Since moving into my first apartment in 1990, I’ve had this rickety hand-me-down stereo cabinet that my friend gave me. It was one of those things that I appreciated (since I had no furniture whatsoever) but over time, and numerous types of stereo components & televisions sets, I grew dissatisfied with it but Ray and I are kind of utilitarian when it comes to functional furniture. It served its purpose. Why replace it?

Over the years, I just ignored the ugly entertainment center. It was that 80’s cheap black lacquer with fake gold piping that just screamed to have a Nagel print hung over it.  One day, it really began to bother me.  That’s when Ray and I got a 42 inch plasma television. It was way too big to fit in the unit so we sat it on top. All you could see behind it was wires!

This past year, I ditched most of my components for a Mac Mini — basically turning the TV into a computer/media center. We ditched cable/satellite when we left Chicago. We recently got rid of XM/Sirius and started using Pandora and all the free iTunes streaming stations. I also ripped our entire CD collection into iTunes which is stored on an external 1 terabyte drive (actually, I’m still in the process of that task).

It’s so funny, I used to want to show off my stereo system. I had amps, tuners, turntables, reel-to-reel and cassette decks, CD & DVD players, VHS and S-VHS as well as other assorted components. I also had ginormous speakers. It was all about the components.

On New Year’s Day, Ray and I made a stop at Ikea after seeing our friends Chuck and Jeff’s new stereo cabinet. The series is called BESTÅ/FRAMSTÅ. It’s a bunch of modular pieces that you choose to make a custom entertainment center. All in all, we spent less than $300 for a total overhaul of our entertainment system. Now we just have a cabinet, TV and a wireless keyboard & mouse. All the “guts” are hidden behind the cabinet doors. Funny, we did keep the turntable. Even though we have tons of CDs, we still have a lot of albums that get spun now and again.

Now it’s like having a kick-ass jukebox. Just open a web browser and watch Netflix, YouTube or Hulu (in full screen). Pop in a DVD and the Mac Mini will play it. The mini has an optical Dobly 5.1 surround sound ouput. Switch from the media room speakers to the house speakers and play a CD from the library or listen to Pandora or ITunes radio. Play a record if you want to! There’s also a Wii system! Suddenly (and cheaply), the TV room just got a whole lot cooler.

Here are some photos (presented in order) of our media center project. Kudos to Ray for adding the cabinet door handles. We’re going to buy one more panel for the top and raise the TV a little bit.

Ray and I decided to have an island built in the center of our driveway.  After careful consideration, Ray decided that we could just do it ourselves.  We had absolutely no idea what we were doing but hey, why not give it a try?  This post is a continuation from Part 1.

After mapping out the desired kidney bean shape, we had 5 tons of boulders delivered, Ray and I put the biggest ones around the perimeter and the smaller boulders around the inside for support.
After getting the framework set up, we dug a small trench and ran heavy gauge wire from our low voltage lighting system located in the garage.  (I tend to do the electric stuff.)

Ray placed CMU blocks in two diagonal rows inside of the shape to support what will become rock cliffs.  A few days later, ten tons of dirt was delivered.  We had the option to get mediocre dirt and place a layer of good soil on top but we decided to fill the entire island with all the good stuff.

The truck was too big to maneuver around the island itself so Ray had them dump the leftover right next to the side where he shoveled it all into the island by hand.  After shaping the mounds in the dirt, we planted the standard desert plants (Texas sage, barrel cactus, etc.  We also planted a Palo Verde tree).  Then we added the outdoor lights and several loads of gravel for the top.

Picture 049
And now we have and island in the driveway.  Since we love to name everything and it was right around the fall Equinox when we finished, we dubbed it, “The Isle of Equinox”.   Now we have to move on to the next project.

Ray and I have a very long driveway.  It’s kind of curvy so when you get home, the mesquite trees close up in your rear-view mirror sealing off your frazzled memories of the the workday.

When you drive up closer to the house,  the driveway gets very wide.  It’s a big open space with no character.  We decided that an island in the driveway would be a nice feature for the approach to the house as well as something to see from the inside.  Ray called a few places for estimates and then quickly realized that we could do it ourselves — what a surprise!

IMG_0562The first thing to do was map out the shape and size of the island.  We wanted something organic so we chose a kidney bean shape.

The overall idea is to have the main island and then a second smaller tier off to one side.  We are going to run low voltage Malibu lighting to illuminate the mesquite tree we plan to put there.

Since its location is far away from the garden hose, we plan to plant drought resistant plants as well as a few succulents.

After creating the shape, Ray figured out how many rocks we would need.  The outer wall will be created with one hundred pound boulders that are about 14 inches in diameter.  Last weekend, we went to Cochise Stone and, well, went rock shopping.  This morning, we had quite a delivery.


Taking measurements.


Delivery day!


5 tons of boulders.

This weekend, we have a bunch of other stuff to do but I have a feeling that we’ll be moving boulders around on Sunday. Hey, it’s a start!

I’m trying something new on my blog – categories!  I have marked this entry under Home Improvement since Ray and I are always doing things around the house.

Check back later for updates to this project.