Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mowerly Musings, Vol V, No 1 —
Waiting to be Sprung

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again
This is another of the many started-but-never completed-and/or-posted stories I’ve written over the past nine months or so. This one, however, is of much more recent vintage (primarily May 17, 2008) than many of the ones I’ve mentioned before.

And while I’m on that subject, let me say, I kinda had a feeling I would end up looking silly, making that June ‘blog bonanza’ proclamation as I did a month ago, and sure enough, ended up with egg on my face. I failed miserably in my goal to complete even a fraction of the post volume of my original intention.

However it did manage to get me going enough to post a few well-overdue stories, so no harm-no foul, I say.

I will continue to try and finish up what I started with regard my June Boon ambition, but I’m not going to necessarily shame myself into it this time. Thankfully my schedule has opened up a bit now to where I have the ability to write a little more in the evenings and on weekends, so we’ll see how things shake out here in the coming weeks.

But for now, I have this recent story to post; something not completely current, but still germane to the recent goings-on in the life of the new Casa AJ.

The new house we moved into this past January has been a harsh taskmaster at times, but we’ve finally begun seeing the fruition of our efforts to tame this beast that gives us so much pleasure at the cost of almost equal pain.

Working ourselves into the floor on a weekly basis for two months, we finally celebrated our oft-postponed ‘Open House’ party with friends, co-workers, and a few of our new neighbors a week ago last Saturday. The event was a total success, and I’ll be writing about it in a separate post soon.

But first, I’d like to post something I started back in May, when we were still early in the process of whipping our new home into shape; when the grass was green (it’s brown right now, BTW) and my yard was an open canvas.

If you’ve followed this blog for any considerable period of time you already know what that means to me. Spring is my favorite time of year because it brings to the fore one of my most Jeckyll & Hydean pastimes — yardwork.

I love it and hate it simultaneously, yet no other activity both relaxes and propels me into thought in quite the same way. It’s my ‘thinking time’ during the summer months, and as you know, I loves ta think.

However this spring, the love really had to be strong, because there was so very much to do — most of which was just hard, hard, backbreaking work.

There were flowerbeds that needed to be sculpted; shrubs that needed to be planted; earth that needed to be moved. I would’ve much rather been sitting up on my porch, watching someone else do all the grunt work, but alas, The Donald I ain’t.

‘Sweat equity’ was the call Michelle and I needed to answer. But as tough as it was getting through it, the end result was truly glorious — not only because of how it looked but also, the reason why it looked so good.

This is a story about a gift — and the sweat required in redeeming it.

My Morning Jacket
It’s also My Midday Jacket...not to mention My Evening and Weekend Jacket as well. I’m talking about the straitjacket that has been my life over the past three months or so, and doesn’t promise to loosen up anytime soon.

Too much to do; not enough time to do it; No energy left over for anything else when I finally am able to scrape an hour or two together for myself.

It’s gettin’ old, folks — real old.

But no, this isn’t an apology for not posting, but rather a rant for not being able to. I have learned definitively just how much blogging means to me and how much less alive I feel when I’m not doing it, and I’m here to tellya, the latter circumstance stinks out loud.

My weekends have not been my own for several months now, and that doesn’t look to change a whole lot until perhaps later this summer, or whenever we finally get a handle on getting the yards up to snuff and are satisfied with the state of decoration of our new house.

Yeah, yeah I know — my problems aren’t exactly up there with world hunger and the price of gas — so please feel free to verbally abuse me via your computer screen right now; I probably deserve it.

Nonetheless, in the micro-reality that is the life of AJ, all is not as well as I would like it to be, not that it’s all that bad either. I suppose my plight is mostly of my own making, and in the grand scheme of things, what I’m going through right now is so beneath the worthiness of spending even this much time commenting on, it’s downright pathetic. But I’m doing it anyway, ‘cuz I need to.

No Rest for the Weary
For starters, I suppose I should have had a better idea of what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to buy an new house. Did I think the place was just gonna furnish itself? This isn’t my first rodeo after all; we did go through this exact same process a little more than fourteen years ago. Good Lord, is my memory that short? So to that end, it should be no surprise that my weekends are merely days away from my primary occupation, as opposed to being actual days ‘off.’

So while I’m tired, physically and mentally just about all the time now, there is at least the payback of seeing things come together here on the new homestead. Michelle and I are enjoying each other a lot these days and she is definitely feeding off the creative energy that the experience sends coursing through her veins. She recently finished the bulk of the new window treatments throughout our house and things are nearly to a point of completion with regard to the interior decor for now. She quite justifiably takes great pride in her decorating accomplishments, but it’s not time to sit back — not just yet.

Of course now spring has sprung and it’s time to refocus our creative energies on the outside of our home and to Michelle’s true passion: gardening. She’s a flower maven without peer when she gets all the wheels turning, and boy have those babies been in motion these past couple of weeks. We’ve spent the past two weekends scouring the local nurseries for ideas and picking up assorted flowers and shrubbery to plant along the way.

But we’re not just out planting flowers willy-nilly; we’ve got a plan. This weekend began the process of reshaping the default landscape boundaries left by the builder. We’re transforming our outside property according to the vision left for us by a landscape architect whose services were given to us as a housewarming gift — courtesy of one of our son's best childhood buddies growing up here in Williamson County.

The young man, who we’ll name, ‘Win,’ for purposes of this story, called in a favor (one presumably worth several hundred dollars at that) to provide this incredibly creative gift to us. We were absolutely blown away by his generosity. Just the thought of something so completely unique was special enough, but the timeliness and appropriateness of such an act is something I will probably never get over.

A Winning Combination
We were fairly close to Win’s family as he and Shawn were making their way through Boy Scouts, middle school, and high school together. The two were wrestling teammates and in Scouts earned their Eagle badge together as well. They were close for several years, but then seemed to drift apart after graduation (at least as far as our involvement with out son’s friend was concerned), with each attending different colleges but heading down fairly similar career paths.

Shawn studied forestry while working professionally on the side as an arborist, while Win continued to develop a lawn care service he’d started in high school, which really began to take off and grow (pun intended) while he was in college.

Win would expand his business to include the contracting of larger landscaping projects, such as the building and designing of hardscapes (stone and/or poured cement elements like outdoor fountains and walkways), decorative gardens, decks, pergolas, and the like.

Along the way, he became involved with a landscape architect that would help him design his projects and vice-versa; the young man Win would eventually hire to do the design for our new home — a likable fellow we’ll call ‘Tom.’

After we moved in to our new house in Late January, Shawn announced that Win had called him and told us of his surprise gift for his ‘second family.’ We were wowed, but didn’t really know what to expect. But soon enough we received a call from Tom, and yes, he was really going to do this wonderful thing for us.

It finally sunk in. We were beyond thrilled.

Over the course of about two months, Tom met with Michelle and me to gather our ideas and thoughts on the types of things we liked, to combine them with the feel and vision he himself was developing for our property.

After four meetings he was finished and we were presented with the final plan. Needless to say it was fairly ambitious, with multiple hardscape elements that won’t be cheap to execute, but will be very cool. There’s the outdoor fireplace in the back yard, a new concrete walkway in front and patio extension in back, not to mention a wonderful 17' x 8' pergola with a water feature, slated be the crown jewel of our lush country garden setting in the back yard. All these elements are highly artistic and perfectly befitting of Michelle’s and my collective personality. It was as if Tom was reading our minds. Our outdoor spaces will be comfortable and inviting without pretentiousness.

Tom’s plan is totally appropriate to the kind of things we might have actually built on our own given the proper inspiration. To that end, he’s provided us with the one thing that we (and most people, I would imagine) lack to accomplish a project of this nature: a roadmap.

We could never have come up with such a detailed plan to accomplish something on a scale so comprehensive as this. It would have all been so intimidating. This is just what the doctor ordered as far as I’m concerned. We’re totally stoked.

Tom obviously knew we wouldn’t be able to implement all this by ourselves, so there is certainly an element of commerce attached to this ‘gift.’ We will need both his and Win’s assistance in getting a lot of these hardscapes built, and to a lesser degree, some of the landscaping done as well, all of which means they’ll probably get a considerable return on the investment of their time and courtesy in the deal. But that’s more than okay with us.

Chances are we might have hired Win to do some things for us anyway if we’d been cognizant that his business had now moved into such a high-quality arena as it has. His clients aren’t just neighborhood Mom’s and Dads, needing their lawn mowed; his clientele now includes owners of million-dollar homes who pay him well to make their properties the envy of their neighbors.

Yeah...that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I could live with having the best-looking yard in the ‘hood (except for the million-dollar part; that’s where reality kinda slaps back).

The good news is that Tom’s plan, while fairly expensive to implement, isn’t ridiculously over-ambitious; it’s attainable, but we realize that we’ll probably need to spread out the total execution of the dream over at least a couple of years.

Most within reach in the near-term is the front yard, on which we’re trying to get as much done on this year as possible; but our back yard sanctuary will most definitely have to be a work in progress.

Hard Labor
And speaking of the front yard, I began this post on Saturday, prior to beginning the hellaceous task of relocating pieces of sod from one part of the front yard to the back, as we reshape the flower beds to accommodate Tom’s layout. This literally backbreaking labor is my absolute-least favorite activity in all possible gardening endeavors. Trouble is though, I’m damn good at it, so I just can’t bring myself to hire anyone else to do it — that along with the high cost of outsourcing such a labor-intensive project.

So now this morning I’m trying buck up the gumption to force myself to go out and finish the job. If I’m still able to move by this afternoon I’ll finally post this runaway train-of-a-story.

I’ve got my back brace on, my sweat bandana/do-rag is in place, and I have a look of determination that’d make Mister T shudder. I’m a man on a mission. I pity the fool that stands in my way.

Wish me luck.

Back to the Future…with Pictures!
Unfortunately I was unable to finish this story that afternoon, partly because I couldn’tmove, but also because it would end up taking an additional two weekends to complete the task of cutting in those flowerbeds and completing the first phase of our new landscaping plan.

It is now late-July and what we accomplished in May will likely be the extent of our yard-crafting ambitions for the season. Our goal was to have the front yard looking good for our open house and we accomplished that goal.

Over the fall and winter, we may — funds pending — begin to implement one or two of the hardscape projects in the back yard and/or the new stamped concrete walkway prescribed for the front. But for now, Michelle and I are content to sit back and enjoy the first fruits of our labor.

Here are the pictures I took, soon after completion of the front yard flowerbed augmentation.

We feel as though we’re off to a good start.

Michelle's green thumb and Tom's landscape design came together in this the first movement of what we hope will be a lovely symphony of flora in grace.

Hopefully by next summer we'll have a substantial portion of Tom's vision for the front yard implemented. It includes several Crepe Myrtles (flowering trees) and a hedge of Boxwood shrubs (similar to the ones linking the front of the flowerbed to the left) comprise the border of the front yard property. We're a ways off from that, but this is a start.

In the front yard, the hardscape feature we're hopeful of implementing as soon as this winter is the pair of stamped concrete walkways that will both replace and add to the existing smooth concrete path that's now in place. The existing path, parallel to the house will be replaced and augmented by an additional section extending from the front steps straight out to the sidewalk.