We have a pretty magical backyard. But “magical” can always be made “magical-er,” right? So, when Nana and Boom came up for a recent visit, we started in on some backyard improvement projects.

I can’t believe I just typed the phrase “backyard improvement projects.”

BUT, making our backyard a little more magical made sense, for a couple of reasons. Both of those reasons, of course, center around our kids.

REASON #1: Now that it’s summer again, much of my time is spent outside trying to keep the woods a respectful distance from our house. Note that I didn’t say “spare time,” or “free time,” because that kind of time doesn’t exist for me right now. Having a few added entertainment options in the yard to amuse our girls buys me some time. Two minutes of additional distraction for them = two minutes of additional productivity for me.

REASON #2: I could care less about keeping up with the Joneses, but the truth is that our yard is fairly boring as yards go around here. The other night, we went to dinner at a house that featured — just in the yard itself — chickens, baby goats, a tire swing, a trampoline, and a canoe rigged up as a pirate ship. I’d say that’s about typical in these parts. Our yard, as of springtime, had rocks and a little empty shed as its only attractions. Clearly, if I wanted my children to stay at home, I needed to up the ante just a little.

And it didn’t take much.


Our girls call it “The Quarry,” which I take as a sign that they’re becoming true New Englanders. (Central Vermont, like much of northern New England, is dotted with quarries both active and defunct). But really, it’s a gravel pit. Thanks to Boom, we have a more upscale version: a gravel BOX. These are pretty popular around here; gravel is more durable than sand when it comes to withstanding the rain and snow that we get in large amounts, it’s cheaper, and it also doesn’t so easily get lodged in the kids’ clothes and tracked all over the house. Here’s what it took to create our gravel box:

4 – 2″ x 8″ x 6′ spruce boards (for the sides)

1 – 2″x 6″x 8′ spruce board (for the bench/seats — this is just if you’re being fancy)

9 – 60 lb. bags of small marble chips

Assorted shovels, rakes, buckets, and dump trucks

Nana and Boom clearing and leveling the ground for the gravel box.
Fiona and Georgia helped out.

That’s it! Years’ worth of entertainment for under $100.

Georgia enjoys the finished product.


My parents gave me a hammock for Mother’s Day, and it’s a HUGE hit with all three Gong girls. My dad strung it up between two trees in the same corner of the yard as the shed and The Quarry, so when the girls need a break from frenzied digging or games of fairy princess, they lounge in the hammock. They have snacks in the hammock, read in the hammock, snuggle in the hammock. It’s been a great addition. (The hardest part of the installation was digging out the rocks from the ground underneath the hammock, so that a tumble doesn’t immediately result in paralysis).

BACKYARD IMPROVEMENT, PHASE 3: Aesthetics for Adults

A couple of new things in our yard have nothing to do with the girls. The first is a beautiful birdhouse that my dad built and hung on a tree facing our sunroom windows.

The second is a new flowerbed along the side of the house. When we moved here a year ago, the previous owners left us a decaying woodpile that stretched half the length of the side yard, and a major project last summer was moving any use-able wood to a better spot. This left a big, bare spot. And, while I tend to have more of a “let it go native” and “who gets to decide what’s a weed, anyway?” approach to gardening, this seemed like a spot that was just crying out for beautification.

Enter our friends Matt and Nicolle, whose son goes to preschool with Fiona. When Nicolle put out a notice on Facebook that she was looking to give away some extra plants from her garden, I jumped. And thankfully, it worked out so that Nicolle and Matt could drop off the plants while my parents were visiting, since my parents know waaaaay more about gardening than I ever will. Here’s the scene when Matt and Nicolle arrived with the plants:

-me, in dirty gardening clothes

-my parents, also in dirty gardening clothes

-6 kids running around like maniacs (our 3 girls, their two friends, and Matt and Nicolle’s son)

-1 dog (Brinkley)

-and, at one point, 2 neighbors (Brinkley’s owners)

Here’s who was NOT there: Erick, who was out in San Francisco for a wedding, sleeping in and grabbing brunch with high school friends. (Did I mention this was Mother’s Day weekend? I should get some mileage out of that for a while….)

ANYWAY, given that scenario, you’ll understand why I was not 100% fully in the moment when Matt and Nicolle arrived (I was more like 300% in the moment), which is why it was surprising and incredibly helpful and just all around amazing when they not only dropped off the plants, but started putting the plants in the ground for us! Over the course of about two hours, Matt, Nicolle, and my parents created this lovely little garden. I think I contributed about half a hole to the project.

The new garden (picture by Fiona).

People are really lovely, especially Matt and Nicolle. THANK YOU, MATT AND NICOLLE!


AND, THANK YOU, GRANDMOMMY AND GRANDDADDY, who just wrapped up a two-week visit during which they helped us with our most recent backyard improvement projects: stacking 4 cords of wood in our new woodshed and getting our backyard chicken coop into place. (Uncle Wesley helped stack wood, too, during the week he was here: THANK YOU, UNCLE WESLEY!)

Four cords of neatly stacked wood in our new woodshed (beautifully constructed by our friend Cris).
Erick securing the fence around our chicken coop.

We’re enjoying our beautiful and FUN backyard. And it’s even more beautiful because, when we look at it, we are really seeing the beautiful people who helped create it.

Picture by Fiona.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, but especially to my Dad (Boom), my Father-in-Law (Granddaddy), and my husband (Erick): Three men who have the difficult lot of often being surrounded by talkative, emotional females, and handle it with aplomb. We love you! 

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