Success and frustration

I’ve been meaning to blog this for a couple of days now, but things are busy and keep getting busier – and that doesn’t look like it’ll change until at least the 16th or so after I get back from the GP race at Indianapolis.  So if in the meantime I go all quiet, there’s nothing to worry about.  (I’m sure I’ll make up for it in spades in star-struck post-GP posting that only about 10% of you will care about!)  Anyway, I’m still a bit rushed, so this post won’t be too polished, but who cares, right?

That said, here’s What I Did on my Labor Day Weekend.  (Minus the pics, maybe we can get something up soon.)

On Thursday, the topsoil arrived.  This is the topsoil that Dys ordered to finish filling in and leveling off the huge-ass trenches from Memorial Day.   We backfilled the trenches at the time, of course, but since we pulled out a honking terra cotta pipe and replaced it with a much smaller PVC pipe, there wasn’t enough dirt to completely fill it in again.  Especially over the part where I also broke out a layer of brick and four inches of concrete.  So there were two yards of dirt.

Do you know how big a cubic yard is?  When I worked at a lumber company, we used a big tractor with a bucket to load masonry sand by the yard.  It was two buckets to the yard.  For a Bobcat loader, we used four buckets to the yard.  I’ve seen some conversion chart somewhere that puts a cubic yard as equal to about 200 gallons.  So imagine filling 400 milk jugs with dirt, and that’s how big a pile was in my backyard.

From 5:30 to 8:30 on Thursday night, with a heat index of about 98-100F, I shoveled that dirt into a plastic tote (no wheelbarrow) and hauled it the six or twelve feet to the deck and dumped it in, stamped it down, and hauled some more.  The trench was looking good about halfway through – I had thought that one yard would be enough, but Dys gave my estimated measurements to the lady at the topsoil place and she said it would take two.  Oh well, I thought, better to have too much than not enough.

I piled up the dirt even higher – still a bunch left.  So I started leveling off low points in my back yard.  Still some left.  I started hauling it around to level off a few low spots in the FRONT yard.  That finally just about did it.  I hauled my sweaty, mosquito-lunch carcass into the house to shower and more or less collapse.

Friday while I was at work, the nice Home Depot guy showed up with our lumber.  I figured they’d deliver on a flat-bed dump truck like I used to do back in the day, but no, he had one of the fancy piggyback forklift trucks like the one in this picture.  So he not only put the stuff right where we wanted it in the backyard, but he angled it so that the boards faced the deck and I could just slide them off.  Very nicely done.

I came home from work on Friday, noted the ridiculous heat index, and decided NOT to proceed with the plan of attacking the deck immediately.  I put that off until Saturday morning.

Saturday morning I woke up a little later than planned, so after I’d gotten breakfast and so forth I made it outside about 9am to start setting up.  First things first, I had to pull down the first of four supports holding up the awning over the deck, and knock out the decking boards holding it up.  (Beside the gutter downspout in the left of this picture.)  After that, I could start laying the first decking board.

There’s not a lot to say about laying down the decking itself.  I placed one phone call to my dad to confirm that I wasn’t screwing up by placing the boards side by side instead of spacing them (answer, as I thought, was “no” – they’ll dry enough to shrink and provide some spacing), and aside from that I was rolling.  The only problem was a) the heat of the day, and b) the fact that my drill is not a commercial model and it was starting to get hot.  DAMNED hot.  As in, the air coming out of the vents was almost enough to burn.

I only made one mistake, and that was reading my tape measure upside down and cutting one board at 15′ 9 3/4″ long instead of 15′ 10 3/4″.  Otherwise, for the first day I rolled on through, making it halfway across the deck with no problems and wrapping up a little after five.  I was so happy afterward that I figured there was no reason to crush myself to get it all done – the progress was more than what I expected.  This is a good thing.

Sunday morning I did more of the same.  This time my son, who missed Thursday and Friday from school with a bad cold, felt good enough to help a bit, so I brought him out really early in the morning (before the day or the drill got too hot) and had him help me out a bit.  I showed him how to measure the space, how to mark using a carpenter’s square, even my dad’s old trick of scoring the board with a knife to cut down on splintering on the top side of the cut.  He ate it all up, and Dys got a couple of good pictures for the grandparents.

I finished all of the flooring that I was going to do by about 5:30 on Sunday evening.  There’s a bit more to finish yet, but the idjits who built the deck originally left a post closest to the back door that actually does not touch the ground.  It’s just nailed to the joist.  Which means that will not work for the gate that Dys wants to put on the deck there so we can fence in the backyard for the dog.  So when my parents come out next week to babysit the boy whilst we gallivant off to the motorcycle race, I’m going to get my dad to take a look and offer some possible solutions.  This is the kind of thing he eats up, so he’ll actually have fun with it.  Anyway, I left a handful of decking boards off so we can get to the post underneath.  It’s an hour’s work to put them in when we’re ready.

So Monday I thought I’d get started with the handrails.  I set up my sawhorses on the deck this time, under the awning (shade!  yay!) and started measuring and cutting all of them in preparation for just running around and putting them up.  But then I stopped.  The posts in some cases are spaced wider apart at the top than at the bottom, and little variations like that could cause me to cut a handrail too short, especially if the rail next to it has pulled the post a quarter of an inch to one side.  Better to start at one place, put the rails up, and then measure the next rails.

But I needed someone to help hold the boards in place.  My son is still too young for that kind of work.  Dys had a bunch of errands to run early.  And I didn’t want her out there in the heat of the afternoon.  So to hell with it – I said the handrails could wait until this coming weekend, when it should be about 10F cooler.  No problem.

So the weekend with the deck was a complete success.

But then on her errand, Dys finally fulfilled a years-long wish and bought a ceiling fan for our bedroom.

This ceiling fan ate my happiness and burped in my face.

We whipped the old fan down with no problems, then went to mount the new one.

Our house was built in ’51.  Some things they don’t make like they used to – and I’m GLAD.  First, the wiring in our house sucks.  Second, we have all plaster walls.  Third, my stud finder doesn’t work through plaster.  Fun.

The new fan instructions want us to drill into the joists.  That’s great…except I can’t find a joist.  Anywhere. Surely they have to be coming out from the junction box at 90-degree angles, right?  Either lengthwise or across?  Nope.  I drilled holes where they should be, and nada.  Hell, I even drilled “prospecting” at 45-degree angles.  Still nothing.  I put a probe through the drilled holes and felt around for the joists.  Nope.

What the hell?

The old fan was actually screwed to the junction box.  Which this old junction box is steel, and it ain’t going nowhere.  But the new bracket didn’t like it all that much.  It wouldn’t allow us to use the supplied screws.  And since the new bracket is not as flat as the old one, the old-fan screws weren’t long enough.  I found some longer screws, but then discovered that the threaded hole in one side of the junction box was slightly stripped.

I considered and discarded a dozen options, considered and attempted half a dozen only to discard them when they didn’t work.  The sun was going down, so we had to bring in a lamp on an extension cord from another room to see.  It was hot and late, and I was tired and cranky.  And that’s not even counting the trouble we had with the old-ass wiring in the junction box.  (We finally got that one solved after about an hour.  And that was mostly Dys’s work – good job, babe.)

So we were left there, with bare wires hanging from our ceiling in our bedroom.  No fan, no light, no nothin’, and no real clue how to proceed.  All those warm fuzzy feelings from the deck (or what Pirsig would call “gumption”) just went ker-flush.  I was so frustrated that I wanted to either cry or start smashing the ceiling open with a hammer until I found something to screw the fan to.

Dys said, correctly, that I was letting an exaggerated sense of failure control me, but this is the kind of thing that just kills me.  Our house is largely a wreck anyway, but the fan could have waited.  Instead, rationally or not, I had this feeling that I destroyed something functional with the hope of replacing it with something better, only to be left at a point where there’s just the gaping hole and no clear way forward.

The feeling of being stuck when combined with everything else just boils me right the hell over.  She was right to say I was selling myself way short – it’s not my fault that whoever built our house fifty years ago should be dragged out and shot, and I did in fact kick ass over the weekend.  But when I get those irrational feelings, I can’t see the good stuff behind, all I can do is focus on the roadblock.  And the harder I look at it, the harder it becomes to use what Pirsig called “lateral vision” to find a way around the roadblock.

I finally came up with an idea late last night after exhaustion crept in and I finally gave in and went to bed.  So I’m a little more positive for now…at least until I can try said idea.  I’m back to at least feeling proud about what I accomplished in such a short time with the deck.  And I have a little optimism about the fan.  It ain’t much, but it’s a start.


5 Responses

  1. Yes, hold on to the happy from the deck. You can’t let a setback in one part of the house take away from the major accomplishment in another. The math isn’t supposed to work that way! 🙂

    See the ceiling fan as a challenge that you will accept and defeat in the end. Because you will.

    I just know it.

    One way or another we’ll get it done, even if I have to call out the artillery. (Dad and/or an electrician. And my usual electrician is a day away.)

  2. I know exactly, exactly what you mean about this whole thing. Whenever I have a problem where I’ve approached it from all angles and can’t find a solution, I can hardly think about anything else.

    Non-philosophically speaking…could you try to jerry-rig it to the junction box with a long screw and a wingnut?

    Believe it or not, I tried the wingnut approach. But I couldn’t get it to work – there isn’t enough space for a wingnut there. A regular nut wouldn’t work because once you threaded it through the nut, if you tried to remove the bolt the nut would just spin. So it would be more or less permanently up there, which briefly sounded good but ultimately is a no-go.

  3. She GOT you! This happens to me whenever I am working on something…she brings home somehting new. The project that i am working on is never enough.

    That is really too bad about the box and the screws. It is a common issue. You may end up removing the box and installating a new one that you actually put up in the ceiling and twist and it spreads out to the sides of the nearby ceiling joists. They should work even if yours are 24″ on center (like mine).

    But that exisitng box has to be attached to something. Maybe there is a 2×4 behind the box and you could get some 3″ screws to go through the box into the wood blocking behind it. There are many solutions that will not have a ceiling fan on your head in the middle of the night.

    Hang in there.

    Heh, somehow I knew you’d have a helpful comment.

    First, to give my wife credit, nah she didn’t spring it on me. We’ve been looking for a fan for over a year now and only recently found one we liked. When she brought up her trip to HD on Monday, she said “I’m thinking about going ahead and buying a fan” and I told her to definitely go for it – it would be a good thing for me to work on inside during the heat of the day. D’oh!

    I drilled holes and actually probed for what the existing box was attached to – at one point, waaay up in the ceiling, I bumped into something hard. Probably a metal rod of some kind. Whatever it was, it was apparently too hard for my bits to drill into. Drilling into the box itself also seems like a risky proposition since I don’t know where the wires are behind it.

    The replacing-the-box solution sounds like the best one at this point – Dys said she actually found mention of similar things in her internet research yesterday while I was busy. But the wiring in our house is so suspect that I might have to call in an actual electrician for that one. It’s a serious old early-50’s steel box, and the wires are those lovely heavy-gauge jobs (I told my dad they were like finish nails) wrapped in crumbling rubber and cloth. Woohoo!

  4. I seem to have nothing useful to say so let me sum it up this way:

    Hooray deck! 🙂
    Boo ceiling fan. 😦

    With that said, let me say that I do this kind of thing to myself all of the time. You focus so much on the one thing that you think is going to be pretty simple and get pissed and frustrated when it isn’t. You need to do exactly what you did. Take a step back, bask in the glory of the deck success, and go back to the ceiling fan later.

    I’ve officially taken a few days off from the fan, in spite of hating the bare wires in the ceiling, and I feel better for it.

  5. Do we get a picture of the finished back yard?

    Also, BOY do I have sympathy about the ceiling fan thing. Read here.

    First and foremost, HAHAHAHA and thanks a ton for that link. That was perfection. I liked step #28 best!

    Yes, you’ll get pictures, but possibly not until after the GP in Indy. We’ve got a ton to do between now and Wednesday. Including dumping all of the photos off of all of our camera cards so we can shoot a gazillion photos over the weekend…but we’ll probably not have time to upload to Flickr.

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