Reflections on Motherhood: My First Year as a Twin Mom

A month ago we celebrated the twins' first birthday, and I've been feeling reflective ever since. Not only is Mother's Day on the horizon, but we've been going over our IVF financial statements and marveling at the roller coaster process we went through to start a family. (Let me tell you, nothing removes the romance from motherhood like a spreadsheet of infertility expenses.) I've been feeling compelled to write down my thoughts on my first year of motherhood, and my hope is that my experience will be helpful and encouraging to other new moms or moms-to-be.

I'm going to bounce all over the place here, from infertility to comparison to embracing my postpartum body and other stuff in between, so please bear with me.

Embracing Rejection
Because I have been open about our infertility and the tough process we went through to have our twins, I've heard from many friends, acquaintances and even strangers who are walking a similar path. The internet has allowed me to be a sympathetic ear for these women, and it has been such a blessing for me personally.

Every time I share our story with others, I think about rejection. Specifically, I think about how poorly I handled rejection during our three year journey to start a family. Infertility is getting a big red NO stamped on your ovaries once a month. Your hopes go up every single month (even if you're trying to contain them), and then they come crashing down. It's hard. As a Christian, I knew what I was supposed to be feeling and I would nod in agreement when my friends would counsel me about the bigness of God's plan for our family. Yet I took those monthly rejections so personally, and they held so much power over my happiness.

Many times my big red N-O would coincide with a close friend or family member receiving a big green Y-E-S. It made our circumstances feel punitive, like God was kicking me while I was down. I remember praying, "I can handle You rejecting my prayers, but it hurts really bad when You rub it in!" And then I would immediately feel guilty for my selfish thoughts (after all, God never promised us a baby and certainly doesn't owe us anything) and the emotional roller coaster of those ongoing rejections would continue.

I couldn't see then what is so clear to me now: Each rejection was an integral piece of the story, a tiny part of the puzzle that eventually read Y-E-S when we got that positive blood test. Without those rejections, we would never have Hope or Evan -- and I can't imagine my life without Hope and Evan. They were worth every moment of heartbreak. "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5

To my friends who are struggling -- your joy is coming. I know it doesn't feel like it right now and my words sound really hollow, but when you're on the other side you'll have a new appreciation for your season of rejection. You'll be stronger for it.

Battling Comparison
The motherhood gig is hard, no doubt, And you know what makes it harder? Comparing your kid (or in my case, kids) to other kids. DON'T DO IT. But you will -- it's just so hard to avoid. What do you mean that kid is crawling before mine? Is my baby doomed to be a failure? Your 9 month old baby is speaking in sentences? Mine only drools. I'M A FAILURE AS A MOM. 

I have struggled with this time and time again in my first year of motherhood. Our daycare teachers would casually say, "So-and-so moved up to the next class because they're crawling already. Can you believe it? She's two months younger than your twins!" And then I'd come home all stressed, worried that I wasn't helping our twins learn to crawl fast enough. I'd Google things and wrack my brain about how to be a better mom who could magically teach her twins to crawl, and I'd come to the same conclusion every time: You're being ridiculous. Calm down and let your babies do their thing.

I know this will only get harder as they get older, but I did come up with something that calms me down when I'm panicking that my mothering skills aren't good enough. I'll call it our parenting mission statement, and it's a very simple phrase that embodies the values we want to instill in our kids: Work hard and be kind.

When I find myself getting tangled up in the minutia of parenting two infants (worrying about how I'll convince them to switch to sippy cups, how soon they'll walk, whether their bowel movements are up to snuff, etc.), I remind myself that the end goal is simply to raise two children who have kind hearts and understand the value of hard work. It refreshes my mindset as a mother and helps me enjoy the daily moments more because I'm focused on what they are doing instead of what they aren't doing. That is, until tomorrow when I'm suddenly worried because their pincer grasp is lacking. I'm a work in progress.

Escaping Isolation
One aspect of motherhood I was unprepared for was the isolation. Between the napping schedules and the early bedtimes, it is very difficult to have a social life. I clung to our babies' schedule like glue because I felt - and still feel - that the routine is the key to sanity when you have twin infants.

Still, I missed my friends.  I used to get together with my girlfriends on a regular basis, and that girl time has always been restorative for me. One year into motherhood and I would say my social circle has shrunken dramatically. I'm still trying to make it a priority, but it's hard to align schedules when babies are the boss. Thank goodness for Facetime, Skype, text messaging, phone chats and anything else that allows us to have important (and not so important) conversations from a distance. Because complaining about nipple cream or husband woes or what celebrity did what is frivolous and delightful, and we all need a little bit of that even if it's over the phone.

Downplaying Drama
The next time that one of the twins is teething and I feel like MY LIFE IS OVER AS I KNOW IT, please remind me that nothing is as dramatic as it feels. Every mom needs a "This too shall pass" sign posted above their kitchen sink to remind them that the tough stretches - teething, sickness, sleeping issues, washing one million bottle pieces - are temporary. When I'm in the throes of a bad phase, like we were a couple weeks ago when both babies were teething and showing signs of irrational toddler behavior, I desperately need this reminder. Instead of taking my own advice I usually feel really defeated by my current circumstances until the miraculous day when the babies return to normalcy and I suddenly think, "Meh, that wasn't so bad."

Emphasizing Self-Care
When the twins were about 8 months old, I was feeling like our new life had stabilized a little bit and I could take on additional tasks. I had been in survival mode for a while, eating whatever was convenient and not carving out time to exercise. This was around the same time that the twins were really getting into eating solid food, and I wanted our entire family to have healthier eating habits so they would be getting proper nutrition.

I had a desire to exercise, but I couldn't figure out what would work for me, which goes back to the isolation problem above. Leaving the house to go to the gym wasn't really an option, so I needed something I could do quickly at home. I saw a Facebook post from a fellow twin mom who had successfully regained her postpartum body (she looked amazing!) and was offering to help fellow mommies do the same using a nutrition plan and at-home workouts. She was a Beachbody coach. I signed up and threw myself into it wholeheartedly in December. (Note to self: December is a really hard month to start dieting.)

I saw encouraging results in my body as I got stronger and more fit, and I'm still going. I'm below my pre-pregnancy weight, but my body isn't the same. I don't think it will ever be the same, but that's OK. My ribs are wider. My waist is bigger. My "twin skin" remains and I'm trying to embrace it, but some days are better than others. Regardless of my appearance, it feels great to make some time for myself. My self esteem has improved. The best part of the Beachbody program is that I've completely reformed our family's eating habits, and that is going to have long-term benefits for all four of us. We're eating so much healthier than before, incorporating all sorts of fruits and vegetables to our meals and cooking much more at home instead of picking up takeout. I feel really good about what I'm feeding the twins. And have you seen them lately? They clearly aren't missing a meal!

I'm not a Beachbody coach so I hope this doesn't come across as a sales pitch. There is nothing in it for me; this is just me sharing something that has worked for me as a new mom who needs fast workouts I can do at home. If you do want to try it and you're looking for a coach, I would highly recommend my girl Emily. We have never even met in real life (she lives in the Northwest, but I feel like she's a friend and she's been a huge encouragement to me as I've struggled to establish a work/life/health balance as a new mom. She shared her grocery lists, her favorite Costco products (speaking my language!) and even a spreadsheet for meal planning. Those were super helpful resources for me when I was starting out. Now I have this whole community of women on the Beachbody app that I touch base with about my workouts, recipes, etc. We vent about how hard the workouts are and make fun of ourselves. It gives me the vibe of going to group exercise classes at the gym without actually going, which is the best I can do right now. On the app I can post food and selfie pics without annoying the rest of the my friends on social media who could care less. I don't know any of these women in real life but it's still fun because we all have the same struggles and insecurities.

Saving Sanity
I think most new moms, myself included, go through a process of figuring out what works for them - little systems and tricks and coping mechanisms that allow us to survive long days with an infant (or two). Looking back on our first year as parents, here are the things I think completely saved our sanity:

- Sleep training: I bought the Moms on Call book and started following its principles and schedules when the twins were five weeks old (2 weeks adjusted). It was insanely helpful. I was totally clueless, and it gives sample schedules for bedtime and daytime naps that set us up for success.

- Early, consistent bedtime: Our twins are in their cribs at 7 p.m. every night. I have friends who don't have a specific bedtime for their babies, or they have no bedtime for them at all, and I have no idea how they survive! Scott and I really value the adult time we can look forward to every single night after 7. It has been wonderful for our mental health and our marriage. Highly recommend!

- Schedule fun: I've been in a stretch for a while here where I feel drop dead exhausted on Monday morning. Why? Because I spend all day on Saturday and Sunday with the twins, and whenever they are napping, I try to be ultra productive. I'm either cleaning, working out, grocery shopping, doing laundry, etc. None of that counts as fun. It's exhausting. By the time Monday comes around, I'm mentally drained and physically wiped out. Aren't weekends supposed to make you feel refreshed? Now I'm trying to allot specific time for an activity I consider fun - lunch with girlfriends, solo shopping time, a pedicure, reading a book on the back porch. It can be anything that feels like a luxury. It's worth doing, even if it's just a fleeting moment. Mental health is important!

- Coffee: Prior to the twins I was not a coffee person. I was a Coke person. Within a week of coming home from the hospital, we had invested in a fancy Ninja coffee machine and were fueling ourselves with that liquid joy every morning. Coffee has revived more than one terribly sleepless morning at this house. You have to do what you have to do!

- Walk it out: I'm not sure if we did anything special to end up with children who love being in the stroller, but thank goodness they do. If we are feeling stir crazy, we load them up and go. We go for long walks. We take them shopping. I have these big canvas bags that I keep in the bottom of our stroller, and I use those with some hooks on my stroller handle to load up the stroller with groceries. They love being out and about, and the stroller has saved me from some seriously fussy meltdowns. When in doubt, take a walk.

I feel like I have blabbered on long enough, but I could seriously talk about this forever. What are your survival tricks? How do you find joy in the midst of motherhood struggles? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Some of the best motherhood advice I've read has been in the comments sections of my favorite blogs.  

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"Donut Grow Up" First Birthday Party for the Twins

The twins recently celebrated their first birthday, and to celebrate we threw them a fabulous donut-themed party with our nearest and dearest. I don't throw that many parties but when I do, I get really into it. I just can't help myself! I had so much fun planning this party for our babies, and I've been so excited to share all of the details with you.

The Theme
I have known all along that I wanted to throw a donut-themed party. Donuts are really trendy right now, but we have our own reasons why this is a special party idea for us. Our twins are IVF babies, and the first time we laid eyes on them was in this photo of our embryos from our fertility specialist. We joked that they looked like donuts. I had this dream that one was a boy and a girl (I was right!) and I used to doodle these blue and pink donuts long before we found out the gender of these babies. 

Not only does the donut theme have special meaning to us, but it's also gender neutral and it works for the time of day we wanted to have the party (11 a.m. - 1 p.m.), which was right in between the twins' naps. Can't have grumpy birthday babies, right?

The Invitations
I searched long and hard for donut invitations that worked for boy/girl twins, but most of them just seemed too girly for my taste. I finally decided to DIY the invitations so that I could get exactly what I wanted. 

Have you ever tried Creative Market? I hadn't used this website before the party, but it's really an amazing resource. I spent $3 to purchase these watercolor donuts, and I ended up getting so much use out of them. I would argue this is the most important $3 I spent on the entire party! For that $3 I got digital downloads of eps files with the donuts, which meant I could enlarge or shrink or repurpose the donuts however I wanted. I used them for the paper suite and decor (keep reading for that part).

Using the watercolor donuts as my jumping off point, I used Adobe Illustrator to create really fun, bright invitations that helped me set the color scheme for the entire party. Then I made matching thank you cards and even some donut stickers for the envelopes. (Did I mention I get carried away when I plan parties? ) I printed them with Vistaprint, and it was really cost effective for a custom invitation suite. 

The Decor
I wanted the party decor to be really fun and colorful, so I used the bright multicolored stripes from the invitations as my inspiration. Using crepe streamers from the Dollar Store, I added stripes as a festive "table cloth" for our food table and even jazzed up the glass doors that lead into the playroom. 

My original thought was that the twins would do their cake smash in front of the glass doors and the streamers would make a great backdrop for the photos, but we ended up doing the cakes outside. Still, the streamers looked so cute behind the panes of the french doors and really made our formal living room more youthful and festive for the party. Note to other parents of babies/toddlers who may want to imitate this idea: Don't do it too far in advance. Your babies will want nothing more than to tear all of your streamers down. I tried to do this weeks in advance, and I spent the next weeks trying to stop the twins from undoing all my hard work!

Another key party element were our inflatable donuts. I bought several donut-themed items from Oriental Trading, including the inflatable donuts we used above the doors and in the "nom nom" decor by the food display. 

I also bought a huge donut pool float and even some inflatable donut cup holders. The idea of me getting carried away while buying donut paraphernalia is a theme you'll see throughout this post. Guilty as charged. 

The watercolor donuts made another appearance by our fireplace, where I set up a casual photo booth area with my new Fujifilm Instax (a recent Craigslist purchase - so fun!) and some DIY donut glasses I made by cutting out the watercolor donuts and gluing them on stiff felt. I also made some donut glasses myself by just drawing on the stiffened white felt with markers. The donuts were glued on Dollar Store sunglasses, both kid and adult, after I popped out the tinted lenses. I bought that awesome script, cursive ONE balloon from the adorable Etsy shop Party Haus

We used the photos of our guests to make some guest book pages in the scrap book I've been keeping to document their first year of life. It turned out just like I imagined! Printing out the photos onsite is really a fun element for a party. We had an Instax at my best friend's 30th birthday party back in October and let me tell you, we had fun with that thing!

In the playroom, I used scrapbook paper and the panes of another french door to document the twins' monthly photos. I don't have a great photo of this part because the party itself was such a blur, but here's a photo from a week before the party. This is another decor element I was able to do ahead of time, and I plan to leave it up for a while because I enjoy seeing their baby pics so much!

You may have noticed with my "nom nom" and "onederful" displays that I'm definitely a fan of metallic letter balloons. What can I say -- I love both balloons and I love words (especially birthday puns) so letter balloons were a must. I bought them all from my normal source, Bargain Balloons. I didn't discover this until it was too late, but they even have a great selection of the scripted word balloons. I love the "yay" balloon -- imagine how many occasions you could use that for!

The rest of the balloons are from my existing collection and the Dollar Store. I strung them with fishing line along the deck in the backyard and then had some blown up with helium to decorate other spaces throughout the party. When in doubt, add balloons!

I made it my mission not to miss an opportunity to incorporate more donuts into the party decorations. Of course I had to use these donut Christmas ornaments, a special gift from my mom when we were pregnant with our "donuts," on the front door wreath.

And since I was going to label these cheap foam coolers from Walmart anyway, why not make all of the "O's" into donuts? It's obvious how much fun I had with this party theme.

One thing I couldn't resist was this sloth donut print I found in the Whistleburg shop on Etsy. I'm a sucker for sloths, and I loved the idea that I could hang it in the nursery after the party. It was perfect for the shelves in the dining room, along some newborn photos of the babies, a gift from my best friend wrapped in the cutest sprinkle wrapping paper, plus some very special donuts for the birthday twins!

I decorated the high chairs with streamers and pom pom garland. So easy, and so cute!

I found some donut wrapping paper that ended up being really useful. I used it to make our corn hole boards more party-specific, and I even wrapped the top of our old picnic table to make it a good surface for eating and coloring. That table is so worn out, so this was a really nice way for me to be able to use the table without being embarrassed about how it looks.

The Food
I knew I wanted to cater the party. I'm not that great at cooking, and I didn't want to have to stress about the food on top of everything else I had to do myself. I love DIY, but I also know when something it's my strength! I catered some yummy breakfast foods from our local grocery store including migas egg casserole, hashbrown casserole and a beautiful fruit tray. We have a great little donut shop that supplied a gorgeous and delicious selection of donuts for all of our guests, along with some special name donuts for the birthday twins. The donut shop also supplied the kolaches which were gone instantly. Probably should have bought more of those!

Much like a wedding, I was so busy chatting up our guests that I didn't get to eat. Every single donut was gone except the name donuts on the shelf, so at least I got to eat those after the party ended. 

For drinks we had mimosas, beer, sodas, Capri Sun and bottled water. We set most of them up outside in coolers except for the alcoholic stuff, which was in the kitchen where it was too high for the adventurous little kiddos to reach. You can see the cooler setup in this "aftermath" photo from the deck.

I did make the smash cakes myself. That was a bit of a disaster because it was really late the night before the party, and I kept messing up the ingredients because my brain was fried at that point. But then I remembered the kids weren't picky and had never even had cake before, so I fed them some crumbly little cakes that they thought were the best thing ever. The icing is Cool Whip, which has less sugar than normal icing but is very fun for a baby to play with, and isn't that the point?

The Activities
I really stressed about how to entertain our party guests. (This is the reason I don't throw that many parties - I always worry that people won't have fun and then I talk myself out of it!) Anyway, it was challenging because we were inviting people of all ages and life stages, including kids from 6 months old to 10 years old. I decided to just set up stations and play areas throughout the house and the backyard, and I hoped that people would find a spot to play that suited their family. 

In the backyard we had bouncy balls, inflatable donuts, corn hole, a teepee and a foamnasium. We also had a picnic table with crayons and donut-themed coloring pages. Inside we had the photo booth and the nursery, which was full of infant toys. In the driveway we had sidewalk chalk and bubbles, but we ended up moving the bubbles to the backyard. Almost everyone made their way to the backyard and hung out while their kids played together, so it was really easy. Thank goodness we finished our massive backyard renovation and artificial grass installation just in time! It was so satisfying to see our guests having a blast back there.

The Wardrobe
File our family's party wardrobe in the "Jordan got carried away with the donut theme" category. I'm not even mad about it -- we are now that family who coordinates party outfits. 

I wanted the twins to have coordinating outfits that fit the donut theme, and that was harder than I anticipated. Everything donut-y was pink and sprinkled. Evan is a little hoss, and he needed some manly donut pants! I found this Etsy shop, Little Teepee Designs, who had tiny pants in the most masculine donut fabric I'd ever seen. I reached out to the shop owner and explained that I really wanted to buy custom pants for my boy/girl twins. She didn't have any girly donut fabric onhand, but she was fabulous and quickly tracked some down for me. We worked together to design the pants with the striped cuffs to tie them together as a coordinating set, and they are just adorable. The fabric is incredibly comfortable, and I wish I had some of her leggings in my size. I can't recommend her enough. Thanks Alexis!!

I designed the twins' ONEDERFUL shirts myself, and then a good friend of mine used her Silhouette machine to print them on plain white shirts I bought at Children's Place. How cute is that little peplum halter top? Can't beat the price right now - $3.58!

I found my donut sweater - from a past season at Target - on Poshmark, and I am extremely proud of myself for finding a donut t-shirt that my husband would actually wear. We got him the tri-blend t-shirt, and it's super soft and fits perfectly. I'm planning to steal it for myself like I do with all of his best t-shirts!

I almost forgot the birthday crowns! My best friend and I made those with some of my old workout headbands and some felt. Hope's has some extra embellishment that I bought in the scrapbooking section at Michael's. She is in full headband/sock/shoe rebellion right now, so I was amazed that she tolerated the crown for the cake smash. Truly a birthday miracle!

The Favors
I don't have a picture of this, but each kid took home party favors in these cute sprinkled bags from Oriental Trading. The favors included a tub of PlayDoh (highly recommend this mega-pack of PlayDoh from Amazon - great variety of colors at a low price) and a baggie of donut cereal - Sprinkle Donut Crunch, to be exact. Fair warning: The cereal is addictive!

Well, that's a wrap on the twins' first birthday party. It was a lot of work to pull the party together, but the nice thing about twins is that you only have to throw one party! We love them so much, and celebrating them with our friends and family was such a treat. If I left out any party details or sources, don't hesitate to contact me with your questions.

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Huge Backyard Makeover Featuring Synthetic Grass

I really hate carpet. Unless it's carpet for my backyard, in which case I love it.

We spent the last 6 weekends giving our backyard a huge makeover with outdoor carpet - synthetic grass, to be exact - and I'm so pumped to show it to you!

We've been tossing around the idea of installing fake grass, or "turf," as my football coach husband likes to call it, in our backyard for years. Our neighborhood was constructed in an old tree farm, and the huge shade trees around every house are a huge part of the appeal. Not so appealing, however, is the fact that our backyard is so shaded that we are unable to grow any grass. We asked around the neighborhood, and everyone else has the same problem. Many have tried and failed, and we haven't wanted to spend money installing a sprinkler system and laying sod only to have it die within a few months. We couldn't figure out a great solution that was cost effective, so we let our backyard sit in its embarrassing state as a giant dirt pit for the first three years we lived here.

This past summer while working on our fancy schmancy patio cover and outdoor living room, we finally decided we would bite the bullet and install synthetic grass. Once we had kids, we really wanted to have a backyard we could use. I say "bite the bullet" because synthetic grass is not cheap! The husband and I went back and forth on whether to pay someone else to install the grass or whether he should do it himself. He had no experience installing turf (and I argued that he didn't have the time to do it now that we had twins), but he was having a hard time stomaching the hefty installation price tag.

We wanted to complete both the patio cover and grass installation last summer, but it was just too much work to finish before football season. (Husband is a football coach so he basically disappears in the fall.) We decided to split the project into Phase 1 (patio cover/outdoor living room) and Phase 2 (synthetic grass/landscaping) and tabled Phase 2 indefinitely.

At the beginning of January, we decided we would throw a big first birthday party for the twins. At the same time I told the husband, "Wouldn't it be nice if we actually had a backyard for the party?" His eyes lit up at the prospect of doing the yard makeover, and before I knew it he was spending all of his spare time watching turf installation videos. He was determined to do it himself to save us the money. I decided that he had never let me down on his previous projects so I would just trust him to do quality work with the backyard project, too. Spoiler alert: He did not let me down. In fact, he blew me away with the amount of work he was able to complete and how professional it looks.

Here's where we started at the beginning of February.WHAT A WRECK! Dirt, weeds, dirt, leaves, more dirt.

Scott knew he needed more manpower to do the project, so he hired two of his former football players who were willing to work with him on weekends.

1) The first step was to excavate the backyard and level the dirt as much as possible. They dug up the existing flagstone path, raked up all of the leaves and debris from the trees and then borrowed a tiller to level the dirt. Our dogs had dug a million holes in that dirt part so it was very uneven. That part took a couple hours.

2) Step two was to build a flower bed/retaining wall next to the house to create a border for the synthetic grass. We also wanted to have the flower beds, with irrigation, alongside the house so we would be watering our foundation. Keeping the soil around your foundation moist helps prevent foundation cracks.

To create the flower beds, we used spray paint to draw our rough outline in the existing dirt and the guys dug a 2" channel and filled it with decomposed granite to serve as a leveling base for the stone retaining wall. Once that was done, we placed the first layer of the stones - Pavestone Rumblestone in the cafe color and the trapezoid shape - on top of the leveling base.

Because the ground was uneven, they had to use a tamper and level every time they placed a stone to ensure the wall would be level from start to finish and that stones placed side by side would be perfectly level with one another.  You can see in the photos that the elevation changes as the retaining wall goes on, so they had to be very meticulous as they built the bottom layer. Just typing this makes my brain hurt and my patience wear thin. Thank goodness the husband is so detail oriented!

Once the first layer of the stone wall was done, they continued to stack the stones. Laying the first level of the stone took 90% of the effort, and the rest was really simple. It's a freestanding stone wall, which means we don't have any mortar or glue holding the stones together. The weight of the stone and the leveled nature of the wall are wait maintain the integrity of the structure.

That was Day 1. Because we have kids now and can't devote every minute to home projects, Scott would work all day every Saturday while I watched the kids. That went on for 6 weekends leading up to the big birthday party. Phew!

3) Once the stone wall was in place, Scott measured the remaining backyard to get the proper dimensions for the synthetic grass order. We purchased our turf from Synthetic Grass Pros, a local supplier. They were super helpful because Scott is nothing if not thorough - he asks A LOT of questions when he's taking on a big project like this. I know they were dubious about him doing it himself, but they answered all of his questions.

We found a synthetic grass that was on clearance because it had been discontinued (of course, you know we love a sale) so we ended up saving 55 cents per square foot. We bought 1,095 square feet, so buying the clearance turf saved us $600. Our total cost for the synthetic grass, including the actual grass, 36 50-lb bags of silica sand, composite edging for the grass borders and 1,000 galvanized 6" staples, was $2,680. If we had used Synthetic Grass Pros (who had reasonable pricing for installation -- we really shopped around) to install the grass, it would have been more than $7,000.

The next step was the lay metal edging that he bought from Home Depot to serve as the borders for the grass. You can see it in the bottom of the photo above. We went with a curve to mimic the curves of the flower beds and soften the hard corners of the deck. The edging runs alongside the deck and all along the iron fence separating our yard from the creek area.

4) Once the edging was in place, it was time to install the aggregate rock base on top of our existing dirt. The bottom layer is 1" gravel, also known as 57 stone in the rock-buying world, and we needed 10 tons of it to create a 2-3" layer for the entire synthetic grass area. They rented a plate compactor from Home Depot to compact the rock into a smooth surface. We bought our 57 stone, which is a crushed concrete, from Big City Crushed Concrete. It was very affordable - $250, including delivery. Scott had 3 former football players (perks of being a coach!) shoveling and wheelbarrowing the rock into the backyard. The more manpower, the better.

Note: This is another area where we saved money because Scott did a lot of research. Had we purchased 1" gravel that was actual stone, it would have been more expensive than the crushed concrete.

5) On top of the 57 stone, they laid a 1" layer of decomposed granite. Because this granite is so finely ground, it provides a smooth base for the grass. It packs down really well and is easy to form into a smooth surface while still allowing drainage. They used the plate compactor to tamp this layer down as well. 

5) This is not relevant to every project, but they had to switch gears to the wooden fence at this point and install a new border at the bottom because that needed to be finished before the grass could be installed. So many moving pieces!

6) Once the fence was ready, then it was time for the grass. SO exciting! The grass comes in 15 foot rolls and is cut to whatever length you request. I wonder what our neighbors were thinking when they realized we were carpeting our backyard!

Scott had a "cut list" where he diagramed all of his cuts to make sure he was cutting the turf in the most efficient way. That way he wasn't wasting any turf (basically throwing money away). It makes my brain hurt to explain it so let's just say it required much more patience and geometry skills than I could ever possess.

Are you wondering how Scott learned how to install synthetic grass? YouTube, duh! Every night I would find him watching videos about installing turf. What a geek, right? But this geek saved us thousands of dollars by doing this himself so he's basically the coolest geek in all the land. He's my hero. I married up.

His favorite YouTube resource for the synthetic grass installation was by Purchase Green Artificial Grass. They have a three-part series that he found very helpful:

  1. How to Install Artificial Grass - Part 1 - Sub-base Preparation
  2. Part 2 - Application
  3. Part 3 - Infill

If possible, install on a warm day so the material is more flexible. Always cut the black side, not the grass side. Change your blade more often than you think. Unroll the grass and let it sit for a few days, kind of like you need to do before installing hardwood floors, before you make any cuts. He didn't do that the first day and it was so much harder to cut than after her let it sit out flat for a while. 

The process involves rough-fitting the turf in place, stretching it out as best you can, stapling the seams every 3 inches (using a rubber mallet to nail the staples into the ground), and then make your exact cuts around the edges. Those edges are secured with staples every 3 inches.

I asked Scott how he would describe the process: "Labor-intensive. Tedious. Physically tiring."

Sounds like a blast!

Still, they kept chugging along. Our party was coming up quickly at this point. The pressure was on! 

Once the grass is cut and stapled, the next step is to install the infill. You apply about 2 lbs of silica sand per square foot on top of the grass, and you use a push broom to spread the sand around, going against the grain of the grass. The sand lifts the grass fibers, which had been flattened with the turf was rolled up, to look more realistic. It also weighs down the turf to prevent movement and make it feel a lot more like real grass.

I can't tell you how exciting it was to look out the playroom and see green grass back there instead of dirt. The green color was so bright and saturated - it was beautiful. 

Finally, the grass was installed! Now we just had a million other tasks to finish before the party. 

7) We decided to install flagstone on the other part of our backyard. We worked with our good friend Charley Hellmuth to get some gorgeous Oklahoma Silvermist flagstone and Tejas Black Gravel from DFW Stone Supply. Charley recommended we do the Silvermist instead of trying to match the old flagstone we already had (regular Oklahoma) and I'm so glad we did that because the grey tones look so nice with our grey-blue deck color. 

Flagstone installation is easier to install than turf, luckily. You still need decomposed granite on the bottom to create a level base, and then you lay the flagstone on top in your preferred pattern. You use the gravel to fill in the joints between the flagstone.  He also put a weed barrier between the decomposed granite and the flagstone to try to prevent any stubborn weeds from growing in between the stones in the future.

8) After the flagstone, they started working on the landscaping for the flower beds. We bought azaleas, hydrangeas, foxtail ferns, peonies and some ground cover plants that are all supposed to do well in shade or part sun. First the soil is laid, then the plants go in, then the irrigation is installed, and lastly the cedar mulch was applied. We hear that cedar is a natural insect repellant so we're hoping that helps during mosquito season. 

9) Because that wasn't enough work, Scott decided to rebuild the two fences on the side of the house. He patches the bad boards, added trim at the top and bottom and restained it. It looks so much better now. The dogs had really destroyed those fences.

Speaking of dogs, we have added this fence to create a dog run on the side of the house. They are no longer allowed to hang out in the nice part of the yard where the turf is. We have learned our lesson! The last part of this project is to lay turf in their dog run, but that will come later. 

Can we get to the good part, the glorious after pictures? Don't mind if I do!

It's probably the biggest home improvement project we've ever done. We spent a total of $8,250 when we added up the materials and labor. (Don't worry, we did actually pay those former football players for their hard work.) Of course that's not cheap, but we feel like we saved a fortune by doing it ourselves. We said all along that having a backyard was an investment for us that would be good for resale in the future because the previous dirt pit was such a terrible turn off. We felt comfortable spending the money, especially because our twins are almost a year old and they are at the perfect age to enjoy this backyard for many years. Also, it turns out that having twins really increases your tax return, so you better believe that check went straight to this project. Ha!

We are already enjoying our backyard so much in the past 5-6 days since we finished. It was SO worth it. It feels so great to have an outdoor space for playing and relaxing. It only took my brother and Scott a couple of minutes to bust out the golf clubs back there for some chipping contests, and the kids had so much fun playing out there during the twins first birthday (which I will write another HUGE blog post about). You can see the aftermath below. 

We are so glad we finally bit the bullet and installed synthetic grass. We couldn't be happier with our new backyard "carpet" and can't wait to break it in! 

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