The Easement Awakens

Ah, the sweet satisfaction of finishing a project–in this case, replacing our fence. Warmish weather for the win! While many of you have been blasted with winter storms of late, we’ve had nothing but blue skies on the weekends, making it possible for us to actually finish our fencing project over the course of the last four weekends.

What once looked like this:

now looks like this:

In the left picture we don’t have all the posts cut to size or caps glued on the posts, so technically the finished product looks like the picture on the right. Also, the thing under the tarp in the foreground is our fire pit, if you were wondering.

Privacy? Check! Rotting? Nope! We’re calling it good.

If you’re actually interested in the fencing project, keep reading. If not, but you’re wondering about the title, skip to the “and now for the fun part” section at the bottom for a funny story about our fencing experience. 🙂

Choosing Fence Materials
We’ve only had experience with wood fences up to this point, but we chose to install a vinyl fence at the ‘Z00 for four reasons, in no particular order:

  1. Free materials. My parents installed a vinyl fence (after having a wood fence) and had leftover materials they gave us.
  2. Coordinating with existing fencing. Our neighbors already had white vinyl fences, and the west side of our backyard was already fenced with white vinyl, thanks to that neighbor.
  3. Maintenance. The white vinyl fence is lower maintenance for this area, which is one of the reasons my parents installed a vinyl fence after living with a wood fence for awhile. The salty, humid air accelerates the weathering process of wooden fences, and even those galvanized exterior wood screw boxes will tell you they are not to be used within 5 miles of coastline.
  4. Cost. Considering the damage our existing wood fence had suffered, after pricing out replacement wood for the worst sections, it was cheaper to replace the entire thing with vinyl fencing.

Installation Process
With a regular wood fence, fencing is rather straightforward because you set the posts, then attach the panels to the posts using the runner boards. Not so with the vinyl fence we installed.

We experienced a number of issues with installing this kind of fence: The brackets that attach the panels to the posts must be attached to the posts and then to the panels. If you measure the length of the panel, set your posts, then try to install the panels between the posts, you have no wiggle room, and you can’t slide the panels down into the brackets from above if you are a two-man one man, one short woman crew. Even if you could do that, the panels aren’t uniformly sized (and aren’t always square), so creating an installation template for the distances between the posts and between the top, middle, and bottom brackets based on the measurements of one panel result in post overlaps, gaps between panel and post, or bracket misalignment. Awesome. 

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After experimenting with different installation techniques, we decided that the following sequence worked best: (1) Person A holds the panel level at correct height while Person B traces the top bracket location on first (already set) post. (2) Person B attaches the top bracket to the first post snugly, then Person A holds the panel level in the top bracket while Person B traces the middle bracket position. (3) Person B attaches the middle bracket to the post with a little wiggle room, then Person A holds the panel level in the top and middle brackets while Person B traces the bottom bracket position. (4) Person B attaches the bottom bracket to the post with a little wiggle room, then Person A holds the panel level in all three brackets to set middle and bottom bracket final position, while Person B drills pilot holes in the panel and then attaches brackets to panel. At this point, the panel is now attached fully to the first set post. (5) Person A continues to hold the panel level at correct height (helped somewhat by the first set and now attached post) while Person B positions the second not-yet-set post in its hole beside the panel. (6) Repeat steps 1-4 for the other post, but Person B must also check the placement of the post along the string line (for straightness of fencerow) and that the post remains plumb as (s)he attaches the brackets. (7) With Person A holding the not-yet-set post in place, Person B pours the concrete for the post. Fun times. Not really. 

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One of the other complications that we experienced was having to meet up with our neighbors’ fences. For example, in the back east corner of our yard, our fence doesn’t meet our east neighbor’s back fence because they have set their fence ON the back property line, rather than inside it. Since we went through the proper procedure of getting a city building permit for our fence, we will be held accountable for making sure our fence is inside the property line. It makes for a bit of an eyesore that the fences don’t line up but is what we must do. The pre-existing white vinyl fence on the west side that our west neighbors built actually sits in our yard (PAST the property line, not even on it), and there is a retaining wall that extends from their backyard into our yard that made us have to stop our back fencerow too soon to meet up with the too-inside west side fence. We had to devise a solution for this awkward arrangement. In addition, we had to make our gates, including a new gate on the northwest side, work with the east and west neighbors’ existing gates, both of which had been attached to OUR original wood fence posts. We would have preferred to move our gates further forward in our yard so that more of our windows would be fenced into our backyard (we have to stare at our east neighbor’s trashcan from our living room window-ugh), but we are required to match on the front with our neighbors, even though our fence was the original one to which THEY matched. It is so frustrating to live in a city and neighborhood with such ridiculous restrictions if you actually abide by the law.

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The last complication also related to the gates–namely, that the instructions provided with the gate gave the wrong specs for the allowance between gate posts, so we always had oversized gates for the space between the posts we had stood (the gates required set posts, so no wiggle room here). We had planned our post positions such that we could make the cuts for our gate sizes along the prefabricated picket lines in the panels so that the gates were sturdier and more factory-finish looking on the ends. On the first gate, we just assumed my dad had mis-measured somehow to be too tight, or “precise” of a fit. On the second gate, we thought we made the same mistake he had. By the third gate, when we experienced the same phenomenon the third time, we realized the error was not ours. Overall, this experience taught us that my dad’s adage about not reading/following the directions exactly actually made sense. We tend to be skeptical of directions for items made in certain countries based on past experiences (sorry China), but this fence was made in the States. Plus, a measured distance of 7 inches should always be 7 inches, but their specification of “7 inches” allowance needed to have been 8 inches instead. Fortunately, my dad gave us these white vinyl pieces (I can’t remember what their real purpose is) that slide over the jagged edges where we had to cut down our perfectly sized gates, and they actually make the gates look even better.

And now for the fun part
You can imagine the tedium of fencing: string, set, measure, prop, level, hold, drill, drive, repeat ad nauseam. Fortunately, some neighbor kids have provided us some much needed entertainment while we worked recently.

Behind our house is an electrical easement, and beyond that, another neighborhood. The power company allows ‘native’ weeds plants to proliferate in the easement, coming only once every three years with a Bobcat to mow them down and a wood chipper. Although some things die back in the mild Florida winters, mowing once every three years is hardly enough to keep the flesh-eating plants wild blackberries, sandspurs, cat’s claw, etc. at bay. The power company does allow us to use the easement for gardening, if you should feel like taming the jungle on your own, of course. Of course, because the jungle snakes its way through our fences into our backyards, we have to mow and weedeat the jungle anyway. Constant vigilance! as Professor Moody (or Barty Crouch, Jr.) would say.

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Rarely do we see anyone back in the easement. In fact, I can only remember seeing a group of teens walking through it on a holiday weekend in search of a shorter route to the beach than the main road. I suspicion they regretted their decision to hike into the jungle wearing bikinis and flipflops, given the certainty of the briars marring their flawlessly tanned skin.

Fortunately, 2015 was a mowing year, so things were a bit shorter than usual this winter, making it easier to see the neighbors’ houses, traverse the area, and most importantly, work on the fence. Late one afternoon while standing posts and panels for the back fence, we saw a couple of tween boys emerge from the undergrowth in a clearing, brandishing sticks like light sabers. They reminded me of Max from Where the Wild Things Are as they shouted and galloped through the brambles with their sticks, slashing at briars and each other. They climbed into a shabby treehouse nestled in a grove of trees in the backyard of a house in the neighborhood opposite us, a few lots down.IMG_5131

After a little while, the boys reemerged and began scavenging the opposite side of the easement for anything homeowners might have discarded in the jungle (sadly, this happens). A couple of old screened doors soon adorned their treehouse. It wasn’t too long before we heard them heading our direction–heard, not saw, because by this time we working on the side of the fence interior to the backyard and thus out of their line of sight. They stopped short directly behind us, and one of them exclaimed, “Here’s some bricks we should come back to get!” We realized then that the boys were planning to take our bricks and obviously had no idea that we were on the premises! Previously, we had been using those bricks to line our flowerbeds in the back, but we had to take the beds (and bricks) out to take down the old fence and build the new one. During this process, we had also discovered a zone of the easement along our fencerow colonized by fireants, and we used the bricks to mark the places NOT to step until we no longer had to dance delicately between the ant beds while fencing.

Chris swung open the gate we had just hung the previous weekend, and I stepped through it into the easement. You can imagine the look on the kids’ faces when they realized that we had been on the other side of the fence and had overheard their plans. The obvious leader (and quirkier of the two), managed a rather cheery “Merry Christmas!” over his shoulder as they scampered out of sight. It was the end of January, but you know.

Needless to see, we paused in our fence building to move all the bricks to a safer place deep inside our yard. Once this was accomplished and we had returned to fence work, we saw them gallop past us, carrying a discarded (and extremely dry) Christmas tree, complete with red plastic base, overhead. Presumably, it is now sitting in the “living room” of their treehouse, where we can only hope they do not play with matches. Because if they do, let’s just say, tinderbox.

Ah to be young and imaginative again.

They were hilarious to watch. Of course, they didn’t know we had been watching their antics the whole time we had been working. Of course, it could also be that we were simply so bored that a couple of kids engaged in make believe play was highly entertaining to us.

As the sun was setting, they crawled over a fence into a different backyard, presumably the other kid’s home, and disappeared until the next day.

I’m almost sad that we finished the fence, as I cannot vicariously return to Jakku or Narnia or Middle-earth, or whatever world the easement becomes for them on the weekends.

And now we will be getting a lock for our back gate so they don’t haul off our adirondack chairs, too. Wink.

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Mista Lista: They See Me Mowin’

Mista Lista’s changing things up at the ‘Zoo.  Each month, Mista Lista will be taking a closer look at one part of the ‘Zoo to see how things are shaping up. This month, Mista Lista is checking on things in the yard.

Front Yard

Our goals in the front yard were fairly simple: Take out overgrown landscaping and disintegrating edging; replace with new landscaping and new edging. We didn’t take a close up of the front flower bed when we bought the house, but it was primarily a thick row of overgrown grass with a few snake inhabitants. We tore out most of the grass and replaced it with a white climbing rose, hydrangeas, hostas, and a few flowering plants, primarily mums.  After a year, everything is thriving, and we even had to widen the bed to make room for our hostas.  I’m probably going to have to divide them next year, and my neighbor is planning to give me some of her divided hostas, too, which will mean even more hostas.  Yay! I just love hydrangeas and hostas together, though this year our hydrangeas bloomed pink instead of blue.  I love the deep purple-blue, but the pink were a nice change. I envision pink in the front near the house (near the foundation it will be a tough battle to maintain the right soil ph for blue) and blue in the back along the new white fence.  We’ll see.

Last Year                                                                                 This Year

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 Side Yard

Yes, we have two side yards, but only one is pictured.  The other one hasn’t changed much. Our west side yard was the priority, primarily because of the magnolia looming over our house (the roots were too close to the house foundation to be safe) as well as the other overgrown shrubs. We replaced them with a variety of plants including knockout roses, loropetalum, canna lilies, caladiums, purple fountain grass, and monkey grass. Everything has grown so quickly that is hard to believe it’s only been a year since these were planted. The pavers and the pine straw that our neighbors had spread on our yard have now been replaced with flourishing grass.  

                                 Last Year                                                                                 This Year

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Back Yard

The backyard has also changed dramatically.  Again, our goals were primarily to take out overgrown and ill-placed shrubs and trees, and down the road, replace the fence.  We added more flowerbeds, filled with canna lilies, lantanas, banana trees, roses, etc. We also tried a fruit/vegetable garden this year (mostly not a win), and started replacing the fence.  After buying a new outdoor area rug and some lawn furniture, we actually had people over for a cookout, with enough seats for all.  Yay!

Last Year                                                                                 This Year

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Overall, here’s what’s been accomplished thus far:

  • Moving gate latch to the inside of the backyard (Surprise! We discovered we did in fact have a gate latch already, but it was put on the outside to allow free access to our backyard to any interested parties…what-tha-what?)  We now realize how the neighbors were able to show other interested buyers the backyard while we were looking at the inside with our realtor!) (1)
  • Cut down imposing magnolia in side yard (2)
  • Trim trees, shrubs, and grasses (2)
  • Remove sago palms in the way of mowing (2)
  • Replace rotted fence board (2)
  • Test/correct sprinkler aim (2)
  • Clear easement behind fence to keep weeds out of our yard (2)
  • Remove overgrown (ugly) hedges and grasses and snakes, oh my! (2)
  • Remove scalloped landscape edging (3)
  • Add new plants, mulch, and edging (3)
  • Replace odd flower bed between entry and driveway with brick pavers so that we aren’t stepping out of our car into the flower/weed bed (2)
  • Cut down magnolias in backyard (3)
  • Paint faded mailbox (2)
  • Shadowbox wood fence (3)
  • Line fence with crape myrtles for low maintenance privacy and shade (3)
  • Add edible plants! (3)
  • Upgrade fence (4)
  • More patio furniture for people to be able to join us in our back yard (3)
  • Expand patio area (4)
  • Add gate on garage side for convenience (4)
  • Add sunporch? (4)
  • Add pool? (4)

Staying on top of things with the yard hasn’t been the easiest during our flooring project. We are constantly battling the weeds in the back, so we are brainstorming solutions for keeping them out more easily (that don’t involve lots of toxic chemicals!).  We also hope to finish the fencing and rearrange some plants in September to give them time to get established in their new homes before cooler weather arrives.  Ah, so many projects, so little time.

The Great Backyard Party Part 2: Back Patio

I love indoor/outdoor rugs for their practicality, but the available patterns and colors these days make them even more irresistible.  For a few years now, we’ve been planning to get an outdoor rug but decided to wait until we knew what size we needed for the ‘Zoo…and also because we could not find one that we both liked well enough.  Well, the search is finally over!

As part of our backyard party makeover, we decided to spice things up on our back patio.  We took advantage of a 20% sale and purchased the Improvements’ Tangiers outdoor rug in Spice {see what I did there…spiced it up?}, available here, to anchor the space (and hide the unsightly concrete cracks!).  We chose Spice (orange) to provide contrast to the green lawn, but we also like how the warmth of the rug coordinates with the other warm colors in our existing patio furniture.

TangiersRugimage from improvementscatalog.com

They have a variety of different sizes, including a 7’10” x 10’10”, which was absolutely perfect for our 10′ x 12′ patio.  The size fits the patio seating area nicely while keeping the grill off to the side on the concrete so that there is less mess.  Of course, one of the best things about this rug is that you can just hose it down, and after tracking dirt and grass clippings on it, we can attest to the fact that it sweeps and washes right off with minimal effort.

Cautionary note: I took these pics at high noon because I wanted to show how the rug looks in both shade and bright sunlight. Thankfully we have two umbrellas that made it a bit easier on the eyes and didn’t wash out the pics!

In case you haven’t noticed, we aren’t afraid of bright, bold color, and the Tangiers comes in a number of colors we liked.  In fact, we bought a smaller version in Green for the kitchen!IMG_4608My husband accidentally sprayed it with greasy water when he was washing our cast iron skillet {#baconlovers}, and I promptly blotted the stains with a clean paper towel, applied dish soap to the spots, allowed it to sit for 15 minutes, gently scrubbed with a soft toothbrush in the direction of the fibers {the cleaning instructions say no scrubbing because it may damage fibers, but the blotting/soaking wasn’t doing the trick}, hosed it off until no more soap suds appeared, and then left it to dry in the sun.  No more spots, and the fibers seem to be okay! We’re not sure if this would have worked on an older stain, but we are very satisfied with how easy the Tangiers rugs are to clean! I took this pic after cleaning up the grease incident!

Now back to the patio. We’ve gone from blah…

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to ahh, that’s more like it. So much better.  IMG_4610

 

Plus, the cats love lounging on it, and it feels fantastic to be able to walk out on the patio barefoot. It’s a fiesta for the eyes and the feet! Call me crazy, but I just might go back for thirdsies and get one of these rugs for the living room. Total game changer! The bistro set is from Target; the red umbrella and the red and green chairs are from Sam’s Club, all bought a few years ago in the city. #studentsalary

We also bought these cheap Adirondack chairs from Big Blue and Big Orange (same price but different color options available at different stores meant trips to both to get the colors we wanted).  We wanted to have additional seating outside since our patio only seats four people right now.  Eventually we hope to add a fire pit to this grouping of chairs that are circled up around, well, nothing.

IMG_4611Like I said before, we like it bright. If you’re looking carefully, you’ll note we have an unusual “sod” stack in the back corner, which is our repository for grass dug up from the yard to make room for the garden we planted (note the cedar beds in the background).  Details on that to come!

Back on the back patio, we also added a storm door because we kept having water pool in our kitchen after heavy rains. Now we have no more surprise puddles in the middle of our floor, and the baseboards aren’t getting soggy anymore either. Very good indeed.IMG_4609

Overall, we’re feeling pretty happy with the way the backyard is shaping up, but especially the patio.  We may never make it to Tangiers, but having a little bit of it here in Florida sure is nice. 🙂

Getting the Backyard Party Started

Nothing says spring like outdoor fun in the backyard, so this year we are getting the backyard party started. BackYard1Last year, we focused our landscaping efforts on the front and west side yards, filling the overgrown beds in the backyard with leftover plants from these projects and plant-gifts from my mom’s yard (mainly canna lilies).   My parents also gave us a cantilevered umbrella they were no longer using for our patio, but it didn’t see a lot of action.  Neither did the rest of our meager collection of patio furniture, despite the relatively nice weather year round. In fact, I have ZERO pictures of our backyard with the patio furniture in it, which is consistent with how much time we spent out there.

Why, you might ask, when the backyard was a major selling feature of the ‘Zoo? Well, after spending more time in the backyard, we realized that our ‘privacy fence’ wasn’t very private because whoever installed it left three inch gaps between each board. We have nice neighbors, but we still felt awkward about eating a meal on our porch and being stared down (and howled at) by the neighbors’ dogs or catching some rays in our swimsuits on days the beach was too crowded, only to realize that your neighbors could watch you snoozing in the sun, a scenario with all the makings of a creepy stalker, made-for-TV movie.  We also didn’t have enough room for entertaining with only 4 chairs and a tiny, overcrowded patio.

We’ve got big party plans for the backyard this year, though, so this spring we are hitting the ground running with a host of improvements. Here’s the plan:

  • Replace old, rotting, peeping-Tom wood fence with new vinyl (actual) privacy fence
  • New storage solution for our dilapidated deck box that takes up way too much prime real estate on the patio
  • Spruce up the patio with a new area rug to make it feel like an outdoor living space and less of a here’s-where-the-outdoor-things-sit-unused-and-collect-pollen space
  • Start a manageable (hopefully!) mini-garden with fruits and veggies for home-picked produce (not that we don’t love our farmer’s markets, but nothing tastes better than homegrown, right?)
  • More seating so we can actually have people over and not ask them to sit in the grass
  • Get creative with space to have room for more seating yet not have to spend $$$ to expand our patio
  • Make a fire pit because they are awesome for evening gatherings (and our shredder died, so there’s that)
  • Bring in more colorful flowers to brighten things up because color makes things happier
  • Up the mosquito-fighting power because two citronella candles aren’t doing the trick

First up: the peeping Tom fence.  We originally looked at the cost of shadowboxing our existing fence, coupled with replacing some of the rotted boards, but we couldn’t justify it when the cost of a nicer fence was only a little bit more.  Then my parents threw us a bone in the form of leftover posts and post caps from the white vinyl fence they had installed around their pool, and because we already have a white vinyl fence on the west side yard, we thought, What if we just do the fence replacement right now?! This led to the application for a building permit for replacing our fence (this is a  building code requirement for our city, though not many people observe it…but we are rule followers and, as HOA president and treasurer, are trying to set a good precedent for the neighborhood), and the great backyard makeover officially got started.  Nothing says party like fence demolition, right?  Oh wait, that’s just my crazy family.

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My dad and I made quick work of the old panels with a few simple tools while Chris was at work, and then the east side yard looked like this:

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Crazy, right?  I don’t think I realized how much higher our yard was than our neighbor’s.  Then we began to set posts for the new panels (different panel length of new fence meant setting new posts) and put the new panels up.

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Then the rain started.  We worked in the rain to get this side done because our neighbor on the east has a dog, and we wanted to make sure that Amelia {the dog} would be able to come out to play safely.  Chris joined us for the latter half of the fence work and for the next day of party fun  hard labor.

We managed to get the east side yard fence complete, but we’ve had some seriously bad weather the past couple of weeks that have hampered efforts to get the rest of it done.  We anticipate putting in the gates on each side next, followed by the back/south fence.  We currently only have a gate on the northeast side, which is ridiculously annoying because our garage, where all the materials and tools are stored, is on the northwest side.  Consequently, we are adding a gate on the northwest side to make things easier. Stay tuned!