We Built a Swing Set!

We Built a Swing Set!

This post has been a long time coming.  Life with 2 very mobile and energetic kids just gets busy (which is why I needed an outlet for their energy in the first place).  Throw in several weeks when of 3/4 of us had pneumonia, and the past couple months have flown by.  However, we’ve had plenty of time to test out the new swing set and I can report with confidence it is a winner!

I first started thinking about building a swing set last spring and was beginning to research the idea when Shane broke his leg.  I looked into the Costco sets that you buy ready to assemble, but they were just way out of our budget.  In addition, we had seen some in people’s yards and they just seemed really dinky.  I didn’t want to put forth a lot of money, time, and effort to have the kids outgrow it too quickly!

I looked at complete DIY builds and directions I found via Pinterest and Ana White.  I also looked at other sets that come with pre-cut wood and the hardware and you just assemble it (similar to the Costco sets, but less expensive).  We ultimately decided on the Wrangler set from Swing’n Slide.  The kit included the swings, accessories and the hardware for assembly.  We would just purchase the screws and cut the lumber to size ourselves.

I spent a couple months planning, getting lumber quotes, and figuring out exactly which tools we would need to purchase.  We finally ordered and picked up our lumber mid-November.  By that time, we figured we might as well wait for Black Friday to purchase the other tools that we would need.  We scored pretty big, getting a circular saw, a new drill and several other things for very little money!

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Loading the lumber into a borrowed horse trailer

Shane and I spent a couple mornings cutting the lumber down to size, following the directions included in the Swing’n Slide kit.  That was probably my favorite part of the whole thing! I really like using a saw! I really wanted to get a 12″ compound miter saw, but due to some budget constraints, I had to settle for a circular saw. There were a couple hairy moments trying to contain two little ones while using the saw, but we got that managed without any injuries.

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Still in PJs, Tristan tries to get a piece of the sawing action

Once the lumber was ready to go, we set aside a Saturday when some family members were able to help us out with assembly.  Working until just after sun-down, we managed to get most of the clubhouse part put together.

A couple days later on Shane’s “weekend” (it was a Tuesday), he and I set aside another day to work.  That quickly derailed when we ran out of screws.  We had purchased the poundage of deck screws the Swing’n Slide directions indicated, but that clearly was not enough.  Instead of driving the half hour into town to Home Depot, we decided to just head to the closer Ace Hardware to get what we needed. Naturally, they didn’t have any outdoor 3″ screws at all.  By that time, we had to stop and feed the kids lunch and half the day was already gone.  We flipped ahead in the directions and tried to accomplish everything we could without the 3″ screws.

The goal was to have the swing set completed for Christmas – it was a joint gift to the kids from their grandparents and us.  I left town for a week in December to attend a class, and I was hopeful that Shane would be able to get some work done on the swing set.  This is where we ran into several hiccups.

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Our progress by mid-December, before I left town

The rest of December it just poured and poured and poured rain, stopping any outdoor assembly work.

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The pigs in action

Along with the rain, we had a large family (about 9 or 10) of wild pigs move into our property, completely destroying 90% of our yard.  You have no idea how much damage these darn pigs can do! It was an endless battle of them digging up the grass and me attempting to replace the divots large pieces of sod they twisted and moved (when it wasn’t raining).  They damaged so much of the turf on the side yard, we had to change our plans as to where we were going to place the swing set.  We then had to wait for the availability of extra hands to reorient and move the clubhouse so that we could continue with the assembly.

In the meantime, we went to work on drilling the holes in the beam that would hold the swings.  Enter another problem.  The directions had indicated that we needed a “long” 5/16″ drill bit, but didn’t specify any more than that.  Back on Black Friday, we purchased the longest 5/16″ drill bit that Home Depot had in stock, which was 6″ long.  This was not long enough to drill the necessary holes.  I jumped on Amazon and ordered a 12″ bit, but even with Prime shipping, everything takes longer to get here.

Once the drill bit finally arrived, we were able to finish installing the hardware for the swings.  Shane and I then managed to attach the 12-foot long beam to the A-frame support.  Then by some miracle, just he and I were able to maneuver it from the patio, out to the yard, and ultimately attach it in place.  That was probably our proudest moment! There’s no way 2 people should have been able to do that. In fact, I would advise against it.  At least having a third, if not fourth, person would be much, much better (and safer).

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Whew! Finally securing the swing beam!

To complete our swing set, we installed a cargo net for added climbing fun! Part of the problem with living on an island is we have difficulty getting some things shipped here.  Despite my best efforts, I could not find anyone who would ship a slide here.  At first it was frustrating, but we figured our little monkeys might like an additional climbing element.  So, we simply replaced the slide with the cargo net as an alternative to climbing the ladder to the top of the clubhouse.

We had to purchase a couple more 2″x 6″ boards to build out the frame to secure the cargo net to the clubhouse.  This was pretty easy and straightforward.  However, the directions had a glaring error that I didn’t realize until the boards were already cut.  Those who know me know that I’m very much a color-inside-the-lines, follow-directions-to-a-T type of person. So that’s what I did.  I cut the boards as they specified and when I went to dry-fit them on the frame, realized that the long board they had me cut was 9 inches short of what it should have been! It ended up not being too big of a deal as we just shifted it to fit. It was supposed to run the full length of the clubhouse frame and now it ends awkwardly right below the ladder.

The Swing’n Slide hardware is really great.   We have no worries about swings coming unattached and the bolts and plates used to secure the frame are solid.  That swing set has already withstood a 4.0 earthquake! My only real complaint with the Swing’n Slide kit is their directions.  Mind you, I read the directions front to back about 6 times before we even started building at all.  I found them to be vague (like when they called for a “long” 5/6″ drill bit) and inaccurate in places (as with the lumber measurements for the cargo net). They should have also called for 4 lbs of 3″ deck screws instead of just the 3 lbs listed in the directions.  You’d think a company that makes its money designing and selling these kits could be more accurate in their directions! If things hadn’t been inaccurate or vague, it definitely would’ve saved us time and frustration.

I will say this was a brave undertaking for two DIY novices.  On the other hand, we now feel quite confident we can tackle many other projects around the house!

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Over all we are quite happy with our swing set! The kids have plenty of room to grow into it! In fact, Shane and I are planning on adding a rock climbing wall, and a disc swing on the arm that extends from the top of the clubhouse.  We also have a fourth spot on the swing beam to add something else.  To do that, we will have to order another set of hardware so that we can hang a fourth item. We currently have one regular swing (the kit included 2, the second is in storage), the bar/rings combo, and a Fisher-Price infant/toddler swing for Rosie.

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It’s been really fun to have this in our yard and to not always have to load everybody up in the car to go to the park! I’m so glad we did it!

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Our Long Yard

I’ve been wanting to share our yard with you all for awhile now. I don’t believe I’ve ever really shown our yard or outdoor living spaces other than this one photo from May 2014 when we had gravel delivered for our driveway. 

  
Not much has changed there, other than Tristan is a year and a half older! There’s also a grassy median in the gravel now, but that’s about it for the driveway. 

I finally grabbed some photos of the rest of the yard the other day while I was mowing the lawn.  We have a 3-acre lot, but the acreage is long and skinny. They call them spaghetti lots here. We’re on agricultural land and could raise animals (we have neighbors with cattle, chickens, roosters, goats and donkeys), plant an orchard, or grow other crops if we wanted. Maybe down the road we’ll plant fruit trees or something. I hear there’s a guy planting a coffee farm elsewhere in our subdivision. 

Our lot was completely scrubbed at one point, sadly taking out many of the native ʻohia lehua trees. We’ve let the back part of our lot just do its thing for now. The “manicured” part around the house provides enough opportunity for yard work. We’re slowly hacking away – it’s a jungle out there! Progress is slow, and the plants (and weeds) grow quickly! 

I wish I had taken more photos before to demonstrate the progress we have made. The previous owners, while rare-palm-varietal afficianados, left us quite a bit of work from the get-go. While I’ve always loved palm trees, and that was one of the things I liked about this property, I have since learned they require a lot of work. I’m constantly having to clean up dead fronds that either need to be cut from the tree or have already fallen. Some of these things are easily 15 feet long! (We have some tall palms!) 

Without further ado, the rest of our yard: 

 
This is the  view looking down the driveway from where we park. 
Shane’s parking spot looking towards the back of our property on the left side of our house. The mangled area in the foreground by the hibiscus bush is one of our current projects. The previous owners left us a mess of tangled weeds here and since we cut them down and are trying to remove the roots, we have discovered a disturbing amount of discarded items buried in the dirt. 

The same side of the yard looking down towards the driveway. We were planning and starting to build a fire pit here, but have decided to relocate it. 

  
The yard behind the house. Same weed-garden project and looking toward our water catchment tank. There’s a somewhat smallish banyan tree on the left. It’s cool, but is too close to the house and frankly blocks the view from our dining window upstairs. One of these days we’ll hire someone to take it down. 

  

 Looking the other way. On the left is the pump house for our water pump and water heater. Further down, our trash and recycling. No curbside pickup here. We have to haul it to the dump ourselves. 

  
I spy a baby in the pack and play! The yard on the right side of the house.   The grayish area by Tristan’s truck is where the catchment tank used to be. Lucky for us we surveyed the property while still under contract and discovered it was over the property line. Narrow lots, folks! The owner had to move it at her expense. We are now planning on building our fire pit there. 

We are actually working on removing the clothesline (started today, actually) so that we have room to build a swing set in that space. (More on my crazy decision to build a swing set myself in a future post). The plan is to also install a retractable clothesline up on the deck where it will hopefully get more use. To the right is more weed-garden to be dealt with eventually.   

  Here is the front of the house, bordered by more palms and tropical things. That jungle area will be really cool one day when we make paths and stuff. 

 And looking back the other way. That photo-bombing palm in front will probably be removed too. It’s growing at a weird angle to the ground and is in the way. 

We haven’t done much with our outdoor living spaces just yet. We’ve more or less plopped hand-me-down furniture in the space and called it a day. No Pinterest-worthy outdoor room inspiration here folks. As always, I have a ton of ideas and one day I’ll get to executing them. Our house is pretty big and it’s going to take us awhile to be able to furnish and decorate it all the way we want. 

 This is what we call the patio. It could function as a carport and usually does when there’s a tropical storm. Our house’s orientation relative to all the trees just generally isn’t conducive to parking in there on a regular basis.   
It’s a mess, but somewhat less cluttered than usual. Just keeping it real. 

 

Here is our deck, which runs above the patio. It’s long and narrow and makes me think of a bowling lane sometimes. Lily, one of our cats, lives out here now (why you might spy a litter box). 

The deck runs along our living room, Rosie’s room (with exterior door) and the master bathroom. 

 I haven’t done much out there other than replace the hinges and latch on the stair gate to keep things baby-safe. Next on the list is probably a powerwash!  
Ignore the rug draped over the railing it’s from Rosie’s room and needs to be cleaned. 

 
And that’s it for our yard and outdoor space! 

Hoping to share a couple crafty projects with you all soon!

A View from the Outside

A View from the Outside

I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I last posted and a month since we closed on our new house!

Needless to say, I’ve been busy unpacking and organizing. I wish I could add decorating in there, but I’ve honestly not made it to that point. It would be so much more fun than trying to figure out the most efficient way to organize our stuff. I swear my borderline OCD drives me crazy sometimes!

On the upside, we finally got a couch. It sure as heck beats sitting on the crappy tri-fold futon on the floor of the living room.

The place is slowly coming together. If it were up to me, I’d have everything all set by now. However, I have an energetic son to take care of and a hubby that works crazy hours. There were (actually still is one) boxes in our bedroom up until 10 days ago. With Shane working the graveyard shift in March, he would sleep all day (effectively kicking me out of our room) and then work all night. I was still digging through suitcases for my clothes until his shift finally changed at the beginning of the month!

I’ll post photos of the progress we made sometime soon. As soon as I clear up the clutter. Seriously, all of the miscellaneous moving clutter everywhere is driving me crazy! It doesn’t help that as soon as I pick up all of Tristan’s blocks (stepping on those things is awful!) he dumps them all out again.

One day I’ll feel “moved in.”

We had a beautiful sunny morning here the other day and I was letting Shane get some sleep so I took Tristan exploring on our property. It feels silly to say it, but we’ve owned the house for a month and I hadn’t even been all the way to the back of our 3 acre property.

The lots in our neighborhood are all 3 acres, but they’re called “spaghetti lots” meaning they’re long and skinny. The back of our property is a pretty decent distance from the house. The back acre had been scrubbed and covered in cinder at some point, but has since overgrown again. The front of our property between the house and the street is pretty lush and jungle-like. Behind the house there’s a lot of tall grass, ‘ohia trees and some random other stuff thrown in the mix.

Tristan was pretty freaked out by the tall grass and wouldn’t walk through it. Needless to say, I ended up piggybacking him.

Ok, enough talking, here’s some pictures from our yard.

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‘Ohia tree with lots of lehua blossoms

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Our house is somewhere waaaay behind Tristan

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Our “wild” flowers

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One of our many varieties of palms

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Our driveway, right before the clouds opened up and rained on me and Tristan.

Don’t ask me what our plans are for our yard/land. I have absolutely no idea what to do with all of it.

I definitely intend on keeping things as natural as possible and just letting most of the land be. I want to maintain the existing ecosystem, so high on the agenda will be eliminating some invasive plants that choke out the native species. The many palms and fruit trees on the property have been somewhat neglected the last few years, so our first order of business will be cleaning up fallen palm fronds and getting the trees back into good health. Then we can start thinking about other stuff. Like most things with homeownership, the yard will be one big work in progress for quite some time. Shane joked the other day that we probably won’t have our yard/land finished to where we want it until we retire. We’ll see, I guess.

Operation Curb Appeal: Progress!

Progress has finally been made – hip hip hooray! On Sunday afternoon we completed our garden project along the fence with the neighbors.

It went from this:

an ugly mess of weeds covering part of the sidewalk with lattice attached to the chain link – to this:

We now have a flower bed that is graded correctly and exists next to the sidewalk instead of covering it.  We also opened up the space visually by removing the unnecessary lattice on the fence.  I know our plants look a little bit dinky right now, but we’re hoping next year they will fill out quite a bit more.  I was hesitant to purchase more mature (read: expensive) plants given my history and we think the slightly smaller plants will be a better investment.

To complete the project (which you can read about here and here), we finished digging out the poor quality soil which is likely filled with many weed seeds.  Once the soil was gone, we added pebbles to the bottom of our garden-to-be for better drainage.  We have plenty of gravel in our backyard that was under a previously existing deck.  We decided to use what we had on hand and hauled what we needed out front.

With the pebbles in place, it was off to Lowes for some garden soil.  I don’t recall what brand we purchased, but it had added fertilizer.  The neighbor boys (3rd and 1st grade) asked why it smelled like poop.  We topped the soil with landscaping fabric that we staked down.  Given the weedy history of this area of our yard, I don’t want to take any chances.

Next, we planted.  Yay! We wanted a perennial that could handle the full (I mean full, i.e. absolutely no shade) conditions in our front yard while growing just large enough to partially screen the neighbor’s yard.  We made a couple trips to a couple garden centers and finally landed on lavender.  We picked ours up at Merrifield Garden Center.  Here are the details for the variety we liked best:

The foliage should remain evergreen along with flowers in mid to late summer.  Like I said earlier, they should fill out and hopefully won’t be so dinky next year.  We’re also hoping to add some annuals for color and interest next spring.  As for now, the plants smell great and offer a vast improvement over the awkward weedy patch of before.  Just crossing my fingers I don’t kill them! After the plants were in place, we added a layer of cedar mulch to keep weeds at bay and hold in moisture.

We made a couple of other quick improvements out front on Sunday. We moved the gate that used to be located at the top of the staircase down to the bottom.  This accomplishes two things for us: we keep people waiting for the bus from sitting on our stairs and (hopefully) from leaving their trash in our yard.  Additionally, this opens up the front yard visually when looking out from the house.  I didn’t realize until we moved the gate what a difference it makes. I don’t feel like a prisoner in my front yard any longer! Here’s a before from about a year ago (I think):

Wow, that’s one ugly yard! And here’s a repeat from above of the after:

I think we’re improving it one step at a time, although a visit from Yard Crashers or Curb Appeal would be more than welcome!

In addition, I potted a couple hibiscus we got for just $5 each and put them out front.  We’re planning on moving them inside soon, but as long as the weather holds, we’ll keep them outside.  As you can see, the one is looking a bit worse for the wear.  I promise that’s not me! It’s looked that way since we got it home, but seems to be improving now that I potted it.

It’s at least still putting out beautiful blooms! (Ignore the rough looking planter next to the door.  The sun has not been very kind and I’m trying to salvage what didn’t burn up).

We’re plotting what we’ll tackle next with Operation: Curb Appeal.  We still need:

  • shutters out front
  • to paint the front door and mailbox,
  • replace the light fixture
  • do something with that ugly garden area above

We’ll keep you posted on our upcoming projects.  We want to take advantage of the slightly cooler weather and get more work done outside while we can!

Pissed Off (pun intended)

While sitting down to a family dinner last night (still tonight to me since I’m up feeding Tristan at the moment), things got interesting. It wasn’t anything Shane said or did and Tristan was passed out in his high chair the entire time. In fact, we were trying to take a video of Tristan snoring when this happened.

For keeping things interesting, I would like to thank the individual who thought it was acceptable to walk halfway up my driveway and relieve himself in full view of the window by our dining table. It was full daylight outside and our commuter heavy street was full of commuters, both pedestrian and those in cars. Our front yard and driveway aren’t exactly private either. Whatever possessed this man to take a piss on my driveway, I’ll have no idea.

All at once, Shane banged on the window and I threw open the front door to yell at him to get off our property and inform him I was calling the police. I then did just that as we watched him walk down the street. Unfortunately, it took the police a few minutes to arrive as they were tied up on another call. By the time they arrived, he had boarded a bus down the street.

The police were very helpful when they arrived. They were concerned and wanted to make sure the man hadn’t exposed himself to us. Thank God he did not! The possibility hadn’t even crossed my mind – it could’ve been worse! We didn’t file a full report, but they at least put out a lookout for that individual. I’m not sure it’s any real consolation to me, but at least the man was clearly not sober.

What a weird evening! It left me wondering about a few things, though. I know our house leaves something to be desired with its “curb appeal” right now as we haven’t really tackled the front yet, but does it say to people “Gotta go? Come take a leak in our yard?” (The funny thing is, I finally put some flowers out on the front porch just hours earlier in an attempt at redemption for our yard). Also, how many times has this happened before we caught it? It has me more than a little freaked out with a new baby at home. From what kind of creeps am I going to have to protect my son? I’m just crossing my fingers and praying this never happens again!

Random Act of Kindness

We had the most pleasant surprise last night! We were out of town all weekend and the leaf clean up in our yard has been lagging. Since the time change, it’s dark by the time we get home from work, so no chance of raking then.

Our front yard isn’t too bad since there’s no trees there. It’s really our driveway that’s been getting most of the fallen leaves. As we were heading out yesterday, I mentioned to Shane that we really needed to clean up the leaves in our driveway. When we returned home last night after dark, we discovered that someone, probably our neighbor, had cleaned up all the leaves in our driveway!

I wish I knew for sure who had done it for us so I could wholeheartedly thank that person. It really was such a happy surprise that made our evening! It really makes me want to perform a random act of kindness for somebody today.

Why can’t HGTV crash our yard?

Yesterday, we finally made a good start at tackling the problem of our yard.  Our house is a flipped foreclosure.  The great thing is, the seller we purchased from renovated the entire inside.  There are definitely odds and ends projects on the inside (like installing shelves to make our linen closet functional), but nothing truly major that needs work.  That just leaves the yard as our one giant project.  Since it’s a duplex, our front yard is pretty small but lacking in curb appeal.  The previous owners also had a weird obsession with green.  The entire fence along the driveway is painted green as well as the giant cement pylons at the end of the drive.  (I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get rid of those).  It also appears that they had painted the front walkway green, but now it’s all chipping away.  In addition, the chain link fence directly in front of the house that separates our yard from the sidewalk and bus stop is spray painted a different shade of green with some green wooden lattice added for good measure.  It’s all gotta go.  Here’s video from a couple weeks ago of the front drive.  My Mom named the dog Blanco; he’s now sitting in a pile for the dump. 

The backyard is a great size, but currently consists of 85% dirt and 10% weeds with the other 5% gravel, rotting wood and trash from the contractors that worked on the house.  Here’s another video so you can get a feel for it:
The previous owner also appears to have some weird privacy issues, if you can’t tell by all the extra scrap wood and corrugated metal screwed onto the fence.  Shane started to pull down the extra pieces yesterday to reveal a decent looking fence.  It’ll probably need to be replaced sooner rather than later, but it’s at least something we can work with. 
This is the before, with all kinds of extra boards on the fence. 

Shane’s after with all the extra stuff pulled down.  Some of the wood seemed pretty decent still, so we’re going to try to save and re-purpose it somehow.  Quite a difference, no?

More of Shane’s handiwork from yesterday.  We couldn’t get the gutter extension to drain out and away from the front of the house because of the cement lip edging the driveway.  He knocked it all out and got everything to fit so at least the water isn’t all sitting right at the foundation.  Just in time too since we’ve been getting so much rain lately!

For some reason, there’s no photo evidence of my hard work in the yard yesterday.  I tackled the dandelions and weeds that were trying to take over our front yard.  Good thing the ground was soft and damp because those dandelions were deeply rooted.  Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen dandelion roots that big – we’re talking 8 inches to a foot long roots! After all the weeding, I got a lesson in adjusting the height on our new 14 inch reel lawn mower.  I’m not going to lie – I love the whirr it makes as it cuts the grass! Let me tell you, it’s not easy work pushing that thing.  Between the unseasonably warm temps yesterday and really having to push that thing over our long grass I was a sweaty mess by the time I finished.  I also learned those things are terrible at edges and corners.  I had to take some grass shears all along the edges and corners, not to mention the really long patches of grass that were so tall they fell over before I could go over the lawn again with the mower.  Lucky for me our front yard isn’t more than 20 square feet.  I’m starting to seriously consider purchasing a weed-whacker for all the edges around the fence and stuff.  Of course to do that we need a shed to store our outdoor tools in, and to get a shed we need a solid, level surface to place it on… etc etc.
I’m learning as a homeowner that you have to do three (four, five) different projects to tackle the one that you really want to address.  Sheesh!

I did fill a planter with a few of my favorite herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary & mint) yesterday.  It makes me happy since it’s the only stuff growing in our yard that’s not weeds or poor quality grass.

As we spend more time outside, we’re starting to brainstorm ideas for what we want our backyard to look like, what kind of patio we want, etc.  I’ll share some more of that with you all soon.