I Did It



When Mister and I moved into the new pad, the front yard was decent. I didn’t love it or anything, but I didn’t hate it, either. We live on a corner, so you see the joint from every angle and I was regularly reminded that I wasn’t smitten with what I saw. Still, if it ain’t broke and all. So we lived with it. But then the damned drought and the southern exposure became too much for the front yard. It took a beating and it showed. Here in Los Angeles, we’re limited as to when and how long we can use water for landscape purposes. There simply didn’t seem to be a way to keep that frontage looking decent. Or alive even.


So Mister and I started talking about going in a different direction, toward drought-tolerant plants. (Okay – it was mostly me talking about it, but I was talking to him so I’m gonna say he was in on the plan.) And then we learned about local rebate incentives for such plantings. We became more serious about the idea and eventually we set a budget. We talked about things we’d both like to see happen – a low fence, a seating area, a dying tree removed – and rough sketches were made. With our budget in mind, I started getting estimates from a few companies and individuals who did such work. I was hopeful we’d click with someone and the job would get done.



The very first estimate I received came in at $50,000. I’m not kidding. My response to that was, “Dude! If I had $50,000 for my yard, I’d just move!” A few more estimates came in at half that amount, but they were still way outside our budget. This was last fall/early winter. The timing was right, but the estimates were wrong.


The yard kept getting worse, though, and I was none too happy. I can’t imagine our neighbors were happy about the sad state of things, either, but they never said anything to us about it. I kept bugging Mister, while mulling the idea of taking on the job myself. I knew certain aspects were outside my abilities and knowledge, but I thought maybe I could hire folks for those specific tasks and do the rest of the labor with my own hands. The first step I took was re-sketching the design.



Based on that, I was able to break down the budget and allot money for the various steps – demo, irrigation, fence materials, plants, etc. Once I’d collected estimates and costs for those aspects of the project, I went back to Mister and we decided it was time to begin. Time for me to begin, that is. The estimates were good, but now the timing was tricky. It was getting hot and I had precious few calendar days to complete the project to apply for that much-desired local rebate. Remember the rebate? It was important to receive it and that money would help pay for the project once all was said and done. So I had to get after it. First up was demo…



I hired a crew to take everything out of the front yard. The struggling foliage and the dying tree were gone. The dead grass was gone. We were left with a pretty magnificent blank slate. It was also daunting. Once the space was emptied, we could see just how much area we were dealing with. There was no turning back and we knew it. The demo happened on a Saturday. On Sunday, Mister and I raked the dirt and made sure everything was ready to go.



The next day, Monday, I began digging trenches – literally – so that I could put the edging in place. I immediately set a routine for myself, too, and its name was two-and-a-half-underpants per day. I got up early, before the sun could heat everything, and worked until it was too hot. That was usually around 11:30 or 12. Then I’d take off my dirty work clothes, place them on the side of the tub to dry out (sweaty, don’t you know), jump in the pool to cool down, then put on clean underpants and mid-day clothes. It was during these mid-days that I’d provision for the next part of the job. Or I’d try to take care of pertinent business that couldn’t wait. Like bills or basic grocery shopping. Then, after the big heat of the day had passed, I’d put my morning’s dirty work clothes back on and get after it again. Around 7 or so, I’d wrap for the day, take a shower, put on clean underpants and pajamas and pretty much collapse. It was a good routine, and I knew I’d stick with it, even after I burned my ass that first day. You see, I used a pick-axe (perhaps the greatest tool in my arsenal) to dig the trenches. Then I sat on the ground to secure the edging in place. As a lot of that edging paralleled the existing walkway, I sat on the walkway while working on it. After the sun had heated the bejeesus out of the walkway all day, sitting on it was more than my work pants could handle. It would end up taking a few days for that ass-burn to heal.



Once the edging was in place, I moved on to the weed barrier. I know some folks aren’t fans of landscape fabric, but I am, so there. Our hope was (and still is) that the cloth would deter weeds from taking over. We know it’s impossible to entirely beat the weeds. We just want to slow them down. We also know we’re battling one mother of a weed: nutsedge.



Nutsedge looks a lot like grass, but it isn’t. It’s invasive, with rhizomes that spread beneath the surface, sometimes as deep as two feet. Whenever I dig up a rhizome (one of a jillion, I’m guessing), I think it looks like some sort of Alien-Predator-cat turd hybrid. I detest nutsedge and it knows it. But I digress.


Anyhoo – we got the entire area covered in landscape fabric. Then it was time for planting.


My original rendering called for a lot more plants. But once you start digging holes, you quickly realize that less is more! As a few of the holes dug were for trees (which meant they were bigger), I think 98 holes was plenty. (Seriously. 98.)



Once the plants were in, the irrigation crew came to install the drip lines. That was one of the jobs I absolutely did not wish to handle myself. And I’m so glad I didn’t. The folks I hired were fabulous and they did a top-notch job. Initially, they thought it would be a 2-day job. But they were able to finish in a single day, which meant I had one day to patch the cloth around plants and to ready myself for the next big step: rocks.



The morning the rocks were delivered was my 18th straight day of working on the project. I was tired, but I felt pretty good. Actually, I felt “naively optimistic,” something I kept telling everyone who stopped by to talk to me while I was working. I had 2 days to get the rocks in place and I thought I could pull that off. In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought that, but I did. So when the rocks were delivered and jutted out into the street, my immediate goal became clearing them out of the street, as I feared I’d be fined by the city or something wacky like that. I began shoveling the rocks into a wheelbarrow and into buckets. Basically, I moved them any which way I could. But the pile wasn’t getting any smaller. Instead, it was spreading. And it was getting hot. Too hot. I thought I was doing enough to hydrate and I mistakenly believed I’d be able to work that pile down. The heat was getting to me, though. And for the first time since beginning the project, I experienced doubt. I felt like I might cry, but it turned out I didn’t have any available fluids for tears. I don’t remember praying, but I do remember saying to any god listening that I wasn’t gonna make it. That I felt lost. That I knew I needed help, but couldn’t imagine what that might look like. And that’s when it happened. I lifted my gaze from the rocks to the side street. I saw two men walking toward me, with shovels and a wheelbarrow. They said they saw me working and thought I could use a few extra hands. I was stunned. I told them I wasn’t comfortable with that, as I didn’t even know them and the job was my responsibility, not theirs. They smiled and said that they were there, so I might as well step aside. One of the guys was the foreman of the construction going on behind our home. (I’m no fan of that construction, but that guy was aces.) The other guy was a county inspector, in the neighborhood to check some work at the job site behind our house. It was their lunch break, and they chose to spend it helping me. Those guys worked damn hard for a full hour. They moved almost all the rocks out of the street and into place. I continued to try and do my part, but I was pretty messed-up. At some point, I succumbed to the heat and my vision went all white. I’m not sure, but my speech may have become incoherent, too, as I found myself answering random questions about song lyrics and I don’t know how the conversation got there. I was told – insistently – to sit in the shade for a while, and I did. It was awkward, watching these strangers do my work. After they’d put in a shift, they made me promise I was going inside to rest, and then they were gone. I kept my word and used the remaining daylight to try and re-hydrate. Only after a few hours did it hit me that I had asked for help and help had been given.


The next day, Friday, was tough. I was still out of it from the near heat-stroke of the previous day, but work had to get done. Those rocks needed to be settled and checked off the list and that was the only day to get through it. Mister took the day off and completely kicked it into high gear. Not only did he finish the rock job, but he made sure I didn’t do more than I should. (By the way – did I mention that Mister was working his regular job and kicking ass on the project each weekend? Because he was.) By the time we fell into bed that night, a bit of my faith had been restored. My body was still hurting, but my naive optimism was back.



The following morning, Saturday, the mulch was delivered. I’d love to tell you it was all sunshine and roses, but it wasn’t. It took 2 hard days of work to get that mulch spread and in place. By Sunday night, the mulch job was finished and the only remaining task was spreading the river rocks around two trees and by the walkway entry. And that was handled Monday evening. The next day, Tuesday, I submitted all my documentation for the rebate – 4 days ahead of the deadline. It was done.



I’m really pleased with the decision to take on this job. Yes, it was a gi-normous task. And yes, it nearly took me out. My joints are still recovering, and that may take some time. My sleep schedule is still a bit janky, but that will level off soon. It was a big project and though Mister did what he could, when he could, the rest fell to me. And y’all – I’m not a kid. This was a big deal and I’m pretty sure it will be the last time I take on something of this scale. I’m still processing that. It doesn’t feel like defeat really, but it does feel heavy.



I’m also processing all the good I experienced during this job. You cannot imagine how many folks stopped by to comment on the work being done. Some were just curious. Some told me they were proud of me and that they were rooting for me. Some asked if they could have our business card, in case they might want to hire us down the road. Some thanked me for adding this beauty to our neighborhood. I’d never even seen a lot of those folks. I recognized a few, but the rest? Who knows.



And then there was one sweet neighbor who stopped by each and every morning to say hello and to cheer me on. He’s 93 and just darling. On the last Sunday, as Mister finished the mulching, that sweet old man came by with a gift of apple cider. He told Mister he had never seen anything like me and that he was really proud of me. I drank that cider with joy.



I hope I never forget the strangers who showed up to help me, just when I needed it. I hope I never forget the strangers who told me I was their hero for doing this myself. I hope I never forget that Mister and I worked really well together (mostly) and that we accomplished our goal. I hope I never forget that sweet old neighbor who kept calling me a one-woman crew.


The yard is finished. I’m more proud of myself than I can convey, because I don’t have words for how I feel. I’m not a kid anymore, it’s true. But I am one hell of a woman. And though I’m not sure how long it will last, for now I keep experiencing a bit of Clark W. Griswold’s final line from the very end of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”: I did it. I really did.


And Then This Happened…



Anyone who’s visited us at the New Pad knows we have a laundry list of projects on our slate. Sure – a few have been ticked off. Mostly, the joint remains in a state of flux. I could lay blame and point fingers (at myself, mostly), but I won’t. Life just takes a while. Time and money, friends.


Anyhoo – a while back I painted a small cabinet in the Rumpus Room (shown above) and was glad to get it done. That left only the bar area, and I have been putting it off for ages. Mostly, I’ve felt the project would be daunting and take a while. Painting itself is fairly quick. Taping and cleaning and getting things ready to be painted is an entirely different matter. For the upper bar cabinets, I wasn’t looking forward to my painter muscles being challenged with the up-high project. And there was one more thing, too…



Everything that lives in the cabinets had to be removed before tackling the project. What you see here is only part of what I removed. (No joke.) There are glasses and bottles and all sorts of stuff covering 3 separate table tops, waiting to go back in the cabinet. Once I got it all out, I was shocked at just how much we’ve managed to store in those danged cabinets. I mean really!


My hope is for the newly-painted cabinets to have cured long enough to be stuffed refilled with their contents later today. And then, in all likelihood, we’ll forget the cabinets ever needed painting. They’ll just fit in and make sense. Some projects are like that. They don’t present change so much as they present what’s right and should have been all along. I’ll take it.




Remember when I told you about the lizard shown above, and how he seemed to be waiting for me to open the back door so that he could waltz into the house? Well his patience and persistence certainly did pay off – for him – as he clearly made it inside while I wasn’t looking. And now he’s an unwanted squatter at the new pad.


He’s fast and he’s very good at hiding. At least I hope he’s a he, as I don’t want that Sticky laying eggs and taking over the joint. I mean really! I read that lizards eat insects, but we don’t have too many of those around, so I’m not sure what he was hoping to gain from coming inside. Maybe news of my awesome a/c repair job got around and he wanted to cool off. Or maybe he’s a beer lover and heard about my supply. Honestly – if I find that lizard sitting on the rumpus room couch, beer in one hand and remote in the other, I may have a conniption fit. Or keel over from laughter.


For now, I’m hoping the little guy gets bored or hungry and heads for an open door, back to the outside world. Nature. I swear.

Doorbell Cover



This is one of my favorite creative projects at the New Pad. What you’re seeing above is in a hallway. Why the builders of this place decided to cut out a nook, I cannot say. It was a long, long time ago and I am not the boss of the past. But cut out that nook, they did. And that’s where the doorbell apparatus was installed. I have no idea how old the doorbell is, but I do know it’s danged unattractive. Ideally, something more appealing could have gone in. But I am a big fan of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra, and so the old, ugly doorbell was kept. Still – I sure didn’t like the yellowed plastic casing of the thing. So I devised a plan.


I took an old photo frame (that we already had) and made sure it was wider than the nook. Then I went to the hardware store to find some sort of patterned, cut-out sheeting. Honestly, I hoped to find plastic. But I didn’t. Instead, I found a sheet of cut-out metal. It would have to do. Because the metal’s gauge was of a certain thickness, I knew I had to also get myself some cutters that could handle the job. Once I’d purchased those items, I went home and marked out the size I needed for the metal to fit into the frame’s insert. Then I cut it – carefully – and used small glazing points to hold the metal in place. Once I felt that was solid, I took out the exact same paint I’d used on the walls and painted the entire frame/metal insert.


At that point, I considered installing a “shelf” just beneath the doorbell, to isolate and enclose the casing. But I got lazy. It happens. Instead, I attached super-sticky velcro to the wall and to the frame and hung the cover in place, with the bottom left open. I then hung 3 little paintings beneath the doorbell cover and bam! No more ugly doorbell guts. Not only that, the doorbell isn’t muffled or anything, so hearing it hasn’t been affected. And if I ever do need to work on or replace the doorbell, I only have to pull the cover from its velcro attachment for full access.


Like I said, this is one of my fave projects. It sort of disappears into the wall, which is exactly what I’d hoped would happen. I don’t see the doorbell or the velcro that holds the frame to the wall. All I see is a blended cover.


I absolutely love when an idea works out!

One Cabinet Down…



This past week saw something magical here at The New Pad: I started and finished a project. One cabinet in the rumpus room has been painted and cleaned and filled. And it’s gorgeous.


Even though I’ve finished more than a few projects at home, there are countless others still awaiting my attention. And it’s far too easy to slip down the rabbit-hole of depression over all that unfinished business. I know. I live with that dark temptation every day. Now if you’re thinking to yourself, “Well Mikki – why don’t you just finish those danged projects and be done already?”, well, I’ll tell ya. Time and money, friends. Every single thing around us takes time and money. And getting one thing done means avoiding something else. Which is fine, of course, but it still equals unfinished business.


In order to live with the half-begun-ness that is my world, I am working on my tunnel vision. Because, you know, if I don’t see it, it’s not there. The problem seems to be my excellent peripheral vision. That is keeping me from seeing only what I choose to see. So now I’m wondering if I should order some of those pony blinders that horses wear during parades and the like. (Technically, they’re called horse blinkers, in case you were wondering or were planning on schooling me.) Maybe if I wore them they would make me look like a half-ass pirate or something. I don’t think I’d mind being a half-ass pirate, instead of a whole-ass one. Wouldn’t have to change my entire vocabulary or anything. And I could still bathe regularly. Hmm. Have to think about that one.


In the meantime, it’s very inspiring to look at my handiwork. One cabinet down. Makes me want to finish the bar cabinets as well. Eventually. Right now, all I can see is the work I’ve finished. Those pony blinders are working great!

Living With Ghosts



Mister and I live with a ghost. Miss Harmon is basically harmless, though she does sometimes catch us by surprise. Generally, it’s a peaceful co-existence and we’re okay with it. (Never mind that we have to be okay with it. I mean, how the heck would we get rid of her anyway?)


As this is the first year we’ve had a Christmas tree at the new pad, it’s our first time experiencing Miss Harmon’s Christmas-tree-behavior. Apparently, she’s quite taken with the thing, as she keeps wiggling things around and shaking it up. For instance, more than once Mister and I have been sitting in the room with the tree and seen a branch start jingling and jangling whatever is hanging on said branch. As we don’t have any indoor critters, we’re chalking up each instance to Miss Harmon.


But yesterday morning she took it a step further: She broke an ornament. It happened to have been an ornament we acquired in Santa Fe, New Mexico nearly 20 years ago. I don’t know if Miss Harmon took issue with the ornament itself or if she’s got some beef with Santa Fe. Either way, that ornament is a goner.


Living with a ghost isn’t the worst thing. And I’m gonna let this ornament incident slide. But I can guarantee I’m gonna be having a talk with Miss Harmon. She has just got to chill the hell out.

You Never Forget Your First



As I work away on the living room of the New Pad, I’m doing more than painting walls. For example, art must be hung – with intent. We have too much from which to choose (an embarrassment of riches, really), so I’m trying to make solid choices and feed my soul in the process. I spend more time in this part of the house than Mister, so the art needs to appeal to me.


I’m also placing objects about. This selection process is healthy. Not only do I get to decide what means the most or is the most beautiful, I also get to decide what to pass on to another. Getting rid of stuff feels great! But again, I am being intentional in this endeavor. I don’t want to regret giving away a piece that should have been kept. It’s slow-going, but it is going.


Anyhoo – because I wanted to use some items that have been packed since the big move a few years ago, I had to dig into a box that’s been doing nothing except collecting dust. And what a fun time that was! I not only found exactly what I was looking for, but also my little collection of ruby souvenir glass.


As I unwrapped each fragile piece, I tried to remember when and where they were acquired. For the most part, I couldn’t recollect a danged thang. But then I unwrapped my favorite – a piece from the 1899 World’s Fair. As I gently cradled the glass, I remembered exactly where I found it and how excited I was. That’s the glass that started it all. And I love it still.



This is the perfect time to address what it means to be a collector – of anything really. Let’s say you and your Sugar Plum had the best vacation of your lives in, oh, Pennsylvania Dutch Country. And while you were there, the two of you decided to buy a little windmill to commemorate the occasion and to remind you of the joy you experienced. And then, let’s say you go home and place your windmill on the kitchen sill, because you know you’ll see it every day, and appreciate not only the memories it triggers, but also the windmill itself. And then, let’s say you host a family holiday. And all your relatives from far and wide see the little windmill and hear the story of its acquisition. After the holiday, everyone goes home and life continues. Then your birthday rolls around, and you receive multiple windmill trinkets from your parents, your brother, your cousin Oscar, your great aunt Lulu, your in-laws and your mee-maw. And while a couple of them are cute, you certainly don’t love them all. And you never had any intention of starting a windmill collection in the first place. Friends and loved ones will latch on to your collection (or non-collection, as the case may be) and bestow upon you items they feel you must surely want. They can’t help it. In a way, they feel you’ve just given them a road map to the perfect gift. My family have done it. Hell – I’ve done it!


So please don’t take this the wrong way, but I’d prefer to not receive any ruby souvenir glass from you in the future. I am very particular about the pieces I select and have passed on many a glass. So as much as your kind, generous spirit is appreciated, please don’t give me any souvenir glass. If you absolutely want to gift me with something, may I suggest an outing to a museum or for coffee? That’s more my social jam, um-kay? And I promise you this: I will appreciate sitting in a cafe with you and catching up more than you can possibly imagine. All that to say – no gifts! Capisce?


So now my little collection of ruby souvenir glass is out and visible. And though I don’t remember where or when the majority of the pieces were claimed, I do recall one. After all, you never forget your first.

Painting Fool



I spent a lot of my weekend working in the new pad. Specifically, I was painting a section of the front parlor. And once the painting in the area was finished, I had to clean the shutters because, well, they were dirty and not worthy of the freshly painted walls.


I cannot tell you how pleased I am to get this done. How tickled I feel to look at the completed work. How tired my body is.


The walls aren’t a big deal. Sure – the taping isn’t my favorite part of the process, but it is terribly essential and crisp, clean lines really rev my motor, if you must know. But the floor boards. The floor boards, y’all! In case you missed it, those are by the floor. Which means I have to get down low to paint them. And paint them I must. They’re too aged to clean (I’ve tried) and they’re too stained to ignore (tried that, too). So I crouched down and painted the muthas. 2 coats. By the time I was finished and stood up, I thought I might be permanently hunched. Truth be told, it took me a while to stretch out and regain my full height. And don’t even get me started on cleaning the shutters. That task took twice as long as the painting.


But now the shutters are bright and the painting part is finished. Today I’ll tidy my mistakes and touch-up where needed. Because I’m taking my time in getting the painting done, I’ll move on to another wall later this week. Believe it or not, I’m being patient. Really.


For now, I love the fresh, clean paint and the clean shutters. The whole area looks perky and inviting. I’m too tired to feel pride of ownership when looking at my work though. Maybe once I’ve recovered. And am sitting in the parlor with a drink in my hand. Maybe then I’ll toast me. Maybe by then I’ll see I deserve it.




This past weekend I did something that was, for me, totally new and different: I took a DIY class at Home Depot.


Now that Mister and I have (finally) put down roots and are responsible for the new pad, I want to be able to improve the joint. Being a hands-on kind of gal, I’d prefer to do some of the improving myself, versus hiring someone. I had heard a commercial somewhere along the line, touting Home Depot’s classes for DIYers. Naturally, I had to check it out.


The class I signed up for was centered around crown moulding. When I arrived at Home Depot, no one knew there was to be such a class. I had to show various personnel my confirmation email, verifying that location’s address and time. Finally someone said that yes, that class was on the schedule, only they’d forgotten. And as I was the only person reminding them of the event, I was to be the only student. Yippee! They went about setting up the necessary materials and they even brought me something to drink while I waited. And then it was time to begin.


Cruz was the instructor, and that guy was awesome. He had me working a mitre saw in every direction and I was putting together interior and exterior angles like nobody’s bid-ness. As the only student, I got to ask every single question that came to mind. After an hour and a half, I felt pretty good about what I’d learned. Cruz sent me on my way with printouts and moulding samples.


I’ve now signed up for 2 more classes at Home Depot. And did I mention – the classes are free? I’m super looking forward to the next one: how to replace a toilet. I know, I know – D-O-R-K. I’m okay with that. I mean, I may not be ready for contracting work, but I am becoming more handy. And I like it.

Fireplace Face



This is Fireplace Face. It was in the new pad when we moved here. It juts several feet into the room and is super-duper wide. If it serves a useful purpose, I am unaware of it.


I tell you this because Fireplace Face is nearing the end of its life. I am not fond of the missed floor space, nor am I fond of stubbing my toe on it in the night. Friends who’ve come over have looked at it – agape – afraid to say anything lest Mister or I love it. We do not.


And that is why its demise is upon it. Lack of love. Humans need it. Pets, too. Plants seem to fare a bit better when love is bestowed upon them. So I suppose inanimate objects may need it as well. This is only an idea, mind you. And I’m no scientist.


But I am a love-ist. And I do love. A lot. But not fireplace face. There is absolutely no love lost there. More to come…