So, what all did we do? First, we laid a small stone patio off the back of the raised one. Then, we landscaped all around it with crepe myrtles on the west end (which we hope will, in the not-too-distant future, provide shade in the late afternoon and evenings), encore azaleas, firepower nandinas, and mountain snow pierises. We bought urns for the top of the columns and large pots for the stone patio, and we filled them with gorgeous red geraniums.
Of course, this patio-laying and landscaping required multiple trips to Home Depot in Cabot, where we loaded stones, and retaining wall blocks, and capstones, and edging stones onto carts, then loaded them into the back of the truck, then unloaded them from the back of the truck, then lugged them into place (or at least I lugged--my husband seemed to find it much easier to move all that heavy stuff).
A lot of work, but you know the upside? You can skip your weightlifting that day without feeling any guilt. You get a good tan. You feel a great sense of satisfaction when you survey the work that you've done, and that good feeling returns every time you enjoy the new outdoor living space you've created. And, you save a lot of money.
Another thing-- After several consecutive years of intense mental labor, it felt really good to spend a couple of weeks doing physical work instead. Although both types of work are hard, honorable, and make you tired, the tiredness is very different. When I spend whole days reading and/or writing I may accomplish a lot, but at the end of the day my brain is exhausted, my eyes won't focus, and my body feels awful. I usually have a headache, and I'm kind of sick to my stomach. Often, I don't sleep very well--I keep waking up thinking about what I haven't finished or some new idea that suddenly pops into my head. On the other hand, after a day of physical labor, my muscles may ache, but it's a good feeling. My vision's sharp, my head's clear, and nobody has to rock me to sleep.
Here are the results of our labors: