It All Started With A Fence..The Finance / Simple Living Version

This is the story of how picking up some red picket fences led to traveling back in time to a “landmark” 50s diner…

A few weeks ago, my husband spotted a Craigslist ad for a small red fence. Our neighbors had small white picket fences throughout their yard and he thought this would add a nice decorative touch for our backyard, too. The seller, who we shall call J., mentioned that she also had some planters. Would he be interested? Knowing that I’ve wanted planters for a while, he said yes and we were off to haul some fencing and planters.

Here comes the “Litte did we know…” part.

The red fences turned out to be more substantial and better-looking than tiny decorative fences. They were high enough to enclose our dogs, under supervision, and low enough to be decor. And a few planters turned out to be more than 10, many of them large terracotta and several with plants. J. and her equally generous husband lived in a rural part of suburban Tarzana (yes, such a place exists!) that is zoned for horses and lifestock. Among their menagerie were 3 dogs, roosters, chickens and 2 elderly pot-belled pigs. They were moving out in 5 days and in this economy, few people were remodeling or buying. After we loaded up the fencing and some of the planters, they started unloading..

Do you want pavers? Do you want chicken wire? Do you want a bird bath? Here’s two-years worth of toothpaste. Do you take baths? A ‘yes’ results in a box of bath salts and essential oils. Do you want more planters? On the second to last trip, my husband gave them a onion and rosemary foccacia, which opened the floodgates even further.

He returned with more planters, plants, lumber, tomato cages, paint, garden tools and a wheelbarrow! With all this new building material and planters, we embarked on a major garden redo and expansion. This is still in progress..

For the food blog version, click here.

Since this is the simple living / money version, I’m continuing with the renovation details…

Through the years, we’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, on our yard. We’ve planted bushes, vines and flowers (including many that didn’t make it through the harsh LA summers), bought a lawnmower and various gardening tools, built fences and a dog kennel etc… Not to mention that regular maintenance and yearly brush clearance of this huge space would cost thousands per year if my husband didn’t do it. Despite the costs, it’s worthwhile if you enjoy it and we have.

In recent years, however, we’ve decided to allocate our spending more wisely. That’s where planters and free lumber come in.  As anyone who ever spends time at Home Depot knows, good lumber and fencing materials are not cheap!

Here’s the estimated cost of everything we got free:
$400 – 10 large terracotta planters (many with plants)
$200 – lumber, 3 red picket fences, misc fencing
$100 – misc nails, chicken wire, weed mesh, paint, etc..
$70 – stone pavers
$70  – wheelbarrow
$200 – 36 tubes of natural toothpaste
$50  – misc natural bath soaps, oils and tshirts
$1,090 total

I think this is a pretty good estimate considering I probably low-balled some items, over-valued others and have left items off the list completely.

On Sunday, we spent 2 hours clearing tree branches and debris (among other yard and household chores!)  We were planning to move a fence but decided to pace ourselves. Too tired to cook, we ended up at a diner that is stuck in time — the 50s to be exact with a dash of 70s tackiness thrown in, courtesy of popcorn ceilings and dark faux wood.

We were not in a neighborhood know for good dining unless you’re in the mood for Mexican and we were not in that mood (at least I wasn’t). In the middle of the non-descript San Fernando Valley landscape, we saw a neon sign over a one-story diner with ample parking.   We pulled in.

The hostess was an old white-haired woman that you would expect at an old-fashioned out-of-the-way diner. Our waitress and the cooks were Hispanic, presumably Mexican but you can never assume.  We sat at a booth with dark red vinyl seating and a fake wood table.  The movie “Hitch” played on a TV and we watched Kevin James doing ‘funny’ dance moves (fat person + dancing = hilarity, right?). Above every booth were Tiffany-style lamps that casted a garish yellow light, giving every customer an eerie glow.  The few customers were all very old, including an elderly white man wearing a white cowboy hat. Perhaps unaware there were customers, a waiter poured a foul-smelling cleaner on the floors and  mopped around us and everyone else. While I was dumbstruck by our surroundings, my husband started looking at the thousand-item menu.

Except for the Mexican foods, the menu was stuck in the 50s — a time when people ate steak and potatoes and salad consisted of iceberg lettuce, 2 slices of tomatoes and bottled ranch dressing.  I know people still eat like this but this is Los Angeles in the year 2009. There were two menus actually. Imagine a list of food choices, none with descriptions or pictures, that covered at least 10 pages total — lots of steak, sandwiches, soups, salads, meat loaf, turkey, an assortment of Mexican specialties plus breakfast foods like omelettes, pancakes, sausages etc..

My husband selected a steak sandwich. Since I was overwhelmed by the choices, I just ordered the same thing.  Fortunately the steak turned out to be rather large and juicy. The onion rings were decent. The salad was the one I mentioned above. The prices were not cheap considering the locale. I think we spent $52 including tax and tip.

As we were paying, my husband noticed a framed newspaper article about this “landmark” diner. An old menu was posted, too. Back in 1953, steak costed 53 cents; many items were 15 cents! The man at the register turned out to be the owner and he was quite happy to tell us a bit about his restaurant. He was a nice man but I don’t think we’ll be back.

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4 responses to “It All Started With A Fence..The Finance / Simple Living Version

  1. Pingback: The Battle Between Simplicity and Frugality « Oilandgarlic's Blog

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  3. Pingback: Simple Living, Italian Style « Oilandgarlic's Blog

  4. Pingback: Simple Living…Enjoy The Backyard « Oilandgarlic's Blog

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