The Backyard Makeover is about to Begin

With the much anticipated arrival of spring we are finally making our way outdoors! Every year I make the kiddos take a picture in front of this bush. My app I downloaded last fall said it was a service berry, but I really have no clue. It was a little late in the season when I decided I wanted to identify every plant in our yard. I may have waited until all the leaves fell off and then the app was surprisingly not that good at guessing what things were.

It’s the first thing that flowers every spring and it makes me all kinds of happy. Here is  this year:


What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t force the kids to enjoy the things I do. See they love it, you can see how they are just about tearing up with delight over the years.

Now that I’ve gotten completely distracted, the purpose of this post is actually to show you our backyard plans. Now if you were with me back in July I detailed the plans in this post. The inspiration is the same, but the layout has been altered, along with some of the details

So originally we were thinking this kind of configuration. The patio was going to go where the last splintery, rotten deck had been. It seemed cozy in the corner and I think because something had been there I was kind of stuck on the idea of replacing it.


Luckily for me, winter was long and I had lots of time to think through what would be the best use of space. One of the things I kept thinking about was how the design above didn’t really connect the three doors- the shed, the backdoor of the house and the sun room door. It also left the grass area in an L shape without lots of room to play a game of soccer or lawn games. Now granted our backyard will never be huge, but at the end of the day I want it to be a space we can enjoy as a family.

So as soon as it warmed up ever so slightly, the kiddos and I ventured out to the backyard so I could make tracks in the snow to outline my new layout idea for the patio.

So here is the new mock-up. It is oriented the same way as the one before, just much more zoomed in. It looks very much like a whale when I look at it now.

patio with adds and labels

The bulk of the patio is on the left with it transitioning to more of a path to the new steps down to the sunroom. When I am thinking through something this big and permanent I like to think of how the space will be used and what I would want to fill the space.

Major changes/perks:

  1. Connects the shed, house and sunroom
  2. The patio path will cover the always dead grass next to the house
  3. The final holdout of rotten wood will be ripped out an replaced with stone steps
  4. More connected grass for playing

Let me show you some real shots of the backyard so you can see its current state.


The amount of labor was really beginning to add up. Not only was there the significant amount of digging down for the patio base, there was the removing of a giant dirt hill, and the removal of the wood steps. All of that labor was only to lay the ground work, not to actually make it pretty.

Shoutout to my co-worker John who thoroughly convinced me to hire the job out after describing in detail the unbelievable amount of backbreaking work that building a patio entails. The other major bummer for our backyard is that there is no way to get any kind of big equipment in to lighten the load. Just lots of manual labor and long wheelbarrow routes. I told Brett we should at least get some quotes and then see if after getting them we feel motivated to do it ourselves.

Yup. Still not motivated, despite the cost.

Here you can see the current wood steps running the length of the sun room. These are coming out. They are mostly rotted since they were built right on top the dirt. We will carry the existing retaining wall over to where the new steps in front to the door will be.


Here is the view from inside the sunroom. The new steps will instead be 36 inches wide. You can sort of see the spray painted line for the new path and patio. The patio will go up to the retaining wall on the right of the picture. That wall will come out, so it will hopefully be a seamless transition from the patio to the new flat grass.


This is the retaining wall that is coming out. A new retaining wall will follow the fence line to hold back the neighbor’s dirt from our new flattened out hill.


Here is one final view from the shed door, looking towards the sun room.


Here are the materials we picked out:

  • Holland Pavers: Fieldstone- I really wanted classic pavers, since they always look good and age beautifully. I just couldn’t get on the stamped concrete train because it can go wrong in so many ways and it just doesn’t have the same feel.
  • Diamond Retaining Wall in Desert Tan- except a beefier block and flat front. Brett felt strongly about the flat front and I didn’t really care/couldn’t really figure out what he was talking about. When we were picking things out I told the guy helping us we were looking for affordable and not too fancy. When I asked him how much a stacked stone retaining wall was he simply told me ” Oh it’s fancy.”
  • Chilton stone step- now this was reasonably fancy. It was just so pretty I couldn’t pass it up and it wasn’t that much more than the concrete steps made to look like stone.



We absolutely cannot wait for them to get started. The guy we hired thought they’d be able to start the beginning of June and that the whole thing would take 4-5 days. Both parts of that seem kinda bonkers. If we were doing this ourselves we likely would need a number of more weeks to gear up for it and then just a few short years to actually complete it.

I’ll keep you in the loop as things get going!



Laundry Room Wrap Up

So unlike a finished project, this is a wrap up. It’s where you don’t really see an end in sight, but you’ve got to get your room back together and you decide to be practical and realistic and look back at your historical likelihood of being done any time soon and realize vacuuming the sawdust could help.

Let me show you the last two things we finished up:

First up the built in shelf nook. Now I don’t want to brag, but one of my friends, and I quote, stated that I have “truly legendary MS Paint skills.” Let me show you a side by side of the Paint mock-up next to the real life version. Don’t feel bad if you can’t tell which is which:

This is like a cereal box quiz: You can find the answer at the bottom of the post.

Making the shelves was actually fairly simple. We used 1 x 2 boards and screwed them into the wall, trying to hit studs to make them sturdy. We measured to make sure there was enough space between shelves for the bins to easily fit with some toys sticking out. We also wanted the first shelf to be high enough so we could neatly tuck our wood step stool underneath.

For the actual shelf we used the same wood (called project board from Lowe’s) that we used for the cabinet top. Here are a few steps we did that I would highly recommend skipping.

  1. Buy a wonky board because its the only one they’ve got at the Lowe’s on Brett’s way home from work
  2. Decide it’s not so bad
  3. Cut all the shelves out of it
  4. Realize it really does look wonky, but know that it’s much too late to return
  5. Finally make up your mind that, yeah you should really buy a new one
  6. Remember the reason you never shop at Lowe’s is because it is no where near your house
  7. Drag your kids to Lowe’s on the same evening that you attempted to go to Teddy Bear Park only to find out it wasn’t open for the season yet, but to make up for it you took them to another less cool park, where they only got to play for 5 minutes, because the newly potty trained 2 year old says he has to go potty- and not the kind that can be done on a tree trunk, then both kids take turns ramming the cart into things/each other and melting down while you really just want to buy a single board that isn’t crazy warped.


So when I stained the base cabinet top I used Minwax Early American as the stain color. I also used wood conditioner for the first time ever. I had heard it was a good idea for light woods in order to evenly soak up the stain. It turns out that the wood conditioner made quite the difference because for the shelf supports I decided just to stain them without first using the wood conditioner. It turned out terrible. It was a real dark brown, which was exactly what I did not want. (Cue memories of all the dark wood in the basement that was fake distressed with hammering dings and screw indents)

So again another step to skip: Start staining the shelf supports and realize you hate the color, carry on full steam ahead. After finishing, decide that you truly hate it and sand them all down.

You can see that dark brown in the corners in the picture above.

But alas I got it all stained, we put the shelves in, which was a bit of a doozy of course since nothing is straight, but we made it work, cheating the front so it is straight, even if it leaves a bit of a gap in the back.


The other storage solution that I finished up today was organizing the bins for the gorilla rack. Last weekend I sprayed the gorilla rack matte black to go with some of the other hits of black in the space. I also bought all the same color bins like a crazy person. We actually own loads of storage bins, but I have them filled with baby clothes/things, which I happily lend out, but can’t quite manage to give away completely.

I did decide though that I would only use this rack for useful storage that I need more often, like hand me downs for Gideon from Levi. Whatever leftover space would be for toys that are out of rotation.

Beautiful right? Now in my dream world, would I have found bins that exactly matched the cabinet? Of course, but they don’t exist. Also here is a hot tip, if you paint chalkboard paint on bins it won’t stay, but little sticker labels did the trick.

So we are calling it good for now. Are there still significant holes in the ceiling? Sure. Is the flooring still hodgepodge with patches of concrete poking through? Well of course. Did I not get to put all the pretty things up? Sadly yes.

I’ll show you the last of the odds and ends that will eventually make the laundry room complete.

Image result for ikea hektarTarkett® Vibe Sheet Vinyl 12 Ft Wide

This pretty light is from Ikea. I bought it already on a whim, not sure where exactly it will land yet. The floor is a vinyl from Menards that looks like a nice a neutral, but not tacky or dopey- like most that I looked at.

leaning edge matte black wall hook.AUGUST

The black hook is from CB2 and will look awesome next to the new matte black clothes hanger. Brett bought me the print on the right from Jenny’s Print Shop for Mother’s day. (So maybe I actually ordered it, but it was on Mother’s Day, so might as well be a present)

Bari Natural Fiber Rug - Safavieh® : TargetNorth Rustico / Lighthouse / Shanty / Prince Edward Island /

The rug is from Target and could make a nice runner next to the washer and dryer, but I haven’t bought it yet, because I am a bit undecided. The picture on the right is from Prince Edward Island along the shore. I grew up watching the movies with my dad and  the two of us are finally taking a father daughter trip there together in late summer. You could say we are kindred spirits. I thought this print above the folding table just might fill me with nostalgia and warm happy thoughts.

So with that our basement is less of a disaster zone after a number of months and we are switching gears to outside.

We’ve got big plans including a patio (done by someone other than us!), a pergola, and picking back up with the fort! Stay tuned folks.






Answer: The one on the left is the mock up. The one on the right is the real deal.

How to cut a cabinet and put it back together without it looking terrible.

Here’s to hoping you never need to know how to do this. But in the off chance you find yourself in a similar situation, of a too long cabinet, let me walk you through how to skinny it up!

Let me start this with, make sure the thing you are hoping to size down is free. Under no circumstances would I take a saw to something that cost any amount of money, no matter how small. You want to have your worst case scenario be that the thing you were hoping to keep is now conveniently into two much more manageable pieces to bring to the dump…

So when I last left you…a month ago… I had no idea how we were actually going to shorten the length of the cabinet. My folks came over one evening and wanted to see all the progress on the laundry room. I’m not really sure a whole lot of progress had really taken place, but they oohed and ahhed at everything. My dad is really quite a jolly fellow. (He gets a ‘kick out of’ life. When we go to plays and the production is over he is so excited that, with huge grin on his face, he’ll clap overhead, loudly, with no sense of rhythm, because rhythm simply must take a backseat to his joy and delight.) He gets all excited as I show him how the cracks no longer have paint between them. If you are ever doing any renovation invite him over, he loves to see projects and you are left thinking, boy it really could be spectacular.

So anyways, as I am showing him the awkwardly long cabinet and how we want it shorter, he suggests cutting out the middle. After thinking about it for zero seconds I tell him that’s a terrible idea. Brett overhears and thinks it’s a killer idea and they start talking through how much sense it makes to leave the finished ends intact. So like any good kid after criticizing an idea, I of course do exactly as he suggested.

So we laid it on its side and sliced it with our new circular saw.


We started with the 2x4s in the front, then did the back, and finally sliced the base support.


Then we shoved it together and had a cabinet door that was now much too big for the tiny opening.


So we sliced that down too, to make a little tiny door, for tiny hands, or for tiny things.


Good thing I painted it first right? So as you can see there were some gaps and things that needed to be shoved back together.

We screwed in some metal doohickies (that looks ridiculous typed, how does it not feel ridiculous to say when it looks so wacky?) In real life I guess they are called mending plates. We added 4 of those to secure the two cut ends together. Surprisingly it got the two sides very close together, unlike my abs after 2 babies, which haven’t seen or spoken to each other in some years.

We also added a piece of wood to the base to hold it together. Let me remind you we use this to store paint cans, so it didn’t need to be spectacular, just functional and not an eyesore.

So we left it like that for a number of weeks and only in the last week did I finally get around to staining the top and doing the final repainting of the cabinet. Part of the problem was I wanted to stain the top outside, so as not to stink up my house. Stain needs it to be 50 degrees. Minnesota felt the need to have a blizzard.In April. So I felt the need to wait for some decent weather, since Minnesota had already made me go back on my word about not shoveling in April. This time the line was drawn, no staining would happen until I could do it outside.

Remember this from two weeks ago? Too soon?

This is the wood top attached to the cabinet. I knew I wanted the wood top to have more of a sturdy presence, to look more like a butcher block, so we cheated the system and added some skinny 1/4 inch trim to fake it.DSC_0215

See how it looks a bit more solid now? DSC_0218

Major perk of not caring about the flooring, is it makes for very easy (sloppy) painting. Which, let’s be honest, is really the only kind of painting I do, so it’s nice when I’m not also ruining things.DSC_0221

From the top you can see the slight change from the solid wood piece to the trim, but I am really happy with it overall.


Our cabinet is nice and proportional now to the wall. You really can’t see the split on the bottom at all. It could be worthwhile for me to caulk the seam once more on the top and paint over it again, but it could also be more work too…

We’ve got a couple more things to finish/show you in the laundry room before we put the project on a bit of a hiatus. we are going to make it functional again and save the flooring, lighting and ceiling for a few month down the road. With spring finally coming we are switching gears to some outside projects!