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.


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.