Backyard Wasteland, the term “yard” being used lightly as it is really a mixture of road ballast, weeds, and mud.
I am guilty of believing I can conquer the universe with the power of Google and YouTube. While Bill was in Michigan, I read a couple of blueprints (badly, as it would turn out), watched a few tutorials, and did some Googling and decided that it was time: I was going to build a deck as a surprise for him when he returned from his vacation. The professionals made it look super easy – just cut off some siding, hang a ledger board, make sure everything is square and true and BAM! You have a deck in 48 hours or less. Rest assured, friends, even virtual contractors are deceptive beasts. I measured and marked and scored the siding, made the requisite 3 trips to the home improvement store, and set up shop with Rosie The Wondermutt in the backyard as my supervisor. I slipped The Persuader (the name of our pry-bar) under the siding to loosen it as the video instructed and pulled. Nothing happened. It didn’t even wiggle. I repeated the process, I grunted, I sweated, I may have even had a couple of exertion farts, and still nothing happened. Defeated, I plopped down into my lawn chair and stared at my project to contemplate. “There is no shame in asking for help,” I told myself, but I couldn’t help it. I was terribly disappointed that I couldn’t deliver my surprise as intended.
Bill returned from Michigan to find me in my lawn chair, the furrows in my brow growing ever deeper, two cuts in the house siding that simply refused to be removed and a carefully marked ledger board that couldn’t be hung until the siding situation was resolved. I was getting an A+ in tenacity but an F- in accomplishment and it was making me a little bit bonkers.
My careful measurements on a badly warped board. Note: select your prospective ledger carefully as she will be key in squaring your deck. Geometry is important!
“I picked up all the stuff, this won’t cost you a dime, ” I assured him. Then I sheepishly admitted that I didn’t have the muscles to pull the siding from the house. Bill is gentle, Bill is kind, Bill is everything the book of Corinthians mentions when the bible is explaining true love. He let out the heavy sigh of a man resolved to pleasing his woman and picked up The Persuader. He pulled. Nothing happened. He grunted. Nothing happened. Bill got low and flexed his Crossfit muscles and released a battle cry and the siding finally gave way. It took over an hour of him systematically loosening, wiggling, growling, and pulling, but both boards eventually parted ways with the house and we were free to hang our ledger….or so we thought.
Bill pulling the stubborn siding from the house.
Just under our siding was a lair of the most hideous, sinister, vile, GIGANTIC spiders. Had I not been running around the yard screaming at the top of my lungs, I probably could have thrown them into a pot of water and called it a crab boil. These suckers were goddamned dungeness huge. “ABORT MISSION,” were the only comprehensible words I could muster between shrieks, waving my arms helplessly above my head. “I changed my mind, I don’t want a deck. We’ll just sit in the mud until we move.”
Paralyzed by fear, I did the only rational thing I could conjure: I declared a 48 hour holiday and released my flock of hens from their coop. Where I saw a horrible den of monsters, my chickens saw an all-you-can-eat buffet! They spent two days gleaning creepy crawlies from the walls, under the siding, from the dirt below. When they started pulling at the underlayers of the house trying to sate their gluttony I declared Spidergate 2014 officially over, cooped my ladies, and we returned to work sans Spider Spawn of Satan.
Work resumed on the deck project, by which I mean I sat in my Lawn Chair of Thought and Bill toiled away picking up heavy things, driving nails, digging holes for the base, and checking for level repeatedly. I felt completely useless aside from making sure the iced tea pitcher remained full and that supper was ready before sundown. Bill dedicated 12 hours a day for both days of his weekend to working on the Big Surprise I’d planned as a gift for him. I felt like a complete asshole.
Setting the joists, making sure they are true, level, and square
The base of the deck actually came together relatively quickly. I recall my dad and my grandfather building their decks when I was a kid (my job was to hold the tape measure; 25 years later my role hadn’t really evolved much) and though my memory may be blurred by the passage of time, I’m fairly certain their projects weren’t complete in four days.
Bill was tired and stressed. He was convinced our project would look wonky and homemade, be unstable, or require an expensive contractor to correct our rookie mistakes. Bill read blueprints, watched tutorials, compulsively Googled, and finally shrugged. All signs pointed that we were on the right path. He was patient with my photo documentation, although just under his smile I could detect his cynicism was beginning to flare.
Rosie helping Bill take a breather. He’d worked all day before coming home to work all night.
I was able to join the labor force as we topped the deck. Bill would cut the pieces (we were careful to stagger our seams, avoiding the area in front of the door for structural and aesthetic integrity) and I would screw them down. It was tedious work, but rewarding. We had hoped to complete our deck in three days, but we ran out of lumber and screws hours after the lumber yard had closed for the day. Sensing Bill’s waning interest in completing this project, I sent our friends a text inviting them over for dinner on our new deck. The pressure of accountability ramped up our game. Bill came home from work the next day with 4 lbs of deck screws and the balance of the lumber we needed. We worked feverishly, finishing with enough time to wipe down the patio furniture that we’d been using in our driveway (classy, right?) and carry it to the backyard. We set the table, ran a quick vacuum over the house and, while we still had some finish work to do, declared our deck “done enough to party.”
Our wonderful friends arrived with beer and conversation and joined us in the light of our tiki torches as we talked about work, family, the future, and the changing weather. The deck did not collapse nor crack nor creak under our collective mass. Rather, we had a relaxing evening in the cool air of late summer in a portion of our yard that had previously been off limits. This project was not a lesson in carpentry, but a lesson in surrender. We had to let go of perfection, accept things that were beyond our control, and learn to enjoy satisfaction in simplicity while living in the moment. Yes, we still need a roof, gutters, landscaping, paint, a bathroom….the projects of home ownership are endless. But, for now, we have a place to gather, to build relationships, and a visual reminder of what we can accomplish with determination and persistence. Sometimes, it is best to stop thinking and start living.
The sun sets, the candles begin to glow, and the laughter comes from deep in our souls. These are the moments reminiscent of my grandmother’s patio; these are the reasons for our new deck.
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
-Dalai Lama XIV