This last weekend was the perfect example of my naivete regarding home projects and building things, which makes me terribly frightened of remodeling our kitchen. I know that everyone says to budget twice as much money and three times as much time for projects than you think you'll need, but I inevitably think I'm smarter than everyone. It's Tuesday and we're still not finished. I never calculate the amount of time needed for these types of scenarios:
Scene: Suzy is preparing to bolt the corner post to the paneling.
Suzy: "Where's the thingy that tightens the front part of the drill where the bit goes in?"
Christian: "The what?"
Suzy: "You know, the little l-shaped thingy-thing you're always telling me not to lose. Well, it's not in its little holder on the top of the drill and I know that I put it there the last time I used it."
Christian: ""Do you mean the chuck? You lost the chuck??? How many times have I told you to put it back when you've finished with it?"
Suzy: "I did put it back. I snapped it in place on top of the drill, but it's gone now."
Christian: "Well, shit! Now I'll have to go to Lowe's to buy a new one."
Suzy: "Hell no, we're finishing this damn project now. It's 900 degrees out and I have no feeling left in my knees. Go borrow Chris' drill."
And so on.
We started building the project, an outdoor habitat for our box turtle, from plans of my very own (liberally lifted from about 15 different websites), on Saturday morning. The plan was to get up at around 8 am (ha) and get it done by early afternoon. I mean, all we had to do was buy the lumber for a 6x4x3' pen, excavate the area in the backyard where we'd place the pen (accounting for optimal morning sun and afternoon shade, of course), dig out a foot of turf, sink the corner posts using a post hole digger and mallet, lay pavers on the bottom of the pen to make sure the turtle couldn't dig out (how dare she even consider it, ungrateful little turd), frame the pen, wall it, build a hinged lid of lumber and chicken wire, fill it with six inches of non-toxic potting soil and peat moss, plant it, arrange all of the items for the turtle such as a water dish, place to hide, etc. and get all of this done before Saturday night. Then, I imagined, we'd have a leisurely dinner and maybe go to a movie.
Here's how it really went:
Christian woke up early as he always does, as he's, um, amorous in the morning, but he knows that if he gets within a six inch radius of me before I've woken up of my own volition, I'll stab him repeatedly with the pencil from my bedside table. So, he went to Lowe's and spent two hours shopping for lumber (my own personal nightmare). I woke up at 10 and had some breakfast and played with the bird (I have to socialize her, after all). Christian came home, told me that Lowe's doesn't rent post hole diggers so could I please go rent one from Aurora Rents. He said to get a rotary post hole digger and not a clamshell. So, I went to the rental shop and asked the woman at the counter for a rotary post hole digger. The conversation was something like this:
Woman with bad hair: "One person or two person?"
Suzy: "Um...one person"
WWBH: "12 inch, 9 inch or 6 inch auger"
Suzy: "Hmmmm...six inch." I was picturing augers in my head and thinking that the smallest auger would probably be plenty for our needs, like I knew an auger from a garden hose.
WWBH: "Pull around back and they'll load it into your car."
Hmmm...I thought. It's just a post hole digger. Why can't I just carry it out myself?
I pulled around back and waited at the loading dock. I watched in horror as the two twelve year old employees rolled a motor the size of a Little Tykes car (complete with rollbars!) and five foot auger over to my car. I just blinked sweatily at them for a while, completely uncertain of what they expected me to do with a piece of equipment actually called a Little Beaver, when they asked if I knew how to use it. I told them that my husband did, as I didn't want to let them know how utterly unprepared I was to have this thing in my possession. They heaved (actually heaved as this thing weighed a million pounds) the Little Beaver into my trunk and I took it home. When I got home, Christian was irritated:
Christian: "I told you not to get a power auger,"
Suzy: "No, you said to get a rotary auger. I asked for a rotary auger and this is what they gave me. If you didn't want a power auger, you shouldn't have told me to get a rotary auger! This is a rotary auger! I'm a girl, dude! I'm wallowing in gender roles, here. I don't know anything about post hole diggers."
Christian: "Fine, fine, it's OK. It's overkill, but it's OK."
Poor Christian, he always has to make up for things he didn't do wrong.
We had to decide, at this point, where to build the pen. I wanted to build it next to the garage as it's very close to the back door and would be more accessible at night (and I'm really, really lazy). Christian wanted to build it in the far back corner of the yard by the cinderblock wall as it would be safer, as my chosen location was possibly (just possibly, mind you) right on top of our oil tank. I suggested that we do a test auger to see if the oil tank was indeed next to the garage, but Christian said that augering isn't exactly a delicate art and that the drill would very likely go right through the oil tank. Now, I was irritated by this time because I imagined having the pen close enough to the back door to be lit by the porch light, and the back corner of the yard is a long way to go in the rain. It was only after Christian finally agreed to have a go with the auger and oil tank be damned and I could tell he was really cheesed that I agreed to build the pen in the back corner.
We planned out our dig site with a lot of arguing as it was really, really hot in the sun and we didn't have any music, and I have realized, after a lot of really cranky outdoor activities, that, if I don't have something playing to distract me, I dwell on how much I hate having to do manual labor on the weekends. I have to say that I don't know how I lived without my iPod and now I don't know how I lived without the portable iPod speakers. Anyway, we started to dig out the turf, which is the worst job IN THE UNIVERSE. Our grass is that horrible Kentucky bluegrass or whatever the hell it's called and its roots go to the center of the earth. It took us a good hour and a half to dig out our pit, and there was much swearing. We had done a preliminary auger to mark where our corner posts would be before we started digging, and while the drill was so absurdly overly powerful for our pathetic little job that we may as well have been digging a new tunnel to China, it did work very quickly. We had to auger again after we had excavated our pit as a lot of dirt had fallen in, and the first three holes went fine. On the fourth, Christian was augering away and the auger was suddenly sucked into the earth. We couldn't get it out. The giant who lives under our lawn must have been really pissed. It turns out that the huge ass cherry tree next door had been leeching the water out of our lawn for years and had laid down enormous roots, the greedy bastard. Christian had to saw through the roots with his keyhole saw. We then collapsed on the lawn underneath the shade of our potting shanty.
To make the corner posts, we had to cut 2x4s and bolt them together, so Christian finally got to use the dual-slide compound miter saw I got him for Christmas. We don't have any outdoor outlets, even on the porch light fixtures (it's an old house), so to use power equipment outside we have to run huge extension cords in through the front or back door or through the closet window. We're real high class. When Christian plugged the saw into the outlet beneath the snake cage, the outlet we had installed specially for the heaters and such on the snake cage, the outlet that has its own dedicated circuit and everything, the saw gave a little whine and then was silent. I heard Christian muttering on the front porch so I went out to check on him and he was mumbling to himself that the stupid saw didn't work, and that nothing is fair and life sucks and his whole life is suffering. However, I distinctly remembered that he tried the saw right after he got it and it worked fine. It was only after about fifteen minutes of blessed sitting down time that I realized that he had tripped the circuit. He tripped it three more times before I told him to plug the saw in another outlet. That's one preeeeeeetty saw. So quiet, so tidy, so good at its job. I got to drill, tee hee, and I even used the whirring blade of flanginess to make the bolts and washers flush with the wood. I was so very, very proud. I made perfect little corner posts.
We paved the bottom of the pen with cement pavers, which were delivered by the last of the true good Samaritans. We were at Lowe's getting ready to have the pavers loaded into the trunk of the Camry when the man in the large contractor's truck next to us offered to deliver them to our house so we didn't ruin our upholstery. Now, I'm a suspicious bitch, but I was so tired that I would have flung myself on him weeping if it wouldn't have taken so much energy. He wouldn't even let us give him a glass of water for his trouble. My cynicism has been shaken and I DON'T LIKE IT.
The next step of the construction required that one of us get down on our hands and knees in the dirt and dig out the excess from the post holes so we could get the posts level and sink them sufficiently so they would be stable. As Christian, for some God-forsaken reason, just couldn't find his gloves, I spent the next hour digging, tamping, leveling, adjusting, digging some more, filling, etc. as I was bent over with all the bile rushing into my esophagus. I think it was revenge for making him do the project in the first place.
When we finally got all the posts in and level with each other and the bubble in the level that will forever dictate my life, we got to frame the top with NAILS AND HAMMERS. I have found that, like soldering, I find a great deal of satisfaction in nailing. I like how the pitch of the sound the hammer makes when striking the nail is different with each stroke, how you can tell when you're in both pieces of wood as the tone of the nail changes to a deeper, more gratifying thunk rather than a ping.
When we went to frame the pen, we realized that the chuck was missing from the drill (see conversation above), so we had to borrow Chris' (our neighbor) cordless drill, which I promptly killed on the first bolt. Crack out the ratchet, boys, 'cause we're Amish now.
By the time we finished the first row of siding, I was so exhausted that I could barely stand in the shower. I'm so out of shape that a brisk march around the kitchen leaves me gasping with a stitch in my side, so eight hours of digging and pounding in the heat just about gave me a stroke. Christian hadn't purchased enough siding anyway, so we gratefully put off finishing until the next day.
There was no way on earth I could make it out of bed the next morning to go to church, and I had to sing in a recital that afternoon, so I only could work for about two hours on the pen. Tee hee. I made Christian swear that it would be done by the time I got back as penance for getting out of attending the recital in 95 degree weather in an unairconditioned church.
I didn't realize quite how tired I was until I got about halfway through my aria and all I wanted to do was lie on the cool tile floor and take a nap. I was sneezing out brown dust, I was sunburned on my back, I was terribly dehydrated and I had a 11 minute long duet to do after my aria. During the duet, I forgot at least three measures of words and had to make them up out of bits of faux Italian that I was pulling out of my ass. I made it past my final A and ran out of voice. Fortunately, Christy had all the high stuff and I was just gravy anyway. It's always surprising to me how I can feel like I sing like the gum on your shoe and people seem to freaking love it anyway. I was surrounded by cute little elderly people patting my hand and praising me. Ah, if only they had large checkbooks and could write me a grant.
When I got home, everything was almost done. The chicken wire for the lid was seriously dangerous and kept wanting to curl back up, chewing on Christian's hand with its vicious little teeth in the process. Chris came over to help and then Lee, the woodworking marvel, came over with Tara and so she and I went into the house to play with the bird while the boys barked orders at each other and gave competing advice.
All we have left to do is put the hinges and latch on the lid (so the raccoons can't eat Gwendolyn) and set up all of her accoutrements. Lee told me that he didn't endear himself to Christian as the first thing he said was, "Well, if I had done this project..." He did say that it was built to withstand any natural disaster and that, if we don't remove it to build our garage (gasp), it will probably last longer than our house.
I fully expect to be beaten senseless with a 2x4 the next time I suggest a project. Please God, let Christian's aim be good-let me be knocked out on the first blow.
Gwendolyn better appreciate this.