Friday, June 09, 2006

Home Improvement, Step One

I am used to order in life; in fact, I demand it and the very step-by-step method necessary to accomplish anything worth doing is nearly a mantra. When I restored my Volkswagen, I discovered that there is a very specific order of events that needs to be accomplished before the job is done, and if you deviate from the schedule, you’ll either miss an important step or have to undo something to make room for what you need to add. For example, you can’t put in the electrical components and wires before painting the car and you can’t paint the car until you pull out all of the little dents and you can’t pull out all of the little dents until you strip off the old paint… well, you get the idea. I have decided that home improvement must follow the same regime.

Today was step one of a backyard renovation that I’ve been planning for months, basically ever since we moved in. The project was a direct reaction to our dog’s needs, as she needs an area for herself or she’ll completely ruin the rest of the yard in the same manner that she ruined the yard at the last house (in her defense, the yard was too small and it didn’t have the proper facilities to handle her needs). For the new yard, rules must be established, boundaries set, and ideologies changed.

The term “What goes in must come out” is never more true than it is with a big dog, a dog we like to call Elsa (I won’t print here what I really like to call her when nobody is around but me and her). I seems as though she has decided to take what was once a nice spacious track of yard at the side of the house, a space of grass drenched in sunlight as it dapples through the trees in our yard (note the above picture of the area), and turn it into her personal toilet. Let me remind you folks who haven’t been around a dog in a while, at least the business end of an eighty pounder, that they eat a lot, they drink a lot and they, well, they do what they do wherever they can (or will). Anyways, at least she is concentrating her efforts on the side of the house in an area we don’t normally go, which is good, but when I do have to go out there… let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to walk around there in my bare feet for fear of the Playdough affect. If you understand what I mean, good for you, but if you don’t, squeeze Playdough through the toes on your foot and you’ll get a good visual of my fears.

So, I’m not landscape architect, my thumbs are nearer to a shade of death-pall yellow—a color that strikes fear into even the hearts of artichokes in the supermarket—than they are green, and thanks to years of forced labor on the tenth of an acre known as my parents’ plantation, I really don’t care for yard work. Sure, I like the satisfaction of mowing the lawn, making everything uniform and clean, and it is a nice excuse to get out of the house, have a beer in the sunshine, make a lot of noise with a machine that will sooner lop off my toes than shred the grass and wear a big wicker hat that gives the appearance of gardening knowledge. People who drive by say to themselves, “Well, I declare, look Mabel, a gardener, and I think he was a white guy. Quick, circle the block.”

Back to the yard: The grass in that corner of the yard is dead or wishing it was dead thanks to Elsa’s many daily visits. The weeds are loving it, funny enough, and there’s some kind of dark reddish tree that is leaning onto the wall itself, as if it is holding its nose and tilting as far away as its roots will allow, as if to escape. The wheel barrel is supporting it semi-vertical (the sober friend guiding an over-served buddy up the walk to his house), and there’s a bougainvillea bush that I’ve replanted at least a half dozen times since I bought it and I think it is just happy to be left alone; if I threaten to move it again, I’m sure it will just give up the ghost.

My plan: Kill the grass completely via the slash a burn method, which releases the most aggression on my part, segregate that corner of the yard from the rest of the yard and make it very clear to Elsa that my forces have retreated from the area and she has won the war. Use her land in any way she’s sees fit.

The first step is to create the boundaries, the guidelines for Elsa to make it clear that on one side of the boundary, its okay for her to do as she pleases, take care of business, but the second she crosses the… since she’s German, we’ll call it the Maginot Line… once she crosses the Maginot Line, all bets are off and she’d better not do anything that involves the flexing of her hind legs, squatting or grimacing of any kind in my side of the yard.

In the misting rain of the morning, I had mow strips installed, narrow concrete curbs that will separate the grass from the planters, as I’m tired of having to continue to edge the planters as it always kicks up dirt all over the patio. We needed 170 feet of it in various places around the front and back yards, and at nearly three dollars a foot, it became an expensive boundary between my yard and Elsa’s. Hopefully, it will work, that it will give her a visual periphery.

Thanks to the overcast day that slowly turned sunny, the concrete took a little while to dry, and since I kept Elsa inside all day while it attempted to dry, she ended up dancing around on three feet licking the windows trying to get out. Who cares if the grass tickles her tail, she needed to get out! When I let her out, she took care of business, and on her way back over the Maginot Line, her back leg nicked the crumbly wet concrete, so there’s a permanent marker of Elsa’s back leg forever, literally, etched in stone.

In addition, I carved “2006” in the wet concrete… I’m funny like that.

What’s next? In Elsa’s area, I plan to lay down a barrier tarp to keep the weeds and grass from growing up again and I’m going to dump a thick layer of (aptly named) pea gravel for Elsa to use to her bowel’s content. The rest of the areas will get a thick layer of bark chips and a few new plants, and one corner of the planter will be reserved for Natalie’s vegetable garden, something I think she will like.

Later in the afternoon, as Natalie and I played her “fishing game” on the lawn and searched for pretty rocks for the rock zoo, we followed ants along the newly laid curbs, I realized that I spent $500 for a ant concrete super highway. They soon discovered that running their paths along the smooth concrete is sure easier and quicker than traversing the wood chips in the planter, so all along the 170 feet around the house it was an ant Autobahn. Of course, now that they’re exposed, it will be easier to smite them, as there’s no love lost between me and the ant species.

The rest of the day was spent ship-shaping the downstairs, which included a thorough vacuuming of the rug and dusting of the blinds, which put me into an allergenic fit for a couple of hours. If I had a nickel for every time I sneezed today I bet I’d have about two bucks! Now I’m talking like I’m holding my nose, old-fashioned operator style, and my face feels about three feet thick.

Bless me.

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