Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Da roof.

As many of you may know, I had a minor run-in with a metal extension ladder last summer resulting in a rather dramatic injury in which my left arm stuck out the right side of my head. With surgery and therapy and recovery largely behind me I find one lasting effect most frustrating. No one...NO ONE....wants to let me climb a ladder anymore. I've even had friends take my arm to walk me up a landing of stairs like a little old lady with 2 bum hips and wobbly knees. In my defense, may I just say that the ground was super wet and sloggy when my ladder lost its grip on the earth and sent me skydiving? I wasn't monkeying around or foolishly stretching to reach something beyond a safe range. I didn't say "Hey guys! Look what I can do!" before attempting some foolish Cirque Du Soleil-esque acrobatics. I climbed a stable ladder to paint the trim on my lovely little local pub and gravity, nature, and one evil ladder conspired against me. That's all.
As I mentioned in my previous post, dad won't let me on the roof much because of my perceived issues with low-atmosphere flight. For a couple of long weeks, I tried to help him put the wood sheeting up for the metal roof to lay on top of. As you may well imagine, it's not easy to help roof from the ground and dad quickly became an "expert" at working alone. I felt useless but not enormously bothered as The Professor's methods of getting things done often left much to be desired in the safety department. Many are the sheets of wood that went sailing through the sky and down the hill to lay dejectedly among the pine straw because dad lost his grip  or tried to drag too many pieces up at once. A few peaceful afternoons were probably shattered for people in neighboring counties as the sound of boards clattering combined with dad's shouts of a rather colorful nature echoed through the woods. 
He finally completed the foundation for the roof right before I was set to leave for Scotland for a couple weeks. It looked great and set the stage for a gorgeous rustic red metal I chose for my roof. Having finished the "hard part" of roofing, I left for my trip happy in the knowledge that I would return to a roofed house, an exciting and mind-relieving prospect in rainy, wet Mississippi. 
I wasn't in Scotland more than a day or two when I called my mom to check in only to hear the pre-emptive warning we had so often greeted her with, "Now, don't worry. Everything is okay but...." 
Seriously, my mom heard these words enough times that it's a miracle she didn't develop some kind of nervous disorder as they always proceeded a bleeding child zombie-walking up the driveway or a flattened car being towed into the yard or the question which every parent loves to hear, "Can they sew ears back on?" Honestly. 
My heart rate increased when she said those words. "Don't worry...." My son, after all, was in her care and can be something of a daredevil himself. No, she told me, The Kiddo is a-o-k. My dad had been placing sheet metal and took a fall. Rather than plummet from the roof to the world below, he grabbed at the tin roof. He probably saved himself a world of hurt and maybe even his life. He did, however, make a good start at chopping a finger off. 
Bleeding and sweaty, he had presented the gore to my mom, God bless her, and they had discovered together that his finger would not be coerced into moving at his command. He had severed tendons in his finger which, if not repaired, would have left him with a permanently straight middle finger. You can imagine the trouble that may cause a man when raising an otherwise clenched fist. Perpetually flipping people off is not the best idea in our society. So...surgery was scheduled while I was still snuggled into a crisp Scottish world away from lumber and nailguns and toolbelts and 100 degree mornings. 
By the time I made my return crossing over the Atlantic Ocean dad was in recovery and almost ready to begin physical therapy on his poor wounded paw and a crew of builders was hired to finish the roof that apparently neither of us was up to. 
I would never celebrate the injury of a loved one or revel in the vindication that comes from someone struggling with the very thing they judged you for. I will admit, though, that I have rather savored the occasional chance to take a jab at my dad for trying out a similarly graceless and dramatic skydive to my own accident. No one tells me I can't climb a ladder anymore, for fear that Gravity will hear and get them back in my defense. 
What it comes to, in the end, is a house...with a roof and a man who doesn't have to flip the bird for the rest of his life. Although....this post may tempt him to show his youngest, dear daughter his injured finger just for good measure. Sorry, doc. Turnabout is, afterall, fair play. 

Glad I chose a dark red roof. Hides the bloodstains. :) 

The trusses.

My dad won't let me use a chainsaw, he won't let me on a roof with a pitch any steeper than an Iowa prairie, and he won't let me drive the big tractor in its highest gear. He will, however, tell me to stand on a 6 inch wide wall, 8 feet in the air, and fly 300 pound, 30 foot wide trusses at me with a forklift, with the shouted admonition, "CATCH!".
The day we began putting up the trusses on the house was one of the most nerve wracking of my life. It seemed, beforehand, like it would be the most important day since pouring the foundation, the day the house went from being a squatty little set of single story walls to being a towering giant with a distinctly house-shape. I could hardly sleep the night before. Once the trusses were delivered and in lovely neat stacks around the job site I was ready to see them float gently into place and be nailed and braced calmly and serenely by dad and I.
The reality, as it turned out, was not nearly such a smooth, delightful step in our journey.
We had rented a forklift that could fly something roughly the size of a C-130 to roughly the height of the Sears Tower. Or...that's how it seemed to me on the ground when it was extended all the way up with one of my beautiful trusses swaying precariously from the forks high above me among my stand of lanky pine trees. I have never had a fear of heights when I am the object above the earth. Watching things hover overhead from a great height is a different story. I spent that first day envisioning myself squashed like Wile E. Coyote beneath the Acme anvil of Roadrunner's wrath.
What we imagined would take us 3 or 4 days took us nearly 2 and a half weeks and repeated calls to the rental store begging an additional day or two with the forklift. I began to suspect that dad was just becoming attached to such great heavy machinery and was stalling so he could keep it. Ultimately, that was a rather expensive little love affair but one that saved us from having to call the Amish community in north Mississippi to beg for help in raising the rafters. Just as well. I think my tattoos and divorcee status combined with dad's proclivity toward salty language and my brother's tendency to be shirtless and sporting a plumber's butt may have thrown a few Amishpeople into a crisis of faith. Who would want to be responsible for that? Not I.
Willing helpers did drift in and out of those weeks and made my survival and the preservation of dad's mental health possible, not to mention the fact that, after all was said and done, I had a house-shaped structure on a hill, ready for roofing.
If I had to do over, I would hire a crew and hide under my bed until the trusses were in place. Hopefully...HOPEFULLY...I won't ever have to place another truss as long as I live. To borrow one of my mom's favorite expressions: "Lord willing and the creek don't rise..."
Here's a few pics of before, during and after:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Random photos to accompany stories. Haven't figured out how to get them in the right places. SORRY!

Sister, mom, me. Under the finished trusses. Finally!

Seamus. The sweet pup we lost.

Stairs to replace the wobbly ladder as route to 2nd floor.

Hot pink lumber. 

Back porch with finished roof.

Front porch with finished roof and beginnings of porch floor.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Of fire, plague, and calamity.

I haven't written lately because I hate recounting bad news. Opposite from the drama queen tendency toward whining and complaining and telling sob stories is the desire to put one's head down and soldier on. I have really tried to cultivate the latter in the past few years, sometimes to the detriment of friendships. People who love you tend to want to know if you've fallen from a building or caught leprosy or gone to rehab for shoe shopping addiction.
In the last month I would have welcomed the chance to tell of shoe shopping rehab or my exciting leprosy treatments. A few minor calamities have piled up and managed to take the wind out of my sails.
In case you care, here's the lowdown:


Burning the knoll sounds like something you should see a dermatologist for. It isn't, though. Life in the pine belt means dealing with a blanket of pine straw pretty much everywhere. We should have done a controlled burn before we broke ground on the house but it was easy to add that to the list of things that could wait. On a clear, calm, early morning in May we decided to go ahead and burn off the undergrowth and pine straw that had built up over the last few years.
We raked and shovelled and minded half a dozen fires until the whole hill was nearly clean. Mom showed up, as she tends to do, at just the right moment bearing fruit smoothies and cheese and crackers and avacados for a mid-morning picnic. We lay in the grass of the pasture just in front of the knoll and cooled off and relaxed as the wind picked up around us. Mid-bite dad jumped up and shouted to drag out the hoses. The fire had restarted and jumped its boundaries. It swooped quickly in the wind dangerously close to our beloved and much used tractor. I jumped on, started it and backed it as far from the fire as the clearing would allow, then grabbed a shovel and began wrestling the dozen tiny fires into submission. As the kiddo and my dad hosed and raked and stomped, I shovelled and beat at the blazes. A particularly big gust of wind blew embers down the back of my shirt and into my eyes. I leaned against a tree to put the sparks in my shirt out and blinked wildly to clear my eyes.
Finally, we had it out and hose puddles around all the hot spots until the steaming stopped.
If only that had been the end of the story. I went to close my eyes for a bit in the hottest part of the day, hoping my eyes would feel better. Dad got some work done at his house. In an amazing serendipidous twist, my mom and sister-in-law went to sit on my parent's back porch, closest to the creek that seperates our properties. Hearing an explosion and seeing black smoke they realized that the fire, with an amazing, stubborn persistance, had fought its way back to life and taken over the knoll.
By the time they and dad and my brother had raced over, the fire had burned many of dad's best power tools, a chainsaw, our picnic table, the hoses which we had thought had completely put the fire out, paints and woodstains, a case of liquid nails, my dad's good camera, toolbelt and gloves, and various other jobsite fodder. Miraculously, it had only approached his trusty Ford farm truck close enough to melt the headlight but not cause any damage which would render it unsuitable for use. And my farm truck was across the creek awaiting a trip to the dump.
Over dinner, The Professor had sagely and a little sadly related the wisdom: "Sometimes the most important lessons are the most expensive ones."
"Isn't it the cost of the lesson that makes it an important one?", I asked.
In true always-the-educator form, he replied, "That's what I said."
Hmm. Either great minds think alike or mediocre minds BS similarly.
The next day, still seeing black clouds in my left eye, I went to the doctor who found I had done some minor damage to the surface of my eye. After cleaning it up, administering gooey purple drops to it, he put an adhesive bandage over it followed by a very Errol Flynn black eyepatch. Suddenly I felt naked without my blunderbus and peg leg.
I won't say that I loved piping at Memorial Day observances with an eyepatch but I will admit to having had a bit of fun telling the story of my injury (you know the story...in which I rescued orphans from a charging elephant in Mogadishu, losing my eye but saving so many lives) to a group of soldiers gathered around the guns which would fire their salute after I played Amazing Grace between the memorial monuments.
I only wish that when the eyepatch finally came off I had been able to stop saying "Arrrgh" at the end of all my sentences.

The day after the eyepatch came off, a virus swept through our family turning us all into fevered, coughing zombies within hours. I could try to write about the week of being sick but my fever addled brain was probably back in Mogadishu with the elephants or watching the bugs dance on the ceiling. Suffice it to say, less work was accomplished than we had aimed to get done. The kiddo's virus settled into his asthma-affected lungs and turned into pneumonia, my cough settled into a very respectable immitation of Doc Holliday and his poor consumptive hacking. Dad fought to work through his sickness and wore himself out each morning before most people were even out of bed.
With the delivery of the trusses looming ahead of us we dosed ourselves with massive amounts of vitamin C, ate our chicken soup and gradually returned from our zombie-like states.

Finally well and 2 days from truss delivery, we were scrambling to finish the timber framing portion of the house and stain as much wood siding as we could before things really started kicking into high gear. Happily working the morning away, we were interupted when my sweet pup, Seamus, was hit and killed by the garbage truck.
Mercifully, he didn't suffer and couldn't have known what happened. Still, I am devastated. As a rescue pup with some health problems due to neglect, my only goal for him was happiness and health. He had turned into so much greater a dog than I had expected and he was a perfect counterpart to my female Australian Shepherd, Ripley.
After having a cry kneeling on the dirt road next to him, I let mom and dad help take him to the orchard on the corner of the pasture to be buried. Growing up I had a pet cemetary behind our barn that held all the menagerie of animals that a family of stray rescuers would love and inevitably lose over a lifetime in a home. I never imagined I would begin such a graveyard so soon at the new house. We live so far from traffic and danger that I imagined my pups would grow old here.
Funnily, we noticed while staining the beams for the porch and all the siding for the house that the pecan color the wood turned as it dried was the exact color of Seamus's coat. We had joked he would match the house when sleeping on the porch. I will be glad of the reminder of his smiling little face running through the pasture. I only wish he could've lived in the house with us.
R.I.P. Seamus. We love and miss you!

Which brings us to today. After a week of working long shifts on each side of the dangerously hot hours of the day, dad (and to a lesser extent, I) have everything in place to stand the timber frame section up, place the last wall in its spot, and begin raising the trusses with the help of every able-bodied sucker we could recruit. Tomorrow will be the most exciting day since the foundation was poured. I am nervous, excited, and more than a little bit prayerful. Smooth sailing is exactly what we need right now.
This morning, reflecting back on the previous month, The Sage Professor told me "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I couldn't help wondering silently if I could throw my hammer just hard enough to make him stronger....

More soon. Prayers and safe thoughts appreciated tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guest Blogger: The Kiddo

I have quickly discovered that the energy required to build a house does not leave much of a reserve of energy to fuel the creative fires necessary to convey via blog the story of building said house. In fact, I can't even muster the strength to edit the opening sentence of this post. So, in an attempt to keep you, The Reader, somewhat up-to-date, I have invited a guest blogger to briefly tell about our work today.
He is The Kiddo. The Man in my Life. Der Wunderkind. My 12 year old son. Since no one edits my posts I am giving him the same liberty. Lord knows what he'll have to say.
Without further ado, River the Guest Blogger:

The sheer lunacy of giftwrapping the house passed un-noticed by my esteemed...colleagues, and so it came to pass that we were
covering the house with plastic sheets. Pop used a strange unit of measurement called a "rip-snort" to measure how tight the
material was ("it has to be "rip-snortin tight"), and then mom and he proceeded to nail it in place (with me holding the
sheets up, of course) with nails with large plastic caps on them, presumably to make them stand straight up, so they go into
your foot when you step on them. I have recently passed the limits of my last tetanus shot, and I ain't gettin another one
anytime soon. Pop says that we must wrap the house because something called OSB can't get wet, but I am pretty darn sure it
is just particle board being sold with a fancy name to scam us. Also, a good deal of our processed lumber from lowes is
painted pink, for no easily explicable reason. I have no doubt that Mom has mentioned this previously on this "blog." I
attempted to assume a role as supervisor, but my mother has relegated me to petty jobs, such as picking up trash, or holding
the plastic as mentioned before. I begin to believe that my mother and grandfather are insane. On other notes, I have been
allowed to write in pencil on the boards that will be covered in drywall, so that when, 24 thousand years in the future, when
 strange alien archaeologists unearth the last remains of the earth, they will know exactly what our family crest is, and
when it was built. Pop has also purchased me a ship's porthole on E-BAY, as one of my windows in the new house. I may start
my own blog to chronicle Me and my Uncle's building of a diving bell, which will certainly be more interesting than the
building of a mere house. Captain's blog, out.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pausing for Africa.

I promised myself that, within the two weeks that we were forced to pause building due to a work trip to South Africa for dad, I would fully update the blog. Dad is now in the air between Memphis and Mississippi and I have yet to put fingertips to keyboard. (Pen to paper has such a nicer ring to it!). So, here I sit, with a cup of South African tea, funnily enough....trying to wrap my tired brain around all the progress we have made since last I wrote.


Although it sounds vaguely like some wild 60's protest, roughing-in the plumbing for the house had very little in common with a Sit-In, Love-In ...or Laugh-In, for that matter. Between the plumber who couldn't keep his pants hitched and who had a tendency to sing Dolly Parton's hit song Jolene at the top of his lungs and my dad who fathered that plumber and therefore feels it's his place to offer unsolicited advice/wisdom/criticism and my own battles with re-introducing my broken wing to a shovel (for hours a day!) it was nowhere John Lennon would've wanted to park his bare bottom!
But we got it roughed in. Or...I should say my amazing brother got it done in his spare time away from his family and new job. I am eternally grateful for his mad plumbing skills and also for the entertainment factor that he brings to a job site. Although, I regret to inform you, his plumber's...er....backside...makes it impossible to publish most of the photos of the rough in without earning an Adult Content tag on this blog. I shudder to think what would happen if he hadn't had a belt on!

The Slab

May I preface this by confessing that the word SLAB is on my Do Not Use list? It falls somewhere between groin and pouch but above mildew. It's as if SLOB and FLAB had a baby. An awful word!
That being said, the most exciting day thus far was Slab Day! We woke early and headed over to the site where the cement trucks had already begun pouring. Dad was as giddy as I was as the little porch took shape, then the red clay hiding the pipes disappeared under truckload after truckload of wet, gray sludge.
What had been blocks and dirt the day before became the foundation of our home. It was quite a heady experience.
Having done the job of finishing concrete on another project with dad, I was amazed how fast and easy the pros made it look. It looked perfect long before they were finished and then it looked more perfect, if that's even possible. They even framed up and poured a little landing at what will be the bottom of my porch stairs because they had extra concrete mixed.
When it was all finished and starting its own work of drying and curing in the sun, the foreman called the kiddo and I over to put our hands in the wet concrete of our patio. We pressed them in side by side and signed our names. All I could think seeing them there was "I'm glad I have a record of a time when my boy's hands were the same size as mine." In this house he will pass me by in height and hand size and certainly shoe size, if he hasn't already. I love that his little 12 year old hands are preserved for me in our house.

Hours after the men left and the concrete was set dad and the munchkin and I met at the slab. Dad made us sit on the edge of the front of the house with our legs hanging down over what will be the base of the porch.
"Lay back and feel how solid.", he instructed us.
We lay in a row, surprised how solid something can feel in an early afternoon that was liquid that same morning.
"It feels attached to the earth." I comment.
"It's like a monolith." my very scientific boy comments.
A monolith. That is so much better than a slab.
The sun began to set with us laying in our row, talking about permanence and roots and foundations, dad in his 60's, me in my 30's, and the kiddo knocking at his teens. I found myself wishing the moment could be preserved in concrete like our hand prints.
"Thanks for today, dad." I said and we went to his house for dinner.

Framing and Cancer Awareness Lumber

The day I realized framing was upon us made me wake-up extra early. The slab was exciting because of its massive significance but framing makes all our work begin to look like A HOUSE!
Even having woken early, fed Kiddo a quick breakfast and gotten straight into my work boots, dad was already well into working when we drove up. There was a corner framed up! The corner which would be my Master Bath! I walked straight in, sat sideways on the floor where my tub will reside and announced, in my brassiest Liza Minnelli impersonation,  "Llllove it!". (Okay, the phrase Master Suite has totally gone to my head and made me a diva!) It really made the house plans begin to become 3D in my mind. I could stand in 6 feet of space instead of squinting down at a little diagram with a disconcerting little set of concentric ovals to represent my future toilet and what appears to be a giant television where I plan to have a bathtub instead. For all their beautiful handwriting, I am convinced architects use obscure diagram images just to make it seem like an extra specialized field. Why can't house plans be made of shiny plastic and have repositionable stickers like Colorforms? (Does anyone other than me remember Colorforms? I loved them! One of my best friends bought me Smurf Colorforms that I kept until there were only 3 stickers left.) Just an idea.
By way of a method in which we build a wall, lying down (the wall, not us) and then strap it to the tractor bucket, we are able to stand them up and use minimal brute force in positioning them over the bolts anchoring them into the foundation. I'll admit there is a moment right before they slide into place that I pray for our toes and stand at the ready to leap through an open space in the frame Buster Keaton-style as the wall falls around me.
We have several walls framed up and 30 toes among us intact. Also, none of us have had to experiment with our Keatonesque stunts.
In an interesting hardware store outing, Doc happened to notice that there was a section of lumber slightly cheaper than the rest. Ever the thrifty Boy Scout, he bought a load of it. Apparently, it was the leftovers from a batch of wood which was sold to benefit a breast cancer research organization and is therefore HOT PINK!
As the tomboy who never brought herself to admit to wanting Barbie's Dream Home for my Barbie and her GI Joe husband to retire to, I thought it lent the framework kind of the kitschy girlie vibe that old Barbie would approve of, even if her GI Joe husband had to sleep in his GI Joe Official Combat Jeep until the pink was hidden by drywall. And even if it didn't contribute to the very worthy cause of cancer research and awareness, at least it kept some callused, cussing, dip-spitting old construction worker from having to buy the last of the hot pink lumber. Also, it EXACTLY matched the pedicure I was hiding in wool socks and workboots! How many builders do you know who can say that?

Well, dad should have landed at our little coast airport by now and will be driving the banged up Lexus home with all the windows open and some decent classic rock or maybe public radio on. I can guarantee you with 100% certainty he is planning the next stages of framing and getting trusses as he drives up the highway.
And I will admit to having needed and enjoyed the break for packing and resting and moving my things into the temporary carriage house we'll live in until Jessica's Dream Home is finished but I can't wait to see my little frame getting taller and more houseshaped on my hill.
Lots of progress made and still a long way to go. By this time tomorrow I will have heard all about South Africa and probably ordered my trusses. If I'm lucky dad will take one day off to conquer jetlag but I doubt it. He'll hit the ground running. I better be ready. I hope I haven't packed my workboots!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just a few more pics.

Erma Bombeck was right! The grass IS greener over the septic tank! This is by my parents' house but makes me laugh everytime I mow over it. 

 The view up the hill is changing! Can you see the house growing there? It looks so tiny for all the work so far but it's in there. The top of that little wall will be my front porch.

 The squashed seat in the farm truck that makes it hard to get in and all too easy to fall out.

More pitcher plants. I love how their flowers look like tomatoes before they open.

A few rose bushes on the berm in front of the knoll. One of them I bought the day my first niece was born and the other was given to me by a couple who wanted to thank me for something I got to do for them. I love roses. I think that little berm may end up entirely roses.

Lazarus in front of the old house with the first moving load. I loved this house so much!

That's all for now. I am too tired from shoveling and leveling and plumbing to write tonight so I thought I'd share a few more pictures. I promise words next time! Goodnight!