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Friday, June 1, 2012

Stepping it Up

Almost 2 years ago I was large (37 weeks large to be exact) with my 5th and FINAL child. It was a warm October day and I had just woken up from a blissful afternoon nap. I decided to slice up an apple and join my husband picking raspberries in the backyard. I proceeded down the stairs to the back patio, walked along the 2 ft. retaining wall that surrounded the patio, and stepped down into the grass to make my way to the raspberry beds. As I stepped off the retaining wall my foot landed in a divot in the grass. Which, caused my ankle to roll. Thus, propelling my large pregnant body off the wall and to the ground. When I put out my left arm to brace for impact I was shocked to hear a snap and then felt my arm crumple under me. As it turns out, one arm is not meant to support the weight of a 37 week pregnant body as it comes crashing to the ground. The humorous bone in my arm had shattered into 7 pieces and it wasn't very humorous :). One healthy baby, a five hour surgery, 3 plates, 24-30 screws, 3 more subsequent surgeries, and a year of physical therapy later I now have a left arm that still hasn't regained feeling in the ring and pinkie fingers but, works pretty good. And, I have two wicked awesome scars that are a constant reminder that, yes, in fact, I do all my own stunts.
 So, needless to say, I have had it out for the retaining wall in my back yard ever since. I decided to finally take matters into my own hands and incorporate stairs into the wall for the sake of gravity impaired people like myself.

 You will need:
  • A shovel
  • Garden gloves
  • Wheel barrow
  • A level
  • Hammer/sledge hammer
  • Masonry Chisel
  • notched trowel
  • heavy duty sponge to scrub tile
  • tile
  • mortar
  • determination
  To begin you will need to deconstruct the section of the wall where you would like your stairs to go. There is going to be a lot of digging involved so I would suggest having a shovel and a wheel barrow to put the extra dirt in. I began by making my stairs two blocks high, two blocks wide, and two blocks deep. Shovel out the dirt for stairs foundation and check for level before you start putting down the  base stair blocks. As you work on each stair riser you can begin to angle the blocks (the ones that will frame your stairs) of the retaining wall in; making a gentle curve. For the second stair riser I laid them 11 1/2 inches back (deep); creating a descent size surface for a foot to land. Then just keep stacking the blocks of the stairs and curving the outside blocks of the wall.

To make sure the retaining wall that frames the stairs is even you will need to break some bricks to use for the end pieces.  To learn how to do this watch the video at this link:  Breaking blocks

For the stairs treads, I explored several different options but decided on using slate. I went to the tile department of home depot and purchased 12x12'' square tiles of natural slate. They were $1.48 each. So much cheaper than buying the slate pieces in the garden center. I then walked down to the lumber department, found the aisle with all the bags of cement, and asked them to point me toward the exterior grade mortar; for laying tile outside. The mortar was approximately $13 per bag. When I got the tiles home I took the hammer and my aggressions to the slate tile and broke it into various size pieces; so that I could lay the tile on the stair treads in a mosaic fashion. Finally, I would suggest doing a dry run with your tile pieces (before you mix up the mortar) on the stair treads to make sure everything fits nicely. Especially since the mortar is a quick set mortar.

Once you have put down your mortar and laid the tile, mix up another batch of mortar to use for your tile grout. Once you have smeared the grout into all the cracked and crevices use a large tile sponge to wipe of excess "grout". Continue to do this; rinsing the sponge out in a clean bucket of water; until the tile is wiped clean and there isn't any excess mortar. Then let is cure.

As a side note: the mortar can also be used directly over dirt to lay a tile path. Which is what I did from the top step to the patio. Now all that is left is to seal the tile.
No more hoping off the retaining wall for me....we've got stairs!!

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