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!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The 50 cent tour.

Just a few pictures to make you all feel like you've been by for a visit: The Pitcher Plant Flowers. One of my favorite things on the land is the patch of North American Pitcher Plants. They are carnivores like the Venus Fly-Trap and grow in the marshy parts of the pasture. The view from the bridge over the creek. This is the little pond that I hope will be our livestock pond soon. Right now it's the Kiddo's frog pond and sounds like an orchestra warming up when the frogs get going in the evenings. Rain barrels that my super clever brother, The Ship Captain, built. The top of the little structure is sheet roofing and it works great at collecting water. This is just uphill from some fruit trees, the strawberry patch and rose bushes. Makes for great free irrigation. The 3-legged Beagle that roams the land. He was a stray and got badly beaten up and lost a leg. Now, he has retired on the land and supervises all our work.

The tractor, which my dad calls his and I call mine. The Battle of Wills wages on.

Finally, Lazarus the Amazing Farm Truck. He may look a little worse for the wear but is running like a top and has shiny new tires and even turn signals! Farmers don't use turn signals but it's always nice to know they're there if I want 'em.

More pictures to come soon, I promise. Hope you enjoyed the mini-tour, anyway.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Driving Lessons.

If there is any one thing that a piece of land must have in order to be considered a farm, it isn't crops or livestock or an old woman in an apron: it's a farm truck. Your farm truck can be any kind of vehicle, really, as long as it can haul 2x4's, manure, wet dogs, and yourself with your muddiest boots on. There was even a season on my dad's tree farm when his farm truck was a very pretty black Lexus that Hurricane Katrina had rendered ever so slightly handicapped.

For a little while now, my dad has had a dead Ford F-250 on his place that had, from time to time, been a decent farm vehicle and had faithfully chugged the length of the path which is beaten between dad's house and the Farm Depot. As building continues on my land, I found my eyes lingering longer and longer on this truck. To make a long story short (yeah, right!), dad agreed to give it a tiny bit of TLC and if it ran, so be it, we'd have a farm truck. Lo and behold...it ran.

Because it had been dead and lives again, The Kiddo has christened it Lazarus. When I asked him why not Jesus, he replied sagely, "When people say Jesus to their trucks they are usually being blasphemous." He had a point. Lazarus suits the old Ford, anyway. I am pretty sure he was lying in wait for me to give him a purpose before roaring into life, which is not to suggest any Messianic complex on my part but only to celebrate the ressurrection of what I think will be a useful asset to us.

Last week, I began the arduous task of moving my raised garden growing boxes and the soil within them over to the new land. The Professor used this opportunity to get me acquainted with the new (very old) truck. Tossing a couple shovels in the bed and keys over the hood to me, he said "You're driving." This isn't a common occurrence in life with Doc, not to say he is a control freak. He's just usually the driver. At barely a half inch over 5'1", I had to climb into the driver's seat which is the kind of bench seat you might imagine has been pulled out, trampled by a herd of angry buffalo and then returned to its place in the cab of the truck. The springs under what would be the driver's left bum-half have abondoned their post and gone, presumably, the way of all things. This leaves one the option of sliding all the way against the door in such an intimate fashion that, should this door abandon its post and go the way of all things, one would find oneself deciding whether to tuck and roll down the side of the road or flail through the air as your farm truck continues on its way without you OR you can scoot toward the middle of the bench seat, avoiding the dip altogether, and giving yourself a vaguely yoga-esque driving posture in which you settle your right ribs over your left hip and reach your left hand over the steering wheel with your right hand directly in front of your sternum. I would offer you a diagram but my brain is exhausted from describing said position. I choose a 3rd and far more challenging posture in which I balance on the right half of my bottom with my left arm hooked out the window. It was in this position, with bare feet on warm pedals that we set off to retrieve the boxes from my old house.

No sooner were we on the highway with the bed full of dirt and boxes than my dad asks, in an alarmed tone, what I think I am doing.

"Driving back to the land.", I say, worrying that he is experiencing early onset dementia.

"You're in a farm truck!" he exclaimed, "You have to drive LIKE A FARMER!" Commanding me to slow down to 30 (in a 45, I might add), he begins my lesson in driving like a farmer, as he calls it. Traffic begins, instantly and out of nowhere, to build up behind us. I ease up to 35 and explain that things are looking pretty hairy back there.

"No, no, no. " he tells me, calmly draping an arm out the window and gazing into the pine forests we are passing, "Make them slow down, too."

"They're getting mad.", I say, looking into the giant rearview wing mirrors that rival many doors in size, giving the truck a charmingly Prince Charlesly appearence.

"Who cares?", Doc shrugs. "Look out your window. Relax. Drive like a farmer." You always know, by the way, that you're in the throes of A Very Important Life Lesson when Doc assumes his patient, other-worldly voice. Many lessons would have passed me by in life if it weren't for The Voice of Calm Reason which only my dad, Mr. Miagi, and that baboon-ish guy on The Lion King have truly mastered.

Only when I stopped craning my neck to look at the long row of cars behind me, did I begin to relax into 30 MPH (ok, maybe 35. What can I say? I've got a lead foot.), I begin to feel like this is how it should feel to drive a big old farm truck full of dirt or hay or pygmy goats. I even got the faintest feeling of being the leader of a cheerful little parade through my beloved Pine Belt. Perhaps no one else was experiencing the euphoria and maybe I am overstating the beauty of taking a snail's pace in a dingy Ford that could use a new muffler. But, with the radio crackling out beautifully grungy Delta blues and the sun on my face and my bare toes curled around the gas pedal, I felt like the farmer that I have always wanted to be. I even felt like I might have met my vehicular destiny. Some people are Land Rovers and some are Lamborghinis. Maybe I'm a beat up Ford truck. I think I can live with that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Among the many definitions of the often missused word concrete is the following:

concrete: adj. being or occurring in fact or actuality, having verified existence, not illusory

When the footings were poured for the house and the cement blocks laid, something on my land became satisfyingly concrete. I don't think I really believed there would be a house on my little hill until the day they poured the footings. Something about concrete in the ground says "no turning back". The house ceased to be illusory.

A couple years ago, dad and I laid the blocks for a barn roughly the size of Ellis Island. Sure...it's a small island...but it's a BIG barn! Standing at one end of that foundation dad had to shout to me at the other end. And I still cupped a hand around my ear and shouted back "WHAT?" I probably heard him but making someone shout extra is always kind of fun. Don't feel sorry for my dad. He made me this way.

Laying the block and pouring the slab for that barn was our Everest. In fact, I had a twin sister when we started and she didn't survive the ordeal. It was bad. Halfway through laying the block, our hands dried out and cracked within our gloves, our backs screaming with every movement, we swore we would never lay block again. I think we'd sooner go the way of teepee and yurt than ever lay block again. We could have walked across the Mojave faster than we laid that block. And the foundation! I am almost speechless as I recall. If you ask my dad about that barn, he will tell you the story of the day he almost killed his youngest child. In short, Doc and I learned our lesson: Leave concrete work to professionals. Sure, we can do it. That doesn't mean we should.

The men who came and laid the block for my house made our block laying look like one of those Japanese gameshows in which the contestants are blindfolded and dizzy and in a vat of Jell-o while trying to complete a simple task only we were neither blindfolded nor dizzy and the only Jell-O present was my biceps after lifting approximately 3 million blocks, 2 at a time, weighing about 30 pounds each. The work crew arrived in the morning, walled in what will be my house slab as though they were building with Legos and were gone by lunch.

There's still a lot to be done but having something as concrete as...well...concrete has made everything begin to seem real. It's nothing really beautiful to look at but it's a couple more steps done. And no one had to almost die to get them done. Not this time, anyway.

Here is the finished (unfinished) product:

Saturday, January 8, 2011


If you ever want to make me angry, look at me with serenity on your face, and gently suggest to me, "Patience is a virtue."

I know that patience is a virtue. I know that delaying gratification is one of the mystical habits which studies suggest indicate prodigious emotional intellect and capacity. I once read a study in which 4 year olds were asked to wait 20 minutes to eat a marshmallow and promised a 2nd marshmallow after the 20 minutes. The children who could wait the 20 minutes were found to be more successful and dependable as adults. I suspect they were just the kids who didn't really like marshmallows.

I know that anything is sweeter if you wait for it.

None of this makes me feel better when I want something now that I can't have til later!

We waited for more than a week for dry enough ground to pour footings for the house. And yet, a drizzle here, a rain there do not a dry ground make. In tomato season I will be longing for this rain. In concrete pouring season, I despise it.

"I AM SO READY!", I lamented, throwing myself onto my parents couch today.
"Well, " the Professor began, putting on the very logical and zen-like Confucius face which has led my kid to secretly refer to his Papa as Spock, "houses are not like mushrooms. You can't just lay out some BS and sprinkle it with water...and BAM! grow a house!"

Cocking an eyebrow at our resident Voice of Reason I think "That's too bad. There's plenty of BS and water around here." (If you're familiar with the standard progression of scholastic degrees bestowed within the American college system you can even read dad's M.O. right there after his name...it begins B.S., continues M.S. as in "More of the Same" and finally the illustrious "Ph.D." which I have been told stands for "Piled Higher and deeper".) If houses were like mushrooms dad could be a real estate magnate of the highest level.

I've never been one to wait. I seem to have been born ready. I got teeth early, spoke early, read early. I developed teen angst well before I was a pre-teen, married well before the culturally acceptable age range, and was a mom and divorced before most of my peers had settled into their first serious relationships.
One of the lessons I suppose I am meant to learn in this home building season of my life is that some things cannot be rushed. Just like I am unable to rush the healing taking place in my shoulder right now, I cannot speed the conditions required for some phases of building.

If you had anyone in your life like my dad you are familiar with the voice which, in situations such as this, chimes in to ask "What can we learn from this?" Ever the Professor, he would ask this after broken bones had been set or fires extinguished or while one of us sat anguishing over one of life's many disappointments, thereby instilling in us...perhaps not an affection for this question...but a tendency to hear it in our minds at moments Doc would say it were he within ear shot.

I don't know what to learn from this. A million cliches come to mind. "Anything worth doing is worth doing right." "Anything worth having is worth waiting for." "A master of patience is a master of everything else."

The snail's pace at which we are proceeding does very little to silent the internal Veruca Salt that most of us have inside if we're honest with ourselves. She may have wanted an Oompa Loompa and parties and boats and treats from Willie Wonka but I am certain everyone within 20 years of my own age living in the western world has the over-indulged child's tendency toward "I WANT IT NOW!!!" within them. We don't have to wait for things the way the generations before us did or people in 3rd world nations do. If we tire of saving up for something, we get a new credit card, if it's not supper time we grab a snack to hold us over, we watch pirated movies rather than waiting for them to come out, we find out the gender of babies before they emerge from their 9 months hidden from our sights and we email Amazon in a fury if our orders take more than the 3-5 days to arrive on our doorsteps. We don't want to wait in lines so we buy movie tickets online, renew drivers licenses instantly from home, microwave a whole meal in minutes, we even fight for passes that put us first in line at Disney World! Did you know there are even businesses in big cities which rent out proxies who will wait in line for you at events, restaurants, anywhere you would find it hard to be patient? Patience may be a virtue...but it's certainly an endangered one.

Always one to cheer for the underdog, I find myself sorry to see patience going out of vogue. Perhaps it's the rebellious streak in me which wants to rale against any direction society seems to be heading which might just be the path to our own destruction. In peaceful protest to the near-global epidemic of impatience...I am determining now to savor the delay.
Afterall, everyday longer that it takes to build my house is another day to make the important decisions regarding its interior. I have chosen floors and doors and hinges and knobs but God help me when it's time to paint! At least, that is the silver lining I am trying to see in this stormcloud. Some moments I am almost convinced.

Since deciding to practice patience in the process, quite a lot has been accomplished. I may have gritted my teeth to nubs upon reading the weather forecasts but we also got water lines laid (with only one fracture to the water main resulting in a deluge which would have sent Noah hopping), cleared the last of the trees from the house lot and milled many trees into perfect piles of lumber, flooring, and siding (with only one possibly broken foot for Dad).

I can clearly hear my dad calmly encouraging, "Surely you can see the progress we are making!" but even more clearly I can hear myself stamping my foot and shouting "NO, I CAN'T! AND DON'T CALL ME SHIRLEY!"
Apparently, patience it a discipline which takes time. Kind of funny when you think about it.