DIY Landscaping

We moved to West Virginia in January, 2013. As the winter rolled into spring and then into summer last year, it was clear that our new yard needed a lot of TLC. However, we still had so much unpacking and organizing inside the house that, apart from mowing, we just closed our eyes as we walked in and out of our house, ignoring the yard-tastrophe.

A year later and there is general order inside, so this summer I was ready to improve the house’s curbside appeal. Brian and I have lived in townhouses from 1999 (our first year out of college) to January, 2013. Up to this point, our homes always have been a middle unit in a row of homes, so we’ve only had a sliver of a front yard and a sliver of a back yard to manage. Because I have little experience with landscaping, I can become overwhelmed easily during both the planning and the execution stages of revamping a yard. This is why for so many years when my mom asks me what I want for my birthday, my go-to response is: her. It’s the perfect birthday gift to have her visit to help me come up with landscaping ideas and then make them happen. She is so gifted and experienced with this; she is one with the dirt. Once she gets the ball rolling, the task at hand becomes more manageable and I’m able to contribute during both the idea and execution stages. I’ve learned so much from working on projects together with her, even during small projects like potting annuals.

Now that we have four exterior walls of a house to care for, there’s a lot more yard to manage as well. The goal this year was to tackle two sides of the house, and my (June) birthday wish from Mom was no different. Brian, my mom, and I each put in about 10-12 hours of work on both Saturday and Sunday of my birthday weekend, and Brian took the day off from work on Monday to finalize a couple of the projects.

Here’s a look at the before and after.


Front Yard - Before

The abominable treeman steals the show in this picture. But did you know that trees can be trimmed? Originally, I had wanted to remove the tree because of how it dominated the yard. It never once crossed my mind to trim the tree. As you’ll see in the next photo, oh what a difference a hair cut makes. Trees can be trimmed. I have learned so much.

I actually trimmed the branches much more than this (see below), but even this first cut substantially opened up the yard.

Here are some more before shots of that front plant bed.

The front bed required a lot of attention. Behind the overgrown bushes – surprise! – there were more bushes. The hidden azalea bushes had lots of potential but limited opportunity given the weeds and suffocating location. The river rocks are beautiful, but they were buried underneath all of the overgrowth, and in the corners of the bed the rocks were dumped haphazardly. The solar-powered lights didn’t function, which is just as well, because I felt no need to light up and show off our patch of weeds to the neighbors.


The side of the house and the entryway were blank slates.

In summary, there was a tree monster, massive overgrowth, and weeds. Anything that had potential (like shrubbery, rocks, and lights) looked like it was arranged by a toddler (no offense to toddlers).








The plant bed was cleared and widened. The front bushes (not sure of their name) were trimmed, and the azaleas were moved to the side of the house. The rhododendron was originally next to the bushes (where the hydrangea is now), but given its height and shape we thought it’d work better in the corner. Once the rhododendron was moved, we had that open space between the bushes and the corner, which we filled with the hydrangea. Hydrangeas are a favorite of mine, so I was glad to work one into the mix.

Once we cleared the front plant bed and re-purposed the rocks from around the base of the tree, there were plenty of river rocks to frame the bed and wrap around the side of the house. The side plant bed extends about 40 feet. That side yard isn’t used or seen much, and low maintenance landscaping is my style, so we planted a dozen hostas along that strip. In creating the side bed, we excavated several flat sheet rocks, which we used as stepping stones to the faucet and as a flat surface for the hose storage container.

New, inexpensive solar-powered lights were used to line the walkway leading to the house, and an abundance of potted plants were added to the entryway.

Not shown in the above photos is our garage, which is left of the entryway. Although not quite as exciting, on the other side of the garage we added some plants around the cable/electrical boxes as well as some potted flowers.



I’m so grateful for the help on these projects and I am excited to watch the plants mature and fill in over the coming years. Ah, West Virginia, feels like home.



Paper That You Can Trade In

Two years ago today, I called my nephew to wish him a happy birthday.  He had turned 7.  My sister-in-law answered the phone, and here’s how the conversation went down…

Kris: Evan, Auntie Michelle wants to talk to you.

[Evan grabs the phone.]

Evan: What?

Kris (in background): Um, how about “hello?”

Evan: Hello?

[I immediately sing happy birthday.]

Evan (monotone): Thanks.

[After a couple nice conversational exchanges…]

Evan: Thank you for my birthday car-

Kris (in background): That was from Aunt Kimmy, not Auntie Michelle.

[Evan is silent for a moment, clearly thinking through his next step.]

Evan: Well, Aunt Kimmy got me a birthday card and inside was this paper that you could trade in-

Kris (in background): It’s a check.

Evan: Well, it had a check that you could trade in for money, so I traded that in and my allowance for heelies…


I’d like to hear more about this paper you can trade in for money.  And whether or not they make heelies in adult shoe sizes.

Happy 9th birthday, Evan!  I’m still ridiculously crazy about you, kid!


The Entertainer

A couple weeks ago, my husband barreled down the stairs and across the living room, stumbled over the over-sized ottoman, and then collapsed onto our over-sized chair. Brian is both coordinated and athletic, but occasionally around the house he carries himself with this sort of lazy, bulky gait. Sometimes it manifests as sort of a limp, sometimes it’s more like a clumsy sedated state of being.

One time in particular, his stumbling sedated state culminated into one of my all-time favorite bloopers. It was late at night and Brian had fallen asleep on the big chair. I gingerly woke him and told him to go upstairs to bed. Usually when I wake him up his first response is to rhetorically mutter “Wuh, wuh?” This time was no different. After the “wuh, wuh?” he scooted across the chair and ottoman, stood up, took one step forward, and then collapsed to the ground. Nothing had impeded his step other than his own motoric malfunction. He had rolled into a fetal position by the time his entire body hit the carpet, like a caterpillar would do if you poked at it or a person getting beat up would do to protect their gut from a kick. Unphased, Brian stood back up and walked off heavily to bed. He has no recollection of this event, but sometimes, when the world around me is quiet, I visualize this incident and laugh out loud.

Actually, it just happened. Someone just passing by my office stopped and asked why I was laughing: “Are you watching a video online or something?” No, no I’m not, but this is the amusement that I get from replaying this memory. The closest I can come to demonstrating the randomness and sweet innocence of Brian’s fall is this video, only imagine it in human form.

So like I was saying, a couple weeks ago Brian barrels into the living room and says, “You know what you haven’t asked me yet?”

Me: “What?”

Brian: “What I want for my birthday.”

Brian, whether it’s your childlike eagerness for a birthday, or the way you use onomatopoeia, or the fact that you said “true dat” today, or your gait when you’re being silly…that goofiness (intentional or not) that typically is only fully unleashed within the comfort of our home, I love that part of you. The rest of you is not so bad either. Today I celebrate all of those parts that have me so in love with you. Happy Birthday!