Monday, June 29, 2015

Cement Mixer's Whirly Song: Yard Remodel Part 3

Now the fun part, concrete!!

I can't provide an accurate measurement of the cubic yards of concrete I've placed in my life, but it's a lot.  Still, I can't help but be excited everytime I see the first concrete truck of a pour pull up. Thanks to "Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site" my oldest son  loves concrete trucks and their 'Whirly Songs" so it was pretty exciting when one, with flames on it no less!, arrived at our house!

I was a little surprised that we were using at 3250 psi mix.  I've poured lots and lots of sidewalk and flatwork in my career and I've pretty much always used a 520-C-2500, but alls well that ends well.  Plus reinforcement, so there's that.

Several neighbors who came by asked me where I was going to put the boys hands and feet.  I rolled my eyes.  I'm a Civil Engineer, we don't randomly bedazzle our concrete (recent crafts excluded, of course).  But then a woman came by and mentioned how her boys were so little when they did their yard and now they're quite grown.  She wishes she'd put a quick stamp just to reflect on...

Many thanks to our very patient finisher for floating, and refloating the area many times while I tried to get decent prints in!

In the end,  I was once again amazed by the ability of a few yards of conrete to completely change a physical space.  Once a muddy pit, now a solid, cleanble usable space.

Monday, June 22, 2015

DIY Concrete Stepping Stones

I <3 concrete.  While I'm around concrete pours at work, I don't think I've mixed concrete myself since concrete lab in college.  That obviously needed to change.

After our recent yard remodel, we were actually left with MORE projects to do in the yard. One of them is the side yard.  I don't have a long term plan, but I was thinking it would be nice to have stepping stones through the area.  One thing lead to another and soon I was plotting out a Father's Day craft for the kids.
Supplies: (Links are just examples, I didn't buy any of this online, but in case you need a visual of what to look for!)

8" pot protectors: I bought mine at the 99 cent store.  I bought two different styles: the Clear ones seemed a little thin to me (they were 4/$1.00, the colored ones were 2/$1.00 and thicker) so I doubled them up.  I think they would have been fine, although I'm not sure they would have been sturdy enough to move while the conrete was wet.  I used 8".  Obviously you could use any size you wanted, but I thought 8" allowed enough room to be creative without getting overly heavy or requiring too much 'stuff' for decorating.

Pam or Vasaline to line pot protectors.  I tried both, both workd fine.  Pam was faster and easier.

Concrete:  Obviously a very important ingredient!  I bought a 60 lbs bag of quikrete (yellow bag) from Home Depot for about 5 bucks.  I wish they had 10 lbs bags (like the one I posted) because 60 lbs of concrete is, well, 60 lbs and it was kind of a monster to lift.  the concrete had a decent amount of small aggregate, and if I do the project again I may try a different mix, but the results were about the same when I sifted out some of the aggregate and when I left it in.  My 60 lbs bag made 13 8" stones.

Trowel: I'm not sure this is absolutely necessary, but I couldn't think of an easy and effective way to smooth out the surface of the concete without one. Besides, now I own a trowel.

Decorations:  Whatever you want to decorate your stone with.  I really liked the idea of using glass beads.  We also used seashells, sea glass, sand and glitter.

I generally like to try things myself before attempting it with my kids, so I did a trial run first with my awesome co-crafter.  I was pretty sure it was going to be a huge failure.  I didn't think I got the consistency of the concrete right, it felt too dry when I added it, too soupy when I finished it, but we pushed ahead.  I was pleasantly surprised when the results were pretty good!  I had originally thought about doing hand prints in the stones, but I decided it was going to be a bit too hectic to try to get the timing exactly right so opted to decorate instead.

I decided I already had the supplies and the clean up would be about the same for my kids or a bunch of kids, so I invited over some kids from the neighborhood to make them with us as well.

I used an old kitty litter bucket to mix the concrete.  One hint that really helped me was adding a bit of water first then adding the concrete mix.  I also put the lid back on and shock the bucket around some to mix things up (easier than using the shovel!)

I sprayed the the liners with pam and shoveled in some concrete in.  I shock the liners a bit to release airbubles and tapped them on the ground a few times.  I could see the bottom when using the clear tray so I knew when I had most of the air out, but since it was the bottom and I had a mob of ready to go kids, I didn't spend too much time vibrating the concrete.  Finally, smoothed the top with the trowel and it was time for the kids to get to work!

Completed creations!

Regarding decorating, the flat bottomed beads stayed way better than round beads.  I decided to use the sand to give the concrete surface a bit of texture.  (Fun fact, sand is an ingredient of concrete and will mix in with the concrete, not a good place to do intriciate sand designs in other words).  If you look at the completed stones we have a few that we didn't use sand with, it really depends on which style you like better. I poured a ton of extra on top and just brushed it off when they were set.  I expect if you seal them, some of the sand will stay put, but otherwise, I'd expect most of it to wear off over time.  

A few other thougths if you are considering this activity.

It's a good idea to have a bucket of clean water for the kids to wash their hands immediately when they are done.  Concrete isn't good for skin.  Also, avoid breathing concrete dust!

I put down a bunch of cheap table cloths down and it made clean up much easier.

I considered sealing them with concrete sealant.  I suspect that would help them last a bit longer, but I didn't get around to it and I wanted to get them in the yard.

Overall, this was an awesome project.  Even the very little kids did pretty well (the youngest who participated was just under 2) and I think it will be even more fun when the kids are a bit older.  Maybe I'll make it an annual project!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bang, Crash, Boom, Yard Remodel Part 2

I didn't expect 'demo' to really involve much.  We were taking out a few trees that weren't doing too well and removing some grass, but really it shouldn't have been that big of a deal.

Except it kind of was.

There were apparently an abnormal amount of roots under our grass.  I can't really vouch for the validity of this statement since removals in my line of work invovle heavy equipment and roots don't really affect the speed of work.  It did seem like the guys digging spent alot of time fighting with them while doing electrical repairs, irrigation repairs and drainage upgrades.

So long not so healthy palms!

So long non funcitonal underground!

So long grass!

Demo was when we had our first real challenges.  Communication was a problem the entire project.  We rarely had notice of when workers would be on site and who they were and what they would be doing.  It was a short job and I didn't have much time to build a relationship with most of the crews directly and I was frequently frustrated.  Lesson learned.  Next time, I will require a preconstruction meeting of some sort and a list of the name and contact information for each worker who will be on my property.  It's not fool proof, but it's a start and I think it would have made my life much easier.  I work in construction, so I understand that things change and schedules have to be somewhat fluid, but having two babies in the house and random noise at random times was just too much.

But besides the general issues with communication, we had an acute issue  Our project was running behind and they requested to work over the weekend.  We agreed with the condition that the there be no noise.  So we were immensely unhappy when they began jack hammering at 7:00 am Saturday morning.   My husband immediately stopped them, but not before our neighbors (rightly) freaked out on them.  I spent my entire morning on damage control with our neighbors and embarrased and upset. Turns out the jack hammer was due to some abandoned concrete they encountered. (Thanks alot Taylor Woodrow and original contractor, are concrete washouts really that difficult to have and use?)

Our final problem was damage to existing facilities.  While everything was repaired, it was really frustrating for them to keep hiting and breaking things.  I asked one of the works several times if he had located the irrigation mainline prior to digging and he said yes.  After they left for the day while inspecting the work I found out he had indeed found it, and severed both it and the communication cable.  Very frusrating.

With everything out, we hoped that at least the noise part of the project was done.  We were mistaken, but that's for another update.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Place to Play, Yard Remodel Part 1

When we bought our home, the yard was on the chopping block.  I thought I'd rip everything out and put in an oversized spa.  Maybe a California room.  But everything green was going to go and I was going to pave paradise.

I remember our first day in our new home.  We opened the back doors and our Italian Greyhound raced out the door and started running and rolling all over her very first yard.  It was such a beautiful mement that the yard was saved.

That was 7 years ago.  The entire time I've disliked the yard.  It's not that it's horrible, but there were problems.  One major problem is that I have a major grass allergy.  When the gardeners cut the grass, I'd have to close all of the windows.  Also, keeping the grass healthy and alive was a challenge.  The turf was all on the same irrigation timer and half of it would be a muddy marsh and the other half would bake.

We sat down and talked about what we really wanted our yard to be: a place to play.  Some elements that were important to me in the planning:

A safe place for the kids to run around and be kids.

A space that could change and grow as our family does

As much privacy as possible
Something beautiful.

A managable side yard-  Our side yard was all dirt.  I dug up and capped a sprinkler line not long after we moved in (it was literally just making a muddy mess) but dragging the trash cans through the dirt every week was miserable.

First we had to decide what would stay and what would go.

The grass was no contest: it goes.  It's stupid to have something at your home that causes you that much suffering.  We decided we'd replace it with artificial turf.  It would still provide a fun play area for the kids without the water waste, mud, or allergies.

The hedges were a challenge.  I've always resented the real estate they use in our already small yard.  However the more we talked and thought about it, the more we realizd we really appreciated the privacy they added.  Verdict: Stays

The Patio went back and forth.  My husband has never been a big fan.  my initial idea was to chop off the arch and run the concrete to the back wall.  One of the things we both love about our house is the semicircles.  They carry throughout our house, from the front door, to the interior arches to our bedroom windows.  I liked the idea of keeing the shape and I was afraid it would make the yard seem too disjointed.  Verdict: Stays
Can't find a great picture of just the patio pre-construction

Palm Trees. We had three in our yard.  I love the sound of the palm trees and I love the shifting light under the trees.  I hate the crap palm trees drop everywhere.  I also hate the air roots our treas had developed.  I also didn't really want to cut into the turf area with even more tree wells.  Verdict: 2 go, 1 stays.

We have planters against our house.  They once held flowers, but lately they are our garden.  I like gardening and I think it's great for the kids to have dirt to play in and plants to take care of.  It was staying for sure.  I actually decided to extend it a bit.

The back 'planter' has never done very well and I hate the opening in the hedges that basically frames our neighbors house in our yard, so this planter had to leave.

The side patio has been through quite a few ideas as well.  At one point we considered incorporating the area into the house since it seemed like such a waste where it was.  The shape was weird and we've always thought itw as basically good for nothing.  Ultimately we decided to extend the patio and tie it into the paving for the trash cans.  While not perfect, at least it was logical!

We aren't huge fans of the trees in this area and we considered removing them and paving to the wall, but the trees block my bathroom window and I really didn't like the idea of giving up that bit of privacy between our home and our neighbors, so the trees stayed.

I drafted up some rough plans, got a contractor on board and got to work!  Next week: underground!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Co-Op Preschool Week 5 of 8

We hosted the final month of our co-op preschool program.

Our topic was Transportation.

Week 1: Things that go!

For our first week we focused on cars!

As usual, we started off with our snacks and circle time.  For our first activity we made Driver's Licenses!

I really liked this activity.  I cut out the cards and each child sat with their parents and wrote down and talked about their name and address.  Some kids knew their address and some had never heard it before. My son was in the middle, but insisted that I write that he was from Orange County.

After, I laminated the card for the kids to hang on to.

Our next activity was a big muscle activity.  I'd intended to borrow a Stop/Slow paddle from work, but they were all a bit dirty, so I ended up buying one.  We played a modified version of red light, green light.  The kids took turn walking and hoping around and turning the sign from Stop to Slow.  We also talked about the colors and shapes on the sign.

For our last activity we used cars with different types of wheels to paint.  Painting is always a bit hit or miss, but the kids did great.

For our book we read "Little Blue Truck"

<iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//">

It's a cute story and the kids liked it.

It was a bit crazy as we had also just started construction in our yard (more on that soon!) but it was a great class.