For reasons that escape me now, on one fine summer day last year, I had decided to swing a sledgehammer at the corner of our old, concrete patio. Little did I know that with one mighty swing of  that hammer, it would set off a series of events so epic, that Scientists, Geologists, taco vendors, Gospel choirs, ventriloquists and Chewbacca impersonators are still talking about it to this very day.

Here are some parts of that story.

I will tell you this now, loyal reader. When we first bought the house, our backyard and patio was such an incredible mess and covered in so many weeds. Old logs were strewn about that were hiding dens filled with thousands of poisonous snakes and an old bear. [Citation needed].  Our dog, Charlie Murphy, and I were once attacked by  an angry and violent bald eagle that lived in a nest on the top of one of our trees.

Beautiful? Yes. But not so much while being attacked by one.

Our backyard was so bad and awful that gypsies would threaten to bring their children to it if they misbehaved. They would tell them to not be bad or they will take them to, “the place where we bury the sick horses.” Oh yeah, that’s another downside of the backyard. It was an old burial ground for sick gypsy horses.

OK OK OK. Maybe I’m exaggerating a scooch. But you get the idea. So, like I was saying…I started off swinging the sledgehameer at the corner of the patio and after a weekend of doing that and removing only 14 inches of material I realized I needed something more. To quote the late, great Roy Scheider in Jaws:

"We're going to need a bigger hammer."

So I go to Home Depot and rent the oldest and heaviest jackhammer known to man. Did I know what I was doing?  Not at all, my friend. I will tell you this, though. Jackhammers are heavy and awkward to operate. We should all have more respect for the people that operate these insane devices. So the next time you see a guy in the street busting up the concrete, go over and give ’em a hug. Tell him/her that they’re doing a great job. It will totally make their day I think.

So I spent the better part of last summer busting up the concrete over the entire patio. THEN the fun really started. I had to remove all the concrete and in order to do that I rented a dumpster for 3 days and made about 3,000 trips back and forth carrying the concrete to the dumpster, unload it and then repeat. After I did this tough, backbreaking work under the supervision of my foreman, Dante the Gnome, I was in for a real treat.

"Lift with back, not with your knees. That is the gnome way."

Dante surveys the ground before he makes me do all the stupid work.

After I had removed 90% of the patio and spent every free moment doing this over the summer, I grab my shovel and begin to dig down a little to outline the new patio. Much to my surprise and amusement to my neighbor Chris, I find that ANOTHER PATIO IS BURIED UNDERNEATH ME. Basically what happened is that the original lazy owners of the house, decided to lay the patio I had just torn up directly on top of an older, smaller patio/walkway. At this point I shake my fist in the sky, learn a brand new set of curse words and throw the shovel across the lawn. I admit defeat and vow not to touch the patio again for the rest of the year. I make good on that promise and we were left with an awful hole in the backyard where the patio once was and still the backyard in shambles.

Fast forward to this summer and now with renewed energy and spirit after a very cold Chicago winter, I have spent almost every day outside landscaping the backyard. First, our friend Julie, who has an AMAZING backyard, came over and sketched out some ideas with Amanda and I and gave us some great advice.  Then I went to the library and checked out 8 books on landscaping, plant and flowers, etc.( I went totally gay for plants and flowers this year , folks. It’s been impressive).  Then, I hired a crew to come in and remove the rest of the old patio and install a small paver patio from the steps to the sidewalk .

Next, I wanted to do everything myself, so I had them deliver a ton (literally) of soil and a ton of gravel to fill in the hole in the backyard and for the installation of a small, flagstone patio for the BBQ area. I did that one weekend with the help of Amanda and it turned out pretty good!  Here’s the rest of the things I did: I tore up the entire border of our backyard and laid down all new soil,  put in a little cedar fence post border along the back, planted a vegetable patch, made a limestone/flagstone border with two new planting beds, planted a Japanese Maple tree, made a third planting bed with a small seating area, planted new grass seed, tore down an old yew bush, all new plants in the front…holy crap, there’s a bunch of other stuff too but that’s the bulk of it.

So, after I went through 3 pairs of heavy duty work gloves, (seriously I did), moved thousands and thousands of pounds of soil, rock and concrete and got to know the landscaping lady at Buy the Yard in Evanston on a first name basis, what are the results?? Well, below are some before and after shots and the results thus far.  Next year, we’ll put in ground level deck for entertaining our guests!  Fingers crossed, that goes easy!

Original patio. Note: Not pictured, second patio underneath the original patio



After the patio is out

The flagstone patio after I put it in and two flowering (hopefully) beds.

Part of the paver patio and the third bed. Grass is starting to come in now!

This bird feeder has been awesome. Thanks J&J! Birds are very funny people once you start to watch them..

Vegetables are growing! Yum Spinach!