Old House Restoration

A real family makes an old house their home...for the 2nd time
The Splendido's renovate, restore and rejuvenate their home with their own hands - all while living in the house
and balancing their family needs...you know...like most families have to do it!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Priority #1 - Making the Backyard Fun

Note - Many of you have expressed interest in seeing the inside changes and they are coming - I promise - but for now this will have to do!

The kids were excited for the new house - well really for their new bedrooms and the bigger yard. The twins were especially excited because they would have their "own big kid rooms," rather than sharing a room. It was nice to have the kids excited, because as everyone knows moving can be a tad stressful. Even more so if you the kids are not happy about the move.

All was good until we actually moved. Then the happy-happy-joy-joy quickly turned into tears. The twins realized having their own room meant actually sleeping in separate rooms! It was sad hearing "I miss Lily" and "I miss Luke."  Easy fix. Let them have sleepovers in each others rooms.  10 months later - instead of having their own beds in a room they shared like in the old house - they now have their own rooms, but share a bed - every night! We don't care. They are so cute!

At least that complaint had an easy resolution. This next one would not be as easy to correct. We started hearing whines about "how our backyard at the other house was so much more fun." I tried a simple solution - showing them how to take advantage of the bigger yard. We bought some simple and fun yard games - a volleyball set, played some wiffleball, badminton, etc. Those would work, but only when daddy or mommy could actually play with them. As soon as we stopped the "old yard more fun" chants returned. To be fair - it was understandable because the previous house did have a school yard grade swing set with monkey bars and other acrobatic attachments. In their eyes, this yard would not be as fun until they had a playground too. That is what was missing. And since being able to answer to their satisfaction the age old question "What are we doing that is fun today?" is of utmost importance to me - I was going to make it happen!

Before - hill, trees, falling apart green fence
Ideally we wanted the playground to be in an area where we could sit in our porch or in the house and still see the kids playing and keep the kids away from the road. The backyard had the location, but not the ideal landscape. It was overgrown with thick 5 foot high weeds, was on a steep hill and loaded with large trees. A regular play set would never work in-between all the trees. Also all those weeds harvested misquitos the size of the Clock family from The Secret World of Arrietty. 4 inches may be small for people, but huge for a mosquito! So first things first - I removed all the weeds so we could see what we were working with.

Before - hill of yard debris - unfortunately no pics of the 5 foot high weeds
Karen and I then came up with a plan if we could only find what we were looking for. In our original plan we needed a slide, a tree fort, a rope swing and a zip line (we already owned a zip line that we never installed at the old house). So I started looking for a slide on Craigslist (Note 1: flexibility is key when looking for used items). My first V8 moment was when I searched slide and came upon a wooden play set in Craigslist. They had Forts. They had slides. No rope swings, but they had swings. They even had monkey bars and rock walls and a place to hang out underneath. But they would never fit on the landscape...unless I could take them apart?. I wasn't sure, but with some ingenuity I thought they could be made "sectional."

After - Slide and steps built into hill...and the ugly green fence is gone
The first few I found were too small. But after about two weeks I found one in Guilderland. It was big, made of wood, was in good shape and already weathered looking (which would look great in our setting). It was mine - if I could come and take it apart and get it home. Easy peasy lemon squeezy?!...not! My brother-in-law and I went there early one Saturday - tools in hand and my company's 24 foot box truck (overkill...so I thought). Note to anybody else that has the idea of buying a used play set...expect most of the screws to be corroded closed for all of eternity! So it was not going to come apart into small pieces for easy travel like I had hoped.

Time to rethink. Luckily all the main sections were held together with nylon coated nuts and bolts that could still be removed. We were able to remove enough bolts to take the system apart into 5 large sections - the slide, the rock wall, the swings & monkey bars, the roof and then the main body of the fort. Because of the bulkiness of the large sections - we needed to beg the neighbors to help us load the sections - mind you it was before 9am on a Saturday...and I had never met any of these people in my life! The nice people of Guilderland did come through and after some loading, unloading and reloading we were able to get all the pieces to fit in the truck - without an inch to spare.

After - Tree Fort and separate swing/monkey bars getting put to good use
When I got it home I cleared an area for the body of the fort next to a tree that would support it. Keep in mind the sections were not going back together as they were originally engineered so they needed to be stabilized differently. Then I gathered some of my great new neighbors and they helped me get the fort in place and the roof back up...and then low and behold we had a fort under a tree - so in a sense it is a Tree Fort! 

Next Karen and I installed the swings and money bars against another tree. We dug the slide and some very simple railroad tie steps into the steep hill and then put the long zip line in-between two of the larger trees. Karen also painted an old wooden A-frame shrub protector with some chalkboard paint for some added fun. Then the final step was spreading out 9 yards of playground mulch (my back aches me just to write that again). All in all it took the better part of two weekends to complete the whole project.

Notice the two sets of 3 logs screwed
together used as short-run and long-run
platforms to reach the zip line.
More natural looking than step stools.
Landing area has 6 inches of mulch
and an old crib mattress up against
the tree. The mattress has since been
covered to help blend in.
Guess what?
The kids and their friends love the new playground...
 ...and I haven't heard anything about the old backyard again :-)

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