After making some major headway on realizing my dream backyard yesterday, I was too exhausted to remember to post.
Here is a before are some pictures of the transformation:
October 2015 (hired a company to do this)
what's been done since then
Yesterday, with the help of friends and family, I cleared the big rectangular area which had become covered in weeds, laid weed fabric, positioned the beds and filled in the gravel. We started on the soil, but it was getting dark and I needed to clean off the sod cutter and take it back to home depot.