Monday, July 29, 2013

The Grand Opening of The Play Yard

It took one week for the glue under the artificial grass to dry, but once that week was up, we were eager and ready to inaugurate our play yard.  The plan was for the whole family to step onto the surface at the same time, but Henry beat everyone to the punch.

We are loving the new play yard.  

Georgia has been using the kickback wall to practice her soccer:

And Henry has been using the wall for lacrosse and (on this night) a game of catch the tiny rubber ball:

Josie has also been working on her soccer kick:

And Gordy has been playing lacrosse:

There is plenty of room for all four "children" to play without getting in each other's way and for that, I am thankful.

It's hard to believe that this area was only recently a unusable, sloped bush-covered area.  It's so nice to be able to reclaim some of our property and give the kids a place to play.

Our amazing Landscape Designer, Reed Pugh, posted about our play yard on his blog.  You can read his post by clicking on these words

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Play Yard Saga

Our house sits on a strange piece of property.  We are just below the apex of a seriously steep hill and our house rests at an angle close to the back.  We have a large, sloping front yard and a small, narrow backyard.  The builder did a fairly dismal job of landscaping and showing off the house's outside attributes and so it is no surprise that our house stood empty for two years before we walked inside, fell in love and bought it.  

Note that I said "walked inside and fell in love."  The outside was no love story.  When we started to look for a larger home, a big yard and a place to build an outdoor ice rink were high on our list of priorities.  As we stared out the window at the tiny plot of land in the back of this great house, and the enormous sloped and unusable space in the front, we hesitated and ultimately left.  The HOUSE was perfect but the property was not.  

Two months later, we found that we couldn't get the house out of our heads.  Every other house that we looked at failed to compare and so we convinced ourselves that the kids didn't need a big back yard and maintaining an ice rink is way too much work anyhow.  We made an offer which was promptly accepted.

For three years, we decorated, we fixed a serious water problem (we hope) and we settled into the neighborhood.  But this year, we decided to tackle the outside.  We started by walking our property line and hiring a Landscape Designer to give us suggestions.  We noticed that our previously ignored side yard was pretty large and we noticed that our backyard was actually bigger than it looked.  Our designer put together a gorgeous plan.  We would level the side and the back yards with retaining walls and then create a garden in the back and a play yard on the side.  

I've already written about the garden, but let me now introduce you to our play yard:

The photos do not do it justice - it's actually a lot bigger than it looks.

There's plenty of room for multiple kids to be outside kicking balls, shooting pucks and throwing lacrosse balls.  We used astroturf instead of real grass so the kids could really play without fear of destroying the yard or having to wait while we watered.  

It all seemed so simple... and yet creating this play yard was the hardest part of our Great Garden Project and an incredibly long and arduous saga.  

It all started the night after the contractors dug up the existing trees and shrubs and relocated them to other areas of our property.  That afternoon, the back hoe started removing the large boulders that lined our property and a trench was dug to start laying the retaining wall.  Gordy and I went to bed and fell asleep thinking about the fabulous play yard and the many hours of outdoor fun our children would soon have... while unbeknownst to us, across town, Reed, our wonderful Landscape Designer, was frantically searching through his file, having suddenly remembered something about a water easement and he found himself unable to sleep until he was positive that our play yard wasn't in violation of some city code.  

Reed did not sleep that night.

Instead, he found the document that he was looking for.  Our plot plan had the unmistakable dotted outline of a water easement, running right through our proposed play yard.  When we started the project back in the fall, we were in the "maybe" phase and then months went by during which we travelled for Thanksgiving and hosted Christmas at our house.  I lived through two mouth surgeries and their wretched aftermath and we made the crazy fast decision to have Henry switch schools which involved a whole lot of test taking, application writing and interviewing.  Not to mention that it never stopped snowing all winter long.  The last thing on our minds had been our garden project and so when things calmed down and we started thinking play yard again, no one remembered the water easement that had showed up on a plot plan seven months before.

Until the night that Reed went through the plan in his head and everything had to come to a complete stop.  

The next morning, the workmen stopped work on the play yard while Reed rushed to town hall to find some answers.  It took a few days, but what we learned was that our neighbors who live behind our house, get their town water from a private pipe that ran from the main pipe on our road, through our side yard and into their backyard.  The city didn't own the pipe and therefore didn't care what we built on top of it.  But it's an official easement which means that if something happens to the pipe and it needs to be repaired, we have to give our neighbors access to dig it up and replace it.  

It was clear that we were allowed to build on top of the easement, but ethics demanded that we make our neighbors aware of our plans and assure them that we were willing to allow them to rip up our play yard if they ever needed access to their pipe.  It would be a financial disaster whether or not there was a play yard or the existing slope covered in expensive trees and shrubs.  Gordy and I figured that we'd rather make use of the property while we waited for said disaster to strike.

Armed with the official letter from City Hall plus a copy of the play yard plans, I marched down the hill to my neighbor's house and knocked on the door.  It sounds easy now - relative to the drama that would happen next - but the situation was pretty tense.  It took a few days for our very kind and understanding neighbors to do their own research and for an accord to be established.  

The play yard was back on!

The play area was about 75% finished when Gordy called me from work.  Wouldn't it be a great idea if we put a kick-back wall up on the end of the play yard, he asked.   I wasn't so sure.  A wall?  Really?  

What on earth would that look like and did we really need it?  

While I talked to the contractor, Gordy went on the internet and pulled up some photos and plans.  Within days, the construction crews had begun work on the 7 foot by 8 foot wooden wall on the right of our play yard, opposite the street.  On the day that the cement footings were installed and the wall erected, our side neighbor left an alarming message on our answering machine.

Our kick-back wall, while hidden by a tree or two, was ridiculously close to her kitchen and bedroom windows.  She said that it obstructed her view and that it was extremely upsetting to her.  This I could tell, because her voice was cracking on the message and she sounded quite frantic.  I picked up the phone with a sigh.  Our neighbors are all older.  Ours are really the only children on the street and I know how much older people - or any people for that matter - hate change.  I also know that none of the people living around our house were happy when a builder bought and tore down the ranch house that was on this lot and built a larger, more imposing structure in it's place.  

But since we've moved into the house, I would say our interactions with the neighbors have been cordial and relaxed.  I called this same complaining neighbor before we had our trees cut down in December.  I wanted to give her a chance to get used to the idea that our yard would no longer be a forest and I also wanted to let her know that some of the trees that we would be removing looked like they were on her property when, in fact, they were on ours.  I also offered to (and did indeed) pay to have a few of HER trees removed - sickly things that were close to the two property lines and which needed attending.

I also showed her our play yard plans (minus the kick back wall) ahead of time and we talked about how our retaining wall would effect her property (It wouldn't).  From the get-go, she wasn't particularly happy.  She stopped by often to check on the workers' progress and she worried aloud about what impact the wall would have on rain water coming onto her property (which is down hill from ours).  We went out of our way to assure her that no additional water would reach her property.  We added a gutter between our driveway and the play yard so that water would be funneled away from her yard and we also added extra plants along our shared property line to catch rain water - all to great additional costs.  We also promised to add mulch and pay attention to the reach of future sprinkler heads... we were WAY accommodating, if I do say so myself.  

And she probably thought she was too... until the great wooden wall appeared.

The below photo shows the view from our neighbor's side yard - after we moved our kick-back wall from the right side to the left side.  

Yep.  That's right.  We moved that cemented-in, extremely heavy, well-built wall.  But first, I called our neighbor back to hear her complaints and try to soothe her hurt feelings.  And that, my friends, is when I was hung up on.  I've never really been hung up on before.  And if I have, it was probably by a relative who knows that I will continue to love them anyway.  It was very shocking.

An hour later, the neighbor appeared at my side door.  She had calmed down and was ready to talk.  And talk she did!  I heard a mouthful about the ugliness of the kickback wall and how awful it looked from both her kitchen and her bedroom windows.  She was still upset about the retaining wall and she couldn't believe that we had gone through with this play yard at all.  But what REALLY angered her was the fact that children (CHILDREN!) would be outside playing all day and all night, right outside her window and they would be hitting balls against the kick-back wall and it would be so extraordinarily noisy!  

And that's when I lost my patience.  While I had listened to her tirade and made mental notes about how we would have to move the wall since no one should have to look at something they hate every day while they eat breakfast, I wasn't so understanding about the noise issue.  We have children and children play outside and while they are outside playing, they make noise.  That is life.  End of discussion.  And I also objected to her proclamation that our children would be out there making noise All Day, as if they didn't go to school or activities.  They should be so lucky to be able to play outside all day long.

But the rest of her points were valid and so when Gordy, aka Mr. Let's Build A Kick Back Wall, got home from work, I sent him out to inspect the wall from our neighbor's yard.  He agreed that the view was less than amazing. 

And he agreed that it was larger than it looked on the plans.  He also agreed to be the one to call the contractor and ask her to move the wall to the opposite side of the play yard and he also agreed to contact those already harrassed back yard neighbors to tell them that the wall would now be visible from THIER property.  If that doesn't prove to you how much Gordy wanted this kick-back wall, I don't know what will.  Personally, I was ready to scrap the whole thing and donate it to someone for fire wood.

The very next day, the wall was ripped from it's cement posts and moved to the other side of the field.  Doing so delayed the turf installation for a few days and the extra work cost us more money, but we felt that it was the right thing to do and that our neighbor would be happy once more.  So we were surprised when the Building Inspector showed up - curtesy of the same neighbor to whom we were being so very generous.  All work was stopped once again, while the Building Inspector got out his tape measure and wrote down the heights of our rock walls and fence.  Everything was within code and perfectly acceptable and the Building Inspector couldn't have been nicer or more receptive.

Luckily the saga ended there.  Our kindly backyard neighbors were fine with the hind view of our kickback wall.  Their house is far away from the wall and they can't see it from their windows.  We also told them that once the wood has cured, we plan to stain or paint it green, so the structure does a better job blending into the trees.  

Our side neighbor is happy, too - at least I hope.  She had her say and it paid off.  She no longer has to seethe when she looks out her window and she now has the Building Inspector on her speed dial.  What's even better is that we aren't allowed to walk on the astro turf for a whole week while the glue dries, so she has a seven day respite before the endless, annoying noise of children playing disturbs her solitude.  

As for us, surely we will be awarded the Good Neighbor Award for being understanding and moving that wall.  

We did receive a very nice thank you note from our side neighbor, thanking us for moving the wall and for being understanding and apologising for getting upset.  We thought that was very decent and so we have stopped grumbling in her general direction.

I'm sure this is why some people move to multiple-acre properties in the country.  Living on top of people creates problems, doesn't it?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Big Garden Reveal

After nine months of planning and over a month of construction / planting, my beautiful backyard garden has been finished.

Come!  I'll take you on a tour!

Climb our new stone steps up the hill from our driveway...

and you will find yourself in our lovely green pasture...

as you walk across our yard, gaze at the gorgeous perrenials:

and our lovely Stewartia tree and Oak Leaf Hydrageas:

Next you will enter our lovely bluestone patio with the semi-circular seating wall which is surrounded by roses and hydrangeas:

While you sit on the patio, say hello to my new fir tree and tiger lily plants:

At the end of that blue stone path, there will be a water feature, but the Water Feature Builder Man hasn't had gotten to our project yet.  Oh well.

Moving past the "water feature," the path takes you to the side of our house and the garden gate.

Before you leave.... 

See our new stairs?  They are sooo much better than our original, over-large wooden ones.

Ours is not a grand garden, but we love it.  We love the expanded size (created by fencing the yard closer to the property line and by levelling the yard with a retaining wall) and we love all the new plants, shrubs and flowers.

The workmen packed up the last of the tools and carted off the Bobcat a few days ago and we are still getting used to having our yard all to ourselves again.  Not to mention that having the responsibility for keeping all these plants alive during the 90+ degree days we've been having is rather daunting.

Tonight I may bring a cocktail out to my back patio and enjoy my lovely garden - care to join me?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Southerns Annual Visit

Meredith, Lily and Avery stopped by last week to spend a few days with us on their way home from Maine.  We did the usual things like walk into town, get ice cream, attempt to go to the pool (but be denied access due to first a swim meet and then by a Women's party) and just hang out a talk... but we also took a day trip to visit Brown University in Rhode Island and we went to the beach.

It was just a smidge over 100 degrees when we arrived at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, MA and it was H.O.T.

We arrived a little later than one should (I had a pilates class that I didn't want to miss, sorry!) and the parking lot was closed.  We drove past the entrance and hoped for the best - street parking isn't easy by the seashore.  Lady Luck was definitely with us, though - just down the street from the beach lot, was a Veterans of Foreign War Meeting Hall where for a small donation, we got a choice parking spot that was an easy walk to the far end of Good Harbor Beach.

You'd think that being at the far end of the beach - far away from the main building and the bathrooms would be a bad thing, but you'd be wrong.  It was still crowded on our part of the beach, but no where NEAR as crowded as in the main area.  

Don't believe me?  Here's the view of the water near our area:

And here is the view from the water looking back towards the beach house:

Everyone in Massachusetts was at the beach, apparently.  The City of Boston must have been empty!

The kids wasted no time and had cooled off in the ocean, played a game of frisbee and checked out the little island off the shore - all in about 30 minutes.

And then they decided to bury Henry in the sand, but gave up when they realized that the sand temperature was way too hot to play with.

Thankfully the water was very cool and refreshing - we spent most of our day in the ocean.

which is where Lily found the largest sea creature / shell I've ever seen in Massachusetts:

Look at the size of this guy!

And look at the size of the sea creature I found!

ha, ha.

I love the beach.  Whenever we go, I wonder why we don't make the trip more often.  Even with our late start and the extreme heat, the day was perfect.  

We were sad to say good-bye to the Southerns, as always.  Their visits are too quick. 

See you in December, Southerns!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Celebrating The Big Tank

After almost a year of renovations, the New England Aquarium re-opened it's famous big tank and as Aquarium Members, we got to go inside and check it out before the doors were open to the general public.  Our family has fond, fond memories of the Aquarium in Boston.  When the children were little, Gordy would take them into Boston on Sunday mornings so I could have some peace and quiet and a moment to do laundry and read the paper.  While I was basking in solitude, Gordy would be watching the children run up and down the ramp of the big tank, searching for Myrtle the Turtle and the electric eel and watching the penguins swim around the bottom.  Apparently, there aren't very many other (crazy) early risers in Boston, which meant that our family mostly had the space to ourselves.  After an hour or two, the Aquarium would start to fill up and that's when Gordy would take the children to the cafe for a snack before heading home.  

It was a perfect outing.

We still love the Aquarium, but we don't get to visit very often.  We let our membership lapse a few years ago and we only had a new membership this year, because Gordy took Georgia, Josie and a few friends to the Aquarium on a free day last winter and he discovered that it was cheaper to sign up for a family membership than buy tickets for all four girls.

I'm so glad he did, because the opportunity to view the new-and-improved big tank without the endless lines and crowds was worth every penny.  The new big tank is amazing!  I'm sure I'm getting some of these details wrong, but the new tank is designed to look like a coral reef 100 years ago - before pollution and before global warming started killing off the coral.  The habitat is also more narrow, so the fish have more room to swim and has more nooks and cranies for the fishes to hide in from the sharks...

and Myrtle, who is still around and just as cranky as ever.

We found Myrtle asleep at the bottom of the tank.  

I heard on NPR that there was some concern about how the notoriously foul-mooded Myrtle would react to being removed from the tank and then being replaced into a "different" environment.  According to the spokesperson who was being interviewed,  Myrtle was released into the Big Tank, where she swam around for a few minutes before snapping at some marine biologist who was there observing.  He laughingly said that she was obviously right at home!

We love that Myrtle!

I didn't get very many photos of the children.  The lighting in the Aquarium is very minimal and I haven't mastered my camera enough to know how to compensate.  This was the best photo I got:

After we studied the big tank, we spent time communing with the penguins - as one needs to do:

And then we headed home for our own dinner.

We felt very fortunate to be able to get a special view of the new and improved New England Aquarium.  If you find yourself in Boston this summer, definitely check it out!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Faberge Eggs at the Peabody Essex Museum

I got a flyer in the mail from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, announcing the opening of it's Faberge exhibit.  Many, many years ago, I went to a Faberge egg / objects exhibit in New York (or maybe in Chicago) and I was completely enthralled.  The eggs are magnificient and the surprise inside each is unbelievable.  I immediately made a plan to take my children to the PEM to see the collection for themselves.  

Sadly, the Peabody Essex exhibit is not the same as the exhibit I saw (probably at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) years ago.  That exhibit was enormous and included many eggs along with tiaras and jewels.  This PEM exhibit was much smaller and centered mostly on Faberge's enamel frames and carved stone critters.  That's not to say that the exhibit wasn't interesting - it was.  I'm only saying that the fabulous jewels that I told the girls that they would be seeing, really weren't there.

We opted for the audio tour and picked our headsets up at the beginning.  This wasn't really necessary since the audio tour basically recited the wall placard, word for word.  I gave up on my audio tour fairly quickly and so did Josie.  Georgia (Miss Type A) listened to every sentence because when she accepts a challange - or an audio headset - she is going to see that challenge (or audio headset) to it's bitter end.

I wasn't certain if you were allowed to take photos in the exhibit, so I didn't, until I found a guard who told me it was okay.  The first part of the tour was mostly the aforementioned frames and critters.  

The frames were nice, but the critters were amazing.  Our favorites included a bunch of french bulldogs and rooster.

Between galleries, there was an swing space where patrons could make their own faberge egg using magnetic jewels.

I wasn't sure how much longer the tour was going to last, and so I allowed the girls to take their time putting together their own jewelled egg.

Each chose an imperial symbol and many, many jewels.

Here's Josie by her creation:

and Georgia by hers:

The Peabody Essex Museum might not have had many eggs to display, but what they lacked in actual merchandise, they made up for in placards, photos and displays.  The curator of this exhibit did a wonderful job.  The placards were well-written and informative.  I enjoyed looking at all the photos of the Romanov family and seeing interior photos of their palace (which, incidentily, Georgia thought should be nominated for an episode of Hoarders) with all their Faberge finery.

Josie enjoyed looking through a copy of a coffee table book on Faberge that was sitting on a bench for patrons to admire:

I think there were only two actual eggs to look at:

The blue and gold egg that was featured on all the literature and a Red Cross egg that held photos of the four Romanov daughters and their mother in nurse garb.

It was a little disappointing, but not really.  The exhibit was a good one, even though it lacked the sparkle we had come to see.

We ended our journey as we always do:

in the cafe.

The Faberge Exhibit is at home at the Peabody Essex Museum until the fall, so check it out if you are able.  

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