Thursday, February 19, 2015

on such a winter's day.

I mean, seriously. Last year this time, all of us in southeastern Michigan were up in arms about the Polar Vortex. Our collective shock over the negative wind chills flooded my Facebook, canceled all plans, closed schools - multiple times. This year? We're just like, oh, it's four degrees out right now. That's not too bad. At least it's sunny. I forgot the term "Polar Vortex" and kept referring to it as an "Arctic Freeze" when the furnace guy came yesterday. He seemed a little confused about why I kept referencing a movie theater frozen drink. Sorry, guy. Brain too cold to remember words.

But! J.J.'s birthday is in a month, and every few years, it's seventy degrees on his birthday. SEVENTY. DEGREES. So there's hope. Until then, I find myself dreaming about throwing windows wide open to feel warm, fresh air; of taking a leisurely walk through the neighborhood in fewer than five layers of clothing; and, most of all, of playing outside with Rowan...for as long as we want, doing whatever we want, without the constraints of bitter temperatures or icy sidewalks or snow so deep in the park that I literally can't carry her to the swings.

With that in mind, I have big plans for our backyard this summer.

When we first toured this house with our Realtor, we walked in the front door to find green carpeting, the ninety-two-year-old original homeowner playing her baby grand piano, a semi-open floor plan - and the backyard of our dreams. I was half-sold when we saw the open kitchen/family room; I was beyond sold when we looked out the windows and saw the backyard. Huge space, full of mature trees and bushes, a sweet little bench in the back, and bordering a neighborhood park with swings, a climber, tennis courts, a basketball court, and a ball field. Seriously, our Realtor practically had to hold us back from wantonly signing a mortgage agreement on the spot ("Let's at least look upstairs, guys..."). 

Horribly blurry pic of how it looked back in the day. Basically, overgrown
with plenty of dead patches and invasive species. But green! And OURS!

As awesome as it looked originally, we've had to put a lot of work into it. (Story of this house in general.) We dropped a pretty penny to have professionals take down a dead pine tree and remove seven kajillion buckthorn bushes (an invasive species that, unfortunately, made up a significant percentage of our yard's greenery...oops). We went away for a weekend in 2012 and came home to discover that a nice neighborhood volunteer group had removed all the invasive species from the park...AKA, removed the green border between us and the park. I'm thankful that they worked so hard, but without warning, there was no longer a natural demarcation between the park and our property (in other words, nothing keeping small children/horny teenagers/pooping dogs OFF MY YARD, DAMMIT). Basically, it went from Picture 1 to Picture 2 without our knowledge or consent:

Hey, there's the little shed we built a couple years ago! ...And
there's THE ENTIRE PARK, all up in our backyard.

So we had to put up a fence. I found a style I liked at Lowe's, and we had the unbelievable good fortune of discovering that our friends were selling the exact fence pieces we wanted at a very reasonable price. The fence went up...but a few other problems remain. Every year, by mid-summer, we have about a dozen enormous ant hills scattered throughout the yard. Each one is about a square foot of "dead dirt" - no grass left, just ants and their dirt hills. We've tried all sorts of remedies, from boiling water to ant killer pods that you plant in the anthill. Some work, some don't, but either way, the grass is dead in those spots for the season. Other backyard imperfections? Our grass is patchy everywhere; we don't treat it, so it usually dies in July; we have lumps and bumps everywhere from rodent tunnels and/or decaying walnuts; there's for sure a pet cemetery in the southeast corner; there are poisonous berries; blah blah blah. I get so overwhelmed when I think about everything we probably should be doing to the backyard, which is why we haven't really tackled any of it (except building a shed, installing a fence, and planting a garden...all J.J.). 

I'd love to make the backyard really fun for Rowan. (And not full of deadly berries.) J.J.'s dad built her a swing set last summer out of leftover fence pieces, which is wonderful. We inherited a sandbox from the next-door neighbors. And, of course, we have the adjacent park. But I have a few ideas floating around my head that I hope to implement. Well, actually, I have dozens of ideas (stone paths and tree stump fairy houses and treehouses and...), but only a few that I want to start with this summer. For example...

A Music/Sound Wall
We had a music wall in the garden at the child care center where I worked, and I lovvvved the idea. In fact, I love that garden set-up in general, and this totally reminds me that I need to talk to a certain teacher there and steal some more ideas from her! Anyway, this music wall is such a fun idea, and a great way for little kids to both explore sound and get some energy out in a perfectly unstructured way. I think I would attach our "music" items right to our fence (is there some reason not to that I'm just not thinking of?), so I need to start collecting some secondhand pots, pans, lids, and wooden spoons. What else could I put on there?

from here

A Green Fort
Now that I think about it, there's a green fort in the garden at work, too. Isn't it a cool idea? I would've loved this as a kid. The directions in the link below seem easy enough, even for a black thumb like me. I want to give it a shot. The grass in our backyard is such crap already anyway; if I mess up a big patch with a massive bean fort fail, it'll pretty much just blend in.

from here

A Hula Hoop Hideout
And, finally, an idea that's cheap and easy, just the way I like it (ahem) - hula hoop hideouts. Rowan might be a little too young to appreciate these this summer, but who knows? Worth a try, and we have plenty of perfect branches to test out.

from here

So for now, I'm just going to ignore the massive amounts of tree-trimming that need to happen...and the bare soil everywhere...and the ant colonies that threaten to rise up alongside the pet zombies and take over the neighborhood...and instead focus on some fun plans for my cute baby.

And you know what's going to be so awesome? That first day when the sun is shining and the temps break fifty degrees, and all the neighborhood kids start swarming the sidewalks and swings, and the parents go all Sound of Music and dance through the baseball outfield, arms outstretched Julie Andrews-style. Ahh, fifty degrees sounds amazing right now. Okay, TWENTY degrees sounds amazing right now. Just a few more weeks...

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