When I started looking to buy a house a couple of years ago, I think I surprised my realtor when every time we looked at a place I would ignore the hardwood floors and granite counters and instantly head to the back door to see what the backyard looked like. But I try to spend as much time outside as possible from spring to fall, including working from there (yay, working for myself!).
So one of the biggest factors for choosing the house I ended up with was this:
As nice as the yard was to start, it didn’t take me too long to start transforming it into my personal haven. And in doing so, I’ve found some really terrific things that I thought I would share with my readers.
The Pool (aka Best Money I Ever Spent in My Life)
One of the biggest deterrents for spending time outdoors in the summer in D.C. is the crazy heat and humidity. I survived the first two years here because I had rented apartments in buildings that had pools. Unfortunately, finding a house with a pool in this area is incredibly difficult unless you have a MUCH higher home-buying budget than I did. So even though I did keep an eye out for listings that came with a pool, I quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.
One day I started wondering if maybe at some point I could afford to put in an above-ground pool because I had enough room for one. So I started doing some online research and stumbled on this:
At the time, it was on sale at Target for $24, so I decided at that price it was worth checking out. I picked up an inexpensive tarp to put under it, inflated it with an electric pump I already had for an inflatable mattress I own, and filled it with my garden hose (took about 30-40 minutes).
Well. Within about 30 seconds of getting in it, all I could think was “Why on earth would I have ever wanted an in-ground pool?!” This was perfect!
Now the reason it’s perfect for me is because I wasn’t interested in swimming in the pool; I just needed a way to cool off. And I couldn’t ask for anything better for doing that.
The pool is 10′ long, so I can totally lie out in it with my body fully immersed (you fill it to about a foot and a half depth). Because it’s inflatable, the sides are really comfortable to lean back against. And so on those hot days, I can just sit in the water for 5-10 minutes, which is enough time to cool down my body core, and that buys me enough time to sit outside for another hour or so before I go in for another dip. Again… Perfect!
One of the other things I love about this pool versus a real one is that it requires virtually no effort to maintain: no endless skimming, no chemical bombs, no creepy-crawlies required to scour the sides. That’s because I fill the pool with fresh water and then just empty and refill it again 2-3 days later.
Having said that, there are a few things that can make the experience more enjoyable, so here are some of the accessories I use with it.
Even though I refill the pool every couple of days, I wanted something to prevent anything from growing in it even in that short period. Regular chlorine options would be way too strong for the volume of water but I found this great product specifically for small pools: Aqua Chem Small Pool Sanitizer Chlorinating Granules for Swimming Pools, 2-Pound. I add a 1/2 teaspoon every time I fill the pool so it disperses throughout the water. (I bought some chemical test strips that I used the first several times to make sure I had the right amount and that’s how I came up with that amount.) I bought the jar when I first got the pool in 2012 and I’m only about halfway through it.
I just use a kitchen strainer for skimming out leaves and bugs on the surface. I also bought this little vacuum thing that is powered by your garden hose to suck up dirt on the bottom of the pool. (It’s apparently discontinued by the manufacturer now, but there are similar products here.) And it does actually work well, but I rarely need to use it. After I empty the pool, I put it up on its side and use my hose to wash it down then let it dry out before refilling it. If there’s still any dirt on it, I just used some Lysol wipes or a sponge with some dishwashing liquid on it to clean it off.
I don’t use a pump to circulate the water, but I did get an Attwood WaterBuster Portable Pump the first year to pump out the water when I was ready to change it. It worked really well and I liked that I could attach it to a hose to direct the water where I wanted it to go. However, it goes through D batteries quickly and when you change the batteries you’re supposed to disconnect a piece, which I forgot to do and ended up breaking off the wires. I never ended up replacing it.
There is a drain plug on the bottom of the pool, but it’s flush with the ground, so just opening the plug is not enough to get the water flowing. What I do is before I refill the pool, I put a little rubber garden kneeler under the corner to raise the plug above ground level. Then, when I open it, the water can easily empty. The way the plug is attached, sometimes it also blocks the hole again even after pulling it, so I use a small flat stone to weigh it down.
By the way, if you’re worried about emptying out chlorinated water into your yard, just remember that the reason you need to keep adding chlorine to a regular pool is because it breaks down over time (with help from the sun). So by the time I’m emptying the pool, the small amount of chlorine I’ve added is inert.
So after all that, you can see why I constantly say this pool is the best $24 I ever spent in my life!
Note: The first one I had did develop a slow leak near the end of the summer that I couldn’t find to patch, so I did end up getting a replacement (which was then on sale for $20!) and that one lasted for the rest of 2012, all of 2013, and is still going strong this year.
More Things I Love
Now the pool is definitely the foundation of what makes my yard my haven in the summertime. But I have a few other things I want to mention that add to the perfection.
For one thing, if I had to get out of the pool and sit out in the direct sun again, I’d pretty much need to immediately go back in. Plus, there would be no way I could work on my computer out there. So I got three of these Wondershade Portable Umbrellas that I just love. With three, I can set them up in whatever configuration I need to keep the sun off me and my computer screen!
Note: I accidentally left two of the umbrellas open during a wind storm and they blew to the ground and tore the fabric of the canopy. I didn’t want to throw out the whole things (or pay for new ones) so I contacted the manufacturer and was able to buy replacement tops for $15 each. I just had to call them and tell them what color I wanted and give them my credit card info.
The tree in the middle of my backyard is just the right distance from my fence to hang a hammock. I did some research that first summer and came upon these Mayan woven ones from Rada. They come in different colors and sizes (I got the Family size—yes, just for myself!—in natural) and I cannot TELL you how soft it is. You can buy them from Amazon or directly from the manufacturer. The price differential isn’t that much because the shipping from the manufacturer is about $30.
I got these Hammock Pawleys Island Tree Straps to attach it to the tree and fence and use and I use carabiners instead of the S-hooks provided so it doesn’t accidentally get disconnected while I’m lying on it!
One of the reasons I love being outdoors so much is because I love the birds, mammals, and other wildlife that come visiting. So here are a few things I’ve got that are designed to encourage them to drop by.
This birdbath from Lee Valley Tools is really nice. I actually have an earlier version of the standing one, where it’s just a single pole instead of a tripod base (I’ve had it for years and brought it with me when I moved from California). The pole can be hard to keep straight, so I imagine the tripod works better. I like the hanging version as well. One thing I learned early on is that even a non-scratch pad will scratch the enamel when it’s time to clean the algae off. But dishwashing liquid and water and a regular sponge does a great job.
Amazon has a pretty terra cotta hanging bird bath as well as well.
Tip: Add some pebbles or marbles to your birdbath so butterflies can drink from it as well without getting their wings wet.
I love the bird feeder shown below with the silhouettes of wildlife on it. And while lots of people look for bird feeders that will keep the squirrels out, I’m more the type of person who buys the thing beside it. 🙂
Of course, there are some types of wildlife you DON’T want in your yard (*cough* mosquitoes *cough*) and I wrote a post about how to deal with those back in June.
Garden centers are kind of my white whale in the springtime and not just for the flowers and veggie plants. I especially like pretty trellises, but fortunately most of them are so expensive it’s usually easy for me to look but not buy. Last year I did treat myself to one gorgeous iron trellis that’s very similar to the one at right (same manufacturer, birds perched at different angles) at my favourite local nursery. And this year I found this cute little one on Amazon:
Note that it’s only about 4 feet high, so not really good for growing something on it that will get very tall. I’m actually only using it decoratively now, plus using the little bird feeding dishes on it.
One thing I would definitely recommend you NOT buy is an expandable hose. I bought one last year at one of those As Seen on TV kiosks at the mall and it didn’t take long before the water pressure burst the fabric. I tried a more expensive one from Amazon this year and it did the same thing. Too bad, because the concept is great and, until they burst, I really liked them.
I love, love, love my patio set that I got shortly after I moved here. It’s from La-Z Boy, which I didn’t even know made outdoor furniture and I got it from K-Mart of all places! It doesn’t look cheap at all and so far (knock on wood) it’s held up well uncovered all winter (I do put the cushions away). Unfortunately, they don’t make my specific design, Morgan, anymore but they have lots of other ones of that brand. I’d really wait for sales, though, as they can have really good ones. I got a four-piece set (2 chairs, a loveseat, and coffee table), reclining chair, and side table for about $700. I ended up buying a second recliner later in the season when it went on clearance for $95! All that just to say that if you’re looking at patio furniture, I can recommend La-Z Boy.
I’m also a big fan of blender drinks, from choco-frappuccinos to frozen fruit daiquiris, and I think if I’m going to go to that trouble, I should drink them out of something nicer than a plain old tumbler. I got these sangria glasses from World Market and I feel ever so fancy drinking out of them.
To make the drinks, I use the Magic Bullet MBR-1701 17-Piece Express Mixing Set, partly because it’s so much easier to clean than a regular blender and partly because if I’m having guests over, they can customize their drinks with whatever ingredients they want.
Note: If you’ve ever wondered about getting the Magic Bullet for other purposes, I will tell you that the only things I use it for are blending drinks, grinding coffee beans, and making sugar finer (e.g. for using as a creme brulee topping or in meringues). I have never been able to use it to chop veggies without liquefying them. But since I have a fresh strawberry smoothie every day for breakfast, in addition to the aforementioned uses, it was well worth the cost to me. UPDATE: Since I first wrote this, I’ve also discovered the Magic Bullet is THE BEST THING EVER for whipping cream. Just pour in some heavy cream and some sugar and vanilla to taste, and use the whip blade. In about 20-30 seconds you will have perfect whipped cream.
As I mentioned earlier, I often work outside but my Wi-Fi signal isn’t super strong out here. So I got a TP-Link Powerline Wireless Extender Starter Kit, which makes a huge difference. You can learn more about how these devices work in this T4L post.
Well, I really hadn’t intended to go on so long in this post. But I’m actually writing it from my backyard and as I look around, I see all the things that make me so happy back here and I wanted to share them with you all. Oh, and if you want to see what it looks like now, here you go:
I hope you’re all enjoying a lovely summer!