Home-Construction Role Models

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I spent the weekend across the state singing, doing my best to pay tribute to the great Johnny Cash at a concert on Saturday and then playing music in one of my favorite bars with some of my favorite musicians that evening.

It was the first time I’ve been away for the weekend without the baby and/or my husband. Usually the babe gets to come along and we leave Husband in the dust to work on the house or the ranch for the weekend. Poor guy, he never gets to have any fun.

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But this weekend I left them both home. My mother-in-law came over to hang out with Edie while my husband and his dad worked on trying to finish up the basement.

This is our life. It has been for years, trying to fit in home construction on the little 48-hour space that we call the weekend. I spent the previous weekend going as far up the ladder as my comfort zone would allow to put stain on the house and kicking the five-years-ago versions of ourselves for thinking it would be a good idea to build a 30 foot house with cedar siding that needs to be re-stained every few years.

That was dumb. Especially when half of us hate heights and the other half has no fear and leans out too far once he’s at the top of 30 foot ladders.

So, to survive, I’ve learned there are things I just can’t watch.

And so here’s this week’s column, written after a weekend spent outside on ladders and in town at the hardware store and in bed late at night realizing that my life will forever be in a constant state of construction.

So if you want good advice, don’t ask us. We had every idea of what we were getting into, and we did it anyway.

Coming Home: The height of a ladder gives couple perspective
by Jessie Veeder
11-6-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

“When you get married, marry someone with money,” he said to our 13-year-old niece, sitting innocently at the kitchen counter, holding the baby and feeding her Cheerios. “Or just be rich yourself. That would be better.”

“Yeah, she’s right,” he said. “Be rich. Or marry someone nice and rich.”

This is the advice we give when you bring your children to our home. I’m not proud of it, but it came to us after a weekend spent trying to make progress on this not-ever-going-to-be-finished house we decided to construct ourselves almost four years ago. And, because we’re hosting a Thanksgiving/first birthday party here in less than a month, we need to get that basement finished, you know, the one that was supposed to be done a year before the 1-year-old was born.

So my husband spent the weekend standing on a ladder mudding the sheetrock on the walls, my niece worked to save the baby from climbing the staircase and eating box elder bugs while I spent my weekend outside on a much taller ladder trying to put stain on the house before winter and cursing the idiots who decided to side a 30-foot house with cedar that needs to be refinished every three years.

Because I hate ladders. And heights. And my husband hates projects like this, but he also hates hiring anyone to do a job we can do ourselves, especially when we’d like to have money in that bank at the end of it all. Because I figure by the time Edie’s 18, her college tuition will likely be approximately a million dollars a year, so we better start cutting back where we can.

Ramen noodles for everyone!

“In my next life, I’m not going to be a ‘DYIer.’ I’m going to be a ‘Hire Someone Elser,’ ” he said while he stood at the top of that ladder trying to reach heights I was unwilling to attempt, maneuvering a stain sprayer while his wife suffered anxiety-induced heart palpitations looking up at him with a white-knuckle death grip on his ladder, wanting desperately to believe that the tightness of my grip was directly related to the likelihood of him falling to his death.

“I should have married you in your next life!” I hollered up to him. “Now careful! Seriously, don’t lean so far over like that, my gawd, I can’t watch this!”

And so, given the weekend’s events, you can see where we were coming from with the money advice. Because while it’s not often people like to admit that money buys happiness, I can tell you with complete certainty that I would have been a lot happier watching a paid professional work a spray gun 30 feet in the air. And I know I would have been happier with the finished product.

Because at least it would be finished.

But it’s not. Nope. We ran out of house stain, daylight and weekend, and if you come over for the party, you’ll likely come in to a half-stained house and an almost-finished-basement, which may or may not have carpet because we did what we could and called it all good enough.

But we’ll have so many people crammed into this little house you won’t be able to see the floor anyway, so in the big picture, I guess it’s a blip.

Like my niece said as she walked the aisles of Menards with me in search of more Sheetrock mud, “What would this family do together if we didn’t do work together?”

“Go fishing.” That was the first answer that came to my mind. But how much real marital bonding can you accomplish on a beautiful lake? Certainly not as much as you get when you’re praying for his life as he extends beyond his comfortable reach 30 feet from the hard, cold ground.

It sure makes you love each other more when you’re back on solid earth, realizing you’re both alive to see another day.

So, yeah, if you want to spend your weekends catching walleye in the summer sun, make sure one of you has some money. But if you want death-defying, love-igniting, budget-friendly adventure, well then, we’re your role models.

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Unfinished Projects

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Coming Home: Not alone living amid the unfinished projects
by Jessie Veeder
8-7-16
http://www.inforum.com

If I were more of a linguist, I would have the term for it. But you know what I’m talking about. It’s that crack in the Sheetrock in the living room, right in the corner above the TV that really peeved you off when you first noticed it.

Why didn’t we get that fixed months ago?

OK. So I’m a woman who has been living in a house under construction for most of my married life. Because I wed a man who has just the right amount of knowhow and crazy to take on complete house remodeling projects and then, when that didn’t kill us, a near complete build from scratch.

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Right now, as I type, I’m sitting on a deck that, for two and a half years, has been partially completed. It’s really nice and will probably be even nicer when he finally gets around to building us a staircase so we can get down to the lawn without going through the house.

I’m looking forward to that even if it means I’ll feel less like Rapunzel, sort of trapped up here, looking down on my little lawn kingdom complete with an incomplete retaining wall and barbed wire temporarily stretched across where those nice garden gates will hang someday.

Someone needs to get married out here again or something so we can get the rock siding finished, for crying out loud.

Yes, I’ve learned to be patient. Because what choice do I have? I don’t have a clue how to build a staircase and I’m not crazy enough to attempt it under the “if you want something done you gotta do it yourself” motto. Carpentry was never one of those skills I really cared to acquire. I’ve acquired enough skills I didn’t want, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, I know I’m not the only one who suffers this way. I mean, I have a few friends who live behind manicured lawns along city streets who spend their weekends checking off lists at the Home Depot and even they have a missing tile somewhere. Right?

Right???

Anyway, while I’m becoming alarmingly immune to unfinished projects, I was reminded that I’m not alone by none other than my own flesh and blood last weekend when I enjoyed a few family suppers on my parents’ deck, gathering together because my uncle was home from Texas for a few days. My parents have a backyard that has a sweet view up a beautiful, tree-filled coulee. Their deck is right off their dining room and kitchen, making it easy to enjoy meals outdoors on summer nights.

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If it wasn’t for that dang screen door.

Seriously, that screen door. I swear. It’s been years, YEARS, of needing to have the right touch to get it to slide open, of guests struggling with a plate of food in one hand and a desperate look of awkward panic on their faces as they attempt to find that right maneuver before being rescued and let outside by my dad, who eventually always just sort of kicks it off its tracks and says something like, “I swear I just fixed that.” Mom makes this aggressive sigh of resignation before we can all sit down and relax until, heaven forbid, someone forgot there was noodle salad inside.

And I only mention this because it makes me feel better.

About all our unfinished trim. And the crack in the Sheetrock.

And this island of a deck.

If I were a linguist, I’d have a word for it.

If I were a carpenter … well … I’d probably have more unfinished projects.

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Sunday Column: Do it yourselfing

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In the beginning, there was big vision, big enthusiasm and big mess…

For those of you who have been following this blog since the beginning of time, you are good and familiar with our home building/do it yourself/never ending construction that is our lives.

We have been ankle deep in saw dust since moving out of the little farmhouse four years ago and into a house we are building as we go along. And in four years, while we’ve made progress pouring a basement and foundation, climbing scary homemade scaffolding to build the loft, nearly deciding to live in separate houses over a bathroom tile project the seemed to never end, my husband and father in law falling to their near deaths off of the roof, a giant garage project and countless power tools just hanging out on the kitchen table, I am not here to tell you that we are finished.

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No.

But I am here to tell you that we bit the bullet and, despite my pledge to hold off on new furniture until the damn house was done, we actually bought. new. furniture.

And, because we do things ourselves around here, I almost pulled every muscle in my back helping Husband get the couch through the door and around the corner.

He said he hasn’t seen me grunt so hard since giving birth.

And it was the truth.

 

Here’s the rest of the story…

Coming Home: Life and love look different for do-it-yourselfers
by Jessie Veeder
3-13-16
Forum Communications

A new couch was delivered to our house yesterday.

In almost 10 years of marriage, we’ve never had a new couch. In fact, the ratio of new to used furniture in this house prior to yesterday was like four to 20, the new pieces being Edie’s nursery furniture, the worn-out recliner we bought the week after we were married on a trip to one of my concerts in South Dakota that we passed off as a honeymoon, and the bar stools that were a little too big for our space, but we couldn’t pass up, because, you know, they were on super sale.

And so when guests started to get stuck in the cracks of the deep-sunk couch we bought from one of our landlords eight years ago, we thought it might be time to take the furniture plunge.

Turns out, for a couple who has survived on other people’s cast-off items for years, we’re sorta picky. It must be the whole “we’re spending lots of money so we better love this forever and never, ever spill wine on it” mentality.

Anyway, our track record with furniture could really sum up the way the two of us have been dealing with grown-up life. I was contemplating this as I stood resting my noodle arms on our new couch as it lay in limbo, half on the landing and half wedged in the door, while my husband searched for a tool to take the door off its hinges.

We will never be people who hire movers.

No. We are the people who save every random nut, bolt and spare piece of plastic in an old coffee can on the tool bench because we might need it someday.

Our garage and the room in the basement that we don’t let anyone see will always be a scary place full of useful things … if only we could remember where we put them.

I blame it on our fathers. While completely different, both held the same mentality when it came to saving money and squeezing every bit of life out of the things they owned. Neither one of them ever saw a stray bucket on the side of the road without stopping to load it in the back of the pickup.

It makes sense. I was raised by a North Dakota rancher who could make anything work good enough with a pair of leather gloves and a spare piece of wire.

And my husband was raised by a man who had a garage full of things like extra doorknobs, old, out-of-warranty power tools and a couple extra lawn mowers, you know, for parts.

I mean, the man built his own croquet set for crying out loud. My husband didn’t stand a chance.

So I wasn’t surprised when, in college, my washing machine went out and my then boyfriend/now husband had at least three washing machine motors laying around in storage.

I tell you, it’s a special type of romance to love a man with the skills to save you from the laundromat. If only I would have known that years later it would turn into me painstakingly putting up tiles on the kitchen island while my husband made 500 trips up and down the ladder leading to the dirt basement, because we still needed to build steps. And pour the concrete floor.

Ourselves.

I’m here to tell you that sometimes the “do it yourself” movement is only romantic when your car is broke down on the side of the road and he shows up with a toolbox and pops the hood.

Stay married long enough and it turns out he might expect you to know how to fix it yourself. Because apparently that sort of thing should wear off on you.

But if together we can get this couch through the doorway, past the bedrooms and around the corner to the living room without me pulling every muscle along the way, perhaps it’s a sign we’re turning a corner in our lives.

And the old couch will work great in the basement … once we get it finished

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The Roof (or why I’m in search of 20 giant trampolines.)

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You know Husband’s building a garage? Yeah? I’ve mentioned that right?

It’s a massive project. For the past month or so, each weekend the men in my life are up there crawling around, nailing things to other things, coming in for a beer, a Diet Coke or a sandwich or something. Every weekend I’ve been making enough soup or casserole to feed them at the end of a long cold day spent way up there, too far from the ground and too close to the sky in my opinion.

And every weekend it’s been kinda shitty weather. You know, because we wait to do these sorts of projects until it is certain to dump snow or ice on us at any moment.

Why would a person build a garage in the summer when the weather is warm and a guy could get a little sun on that white belly? That would be too practical.

No. We wait until winter when it’s kinda chilly and kinda icy and terrifyingly dangerous to be lifting rafters up 22 feet and then dangling from them like damn monkeys.

So every weekend I tell them to be careful. I plead with them to watch their step. I contemplate the cost of fashioning them all with full-body helmets. I wonder how many mattresses I would have to buy to cover the area around the entire circumference of the garage with the thought that if they’re plummeting 22 feet to their immanent death and there’s a nice pillow top waiting for them at the bottom, perhaps they’ll only break a leg and not their necks.

Maybe I should invest in giant trampolines.

Anyway, point is, I hate this project. It’s dangerous and it’s making me crazy.

Now I know life is dangerous, I have terrible depth perception. Just the other day I whacked myself in the lip with the phone in an attempt to answer it. Once, I bent over to pick something up and I nearly knocked myself out on the kitchen table.

Needless to say, I do not go on the roof of that garage.

No, I stay inside and sweep or make cookies or paint or stain something. Sometimes I go outside to pick up nails or boards or things that could get buried in the snow or possibly impale my dearly beloved on his inevitable trip off the roof.

For the past few weekends my sweet mother-in-law has been coming over to to keep me company and to organize the mess that is her carpenter son and his wife who seems to have an aversion to the vacuum cleaner (unless it’s a special occasion).

So on Sunday I worked on putting rock up on a wall in our kitchen, a project that has been in limbo for a good six months or so. And while I was mixing mortar, climbing up and down the little ladder and making up new cuss-word combinations, my mother-in-law was downstairs organizing tools in our basement workshop.

There’s a special place in heaven for this woman, I tell you what. And when this house project is finished, when the damn tiling and painting and sanding is complete and the basement is transformed from a workshop into a livable space, I’m going to pour my mother-in-law a strong margarita and then I’m going to pour one for myself and we are going to drink it while I make an appointment for a manicurist and then another appointment for a therapist.

Because last Sunday when I was upstairs trying to get giant rocks to stick to the damn wall, my mother-in-law was in the basement putting away the paintbrushes when she looked up to see her oldest son, my husband, plummet from the sky, past the window and to the hard, frozen ground.

She dropped her paintbrush, clutched her chest and ran up the stairs past me in a frenzy, saying something about how “the guys came off the roof…I mean, they fell. He fell off the roof,” as she flung open the door and ran outside to assess the situation.

And I followed her in a panic, calculating the amount of damage a fall from 22 feet could inflict in the 3 seconds it took to get my body outside to find my father-in-law, standing up but dazed and bleeding a bit from his eyebrow where his now-missing-glasses dug into his face.

And then there was my husband, slow blinking, covered in snow, but standing upright, thank God, standing upright, moving his eyes from the giant frozen hump of dirt that broke his fall up to the demolished scaffolding ten or twelve feet in the air where they were standing just seconds ago before it gave out, sending them slamming hard and quick into the ground while, T, my brother-in-law, stood helpless below them.

It wasn’t a 22 foot fall. Ok. Just about half of that.

I stood in front of my husband and looked him in the eyes, probably doing the most annoying thing a person can do to someone who just experienced major head-to-ground impact. I repeated, “Are you ok? What happened? Are you ok? Oh my gawd!” about thirty-seven times before his slow blinks got a little faster and he could begin to answer me.

“Guess we didn’t put enough screws in,” he said as his brother brushed the snow off his back and my mother-in-law searched for her husband’s glasses.

“Shit,” I said.

“Yeah, shit,” he said.

“Come inside now for a minute,” his mother said.

But these boys, they don’t listen. And, with a few house building projects under his belt, this isn’t my father-in-law’s first plummet from a roof.

So they ignored the women’s pleas of “Taking a break. Having a sandwich. Assessing the head-injury situation” and they put up a new piece of scaffolding, this time with a proper amount of screws, and continued on with the damn shingling project, barely skipping a beat while the women in their lives stood with hands on hips trying to catch our breath and slow our palpitating hearts.

And now I’m researching what kind of money I can get for my right kidney. Because I’m going to sell it so I can hire professionals with harnesses and body armor to finish this damn garage.

It’s either that or giant trampolines.

If you need me, I’ll be in my office Googling “Tequila IV”