Thursday, June 9, 2011



Every once in a while Rick gets a hair-brain idea that he just can’t get rid of. Like an itch you have to scratch, this one involved transforming the front yard into our mini Tuileries, two little plots of pea gravel bordered by a rim of paving bricks. The area in front of the studio is small like the bungalow itself.

Two plots; one measuring ten feet by fourteen and a half feet and the other twelve and a half by fourteen and a half. How much could it take to clear two small plots of land and fill them with pea gravel? We had all of five and a half days before the opening. I agreed to be the manpower. Rick would direct.

We started the process on the Saturday before the Thursday deadline. Saturday was scheduled for torrential rain. I thought, “What the heck, the rain’s going to soften the dirt and make it easier to push a shovel into”, which it did. It also, unfortunately, made the dirt a lot heavier…very heavy. Rick also wanted to use the excavated dirt to create a planting area along the driveway and fence on the west side of the property. We had put in a metal retainer wall. We didn’t want to rot out the neighbor’s fence. Rain soaked, I started carrying shovels full of dirt and sod from the front yard to the side planter. It was at this point that the  task went from doable to what-were-we-thinking. After six hours of going back and forth one shovel full at a time, I had skimmed a good two inches off of a third of the smaller plot. I was rain drenched and totally panicked that I could convert the remaining sod covered plots to 3” deep ravens. The upside: I was feeling a good five pounds lighter. Sunday, I could barely get out of bed. There wasn’t an inch of body muscle that didn’t ache, but again, always looking to the positive, I could feel by butt cheeks tightening to where they were twenty years ago. I’m always looking for the bright side and if the benefit of all this work was a pair of tight buns I’d continue the chain gang masochism, but it was going to have to wait till Monday.
I don’t know if you heard but Wisconsin was having a relatively cold spring. Cool working conditions was a bonus, but Monday hopped from spring to hot and humid summer. The temperature was well into the nineties. The manual labor had now gone from ideal to insufferable. I persevered for another eight hours before the weight of the idea of finishing became as heavy as the dirt itself. We were now down to two and half days until the job had to be finished. Rick was completely apologetic. My physical burden was only matched by his burden of guilty for coming up with the idea in the first place.
Tuesday brought panic but through panic inspiration sometimes rises. My cousin has a road construction business in Madison. I called Chris and in three hours one of his crew showed up with a Bobcat and a medium sized dump truck. Two hours and two trips of the dump truck filled to the brim later, the two plots were emptied of their contents and leveled to a perfect three-degree slope.

Wednesday we enlisted the help of friends who laid a lawn fabric barrier, constructed a paving stone border with stones we got at a close-out, and then shoveled three yards of pea gravel into the waiting beds of our French inspired front yard.

We then returned the antique cast-iron urns to their sentinel positions on other side of the entry path and voila – the front yard was complete with a whole half day to spare.

Estimated cost from a local landscaper: $1700 after the wholes had been dug and cleared

Actual cost:
3 rolls of 3’x50’ lawn fabric   $28
360 paving bricks                   $50
3 yards of pea gravel              $66
Gravel delivery                       $30
Total cost:                             $174



The front door knob is still missing its back plate, the exterior windows need a second coat of paint which means I haven’t taken the blue painter’s tape off of them and I can’t figure out how to unlock the back door so I’m unable to truthfully say our doors are now open. We are open for business but don’t try to enter by the back.
Thursday night, June 2nd, was our big party. I had intended on taking a bunch of pictures for the blog but as was the case with Gallery Night I got off a few pictures and my batteries died.

So although the pictures are few, know that the atmosphere was charged with well-wishes, the case of two buck chuck was emptied and discarded and conversation had reduced our voices to gravel (not the pea gravel variety). Now it’s time to get back to painting the windows, removing the blue tape and providing service and product to our new Midwest friends.


Children in the Palais Royal Garden, 1950
Robert Doisneau

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