Friday, April 24, 2015

Paintin’ the Roses Red

Hey both all of you readers of my blog! Sorry it’s been a few weeks, I was caught between a whirlwind of bronchitis, a new job, and a backyard project that is gonna take a few weeks! But I’ve got to catch up on a few other projects we did before I can write about that!

 My wife has quickly become the brains of this backyard operation. My job is purely to provide resources and get them to the backyard so she can then decide how to lay everything out. Think of me as the hunter-gatherer, driving around and grunting a lot, and she’s the …..uh... beautiful foreign envoy who came and tried to teach a better way of life. However, for this project there was some role reversal. I was sitting on the couch watching The Voice something manly, and she grabbed my arm and said “JEFF! I think I just got my first ‘Free Craigslist’!” One of her close friends had just posted on Facebook that they wanted to get rid of their rose bushes, and within 3 minutes my wife had replied “we’ll take them!!” So yeah, not technically ‘Free Craigslist’, but I didn’t have the energy to start a separate blog called “My wife is awesome and gets stuff on Facebook for free”. So, we’ll double dip.

 This pick-up has been the least creepy by far, since they are an awesome family. Thank goodness too, because usually it’s super awkward pulling up to a random person’s house. However, although I thought I was there to dig up a couple of bushes, my wife neglected to mention that there were FOURTEEN. This was great, but had I known that I might’ve packed a lunch (and maybe a sleeping bag for a quick nap). Digging them up was pretty straightforward, but I wish I had planned better on how to carry them to my truck. By the end of the trip I looked like I’d tried to hug an uncooperative porcupine. I got the bushes home and already had my pre-made flower boxes ready to go, made entirely out of wood from my Dad’s old carport (rusty nails and flakey paint included).   The real question is, did I just make myself the best husband in the world because I have a built-in supply of (I love you/I’m sorry/Happy important day) flowers, or totally hose myself because now if I ever buy flowers she’ll be like “uh, why would I want those when I have FOURTEEEN BUSHES of them in the backyard?” Only time will tell.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Swingset that Requires a Blood Sacrifice

Every week or so a playset or swings show up on Free Craigslist. Sometimes it’s a giant, rusty ole’ set that looks like it better come with a bag of free tetanus shots. Other times it’s a giant wooden playground that is yours as long as you disassemble the entire thing by yourself. I don’t know about you, but that sounds worse than getting a desk from IKEA with the instructions only offered in pig-latin’ed Japanese braille. I usually just let them go and hope desperately that my wife doesn’t randomly jump online and see them. And looking back at how this went down, that may have been the best impulse for this one as well.  But, alas, when the cool ‘aged’ wooden swingset showed up on my Craigslist feed, I replied faster than a charging hippo on an African Plain (30 mph) that I’d take it.  The gentleman graciously accepted my offer, and I headed over there with my handy new socket wrench kit my brother got me for Christmas…two years ago. There just aren’t enough things to socket.

The removal was pretty straightforward. The guy talked all about his fortune and houses in New York and Vegas while I played the part of ‘interested guy slothing around on the swingset trying to access the bolts’. If planking were still a thing, that shot totally would’ve made me the coolest guy on MySpace (Just missed it by like four years). I ended up only removing one side of it just to make it easier to re-assemble (see previous IKEA reference), and threw it all in the trailer. Got it home, and quickly deposited it in my front yard.

A couple days later my wife reminded me that it wasn’t actually intended as a broken front yard ornament, so I called my buddy Matt over to help me get it into the backyard. Unfortunately, my yard has about a 6-foot fence going all the way around it that I built in an effort to keep our 8-pound Chihuahua from running away. In retrospect, a foot-high fence may have done the trick as well. Regardless, Matt came over, and we positioned ourselves to man-fully heave the larger portion of the swingset over the fence (with the top post and side still attached). I took point position to protect the fence and the swingset while Matt hefted the base. To this day I’m still not really sure what happened, but all of a sudden the swingset was divebombing towards the fence and I saw my career as an accomplished classical Banjo player come to a screeching halt (pun intended). My pinky was smashed between the swingset and the fence. When the life finally came back into my eyes, we finished getting the rest of the swingset over the fence. I took off my gloves, took one look at my hand, and told my wife I loved her and headed to urgent care. No stitches, no details provided (for my faint-of-heart friends), and I can almost feel my pinky again.   The good news is, the swingset looks great, and the babe approves.

The Original Ad
My little helper (and the socket wrench)
Already in use. All day. Everyday.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Buildin' the Yard a Brick at a Time

Using Craigslist as my main supplier has left me in some odd situations.  Whether it was heaving piles of muddy sod at 11 PM in an abandoned neighborhood, or taking river rocks from the front yard of a repo home (yes, I was invited - I think), it's definitely a touch shadier than pushing around a shopping cart with a squeaky wheel through Home Depot. My brick acquisition was right on par. 

The post came up: "413 Decorative Bricks" (who the heck counts all 413??). I quickly replied, and then moved on with my day.  After about an hour I got a reply saying they'd already been claimed. No biggie, considering I actually had no idea what I was gonna do with a bunch of bricks (413, to be exact). Coincidentally, I found myself heading home after a different craigslist item flaked when I got a call from the brick guy. He said they were mine if I was willing to come now. I tapped my inner Vin Diesel, whipped my truck around (while impressively missing two mailboxes) and gunned it for midtown. I didn't realize how odd this pick-up was until the address led me deeper and deeper into the city. Having a hard time imagining what anyone was doing with free bricks in downtown Sacramento, I warily made my way to the house and found a parking spot, wondering what building I would be chiseling bricks from. The owner turned out to be really cool - had a condo, and used the bricks in his 'backyard', a 5-by-8 foot space behind the condo (and right next to the communal walkway). His wife was going for a new backyard theme… Ok. So I used my trusty buckets and started to haul the bricks. Each load had me dumping a pile of bricks into the back of my truck, then waiting for the evening traffic to pass so I could go back to the condo. And even though they were the half-size, not-fully-grown bricks (apparently that's the 'decorative' part), it was a solid hour-plus to haul them all.

Once I got them home I stared at them for a few days trying to decide what to do next. My wife (being a woman of action) took over and laid out a 'patio', and then suggested I dig each one individually in, and then secure it with sand. Not too bad until you factor in a 2 year-old going all Godzilla over the bricks (anyone remember Sim City?) and pulling them up faster than I could lay them. Bet Vin Diesel never had a race that intense. Thank goodness for nap time.

My new pile of bricks
A piece of the patio (more pics to come upon completion)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Buckets, Bruises, and Brazilians

Weekends are the worst. There. I said it. Don't get me wrong - working outside doing projects with our wannabe-lion Chihuahua and the babe, Tarzana, is incredible. But the mere fact that EVERYONE has the day off means that anything posted on Craigslist is attacked like a Big Mac swaddled in Bacon and tossed into a Sarlacc pit (and for those non-Star Wars nerds, please pretend I said "piranha". Don't judge me).

So there I was, staring aimlessly at our new lawn while 'weeding' the yard (aka avoiding other chores). I decided to check Craigslist, you know, just in case. I muttered the ever important refrain "don't get attached" before starting to peruse the list.  And there it was. "White Landscaping Rocks", posted 22 mins ago. I took a deep breath (don't get attached), and replied. A short 37 mins later (I only checked my email 14 times in between) I got a response "Come and get it! Others interested!"  I grabbed my keys, told the pup to keep an eye on the babe, and shot out the door. Since my bro was still using the trailer as an oversized-trash can, it would be up to me and the trusty buckets again.

Upon arriving at the new house, I found an awesome guy who looked like he could be a new best friend, talking nothing but soccer, college football, and Harry Potter other manly things. He grabbed a bucket and helped me start to load the new landscaping rocks. He and his wife had decided to get rid of it and purchase all new landscape rocks (how unadventurous). His wife then joined us. I quickly noticed an accent and asked where she was from. She responded "Brazil". I smiled and replied "Você é Brasileira?" ("You're Brazilian?" in Portuguese). She laughed and we proceeded to speak Portuguese for about 30 seconds before her husband finally had a light switch flip and said "Whoa - you speak Portuguese???" Apparently he didn't. But their relationship
at least explained the interest in soccer.

After 2 short trips filling up the back of my truck beyond safe levels (and sustaining several bruises from smacking buckets against the side of the truck to separate them), the acquisition was complete.

The Rocks
Before: Front Entry Way

 Now if we can just get some plants that don't mind being watered every year or so...
Maybe a path next to the grass..

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sod - There and Back Again

It was Tuesday morning. 9:37 AM. I had just decided to accept that this was going a fruitless week (sorry, work), when I decided to jump on Craigslist. All of a sudden there was a light beam bursting forth from the computer screen, with a peaceful angelic hum surrounded my soul: "Sod - Come and get it". The poster had provided both an email and a phone to text.  I usually don't like to text Craigslisters- I've created a Hotmail account for all Craigslist interaction (for scam purposes), but haven't risen to the level of awesomeness that is the additional phone number. But, for sod, totally worth the potential scammers texting me to get $20 sunglasses every day.  I shot off my hasty text and instantly got a reply - "Come and get it tonight - but did you read the whole post?"  Of course I didn't. It said "Sod". I said "Okay". How complex could it get? I scanned the remainder of the post: "200 sq feet of sod. Must take pile of dirt and debris as well." I pondered for .207 seconds and replied "Yep! Sounds great." I quickly reached out to my brother, who was borrowing the trailer and the time, and discovered it was currently full of trash. For some reason he wasn't interested in leaving work and taking it to the dump. So, just the Truck. No Prob.

That evening I headed downtown to track down my new sod, feeling like I was finally going to reunite the long-lost twin of my other recent adoption (see Sod part 1: "The Holy Grail"). I pulled up to the house and saw a MOUND of dirt, and a haggard, dried up pallet of Sod. The poster met me outside, took 1 look at my truck, and said "Good luck" and walked inside.

Bring it on.

I shoveled that whole dump pile, filling the back of my truck with a load of dirt, and finally looked over at the sod. I slowly covered the dirt mountain with roll after roll of dry sod, and finally tied the whole thing down. My truck looked like I was hauling an oversized Volcano science project, ready to burst at any moment. As I got in my truck to drive off, the guy walked out with three giant trash bags. "I don't know where you're going to fit this, but it's the debris". With a sly smile, he dropped them at my feet and walked off. I looked around, sighed, and threw them in the cab of my truck.

After another late night, we were pretty happy with the result!

Before Pic 

 1st half
 Finally complete!

Saturday, February 21, 2015


From Day 1 I've been looking for flagstone rocks to make a pathway of awesomeness. However, since posts for Flagstone disappear faster than my prom date in High School, I'd all but given up.  One morning, as I signed in to work, I randomly checked Free Craigslist and my jaw dropped. "Free Slate Rock - 3 yards". After hitting reply 7 times, my computer decided it could ignore me no longer and complied. With my email shot off, I sat back to soak in the day. Almost instantly I got a reply that said "I've got 8 other people interested. When can you be here?" I quickly replied "I'll be there at lunch!" and with that, secured the deal.  Then a thought crossed my mind - "What the heck is SLATE?" I suddenly realized that what I was inquiring after was not my Dream Weaver known as flagstone.  Luckily, a quick Google search showed me my latest conquest was still actually pretty cool. It wasn't the "Apple" of landscaping rocks - but maybe a solid "Kindle Fire". Different, but good. And 3 yards of it? That's like a never ending supply. Woot.

When I arrived at the site, I was happy to discover a MASSIVE pile of slate rocks in front of this beautiful home.  There's nothing better than leftovers from a family who's decided they're bored with their current yard. I busted out my shovel and started at it. However, after about 15 minutes I noticed an interested development. As I skimmed the top layer off the entire pile, underneath I found what can only be called blackish sand (technical term).  I probed and probed and quickly realized I had been hoodwinked. After allowing my slate dreams to shatter like the Death Star in Episode IV, I took my bucket and headed for home. I found the perfect location (and only place small enough to house my new slate rock), laid it out, and called it good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Holy Grail

There are easy things to get on Craigslist (couches, dirt, scams) and there are hard things (bricks, river rocks, a life-sized Legolas Cardboard cut-out).  There are still a few items I want that I haven't been successful at getting yet (a waterfall-pond), but the hardest thing I've actually gotten was SOD.  SOD. Seriously. Grass.  Now everytime I drive by a park I think "man, I could totally come here at night with a shovel and score some grass.  WHO THINKS THAT WAY? People on a $0 budget, that's who. You're welcome.

It was a cold, winter night. I'd just put the babe to bed, and the wife was just turning on a re-run of "The Amazing Race".  Just for fun, I checked Free Craigslist and saw it. SOD. Posted 5 mins ago.  I clicked and responded like a madman "ILL Take iT!!!". Within 10 mins they wrote back with their address - I'm not sure if I'm more proud that I had the quickest draw, or more concerned looking back that the poster wasn't sufficiently creeped out by my 10:37 PM response to just say "Uh, no".  So, at 11 PM I headed to Sacramento and loaded my truck with heavy, soggy sod.  The house was dark and they had requested to not be disturbed, so I worked in silence, leaving muddy footprints as I heaved more and more rolls into my Tacoma. On the way home, I called my bro for advice on laying sod. After about 2 mins of trying to explain best methods, he gave up and decided to just come over, as long as I promised to supply the Dr. Pepper 10. As that is my #2 drink of choice, I agreed.

After about an hour of hard labor, it was complete - we had a "lawn"  *cough*. Well, half a lawn. Just enough to look thoroughly unfinished.

Rocks and Lawn

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

River Rocks - The Gemstone of Free Craigslist

If you ever want to get rid of ANYTHING on Free Craigslist, just put the words "River Rocks" in the title.  Seriously.  It can be two river rocks and a pile of chewed-up Tauntaun toys, and you'll have 50 people at your door before lunch.

My backyard adventures started there. Anytime I saw the word "river", or "rock", I'd click and reply 'On my way'!  9 times out of 10 I was too late, and the one time I wasn't, they ended up living just around the corner from Middle Earth.  But, alas, after about 30 tries, I FINALLY scored some river rocks. I feel like I was picked for The Price is Right.

Oh. My. Gosh. That is by far the worst job ever, especially when you don't have a trailer. I've been a janitor at a hospital, literally lugging around body parts - this was worse. And since my brother, Davey, had conveniently borrowed the trailer, I was stuck using just my truck. Wheelbarrows and trucks don't go together. At all. This meant I was filling bucket after bucket by hand.  By the end, I was pretty sure I'd rather just take plain old 'normal' rocks and sit and sand them down if that meant I never had to see another bucket. Stupid River Rocks. Why do you have to be so awesome.

Got home, unloaded a pile of rocks, and looked at my yard and laughed.  Only 457 more trips to go.

Before Pic
Project in Progress - Totally leveraged the wife and the babe for this one!

The Beginning

Landscaping is hard work, requiring lots of time, energy, skill, and money.  I have none of those. So, fueled by Mountain Dew, Hot Cheetos and a project light, join me in my adventures to re-do our backyard almost entirely off of Free Craiglist!

Here's the story - My wife and I bought our starter home 5 years ago - a foreclosed home in the Greater Sacramento area. We spent those first five years slowly fixin' up the inside of the house just to make it livable. Mid-journey, my wife decided to have this miniature version of herself join our family. The babe is now 2, and needs no caffeine to be faster than a rampaging rhino on the African plains.  She has recently decided that life is best worth living outdoors.  Unfortunately for us, our 'yard' is a 1/3 of an acre of wild terrain that provides rocks, dirt, and rusty nails as playmates. How the heck are we gonna re-vamp our yard on a budget of $0? Not possible, right?

Challenge Accepted.

I now live on Free Craigslist, fighting the hoards for anything remotely related to landscaping materials, trusting in my Tacoma and a beat-up trailer to get to the locations 5 mins before the next guy and be gone with little-to-no interaction with the lister. After a month of this, I've decided this is ridiculously awesome, and want to share this journey with the world.

Quick disclaimer - I stink at landscaping.  If you're on this site to get great "Pinterest-y" ideas on how to make your yard sparkle like a fresh jewel on top of Queen Elizabeth's crown, just hit the 'back' button and run. However, if you'd like to laugh along with me as I show you our many failures (and some successes), sit down, grab a MD, and enjoy the ride.