Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Before summer is over.

It already feels like summer skipped out of town a couple weeks ago and we've been enjoying very mild temperatures with just a bit of a crisp in the air. And I'm loving it. But.... I never blogged about a special part of our summertime. So before it officially becomes fall I'm taking you back to South Carolina for one last fleeting taste of summer.

The whole excuse behind our trip to South Carolina this past August was for T.J. to attend an orthopedic conference on Kiawah Island. So after our week in the upstate we rented a car and drove to the low country just the two of us. We decided when we got married that we need to protect our limited vacation days and always make sure it includes time for us to reconnect as a couple. Our excitement for a real beach weekend together grew with each palmetto tree we passed. Of course we had to stop for a late lunch along the way....

And as we got closer to our destination we stopped again to grab more sunscreen and some breakfast fixings for our villa and we also had to check out the prettiest tree in the world, the Angel Oak.
Finally we were driving through a tunnel of Spanish moss and pulling through the gates at Kiawah Island. Kiawah is a private beach community so unless you're staying on the property or have a tee time at one of the golf courses you can't get on the island which makes it feel super fancy but also protects this little slice of heaven from hooligans. It's super family friendly, quiet, and utterly relaxing and within about five seconds of being there we were committing to coming back every summer thereafter.

We checked in to our villa then decided to check out The Sanctuary Hotel where T.J.'s conference would be taking place, aka the prettiest, most luxurious hotel I have ever been inside. Jaw dropped and wide eyed we meandered past the pool and then I hurriedly slipped off my sandals and ran to the surf. 

Our next stop was to rent beach cruisers for the weekend.It is the perfect way to get around the island and we rode around a bit before dark so we could get our bearings and take note of the best alligator hang outs. Still full from our lunch we opted to skip dinner and go straight to the ice cream parlor. We enjoyed our melting cones in Adirondack chairs with a symphony of cicadas serenading us.
The next morning T.J. left early for his conference and I hopped on my bike and headed down to the beach. I walked up and down the shoreline and called my folks and tried not to brag too much about the view with sparkling waves washing over my feet. Not too long after my old college roommate, who lives in Charleston, arrived to spend the day with us and T.J. came and met us for lunch at the poolside restaurant.  The rest of the day was spent on the beach catching up on each others' lives and working on going back to Washington with some semblance of a tan.

We parted with plans to see each other the next day as well, then T.J. and I freshened up and drove into Charleston to meet his med school buddy/groomsmen and his girl friend for rooftop cocktails followed by dinner at Cannon Green.
The next day T.J. played hooky from the conference seminars (this conference really just seemed like an excuse for all these overworked doctors to get away with their families) and we hit up the pool for most of the day. We enjoyed pina coladas and fish tacos and played on the water slides like we were kids and I only had to nag T.J. about reapplying sunscreen a couple times. We moved to the beach later in the day and played bocce ball and enjoyed the salty breeze. That night we went casual. We didn't bother with showering off the sand and sunscreen before we headed to Red's Ice House for some fried shrimp and our last waterside sunset in South Carolina.
T.J. and I are already planning to go back to Kiawah next summer and the summer after that...and you get the picture. I dream about us taking little ones here for family vacations, and it being our beach spot that we go to year after year. It was a perfect end to our vacation and we left feeling totally refreshed and totally reminded of why no matter where we live, or how far we roam, South Carolina will always feel like home.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

DIY Gravel Patio & Fire Pit

It may be after Labor Day but it's not officially Fall yet (chill out pumpkin spice fanatics) and I'm not one to wish away summer knowing that many gray rainy days are in my future. But.... I do love the changing seasons. It always reinvigorates me and feels like a chance to start over or to just start something new.

My father in law and T.J. built our wonderful deck last summer but, I'm ashamed to admit, we hardly ever use it. I do love the way it makes our backyard look more finished and purposeful but the rest of the yard is just blah.The grass is patchy or non-existent or full of dandelions. The "flower bed" along the fence line is undefined and the plants and bushes in there are just sad. Nothing but moss grows against the sides of the house and it's become a favorite place for Hunley to dig holes. Whenever I do sit out on our deck, that's all I see. I can't get past all the things that need to be done and I'm so overwhelmed by it. Where do I even begin?

I had a burst of energy last Monday and decided it was the perfect time to start digging up this wasted area that we decided was perfect for a gravel patio. I maybe should have done a bit more research but after a bit of time on Pinterest I felt confident I knew what I was doing. This post here gives pretty simple instructions and good overview of how I went about this. I roughly marked out the outline of the space and just started moving dirt little by little and attempting to make the ground level as I went.

This spot of the yard is right next to the deck barely gets any sun and the foundation of the house extends out underneath it for some reason, so the ground is super rocky and hard and nothing but moss grows there. We maybe could have just made our deck longer but I didn't want our whole yard to feel like one big wooden surface. I liked the idea of a pea gravel patio with a wood border because it felt more organic. It would be functional but still flow nicely into the rest of the yard, plus provide a place for more seating, and the perfect spot for that fire pit!

Here's my inspiration:
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Tuesday I went to Lowes with my measurements and my shopping list thinking it would be a one trip sort of project. Do those even exist? Of course they couldn't cut the wood beams I needed in the store for me and I wouldn't have been able to fit the uncut beams in my car which meant I had to go to Home Depot instead because apparently they had the capability to make the cuts I needed. Also, the nice guy helping me thought I would only need 20 bags of pea gravel which seemed manageable for me and my jeep but after a closer look I needed more like 40 bags which sounded like a project for T.J.'s truck. And then the nice guy helping me said something like, you're not going to move all those bags by yourself are you? That's crazy." To which I lied and said "no I'll have help," but really I wont because I'm stubborn and too impatient to wait for T.J. to be home long enough to help me. 

Oh, and also, I'm a capable woman, thank you very much! 

I sometimes feel like maybe the employees and the other shoppers there with all their important projects are looking around wondering, who's this little girl pretending she knows what the heck she's doing? And where's her husband?

I digress...

I left the store with just the landscape fabric and stakes that I needed and went back to my slow and steady moving of dirt. Of course T.J. was going to be home for a bit on Saturday and could totally have helped but who wants to move gravel on their one day off. Plus by then I was pretty determined to do it without him, partly because I want us to be able to enjoy it already and partly because I can. Hashtag girl power!

On Wednesday I made my trip to Home Depot, got the beams cut and loaded in my car no problem (be sure to get pressure treated beams for outdoor use). Then I said screw it and arranged to have the gravel delivered on Friday instead of waiting for T.J to pick it up. Once I start a project I want it done now!
The hardest part of this project was all the digging, the ground was basically solid rock, and trying to get the area as level as possible was no joke. If you attempt this DIY I would recommend at least one other friend to help you out here to cut the time in half. I spent several hours after work each day that week moving dirt and raking and checking it with the level and moving more dirt. I ended up just doing the best I could and figured I could level it out more once I added gravel. But once that was done I laid down the landscape fabric, making sure to overlap each section.

My original plan had been to use rebar stakes to secure the beams to the ground but remember how the ground was basically all rocks? Yeah, it just wasn't going to happen.So I kind of just ignored that problem and eagerly awaited my gravel delivery.

I calculated the cubic feet I would need to cover and ordered 45 bags of pea gravel from Lowes and had it delivered on Friday. Turns out that guy who asked if I was going to move all the bags of gravel by myself wasn't being offensive, they're actually really flipping heavy! I could barely lift one bag and even with a wheel barrow I could only move two bags at a time. It was sloowww going moving all 45 bags from my driveway to the patio but then finally came the fun part- raking and spreading the gravel in the space.

Let me tell you, I slept well that night! Of course the second I let Hunley outside when I was finished he immediately knocked one of the beams out of place and I knew I'd have to find a better way to secure them. So the next day I went back to Lowes and picked up a couple brackets and a couple lag screws. I finally asked T.J. for help here and he ratcheted the screws through the corner pieces while I added brackets connecting the beams.  Finally I moved my Adirondack chairs into place and set up our new fire pit and then collapsed.
You know when you start one project a million more pop up? Well.... I want to aerate and over-seed the grass. I want to add stepping stones from the patio to the back gate. I want to add steps off the deck. I want to add mulch to the bed along the fence and I want to plant stuff. But for now I'm just going to enjoy this finished project that I successfully checked off my list.

I picture future little ones running around barefoot in the grass while we sit around the fire and roast marshmallows or sip a glass of wine. I love love love how it turned out and I can't wait to enjoy our yard more with this new extension of our living space.