the gravel is. We will turn this area into a driveway for our Cottage East tenants in the next couple of years.

And that got my attention. I mean, heck, $3,000 is a LOT of money. So I did a little bit of digging, checked out auto loan rates, and about an hour later was sitting in a very comfortable seat staring at the control panel for what appeared to be a spaceship.

See the end of the fence there on the left? We will build a fence that connects to the fence in the foreground. It will have a gate. This will close off access to one corner of our backyard.

Seriously.

Backup camera. No engine noise, heck NO NOISE AT ALL. Brakes that automatically engage when you take your foot off of the accelerator. A smart cruise control that allows you to set the number of car lengths you want to have in front of you and automatically adjusts when you drift out of your lane.

I plan to enlarge the brick firepit surround and then take a path directly to the door of the Airstream. We will put in some steps as well for easier access. I think that, instead of having a double gate there at the back, we can just add a gate at the front of the yard and drive a truck from the front to the back to hook up the RV when we are ready to take it to Airstream headquarters for a renovation.

It felt like a time warp – I’m driving around in a pedal car straight out of The Flintstones and just got to take my first spaceship for a spin!

I’m a numbers gal, though. So as the money manager of the house, I made it very clear not just to the Nissan Leaf saleswoman, but also the Honda salesman (I got to drive a hybrid gas/electric – so cool!), that I would NOT be making a decision or signing anything that day.

It can be hard to tell, but that greenery above and to the right of the bricks is our future pond. I’m considering laying in brick all the way up to the edge and creating a nice surround that doesn’t need constant weeding.

Instead, I enjoyed the experience, got some great facts and figures, and decided that as wonderful as it was, I wasn’t about to stray from the path we have set ourselves on.

Our goals remain as follows:

  • Stabilize Cottage East and get codes off our backs by installing the siding and new windows and fixing the brickwork in the front and back.
  • Finish Cottage West into TWO rental properties – a 2-3 bedroom, one bath on the main floor and attic and a basement studio apartment below
  • Do the same to Cottage East
  • Finish out the basement of our home to include a one-bedroom or studio apartment, along with storage and a beer cellar. The apartment will be used for housing my dad, then as a rental, transitional housing for my daughter when she is an adult, and as a caretaker apartment when we are of the age that we need help.
  • Fix up the Airstream and use it to travel the country

And as much as the salespeople were willing to work with us – dedicating $550 per month to owning our very own 2018 spaceship is unrealistic and honestly would be rather foolish.

We have a back fence to build. And I have brick paths to lay.

These bricks circle the large silver maple in the front yard. I’ve been planting a lot of shade plants there and still need to finish the circle with “just a few more bricks!”

We have two vehicles that are completely 100% paid for. And the money we have set aside for their upkeep, along with our minimal fuel expenses now that we live and work within a five-mile area, doesn’t come close to the additional amount it would cost in property taxes, insurance, and monthly payments.

My eyes are firmly on the prize. Get debt free, ensure our future income and retirement. And that means that our twelve and fifteen-year-old cars serve us just fine. They are tools, and they function well. With regular maintenance, they will continue to do so for a very long time.

I smile though, at the experience of driving those super-cool spaceships. One day, I might just buy myself one!

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If You Could See What I See

The hanging baskets are doing well this year thanks to Dave’s weekly watering.

I wish that, for just a moment, you could see what I see. Perhaps my words and the photos will be enough.

Our woodland wildflower garden. It needs work.

This morning we headed out at just past seven to begin mowing. Well, Dave mowed and I was in charge of moving a woodpile. Yes, an entire woodpile.

The remnants of the woodpile and future location of the Airstream. You can see the new location for the woodpile in the distance.

I remember the first two trees we had taken down on the property. A few weeks after they were cut down, our neighbor came by, “So, when are they coming back to carry off the wood?”

The hill in back of Cottage West. It’s growing in thick with daylilies – common and oriental. There are also iris varieties.

I grinned and told him the wood was staying. He laughed, realized I wasn’t joking, and stared at me like I had lost my mind. I guess he didn’t know that happened a long time ago.

The daylilies are blooming like crazy!

The thing was, we couldn’t afford both trees to be cut down and taken away. So we just had them cut them down and dealt with the wood by eventually lining it up in a low wall again the back of the property. This worked well in stopping cars from driving through our yard. Yes, this did happen until then. Later, as more trees were removed (we have now removed four in total), we rolled them over to serve as seating around our firepit and stacked other pieces in a big woodpile.

Can you believe that the local plant & flower exchange banned these because they were “too common.” I WANT something that is willing to grow here and doesn’t need anything from me to become big and beautiful!

But I had this idea for creating a driveway and fencing the backyard in right where the Airstream is, so we needed to move the RV to a different location, namely where the woodpile currently was.

Hello, beautiful!

Logistically speaking, it made sense to move the woodpile, prep the space, then we could move the Airstream, and finish the rest of the fence along the back of the property by late summer.

Not much of a crop garden this year, but I do still have elephant garlic and potatoes growing here.

Dave mowed, I moved the light stuff and then slowly began rolling the bigger logs around the yard, creating seating that doubled as rings around trees I could now plant, and edging/seating near the future pond.

Happy, healthy horseradish

I pulled more of the ever-invasive Japanese hops and was rewarded with scraped and bleeding arms. There was plenty of lifting, shoving, pulling, digging and tons of sweat.

I still hope to get this path dug up, landscaping matting put down, and slightly widen the path as well.

Little Miss wandered barefoot through the yard, eating the ripe mulberries that had fallen from the tree, her face and hands stained purple. She was absolutely filthy with the dirt she was digging in by the time we stopped and went inside.

Smaller stumps surrounding the shade garden tree ring under the mulberry tree.

As I worked, I would occasionally look up. The fruit trees that have grown at least six feet since we planted them three years ago. One of them is thick with Asian pears.

The path leading to the firepit surround. I need a ton of sand to brush into the cracks.

The wood logs that surround the larger trees, welcoming people to sit in the shade and enjoy the flowers that are being planted there. The hostas and rosebushes I planted along the back fence all growing and looking fabulous.

I planted these hostas and oriental daylilies last year. They are doing great!

A fierce joy arose in me. Slowly but surely our large yard is being transformed into an oasis of blooms and beauty. And I couldn’t be happier. Yes, every other week we mow the “grass” which is more likely a mix of crabgrass, weeds, clover, and a tiny touch of grass thrown in for good measure. And yes, eventually we will actually plant grass seed, once we have filled the spots we want with an overabundance of flowers and perennial crops like asparagus, rhubarb, and more.

Along the back of the fence are a large variety of hostas. I plan to keep planting hostas back here until you can’t see anything BUT hostas. It’s the perfect shady spot for them!

It feels like a woodland park right in the middle of the city.

One of our fruit trees

I can’t wait to park the Airstream in its new location and extend the brick walkway all the way from the firepit surround to the front door of the RV, along with a set of steps that will welcome people inside. Once the front fence is in place, and we run water and electricity to it, I could see Em and her friends having little campouts. It will be perfect!

Some mulberries…

I dream of having friends over and barbecuing on the back porch and sitting in the sun-dappled shade to eat barbecue under strings of lights that run from the Airstream and light up the night.

A view of the woodland wildflower garden, the ring around the old bee tree on the right, and some of the fruit trees in our small orchard on the left.

A fire in the firepit that chases away the mosquitoes in the summer and the cold in the late fall.

We will need to thin the fruit on this Asian pear!

I wish you could see the plans that are inside my head. They are rich and full and detailed.

The tree ring I just established around the old bee tree. I need to go in there and cut out those treelings!

Stay tuned, the best is yet to come!

Estate Sale Score

I went to an estate sale in search of stained glass. I was too late, it had sold quick, but I did find this lovely platter.

Silver platter I found at an estate sale for $8.

It was holding pearl necklaces that were priced at $3 each. I grabbed two vintage necklaces and asked about the platter.

“No one buys these things anymore,” the woman said.

“Oh, is it not for sale?”

“Well, my husband said he wanted to keep it.”

“Oh…it’s just a really nice platter.”

She paused for a minute, “Well, how much would you pay for it?”

“Gosh, I wouldn’t even know how much to offer you. It’s been so long since I bought one of these. What would you want for it?”

She thought a moment more, “How about $8?”

Considering I had been willing to pay up to $20, I was pretty happy. I showed it to my dad when I got home. He picked it up to feel its weight. “If it’s sterling it would be worth around $260 in silver weight.”

I’m not seeing any markings that indicate if it is silverplate or sterling, but I’m pretty pleased with my estate sale score!

Posted in Flowers, Garden Planning, Goals/Dreams | Comments Off on If You Could See What I See

Elderflower Cordial

When we moved into our home here in Historic Northeast, we noticed there were some healthy elderberry bushes growing. A naturalized plant to the area, cultivating an elderberry is as simple as planting it and walking away.

Years ago, we went elderberry hunting with our friends the Friends. I get a giggle every time I say that, but their last name is Friend, and they are our friends, so…

We drove to Bonner Springs and battled monstrous mosquitoes, braved poison ivy, and sweltering August heat as we picked the berries and filled bags and buckets with them. Into the freezer they went, later through the juicer and back into bags as juice to be frozen again.

Right around that time, the Friends brought an elderflower jelly to the kickoff of the Urban Farms Tour here in Kansas City. One taste of that and I was ready to go back to either flower or berry-picking despite the enormous welts from the mosquitoes and the nasty rash of poison ivy I had suffered.

Fast forward five years and we are here, with our own super-healthy elderberry bushes. These suckers would take over the nearly full acre of land we have here, given the chance. And we have done nothing with them except get out of their way and let them grow and expand over the years.

Elderflowers infusing in vodka

Well, to be completely accurate, we have had to dig up some of the plants and relocate them. They are more than happy to spread everywhere!

By late spring, the creamy white flowers appear. They bloom for several weeks and then fall off. A month or two later, the dark, purple-black berries are ready and ripe for picking.

Elderflower syrup currently infusing

The Friends have made some lovely elderberry wine. We used the elderberry pickings we did years back to create elderberry mead. We called it Respect Your Elders and at 13% alcohol, you had better have plenty of respect for it!

Later we just called it our hooch – because boy howdy was it strong!

With all of these elderberries though, we just had to try something new, especially now that the bushes have grown so large.

All of that elderflower picking barely made a dent – I have instructed my darling hubby to please make elderflower wine this weekend!

I’ve also transplanted a fair number of them to the alley side of our back fence for even bigger future harvests. Meanwhile, a large patch of greenery will help deter the young punks from spraying graffiti and gang insignias on our wood fence (one of the cons to living in the city).

The elderflower syrup I am currently infusing is pretty simple. Here are the ingredients and steps…

Elderflower Syrup

  • 15 large clusters (also known as umbles) of elderflowers -stems removed
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 35 ounces of sugar
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1/2 tsp citric acid (you can get this in the canning section or on Amazon)

Bring the water, sugar and citric acid to a boil, stirring to incorporate all sugar and not let it burn to the bottom of the pan.

Combine the de-stemmed elderflowers and lemon in a big pot. Pour the boiling sugar/water/citric acid mix over the flowers and lemon and stir until all of the flowers have submerged. Cover and let infuse for 3-4 days, then strain and keep the syrup refrigerated.

I’ve never done this before, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how it tastes and then using some of it to make elderflower jelly. In fact, I might make a second, and even a third batch, so that i have enough syrup to also make elderflower lemonade and elderflower soda.

Later, in August, I plan on collecting elderberries and making an elderberry syrup to fight off colds, along with elderberry jam and other interesting kitchen experimentation. Stay tuned for updates!

Posted in Fermentation, Flowers, Fruits, Gleaning, Recipes | Comments Off on Elderflower Cordial

Vacuums That Last

My last post was about my visit to a great bargain store, so in that same vein, I’d like to talk about the best vacuum to buy.

It might not be sexy, but I hope you will listen to me. After all, I run a cleaning business, and I’ve had a lot of experience with vacuums, a LOT of experience.

Also, I am not getting any kind of pay, rebate, or affiliate commission on my recommendation (although I really should be since I’ve been singing on particular company’s praises for YEARS).

Let’s begin by covering what you should expect out of a vacuum, shall we?

  • Versatility – the ability to vacuum all surfaces from rugs, to linoleum, tile and wood without any blowback (nearly impossible to find in an upright without having to fuss with different settings as you move from one surface to the next)
  • Reliability – will it break down easily? Or keep going and going (kind of like the Energizer bunny)
  • Lightweight – when lugging up armfuls of equipment and cleaning supplies, having a vacuum that can be lifted in one hand (along with my steam mop) means making one trip in the front door which increases my efficiency
  • Power – I need something that picks up dirt quickly and easily, without me having to go back over the same areas more than once
  • Long power cord – I don’t want to waste my time trying to find yet another outlet to plug into, I want a nice, long cord that I can plug in and it will handle most floor plans without the need to move to a different outlet
  • Bag, NOT Bagless – Replacing a paper bag has always been easier for me than trying to empty out a bagless vacuum, wash the filter and then wait for it to dry. Perhaps they have improved the bagless vacuums in the past 12 years. I might be behind the times on this particular point.

I don’t need sexy, colorful, streamlined vacuums that have a weird rollerball and claim to turn on a dime. I don’t need a vacuum that weighs 16-19 pounds empty or one that requires me to push buttons or adjust dials or swap out parts when moving from a rug to a hardwood floor.

I also see no need to pay more than $250 for a vacuum. Especially when I can get a workhorse of a vacuum, one that is easily repaired and needs little maintenance to continue to perform.

Every so often, one of my Facebook friends will post, “My vacuum just broke, what kind should I get?”

And I always, always, ALWAYS recommend they visit the ORECK Store on Metcalf and 135th Street and purchase a red commercial grade ORECK vacuum.

About 18 months ago a friend posted asking for recommendations. She ended up getting a Dyson because everyone has heard of Dyson and so of course, it had to be the best. I recently looked up how much those suckers cost, and for the “better” ones, they are close to $500 or more. And surprise, surprise, her Dyson kicked the bucket and now she has to wait weeks to get it serviced by sending it to Dyson for repair.

That is INSANE.

Nearly three years ago, my oldest ORECK upright finally died on me. The motor needed to be replaced and for just $20 above the price of buying a whole new motor, I could get a new vacuum. So I bought a brand-new one. It had a brand-spanking new “endurance extended life belt” on it, and the entire vacuum cost $216.99. I haven’t had to change the belt yet. And on Friday I took it into the store and asked if they could replace a screw that had fallen out on the main stem of the vacuum.

Two minutes later I was walking out of the store, TWO screws replaced after the guy noticed that one of them wasn’t issued by ORECK (my husband had tried to find one that would work) and it was free of charge.

“I have a huge bucket of them in the back, don’t worry about it,” the guy said.

ORECK brand, especially the red boxy commercial line, isn’t sexy. But seriously, sexy doesn’t make a vacuum better, it doesn’t make you look better either, especially when that overpriced, sleek behemoth not only breaks down, but HAS to be sent back to the manufacturer to be fixed. I’d be turning the air blue around me with all the swearing that would happen in the face of that catastrophe. I need my machines to WORK and I have little patience or time for repairs.

I could take my ORECK to any vacuum shop and they would be able to fix it, but it is quite convenient to just drive over to Metcalf.

I just looked up the numbers and, after 13 years in the housecleaning business, I have spent a whopping $168.46 on servicing my ORECK vacuum!

ORECK vacuums have strong motors. They are easily fixed. They weigh just 8 pounds when empty. They have a 35′ long cord, they make the transition from carpet to tile, hardwood or linoleum seamlessly, and they will work hard for you, pretty much forever.

So the next time your vacuum dies. Listen to your favorite writer/housecleaner and go to the ORECK store at 6980 W 135th St, Overland Park, KS 66223. I guarantee you it will be the best vacuum you have ever bought (and with regular upkeep, the last one you will ever need).

Posted in Cleaning Tips, Products | Comments Off on Vacuums That Last