Demolishing & Installing a Driveway

Step, the First in Operation: Chaos into Beauty was, “The ugly driveway is disappearing.”

As a reminder, here’s the old, busted driveway:

Inkedhouse - old_LI
Broken concrete. Weeds. Barely wider than the sidewalk.

 

Not only was I seeking something that looked nicer, the driveway needed to be widened so I wasn’t driving and stepping into muddy ruts on either side. I also wanted to add an off-street parking area for guests.

Driveways: To DIY or Not to DIY

At the beginning of a project, if you’re me, you plan and scheme and really try to figure out if it’s at all possible to do it yourself. A driveway demolition and installation is slightly out of my skill and resource levels, particularly with squishy clay sediment that gobbles up good intentions and concrete. Reluctantly, I had to relinquish total control and (gasp) hire help.

People who grew up in this area have a friend of a brother-in-law who has an aunt married to a guy whose cousin owns a whatever business that person needs. When my house flooded, I reached out to my (now ex-) boyfriend’s sister-in-law’s father who connected me with his drywall guy. Although I’ve lived here for years, my network lacks a driveway guy. I took to the internet.

Let’s take a moment to talk about fate. I don’t wholeheartedly rely on it, yet I can’t help but notice when things work out a certain way. Fate’s like a tide; if it’s tugging me in a certain direction, I try to float along rather than fight.

pexels-photo-996328.jpeg
“Guys? Hello? I think the rudder’s broken.     . . . guys?”

And boy howdy, did fate strike this time.

One of the contractors I found through a Saturday morning internet search practically grew up in my house. His grandma owned it for more than 60 years. They planted the oak tree in my backyard when his aunt was born about 70 years ago. Before he even visited to build the estimate, he described the inside of my house perfectly (well, other than the furnishings). In the early 2000s, they sold the house to a couple who then, a few years later, sold it to me. To be clear:  the contractor and I had never met before. I had no idea about his history; I just thought his company had a pretty website.

To be honest, I didn’t really consider anyone after we realized his connection to the property. Most of the folks on my street have lived here for decades. Social bonds run deep in this city, and only a fool would do poor work when word can easily get back to Mama and Daddy. And the contractor was so flipping excited to work on Grandma’s old house!

On a sunny Tuesday morning, a work crew of more than a dozen red-shirted men descended on my front yard with excavators and wheelbarrows. The operation was magnitudes larger than I expected; trucks blocked the parking strip and a lane of traffic.

As the end of my workday drew near, I had trouble sitting still at my desk and took a little peek through my video doorbell:

Work on the driveway is underway
Creepin’ on the work crew. Isn’t technology amazing?

A little after 5pm, the contractor called me to come inspect the work before he dismissed the crew. He said my old driveway (which his grandma had hated too) was so broken and weedy near the street because the original contractors had skimped on concrete. But this new driveway, oh, she’s a beauty:

a turfstone driveway
Okay. So you know how someone’s all swollen and bruised after they get plastic surgery? Imagine the driveway a month from now, all cleaned up and fetching.

As a wannabe hippy and anti-bland crusader, I didn’t want the same old poured concrete that plagues neighborhoods across the country.

My new driveway is turfstone, a honeycombed set of pavers with holes for sediment and plants. Turfstone allows rain water to drain back into the ground instead of funneling it into the sewer system.

Many people grow grass in the pockets of turfstone. If you remember, though, one of Operation: Chaos into Beauty’s steps was, “the grass is getting ripped up and/or smothered.” Therefore, I decided to sow a few pounds of dichondra seeds due to the perennial’s low-growing nature (it should only get two inches tall), drought tolerance, and love of full sun.

I don’t have a picture of a lush, green driveway yet, but I’m happy to report that teeny tiny green sprouts have started to pop up. Although dichondra can handle some foot traffic, I’ll try to ease the vehicle impact by varying where I park (when I don’t have guests). A recent rainstorm also washed some of the river sand out of the pockets. The contractor offered to refill them, but instead, I think I’ll lay down peat moss to help retain moisture while the seedlings are trying to establish themselves.

Guys. Things are happening. The Operation is in full swing.

signature2

 

 

< Step 0:  Operation: Chaos into Beauty

Step 2:  How (Not to) Till Your Lawn >

Solace, Serenity, and Sweat: An Action Plan for Trauma

Losing yourself in work is supposed to be bad. Letting your identity slip away, perhaps never to be reclaimed again, can mean surrendering control, will, and conscientiousness. The internet has assembled a list of 5 ways not to do it.  But what if being with yourself for a period of time isn’t a survivable option? What if you need the kind of solace that is only gained away from your thoughts?

pexels-photo.jpg

The latter half of last year was brutal. I had to take a lower-paying, more time-intensive job than I had planned. A four-year relationship ended. My house flooded. Relations with a coworker deteriorated to the point where I feared for my safety.

In every quiet moment, I dissolved into a shaking mess of angry tears and stiletto thoughts, slashing my inner self to ribbons and salting the wounds. In public, I was mostly fine, but my mask had cracks. My new boss pulled me aside more than once to ask if I was okay.

“I am,” I said, pen and notepad always in-hand.

“I just need to stay busy.”

When I bought my house and started to collect power tools, I discovered the solace and serenity of carpentry. On the weekends, I’d rise soon after the sun and build a chicken coop or a storage bench. I’d only stop hours later because the waning light from the setting sun made seeing nail heads nearly impossible. The only sounds – other than the thwack of my hammer or the shrill grind of the saw – were the shouts of kids on the street and the cheap battery-powered radio I had tuned to the classics.

The work required just enough brain power to anchor my thoughts, but it wasn’t intense enough to strain my mind.

the solace of work

I’m a day dreamer, a constant thinker, and a problem-solver. I’ve had to develop a mental routine to shut my brain off at night so I can get some sleep. When break-ups or floods happen, I obsess over them. I jab my fingers in the cracks to find the clues and puzzle pieces I missed to try to prevent bad things from happening in the future.

When my rough patch became well and thoroughly rooted last year, I threw myself into work to save my mind from the black emotional typhoon that only seemed to get worse. The work – this time it was making bath bombs for Etsy – kept me from popping like a cherry tomato. And little by little, I eased away from my distractions. As I did so, I was able to face the trauma one piece at a time.

solace

 

Work

  • is productive,
  • builds homes and societies,
  • and acts a survival tool.

 

“Avoidance” is another naughty term, synonymous with cowardice. Was I cowardly for avoiding facing emotional trauma fully and openly and, therefore, losing myself? Sure. But there are those who believe that it’s fine not to be somebody. And how can you lose yourself if you aren’t anyone? Perhaps I wasn’t losing myself in work because “I” am not a cohesive, tangible item like a tennis ball or a sofa.

Work was an island on which on my consciousness sought solace. Outside the island, the external chaos raged until it blew itself out. By the time I poked my head above the work, the unimportant needling problems had fallen away. Only the heart of the trauma – those elements which were most important to me, such as honesty – remained.

The Not-So-Simplicity of Solace

Of course, that all makes the healing process sound simple and straightforward. It’s not. Healing is more like a constant game of popping your head out of the foxhole only to get nicked by a bullet. As the days pass, there are fewer bullets flying. Then one day, you decide the risk is worth coming out of hiding. Bullets may still find you, but solace protects your vital organs.

In order to heal, perhaps we have to spend a little time apart from ourselves. Perhaps we don’t even need to come back. Some people hit a point where they literally pack up and drive away from our lives. The night my relationship ended, I fantasized about leaving everything behind and immediately moving back to North Carolina, where I was raised. But I couldn’t – too many furred and feathered mouths to feed. So I worked.

signature2

Chaos into Beauty: A Vital Operation

If you live in the average American neighborhood, chances are you have a front yard covered in grass. Perhaps you have chaos, and weeds rule. Me? I’ve decided to rip everything up and replace it with a massive, beautiful garden.

chaos and destruction lead to beauty and calm

One of the first major changes I made to my house was adding gardens in the backyard. Moving from an apartment to a house with plenty of green space was so freeing! I even bought a sledgehammer and demolished – bit by jagged bit – a concrete slab that served a long-gone shed to create more space. Recycled concrete rubble formed the sides of raised butterfly gardens. Lumber from the second-hand store and leftover chicken wire became a vegetable garden fence.

But this year, I’ve realized, I need more.

I’ve never been happy with my front lawn. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m happy immediately after I mow and trim, and neat corners and crisp edges replace the jungle. But in subtropical south Louisiana, go in for a glass of lemonade and by the time you come back outside, the grass (who are we kidding, the weeds) is scraggly again.

My front yard is chaos.

Also, my driveway sucks. It’s broken. Huge cracks with woody stems and tiny green leaves creep over the concrete. And it’s only seven feet wide. What? Yes. Seven feet. Interestingly, the internet tells me the standard width for a single-car driveway is ten feet. That explains why the grass on either side of my driveway is usually a muddy rut.

Therefore,  I’m enacting a multi-stage plan for the entire front of my house. All of those problems going away

Inkedhouse - old_LI

The ugly driveway will disappear.

The grass will be ripped up and/or smothered.

Eventually, flowers will grow.

Then a fence will appear to keep the drunk fools and dogs from killing the flowers.

Finally, I’ll have a nice little area to sit where I can drink coffee on the weekends and wine on weeknights.

signature2

 

 

Step 1:  Demolishing & Installing a Driveway >

Garden Bathing to Rejuvenate Yourself

While researching the next garden or house project, often a headline will grab my attention and the next hour will slip away. This isn’t all that odd or unusual, but it is how I learned about “forest bathing.” I’ve adapted this concept into “garden bathing.”

literally, a garden bath
Charming, no?

My house is a five minute walk from an expansive city park. On a recent, gloriously balmy spring day, I went for a walk along one of the park’s wooded trails. The path weaves through a forest of only 60 acres, but . . .

Once you step inside the barrier of trees, distance doesn’t matter.

The past 20 years dropped away. Instead of brushing past palms and canna lilies, I was weaving around the rocks and rhododendron of the Appalachian Mountains. My outdoor-enthusiast parents took me on many hikes, and the girl scout camp I attended was nestled in the mountains and webbed with trails. The scent of dirt and pine entrenches my childhood memories.

After some rough patches in the past several years, my life has more or less settled into a peaceful state. On that park path, however, the connection I felt with the earth and my own history felt somehow deeper, stronger, and purer.

Forest bathing isn’t a new concept.

It’s an ancient Japanese idea in which someone spends time among the trees in order to reduce stress and rejuvenate the spirit. Certain tree oils in the air can even increase energy by up to 30%. Two of the trees with the richest oils just so happen to form a bridge between the Appalachian hikes of years ago and my park walks of present:  pine and cypress.

a forest is like a wild, woody garden
Photo credit:  Famartin

As a child, I thought of the mountain hikes as death marches. My little legs struggled to climb over miles and miles of rough landscape. Now, as is often the case, I miss the thing I then loathed.

Admittedly, I usually don’t end up going to the park’s forest all that often. So many other people find the same peace in the same natural location. As someone with social anxiety, I tend to avoid people when I want to connect with nature. So what’s a hermity, anxious gal to do?

Garden.

While wandering among the trees might provide the most significant benefit, being around houseplants or aromatherapy helps ease stress too. But for those of us who crave dirt under our fingernails, why not build a garden?

garden with cosmos and wide blue sky
I love cosmos – as do the bees, butterflies, and birds – and I try to work it into every garden.

Even better – why not build as big a garden as your space accommodates?

This might mean a charming collection of planters on a patio or windowsill. For me, when I bought my house, I planted backyard vegetable and butterfly gardens.

My front yard, however, lacks some of that natural beauty. It’s just grass (well, and a ton of weeds). I’ve finally decided to do something about it, and in the coming weeks, my little front lawn will become a garden.

I might not always make it out to the forest, but hopefully, I have many days in my future for garden bathing.

signature2