A Cautionary Tale of Doing Things Yourself

Warning: The following post contains graphic imaginary images of blood, sweat, tears, and an amputation.  Luckily for you, I find it impossible to cry and focus a camera at the same time so you don’t have to see the saddest or most gruesome stuff. 

Today’s subject is floors. Specifically, stained and sealed concrete downstairs, hardwood up. As a bonus, you’ll see some stair treads and finished baseboards. I know it’s exciting, but try to stay in your seats.

Before we start talking about the work we did, I must give props to our builder. Thanks to his team the foundation concrete that makes the floor on the first level of this house was as smooth as a baby’s bottom and as hard as this work was for us, it would’ve been far worse without their excellent prep work.

Not pictured: Mother-in-law scooting around the floor on “Rube the Cube” (a wooden box on casters), Popsicle stick in hand, scraping from the floor blobs of dried mud left from the taping and bedding process. Why a Popsicle stick and not something bigger, such as an actual paint scraper? We don’t know and at this point in the process it was too much work to ask too many questions. She, Rube, and that little stick got the floor spotless and that’s all that matters.

Below is a picture of my stellar job of taping off the walls with plastic. I first lined the walls with heavy paper, then thought better of it because of the amount of water I expected us to use. I loathe doing things twice and this picture shows both my skill and attention to detail on the second go-round. Have you ever seen better tape placement? In my defense, this is the kitchen and I expected most of the mess would be covered up by cabinets (spoiler alert: It was!). I’m defenseless in explaining the dye on the front door, the fireplace brick and the far corner window in the dining room.


Not pictured: Mark spreading a non-corrosive biodegradable gel on the floor to prepare “a concrete substrate by producing a moderate surface texture.”  In other words, an acid that etched away a bit of the concrete so the dye could penetrate better. We found it worked great at exfoliating the soles of feet too. Why did we stand barefoot in the middle of this stuff? See two paragraphs up about asking questions.

After the gel set, the real fun began.  We should’ve used a lovely all-in-one machine like the one pictured below.


photo courtesy of keepclean.com

It agitates the gel, then applies a water rinse and sucks it all up. It’s magic! In accordance with our luck, finding one of these contraptions to rent is about as easy as convincing a magician to reveal the secret behind his best trick. We were under the gun, time-wise, so we had to suck it up and do the work of this machine ourselves. It took four of us.

Mark manned a heavy-duty low-speed scrubber similar to the one pictured below.


photo courtesy of webrestaurantstore.com

While FIL worked the water hose, MIL vacuumed it all up with a shop vac and I operated the squeegee.

It sounds so easy.

Everyone except Mark walked away from this work looking like Quasimodo. Don’t worry, Mark didn’t fare any better. This is where he lost a toe. Well, not a toe, exactly, but his whole toenail was ripped off by the machine pictured above. Okay, fine, not the whole nail, but definitely a whole corner. There was sooo much blood. I can’t emphasize enough the amount of blood. We’re just lucky water hoses and shop vacs were on-hand.

We all recovered enough from the horrible first step to move into the second step: dye.

Here are the fellas getting the sprayer ready. The excitement is palpable, no?


Not pictured: The actual process of spraying the dye on the floor.

It’s messy work that does not lend itself to picture-taking.


This part might’ve been messy, but it was relatively painless. The only downside was closing up the house. No one wanted the dye to float up and stick to the walls, so we closed all doors and windows to avert all cross breezes. Stifling heat does not adequately describe the situation.

I won’t fault you for thinking this next photo is a synchronized interpretive dance.


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After a couple of coats of dye, we applied the sealer.

Oh good heavens, it was miserable. We used the sprayer with relative success, but it was a slow process. Then Mark’s dad and I thought we would get crafty and use a roller brush to apply the sealer in the kitchen while Mark was at work. I would say it was the worst mistake ever, but that’s a little dramatic. It was certainly the worst mistake of this project. I arrived at the house at 5:30am the following morning to check our work after it dried and found the floor thick with billions of bubbles. I tried to sand ‘em off and ended up in tears. Mark received more than one text from me saying “We’re f*cked.” The poor guy had to juggle meetings and his angry insane wife. His dad and I ended up machine sanding most of the titanium-hard stuff off. We both walked away with a permanent list to our shoulders. There are no pictures of any of this because of tears.

I enjoyed sanding the kitchen floor so much I took it upon myself to do the rest of floors. Mark willingly volunteered to do it too. Perhaps I’m not the only crazy person around here.


Thousands of square feet wet sanded by hand. Twice. The upside is that the rest of the floor was sprayed, not rolled, so this work was much easier than what we had to do in the kitchen.

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As we waited for each coat of sealer to dry, I worked on baseboards in the garage. We had no electricity and we had to keep the garage door shut so dirt and dust wouldn’t blow on to the sticky floors. The little flashlight worked well and I passed the long hours pretending I was in a one woman show. It was a smashing success—the audience and critics loved it.


Then the battery died.

Stuck in a darkened garage, unable to see to paint and no longer able to see my audience of power tools, I turned on my trusty phone light and made this sign.


It worked! I didn’t have to blind or kill a single person.

After we finished sanding and sealing the floors and sanding, priming, and painting the baseboards, the two were ready to meet. Side note: we chose thinner, smaller baseboards than what’s typically put in houses today because we felt it worked better with the style of the house. It was an added bonus that this minimal look required less paint and caulk and fewer nails.



Then we started work on the stairs. While we were on our hands and knees wet sanding the floor, the in-laws did most of the stair prep at the workshop at their house. They sanded, stained, and sealed all the treads and the handrails. I’m certain they saved our lives.


Chomp. The stairs looked like the mouth of a giant fire-breathing dragon for weeks. I like to think I’m a reasonably grown-up and mature person, but I couldn’t climb these stairs without going as fast as possible, taking two or three steps at a time, then breathing a full sigh of relief after safely reaching the top without losing a leg.


The dragon died when FIL and I installed the risers. Okay, fine, he installed the risers while I watched. I did my part by filling the nail holes. If you’re interested, I got a blister on my finger from this strenuous work.




Father-in-law’s tools:


My tools:


We make a pretty good dragon-slaying team.


Handrails! I’m so happy Mark found these flat rails. We expected to use a modern round version, but then he came across these and they work so well with the retro feel of the house. They’re one of my favorite things…probably because I didn’t have to sand, stain, and install them.




Movin’ on up…


After finishing the stairs we turned our focus to the hardwood on the second level.

Please note the working lights! During the time between dyeing the floor on the first level and finishing the stairs, we passed our electrical inspection, Oncor installed the meter, and our electricity was finally switched on. That whole process was a pain in the left buttock. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Pictured below, the first step: underlayment.


Mark’s parents and I worked on the floors during the day while he was at work. Then they would go home and Mark and I would work until our eyes crossed.


It was about this time we started questioning our decision to use the 2 ¼” planks instead of today’s popular 5” wide variety. They created so much more work and it was such a hassle at the time, but now that it’s done we’re both happy we stuck with it. The thinner planks are more mid-century era-appropriate and I think they’ll stand the test of time better than something trendy. At least that’s what I kept telling myself as we frequently reloaded the nail gun.


The picture below is when we moved from the hall into a bedroom. It was both a blessing and a curse to have electricity at this time: A blessing because we were under an intense and almost impossible deadline from the bank and being able to work well after the sun set saved us; a curse because we were so exhausted and working well after the sun set nearly killed us.


Hardwood floors are really just giant puzzles permanently attached to your home.


One glorious day, as FIL and I worked the floor in the kiddo’s room, the vent inspector showed up to test duct leakage.


We passed!  More than one full year after we broke ground on this project we were able to turn the air on.


Backbreaking work right there.


My contribution was to hold the crowbar. Check out those rippling veins and that one bulging muscle.


Working on the last few rows.

20140923_201418Voila! A floor and almost finished baseboards (still needed: nail filling, caulk, and a final coat of paint).


Now we go back downstairs to see Mark burnishing the concrete floors.


I got to know the folks at our local janitorial supply store well. They have so much cool stuff!


The floors looked like water after Mark finished burnishing. To be honest, it was too much. The shine was disorienting. Ducks could break their necks trying to land in that stuff.


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At night it looked like a rave.


Adding rugs and furniture helped tone it down.  We never intended for it to be this shiny and we’ll never maintain this level of gloss, but it’s fun to know we could do it again if we wanted. Not that we’ll ever do this sort of thing again.

The Closing of Our Open Door Policy

We must do a little time traveling for this post – all the way back to July of 2014. The average temp was about 97°. We had a few soul-crushing +100° days, but we were rewarded with a handful of glorious mid-80° days too. Timing is important and I am profoundly grateful we didn’t try to build a house in the summer of 2011. For those who’ve blocked that terrible time from their memory, that’s the summer of seventy consecutive days over 100°, Austin was literally on fire, and our farmer regularly offered cactus alongside the wilted (but delicious) vegetables in our CSA shares – so July 2014 wasn’t so bad, comparatively. This is what I told myself each time I reached in my pocket for a woe is me card. It worked; my bellyachin’ was kept to a minimum.


The front door area looked like this for a ridiculously long time. So long, we got a little too comfortable and a little too lax and some thieving bandits made off with a generator and close to a thousand dollars worth of building material. The break in – or the more technically correct term walk in – lit a fire under our butts to get the door installed and locks in place.


The house design dictated a simple but massive door. We didn’t expect it to be so difficult to find a plain slab 4’x9’ door, but every off-the-shelf option was too small or included panels, carvings, inlays, or other decorative accents—which work well for Colonial, Craftsman, Victorian, and Tudor style homes, but not so much for the mid-century modern meets Dwell-style home the architect designed for us. Resdoor of Fort Worth saved the day by creating exactly what we needed.


It doesn’t look like much, but that’s a colossal door right there. It’s seven months later and I still have an immense amount of relief that we weren’t responsible for the installation.


Good job, Ruben!

That’s where Ruben’s work stopped and we took over…


I filled every nail hole until the sidelights looked like a toddler with calamine covered chicken pox. The caulk gun came out about this time too, but it wasn’t as funny as the pox of the chicken so there are no pictures of that work. Does anyone else think the reflection in the window resembles space travel in the Millennium Falcon? No? Well, you could see it if you were high from caulk and paint fumes.


We thought the primer color was bright…


…until it turned the color of Silly Putty next to the real door color, Sherwin Williams Daredevil (SW6882).


Primer – we briefly considered just leaving it like this.


But after seeing the real door color, we’re glad we didn’t.


I didn’t realize it at the time, but based on the photos on my phone, we ate black lentils and carrots while we did this work. I’m taking this as proof of my greatest fear: I have a one-track mind and lack the ability to multitask. It’s a good thing I had neither the time nor the inclination to apply makeup during this part of the project because I was liable to walk away from the mirror looking like a Halloween costume.


While we worked on the door, the bricklayers started their work. The concrete guys poured the front porch too, which was bittersweet for me: I was grateful for the smooth, solid surface because moving a large ladder between the woven rebar was a major pain in my ass, but I also hated to lose our fake Grauman’s Chinese Theater…


…especially the little raccoon handprints.


I think our little raccoon friend might be a distant cousin of Gregory Peck.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA image courtesy of alexander cunningham’s flickr page



Mark installed the door handle and we promptly locked ourselves out of the house. Or at least we thought we did. Turns out we just didn’t know how to work the door knob. I blame the paint fumes. Don’t worry, we’ve got the ‘getting into the house’ thing down now. Push button garage door openers are a godsend.


It was about this time that I realized I wasn’t happy with the white trim. The balance was off. It needed to be bolder. So out came the paint brush and the paint fumes again.


This is how the front door area looks today. It still needs work, namely another coat of Daredevil, a sweet starburst doorknob thingy*, a proper walkway from the street to the house, and some landscaping. Those things will have to wait until better weather or until our paint-addled brains fully recover, whichever comes first.


*Doorknob thingy

We get by with a little help from our friends.

Technically it’s a lot of help from a lot of friends. A lot of family, too. We’ll talk about them all, but today’s spotlight is on a man with a very specific set of skills. Skills acquired over a very long career. Skills that make him a dream-come-true for people like us in a situation like this.

Clint Stapp can go from a hospital board meeting to deftly working his comedic chops at a raffle table during a homebrew competition. His number crunching skills are only rivaled by his mastery of culinary arts. He can climb a Jeep up the cliffs of the Moab desert as easily as he bikes to his neighborhood grocery store. But that’s not what we needed from him (well, the comedic chops bit came in handy since we were hot (we did most of the work in this post in late August), tired, and utterly worn out from this project – laughter is an exceptional salve). What we needed from Clint was his MIG welder and Darth Vader helmet. Several years ago Mark designed a bed and Clint welded it for us. His work is exceptional – just look at those smooth joints. We knew he was the person to help us with the balcony.

emma bed

For the curious, that’s Emma Louise, the only dog I know that won’t get out of bed before 1pm.

But before we could call Clint into action, we had to do some prep work…




Painting the underside of the deck was far more painful and annoying than I expected. I hate painting ceilings – mostly because my arms are most comfortable at my sides or at the very most raising a cocktail glass to my lips – but the slats and nooks and crannies that make up the balcony put ceiling painting to shame. In my mind, this work was not so different from 15th century hang-a-prisoner-from-arm-shackles-above-his-head torture. There are no pictures of this work because other people were off on their own projects and I could not focus through the tears AND hold bags of ice on my shoulders. I’m not sure if he felt sorry for me or just wanted to shut me up, but Mark bought this brilliant tool and it made the work go so much faster:

61-fwA7PtUL._SL1500_image courtesy of amazon.com

A week’s worth of painting right there – pre-crevice tool.


By the time I finished my work, Clint (seen here with his lovely bride, Dana, whose eyes are too beautiful to photograph) was ready to start his.



IMG_4531photo courtesy of Dana Stapp

IMG_2228photo courtesy of Dana Stapp


First angle bracket permanently in place!


It was a long day for Clint, who was nursing an injured foot, but it was a great day for us. We ended up with the foundation for a remarkably safe and secure balcony railing and the added bonus of catching up with good friends we hadn’t seen in eons. We can’t thank you enough Mr. and Mrs. Stapp!

IMG_6745 photo courtesy of Dana Stapp

After Clint finished his work, I picked up the paint brush again. Painting the steel around the balcony was a bit more comfortable than painting the underside, but it still had its issues. I won’t bore you with the details – instead, here’s a picture when I still had the semblance of a smile on my face.


Fast forward through the gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair to this:


It  looks so easy. Sigh…

Once I finished my work with the paint brush, Mark and his dad took over.


The levels got a workout.


My fear of heights got a workout too.



To tell the truth, my fear of heights is almost gone. I credit immersion therapy. And drinking (but NOT while you’re on a ladder!).

This part of the process was slow, but that’s just the way it should be – check, double-check, then check the bolts one more time.

They eventually made it all the way around the balcony, and then came the fun part…




Then the not-so-fun part…tension cables.



Correction: Mark says it’s not that this part wasn’t fun, it was just tedious.

And voilà! The finished product!


Here are a few more shots because she’s so pretty and I like to show her off.




Now, instead of feeling the throes of vertigo when I step onto the balcony, I get the calm and comforting feeling of being in a playpen – but unlike a baby, I can hold a cocktail and watch the turtles from up there and fully appreciate how wonderful the thing on which I stand is. Also, a baby would never consider using “on which” so I’m definitely an adult. I feel I must make that clear because there were a lot of tears during the painting part of this project.

Up next (in a more timely manner, I hope) – the front door.

She’s Mighty Mighty

This post is at least a couple of months overdue. Things moved along at a brisk pace during this time and – much to my displeasure – sitting in an air-conditioned room on a soft chair in front of a computer screen wasn’t an option.

We spent nearly ten months staring at pallets of bricks. They were delivered in October 2013 – back when the whole team had optimistic thoughts about how quickly this house would go up.  We’re all older and wiser now.

Here are the bricks back when they were new and clean and hopeful (they do look hopeful, don’t they?).

bricks far

Unlike some of the crews before them, the brickmasons were marvelous.  Skilled laborers who showed up on time and worked their arses off in the heat – you can’t ask for more than that when building a house.


They found ingenious ways to make shade – and let me tell you, it was needed. White brick + white sand + blazing hot white sun = blindness and heatstroke.



As an armchair anthropologist, I marveled at the way these men ate on-site. Unlike other groups of workers, there were no fast-food bags, no cold/stale leftovers, no generic box lunches. These men ate fresh and they ate well. Every single day.


They had a workhorse of a microwave that went everywhere with them. If they were inside, it was inside.


If they were outside, it was outside.


If they were both in and out, it was in the garage.


It survived more than one night in the rain too. It’s possible it was caked with magical supernatural goo to keep it running – I don’t know for sure because I was never brave enough to open the door.

We had no electricity at this time, so everything that required power, including the microwave, ran on a generator. The thing was obnoxiously loud and it’s a testament to the patience of our neighbors that we never received a noise complaint.

Avocado peels, lime wedges, tomatoes, and cilantro leaves littered the ground where they ate. BEST TRASH EVER!


Bricklaying is messy work. I recommend thick-soled shoes.


Working over the pond presented its own issues.


How many bricks do you think ended up in the water?



All buildings with brick facades use a metal support beam called a lintel to run bricks across doorways, windows and other openings.


They aren’t typically visible but the architect who designed this house decided to make ours a bit more prominent. This idea was great on paper – in the cool comfort of the builder’s office – but then we had to paint those bad boys with primer and black paint on some of the hottest days of this summer. I still bear the burn marks on my forearms from accidentally grazing the blazing hot metal. Side note – the lintels sat on-site for many months without any issue, but just a few days before installation someone decided to steal ‘em. Such is our luck.


My brain started swelling from the heat so there are no pictures of the black paint, but believe you me, it went on right after the rust-colored primer.


Here they are in place.



They look much better now that they’re clean and touched up by a professional painter, but you’ll have to wait for those pictures because I can only focus on one thing at a time since the whole ‘heat-swollen brain’ thing.



Mark requested a 1/3 running bond brick pattern for the house. If you’re clueless like me, here’s a handy visual tutorial on brick patterns (many thanks to http://www.triton.edu for this image).


Mark decided a large brick wall featured prominently on the front of the house was not aesthetically pleasing so he designed four “soldiers” to guard the garage. Once again, I was clueless and would’ve never thought of turning the bricks to make a more interesting pattern. Our soldiers look great now, but I think they’ll be truly stunning with some landscaping and lighting in the future.

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The crew did a decent job of cleaning up after themselves, but I’m pretty sure bricks are like rabbits and multiply exponentially. We will never finish picking them all up.


Jordan, our neighbor’s not-confined-in-a-fenced-yard dog, stopped by to inspect the brickmasons’ work. This visit was important enough for her to bring a friend – a pug my mother-in-law started calling Monsieur. I don’t know if it’s the dog’s real name or not, but it stuck. Now I find myself yelling “Monsieur! Go poop in your own yard!” regularly. Sometimes I use a fake French accent to keep things interesting. I really wish their owners wouldn’t let them roam. I worry for their safety.


Mid-July rain caused a few delays and made maneuvering the site difficult. I may or may not have made “walk the plank” jokes in a ridiculously bad pirate voice around this time. My jokes may or may not have been ignored.



Here’s what it looked like after the brickmasons left, but before the roofers finished their work.


Up next: the finished roof, the front door area, and the balcony! After that we’ll move on to posts about the inside.

Rainy Days and Mondays…*

I never expected to have to work around rain delays when we started this project. Partly because this project began two years ago – smack dab in the middle of one of the worst droughts in our state’s history – but also because, droughts aside, summer in Texas is not known for its rain showers.

I like to think this project got the attention of the weather gods and since they have silly, mischievous senses of humor the lakes around North Texas filled up a bit while they inflicted rain upon our little project. You’re welcome. For the record, we will not be able to help out during the next drought. This is it for us.

The last storms that affected us directly happened when we were painting the outside of the house. Mark took a week off from work and two full days of painting were lost to rain. He figured out a way to salvage the time by building the framework for the fireplace himself (relatively easy work since he’s the one who designed it). Take that, weather gods!

We still have much to do with the fireplace, but the pictures at the end of this post will give you a good idea of how this thing will look.

In the beginning – father-in-law cipherin’ measurements very early on Day One of Project: Fireplace.


Then the fun stuff starts!




Disclaimer: No fathers-in-law were hurt during this construction.


Mark works out the depth of the columns (real world applications are sometimes different from CAD drawings).


Building the structure vertically.



Inspecting the work at the end of Day One.


Day Two – it gets wrapped in OSB (Oriented Strand Board – not Oriental Strand Board) for strength…


…and Mark sorts out brick placement and the width of mortar joints.


By this point, the rain let up and we were able to return to our paint buckets.

Several weeks later, sheetrock went up and the concrete guys built a frame for the hearth (they were also on-site to build frames for steps outside the sliding doors and the front porch – but we’ll talk about those things in a future post).


A couple of weeks after that, they poured the concrete.


Around this time, the brick masons started their work on the outside of the house. They, too, felt the wrath of the weather gods, so they, too, moved indoors to work on the fireplace during rain (it’s important to reiterate that this is JULY IN TEXAS).



Instead of a pre-made firebox, the brick masons custom-built one to Mark’s specifications. We lovingly referred to the fireplace as the ‘pizza oven’ during this phase.


Once they finished the firebox, Mark started his work on the placement of the cement board to hold the tiles that will eventually be the focus of the fireplace.


Right around this time the plumbers ran a line for gas.

Side conversation: No, we don’t plan to use wood logs in this thing. It’s meant for decorative purposes 98% of the time. The other 2% – Thanksgiving and Christmas – should not be spent cleaning soot and ashes. Yes, we love wood fires and plan to have a proper fire pit outside, where homemade marshmallows stuffed on the ends of twigs can melt into sticky, stringy globs and water from the cement pond can thoroughly douse any burning embers.

Back to the plumbers – Mark was not happy with the location they chose for the cut-off valve. Please note it is now both lower and centered squarely on the corners of the bricks. I could dedicate a whole post to OCD tendencies.


In case you’re wondering: Yes, that’s dirt on those bricks. They sat on-site for eleven months. I think they’re pretty clean considering.

Here’s a peek inside. I call this its Mullet Phase – you know, business in the front/party in the back. If you’re curious, the brick masons used the busted up pieces for fortification purposes.


Work on the cement board fittings continued as Mark and his dad added braces followed by the board.



The masons then covered the “party” brick with “business” brick, effectively killing any links to the mullet/pizza oven.


Here’s how it looks today. There’s still a lot of work to do – namely, we must make the ceramic tiles to fill the center. I’m looking forward to that part because we’ll work with our dear friend Keith Thomson from the Firehouse Gallery. We own some of his work already, but I like the idea that he will be a permanent part of this home.


In closing, I give Mark my most heartfelt thanks for his infinite patience as I vacillated between we-must-have-a-mantle(!) and do-we-really-need-a-mantle(?!) exactly twenty times a day for the past fourteen months. The man is a saint.

* Blatant use of a Carpenters song seemed appropriate for this carpentry-heavy post.

Deck, Part Deux

The last time this blog visited this deck, it looked something like this:


Mark took two weeks off recently. That’s in addition to the week he took off when we painted the outside. He has a ridiculous amount of vacation (that’s one of the reasons we thought we could tackle such an ambitious project).

He spent Week One on the deck while the crew installed sheetrock, taped, and textured inside. He spent Week Two painting indoors, but you’ve already seen that.

Here’s Day One of Deck Work. A lot of prep happened before they laid the first board. Mark wanted a specific type of wood and he didn’t want to see screws. Those stipulations turned a 2-day project into a full week’s worth of work. It was worth it, though. The thing is gorgeous.

20140628_153712Side note: We all have well-earned farmers’ tans now.

In the picture below, Mark shows us how to use the biscuit joiner.


You make a small incision in the side of the board then insert a clip and nailed it to the joist. The board next to it gets an incision too and it’s pushed onto the clip that’s already nailed in. They say a picture is worth a thousand words:


This process is both painful and time consuming, but it results in a surface free of visible screws or nails, which makes Mark happy.

Mini-conference – most likely regarding the length of the next board.

The part of the deck you see in the picture above was easy peasy work. Sure, it was a pain to high step over all those joists – many a shin scar earned here – but compared to working on the section over the water this was a cakewalk.


See, using the ground as leverage to get the boards in tight on the ‘land side’ was good.


Doing the same thing over the water – not so good.


They made their way, slowly but surely.



The Cement Pond god requested sacrifices so we offered up a couple of tools. Not sure what harm he could have inflicted upon us if we chose not to contribute to his cause, but better safe than sorry, right? (I’m really curious to see what turns up when we do a proper draining and cleaning of this thing…at least thirty years, or four feet, of muck in the bottom should make for a fun archaeological dig.)


This little part of the deck was trickier than I ever imagined.


While taking a break from deck work, father-in-law spotted a large soft shell turtle digging a nest on the “lake” side of the property. She spotted him at the same time and her attempt to quickly and gracefully high tail it outta there failed as she slid down the bank and landed on her back in a couple of inches of water. Fortunately, one of the deck planks was long enough for Mark to reach her and flip her over without having to get too close. Since Mark saved her life, I told him he earned naming rights. So everyone, meet Cat the Turtle (or more specifically, Cat the Turtle’s belly – or, if you want the anatomically correct word, her plastron). I’m hopeful this experience didn’t mess up her egg laying process. I plan to keep an eye out for her kittens in a couple of months. Had I been on hand for this li’l adventure, you would see pictures of the rescue itself. Instead, you just get this:


Back to the deck – who knew walking on a solid surface could bring such joy?


Once they attached the trim pieces the next phase of this project started – painting the structural steel to help protect it from the elements and to make it look pretty. Although, if we do our job right it won’t really look pretty, it’ll just disappear.

First we cleaned the metal, then Mark ground down nails used to hold the joists in place then came the primer. This is nasty stuff and I apologized to every minnow that thought a tiny drip was an insect landing on the water.


I have a newfound appreciation of the men and women who paint bridges. This is not easy work.

My arms were too tired to snap an action shot of the final coat of black paint going on, but here’s a good before and after:

nail grind

Even though it’s nasty stuff, we’re quite happy with Rust-Oleum® industrial strength rusty metal primer – specifically, the way it adhered to the steel. Fingers crossed it holds up well because I do not want to paint this thing again.

But that’s not all!

Work began immediately on the balcony. Fortunately, Mark’s stringent wood and screw requirements didn’t cover the upper deck so this work went remarkably fast.

This is how we worked on the balcony before:


If you look closely at the picture above, you can see father-in-law’s hand while he caulked the board and batten. I took this photo during one of my ‘spells’ – which is just code for taking a break, lying flat on my back and staring up at the sky for a while. I’m not cut out for the work of a day laborer.

This is how it looks today. Yes, railing is planned. We’re not crazy.


It’s so much easier to work out there now!


Here’s the view from another spell.


The team who put the joists in place made a few placement mistakes, so Mark used the grinder to smooth the holes and his dad filled ‘em in with Bondo®. Once I painted the beam with primer, it’s practically impossible to see where they were.



I’m confident it’ll look even better with the final coat of paint. There’s a lot more work to do – most importantly, welding pieces meant to attach the upper balcony railing. We have a special guest star for that job, so check back in a couple of weeks to see how things turn out.

Then we must finish painting the underside of the balcony and stain/seal the wood on top too. Finally, we will sand and oil the ipe on the deck below but that won’t happen until the brick masons finish their work.

In the meantime, I leave you with a picture taken yesterday:

One tiny step at a time.

Neither Rust-Oleum® nor Bondo® sponsored this post but we give ’em both our seal of approval.

Insulation, Sheetrock, and Beer Bellies

A lot has happened in the last few weeks!

For many months the walls looked like this:


The framers constructed the exterior walls with both normal vertical supports and these great little horizontal pieces (we’re not 100% sure, but I think the horizontal ‘studs’ are there for fire retardation…building code stuff).

Regardless of the reason they’re there, we grew to love those useful little nooks.


We loved them so much we added more of our own. Here’s Mark building shower niches into the wall.


When someone said, “The bug spray is in the medicine cabinet” we knew just where to go. For a long time it felt as if we had moved in. Who needs proper walls? Who needs electricity? Who needs running water when we have all these bottles of the stuff (and a port-a-potty)?


Homebuilding, the way we’re doing it, will make you crazy. Specifically, this definition of schizophrenia: emotional blunting, intellectual deterioration, social isolation, disorganized speech and behavior, delusions, and hallucinations.

Delusions ran high at this point.

(Disorganized speech comes later – don’t worry, you’ll get to read about that too. I expect to be in full hallucination mode by the time this thing is finished. Social isolation is the worst though. We miss seeing our friends. )

Then insulators did their thing and we were snapped back into reality.


The crew sprayed a radiant barrier on the interior upstairs roof and it dropped the temperature immediately. Radiant barriers rock.


A member of our team had a bit of food poisoning, but carried on like a trooper regardless. Pepto-Bismol® and traditional insulation are practically the same color. It took an hour to find those tablets.


We insulated the garage ourselves. I’ve never lived in a house with a properly functioning garage. I am all sorts of excited about this thing.


In the meantime, the sheetrock arrived…



…and it went up.





Well, a lot of it went up – a lot went down too. This is very messy work, folks.


There are no pictures of the taping & bedding process. Mostly because finishing the deck consumed our attention while they did their thang, but also because they were incredibly large, half-naked men on stilts (thankfully it was the top half). Unlike some other tradesmen who shall remain nameless, these guys always showed up on time and they did a great job. After they wrapped up their work, I realized how much I miss their falsetto sing-alongs with techno mariachi music. It’s a quieter and less interesting place without them. I do not, however, miss the sweaty, naked beer bellies at eye level.

Next up, the texture guy – who remained fully clothed the whole time. He had his work cut out for him because we paid for completely smooth walls. It might not seem obvious at first, but the smoother the wall, the more work is involved. Texture covers up a multitude of sins.

By this point, we finished the deck and were ready to start our next job – painting inside. The texture guy was a fountain of knowledge and we’re grateful he shared some of it with us. For example, who knew buying plastic sheeting and tape at Kelly Moore was considerably cheaper ($11) than The Home Depot or Lowes ($25) for the same products?


And he gave us a tutorial on how to make quick work of prepping.


I don’t want to relive the nightmare of our first round of paint (it soaked straight into the walls, gallon after gallon after five gallon bucket – who knew painting new construction would be such a freakin’ headache?), so I’ll just skip right to the fun pictures.

Father-in-law worked the paint sprayer in about fifteen layers of clothes on a 100 degree Fahrenheit day. God bless that man.


Gunfight in the hall.




Still smiling (and looking ridiculously cute) at the end of a long day. We’re so fortunate to have this man on our team.


It’s coming along. Slowly but surely.