Backyard Update #2

Of 99 steps needed to complete the playground, I'm down to the last 17. Fortunately the storms held out long enough for me to install the rafters and half of the roof. Once the roof is complete, the swings, a tunnel, and climbing wall are all that's left.

Tonight I worked in the garden. My tiller found a few boulders last week, so I tried to dig them out using a pick and shovel. The boulders won; after trying to dig out a particularly large one, the handle on the pick broke.

At least I was able to finish one job--getting all of the landscape lights installed in front of the retaining wall.


Backyard Update #1

A third of the landscape lights are installed, the fall garden is tilled, the bird feeder is up (though in Atlanta, I'm sure they'd rather have water--we've had 11 days of 100 degree+ temperatures so far this month), and the playground is half done.


One project leads to another

Just before final grading and having sod laid during our backyard renovation, we decided we wanted landscape lighting. We did some research and found that low voltage lighting best suited our needs, and the timing was perfect--low voltage wiring doesn't need to be buried, and sod can be laid right over it. I marked where we wanted six well lights and then laid 100 feet of 12-gauge wiring in front of the retaining wall and "looped the wire" in front of each mark. Behind the retaining wall we're going to have three spot lights to illuminate trees, and I laid this wiring at the edge of the sod line, because it can be buried with mulch.

With the crew gone, my first priority has been completing the playground, but last night I worked on running electrical to install an outlet outside the house for the 600 watt transformer and timer. As often happens, the project grew to include installing a light switch to control the outlet as well as expanding the narrow entry to the doggie door.... Stay tuned.


Cheney calls invasion of Iraq a quagmire

This is a widely seen video from an interview of a then unemployed Dick Cheney in 1994, but it's worth seeing again. It's shocking how prescient his message was, and it begs the question, "If Saddam wasn't worth more than 146 American casualties in 1994, why is the 'liberation of Iraq' and overthrow of Saddam worth over 3,700 American casualties today?"


Backyard living is great!

After taking a six month hiatus from our last North Point Community Group, we joined a new group earlier this year. It was a horrible experience. Barely a month after meeting weekly, two couples quit, and the group leader asked the remaining couples to "hold tight". A month later he sent out an email letting us know he too was quitting and advised us to find a new group. We won't be joining another one anytime soon as we've found a more productive use of that time--every Sunday afternoon a babysitter arrives and my wife and I enjoy three uninterrupted hours of peace.

Yesterday we traveled to our new Atlanta IKEA to do some shopping, and in addition to a bookcase and some plastic dinnerware, we came away with a great find--a children's picnic table for $30. My oldest daughter (3 1/2) and I put it together last night in less than 10 minutes. It's perfect and saved us over $70 vs. others we were considering.

This morning the same daughter got up, put her clothes on, went downstairs, climbed onto the counter in the kitchen to grab the new dinnerware, and set the table on our back patio before coming back upstairs to wake us. She is so excited about her new backyard and really wanted us to join her for breakfast on the patio! After a quick shower and clothes, we did just that.

The weekend was spent working on assembling the playground... and I'm guessing it'll be Wednesday night before it's done.


My home, my castle: Backyard renovation - Day 9

Today they poured the steps to the back door, rolled the sod, filled some of the spaces between blocks with mortar, used liquid nails to hold the stair steps to the blocks, and reinstalled the chainlink fence.

The forms need to be removed from the steps leading to the back door, but for all intents and purposes, the project is done!

Of course I still need to install the playground, but I'm going to wait 10 days for the sod to grow before putting it together.


My home, my castle: Backyard renovation - Day 8

As I surmised two days ago, the backyard renovation wasn't completed today, but it's pretty darned close. Before the sod arrived, I laid cable for low voltage landscape lighting, which will get installed soon.

The sod truck arrived at 9:30am, and as soon as the pallets began to be unloaded, the crew started their final prep work of the soil (mostly raking up surface rocks). By 7:30pm, all of the sod had been laid and the sprinklers were tested. My oldest daughter thinks we've installed a water park in the backyard!


My home, my castle: Backyard renovation - Day 7

Back on Day 1, I mentioned that "we got permission from neighbors behind us to allow the equipment to cross their property and enter through the rear of ours." I failed to mention that this permission was through implied consent rather than individual consent. Basically I informed the handful of owners in the townhomes behind my property what I was doing to my yard, when I planned to do it, and that I was going to use their shared drive for access to my property... and if they had any problems or questions to please contact me. Lacking such contact grants me implied consent, which is much easier to secure than getting each homeowner to sign statements granting me explicit access (which also puts me at risk of having one of them say, "No").

On Day 2 I received a call from a neighbor who owned one of these townhomes who was livid that, unbeknownst to me, the guy who was running the stump grinder had parked his truck behind my fence. In the course of the day, I was told he had to move it twice as it was blocking a shared drive my neighbors use to access their garages. The tone of the call was vile, and I didn't feel the neighbor was interested in coming to a reasonable agreement. She was also pissed about my letter and that I was receiving implied rather than individual consent (my words, not hers).

I was frankly embarrassed that I hadn't noticed the truck parked behind the fence, though I later learned that it was shielded by a thick hedge. I knew I needed to have access to their shared drive to get equipment and materials in and out of my back yard. Losing this access would have resulted in added expense which would have made the entire project cost prohibitive. I was wholly apologetic about the parked truck and laid out what I was going to do to resolve this problem so that it would not happen again. Perhaps I wore her down, but we finally reached an agreement that no vehicles would park on their shared drive, no vehicles would park on the public street in front of their homes (despite having the legal right to do so), the shared drive would be swept at the end of each day as the crew left, and their drive would be washed down when the job was completed. I delivered either hand-written or face-to-face apologies to all who shared the driveway behind my property, explaining what had happened and what was being done to ensure it would not happen again.

I then immediately went into research mode. I came to learn that I only needed permission from one individual in their whole subdivision to use the shared drive, known legally as an ingress and egress easement. Rights to use this easement are granted to each homeowner in the neighborhood, not just those needing to use it to access their own townhome. In addition, I learned that permission to use this easement would override any individual's objections to use this easement. Fortunately I have a good friend who owns one of these townhomes, and I received his permission to use the easement. I also approached a couple of other neighbors who own townhomes behind my property and received both oral and written permission to access this easement (their drive), though I hoped there would be no further objections.

Things went well for a week, and then...

Storm clouds
Yesterday morning after the crew unloaded the irrigation supplies for the sprinkler system, I started talking to the irrigation specialist to communicate the changes my wife and I had decided upon over the weekend. Of course the irrigation guy was also the driver... and in the five minutes I held him up, a visiting relative of the complaining neighbor wanted to exit the drive. I received a voice mail on my cell phone from the complaining neighbor, and my wife received a call on our home telephone. In the time that it took to call my wife, however, the truck was already moved.

And it should be noted that it didn't take a call to get the truck moved--as soon as the crew recognized someone was trying to exit the drive, they alerted the driver who moved the truck and drove it just over 4 miles to park in front of my house as he did each morning.

I returned the neighbor's voice message but had to leave one of my own as she didn't answer. I explained that the problem was completely my fault as my five minute conversation kept the crew from moving their truck immediately upon unloading the equipment. I thanked her for alerting me and assured her this would be over very soon.

"Well, good morning to you too"
In order to be as courteous as possible to all of my neighbors, the crew always arrived at or after 9:30am so as to not disrupt anyone using the drive to leave for work and to ensure that any noise would occur after most had left home.

This morning was an exception, as the 30 yards of topsoil were being delivered and the landscape crew (and owner) arrived early. By 8:45am the first load of dirt had been dumped, and the second truck was backing down the drive towards my rear property line when the visiting neighbor burst out onto her deck and demanded to know, "What the hell is going on?" I told her I was having dirt delivered, and she demanded the truck stop, claiming I did not have her permission to use the drive. I directed the truck to keep driving, and the crazy relative threatened to call the cops. I told her to go ahead and call the police because I had permission to use the ingress and egress easement. "Ingress what," she asked? "Call your real estate attorney," I said. I asked her what I could do to make her happy, but she didn't respond. She was pissed. I tried to reason with her, but she left her deck and stormed into the house.

While crazy relative fumed, the second truck dumped its 15 cubic yards of topsoil and pulled away. Then minutes later, crazy relative moved her car so as to block the drive. Fortunately as she was doing so, another one of her neighbors drove out of their garage and attempted to leave, forcing crazy relative to move her car.

Knowledge is power
I knew it would be coming, and it didn't take long for complaining neighbor to hear from crazy relative and then call me. I explained that I had secured individual consent from several neighbors to use the drive behind my property (which was more consent than necessary--I only needed consent from one neighbor). I explained that per her neighborhood's conditions, covenants, and restrictions (CC&Rs), she lacked the authority to block my access to the drive after permission had been granted by another homeowner. I also expressed that I wanted to keep peace with all of my neighbors but that her crazy relative was being unreasonable and that if she did block my access, I would not hesitate to call the police myself or sue her for damages (resulting from any delay to this project). We quickly came to an agreement whereby crazy relative would shut up and not interfere with the project.

With that problem behind us, the crew finished grinding stumps, built a small block wall to support one side of the soon-to-be-poured patio, picked up a lot of rocks from the yard, and waited for the cement truck. It arrived just after noon. I was shocked--despite the insane slope of our yard, the cement truck driver was able to maneuver to within 15 feet of the new patio without sliding or rolling his truck.
Within 30 minutes I had a patio poured!

The rest of the afternoon was spent on the patio, cutting and installing capstones, continued soil preparation, spreading the topsoil, and final grading. Sod arrives tomorrow, and the job should be done by the end of the day.