I could have squandered a lot of time at Home Depot the other morning trying to figure out which of the various types of ready-mix concrete was best for my latest yard project. How much difference could there be between concrete meant for fence posts and concrete for driveway slabs?
If I were building a house foundation, maybe I would have rounded up a clerk to give me a lesson on the properties of concrete. I was planning to put concrete in a dirt hole to support a post for a clothesline that my wife, Carol, assured me would save us money on utilities and be environmentally friendly.
Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled at the request for a clothesline because I had an emerging vision of how to beautify the project area — a narrow 50-foot long strip between the house and the neighbor’s driveway. This area had received little attention over the years. The 30-year-old sagging fence was largely supported by the stumps of privet shrubs. A large mock orange tree blocked out sunlight into our bedrooms. Weeds failed to hide the struggling 18-year-old air conditioner. The best that could be said for the area was that it didn’t require any watering.
I finally decided to grapple with this mess because of the primary law on home improvements: improve one area and you realize how tacky nearby things look. In this case, it’s the anticipation of getting of new windows to replace the decades-old casement windows that don’t open because they’ve been painted over repeatedly.
The prospect of new windows made me realize that I might actually open the shutters in my study to let in fresh air. That would mean looking at the mess outside. Did I want to do that for the rest of my life, or at least until moving into an assisted-living facility? No, I didn’t. And what about the aging carpet and walls pockmarked by nail holes in my study? Carol had already registered a minor complaint.
First, I repainted the study and had new carpet and floor molding installed. Then I found a colorful art-deco ceiling lamp and risked electrocution by putting it up myself. After that, I chatted with my neighbor about a new fence. He agreed to split the cost. But before that could be done, the mock orange tree had to come down and a stump grinder had to be called to remove nine privet stumps and heavy roots along the fence line.
My stepson and friend built a fine redwood fence and gate. I applied three gallons of semi-transparent gray-green stain. I consulted several of my books on Japanese gardens. A vision of beauty began to take hold. Then Carol requested a modest clothesline, even just a summer-only one. Perhaps I could install a removable post and put a hook on the gate, she suggested.
At Home Depot, I decided to waste no time figuring out which variety of concrete to buy. More important was deciding among bags weighing 50, 60 and 80 pounds. How much of a he-man dare I be at 68? Sixty-pounds bags would be just fine and could serve as my weight-lifting for the day, along with 50-pound bags of sand and a pile of bricks for a walkway I envisioned.
After that, who knows? Change one thing and get ready to tap into your savings.