Have you ever seen the TV show King of the Hill?

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via Fanpop.com

In case you haven’t, the picture above is a common scene in the show–Hank Hill and his buddies hanging out at the end of his driveway, behind a fence.

I never really understood where these guys were in this scene until I moved to the Dallas suburbs.

King of the Hill is set in the fictional town of Arlen, Texas, which was modeled after the very Dallas suburbs where I now live. What you see in the show photo is a depiction of “The Alley”– a phenomena local to the Dallas burbs where all houses are built with rear garages and driveways.  All driveways are accessed by a central alley that winds like a maze behind the streets of homes.  I am sure there is some point behind why our whole area is designed this way, but I can’t say I am a fan.

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This is my own alleyway, and unlike in King of Hill, rarely is it ever a hang-out place for neighbors. In fact, I firmly believe that the alleys promote the exact opposite kind of activity–neighbors sneaking in and out of their houses unnoticed and unseen.

I grew up a traditional, small southern town (with normal driveways in the front, not alleys) and we knew all of our neighbors.  I ran up and down my whole street playing with neighborhood kids while my parents visited other parents by the mailboxes.

I really miss that.  We just don’t have the kind of neighborhood feel here where I live.  I do believe part of it is due to the alleys, but I’m willing to bet that even if you live in a “normal” neighborhood, you may be experiencing a similar distance from your neighbors.

A 2010 study by the Pew Research center found that 57% of Americans know few or little of their neighbors’ names.  No King of the Hill hanging out, drinking beer action here . . . we don’t even know who our neighbors are!

Our culture is moving more and more towards isolation, towards staying held up inside the fortress of your own home, creating Strangerhoods rather than Neighborhoods.

I don’t like it it all.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  Last fall, we started working on replacing our backyard fence.  We have 4 sections of fence, and while all were in bad shape, 2 sections were basically falling down–the section we share with our neighbor and the section that formed the front boundary of our backyard.

The trend in new fences in Texas is to build board on board, 8 ft. tall (yes, I said 8 feet!) privacy fences for your yard.

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They really end up looking more like fortress walls that fences.  And the gates are always padlocked. You are considered flat out crazy if you don’t padlock your gate.

Since our neighbor was graciously splitting the cost of replacing the fence we share, we agreed to her wishes of putting up one of these giant fences.  As soon as it was finished though I felt claustrophobic;  I couldn’t see the trees and housetops around me anymore.  I felt trapped in my own, tiny backyard.

So my husband and I decided to do something radical (by Dallas suburb standards) to help ease my feeling of being penned in like a farm animal.

We decided on the other part of the fence we were replacing (the part that formed the front barrier of our yard), our plan would be to to take the privacy fence completely away and replace it with a short, open, picket fence.

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See the giant wall of new wood on the right?  That is the 8 ft giganto fence.  That red one in the background is the fence we removed.

And really, look at how much fun we have in our yard!  The world needs to be invited in on this fun.

So down came the privacy fence, and up went this little beauty:

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Now this is still a fence in progress, but you get the idea.  Not only did we shorten the fence, but we also moved the fence up towards the front to add more area to our technical “backyard”.  We also made sure to add an easy to use, child-friendly gate, so my kids could come and go from front yard to back as they like.

What?  No padlocked gate?  Child-friendly access to the front yard?  Am I crazy?

Remember I said I grew up running all up and down my street playing with all of the neighborhood kids?  I so long for my own children to have that same experience.

And yes, it’s true that today’s world isn’t quite as safe and innocent as the world of the 80’s I grew up in, but I live in the 9th safest city in America.  And I’m not talking about giving my kids free roam of the entire neighborhood, just our front yard and sidewalk.

So as we started taking down and rebuilding the new, short fence, neighbors started to notice. People walking their dogs would slow down and peer into our backyard.  Kids that live near us would show up to play with my boys, asking to come swing on our swingset. Friends would show up at random and we would chat over the fence.

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It may sound cheesy, but I feel like our little fence revolution just may be bringing back a little life into our Strangerhood.

My husband built the picket fence himself, using leftover cedar planks from the big fence project, just cut in half.  This past week we finally were able to finish trimming the gate and pickets and staining the fence.

Here is how it looks now:

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Finished just in time to use as a photo backdrop for that great neighboring event of Halloween Trick or Treating 🙂

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I am so grateful for Thompson’s WaterSeal for providing the Timber Oil to use as the fence stain and sealer.

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W applied the Timber Oil with a sprayer and it went on beautifully.  I like that it is a natural product and that the triple blend of oils penetrates into the wood to nourish and protect from the inside out. We plan on finishing out our large fence later this fall with the same product.

We chose the Walnut color out of the 5 colors available. Look how beautiful the dark tones are.

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And I have a place now to hang some pretty flower boxes 🙂

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Yes, you can see all of my kid, playtime paraphernalia through this fence, but I don’t mind.  I want people as they pass by to see my yard and know that for sure, life is being lived in our house.  We are not held up in our fortress backyard, zipping in and out unnoticed of our alley garages, but rather taking the risk of opening up the life of our family to those that live around us.  My hope is that those people will start to open up their lives to us as well.

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So as the weather cools off and the holidays approach, will you go be a neighbor?  Can you do something to help your surroundings go from a Strangerhood to a Neighborhood again?

Good fences make good neighbors, but short fences make the best 🙂

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Disclosure:  Fence sealing Timber Oil provided by Thompson’s WaterSeal.  All opinions on the product are my own. 

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