Sunday, November 29, 2009

Paralyzed by Doubt

I just wanted to pontificate a little on my inability at times to take action, which is in direct contrast to my Mentor, who is all about action and doing, and must make him scratch his head in befuddlement whenever things don't get done. My lack of confidence has delayed this barn project in a number of ways, though for the most part, it has not been disastrous... yet. From the beginning, my Mentor has been advising us on what needs to be done and the proper chronology of events that go into finishing a house, and in typical fashion, I sat on them.

Bear in mind, this has nothing to do with laziness or shirking responsibility (well, maybe a little), though on the surface that is probably how it appears. It really boils down to being paralyzed by fear and doubt of the unknown, especially where large sums of money are involved. Then again, the process of confronting that doubt and overcoming it is all a part of becoming a real man, right?

From the beginning there have been things that needed to be done, supplies that needed to be ordered, and just a whole slew of responsibilities regarding things that I'd never before had to deal with. So in typical fashion, I tried my best to ignore them. In a way, I was living the very life that I disparage, based on the principle of "out of sight, out of mind," or as the French say,"Loin des yeux, loin du coeur." In other words, who cares how things run or are made, or where your food comes from or what is in it, just pay someone else to deal with it. This frees up a great deal of time to spend watching TV or shopping, or fretting about your life (something I've mastered)

I lived most of my life this way, and it really makes your life suck. Nothing gets done and you kick yourself after the fact because of it. Life literally just passes you by. It's easy when you're a city boy, and nowhere does this attitude come together more than in New York City, the capital of self-absorption. People don't do anything themselves over there. Sure, they make loads of money, but the they pay people to wash and fold their laundry, walk their dogs, and of course, watch their kids. In a way it creates entire industries and fuels the economy. Pay your taxes and expect that your water, heat and whatever you flush down your toilet is dealt with. Easy.

Since moving up here, we've had to make conscious decisions about a number of things that we'd never thought of before. Besides parenting, we have to be conscious of our well and septic system (we can't put nasty stuff, meaning toxic chemicals, in the ground or down the sink for fear of contaminating our water supply), wood to heat our house, where our food comes from, and now barn. The situation is more difficult in New England because the elements are really out to get you.

Early this summer/spring, my Mentor gave us a series of things we needed to take care of to build the barn, and he indicated he was willing to help, but none of them got done. At least not at first. In a way, I was doing to him exactly what I'd done to PD. I said we wanted to build the barn, and was hoping he's just do it and let me pound a few nails in to have a feeling of accomplishment.

Well, as any real man knows (this includes real man in training), things are never that simple. Since my Mentor is a busy man and probably was not planning on building the entire barn by himself (darn!), the responsibility fell upon yours truly. My first response was completely in character-ignore it and hope it would go away. No such luck, however.

The beauty of it all was that once things got moving and I shook off my cowardice and simply dealt with logistical issues, I realized that they weren't that bad, and felt ashamed that I let fear once again dictate my actions. Not that fear will completely go away in my life, but I do feel more capable, and dare I say, empowered. I'm working towards invincible.

None of this would have happened if certain events did not fall in place. First off, the opportunity to finish this barn, thanks to RR. Second, that the plans with PD fell through. If that were to have worked out, I would have sat back with a cocktail and watched PD and his crew finish the barn, and what fun would that be? And thirdly, having someone there to at least guide me, even hold my hand a little, and give me a foundation to start on. Thanks to my Mentor for that, with special mention to PR, PD, GS, and a wide assortment of people with building experience who have answered by pleas for assistance.

Serendipity at it's best. The process can be difficult mainly because this is all new terrain and an area that's easy enough to avoid for most of your life. There is no shortage of people who will take your money to do the job, but then it simply becomes a process of getting from point A to point B, and you completely miss out on the journey.

With this in mind, having been forced to take action and do many of these things, I feel much better. Sure, the work is hard, and I have zero free time, but am I ever learning a lot. More importantly, however, I'm being reminded of the fact that nothing replaces experience in terms of not only getting things done, but in self-discovery and personal growth.

Just do it, as the saying goes.

I know that my Mentor will never stop wondering how I made it this far in life, but things are moving along, and one day that answer will become clear to him. Not, however, until the siding is ordered and stored, the trees cut down, the roof is attended to, the septic is dug, the patio is replaced, the barn is sealed, and attic is properly insulated.

And that's just Phase 1 of this project. Did I mention that I think I broke my foot in karate? I'm not whining, of course.

I also wanted to say that I really don't think I could have pulled off any of what little I've done thus far if I didn't have the mental and emotional callouses that I've developed from 8+ years of parenting, the hard way, no less. Nothing is more humbling or puts you through the ringer like attending to your kids. It makes framing and sheathing seem like a walk in the park. After surviving the rigors of fatherhood, you come out the other side one step closer to being a real man. I'd like to thank A&N for that.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Yamamoto Ortiz for the pic.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Windows on Black Friday

In a classic example of not knowing anything until you at least try, I managed to pick up our big casement window, and all by my lonesome, sort of. When we ordered our windows, which in and of itself was hard because of the finality of it all (i.e., you'd better make sure of what you want), I had this idea in my head that the big window for the kitchen would be way too big for me to move. I even arranged for my friend GS with a truck to help me move it on perhaps the worst possible day, the Friday after Thanksgiving when it's every good American's duty to go out and shop. Needless to say, I was dreading going into town and battling traffic. Plus, GS had family over for the holidays, so I couldn't say for sure when he would be able help me, and I couldn't rush him. We had tentatively planned on going in the afternoon, again, probably the worst possible time.

Anyway, as I thought it over, I began to wonder if the window, which over 6 feet long, might actually fit in the Explorer, my Mentor's car that has literally saved our hides on a number of occasions. I measured it out, and believe it or not, it seemed big enough. You could fit a horse back there. It was still early morning, the time I would have preferred going to avoid the rush, so I decided to go for it. No sense wasting time fretting over things that haven't happened yet, right? Then again, that's the story of my life.

I went and picked up the window, the guys at HD helped me get it into the car (BTW, the customer service there has improved dramatically) and sure enough, it fit perfectly. I love that car. Who cares if it only gets 10 mpg, it's like having a truck. I brought the windows home and R helped me move it into the barn, which was fairly easy, too. Now all I have to do is install them, but I'll worry about that when the time comes. Or better yet, worry about it now, before I even need to, my MO, after all.

It's amazing anything gets done around here.

Just a quick note, a lot of things wouldn't have been accomplished if not for the use of my Mentor's car, the Explorer. Thanks a bunch to him for letting us borrow it. It saved us when my in-laws came, it's saved us on a number of occasions (too many to count) in terms of getting supplies for the barn. I could go on for days, but suffice it to say, life is better when you have two cars, or at least can borrow one.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Asif Akbar for the pic.

Taking a Break

I've decided to take a break from making constant inquiries regarding home improvement. This stems partly from the fact that I'm sure people are tired of hearing from me, but also due to the fact that it's Thanksgiving, and nobody's going to answer my questions, anyway.

So Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and thanks for putting up with me.

Moving Along and Happy Thanksgiving

In the midst of all the holiday preparation, we are busier here than ever. While people look forward to a day off while enjoying a huge meal with family, all I can think about is home improvement. It haunts me day and night.

At least things are cruising along. As I may have mentioned, about 75% of the barn is sheathed. I would have closed the deal but happened upon the big ant problem. It's always disconcerting when you discover a colony of ants, kind of ruins your day. It turns out that when I dug a little deeper, both literally and figuratively, the ant colony was still there in the header, requiring the header's complete removal. I'm still bewildered as to why they were up so high. Somehow moisture is getting up there and drawing them to the wood.

Whatever be the case, when I dislodged the header, it literally rained ants... all over me, no less. I was frantically brushing the little buggers off me, though a lot of them died as a result of my relentless pounding with a sledge hammer. Of course, the extent of the damage had spread to some of the studs, so I'm going to have to replace those, as well. Yet another setback, and my require that I get more rough cut lumber.

Our windows came and I finally ordered the doors. I went in a few days back to order them and was barraged with choices to the point where I had to leave. Doors are expensive, too, so the whole situation made me nervous. Plus, the guy at HD was kind of unfriendly and made it somewhat clear that I was wasting his time. Kind of unusual at HD, the people may be clueless, but they tend to be friendly. In talking to this guy, who was clearly knowledgeable and experienced, I felt like I was at LaValleys. Also, it really helps to be somewhat informed, because when you go in ignorant, they make choices for you that are not always in your best interest. I.e., they end up costing you more because they are either clueless themselves (a frequent occurrence at HD) or can't be bothered to make some effort to save you money.

I went home to recon with R about the doors, and we finalized some decisions and I went back with more confidence. It's amazing what the support of your spouse will do for you. I had to go to work so I went to HD right when they opened at 6:00 AM. I've done this before and found if you can swing it, is the best time to shop there. Nobody is there, the people are free and available and can give you their undivided attention. Plus, they're still riding high on their morning cup of coffee so their moods are better.

The guy, JD, was super helpful and friendly and clarified things for me that ended up saving us money, namely that some of the things you buy you can easily make yourself and save some bread, like jams. Also, you can save money by choosing hardware they carry versus ordering it from the door company. We'll see how that one plays out.

I finally installed the last of the sill pieces, only to discover that the previous pieces were not actually fastened to the foundation. What a drag. I can't really go back and fasten them because they are attached to the framing, much of which has already been sheathed. I figure they're secured to the frame as well as the adjacent piece of sill, and they are not in the center of high traffic zones. How's that for justification? Also, I got the thumbs up from my Mentor and PR, my teacher.

I'd like to get some finality in just one arena in this project. It seems like nothing ever gets really finished, and I drift in various states of limbo. Somehow, once I get the framing completed and the sheathing on, I'll feel like I've accomplished something and can take a break, at least until lunchtime.

Today the plan is to do more framing and then quit around lunchtime and get Thanksgiving dinner ready. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Rick Cowan for the pic.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I just wanted to extend a big thank you to my in-laws, JR and RR, for the gloves they've given me over the years. There are two pairs that I've received and I use them every day when I work on the barn. I started out doing real man work not wearing gloves, but two things encouraged me to protect my Palmolive hands. First, my Mentor wore them when we put up sheathing. And two, I must have picked a million splinters out of my hands the first day, some of which I couldn't get out.

So I started wearing gloves, and they've changed my life. Not only do I avoid splinters, but they really help me when I carry around boards, and it's nice having them when working with nasty stuff like pressure treated wood. Plus, it's getting cold out there.

Thanks JR and RR, and thanks for reading.

Not Another Progress Report

Yesterday I also managed to get the front gable further along to the point where I think R is a little more pleased and might even be on the path to believing that there's hope for me. For the record, it sure as heck wasn't easy getting all that sheathing on, and I dropped a piece or two just hauling it up to those lofty heights. I also have yet to finish the very apex of the gable, but for now, it looks good enough to give the appearance that things are being done. Works for me. If I can get the backside sheathed in the next day or two, then all that's left is framing the back gable and sheathing it (a bear of a job, mind you), and then it's time to put on the Tyvek.

Then I'll have to think about fascia and soffits, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. I've got a header to remove.

I've also received some good news about the dormers. I've been told by two reliable sources, one of which is my Mentor, that I don't necessarily need to remove the boards on the dormers and can instead simply cover them with Tyvek and put siding over that. That's a huge relief because I was struggling with how I was going to get up there and cut out those boards, which would have required removing the windows first. It's the little things in life.

Also, I'm closer to being done sheathing the backside of the house. Once that's done and I can frame and sheath the back gable, I'm in pretty good shape in terms of putting on the Tyvek and keeping out the moisture. Some other new issues have come up but I won't fret over them until I speak with my Mentor or building expert, PR. Then I'll fret about them.

This week we'll talk to the tree guys and the roofing guys. Need to order shiplap and look into getting the septic installed. Last night R and I resolved to relocate all lumber into our basement so we will have more space to work in the barn and won't have to worry about the wood getting wet.

Today I need to get to Home Depot to pick up our windows, which came in. Bummer that my Mentor is back in Maine because his truck would be perfect right now, but you can't worry about stuff like that. You just gotta find a way. I've also got to do the food shopping since it's the weekend, but it works out because they are right next to each other. I know most of the contractors I know buy their building supplies and then do the grocery shopping in the same trip... yeah right. In their wives dreams.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I was getting a little cocky about the progress that we were making, and lo and behold, I got dealt another setback, and a fairly serious one to boot, though not insurmountable . I was removing the last of the siding on the back gable and found the remnants of a massive infestation of what I believe to be carpenter ants. They ate a whole at least 8 inches in diameter, and essentially destroyed the header. I did not see any signs that they were still there, but the damage was disconcerting, to say the least, and the header will have to be replaced. This is a bummer for a number of reasons.

First, the header is huge. For whatever reason, I'm guessing because it's a garage, they used a 1X12 board that is about 7 feet long. The thing must weigh at least 100 lbs, if not more. The other bummer is that it's now going to take me more time to finish this framing/sheathing. Fortunately the weather has been mild, so I'm not too distressed. Just a little disappointed. Finally, I'll need to get more wood, though not too much. Less than $50 worth, so it's not such a big deal. Just time and inconvenience.

I'm going to have to cut the nails with the reciprocating saw that fasten the header to the frame and then essentially knock the thing out with a sledge. Bear in mind, there are positives to all of this. I can now install a smaller header and essentially increase the size of my rough opening. This opens up new worlds of choices for doors. I can also frame the sill with a layer of wood, which actually makes the job easier and makes me feel better to get a bigger barrier to ice and water. I also kind of like framing.

My original plan was to divide the opening in two and put a door on one side and a window on the other. I'll break up the opening with a stud and then essentially frame the door and window as two separate areas. I'm glad I have rough cut wood on hand so I can work on it today.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Getting Second Opinions

In the craziness of it all, I find myself falling into the foolish trap of not getting second opinions. Sometimes it's just easier to go with whatever comes first, but you really suffer because of it. Like my Mentor is always telling me, information is free, so take as much of it as you can. Call me an idiot (my mom always does), but I just feel like I'm inconveniencing these guys by having them come all the way out here. If he's reading this, my Mentor is shaking his head and wondering to himself, "Where did I go wrong with this one."

The reason that this is coming up is because we have some trees behind the barn that need to be taken down. My Mentor brought over some lumberjack types that he knows and they determined that about six trees needed to be taken down. They came up with a quote and we left it at that. Of course, I sat on it for a few months, because I'm a slacker slob, but also because something just didn't sit well with me. The plan was to cut down some really tall pines that might have fallen on the barn. Two of them really need to be removed, they literally hang over the roof of the barn, but the other four were not as dangerous, though if they fell on the barn, it wouldn't be good.

My concern was two fold. First off, the loggers said they had no use for the pines, so the plan was to simply fell the trees and let them rot in the woods. This is standard practice and I can appreciate the ecological benefit that would result, but six tall pines? Which brought up my second concern: that's a lot of lumber that is not only going to waste, but will litter up the woods. I thought that if anyone wanted to take the trees, they could have them for free. I just didn't want to make a mess. The entire community uses these woods to ski or walk, and to dump a bunch of dead trees was not appealing to me. I guess I felt bad.

Anyway, as part of my effort to be more assertive, I decided that I could no longer waste time fretting about it. The time had come to get the guy out here to cut the trees down. The original appeal of this guy was that his father was extremely experienced in the ways of logging. Plus, his original quote seemed reasonable for the number of trees. When he came out again, however, his father was no longer in the picture, and his quote had doubled. The guy is young and seems to be just getting started. I understand the difficulty of the job, but twice the price? It made me pause and tell him we had to think about it. It didn't help when he told me that he'd lost his license and was relying on his girlfriend to get around. This is information that does not instill a client with confidence, but is probably better left unsaid.

After talking to my Mentor, who expressed concern and reservation at the jump in price, I decided to do what I should have done from the beginning - get a second opinion. On the subject of trees, this is especially true when you live in Vermont, where you can't spit without hitting someone who is either a logger or knows of one. Plus, living in the wonderful community that we have, there are tons or resources. So I called my neighbor, who is a forester and has in the past sold me rough cut wood. His name is GC. He came over, looked at the trees, and said two of them had to go, but didn't think the other four were crucial.

He also said he'd come over and take the logs off the land, and give me some boards when he milled them. Plus, in terms of the maple, he would only use the bottom 10-15 feet, so I could get the rest for firewood. This was the original plan, but in reality, I couldn't cut and split the bottom portion of the tree because my chainsaw is not manly enough. One day...

Either way, I was excited. Not only was it possible that we didn't have to cut down half the forest, but we didn't have to litter it, either. For the record, several people had indicated that it was not critical to cut down all six trees, only two. In fact, the only person who said they all needed to come down was the young logger.

GC also gave me the name of a tree guy (arborist?) that he knew and trusted, whom I called and is coming over on Monday. I'm stoked, and am hoping this all works out. We shall see.

The take home lesson in all this is to get second and even third opinions. This applies to most things in life, don't just take what's handed to you, fight for your rights. Nobody else will, nor should they. It's your life.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Jeri Gray for the pic.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Future's Here, We Are It, We Are On Our Own

Had to quote the Dead at this appropriate moment. It is with a heavy heart that I bid adieu to my Mentor as he soon heads off for the wilds of Northern Maine. I have to confess, it makes me sad to see him go, though I realize this clashes with my real man training. Then again, it's yet another rite of passage as I embark on the journey to manhood.

Plus, not only will I see him come Spring, but I'll be able to inundate him with inquiries throughout the long, cold Maine Winter via email and telephone. So it could be a lot worse. It sort of reminds me of when A was first born and R's mom JR came to stay with us in NYC. It was fun having her there, not to mention comforting to be in the presence of hand of experience, so much so that when it came time for her to leave, I was prepared to throw my body in front of the taxi cab to prevent her departure.

Not that I would do that to my Mentor, nor would he want me to. Besides, you couldn't get a cab here if your life depended on it. Whatever be the case, even though the realization that you're on your own is a heavy blow, you just deal with it, and life goes on, much in the way that it should. That doesn't mean it's easy, but who said being a real man was easy?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Felix atsoram for the pic.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

No Room For Complacency

I was told that while I'm making progress on the barn, there are things I need to deal with that I simply haven't been dealing with, mainly the roof and the darn trees out back. There's also the issue of the siding, which I haven't ordered because there's such a note of finality to ordering all that wood that it makes me uneasy.

Anyway, my mentor told me to stop patting myself on the back and get on the ball and deal with that roof, so I sort of/kind of did. After browsing through some pics, I thought this might be a good look for the barn.

I contacted the roofing guys and if you can believe this, he came out the next day and took some measurements. He said he'd send a quote in the mail for both the barn and the house. How's that for service? My friend GS said his former town, Tunbridge, is the capital of standing seam roofs, and he got an amazing deal from a friend of his. He gave me several numbers but I really wanted to talk to the guy that did his roof. Of course, the guy has yet to return my call, but what else is new in the world of contracting?

Next up, the trees. About three months back my Mentor showed up with two loggers and they advised me on what trees needed to be cut down. I have to confess, my biggest reservation was cutting down all those trees and just leaving them in the woods. I feel like we're littering the forest, and that it was going to piss off our neighbors. Either way, some of the trees have to go, no doubt about it. I contacted the guy again and amazingly enough he remembers everything we'd talked about, which wins him points in my book. He's coming over today to talk green, meaning trees and prices. I'm thinking all five trees have to go, such is life.

Also, I need to order doors. The barn is on its way to being sealed, but won't be until the doors and windows are in. The windows have been ordered but it takes a couple of weeks, so I need to get on that one.

Finally, there's the issue of framing and sheathing. Hard to find a good block of time to get it done, so I've been taking the "chip away at the stone" approach, and so far it's been working. Not optimal, but you gotta take what you can get when you've got hungry mouths to feed and dishes to wash. I've got to frame out the back gable for the bedroom door and the shop door/window, but can't really do that until we finalize certain decisions, which is never my strong suit. I'm finding that with everyone so busy, however, that I've had to take the reigns and make some big decisions. Not an easy thing to do, but I'm doing it... sort of.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Patrick Hajzler for the pic.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Let There Be Light and Small Steps

I've concluded that the only way this project is going to go anywhere is by working at night. There's too much to do during the day that interrupts my manly flow, so I'm thinking that after dinner would be a good time. With this in mind, I got some lights for the job, though I've been told I'll need them anyway. We were out ice skating in Woodstock and were slated to meet mom in Hanover for dinner. I wanted to go to Home Depot but it is so out of the way, and once afternoon hits, the last place you want to be is in W. Leb. One of my favorite hardware stores, Welch's True Value, is just a mile or two away from the skating rink, so I decided to check it out and scored on two halogen lights that were on sale. Over half off! I'm such a sucker for sale.

Now that I have lights, I can pretty much work 24 hours a day, which is what I've dreamed of all my life. At the very least, it will help me work mornings and afternoons since the sun goes down so early. Also, on rainy days, it gets pretty dark in there, and you want to see when you're working with hammers and nails, saws, and drills. Plus, they're manly lights and make it look more like an official worksite.

The project is moving along, albeit with small steps, but moving nonetheless. I would say 90% of the framing is done, all I have left is that last sill on the back where the shop will be. I'm still hashing out the details of what will go there, but for now, I've got to fasten that board before any framing can occur

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Progress Pics and Complications

Moving right along with the barn, I have this crazy notion that if I could just get the framing done, then the sheathing aspect will move more quickly. Wishful thinking? It wouldn't be the first time, nor would it be the last.

Anyway, I'm almost on the verge of finishing off the sill work, and though I can appreciate the thrill of accomplishment, I'm definitely ready to sink my teeth into some framing work. At one point I had only one more sill to install, then I was doing some rough opening work on the front door. I need to raise the height of the header and then expand the sides to accommodate a standard door. When I got to work, I noticed some rot on the bottom frame board (not sure what that's called) that lays right above the sill. My first impulse was to do what I always do and ignore it and hope it would just go away, but then I could hear the voice of my Mentor and PR saying, "Do it right, you numbskull." So, I started picking away at the wood and realized the rot problem was more extensive than I thought, and the board was definitely going to have to be replaced. Bummer!

The problem with this was to remove the bottom boards, I was going to have to dismantle the entire door frame, cut some PT board, then re-frame the whole thing. Oh well, I did say I liked to frame. It's like Captain Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, "I needed a mission bad, and for my sins, they gave me one."

Now that I'm a man of action (relatively speaking) I didn't whine and moan about it. Well, maybe a little, but nobody was there to hear it, so it's like a tree falling in the forest and all. Anyway, another complication with this darn door frame was that we'd already sheathed it with plywood, so I had to rip out that sheathing, as well. When I'd gotten everything out pulled the rotting boards, which for the record had NOT, for whatever reason, been fastened to the foundation, I saw that the rot was pretty bad. There were scores of ants residing in the rotting wood (Yuck!) and were clearly devouring the stuff. It was a good thing that I'd done this, because carpenter ants are your worst nightmare.

I've got to replace another stud because it too has some rot damage, and then I can frame the thing out and then sheath it. Almost there. As for the gables, I've gotten the boards and Tyvek off, and need to finish framing the kitchen sink window and then I can sheath this, as well. Then the barn will really look like things are moving along, making certain important individuals happy, including myself.

I would have finished off the front door frame yesterday but I got caught up in a daddy daycare nightmare (maybe it wasn't that bad). Funny thing about being a stay at home parent, people assume you've got nothing to do all day and can watch their kids. In all fairness, that's not the case, and people are understanding and appreciative and only occasionally take advantage of you, but that's a story for another blog. You know the one. Either way, I had to leave to drop kids off and take our kids to ice skating and then Hanover to meet mom for dinner. So much to do, so little time.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Did I mention I may have found a reliable and knowledgeable person who might be able to help me with this barn. Yahoo!

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Injury Report

On top of all my woes concerning my joints and digits, it feels like I may have broken my foot. I've never broken a foot, though I've broken all four of my limbs. It happened at karate. I was sparring with my usual sparring partner and it was getting pretty heated, as usual. At one point, I was attempting to deliver a death blow to his groin (just kidding) when he wisely brought his knee up to block it and I ended kicking that, instead. It felt like kicking a brick wall.

Oddly enough, it didn't hurt that bad at first, but when I got home, it really started to ache, and I went to bed in serious pain, hoping it would abate by morning. No such luck. When I woke up, I could barely walk, though I did find that through the course of the day, it felt better as a result of using it.

Best of all, and it's moments like these that make R shake her head in bewilderment, but when we took A to her choir practice, me and N went and played soccer. What you're probably wondering in amazement is what sort of fool goes to play soccer with his son with a broken foot. Well, I kind of figured that I'd be fine as long as I don't use that foot. After all, how strenuous is soccer with a six year old? Of course, when the ball is zipping by you, your mind goes blank and you instinctively reach out your foot, even if it's broken, to stop the ball.


Life ain't easy when you're training to be a real man. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Nadja Girod for the pic.

On My Own and Small (but giant) Steps

As I continue to work on the barn, it has become increasingly clear to me that I'm on my own. Then again, thousand mile journey begins with first step, right? (one of all time favorite fortune cookie phrases)

There's something about the contractors I've contacted that makes me feel like the invisible man. It's entirely possible I'm simply contacting the wrong ones. They either ignore me or don't have the time. Even my karate teacher has let me down, though he said his son could help... we'll see about that. Maybe it's all a test of my real man training.

In all fairness, I can't blame these guys for putting me low on the priority list. This is what these guys do for a living, and they don't want to commit to something that doesn't have a commitment on the other end. I.e., if it's not a full time, paying gig, it can't hold as much promise, because in the end, I'm not looking for someone to come in and complete this project, I'm looking for someone to assist. With this in mind, what I really need is a pair of hands to help me, while I seek out my Mentor for advice (and about 12 other people, including PR). That would work best, though it's nice to have someone on site to simply tell me what to do, I don't think that's going to happen. If someone is going to spell it all out for me, I'm guessing they'd want to do the work themselves.

The bright side of all this is that I've been forced to deal with it on my own, and am dealing with it (sort of) accordingly. At least at this stage, the framing, it's not so bad, and as I've mentioned, I rather like it. In fact, there are times that I feel so confident and enthused that I want to cut our random rough openings just for the fun of it. Mind you, these moments are short lived and infrequent... thankfully.

Either way, one issue that was bothering and scaring me was removing the siding on the upper level of the barn. I figured it would entail getting up on an extension ladder and removing nails and then pulling the boards, which in turn is complicated by the fact that I'd have to remove the window up there. This is much simpler on the first floor, because not only is the window heavy (about 70 lbs.), but it helps to approach it from both sides, something much harder to do on the second story. It's also a shorter fall on the first floor, as you might have guessed.

Anyway, but it wasn't so bad. My biggest concern was dropping the window, or having it simply fall out the opening and onto the ground. I tied it to one of the rafters with a rope and set about removing the fasteners, which was a bear of a job because I had to lean out the window to get to them while standing on a ladder (the pitfalls of being short). After all the fasteners were cut or removed, I simply pulled the window into the house, and it was no problem. Suddenly I could knock out boards with reckless abandon.

It also means that I can deal with the gable end of the barn, the side facing our house, so that it at least gives the appearance that progress is being made on the barn. This will go a long way to placating certain observers who don't get a good view of the backside, where progress is being made in leaps and bounds. When you grow up in LA, you learn early on in life that it's all about appearances.

Anyway, I put the finishing touches on the rough openings for the windows on the back, which entailed putting in shims and then nailing the studs and jacks into the frame, and I think I'm good to go. Time to get on that sheathing.

I've also managed to get the second sill installed, and one more and I'm done and can begin framing in the doors to the bedroom and shop. This, of course, excites me to no end because as I may have mentioned in the past, I love framing. It gives me a chance to use my beloved Estwing Hammer (made in America), a tool favored by real man the world over.

Finally, and this comes only about a month after my Mentor told me to do this, I ordered some door and windows, so the true test of my rough openings is soon to come. After doing a lot of research, I've found you can save a lot of money (this speaks volumes to me) if you can work your designs around what is available, rather than the other way around. In other words, I made the rough openings to conform to what Home Depot has in stock, and the prices end up being at least half, if not a lot more, than a situation where they'd either have to order them or custom design them. Custom windows will kill you in the end.

Also, I don't want to speak too soon in this regard, but I may have found someone to help me who I can trust and is knowledgeable since he built his own house. The same guy who lent me his hammer drill, and his daughter happens to be good friends with A&N. A win-win situation, if I could just get him over here. Like Woody Allen said, 87% of life is just showing up.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Lysanne Ooteman for the pic.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sill Happenings

I realized that I couldn't look PR in the eye if I took the easy way out on this sill situation. He's a true craftsman and artisan who really believes in the value of the process and the importance of not focusing solely on the end result. This, of course, flies in the face of my approach to building, which is to seek out the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to get things done, preferably in the hands of someone else (actually, this is not completely true). But I am getting better.

Case in point, this darn sill. I made the mistake of asking a half dozen people what I should do, which made it worse, but my bad. The lesson to take from all this is to just do it and not think too much about it. The problem with this approach, at least in the given situation, is that there is a certain permanence to concrete, especially the mistakes. If I screw something up with framing, I can always replace it and cut the wood or whatever. With concrete, however, you can't really go back and do it over again. My sense was that I had to get it right the first time, or the entire world would implode.

I had three options. First, find someone with a nail gun that literally shoots bullet-nails through the wood and into the rock. Funny thing is, I've learned that several of my friends have this gun. Second option, drill holes and screw the sill in with masonry screws. I've heard from a few guys that they work well and it's fairly quick and easy. And finally, the third option, which is the probably the best and most secure, but of course, required the most work - drill holes with a hammer drill, insert anchors, and then bolt the sill down. Naturally, I was leaning to the first option, which meant that I was dependent on not only a contractor (or anyone with the nail gun) agreeing to nail the board for me, but to actually show up. Two strikes.

However, PR strongly recommended the third option, and if her were around, I'm guessing he would have put on his work gloves and helped me with it, but no such luck. I was on my own. I really wrestled with this one, and the unfortunate consequence of all this thinking was that the job just didn't get done. Finally, I decided to take action. I searched for a hammer drill (why do people own these things?) and even toyed with purchasing one since renting was rather pricey. Finally, my good friend GS had one and said I was welcome to use it. I purchased the masonry bit (expensive!) and anchors, where I ran into the usual problem of too many choices, and went to work.

I lucked out with the weather, it was supposed to snow, but all we ended up with was a few sprinkles. With the kids fed and playing inside, I started drilling holes in the foundation, waiting for the bit to break and lodge into my head. I laid the PT board down and actually took the time to measure the distance between the holes. My plan was to drill through the wood and start into the concrete, then remove the board and finish the holes. I'd then insert the anchors, lay the board over, and then be done.

Of course, I screwed a few things up, but nothing major. First off, my holes weren't perfect, and required a little force to fit the board over the bolts, but no problem. Then I (and this is typical of me) laid the board down upside down and backwards. Amazingly, it fit, which is a testament to accurate measuring. The problem is, I had to drill recesses in the wood (I always forget what this is called) so that the top of the bolt would be flush with the top surface of the wood, and these recesses needed to be on top.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The washer for the anchors were about 1 1/4 inch in diameter, so they required a fairly large drill bit. I looked at my bit selection and the biggest I could find was 1 inch, so I needed a bit. I had just dragged the kids around to Brittons and didn't want to pile them back into the car, but I also wanted to get this job done. Then I remembered that I had a bit in my bag that I'd used in the past, and as luck would it have it, it was 1 1/2 inches. Beautiful.

I positioned the board properly, laid it down, and then started bolting it down when I remembered one more key piece - the sill sealer, or whatever it's called. Once again, I had to pry the board off and measure out the sealer, then lay the board down. The new problem was that I hadn't factored in the little over 1/8 of an inch that the liner took up, so now my threads were too low and the nut wouldn't reach. Could I make this any harder on myself?

I took the board off, drilled deeper recesses, and then it all fell into place. I screwed in the bolts, and they held beautifully, though I need a bigger socket. I ended up using a wrench, but that won't be enough. My plan is to go to Britton's, who BTW have been coming through for me for all of my needs (kudos to them), get the socket, and two more PT boards, then complete this sill. Then I can take off the old boards on the gable end, frame out the kitchen window, and begin sheathing. This will please R to no end to see tangible progress that can be viewed from the house. Happy days will then ensue.

For now, I can bask in the warm glow of manly accomplishment, but there's no room for complacency, because there's so much work to be done. Until then, thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Real Man Nails, Shop Vac, and Backside

Just wanted to mention that I was at Britton's and bought some framing nails, and when I got home, I realized they were called Stallion Nails. This, of course, makes perfect sense, because I feel like such a Stallion when I use them.

Also, on the recommendation of PR, my brother in law, I went out and got a shop vac. He said to go out and get the best one I could afford, so I compromised and got what a I believe is a decent one, a Rigid, though probably not top of the line. Either way, I broke it in today and it worked beautifully. I realize that R will like it as well because we can use it to vacuum the car, which usually requires a trip to the car wash and lots of quarters. A win-win purchase if there ever was one.

Finally, I don't think R fully appreciates all that has happened to the barn thus far because it's all been on the backside. I've been framing like a madman, but when you see it from our house, it looks like nothings changed, and I get a sense she's losing patience. This makes me want to get to work on the gable ends so that she gets some sense of progress, but one step at a time. I can't really do any framing/sheathing until I get that sill down onto the concrete. I know, excuses, excuses, but what else am I going to do? Accept the blame myself?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Achieving Clarity... Not!

If there's one thing I've learned about building, it's not to ask too many questions, because you'll end up getting way too many answers. Best to find one source of info and get all your insight there. Unfortunately, being the neurotic nutcase that I am, I'm always searching for a second opinion, when in reality, all I should be doing is listening to one person's advice. Whatever.

I must have asked a dozen people about installing a sill onto the concrete foundation and gotten three dozen variations on the same theme, and yet, my first inclination is to keep asking. What exactly am I looking for? Your guess is as good as mine.

After all is said and done, I think I'm leaning towards going with PR's (my brother in law) advice and drilling holes and putting in anchor wedges. It's definitely not the quick, down and dirty, easy way, and I think I won't come away from it wishing I'd done it differently, it just may take more time. I even went out and bought the anchor's and the bit, and located a hammer drill that I can borrow, so I'm on my way. Let's hope I don't screw this up. I might, however, give one last call to B and get his thoughts since he's a concrete expert. I'm also a little wary of the stuff I bought because the guys at Britton's, even though they're great guys, don't always instill me with the most confidence. This should be good, so stay tuned.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to gerard79 for the pic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Disorganized, Splurging and Libertarianism

I just wanted to mention that being disorganized causes me to suffer greatly in whatever task I undertake. From disorganization comes sloppiness, and that's what will really hurt you in the end. My Mentor is always getting on my case about that, but doesn't have the time or energy to constantly hold my hand.

Either way, I bring this up as a warning to all you children out there reading this: take the time be organized, it will make your life so much easier in the long run.

Case in point: framing. I was running out of boards to make studs/jacks, and ended up needing only one more. Luckily, I had a stud left over that I'd removed to make ROs. It was ruined on one end (I had to knock it out with a sledge hammer), but 80% of it was perfectly fine because I was going to use it to support the header (boy do I love talking the talk). So, all I needed to do was cut off the bad end and use the good part.

Well, in my haste and because I'm such a slob, of course I screwed it up. I cut the wrong end! When I looked at what I'd done, I kicked myself in frustration, and wished I'd listened to my mom all those years about cleaning my room. After my anger had subsided, I was not faced with the problem of needing a board to make a jack. I scrounged around and luckily found one that was in good condition, but even still, how could I be so stupid? You don't have to answer that one.

Anyway, I'm learning... sort of. As hard as I try to be neat and organized, however, it just seems to take too much time and effort, but I'll get there. If I don't, my Mentor will have strong words for me, as will my wife.

Also wanted to say that I went out, at the encouragement of my brother in law (as well as my mentor), and bought a real piece of equipment, a framing hammer. In the past I've purchased the Home Depot specials when it came to tools, and the hammer I got cost me $5. For the record, it wasn't the cheapest one, they hammers that cost under $3, but I was too embarrassed to get that one. Anyway, at one time, my Mentor actually lent me two quality hammers, Estwings. In retrospect, I wonder if he was trying to inspire me.

Whatever be the case, I went to Sears in search of the perfect framing hammer, and was inundated with choices. As a side note, I'm reading this really cool book about people who rigidly (blindly?) support free market economics and how everything for them is black and white. I.e., libertarians want absolutely no government, not even the slightest bit. There is no gray area, which is ridiculous when you think about it. Instead of any authoritative oversight, even the slightest bit, they feel that the optimal solution is to forgo leadership and instead give people as many choices as possible and let them decide, and only then will the best outcome ensue. Well, anyone who shops for cereal knows that fallacy of this approach, and I was experiencing this in choosing a hammer.

There were so many hammers that I almost gave up and walked away. I'm talking about three dozen different kinds, and they all looked the same. I took a deep breath and ended up taking every one in my hand and swinging it around a few times. I have to confess, it really made a difference, and I opted for the Estwing 22oz framing hammer with the waffled head to prevent slippage. My Mentor and his buddy B gave me two thumbs up (B said he only buys Estwings) and pointed out that the hammer is 16 inches long, corresponding to the distance (on center) between studs. So not only do I have this killer hammer that feels good when I swing it, but I can use it to measure the distance between nails. How cool is that? I love this thing.

Life is good when you can appreciate the little things in life, even if your enthusiasm gets on everyone's nerves.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Lars Sundström for the pic.

Winter Has Arrived and Barn Update

Now that winter is here, the yard work is winding down, though I think I'll give it one last mow to clear some leaves and get the garden in order. Then again, it might be too late for that. I'd like to clear the debris, spread some compost, and then till the soil, but it's been freezing at night and soon I won't be able to.

Also, there is the issue of time. I can barely keep things together on the home front, but I've also got other project going, but no time for whiners, right?

Having said that, I've managed to get four rough openings completed, and have to confess that I like doing them. I guess I'm a framer at heart, because there is a margin for error and sloppiness, which is my forte. It may take me days to frame a RO, and the edges may not line up, but boy do I have fun doing it. I've completed the entire backside of the barn, and I just need to put up sheathing and then frame out the gable ends for the doors and kitchen sink window, which will be a big one. Should be interesting.

I still haven't heard from my sensei, he said he'd be available to help me, and he is a logger who can cut the trees in back (he's got a chipper), and he does roofs. An all in one package if there ever was one, except what good is it when they never get back to you.

As I've mentioned before, it's hard enough to get a contractor to return your calls when it's an emergency, but if they have even the slightest hint that there is no urgency to a job, don't even dream that they'll contact you. It's almost as if they don't want our money. On the bright note, it's more stuff that I get to do. So what if it takes years to complete... just kidding.

I got the pressure treated wood for the sill and cut it to size, making sure the kids were nowhere in sight and I was properly protected. Nasty stuff, that pressure treated wood. My friend made a garden box in his home using PT wood, and I couldn't believe it, but said nothing. Also, our good friends the Macs are always eco-friendly and health conscious (to the point of being priggish) and they just built a deck entirely out of PT wood. No thank you.

Anyway, I now need to fasten the sill to the foundation, and I have a few options. The first was to have our friend B come over with his handy nail gun and simply shoot nails through, but this brought up a couple of issues. First, I've been told the nails can crack the foundation, and second, I've heard they don't actually hold the boards down, they simply prevent them from shifting. It has been recommended to me that I use a hammer drill to make holes and then put bolts (I forgot what they're called) and fasten the boards to the bolts. Finally, my good friend JC (who has a hammer drill that he said I could borrow) recommended mason screws, which apparently hold well in concrete. So many choices, so little time. I like the idea of doing it myself, not just to save money, but because it's another step towards becoming a real man and I don't have to wait around for someone to show up, much less return my phone calls.

Finally, I ran out of rough cut lumber. I need more 2X6 boards, and it's convenient that the guy sells them down the road, but I think the quality of the wood left something to be desired. I may simply make the trek to Wrights Mill and get the good stuff, especially now that I'm a framing machine. Speaking of which, I need to increase the RO of the doors, which will entail cutting out the header and raising it up a few inches. Time to break out the Sawzall. I love that thing, though I wasn't sure what to use it for at first. I just did what I told, and I was told to get a reciprocating saw. I didn't know what to do with the thing at first, but now I'm really into it. I think the key was getting good blades, and lots of them. I've broken two of them, but fortunately they're cheap, which of course speaks volumes to me.

Anyway, cutting out the headers should be interesting. I want to retain the jacks because they require long pieces of wood, and you can't really buy short pieces of the stuff. The shortest I've found is ten feet, which is more than I need, but you take what you can get. I also need to order windows and doors, but one thing at time.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Hanna Zabielska for the pic.

If I could