While I was showing off my new stepping stone path to the garden, a few of you noticed my brand new, 6ft wood privacy fence. It took nearly nine months from the initial date I submitted the permit for my fence to be approved and completed, but by golly — it happened. Ready to hear the story of our new fence? Warning: it is epic!

If you recall back to last November, I had grown frustrated with my immediate neighbor’s removal of all of the foliage that used to create a nice private yard along the 40 foot span of chain link fence on one side of our lot. Replacing all of that leafy green with a random canoe, only added insult to injury.

Of course my neighbors were only trying to tidy up their yard, not to be malicious in any way — and I think that after they had removed all the greenery, they even felt a bit more exposed than normal. I tried to remedy the situation by planting a row of evergreen shrubs, but they did little to block the view, and after last years super cold, harsh Wisconsin winter, several of them are now looking a little worse for the wear.

After spending an entire summer feeling exposed, I wanted to make sure I regained my missing privacy before the coming summer. Unfortunately when I applied for the permit to replace my 4ft chain link fence with a 6ft wood fence, I received an email from the zoning guy with some neighborhood bylaws from 1954 stating that 6ft wood privacy fences were illegal unless I received permission from 60% of the neighbors in the subdivision — which is by my count — 140 homes. Yikes.

Not wanting to go door to door asking for signatures just to replace a 40ft span of fence and also not wanting to mail 140 letters with return paid postcards for their responses, I tried to devise a strategy to persuade the city that they should allow me to construct the fence on just this one side of my property.

I went back to those typewritten neighborhood bylaws from 1954 and read through every word carefully — and that’s when I found my potential loop hole.

fencesThe above reads:

8. FENCES. No fence shall be erected on any one of said lots which said  fence shall be higher than four (4) feet from the graded surface of the ground on which each fence is situated. In no event shall any fence or wall be erected closer than thirty (30) feet to any street line nor beyond the front line of any dwelling. No fences constructed of wire or metal shall be erected on any lot.

yard-beforeBingo. Since we currently had a chain link fence that ran all the way around our property — which could be described as a wire or metal fence therefore an ‘illegal fence’ by these bylaws — then the previous owners who put up the fence must have gotten permission to do so, right? And assuming that they did get permission for an ‘illegal fence’ on this property from the neighborhood, shouldn’t I be able to swap one type of illegal fence for another one, assuming that the neighbors that are on the other side of it don’t have any issues with the change? The argument was worth a shot, so I wrote a letter to the city explaining my reasoning for wanting the fence, my thought process about making the swap and the hopes that I wouldn’t have to collect signatures on a matter that had already been decided 20 years ago.

I mailed the letter, along with signed permission from my neighbors and waited. And waited. And waited.

Then I emailed the letter directly to the zoning guy at the city that made these decisions and called his office to make sure he got the letter and email. Turns out, the office had received both the letter and email, but the zoning guy was out on an extended vacation and wouldn’t be back in the office for three weeks. It was now December, so I wasn’t too worried about not hearing back for this length of time, since it would be months before a fence could be installed.

The winter went on and still I heard nothing. Mid February I tried contacting the city zoning office again. It turns out that Mr. zoning guy had gone on yet another leave for several weeks — I was told because of a death in the family. So I waited and waited some more.

Finally in March, a response! I received a phone call from the zoning guy asking about my letter. We discussed the situation at length and he agreed that if the fence was indeed mine, and it had been correctly applied for, that I could replace the section in question with a 6ft wood privacy fence, pending approval from my immediate neighbors on both sides. He just had to check the city’s files and would get back to me in a week or so. “Great!” I thought.

When I didn’t hear back after a week, I called again. Turns out he was deep in the records in the basement and had verified that the section of fence in question was ours, but had not yet finished going through the minutes from the now-disbanded neighborhood council meeting from 1994 when the fence was installed.

Another week passed and still no word. I called the office again and drat — he had left once more for a two week out of office stint. By now it was almost April and I desperately wanted the fence permit in hand so I could call the fence company I got the quote from and tell them to schedule my job. But still nothing. Finally my calls and emails were returned. Mr. zoning guy said he mailed my fence permit — the one he said he would send to my residence — to the fence company directly several weeks ago. WHAT?

fence-work-begunNext it was time to call the fence company guy, verify they received the permit and get them to come ASAP and put up my fence. Yes — they did get my permit — but they had been so busy with jobs that they hadn’t followed up with me yet. Great. Did I miss my window to get in their spring work schedule? Mr. Fence guy said he could squeeze our fence into his schedule in early June — but that was precisely when Jim and I were supposed to be out of town at The Hukilau tiki festival in Florida. There was no way I was going to have this fence going up while I wasn’t home. What if they had questions, ran into problems, or our dog sitters forgot the fence line was under construction and Leo got out? So Mr. Fence guy promised that he would start immediately after we returned from our vacation, definitely finishing the fence before our annual Christmas in July celebration.

The day after we returned from Florida, I started calling Mr. Fence. Was he coming Friday? Monday? I left message after message and received no response. Ack! Then after the 15th call, Mr. Fence answered. He was so backed up with projects that had been delayed by the rainier than normal spring, and was running behind. I reminded him that he promised to have my fence done before July 1st and he promised to come ASAP to get the project started.

dont-let-out-dogMr. Fence and team showed up on the following Wednesday to start the job. I reminded him that I needed the fence line to be down for a minimal amount of time since I have a dog that is used to having run of the yard and has issues pooping on a leash. (Yes, yes he does.) Mr. Fence took down the section of old chain link, dug new fence post holes and set the new posts in concrete. Things were progressing quickly for once! Horray!

Then what he said as he was cleaning up for the day hit me like a ton of bricks: the truck with his supply of lumber for all of his fence projects wouldn’t arrive until Friday, and he might be able to return the following Monday to finish the fence. I wasn’t thrilled with having to take Leo out on a leash in his own back yard for at least 6 days, but if he could get it done on Monday, the sacrifice would be worth the newly gained privacy, right?

Monday came and went and still no Mr. Fence. He finally returned my calls, explaining that the lumber truck was still not there and so he had no lumber to finish my fence. Don’t they make and sell lumber somewhere locally? Not like this good quality lumber, Mr. Fence assured me. The week came and went and still no word from Mr. Fence. With my family coming in a mere day and a constipated dog who had not had a regular pooping schedule for nearly two weeks, I finally got word that the lumber had arrived an my fence would be finished — just in time before the 4th of July festivities. Phew!

modern-fenceAfter nearly nine long months of waiting, phone calls, aggravation, and persistence, our fence was finally installed and finished!

cedar-fenceThe fence is made of cedar and can be allowed to weather to a silvery grey, or stained or sealed in any desired color. For now, we are leaving it to weather a bit before we make any decisions.

I had Mr. Fence build me a horizontal style fence because I feel that it goes better with the long, low look of our 1962 ranch home. We’ve gotten many compliments from neighbors, friends and family on the decision to make a horizontal fence instead of a traditional vertical style.

willow-reed-fencing2fence-completewillow-reed-fence-over-chain-link willow-reed-fence-privacy willow-reed-fencingSince I’m not a fan of the look of chain link, I found this willow reed at Menards to attach to the chain link in the two spots where it is visible from the street. Again, neighbors have been loving this inexpensive addition. The willow reed doesn’t offer much privacy, but just a little bit was all we needed in these spots.

reliefOf course the best part was the privacy we’ve enjoyed for the bulk of the summer. It is much easier to relax when you don’t feel as if you are being watched. Leo could care less about the fence, but he is glad to have free run of the yard again — because pooping on a leash is just not becoming of a regal dog like himself.

yard-progressThe fence saga was a long one, but in the end we are so glad we went to the trouble. There’s just nothing else like your own, private back yard oasis in the summer.



paver-path-finished-circlesIts been a while since I’ve written anything on here. A multitude of reasons kept me away — everything from taking small trips, hosting visitors, working on projects and having no time left over to write about them here, blogging for my full time job over on Retro Renovation and just spending some of the summer time outside away from the glow of a computer monitor. I haven’t decided to stop sharing my projects, life and home — I’ve just taken a bit of a summer break. But while I’ve been silent, progress has been happening around the Retro Ranch.

pathwouldbeniceRemember my Retro Ranch Revamp Resolution to put a stepping stone path between our oval patio and victory garden? I’ve been wanting to do this project for a few years now (Leo has been nagging me about it) and after a heck of a lot of work, I’m proud to say it is finally done.

shrubin2To fully appreciate how far this part of the yard has come, here is a shot from two years ago, after I had already hacked out most of the giant, half-dead, overgrown shrub planted too close to the house.

garden2This was not even the full extent of the overgrowth, If I could only find the photos taken shortly after we bought the house…then you would realize just how big of a transformation has actually occurred in this quadrant of the yard. But on to present day…

hose-pathHere’s what the area looked like a few weeks ago, before I started constructing the path. I used this old garden hose to help determine how to curve the path.

back-to-workNext up was digging up all of the grass, breaking up the soil and leveling it out a bit to prep the surface for the circular stone pavers. During this part of the process, Leo was quite a task master.uncovered-stonesThere was a lot more than grass to dig up. I also found all of these VERY heavy stones just under the dirt. I think they originally were used to contain a small garden next to the house. Whoever started the garden probably gave up pretty quickly because our house’s large overhangs don’t allow any rain water to reach up next to the house — meaning the soil is very dry and any attempt at a garden would have to be watered on a daily basis.

placing-paversOnce the grass was removed and the dirt leveled out, it was time to start placing the stones for the path.

bit-to-the-left-pleaseLeo helped of course.



path-in-progressWith the stones in place, I started to fill in around them with dirt again.

path-half-doneThen I planted some low growing, ground cover plants that will hopefully grow together and fill in all the dirt spaces over time. In the dry space between the stepping stones and the house, I continued the same river rock used in some of the other areas between the sidewalk and the house. With half the path completed, I was exhausted. A sudden summer thunderstorm announced the end of my day’s work.

circular-stone-paver-path2A few more weekends passed before I was able to get back to work on the path. With Labor Day fast approaching, I noticed a sale on the remaining river rock needed to complete the path — which was enough to get me fired up to finish the project.

circular-stone-paver-path path-finishedThe path turned out better than I could have hoped. I’m crossing my fingers that the ground cover plants will take hold and come back stronger next year. Hopefully within a few years, the space will be all filled in and look great.

river-rockI’m also really grateful to be done buying river rock for a while. It is not an easy product to purchase by the bag and haul home.

stone-tiki-headThe concrete tiki head that Mom and Dad bought me for an early Christmas present looks fabulous along the path too, don’t you think?

jim-on-pathJim likes the path because walking between the patio and the garden is less treacherous now that he doesn’t have to worry about stepping on any of Leo’s yard surprises. (I agree.)

path-doneAnd Leo seems to be impressed that I finally got this job done…


…even though he has yet to actually use it.

silly-kateHope everyone is having a wonderful summer! More updates will be coming soon, I promise!




christmas-in-july-2014I’ve been away for the last week or so hosting my family for the fourth annual Christmas in July celebration. As usual, the event was a success. We had some of the regulars who attend every year, and a few newbies too. There were plenty of brats and burgers, yummy finger foods, margaritas and a whole lot of fun to go around.

the-groupAfter our group photo and filling up on food, everyone scrambled into the tiki lounge for the main event — the ‘dirty Santa’ gift exchange.

whitneyExcitement was in the air!

wine-corksSome of the mystery gifts were happily received…

laughing WINE-MARKERS…some gifts were questioned…

not-sure…some gifts were not appreciated. Jim!

crystal-clockAfter being ‘lost’ in a closet during the celebration last year, the dreaded crystal clock made a return. (see the ‘crystal clock shock’ from 2011 and 2012)

muffin-topsMy dad wasn’t sure what a muffin top was until we explained it, then he seemed to understand…I think….

sucksOur friend Elise was not too excited about receiving an ear wax vac…but dad was entertained.

GOOD-ONEProbably the strangest gift of the day was opened by my Mom…

somethingsmellsgoodFrom the beginning, Leo was a little more interested than normal. She should have known something was up.

ham-pate…and before too long, we all realized why. Mom opened a can of ham paté with pimentos. Most of us thought that was kinda gross, but Leo was totally digging it. I’m betting the canned ham will be back next year.

Did anyone else celebrate Christmas in July this year?

See our past celebrations:



messToday marks four years ago to the day that we closed on our 1962 retro ranch. In some ways, it feels like it couldn’t have possibly been four years already, but in other ways it seems like we have been living here happily for longer than that.

The last four years here have been filled with a whole lot of yard work, painting walls, a gut remodel of our master bathroom, painting the kitchen cabinets, and generally making our house feel more like a home. It also marks four years of this blog, which I started as a creative outlet, a visual journal of our quest to make our house a home, a way for far away friends and family to “visit” our lives without having to travel and what ultimately led Pam to me, which in turn helped me get my current job as Managing Editor for

Now let’s all take a walk down memory lane with some before and after photos that show the progress made over four years.

The yard:

Above: Front yard before.

yard-today-2Above: Front yard today.
before11Above: Front yard before.

yard-today1Above: Front yard today.

wheresmailboxAbove: Side yard before. (Our mailbox was hiding in there)

yard-today-3Above: Side yard today.

nofence1 Fence3 Fence4Above: Vegetable garden before.

gardenAbove: Vegetable garden today.

The Kitchen:

Kitchenday1Above: Kitchen before.

retro-red-and-white-kitchenvintage-mint-kitchen retro-red-and-white-kitchenAbove: Kitchen today.

The master bathroom remodel:

retro-master-bathretro-bathroomretro-vanityAbove: Master bathroom before.

retro-pink-bathroom midcentury-bath-vanityAbove: Master bathroom today.

We’ve come a long way in four years, but there is still more to be done — especially out in the yard. I’m starting to get the feeling like its nearly under control after four years of hard, backbreaking work and a whole lot of tree trimming and weeding. Of course a house is never truly finished, and the journey is part of the fun. Thanks for tagging along on this journey with us.


kate tiki drinkI’m not entirely sure what happened to the last month. It sped by at warp speed and I suddenly realized I hadn’t posted anything on here in what seems like eons. In the last month, I’ve had my focus set on so many different projects and experiences that it is no wonder I haven’t written anything this blog in a while.

When I last posted, I had just returned from a weekend away at a friend’s wedding. Since then, these are just a few of the things I’ve been up to:

  • My adorable husband Jim was away on a business trip and the evening he returned home, my best friend and her husband flew in for a long weekend visit at the Retro Ranch — loads of fun!
  • The following week I set off for my annual trip to visit my parents in Tennessee and was gone for 5 days
  • I attended a party at my neighbor’s house that lasted until after midnight
  • Met a good friend for dinner and catching up on life
  • Went to a memorial service for another longtime friend of mine, an artist and mentor who passed away at age 87
  • Put up our screen porch tiki lounge for the summer
  • Pulled countless weeds in our yard and gardens
  • Planted my raised bed vegetable garden for the year
  • Mulched everywhere
  • Put down lots of grass seed
  • Cleaned up and spray painted my new, old patio set
  • Went to The Hukilau
  • And much more!

You might imagine that I’m exhausted from all of this, but in fact, the opposite is true. Sure, there were points during this long string of activities that wiped me out big time — but our yard is really starting to come together, our veggies are growing and The Hukilau was so much fun (and a much needed vacation to the beach) that I’m feeling pretty good right now.

In the next two weeks, I have tons more to do to prepare for our 4th annual Christmas in July celebration and hosting my family for their week or so long stay — not to mention a few other projects I am trying to get done before then. I’ll try my best to give you all updates on the many projects I’ve been working on and neat new stuff I’ve found in the last month, but for today, let’s just check out a few pictures from my trip to The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Pam was nice enough to let me come with her and help with our Symposium: Create You’re Own Suburban Savage Paradise! Even though she did most of the talking. I got to meet a lot of awesome people, sample many fruity, rum-filled cocktails and spend lots of time ogling both the decor at the Mai Kai Restaurant and the beautiful beach in Fort Lauderdale. There will be plenty of stories over on Retro Renovation detailing everything, but I thought I’d share a few photos from Jim and my personal experience that wouldn’t be shown otherwise.

beach grassbeachft lauderdale beachkate in oceantiki mermaid katebeach rocks

kate oceanI hadn’t been to the ocean in about ten years, so I was like “a kid in a candy store” according to Jim. All I wanted to do every night and in all our spare time was go for walks on the beach. Being on the beach floods me with memories of my childhood trips to the beach with my Nana and Bob, who used to live about a mile from the Gulf in Mississippi. Every childhood visit to see them involved a whole lot of time spent building sand castles, splashing in the waves and walking on the beach. It felt good to be back.

jim beach jim the beach bum Jim mai kai sign kate and jim matching tikijim mai KaiKate Mai Kaijim mai kai jim mai kai gardens jim gardens Mai Kai jim tiki katetiki jim tiki friend kates tiki friend kate with drinkThe Mai Kai was amazing. I’ve never been to any place quite like it before. Jim and I sampled numerous drinks while we were there (over several days of course) including: The Mutiny, Jet Pilot, Zombie, Wahine Delight, Mai Kai Swizzle, Shark Bite, Shrunken Skull, 151 Swizzle, Special Planters Punch, Deep Sea Diver, Zula, Chocolate Snowflake and a sip from the Mystery Bowl — a large cocktail that arrives in a bowl, accompanied by a special dance that serves 4-6 people.

kate jim hukilauYou can check out the first post about Pam and my experiences at The Hukilau on RetroRenovation — and tomorrow am, check back on RetroRenovation for another post about the Mai Kai and it’s fabulous decor.

I promise I’ll be back here again soon! Aloha!