We have moved a lot and in a very short space of time. Whilst for some, this may seem incredibly stressful, I actually find it quite exciting and after you’ve done it a lot, it almost becomes an accepted part of your existence. Saying that, it would be nice to live in a place for four years occasionally…
But I digress and you may be wondering why, when the title of this blog is Backyard Blitz, I am talking about moving and this will become clear momentarily. The reason that we move and the subject of this blog is my husband Mike, the Backyard Blitzer himself who works in construction, a career which notoriously requires its workers to move to where there are things that need building.
As a result, we have lived in a lot of homes, not all of them to our liking. However, Mike never lets this deter him and as a result of his being able to see beyond the mess that is sometimes in front of us, we’ve actually ended up in a lot of lovely homes (only to leave them shortly afterwards).
From Britain to Australia to Canada, every house has needed some of that Mickey Magic – not to be confused with that dished out by an animated mouse.
Take Calgary for instance, our previous renovation. The house that we had bought had previously been rented so it was a little tired: kitchen, bathrooms, all a bit eighties. If only I had still had my shoulder pads and my crimpers, I’d have fitted right in.
In the kitchen, we had white cupboards or they were once, before grease and dust coated them; sky blue countertop with knife marks adding actual texture to its textured look; contrasting chips on the veneer of doors, countertop, so everything was showing off their chipboard innards; a pale beech floor which was good in places, bad in others. The master bedroom had a jet tub and a shower that was showing signs of greying grout grubbiness and the white tiles had a motif more suitable to a dodgy motel bathroom.
I don’t know about you but the thought of getting into a tub with those jets fills me with dread – people who lived there before you, soaking their dirt and dead skin cells away, swirling it around in those jets, nice and hot, not all of it finding its way down the plughole…
Yuk. Long live the shower.
Needless to say, it all had to go. Mike is very good at demolishing. Never have I seen someone go at it with so much gusto. We have a saying in our house: “If Mickey had a hammer, he’d always bloody use it” sung to the tune of Pete Seeger’s classic “If I had a hammer”.
And any sort of hammer will do although he particularly likes a sledgehammer, his vigorous swings most often accompanied by the dulcet tones of Brian Johnson of AC/DC. Seems appropriate somehow. I’m not sure that there is much destroying going on to Enya.
Hours later and we have a blank canvas and the renovation begins. Having pulled up the old wooden floor (which was decidedly difficult having been stapled so many times it was probably more metal than wood), we, that is, Mike, with his practical knowledge, decided that we ourselves would be able to lay new hardwood floor, a very nice Bradford Oak. To use one of his catchphrases “There can’t be much to it, can there?”
And with some effort, we did. We put new floor all the way through our main floor and bloody great it looked too.
Due to the rigours of work, we had the kitchen fitted by others although Mike has also done this himself in the past and, with a new coat of paint, the rooms were transformed.
And that jet tub? Destroyed with Mike’s man power and his trusty sledgehammer, new drywall put in to replace the wetwall, some modern tiles and vinyl floor and the transformation was remarkable. Bubbling skin pit to spa bathroom! Wonderful! Summarising it here does not do justice to the effort that Mike put in to make this happen. If you’ve renovated yourself whilst also doing a full-time job, you’ll realise how much hard work it takes to get things back to a working state.
“That’s great but what’s all this got to do with the backyard?”, I hear you cry. Quite a lot actually.
Off the back of our extensive renovation in Calgary, Mike was itching to get going on a project in Ottawa. Covid-19 was sending out its viral tentacles to hinder and restrict; travel plans were postponed; home was king.
One thing we noted about the weather in Ottawa was it was glorious. Humid but sunny and encouraging for those of us who like to spend time outdoors. Imagine it: a beer under the brolly on the deck listening to the bees buzzing in the beautiful floral blooms whilst soft music plays.
But our backyard was a jungle. You could hear the sounds of creatures in the undergrowth and as they were never visible, your imaginings took on visions that would make Stephen King proud. You knew that if you headed out into it, chances were you’d never be seen again. I know, I exaggerate but only slightly. It was an overgrown mess with thistles and some strange type of plant which was pretending to be rhubarb as well as the usual dandelions and tufted grasses. What to do?
Well, firstly, we had to be able to get down into it. The previous owner had left some rickety steps which served as a sketchy means to visit the “green” that represented our outdoor space. They had to go. So Mike singlehandedly and literally built a deck.
The new deck would serve as a temporary seating spot for our Adirondack chairs but was no good for dining. Our backyard slopes so the best place to put the deck was at the bottom by the fence which then afforded us some privacy from curious locals excepting those with drones.
Next, tackle the vegetation. With his eagerness for destruction and his keenness for quick methods, the weed whacker (or strimmer) was put to excellent use and soon, we could see what the lay of the land was.
There seemed to be some grass left although it was struggling to survive, having been choked by weeds for so long. There was a huge circular patch where the weed growth was more sparse and would be perfect for a flower bed of some sort once it was dug over. Mike, this time with his trusty spade, the tool of rebirth now that the hammer of destruction had been laid down to relax for a short spell, did the hard graft to get it ready for my gardening skills, such as they are.
But now to the deck. This had to be made if we were going to get any use out of this backyard. It’s not a big space but we knew from previous experience that we could make it into something that was useable and with some careful planning, aesthetically pleasing too.
It seemed like there were a lot of Canadians with the same deck building ideas as there was a timber shortage, incredibly unlikely, I know in a country associated with the legends of lumberjacks and logging but true nonetheless.
It was a case of “Grab what you can” on every visit to the D.I.Y. store in a bid to gather as much wood as possible while it was there. I even looked on Kijiji to see if anyone was selling planks on there!
But slowly, with determination, the deck started to take shape. The humidity was the killer that hindered progress to a degree; sweat would form on you just from standing outside, it was so hot that moving about in it meant you were like a leaky sponge – working in it meant that you were like a garden sprinkler. I swear the reason that our grass is so green now is that Mike’s sweat fed it to some degree as he worked outside. But he did it, all by himself. I encouraged from the sidelines but know from experience that he is better left to get on with it, the lone wolf that he is.
And look at how it turned out! He stained the deck to match the trellis which he also installed. With some gravel to make a path from the upper deck to the lower deck, some flowering plants in the borders to soften the edges and some lawn feed (along with Mike’s sweat) to nourish the grass, the backyard was becoming the haven we had envisioned.
The only problem now was the question of storage through the winter. In Canada, a garage is an essential. Winters here are harsh and cleaning snow off your car is an arduous process – it can be bitterly cold so the least time spent out in it the better; brushing snow off your car, especially your roof can be a chilling experience as it can end up in your face, up your sleeves and worst, down your neck. The voice of bitter experience there, I’m afraid. Garages are not extra storage depots for your crap in Canada: they are very much houses for your cars, the purpose for which they were originally intended.
A shed was the answer. I’m not sure why but sheds are inordinately expensive in Canada. Thousands of dollars for a good one. Yes, you read that right – thousands of dollars. For a shed! Not content to pay this extreme amount, Mike decided to build one. He had calculated that the timber would be $200-$400 and he wanted it to look like a traditional North American barn. You could get brackets to help shape the angles of the roof on Amazon but they were in short supply (again, we were not the only ones amusing ourselves with backyard construction) and so, he did a rough plan and got hammering.
Actually, he looked at a picture that we have in our house and planned it from that. Honestly.
More hard work, more hammering, some tile fixing, more sweating. The shed took shape and became a focal point in the garden – a little Canadian barn/shed all of our own. Mike even got power to it with a view to having a beer fridge in there and some lights.
It’s hard to believe he did this all himself, isn’t it?
And that, people, is how Mike pretty much singlehandedly transformed our backyard from weed wasteland to relaxing retreat in a matter of weeks. Weeks! With our usual travel plans stymied by the restrictions necessarily imposed by the virus, the backyard became our go-to place and will remain so for a while yet.
Sometimes, I have to question whether all this was achieved by the efforts of one man, my husband. And honestly, if I hadn’t been there to witness it every step of the way, I would seriously doubt it if someone told me. But the photos are testament to his determination, his ingenuity, his practical prowess and his sheer bloodymindedness to succeed, to get the job done.
He’s now in the basement. I can hear the hammer and the AC/DC. Who knows what the results will be down there? I’ll keep you informed.