Staining the Deck

Staining a deck is one of those projects that no one likes to do, but the finished product is definitely worth it (and so is saving hundreds or thousands of $$ by doing it yourself).  But sometimes you just need a break from painting, and after painting Tuscan’s room, I definitely need a break so staining the deck is not high on my “Want to do” project list, but it’s certainly high on my “Have to do” list.   We had the deck built about 3 months ago and since then, the unfinished wood has gotten a few stains and marks on it, so staining to protect the wood ASAP is a must before our $8,000 investment gets ruined.

In staining the deck, I wanted a stain color that was dark, but not too dark because I didn’t want the deck to get too hot.  I also wanted the rails to be an off white and not the same as the deck boards because the deck is big and I didn’t want it to look like a big blog of brown deck.  I was going for a look like this:

Deck Inspiration Photo


I love the white and brown mix of rails and decking but I wanted my colors to be reversed from the pattern in the photo, so dark stained verticals with white horizontals.  I also love the stair lights in my inspiration photo and I’ll try to get some when they go on sale at the end of the summer season.

I did a bunch of searches online to see what different stain colors would actually look like on other people’s decks, but even Pinterest was lacking in photos.  So, here’s my test swatches for those out there looking to see what a few stain colors look like before buying a sample:

Behr Wood StainsDeck Stains 2

Deck Whites

In the end we went with Cordovan Brown (the top color) since it is a medium brown tone without reds or greens in it and it paired really well with the rail color that we chose, Navajo White (the very bottom color).  Navajo white is actually a very light cream color which related well with our siding that sits right up against the rails.

One good thing about  not having those pre-fab composite rails is that you can paint the wood any color to match your siding.  The pre-fab rails come in white, white, or white.

Here’s a picture of the work in progress:

Deck ProgressFunny story…actually it is an irritating story with a good ending…  I first started painting the rails with my white color and after about 2 sections which took about an hour, I noticed that the color was way too white.  Like blindingly white.  Like, “Oh crap, I got the wrong color white” white.   And what’d you know, I accidentally got Pinto White instead of Navajo White.  I honestly don’t know if I asked for the wrong color or if I asked for the right color and Home Depot made the wrong color, but it doesn’t matter because Pinto White is now my “primer” which I need 3 coats of and Navajo White is now the top coat which I need 2 coats.  Lemons to lemonade people.

Navajo v

I figure it should take me about 2 full days to stain the entire deck since there’s a lot of deck to cover.  And, since the kids are home from school for the summer, I now have painters who will work for popsicles…  YEA!  If the weather cooperates and my workers don’t go on strike, hopefully in about a week I’ll have a post with our newly stained deck.


Mulching and Edging

Thomas and the kids applied all the mulch to the flower beds a few days ago and they did a great job especially considering that they had five huge beds to mulch.  (They’re superheros)!  I did help them a little because I wanted the beds edged before the mulch application and I didn’t want to add that to their hours-long list.

Front Bed


The front beds look pretty good although I do have to fill in with a few more flowers which I just bought today.  I’ve learned that when you have beds that are as big as ours, you need to stick to one maybe two colors for flowers otherwise it just looks like a crayon box puked in your front yard.

The side beds need a little help and it’s on my radar, but at this point, I’m just happy to have the huge pile of mulch out of the driveway and in the flower beds.  Besides right now, I have vegetable/fruit plants (zucchini, blueberry, cucumber) planted there so we’ll see how that goes.  If it’s a bomb, then next year, it’s flowers.

Side Yard

Side Back

I also got out my reciprocating saw and cut down a few dead trees that I was tired of looking at.  Although it kind of blocked the mean neighbor behind us, the dead branches were too ugly.  What I need is one of those huge bushes shaped like a guy mooning his neighbor.  Maybe I should have asked for that for Mother’s Day… oh well, next year.

Here’s the before:

Dead Trees

 Unfortunately this is the only pic I had of the dead trees

Here is the after:

No treesAs far as the edging goes, my neighbors use landscapers and in previous years we’ve just dumped the mulch on the beds and called it a day, but I noticed that the landscapers dig a little trough around the mulched area to help keep the mulch in when it rains and this year I did the same.

Deck and BedI just took a spade-like shovel and dug all around the front of the where I wanted the trough to go then I dug around the back to make a “V” of dirt that I just scooped out.


TroughIt took a while, but I think it looks so much better having the mulch in a defined bed.

Finished Bed

Patchy GrassWith a yard this size with all the flower beds, I really have to do something yard related a few hours a week (one hour a day is ideal)… but who has the time for that!  So, I do what I can and ask for help with the hubs and kids over the weekend.  Next on the to-do list for outside is to stain our new deck.  I just picked up some stain brochures from Olympic and am deciding between a solid or semi-solid stain…  Choices, choices.

How to Not Kill Plants

I actually don’t know the answer to that great mystery of how to not kill plants because every time I plant my flower beds in the Spring, I kill half of of the flowers guaranteed.  But, I still plant every year and hope, hope, HOPE, I won’t kill all my plants.  Every year a few remain so in a few years I’ll have a nice full flower bed…right???

Here is what the beds looked like before planting:

Before Front and Front Before front side Before Side Before front

There’s actually supposed to be A LOT more plants in there since I planted a butt load of perennials last year but I guess they didn’t take… again.  Oh well, I persist.  After my mad dash to the local nursery, dropping $400, and wasting $200 with my soon to be dead plants, I laid out the plants where I thought they should go:

Plant placement

Then I planted:
PlantedI spaced the plants a little further apart than I’d like to see initially only because I’m hoping that they’ll fill in as the summer passes.

Planted Side

In previous years, I went to either Home Depot or Lowe’s and bought my flowers there.  This year I went to a local nursery and talked to someone who knows what’s what about plants and after I explained my situation (I’m a plant killer), he recommended some hardy plants that were not only deer resistant and shade tolerant which I needed but also pretty idiot proof which I desperately needed.

He also recommended some deer spray that actually doesn’t smell like rancid cat urine.  It smells like mint instead 🙂 .  I sprayed it on EVERYTHING!  I followed the motto that if a little is good, a lot is even better.  With the amount that I applied, my flowers, house, street, and neighborhood should be deer free.

The kids and my husband are applying mulch for Mother’s Day (I love hard labor as a gift!) and they have 7 cubic yards of it, so yeah, they’ll be applying mulch for two days straight.

Resetting our Brick Edging

Since the weather was so nice outside this weekend, the kids and I worked in the yard.  I’m lucky that I have kids that aren’t afraid of hard work… Sofia complains sometimes, but she still does the job, eventually.

This weekend’s project was to take out all the edging along our walkway and build it up.

Crooked Edging

We have a real problem with flooding since we live downhill and because the edging has sunk so much into the ground, the water flows down the walkway and right over the edging into the mulch beds.  Then the mulch beds become saturated and a lot of the mulch flows out of the beds all over the walkway.  It happens every time it rains even moderately.  I am hoping that by raising the edging then when it rains, the river of mulch won’t be so heavy.  I still expect for it to happen to some extent.  To get rid of the problem altogether, we have to invest some major dollars for proper drainage… or move 🙂 .

So here is what the edging looked like before:

EdgingThe kids helped to pry out the edging with a crow bar since the edging was so deep in the dirt.

Trajan taking out edging

Edging buried

After all the edging was out, I built up the trough, tamped down the dirt with the flat edge of the crowbar, and measured the depth with a long screwdriver that I marked with a sharpie so that the depth was the same all along the trough.   I just measured from the bottom of the trough to the top of the brick walkway and made sure that the mark on my screwdriver was even with the walkway.

It took about 4 hours to do the entire walkway on both sides, but now it looks like:

Finished edging

proper edging beginning

We also installed flower troughs on the back upper deck… I installed and the kids planted and now it looks like this:

Tuscan helping


3 kids


Deck 2

Even the dogs helped hung out:

DogsI still have to plant our massive flower beds and will be taking a trip to the nursery this week.


Christmas in April!

We got the kids a trampoline for Christmas and because the weather isn’t arctic cold anymore, the kids and I finally set it up.  I can’t tell you how awesome it is to have kids that actually like to help and when I told them that we were going to set up the trampoline, they were super excited.  I honestly couldn’t have done it without them (and some other neighborhood kids who helped as well).

Trampoline 1

It was definitely a chore to put this puppy up especially since the directions were not great.  In fact, we assembled the trampoline to include putting the springs on the jumping mat (the hardest part) and had to basically take the whole thing down again because the directions were ambiguous as to one critical piece.   The kids’ favorite part of the directions were the warnings that said “only one jumper at a time.”  They all had a good laugh at that one!

trampoline 2

The kids (and I) were good sports about putting the mat on the springs the second time around since it went a lot faster because we had “all that experience.”

As we were putting the trampoline together, 5 neighborhood kids came to help and with the exception of the 2 year old, they all did something helpful and the 12 year old figured out a better, easier way to put the springs on that I really wish were in the directions to begin with!  All together it took us about three hours to put it together (4 if you include the fact that we had to take it apart and put it together the right way…).

trampoline 3

Even though my hands are so sore from pulling the springs into place, seeing all the kids have fun on the trampoline is a great way to kick off Spring!

Rain Barrels in the Houzzzz… uh, yard.

We’ve gotten a lot of rain in Maryland lately and my poor neighbor who lives downhill from us has busy baling water out of his yard since “our” rainwater slides right into his yard.  Not fair to him.  So, to help him out and also to be green (which I’m very into :)), I installed a couple rain barrels to collect the huge amounts of rain water that comes off our roof.  We’ll use the water to water our grass, flowers, and vegetable plants not to mention we can wash our cars with the water.  What we CAN’T do is drink the water which is what my kids promptly did after the last rain we had even though I put this sticker on the barrel.



So, if my kids sprout a tail, or lose a few IQ points, it’s not because they weren’t warned.  Okay, back to the barrel o’ fun.  There are tons of installation videos on that give you detailed instructions on how to install a barrel so I won’t go into great detail.  The basics are that we got the barrel along with a rain diverter from Amazon.  I then built a platform out of some bricks that the prior homeowner left in our shed then plopped the barrel on top after installing the water spigot that comes with the barrel.  It’s really important to build a platform otherwise, you can’t get a watering can or bucket under the spigot to use the water.


Then I installed the rain diverter which was a little more difficult.  The diverter sends rain water into the barrel until it gets full then it diverts the water down the downspout.  Before installing the diverter, there are great comments on Amazon that give you tips on how to best install it which I really should have read BEFORE installing because it would have saved me some time and effort.  But, let me tell you now the biggest piece of advice that I didn’t read until after I cut the downspout in the wrong spot is that if the barrel is the kind with a hole on the top (like mine) where the white tube goes, then you have to install the diverter above the barrel.  If the barrel has a hole on the side then the diverter has to be even with the barrel.





I did mine the wrong way the first time which meant that I had to go to Home Depot, get another downspout, paint it the right color then re-install it where I cut the first one in the wrong place.  Pain in the rear is what that was!  But, at least I knew exactly how to install the second one.  The trouble was worth it though because after the first hard rain, the barrel was almost completely full and I have to tell you I was way more excited than I probably should have been to see that thing fill up!  I was out in the rain with an umbrella with a big grin on my face!




You can tell just a little where the new portion of the downspout is, but I figure over time it will get as dirty as the rest of the downspout and you won’t notice.





The barrel has an area where you can plant flowers on the top which is nice and is what I’ll do after we get back from vacation.  The other barrel is in the backyard and since the barrels look like they work so far, I’m thinking of getting three more.  The only downside to this little project is the price…  The barrels are $140 a piece and the diverter is $43, but I’m hoping to save some money on my water bill which may (probably way down the road) offset the cost.  The warm fuzzies that I get from being so green is priceless though!