Another McCleary Renovation

You might remember that we go into home improvement insanity every once in a while. We kind of neglect doing anything for a really long time and then - bam! - we launch into some complicated project at full speed and practically kill ourselves in the process. Such as, “It’s Memorial Day weekend - let’s build a porch!” or “We didn’t get that job in Lancaster. Bummer. Let’s redo the kitchen!”

We did it again this past week. This time it was, “Meredith is coming to visit! Let’s put in a sidewalk!”

Meredith is my niece. She’s the second daughter of my sister in Virginia who we visit every year - the one with the farm Emily’s in love with, remember? The first time Meredith came to visit us, she cut down and de-rooted a dying tree in our backyard. She begged us to do it because, apparently, she loves that sort of thing. I mean - loves it. Her idea of a fun time is grubbing around outside doing heavy labor. (Well, she has fun doing other things too, but this one is high up on the list for her.)

One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books is Thidwick, The Big Hearted Moose. In the book, poor Thidwick keeps taking on these “housguests” who live in his antlers and use and abuse him and never do anything to help. Thidwick can’t do anything because, “A host, above all, must be nice to his guests.” Well, if Meredith was one of Thidwick’s guests, he’d have some sort of moose improvement by the end. Like an automatic pelt-comber. Or a bullet-proof body armor for protecting against those hunters’ bullets at the end of the book. Or sharpened antlers good for repelling unwanted houseguests. Something. (If you want to see someone’s grandmother read the book out loud, you can do it here. You really can find anything online.)

So, when we found out she was coming for another visit, the first thing that came into my mind (after “Yay! We get to spend time Meredith!” of course) was “What project are we going to do?”

It didn’t take much thought. I knew it was going to be the sidewalk.

We have had this walkway that goes around the front and side of our house that dates to when the house was built, back in 1912. I have hated it since we moved in, mostly because it was two feet wide - if that - and since it was too narrow for anyone to really walk on consistently, there was always a strip of lumpy dirt bordering the walk where no grass would grow. I don’t have a terribly good “before” picture, since I forgot to take one, so I searched back in the McCleary Family Photos Archives for an example and this was the best I found.

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This picture was taken back before we had two active kids and half the neighborhood running back and forth to the back yard, so there was still grass then. But you can see how impracticably narrow the walk is, and you can imagine that a host of children do not really care about staying on the walk when running around the yard, and that the area that was then covered in grass has become instead a dusty, ugly, strip of dirt.

(And, of course, there’s wee Emily. Awww - wasn’t she cute?)

So, I’d been wanting to replace it for a while, but since it isn’t the cheapest thing in the world to do, we kept putting it off. The prospect of having a workhorse like Meredith come to visit (and having 22 months interest free financing) finally pushed us into action, though. So, here are a few pictures of the process.

The first step - and most tedious - was removing the old sidewalk. Thanks to our son, it turned out to be a breeze, though. Tim took out maybe a quarter of it one day about a week before Meredith came, and figured he’d do a bit each day for the rest of the week. Well, the next day, I woke up to find Daniel already outside, with a crowbar, prying up bits of sidewalk. He worked nonstop all day, and complained when I made him come in that night. Within TWO DAYS, Daniel - with the sporadic help of other boys in the neighborhood - had taken the entire sidewalk up, and even sledge-hammered it into manageable chunks. All by himself. Without being asked, simply because he loves to take things apart. It was...astounding. And Tim was thrilled. I really wish I’d gotten some pictures of it, because it was unbelievable, but I didn’t think about it at the time. You’ll just have to take my word on it.

By the time Meredith got here, then, all that was done, so the first thing we (and by “we” I really mean Meredith and Tim) had to do was dig the trench. Since our soil is filled with river stone like this
digging in our yard is always an adventure. This is pretty much the reason I wimped out and let Meredith and Tim handle this stage. I did do some digging - like, maybe an hour or so - but that really wasn’t much compared with what they did.

The boys of the neighborhood were on hand to help, though, just like with the sidewalk removal.



I swear, we start to do work on something outside, and the kids come flocking. Seriously. I can only think that they must be desperate for something to do other than play video games like usual, and so they think of it as “adventure” or something. I don’t know. But it’s kind of funny, and kind of sweet, so we go with it.

Here are more “digging stage” pictures.
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Are you wondering what we did with all that dirt? Well - turns out that little hurricane that came through the week before created a huge 5 foot deep sink hole in our neighbor’s back yard. She needed dirt - and we needed to get rid of dirt and concrete. So - it all went into the hole. Well, we have some concrete left, but basically it all went into the hole. You really can’t get more convenient than that.

We also found an ancient artifact while digging.
Who knows how it got there, but somehow it was embedded in the dirt at the side of the house. It’s pretty rusty, so I don’t think it’ll be very useful. I wonder if the Smithsonian would be interested in it, for historical purposes? Studies in how the Ancient Morrisville Factory Worker lived. Hmmmm.

Next, came the layer of rock, which was then tamped down. The rock we had delivered came two different colors, so that’s why half of it looks gray and the other half looks red.
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Then the sand, which was leveled using some pipe to screed against, and angled slightly away from the house. Another neighbor boy turned up to help with this. I’m telling you, they FLOCK when we do this stuff!


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Then, when the front was finished, we started laying the pavers while the back sand was being worked on.






See! I did some work! Actually, this was the stage in which I contributed the most. The rest of the time my contributions came mostly in the form of a continual supply of cold drinks, lunches made to order, and hot meals waiting at the end of the day. I was their number one supporter! But, hey, they appreciated it! And someone had to do the usual things like laundry and other boring household stuff, so I wasn’t a total slacker. I ended up laying the majority of the pavers, though, and I came up with the pattern, which made me feel like I at least had some hand in the whole thing.

Finally, all we had to do was cut some of the pavers for the front edge, and sweep in the jointing sand, and we were done. And this was the result.

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I’m thrilled! It’s so pretty! Now, my yard is completely wrecked and will need some serious re-seeding, and we have a bunch of leftover bags of rock and sand that are sitting in the yard needing to be returned, and a giant pile of broken up concrete and river stone - but that doesn’t matter, because my walkway rocks! My flower beds also need some major attention, but we can worry about that in the spring. I’ve made Meredith promise - PROMISE - that she’ll come back in the spring and help me do something about the pathetic state of landscaping in the yard, so I have high hopes for that. Can’t you just imagine how great this will look with a nice colonial/English/herb garden running along the fence, and some white stone between the walk and the wall of the house? I’m sure she’ll work wonders.

I think everyone needs a Meredith in their lives. Aren’t you jealous?