First-World Problems

I want to start this post by saying that the two most infuriating things in the world (or at least the suburban, middle-class, first-world) are car problems and computer problems! Am I right?

I locked my keys in the van this week. Well, actually, I tossed my keys in the console for a second (that’s a big no-no!) and someone else locked the van. Thankfully we were just in our driveway and weren’t locked out of our house. I would have called a locksmith and/or my husband at work if it was an emergency.

But it wasn’t. I just needed to run a couple of errands that I could run after the hubs got home from work with the other set of keys. BUT…we have two very stubborn, determined, first-borns that live in this house and we were going to learn how to break into a vehicle if it took us the rest of the day. I won’t go into detail, because I’m not really into teaching car theft. And the internet has plenty of other sources for that anyway. But my son did it! And I was very proud of him. In a weird glad-you-know-how-to-break-into-my-van and I’m-impressed-that-you-beat-me-to-it kinda way.


And then, my phone’s microSD card got corrupted or damaged or something. I lost about 338 pictures. I can see the number count, but about 80% of them show that little icon that you see when pics won’t load. I’m beyond irritated.

So anyway, I’ll show you the (almost) end result of our retaining wall, but I lost all the in-process pics. Grrr.

Here’s a reminder of what the wall looked like before.


I have been thinking about and pricing materials to cover/replace our retaining walls pretty much since the first month we bought this house. Stone would be cool, and not terribly expensive (relatively speaking) for this stretch of wall in the front. But, we’d need a ton of material in the back and side yards. It would cost about as much as our house cost to re-do our retaining walls and replace the railroad ties with stone. Clearly only a moron would do that. A rich moron.

I finally took inspiration from cedar planter boxes/raised flower beds and thought that it could be a pretty cool solution. And while it wouldn’t be cheap, it wouldn’t be so ridiculously expensive that we couldn’t do all of the walls eventually.

Also, I love me some cedar. Especially horizontal cedar. Why? I don’t know. Because mid-century. Just because. That’s what my heart loves.

We used the wide cedar fence pickets, because cedar isn’t cheap and the fence pickets are the most affordable option. Our retaining wall, though ugly, was in excellent shape. It was still functioning as well as it probably has been for three decades. I wish I could say the same for the retaining walls in the back yard, because fixing them seems like an overwhelming task. Someday.

Since our retaining wall wasn’t failing, we could simply clad the railroad ties with cedar planks. If you were building an actual retaining wall, you’d definitely need some thicker boards than a fence picket. And if your retaining wall was crucial to the support of your house’s foundation (rather than just to level a sloped yard), you should get some expert advice.

For instance, our back neighbor’s house would seriously come crumbling down the hill if we started messing too much with the walls in the back, but this one in the front only helps give us a flat, usable, upper yard. We didn’t remove anything, but if we had in order to replace with stone, we wouldn’t risk damaging anyone’s home. Use good judgment.

See these weird few railroad ties that stick out into the yard area?

rr ties

Before all the grass was scraped, it was a bit more obvious that they were intended to keep part of the yard up higher and then there was a narrow, flatter portion of yard next to the driveway. That’s hard to explain and I don’t have a before picture. But anyway, they’re just annoying to mow around and a trip hazard for all the kids that run around here all the time. It seemed like a great time to dig them out while we were at this.

railroad ties

For some reason, this pic will load halfway. At least I can tell what it was. I’m not sure what all I lost. Stupid SD card. 🙁 It’s weird, there will be 15 in a row that are damaged and then one good one and then 12 bad ones and two good ones, etc, etc.


We decided to just include that little strip in with the rest of the yard. You’ll see more of that when we get some grass.

I thought it would be great to add some steps while we’re messing with this wall. Currently, guests have to walk all the way around to the side of our driveway and then go up the steps. It’s not too big of a deal, I suppose, but it seemed that adding steps would add function.

I’m hoping I don’t regret this. The way our steps are now, they seem to deter salespeople. I think people feel like they’re coming too much up into our personal space or something? Hopefully steps won’t be welcoming to them. Just people I know. 🙂

See the stair stringer down there?

deck stringer

I lost most of the pics of the hubs building the stairs, but here’s what I do have.

clad stairs dig out stairs

Also, I had pictures of the completed cedar wall without stain. But I lost them.

I like the color of cedar when it is wet. It’s that wonderfully warm reddish tone. When it’s dry, it is kinda yellow like pine, but with a hint of pink.You can see it in the background of the picture up there where my hubs is digging out the railroad ties. (The planks weren’t screwed in on the side yet, so that’s why they kinda look wonky.)

Cedar is an excellent choice for outside because it’s naturally bug and rot resistant. It’s great if you don’t want to use the pressure treated pine for whatever reason. But, even cedar will gray within a year or two if you don’t treat it in the outdoors.

I first tried a color called Redwood, thinking that I really love that warm cedar color, but it was really red (um, duh…words have meanings). Then I tried a semi-transparent stain in Cedar Natural, but it was kind of orange. I ended up using a toner, which is a two-in-one product. It’s much less color than a stain, and it has the sealant in it. Woohoo! Hooray for saving a step!


The levels of color are:  sealant alone, toner, semi-transparent stain, and solid stain (which seeps into the wood like stain, but provides solid coverage like a paint). The toner made the cedar look like it naturally does right after a rain.

Here’s what it looks like currently.

retaining wall cedar wall

We’ll cap (top) the wall with a thicker cedar board and plant some stuff (besides that lone bush). We’ll also clean up the sidewalk, of course. Stay tuned.


Tell me what you think