Home-Construction Role Models

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.


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
Forum Communications

“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.


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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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
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.


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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A conversation with Husband…

Scene: Spring cleaning outside the construction site that is our home. We live in the middle of a coulee filled with oak and ash trees and their bare, fallen branches gave me an idea…

And now, for a quick conversation with Husband:

Me: There sure are a lot of fallen trees around here.

Him: Yup.

Me: Hey, wouldn’t these trees make a great rail fence?

Him: Yup.

Me: I mean, think of the money we’d save!  All the supplies we need are right in our backyard.

Him: Better go get your ax.

Me: Why do I halfta use an ax? Why can’t I use a chainsaw?

Him: Because a chainsaw doesn’t build strength and character does it?

Me: I’ve got enough character…

Him: And also, if I gave you a chainsaw, you’d find a way to chop your own head off…

Me: ……

End Scene. 

Horse frustration

And that, ladies and gentlemen is, how you crush dreams.


Winter’s a s**thead and then I had a flashback…

Somewhere in Montana…

Well we made it back from our road trip, dropped our bags at the bottom of the stairs in our cozy and messy house and proceeded to be welcomed by a slap across the face we have come to know as reality.

Work piled up in our inboxes.

Bills in the mail.

Closet unfurled from last week’s haphazard packing debacle.

Garbage strewn across yard from an unwelcome raccoon (or pug or lab) shaped scavenger.

And winter. Winter being a shithead. 

Pug in snow

“Septic tank’s frozen again.”

These are the messages I get when I’m in town trying to be civilized.


“Heading to the big town to pick up a snake and a pressure washer and (something else that I didn’t catch because I was thinking about where I might shower that night) because if you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself around here…”

You know I know this better than anyone.

Great, now I’m having a flashback…

Phew, that was exhausting…

Anyway…last month when the arctic air whipped the trees around this place it shot the temperature down to -60 and apparently that’s too cold for a successful potty drain, so we called someone to come out and save us, and, well, I guess Husband learned something. Because last night I arrived home in the dark and he was out there in sub-zero temperatures unplugging whatever was plugged.

And he was successful. Thank God he was successful. I had to pee.

Husband is my hero.


My wall-building, chandelier-hanging, power-tool-toting, tile-placing, ladder-climing,  potty pumping hero.


God I miss summer.

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


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”


10 Painting Tips from a Woman who always learns everything the hard way and should have never picked up a paint brush in the first place…

So I spent the weekend elbows-deep in the never ending, house finishing project. Funny how a task with the word “finish” in the title has become never-ending.

But we have a deadline, and deadlines have endings don’t they? Please, someone tell me this will end.

For those of you just joining us here at the ranch, (and there are a quite a few these days, thankyouverymuchforstoppingby!) Husband and I have been working on finishing a house that was delivered to us here in a little oak grove at the ranch last December.

We’re nearing the finish line, and if I wasn’t insane before, after fifty-five trips to the Menards 150 miles away to pick up things like doors, toilets, floors, lights, vents, electrical wires, cement, tile, nails, glue, the weird and delicious peanut-butter stuffed pretzels they have in the checkout aisle and the dreadful and marriage-testing trip for plumbing parts in torrential rains, lightning storms, forty-mile-an-hour winds, blinding blizzards and the most recent ice-covered roads


I am definitely, fully, insane now.

Horse frustration

And insane is not the best quality to have when your house is covered in sheet rock dust, there’s an air compressor hose dangling from the loft right next to the 12 foot cedar boards leaned up your wall cutting your living space in half and you decide that while husband is working on building you a giant closet to make up for the months of chaos his handyman ideals have created,  you are quickly going to paint the laundry room/entry way.


It shouldn’t take too long. It’s a small space. You’ll just need a little assistance in moving that washer and dryer full of clothes you forgot about out of the way…


Now, I could tell you how the painting project went and you could draw your own lessons and conclusions from the series of events that unfolded, but I think I will save you the analyzation and just cut to the chase. Because I figure I have enough home improvement under my belt to offer some tips to those of you who are confident and delusional enough to think that putting new knobs on your cabinets, tiling the bathroom, or painting a damn wall for crying out loud is, like, just going to take a day or two.

“We’ll get this done in no time!” we tell ourselves…

Yes, I could write a book on the many reasons not to wear short-shorts while attempting a tiling project, how to get out of helping to lay a hardwood floor by hammering your thumbprint off and what not to say to your husband as he’s dangling off a ladder twenty feet in the air.

It would be a best seller for sure, but I don’t have the time today. Because today I have to finish the damn painting project I was supposed to finish yesterday afternoon.

So in an attempt to stay focused, I give you:

10 Painting Tips from a Woman who always learns everything the hard way and should have never picked up a paint brush in the first place:


Tip #1: Finish your house before you move you, your husband, your two dogs and all your shit into it. And don’t add a cat to the mix.  But if you do, definitely don’t let that barn cat in too.

Tip #2: 7.5 minutes.

This is the time you will spend on your project before you convince yourself you need a Cheeto break.

Tip #3: You can try to fool yourself into thinking that painting a laundry room/entry way will be a quick and painless project, despite the thirty-seven angles, outlets, doorways, cabinets, utility sink with exposed plumbing, trim boards and mud splatters you have to work around. Approach the task with confidence, but assume it’s going to suck. This will save you the shock of postponing breakfast, lunch, dinner and the shower you meant to take before  meeting up with friends for a drink. Speaking of drinks…

Tip #4: Pour yourself one. And then put alcohol in it. Oh, and if you don’t particularly enjoy the taste of paint, use a cup with a lid.

Tip #5: Don’t wear your favorite Steve Earl t-shirt. No matter how carefully and quickly you think this project is going to go, you will get paint on that t-shirt you forgot you were wearing. You will grow tired and careless as you reach the end of your rope and you will let your guard down. You will lean into the wall while reaching for a final touch and you will get paint in places that will amuse your husband.

And your husband will express his amusement by pointing and laughing and shaking his head.

You too will shake your head while your entire body droops at the thought of throwing your favorite Steve Earl t-shirt into the pile with the other cute and innocent garments inadvertently turned into construction day clothes.

Tip #6: Make enough weird and agonizing noises (aka: grunting, moaning, saying “ohnoohnoohno” or “shit,” really loud, whining, weeping, or all around screeching) loud enough to catch the attention of your husband working with power tools on the second floor.

Follow those sounds with well-timed moments of silence and he will eventually find an excuse to come down stairs to see if you’re still alive…which brings me to what I think should be the next tip…

Tip #7: While he’s downstairs and you’re standing on the washing machine leaned over with your head dangerously close to getting stuck in that small gap between the cabinet and the wall, kindly ask him to re-dip your paintbrush and while he’s at it, refill your paint tray. If you’ve picked out the right painting pants and lean over at the right angle, your husband might suddenly become invested in the project, offering to pick up a paint brush to help go over the spots you’ve missed and, well, now you’ve got help.


Tip #8: Be prepared to hate the color you chose. You will never want to see it again for as long as you live but you will vow that you will just close your eyes when you attempt to do laundry or put on your boots to walk out the door because no matter how much you hate this color and the fact that it is now likely going to be in your hair and on the back part of your elbow you can’t see or reach for a few days, you sure as hell are not going to paint this damn room again. Ever.


And when your husband informs you that it will likely need another coat, take off that paint covered Steve Earl shirt before taking a running face plant to cry on the bed.

Tip #9: Sell your prized collection of Troll Dolls or Precious Moments collection, the pug or the cat or whatever it takes to be able to hire someone to paint whatever else needs to be painted for the rest of your life. But for the love of Lucchese, never, never, never sell your boot collection. If you remember anything, remember this.

Tip #10: Now, I’m not sure because I’ve never birthed anything, but I think painting and other home improvement projects might be like childbirth. Like, you might forget how painful it was while you happily thumb through Better Homes and Gardens and find that Martha Stewart has a really pretty shade of lavender that would look stunning in the sun room that you’ve been suggesting your husband build for you this summer.

I’ll tell you agin, if you really need a  sun room, sell your car so you can pay someone else to do it.

If you really like that lavender color, call me. I’ll read my tips out loud and with a stern and convincing tone that will help you with the whole clarity thing.

If you’ll excuse me, now that I’ve finished this, I’ve got to go and find about two or three other tasks to occupy my time while I procrastinate that second coat.

Happy Home Improving you crazies…

A half-built house and how not to get unstuck

Once upon a time in a land far away and frozen a cozy couple lived in a half-built cabin in the oak trees.

The couple loved the life they spent together surrounded by sawdust, pink sunrises, furry horses, cow plops and misbehaving dogs. On cold winter Saturdays they would spend the mornings drinking coffee and procrastinating the work they needed to get done. They refilled their mugs and fried some bacon while they ignored the unfinished steps, the untrimmed windows and the dangling loose wires. Saturdays were the best for waking up slowly.

Saturdays were the best for long breakfasts and watching the snow fall. If the cozy couple had their way they would spend every Saturday wrapped up in fluffy blankets and drowning things in syrup.

But they knew it couldn’t be. They also knew that as soon as they ran out of coffee, pulled on those coveralls and muck boots, wool caps and shoveling gloves, things had the potential to get slippery.

They did it anyway. Because the only way to get things finished was to start, even if it was nearly noon and they had to hitch up the horse trailer in a blizzard to make the 120 mile trip to the big town for lumber, tiles, decorative rocks, light bulbs, thirty seven socket fittings, plumping stuff, and a toilet.

So together they made a list with little boxes they could check off with the wife’s red pen and got to work.

The first task? Unhooking the pickup from the camper that for some reason was parked in the most inconvenient spot in the world and decidedly not moved in a more convenient season.

So the husband got to work scraping the windshield of his fancy, prized pickup outside while the wife stayed in the cabin for a bit to work on fitting her unruly hair underneath her cap and search for something presentable to wear for the trip to town.

Fifteen minutes into the hair-taming, clothes-searching extravaganza the husband opened the door of the unfinished cabin, letting the snow swoosh in with the wind as he stomped it off of his boots and declared he had a bit of an extravaganza of his own—the pickup was stuck in the frozen icy tundra of a landscape they called a front yard and he needed his wife’s help pull it out.

“It’s just a little stuck,” the husband reassured his kind-of frazzled looking wife. “It shouldn’t take much.”

Always willing to lend a hand or a scrawny arm, the wife quickly finished dressing, pulled another pair of pants over the ones she already had on (because that’s what you do in the frozen icy tundra) and followed her husband out the door and to the scene.

The husband laid out the plan nice and clear, aware that his wife often only hears about a quarter of the words that come out of his mouth.

He explained that she was going to be in charge of the stuck pickup that was attached to the stuck camper while he used an un-stuck pickup to pull the stuck pickup attached to the stuck camper out of its stuck situation.

He even turned the wheel in the direction the stuck pickup attached to the stuck camper needed to go once it was unstuck.

“All you have to do is press on the gas a bit until the tires spin and follow me out,” said the husband. “It shouldn’t take much.”

The wife understood that she needed to pay attention, but she was distracted. She worried about where she might have misplaced her favorite scarf, when she was going to find time to put up the Christmas tree, what type of tile to put in the bathroom and if this hat looked stupid with her wild hair escaping out by her ears.

She looked at her husband’s face as he gave her directions from outside of the stuck pickup attached to the stuck camper. She heard him say, “Press the gas” and admired the stubble on his perfectly square jawline as he reached over her bundled up body to turn the wheel. At times like these the wife thought her husband was the most handsome. She was happy to help. She was perfectly capable of this.

Press the gas.

Turn the wheel.

Follow him out.

She was thinking she would follow him anywhere as he bent over to attach the two vehicles together with a giant rope and walked toward the unstuck pickup and put it in drive.

The tires on the unstuck pickup spun as the rope tightened. The wife recalled her directions, pressed on the gas and turned the wheel, waiting for her brave and handsome husband to pull them out of this slippery situation so she could get out her red pen and check something off of their list already.

She was certain the wheels beneath her were giving it a go. She knew this truck had some oomph, but that pickup attached to the camper didn’t move an inch.

Geesh. It must be more stuck than her husband anticipated.

So the husband tried again, backing up and pulling the rope tight between them, this time kind of slipping sideways a bit as he gave it all he had.

The wife did the same, pressing on the gas pedal a bit more this time, revving the engine like she’s witnessed many a stuck man do in her lifetime. The approach was more vigorous, her confidence a bit shaken, but the outcome was the same.

She was really stuck.

The husband opened the door to his pickup and looked back at his wife, who peered at him from underneath a wool beanie behind the cracked windshield of his very prized and still just kinda stuck pickup, assessing the situation, appearing to have a few scenarios running through his problem-solving mind.

He shrugged his shoulders and got back in, shut the door and tried one last time.

He tugged and jerked on the other end of that giant rope. He kicked up snow and then ice and then earth with his tires. The wife pushed on the gas and pushed on the gas and pushed on the gas, using the only directions she was given and thinking that the next step was to get the damn tractor, wondering how the hell a man can get a pickup attached to a camper so unbelievably stuck out here. Wondering why in the hell they didn’t move this damn thing in the fall before the snow came. Wondering why her husband always procrastinates things like these, annoyed that it was taking so long, worried that they wouldn’t get to the lumber yard before it closed, wondering what the hell happened to her scarf and…

“Hey, heeeyyy! Heeeeyyyyyyy!” she heard her husband hollering from the open door of the unstuck pickup.

“Did you put the pickup in drive?”

The wife looked down, appalled at the accusation, but knowing it to be true as she found the little orange dot on the console pointing at “P.”

“P” for park.

“D” for drive.

The wife didn’t remember hearing that part of the instructions.

“Shit,” whispered the wife as she moved that orange dot to  “D” and pressed on the gas while the slack between the two vehicles tightened and moved them across the yard.

“Shit,” laughed the husband, shaking his head and unhooking the ropes.

“Shit,” said the wife again as she trudged back toward the unfinished cabin to look for her scarf and her red pen, thinking that Saturdays are the best for long breakfasts and watching the snow fall.

Thinking she should still be sleeping.

Thinking that a half-finished house in a land far away and frozen might be good enough for the rest of her life if it meant she might ever hear the end of this.

Knowing that wasn’t likely.

A picture comes to life…

Well, we moved some furniture into the new house this weekend and it is looking like my birthday month will be the month we move into our new home, whether or not the staircase and/or master bedroom, trim work or basement is complete.

I’ve lived in construction zone before, and I’m prepared to do it again. Just imagining us sipping coffee on our deck (which does not exist yet either) and watching the sun come up over the hills we’re nestled in together reminds me that life is a work in progress that is worth the wait.

Sometimes I get a little anxious about it all. I catch myself thinking that other people have it figured out..that other people have houses complete with carpet and painted walls and tiles, a beautiful, finished staircase and money left over to go on a Mediterranean Cruise.

The reality is, some people do. Some people have the vision and the cash to make what they want appear before them without a smudge of tile mortar crusted to their unshaven legs.

We are not those people. We are the people with the vision and the muscle to watch it come to fruition before us slowly, with a little sweat, a lot of muscle and a few tears mixed in.

But despite the hard work, saw dust on my clothes and paint in my hair, I have to say, at this moment where we’re able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I wouldn’t trade the experience of doing it ourselves for all of the contractors in California.

Because there is something about working alongside your family as they hammer and nail and paint and move heavy things in an effort to see your dream realized. There’s something about hearing thier encouraging comments and seeing their excitement as things come together that makes me grateful to get my hands dirty with them.

And it means everything to be able to stand next to a husband who so desperately wants to make our dreams come true that he works long days and comes home to climb ladders, string wires and nail flooring only to put his hands on his hips and look at me all frazzled, sweaty and cranky and say “dream house, dream girl.”

It means everything to believe him.

It means the most to feel the same way.

So this week my mind’s in a thousand different places–in my music, in my writing, in my work, in the clothes and paperwork I can’t find and the budget we need to stretch to get this done. But I’m going to work hard to stay in the moment and notice the smile on my husband’s face as he checks off his list and gets us one step closer to having coffee together in our new home.

Our view from the kitchen…

Because I want to remember this, as hard as it’s been. I want to remember that when I was sixteen I drew him a picture.

And when I turned twenty-nine he made that picture come to life.

We’ll get the goat and the pigs next year…

Improving my home improvement attitude…

I married a man who knows where he can get a surplus of washing machine motors in case of a clothes-washing emergency. I fell in love with a guy who has hauled a broken down three-wheeler to all five of the places we’ve moved in the last six years with the intention of making the thing run when he has a spare moment (or twenty-thousand).

I am living with a person who has seventy-five Tupperware containers full of drill bits, little pieces of wire, nails and screws of various sizes, scraps of leather, broken saw blades, old speaker cords, empty shotgun shells, half-used rolls of tape, weird shaped things made of metal, something that looks like an electrical box, loose change from years of emptying pockets and a partridge in a pear tree because he might need it someday.

He’s a handyman, a carpenter, a Jack of all trades.

He’s a man who once spent the summer of his sixteenth birthday helping his father build a garage so that the next summer they could use it as a space to rebuild a tiny wooden boat from when Jesus was born into sleek and shiny yellow watercraft complete with a motor made to propel them around the big lake at speeds safe for a boat of a much bigger size.

He’s ambitious, a visionary, a guy with a tool for everything and a “why pay someone else to do it when you can do it yourself…and do a much better job…” attitude.

I am none of those things.

In fact one could argue that I’m the exact opposite. Where Husband has the impressive ability to breathe life into objects that belong on the bottom of a junk pile, I am the culprit who sent that thing to its grave in the first place.

I break things.

But it’s not my fault. Like Husband inherited his skills and interest in nailing things together, I was born to find a way to break them apart.

See, we’re neck-deep in working on the finishing touches it’s going to take to get us living in our new house. It’s an exciting time for a man who has been planning this home in the blueprints of his mind for years.

It’s a frightening time for a woman who once saw her life flash before her eyes when she got her head stuck in a ladder in her attempt at house painting.

But I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit around and make sandwiches while my husband is measuring and cutting and making sawdust fly.


I’m gonna help.

But before I could strap on my tool belt and suspenders that look like rulers,  I was sent with Pops to go get supplies.

And when I say supplies, I mean, hook up the giant trailer, grab your coffee and be ready to set up camp in the store for a good  five to six hours…because the man’s got a list…

And he wrote on both sides.


Fast forward through the part where Pops and I  got a flat tire and had to pull over on the highway to change it only to discover that the spare was a little skimpy on air as well.

Then skip the next part where I had a mental breakdown in the plumbing section trying to explain Husband’s hand-drawn diagram of a small piece he needed with a male end that connects to another piece with a female end that needs to be threaded and bedazzled with rhinestones and copper and is a 1/2 inch wide (or is that 1/3?) with metal studs while Pops mastered the art of sleeping while standing up.

Then zip on through the fourteen hours it took the two of us to load 750 square feet of hardwood flooring, 300 slate tiles, three bags of mortar, two bags of grout, a nailer, 20 pieces of sheet rock, six oak doors, a bag of painting supplies, electrical boxes, a roll of wire for something,  thirty-seven thousand plumbing parts and a bag of licorice onto the trailer, covering it with a giant tarp while the wind blew the thunderheads in.

I don’t want to talk about the monsoon that tore through that tarp on the way home in the dark or the fact that Pops may or may not have hit a small tree with a trailer full of soggy supplies as he slid sideways in the sticky mud outside the garage and proceeded to get stuck up to the floorboards.

I won’t mention the words he used to explain his emotions or the fact that we had to get the tractor to lift the trailer away from the tree and then hook it up to the front of the pickup to pull it out of the mud.

We don’t want to talk about it.

And I don’t want to talk about the grumbling that occurred the next day when I was sent to town again because there was a missing piece in the bag of 3,000 plumbing supplies we picked up in our life-altering journey.


I won’t go there.

But I do want to tell you that when our supplies were accounted for and we got line out, after I painted the ceiling and the walls, organized our area and brought over some beer and snacks, someone did give me a tool.

A hammer.

And I was elated to be thought capable enough to help lay the wood floor.

So excited that in approximately 3.4 minutes of weilding that hammer, I forgot about moving my thumb out of the way.

And I do want to tell you that even though my thumb print is forever altered, Husband gave me a second chance and trusted me to learn the art of tiling.

And I thought I was doing ok, really. I mean, after two full days of being left alone to mix mud, haul and cut heavy tiles, space them out and skip the parts where I actually had to use math skills to measure, I still had a few places on my body that weren’t completely crusted in mortar.

I was focused, I was sweaty, I was becoming a tiling expert intent on getting the project complete in a timely manner. There was no time for breaks, no rest for wicked and apparently no room for manners, which I quickly learned was something that remains important in my handyman’s world no matter the time constraints and focus placed on the project.

Because when he came to check on my progress at the end of two days of laying tile he took one look at this woman with sweat dripping down her back, wild hair escaping from her two-day pony tail and arms and legs covered in mortar only to be greeted with an order to go get her a rag.

Apparently there was something about my request that didn’t sit well with my husband. Perhaps it was the tone of voice, or the fact that I didn’t look him in the eye or use the words or any form of synonym for “please” or “thank you”. Whatever it was, Husband couldn’t contain his disdain for this version of his wife morphed into some kind of intense and ragged construction obsessed animal.  He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t the calm, cool and collected species he becomes in this sawdust and testosterone infused environment.

He was confused.

He had to express himself.

I glared up at him from my place among the tiles and wet mortar.

“Where’s my rag? I need my rag? I’m almost done!!! Did you hear me?!!!”

He took two steps backwards, looked down and pointed at me, wagging his finger up and down to emphasize his disappointment as he said…

“Look at you. You’re bossy, you’re a mess and I don’t know if I like working with you…”

He took two more steps backward and stood still for a moment waiting for my reaction.

I looked down at my jeans, unrecognizable at this point as anything but pants made out of mortar. I ran my dirty hand through my hair and pulled out a glob of crusted mud.

Sweat trickled down my back and into my butt crack as I took in the words this kind and patient man has never before uttered to me.

I took a deep breath as the stress and worry of the past two weeks came unglued from my insides and out of my lungs in a fit of laughter that I couldn’t contain.

Husband stared at me as I worked to apologize through my giggles and belly laugh.

He shook his head and lifted his cap up to run his fingers through his hair, his lips curled up in a reassuring smile as he turned on his boot heel and left the crumpled, ornery and unnecessarily intense version of his wife to consider improving her home improvement attitude.

And I was left with the conclusion that I’d better shape up, because for the next few weeks while we finish this house I’m living in this man’s world, and if I ever want to cook a meal in this kitchen in our lifetime, I’d better whistle while I try to avoid hammering my arm to the wall and do what I can to keep him around…

Because I break things.

And he fixes them…

The dangerous life of a Handyman’s wife…

So we’re in the middle of finishing that house that came down the road to our little valley at the end of December. And by finishing, I mean, we’re the ones responsible for the little things…like a floor, doors, steps, a master bedroom/bathroom and, well, a ceiling…pretty much all the basics that one might need to actually LIVE in a house.

No big deal right? I mean, I should have known when I said “I do” to a man who was raised with a father who had a collection of lawnmowers/washers and dryers/stoves/boats/kitchen sinks in his back yard in case he needed a part for the one that was currently in use in the house.

I should have known when my own washing machine went out that the options were not “get a new one,” but “call dad and see if he has any extra motors laying around.”

He did.

Four of them.

And I think three of them might still be in the basement.

"You know, in case we need 'em"

 Anyway, that’s how things are around here. If you want something done and still want to be able to afford to buy Cheerios for breakfast, we do it ourselves.I’ve come to terms with this concept after completing a full out, strip down, shag carpet, hot-tub in the living room remodel that brought a 1974 Brady Bunch house up to the times of hardwood flooring and, well, no hot tubs in the living room. Yup, 200 hours of staining and varnishing, three hundred less brain cells and one head stuck in a ladder later, I was convinced.

I am the wife of a handyman. 

And this is our project...forever...

So I went into it with a combination of confidence and dread. I mean, I knew my love in a tool belt (and oh how I love him in a tool belt) could get us living in a beautiful home designed by our two brains. I knew that under his direction I would hand him tools, saw a few boards, make lumber-yard runs, choose the paint colors, try to avoid my thumbs with the hammer, deliver sandwiches and beer and keep the music on the iPod flowing with motivational tunes. I had that covered. There are some things I can handle.

And really, it has been going good so far. If you ask my brave and fearlessly confident husband, he’s got this under control. Take out the minor incident where my three-year-old niece came to visit, decided she had to try out our new potty and plopped a little poopie in our unplumbed bathroom, and I’d say it’s been down right Bob Vila-esque around here.

Don't worry, we're still friends...

So why have I spent that last month fighting off night terrors you ask? Well, I’ll tell ya. Some genius decided to build a house with 20 foot ceilings. And that genius, knowing full well who would be praying to Jesus, Mary and Joseph while trembling on an 8 foot ladder on top of 10 foot scaffolding with her arms above her head, fears heights the same way most people fear plummeting to a bone-crushing, back-breaking, neck-wrenching, bloody, mangled death.



That’s what I pictured each and every time I walked across that homemade scaffolding, boards creaking and bending, the sound of someone hyperventilating in my attempt to bring a nail-gun (the one I am always sure is going to go off randomly, shooting a 2 inch nail through the top of my foot without warning) to my dearly beloved who somehow thinks positioning his ladder on the tippy-toe edge of the ledge, standing at the very top rung and then leaning out into the abyss of death that is one day going to be our living room, is an acceptable risk to take just to ensure that a board is secure.

I scream “screw the board, save yourselves,” fling the nail gun and run to the corner of the house, the corner far away from any ledge and plummeting death.

It’s ridiculous, I’m aware. And I feel sorry for husband who is just trying to make our vision for a beautiful cedar ceiling a reality. I feel sorry for him because I come by it naturally. It’s a hereditary condition spawned from my roots of prairie people who passed up the terrifying mountains to come to live in houses with one floor, low ceilings and a basement.

One of the first Veeder ranch dwellings. You see where I'm coming from?

I feel sorry for him because the only help he’s had at his disposal for this sky-scaping, death-defying, circus-act of a job is the two prairie people with the worst case of vertigo in the family.

Yours truly, and her father.

Yup. Pops has it bad too, and frankly, I blame him for all of these undesirable qualities I’ve inherited. The big nose, the fuzzy hair, the tendency to ramble AND the crippling fear of high places. All him.

I might just blame my unhealthy obsession with four legged creatures on him too...

But the difference between Pops and me is this. I avoid, complain, sob, tremble, look away and repeatedly tell my significant other to “be careful, watch where you step, hold on, hold on, don’t lean…I’ve got the ladder…shit…don’t fall…don’t fall…don’t fall…you’re killing me…”

But Pops, he just sucks it up, wipes the sweat that forms uncontrollably on his brow, suffers in silence as his son in law dangles with one arm from the rafters while he leans over the ledge, and then goes home to have vivid nightmares about people falling off skyscrapers.

Which brings me to last weekend where, after weeks of this type of torture, the end of this dreaded ceiling project was in sight. I was feeling pretty good about the fact that we had managed to nail approximately thirty -thousand boards to the rafters without anyone losing a limb, shooting an eyeball with the nail gun, cutting a finger off, or, you know, plummeting to a gruesome death.

But we weren’t out of the woods yet. Nope. We still had one giant task that included raising and nailing a 15 foot beam to the very, tippy-top, peak of our the ceiling of our new home. This was to complete the job, make it look finished, give us a place to hang our chandelier and get us moving on to the next task that required shorter ladders.

So I suggested calling the National Guard.

Husband took the phone from my hand and told me to go find my pops.

I cried.

And then did what I was told, because in the end practicality always wins over drama in my life.

Although you would never guess it by the looks of this outfit...but that was in my pre-husband era...

I found Pops in the shop, on solid ground, working on his beloved 4-wheeler. He followed me to the house to find husband waiting for us on the damned, creaky scaffolding equipped with two ladders and a nail gun.

The task? Hold the beam up to the top of the 20 foot ceiling while husband climbs and dangles and runs and jumps and back flips to get the damn thing to hold.

I trembled and felt a little of that morning’s eggs hit my throat. I held my breath and as Pops held the beam on one ladder I stayed on the scaffolding holding a 10 foot 2×4 against the middle part of the beam.

And there we stood, the two of us conjuring up new nightmares and worst-case scenarios as my Bob Villa Ninja went from one near death position to the next. Pops told me not to watch as husband stretched his ladder across the stairway and stood with nothing but a thin board between him and a 15 foot fall.

So I didn’t watch. And neither did Pops.

We held it together, the two of us. We only hollered “be careful up there!” and “don’t fall!” like fifty-five times during the course of fifteen minutes (although I would have been more comfortable with a number in the hundreds.) And we thought we were out of the woods, everybody’s head in tact, when husband climbed down from the ladder and put his hands on his hips.

“Looks good,” he said.

“YES! IT DOES. GOOD WORK,” shrieked Pops and I.

“I just need to nail one more spot,” husband said scratching his head. “I wonder how the hell I’m going to get to it?”

We followed his eyes to where they rested on a piece of the beam that towered past the edge of the scaffolding, too high for a regular ladder to reach. 20 feet up there, un-reachable unless you had wings.

Pops used our best material to try and convince Husband that a nail in that particular location was not necessary. We suggested putting more nails in other places to make up for it. But Ninja Bob Villa wouldn’t have it and before we knew it he had his ladder on the ledge of the scaffolding, his feet on the top rung, his back bent at a 90 degree angle out over the stair case with a nail gun in his hand reaching for the ceiling.

And it seems we lost it.

I whimpered and squeezed back the tears as I grabbed the ladder. And while I was saying fifty prayers to Jesus, Pops threw down his tools and grabbed on to his son-in-law’s belt buckle as my husband leaned further back over the abyss.

“Son, if you fall it would be sure death,” my Pops declared.

“And if either of you tell anyone that I grabbed your belt, I’ll kill you both…”

Well, I guess we all have to die someday…If you need me I’ll be around here somewhere…hiding from Pops.