Wednesday, August 24, 2011

There's a Bobcat in My Back Yard: Designing the Perfect Reading Space

The garage had to go.

The garage was attached to our 1920’s Craftsman home in Butte, Montana and like a playground bully it dominated our back yard. It extended all the way to the alley, rudely dividing the lawn into two halves: right off our back door, a postage-stamp-size square of grass (which we never used because, frankly, who wants to sit on a yard no bigger than a sheet of toilet paper?) and another nicer, larger stretch of lawn on the other side (which we never used because, frankly, we didn’t want to take the long walk all the way around the house just to sit in that isolated spot of grass, either). So, down it had to come. One morning in June, we took a deep breath, crossed our fingers, then plunged forward with the Bobcat—mangling and chewing and crushing the old wooden structure. The garage had stood for 40 years but it came down in less than 40 minutes.
That's how my winning entry in a national Do-It-Yourself contest begins.  Earlier this summer, my wife and I (along with my daughter's boyfriend) undertook a backyard renovation project which involved tearing down the attached garage, building a deck in its place, then laying an entire yard's worth of sod.  Along the way, we also added a new cellar door, built a tool shed and installed a sprinkler system.  At times, it felt like we'd gotten into one of those eyes-bigger-than-our-muscles situations.  But we got the job done and still had half the summer left to enjoy the fruit of our labors (and when I say "we," I really mean my wife and my daughter's boyfriend since most of the time I was away at The Day Job or holed up in the basement pecking out final revisions on Fobbit).  When the dust settled and the new grass had started to sprout, my wife encouraged me to enter the One Project Closer contest, hoping our "sweat equity" would see at least a small return on our (their) investment.  To our surprise and delight, we won the weekly contest.

You can read the rest of the story about the garage demolition and deck construction at One Project Closer by clicking here.

From this.... this.

What my narrative doesn't tell you is that the new deck makes for a nice haven when I want to get away with a book and a cup of coffee or glass of wine, depending on the hour of the day.  In the past, I've found my "quiet place" on the front porch (distraction: the street traffic and the occasional rattle of a beer can tossed out the window) or in the butler's pantry which we've dubbed "the breakfast nook" (distraction: the psychobabble of Dr. Phil coming from the TV in my wife's office nearby).  So the backyard deck provides a nice curl-up-and-read location, especially when the morning sun breaks over the East Ridge and slants a glow across the page.

A peaceful morning with sunshine, coffee and The Last Werewolf

Soon, the snow will start blanketing us here in Butte and I'll have to retreat inside to the breakfast nook with its Dr. Phil soundtrack.  But for now, I'm happy with the pip-pip-pip of finches visiting the tree over my head as I soak up some of the year's best literature.  I know my wife thinks we built the deck for hosting outdoor parties and as a place where she can work on her seasonal tan; but for me, it makes for a nice plein air reading room.

What about you?  Where do you go to get lost in a book?

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From the If-I-Can-Do-It-Anybody-Can Department: The One Project Closer Before and After contest is still open for entries.  Here's more information on how you can enter:

One Project Closer is running their fourth annual Before & After series in support of Habitat for Humanity. Every week for the entire summer OPC picks a winner and features their before & after story. All the winners walk away with a $50 gift card and have the chance to win the grand prize: an additional $150 gift card.

All entries must be a do-it-yourself project that was completed within the past year. Write a short story describing the project and email it to Some of the best submissions provide a clear how-to guide with captivating pictures so readers can easily follow along.

The Before & After series started in 2008 when One Project Closer decided to help raise support for Habitat for Humanity. Along with the gift card, OPC will make a $100 donation to Habitat in honor of that week's winner.


  1. Gorgeous deck!

    Summer is biting/stinging insect season in southern Maryland. My front porch, where I holed up most afternoons in June, is now home to a legion of web-building spiders and is under attack from rogue wisteria and poison ivy vines. The deck is on the south side of the house and makes a great sweat lodge in July and August, but is not so good for reading. Two weeks ago I discovered an enormous paper-wasp nest under my garden bench. So: I've retreated indoors to read. The air-conditioned sun room - where I can see the garden without risking a close encounter with wasps or urushiol - has been my hideout of choice. It's getting cooler now and the stinging-insect population is decreasing, so I may be back outside to read in the next week or so. Maybe I'll even convince my husband, who's not allergic, to pull out the poison ivy...

  2. What a place you have here! Congratulations for this. This perfect for relaxation, and stress-free place.