It’s true, we totally rock (updated with a pic)

You may remember that one piece of my recent weekend of doing pretty much nothing included a landscaping estimate. This is because my darling husband seems to believe that the outside of our house is supposed to look a certain way.

I’m not saying he’s wrong, I’m just saying I’m a lot better at, shall we say, selective visual fields than he is. Why, the weekend before the do-nothing weekend, Otto had declared a family yard pick-up day, and I’m not saying it didn’t look great when we were done, I’m just saying that this is a Mars/Venus issue.

What I think when I look at the front yard: Grass! Birds! Pretty!

What Otto thinks when he looks at the front yard: Maybe today we can pick up all of the sticks and branches that fell up by the big tree and then along the sides, there, and drag it all back into the debris pile in the woods. Then we can trim the bushes, rake all of the leaves and other crap out of the front beds, trim all of the greenery, weed, and spread new pine straw when that’s all done. And finally I’ll ride around on the mower for a while, because the grass has grown a full half an inch since the last time I did that.

(In my defense, I did pick up a LOT of sticks that day.)

Anyway, we have now lived in this house for almost five years, and every summer we have some version of the following conversation:

Him: We should decide how we want to landscape around the pool, here.
Me: Landscape? Like, intentional planting? Where the kids are just going to run through it and the fire ants are going to take up residence?
Him: It’s all weedy back here!
Me: So?
Him: It doesn’t look nice.
Me: Who’s looking?
Him: Right now I just come back here with the weed whacker every few weeks, but it makes a big mess and it just doesn’t look like we have a plan.
Me: We don’t.
Him: Exactly!
Me: And?

(Being married to me is a never-ending carnival of delight and circular conversations.)

I’m not saying that the people who owned the house before us didn’t have some sort of landscaping plan for the back, I’m just saying that five years of benign neglect later, I’ve got my vegetable planters set up back there and occasionally have weeds outside the boxes which are taller than my tomato plants. And while I mostly find this amusing, it is aesthetic anathema to the man who dreams of owning his own rototiller.

On the Team Otto side, we now have this gorgeous new fence and deck and it very nearly looks like we give a damn about our property, except that the pool area really does look like a small, neglected jungle. He is totally right that Something Needs To Be Done.

On the Team Mir side, we now have this gorgeous new fence and deck which we blithely paid for before 2012 blew up our world with its dire illnesses and weeks of child hospitalizations and me having all but stopped working in the new reality of Everyone Has Fifty Million Doctors Appointments (Possibly A Slight Exaggeration) Every Damn Week. Landscaping costs money. We are good with our money, but the reality is that we currently have a lot less of it than we used to.

So we compromised: We got an estimate on our agreed-upon plan, and it was too much, WAY WAY TOO MUCH, and I thought maybe we could just go another year with just weed-whacking the area and pretending that was okay.

But Otto has been very patient, you know. And it really does look terrible out there. So he went over The Plan again and made some phone calls and came up with Ye Olde Affordable Solution.

The Plan: retain the largish, intentional bush-like things in the pool area, but kill everything else and cover the area between the concrete pool deck and fence with landscaping fabric and then gravel. We can revisit planting Other Intentional Things in future years, but for now it will at least put an end to the weeds and look nice.

Because the landscapers wanted many thousands of dollars to make this happen for us, and because Otto figured out that we could purchase stone locally for just a few hundred dollars and then bribe the children to help and get it done ourselves, last week a big dump truck came to our house and left 14 tons (truth!) of river rocks in the driveway.

“This pile is smaller than I thought it’d be,” I commented to Otto. This would turn out to be somewhat ironic, because the reason the pile wasn’t as gihugic as I’d assumed it would be is because—and I don’t know if you know this—rocks are really heavy.

On Saturday we got up bright and early and went to the Farmer’s Market. This was another compromise; if Otto wanted me to shovel gravel all weekend, I wanted some really yummy tomatoes and locally-roasted coffee, first. (In retrospect I feel I should’ve asked for more. MUCH MORE.)

We came back home and rallied the children, and then, as one big happy family, we began project Whine A Lot Outside.

The kids helped with the weeding and the putting down/stapling of the fabric. After a while, enough fabric was down that it seemed like we could start bringing the rocks in. Otto offered to do it, but I am terrible with spatial relations, and he was fitting together pieces of landscaping fabric in the crazily-shaped spaces around the pool like he’d been doing it all his life, so I left him and the kids to that and I started shoveling rocks into the wheelbarrow and bringing loads inside the fence and dumping them and spreading them around.

When you have a giant rock pile and a normal-sized wheelbarrow, you can shovel and shovel and shovel and dump multiple loads—to the point where your arms are starting to feel like overcooked spaghetti noodles—and the giant rock pile remains exactly the same size, and the rocks you’ve spread on the designated area look like you just tossed a few handfuls in there as an afterthought.

Clearly this was going to take forever a while.

Once Otto and the kids got the rest of the fabric down, he took over on the wheelbarrow. I stayed inside the fence with my trusty rock rake (is that a thing? it’s totally a thing) and worked on making the rocks look pretty. I pushed them this way and that, and made sure they went up to the fence line over there and up to the concrete over here and around that tree trunk there. It was very slow going.

Finally it was time for me to go shower and leave to get my hair cut, so I tried to keep the glee out of my voice as I told Otto to have fun without me. He said he was going to take a “short break” and I encouraged him to just wait for me to get back to keep working. Otto is a workhorse, though, and by the time I returned (about twelve pounds of hair lighter), he’d really gotten a lot done.

I changed back into my work clothes and we kept at it until it started getting dark. The pile in the driveway had finally dwindled down to just a small mound, and Otto really wanted to just FINISH, but I persuaded him that we could finish the next day in no time.

That night we got take-out for dinner (much to the kids’ delight), mostly because neither of us could effectively lift our arms anymore. We enjoyed a romantic Saturday night of staring deep into each other’s eyes over a shared bottle of Aleve, murmuring sweet nothings such as “my blisters have blisters” and “I never should’ve sat down, I don’t think I can get up again.”

On Sunday, we got up and gobbled down the rest of the Aleve. Then Otto finished off the stone pile and I got my veggie boxes turned over and replanted, and by lunchtime we were able to sit down on the porch and look out over the pool area and admire our handiwork.

“I know I fought you on doing this,” I said, “but I have to say, you were right. It looks AMAZING. And even though I think I may be permanently crippled now, it was better than paying someone else.”

“I really like how it looks,” he agreed. “And I’m just glad it’s DONE, finally.”

We sat in the sun, in companionable silence, for a while.

“We still need someone to come trim those trees, though,” he finally added, pointing at the culprits.

It is a testament to our love that I didn’t immediately strangle him and wrap his body in landscaping fabric. Also, I figured we didn’t have enough rocks left to cover him.

Y’all started clamoring for a picture, so I hope you’re ready for this excitement. I tried to get the best angle for maximal appreciation of the wonder that is… the rocks. Please enjoy.


  1. Kelly

    No pictures?!

  2. addy

    Congratulations! On not strangling the nice man. Trim trees my behind! Dude really – after all that it is time to be done already. Unless of course you would like to come over this weekend and help seal the deck. Cuz it needs it or some such nonsense. Oh and bring a giant paint brush would ya! Seems it has to be done my hand??

  3. MomQueenBee

    Best thing about the empty nest? Projects Whine a Lot Outside only involves my whining, and not the Boys’. Husband misses their brawny muscles and brute strength, but oh, the relative silence is golden.

  4. KGP

    My husband and I have the same issues when looking at our outdoor space. I had chalked it up to be being an optimist and him a pessimist.

  5. Frank

    Things ALWAYS look better once they are DONE (bonus for both DIY and saving lots of dollah) By the way.. once I was finished reading the post… I happened to reread the title… and had a good laugh. I see what you did there……

    Second the pic request. Both hair (if it is indeed the end result of the Hair Saga begun a few weeka ago) and cool landscape job.


    Need to see pictures of the landscaping and of the new hair too!

  7. Mir

    The hair is coming in a separate post. We can’t have all the excitement all at once!

  8. Chuck

    Sometimes I miss having my own house. Then I read a post like this and…longing is gone!

  9. Katherine

    Looks lovely. So glad to hear we get to hear about the hair too. I hope it comes with pictures as well.

  10. Midj

    Looks very nice, Mir! When you said “gravel” I thought chunks of broken rock. The river stones look much nicer to the feet around a pool for when the toys, splash bombs, whatever, get overthrown…

  11. Lulu

    Oh, good on ya! Beautiful job–I love a project with such a big visual payoff!

    I tend to look at our half acre and decrepit outbuildings like Mr. Otto, while my Frank looks at it all like you, Miss Mir. We have way too many project possibilities, not to mention absolute must-do’s. I’m really good with the planning, deconstruction, and even the clean-up, but the building & reconstruction is not my talent or skill. It’s a good thing we live out in the country with relatively few neighbors to offend with our property/project slacktivism.

  12. Mom24@4evermom

    No, no, no! Nice picture of the rocks, and they are gorgeous, congrats, but I want pictures of the haircut! How’d it go??

  13. Ally Bean

    Your landscaped area looks great with those stones. I can relate to landscaping, and the special place that it holds in a marriage. We went through a major backyard re-do last summer that almost sent me over the edge while my husband just found more & more ways to “enhance” everything. Thanks for the laughs.

  14. Diane

    Pretty! And if seeing it this way makes Otto happy (given everything you all have been through this year, you take it where you can get it) it was worth the rubber noodle arms and stiff everything else.

    Be sure to continually praise how pretty the rocks look…you really don’t want to reverse the procees any time soon!

  15. Kim

    Looks great! Makes me think that maybe it is time for me to tackle my overgrown flowerbed in front of the house and spread some rock (the garden club president that sold me the house would have fits if she could see her lovingly tended flowerbeds 12 years later!!).

  16. Melissa

    Very nice!

  17. Mary Fran

    Good thing you posted a comment, Mir, because I was all “Who cares about ROCKS? I want to see the hair!”

    But the rocks do look lovely.

  18. Jess

    That really is an awful lot of rocks. My arms hurt just thinking about it.

  19. Beth A.

    I just want to oOoooh and aAhhhhh over the FENCE. That saga took much longer!

  20. Betsy

    Looks fantastic! Good job!

  21. Karen

    THE HAIR!!?????……. oh, you just said something about that.

    And… I love your rocks! I give you credit, that’s alot of work, and you did just as good a job as a Landscape company, if you ask me. Great work, guys. And oh, how I hate to say this, really I do. But… we did the same thing…and a year later, the dang weeds found a way, yes they did. Now maybe it’s a New England tenacious weed sort of thing or our landscape fabric was defective … and maybe your Georgia weeds aren’t quite so ambitious. I hope it holds up for you :-) You’re welcome.

  22. Laura

    Looks great! We’re thinking of doing something similar, so I’m glad to see an example of this.

    Tangent: Seeing your fence reminds me of a pet peeve of mine: people that have their fence installed backwards, in which the good side is facing IN and the side with the braces (that I noticed in your pic) are facing OUT! It drives me crazy to see this. It probably isn’t very common in every area (more upscale), but here in my rural, lower levels of socio-economic status area, I see it fairly frequently. I can just hear the conversation, “Well, If I’M going to pay for this thing, I want to see the good side from the inside!”. Good for you for doing it right :-).

  23. Birchsprite

    Nice rocks!

  24. Otto

    For the record … if you took the total of the estimate, subtract out the cost of the weed killer, the landscape fabric, the staples to hold the landscape fabric, the edging (that I still need to do) and the gravel, we did save money.

    But then we ate the savings in Aleve pills …


  25. laura


  26. Arnebya

    Those rocks rock. I am so lame I shame even me. Anyway…it looks fabulous (imagining
    “the before” as bad off as you describe). The previous owners of our house painted half of the front white. Who paints brick? It has irked me for 10 years and finally…finally!…we’re going to do something about it. Can’t wait for the hair post. Was there much wringing of hands and biting of lips to decide?

  27. Katie in MA

    Prettttty! It also looks like a great Time-Out tool to use on the childrens: “You better shape up, or I’ll make you go out and even out the rocks!”

  28. Mir

    Oh, a few before pics can be found in this post, although the reality is that on the other side of the pool the weedage was even worse.

  29. janis meredith

    Ahh yess…outside family projects. So much work, such a pain, so much joy when you stand back and look at your success. Nice job on your yard!

  30. Tracy

    OMGosh…you weren’t kidding—that’s ALOT of rock! Looks awesome though!!!

  31. Tracy

    I have a question: Where’s Licorice going to potty now? And who’s scooping after her? :)

  32. Mir

    Licorice has a (grassy) run outside the wooden fence (enclosed with a chainlink fence). She was not supposed to be pottying around the pool!

  33. Kelly

    Thank you – looks awesome! Looking forward to the hair post.

  34. Kelly

    Nice rocks. Now, please, a picture of the haircut.

  35. Jessica (the celt)

    Yay! My first thought was that it was updated with hair pics (I hadn’t read the post yet), so I was a tad disappointed with that. However, I did glance through the comments enough to notice those will be coming later.

    I was worried about the idea of the rocks until I saw the before/after pics, and I realized how good it actually looked. For some reason, I was thinking it would look more business-like or something, but I like it. (And, of course, I’m sure that you were waiting for MY approval before deciding how wonderful it was.) ;~)

  36. Megan

    I rashly offered to help a friend who just purchased a house with ‘some light renovations.’ I sleep every night with my Aleve bottle cuddled close so I can whisper loving phrases into it’s little pain-numbing ear. (it does too have ears). Worst bit is that thus far all of these ‘light renovations’ have been of the destructive variety so while you have ROCKS! that ROCK! My efforts have produced wood floors covered in adhesive and bits of carpet pad, a formerly-wallpapered wall which is still sporting much of its glue and the tell-tale shadow of the skyline-of-Venice-as-imagined-by-an-enthusiastic-Hippie, and a back yard with gaping holes where bush-stumps once lived.

    Yours is much, much prettier and more satisfying!

  37. Jeanie

    Very nice and tidy-looking, but way more work than I’m capable of in my old age. Hats off to you.

  38. Lucinda

    We have all shapes and sizes of rocks in our yard. Pea gravel! River Rock! Large Rocks! It really is amazing the variety in rocks we have. Then my husband will occasionally bring back “pretty” rocks for the children to look at. After a week in the house, I throw them in the yard. The neighbor kids love looking for rocks on our yard because you never know what you will find. What isn’t cool? Having your garden next to the play structure surrounded by pea gravel. Because now there is pea gravel in my garden and on the deck and in the house….oh the joy my children bring me.

    But…..our grass isn’t grass, it’s moss. For years my husband has wanted to redo the grass and just today he confessed that he might just bring in the professionals. I’m still wondering why. Moss doesn’t need mowing.

  39. Tami

    Soon after we bought our house-complete with a HOMEMADE patio w/embedded large river rocks that would eat your ankles-we decided to break up the patio and replace it w/a brick and sand one that would be ankle friendly. The lovely “custom” slab with the protruding river rocks was fairly easy to break up w/a heavy tire iron(no rebar reinforcing there!) wielded by my husband while my job was to knock the concrete pieces off the rocks so we could reuse them(ha ha) and load them into the wheelbarrow to move to a pile. After a charming Sat. afternoon of this, I finally commented “Don’t they make convicts do jobs like this?” When my sweetie stopped laughing he asked me if I REALLY still wanted to use those rocks in the garden? I shared that somehow, some alternate plans had come to mind……

  40. Heather

    Haha you rock :P *Groan* But you’re awesome anyway. Also, “Project Whine a Lot Outside” has happened several times in my history ;)

  41. Marsha

    Looks wonderful!!! Having said that….. I also begged, cried, for rocks in my landscaping to hubby about 5 years ago and um.. ahem.. now, 5 years later, I, of course, want something different, (pain in the ass to move said rocks and plant too) and hubby reminds me of said begging, crying, for rocks… I sooo hope you aren’t me in 5 years because i would’ve just done mulch knowing what I know now. I am on my 3rd year of saying I would move said rocks and do it myself but moving all those rocks is HAAARRDD DAMMIT… I don’t want to waahh.

  42. Suzy

    That is alot of rocks. I was just thinking of putting some additional rocks down, but around here; Project Whine A Lot consists of only one voice – mine and I don’t know if I am up for that concert. Instead I will just go about replanting my shrubs – yes, we are in a drought and yet I keep planting and re-planting (maybe someone should drop a rock on me?).

  43. {sue}

    You know, I’ve never heard anyone say “That landscaping estimate came in much lower than I thought it would be.” Or even, “That is right about how much I was expecting.” It’s always a flabbergasting number.

    It looks fabulous. Go Team Otto!

  44. Andrea

    Love this: “We came back home and rallied the children, and then, as one big happy family, we began project Whine A Lot Outside.” We have often had the same project with a gigantic pile o’ mulch in our driveway. Rocks once too.
    I know I’m insane to say this, but after this past year of renting, we are buying a house again and I’m actually looking forward to it. I miss a veggie garden and a fenced yard for the dog.

  45. liz

    It looks marvelous!

  46. Another Dawn

    OOOO!!! ROCKS!!

    It does look good. I need to do something like it to the part of my yard where the deck used to be bigger. If I can just figure out how to get a wheelbarrow up stairs…

  47. Nancy R

    After reading the comparisons, I think I might be a man. ;)

    My husband grew up on a farm and seems to think nature should be left to its own devices. I too grew up in the country, but somehow learned that when you live ‘in town’ you need to put a little more effort into Keeping The Yard Looking Nice.

    We both hate to mow though, and happily push that task to the offspring. We (they) have been mowing on the highest setting at the recommendation of A Lawn Guy and the lawn looks very lush…but it’s always about an inch higher than the neighbors’ lawns.

  48. Daisy

    This leaves my rock garden adventures in the dust. Er, I mean – never mind. I’ve already posted the before and during steps – the final should show up on Compost Happens any day now.

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