My very inexpensive DIY project is finished. It's true: necessity is the mother of invention. At least for this mom. After contacting several professionals about building a small deck or concrete patio outside my back door, I determined that the only way the old cracked paving stones could be replaced and the space upgraded was if I did it myself. Some companies told me the job was too small, others told me it was too big. The only company that agreed to come out and take a look, quoted me a price that was twice my budget. Then they seemed to back pedal and talk about how they'd be losing money if they accepted the job. Really? After a week, I decided that I was done begging people to take my money and do an honest day's work. I did it myself.
My new pea gravel patio space is not elegant. It's not even very practical. But it looks a lot better than the uneven 2'x2' squares with who knows what growing in between. At least this new treatment looks intentional and uniform. It would have taken heavy equipment to level the space--so I used a medium that worked with the sloping surface instead of against it.
It wasn't easy--I had to work during nap times and after putting the boys to bed at night. (I worked until 9 pm on the night of my birthday and only stopped because I was sure the neighbors would start complaining about the noise.) I had to return to the home store multiple times for more gravel and more edging. I carried at least fifteen 50 lb bags of stones from car to the backyard. There were many moments of "what do I think I'm doing?" But once I started I couldn't quit. For a grand total of $85, I'm very pleased with the end result.
There are many more jobs like this around the house. Most are too big for me or outside my expertise but if I continue to meet with resistance from professionals, I'll teach myself some new skills this fall.