Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Car

I have yet another dilemma to ponder.  This one is my car. It is ten years old and about to roll 100,000 miles. According to Honda, that either makes me right on time (at 100k miles) or 3 years late to replace the timing belt.  The timing belt, for those of us who are not auto-engine savvy, is a critically important piece of rubber that, if it breaks, will break the engine catastrophically. And it costs about twelve hundred bucks to replace (but hey, the dealership has a $150 coupon on their website...*eyeroll*).

I'm also due for spark plugs, which they estimate at just under $300. And the stereo, which also happens to be integrated with the heating/air conditioning, has lost its backlight (meaning, I have to guess at both temperature and radio station, and rely on my cell phone for a clock).  I can have Honda fix the stereo for another $275, or replace it with an aftermarket one (which could get me an auxiliary port where I could plug in my phone instead of having to rely on CDs for non-broadcast music).  According to my window ("Windows") shopping at, we're talking anywhere between $100 and $500 for a radio (depending on how fancy I want), plus another $125 for the dashboard kit that replaces the panel that has the controls for the heater (actually $250, but they give you a deal if you buy both parts from them). Plus installation (hubby and I are relatively electronics savvy, but installation in my car apparently involves disassembling most of the dash board).

We're talking $2k, give or take a few hundred dollars depending on what I do with the radio. 

Or I could trade the car in and buy something new. A hybrid, possibly, to save some gas with all my commuting. Or maybe just go smaller--I bought my Accord knowing that the trunk size would accomodate a baby stroller and a few bags of groceries. But I'm well past the stroller stage now, and my husband drives an SUV that has plenty of cargo space for soccer goals and other big kid equipment. My previous car was a Civic, and I loved the size of it.  A friend drives a Fit, and I quite liked it.  There's the Insight, the CRV if I want to keep a larger car, or the Prius  or Prius C....

New cars cost money. But then, with all this work on my existing car, it also costs money.  $2000 is several car payments worth of money.

I just wish I hadn't been warned that I'm driving a ticking time bomb while I decide on how best to solve the dilemma.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Before Pictures

We have a plan!

Well, we have two plans. One for a low deck, another for a patio.  Plus trees, and fixes to drainage problems.  I'm kind of in denial about the final cost involved. It's going to be fine. Quite pretty, actually.  I think I had visions of a relatively inexpensive concrete patio (or of laying our own pavers). The reality is...not so inexpensive. Tumbled stone pavers. A composite deck with metal railing.  Watching nice strong men do all the digging. The reality will also fit the house better than concrete.

Now it's time for the deep breath. 

And even more patience.  Because it's likely to be two or more weeks before anything else is started, while the contractors work out permits and scheduling.  And it will probably be early-to-mid-June before both the patio and the deck are fully in and usable.  I'm kinda hopeful for the patio by Mother's Day. Once that is in, we can relocate the grill and our primary table and chairs from the garage. (I suspect July's housework will include re-organizing the garage and maybe assembling some shelves to replace the giant metal table that has been holding garage junk since we moved in....).

Before I forgot, I snapped some "before" pictures.  Here is a close-up of our temporary stairs, and a shot of the full back of the house.  There will be a small deck where the bump-out in the middle is, and the patio will go across the right-side of the house near the other bay window.

In case you can't appreciate the ugliness of the stairs, the hand-rail on the left hand side is actually two pieces of wood butt-joined together. They are sturdy, but land directly on the grass and the hand rails are a bit splintery. We didn't pay the builder anything extra for them, either, so I can't complain that they are made of scrap lumber.

Had we gone with just a patio, those wooden stairs would have been changed for solid stone or else decking. They would definitely have been a focal point, which is not what I wanted.  I don't have a good side-ways shot to show the depth of the bump-out where the kitchen is.  That bump-out plus the stairs take up about 10-12 feet from the rest of the house (those stairs jutt out about 6 feet from the house).

This won't be the last time I freak out a bit about the cost of the landscaping.  And I'm already wondering if we can go an entire month without eating out (and grilling instead) in order to make me feel better about the cost (and of course, to ensure I bond really well with the outdoor living space) :)

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Project Backyard - Take 3

Being impatient, busy, and picky is not a good combination.

In round 2 of our patio/yard planning adventure, we had a very nice and seemingly very knowledgeable landscape designer come and draw a plan and give an estimate.  His plans for fixing drainage in the yard, for the plantings, and even somewhat for the patio itself.  But of course, there’s a catch.

Our yard has a couple of design challenges, and so far neither of the two contractors we’ve talked to have (in my opinion) adequately addressed one of those.  Our breakfast room is in the middle of the back of our house, and bumps back into the yard, with an additional bay-window-shaped bump. The glass door (currently a slider, though I’d like to swap it for a French door) is in the middle of the bay.  The threshold of the sliding door sits about 40” above the grass level.  That’s too high for a simple step or two down to a ground-level patio.  Our current, temporary, wood staircase required 5 steps down to the grass, and juts about 5-feet into the yard (remember that the whole breakfast room already juts into the yard).

In short, because of how our breakfast room sits on the back of the house, the stairs out of it to the yard cut the yard in two.  

The stamped-concrete contractor suggested we have a nicer set of decking steps built.  We could choose composite for the stairs, handrails that were vinyl or pvc (and these days those come in several colors that would coordinate nicely with the house). Great, except that what we end up with, looking down from above, is basically a 6ftx6ft square out of the middle of a section of patio that is approximately 12x12 (there would be another larger section of patio where we could actually put the table and grill). That’s a lot of concrete whose sole purpose seems to be making a focal point out of stairs, since the space around the stairs is too narrow to actually put furniture on.

The garden landscape designer basically suggested the same thing, except that he proposed to build the stairs themselves out of paver stones to match the proposed paver patio. So his 6ftx6ft chunk out of the middle of the 12x12 patio would be solid stone. And his way would leave this strange little 3 foot high by 3 foot wide by 7 foot long crawl tunnel under the bay window itself. (I'm sure the kids would be thrilled, but it's going to look silly from the side)

*sigh* With both guys, I told them that I hate the stairs and that I want something else. I didn’t mean just a different material. I don’t want to spend my money buying stairs and concrete for under the stairs. I want to actually sit there or grill there or have it look pretty. Patio with stairs taking up the middle doesn’t accomplish any of those objectives.

If we stick to the patio idea, the best option for "something else" is to make the patio in two levels. The higher level would be 2-3 steps down from the breakfast room, and would require building-up the space with fill dirt and a retaining wall. It would then step down 1-2 more steps to a lower patio off the side. Stairs would still be required, but would be split up, smaller, nothing quite so huge and dramatic and did-I-mention-huge. But building up a retaining wall and laying a patio on it is even more expensive than building giant stone monolithic stairs, and would trade the crawl-tunnel for a 4-5 foot ledge that the kids can jump off of (see, the door is 40" from ground level, but the yard slopes away from the house).  

On to plan C.  This time, a deck designer. If I’m going to give up a chunk out of the middle of our yard, I want it to be useful. I'm thinking a 12x12 deck off the breakfast room, with stairs off one side down to the patio (rather than toward the middle of the yard, further severing it in two).  The stairs would only need to be 36 or 48 inches wide, not 72, and that 12x12 foot space in the middle of the yard become seating area instead of a shrine to the stairs.

Then we call the garden landscaper back to re-work the stone patio at ground level (about 2/3 of the original patio, with no stairs), plus the rest of the grading, drainage, and trees that he proposed.  I am probably being overly optimistic that this will be the final iteration of our landscape design.

What I would really love at this point is for one of those tv shows to come in and make me a new yard in two days. The whole thing, start-to-finish, concept-to-bbq-party. Every communication with a contractor takes a full week—one week from initial contact to when they show up at your house, another week before you get a quote back, another week before they come back to discuss revising the plan. Maybe it would go faster if I didn’t work every day. But then, we wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for anything.

I should have started in January, and called everyone in the phone book at once. Maybe then we would have  hada nice yard in time for spring.  Because right now, I'm not sure we will get this pulled together before Memorial Day.