Outdoor Adventures… at Home

This is not a post about our campervan travels, just an update on what we’ve been obsessed with up to at home. So, if you want to skip this post, no worries at all.

It all started innocently enough. There was a retaining wall that needed to be shored up on a rarely used area of our house’s side “yard” on a steep hill. This area was mainly used as the thoroughfare to take trash out of the house, but it had a couple of small decks and paved landings. Every time it rained, more of the landing started to tilt because the retaining wall was no longer… well, retaining. We just moved into the house last year, these things weren’t supposed to be happening yet. It was something we needed to deal with before the rainy season, so my hubby made some calls and talked with some local landscapers/contractors about how to go about getting this fixed. It was clear that no one wanted a small job and the sticker shock for bigger jobs was enough to light a fire under me to get my DIY groove on. So, I embarked on my summer/fall obsession of outdoor DIY projects. Ob-sess-ion!

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This was our “retaining” wall after some demo
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The retaining wall was part of the side yard/thoroughfare that needed attention badly
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Note to self: Clean and stain decks and pavers after the dirty work is done

Since I really knew absolutely nothing about retaining walls, I had to do a ton of research to even be able to ask questions. Words like pressure-treated wood, galvanized nails, copper green, post hole diggers were all foreign to me. I learned about the different ways to cut lumber, and learned how to control my nervousness every time I turned a circular saw on. I dragged my hubby into all of this kicking and screaming, but he soon found it enjoyable to be doing something active outdoors and more importantly feeling empowered to be able to tackle house projects on our own. It soon became OUR obsession. We spent a lot of time at the lumber store and Home Depot figuring out what the heck everything was, picking out tools and dreaming up future projects. It was couple bonding time 🙂 My daughter didn’t want anything to do with all of this, which was just fine because the thought of her using a circular saw makes me sweat a little.

After much planning and some input from our neighbor, we shored up the retaining wall as well as other retaining walls which were showing signs of deterioration and leveled the landing. We weren’t going to win any awards for this job, but it felt solid and the completion of this project gave us something way more valuable than a usable landing, it gave us confidence. Confidence to tackle projects we wouldn’t have attempted previously. We got so much confidence that we tore down the ugly eye-sore of a lattice fence before we even had a plan. Maybe that wasn’t such a great idea, but it motivated us to get a privacy fence up just that much faster. The foam post hole fillers were a game changer and made the projects move that much faster and less cumbersome.

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Ugly lattice fence, falling apart after our rainy season last year
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Everything including the posts that we thought we could use needed to be removed
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A whole lotta “not pretty” time before completion
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Finished! Horizontal redwood slats were screwed on to pressure treated 4×4 posts for privacy fence

We loved the look of the horizontal privacy fence and started entertaining the idea that we could actually use this space to hang out in, not just for a walkway. It would require a complete overhaul, but it had potential. Cleaning and staining a deck always does wonders and removing an old, wood-rotted bench gave the small upper deck some more needed square feet. Replacing a couple of rotted deck planks which were under the bench, painting the railing white and covering up an area with weed blocker and tan bark gave us a vision. Finally, relocating some outdoor furniture to the area, then adding cushions, a rug, accessories and plants brought it together. Adding some solar-powered string lights gives this space a more festive feel as well. We spent many evenings on this deck when it got too hot inside. It reminded me that you really can do so much with a small space.

The deck so far…
Sunny spot during the cool fall afternoons

We’ve been mainly using our deck in the front of the house to grill and spend time outdoors, but it gets full sun in the afternoon and evenings, so it’s not a space we hang out in when it’s too hot. The addition of the small side yard space helped us have a shady spot during one of our hottest summers in recent memory.

We liked the privacy fence so much that we added another section and this time we felt like pros. We didn’t have 10 minute discussions about everything and we didn’t even have to go on any extra Home Depot runs. DSC_2522

One big job that we did have to hire people for, was getting rid of the sickly oak tree above the deck which dropped an abnormal amount of sharp, skin-piercing leaves all year round. The leaves would get stuck in the slats with its sharp edges protruding up, so when you stepped on them, ouch! This oak tree was overshadowed (literally!) by another much larger oak tree so it looked straggly and unhealthy, constantly dropping more leaves than normal. We had to have an oak tree above our bedroom removed for safety purposes (as recommended by an arborist), so we had the tree above the deck removed as well. This not only gave us some more sun on the deck, but decreased the number of leaves that fell by about 70%.

Future project: terracing and a real stairway

There is a small deck next to our bedroom that was very rarely used, mainly because the oak tree cast a shadow on the deck and dropped those painful leaves. Even though we didn’t use it, we had to make sure to sweep the leaves off or else the dreaded wood rot would set in. So, I was determined to get some use out of it. Once the tree was removed, half of the deck had great sunlight (or shade) for most of the day. I cleaned and stained the deck, added a privacy tarp on the railing (specifically sized for deck railings) and moved some plants to the sunny side of the deck. I then relocated some outdoor lounge furniture and added an outdoor rug. It became another favorite outdoor spot, a place to grab a book and cool off during the summer evenings or enjoy a morning cup of coffee. 2017-08-28 12.52.49


When we moved into the house last year we loved that this house didn’t have a backyard that we needed to take care of. We were burnt out from 10 years of upkeep of a very large yard, which we didn’t really use the last couple of years. As we stood staring at the front yard of the new house last spring, we knew we were going to have to do something with it. A layer of moss had taken over most of the lawn and keeping the “lawn” green was using way too much water. We were thinking of having it landscaped with drought resistant plants …eventually. Of course, having fully caught the DIY bug by now, I thought, “why not give landscaping a try?” This project was one my hubby decided to sit out (of course, it’s the one with the most digging, smart guy). I wanted a front yard that didn’t have any plants I had to constantly take care of (like grass that needed to be mowed) and that was drought tolerant, but still had some greenery. By July the moss had taken over the lawn and had suffocated out the grass. I hated feeling like I was wasting water, so one day I just got fed up and started pulling out the moss/grass layer. There was no turning back now, especially since there was a huge bare spot in the lawn. And thus began the front yard landscaping project! I went through many, many designs and finally came up with one I thought I liked (of course I ended up altering that one along the way also). I kept second-guessing myself and I finally had to tell myself, “it’s landscaping, chill out!! If I don’t love it, I can change it.” Sometimes, you gotta just do it, right?

Removing the lawn/moss layer (view from above)

This project took awhile (like a couple of months), I tackled little sections at a time because I could only work in the mornings when the weather was cool and there was shade in the yard (and it was hard work!). I enjoyed staring at the space and thinking about all the possibilities, until the thought of endless possibilities freaked me out a little. We’ve saved a ton of water because we’ve switched over to the drip-irrigation system using the sprinkler heads that were already in place and also using drought tolerant plants. I’m learning that some “deer-resistant” plants are not very deer-resistant, but you live and learn and try not to cry when the deer eat all your baby plants. I still have some more areas to fill with plants, but I’ve learned to add only 1-2 plants at a time to make sure the plants don’t get devoured by deer. It’s a learning process, and I have to remember that the deer are hungry and are just trying to survive as well.

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Drought-resistant front yard (in progress) with an herb garden in the middle
The front yard in the middle of November

There is so much to learn and try, but that’s what makes DIY projects exciting. We are hooked, there are many more DIY projects on our list, but the seasons are changing and it feels nicer being inside where it’s warm and cozy. However, just when I put away the tools and battened down the hatches for the heavy rains to come later on in the week, our retaining wall by the front door landing just gave out. How could three 4×4 posts just snap? We decided to tackle this job ourselves and made a quick trip to our other home, Home Depot that is. We were able to finish the basic structure just in the nick of time! Minutes to spare before the heavy rains hit northern California last week. There is still much to do to get it “finished,” but I can sleep better knowing that our landing will not be a mudslide after each rain.

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We had no clue that the posts were so weak (FYI, the deers love to eat ALL of the plants, except the tree)
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Didn’t want to let the rain make a muddy mess on the landing
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The basic retaining wall structure was done about 30 minutes before the heavy rains started (foam fillers will be trimmed to dirt level and hopefully everything will all look a bit prettier once finished)

Although we didn’t go on as many campervan trips as we would have liked this summer/fall, we did spend an inordinate amount of time outside being active thanks to these projects. I’ve got some funky tan lines to prove it! I have my eye on this area behind the house that might just be perfect for a bigger DIY project, but with the rainy season looming, I’ll probably hold out until next spring. Also, I’m missing our traveling and campervan adventures, so its time we switched gears and do some trip planning.

Future project?

13 replies to “Outdoor Adventures… at Home

  1. Wow, you have certainly been busy! I’ve been wondering where you were and why I haven’t seen any posts from you lately. You have done a great job on all those projects and your outdoor areas look like lovely places to sit and relax on nice days. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

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