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....).
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) :)