One Woman, One Pry Bar and Determination

Today’s post is a “What I did this summer,” story. But the truth is it began over five years ago.

We have a small home in the Arizona mountains. Like much of the land in Strawberry it is on a steep hillside as it backs up to the Mogollon Rim. When the house was built we had to have fill dirt and rock brought in to give us a somewhat level foundation. From the back to the front of the house it’s still a three foot drop, but it was workable. As you can imagine where the bulldozer stopped leveling the ground there was a steep drop off with this fill dirt. In my eyes it wasn’t a very pretty sight. But it also wasn’t a priority.

Until the summer five years ago when I looked around and decided to make good use of the natural sandstone found everywhere on the property and build a stone wall up the hillside. The sandstone was so plentiful it seemed an easy job to level and stack. But it was not. The pry bar immediately gave a resounding thump as it bounced off a big rock. It was so heavy that after less than fifteen minutes I was ready to cry in frustration. Of course, Bob ran over to help (that’s how he is) which only irritated me more. This was to be my project but I couldn’t even move one single stone. There was a big ‘woe is me’ pity party, blaming myself for being out of shape and unable to manage the 5000 feet altitude.

You know how hindsight is 20-20? A short month later I had one of those moments. Yes, that’s when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Ah ha! It was a moment of clarity. Suddenly, the fatigue, shortness of breath and lack of strength made sense. If only it had been recognized sooner…but that’s a story for another day except to say, if you are a woman get your mammogram. My doctor had recommended a baseline study and with no family history of problems my prescription had been sitting on the counter waiting for the opportune time. Because of, well, priorities… Don’t be like me. Make your health a priority.

Fast forward five years to this summer.

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Planting a little peach tree right in the middle of the wall.

Other projects finished, my attention turned back to the front yard. I dug out the pry bar and headed back over to the hillside. Five years of better health brings with it strength and to my surprise, ability. Ability to pound the pry bar into the ground. Ability to move big rocks. And ability to persevere. I began stacking the sandstone, learning as the project moved along how to make them level and how to lock them together. At first, I would wait on Bob to help move the big rocks and then came realization that one person can do a whole lot using a lever and fulcrum. Learning that the same small stone that keeps a rock wiggling when you stand on it can also be used as a pivot for a much larger rock. Slowly, and some days, ever so slowly, the wall began to take shape. Bob would call and ask what we accomplished that day and I’d tell him, “I moved one rock.” Some days I imagined myself like the ancient Egyptians building the pyramids but thank goodness I wasn’t. Still one rock at a time it was built.

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The finished product?

As summer ends is my rock wall finished? Maybe. Maybe not. I still haven’t decided. It’s far enough over and close enough to the brambly manzanita bushes that it could be done. Or it might be continued next summer. In the mean time we planted some vines in the cracks and a few lilacs dug up from Mom’s yard. Hopefully they will become well established over the winter.

Before leaving you’ll get a laugh from this picture that comes with an explanation. I asked Bob to take a flattering photo I could share (Rebecca says if I wanted a flattering picture I should have looked at myself in the mirror in those pants…) But I gave Bob my camera, the one he never uses, with instructions to take a panoramic picture, something he has never done. He tried to figure it out but my directions were pretty poor as was my impatience. Ha. As you can see, the picture turned out so terribly that it’s funny.

100_3425And that’s what I did this summer. Just call me the stone stacker.

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95 Percent Or Your Kitchen Remodel Project Really is Never Finished!

That’s an A right? So I can be happy?  I don’t know about that.

Our home remodel project is about 95% complete. Oh, the kitchen and tile, etc. were done long ago. I’m the one who decided that this was the perfect time to repaint all the rooms.  So it’s me, I’m the slow poke.

When we started this project I had grand ideas about keeping a diary to share with you. As you might imagine my grand plans fizzled quickly when “I” actually had to do some manual labor. So here is the project in a much more condensed version…

As I wrote back at the beginning, we (meaning Bob) decided to install new kitchen lights while everything was open. It was a good idea and because my husband is talented, we (meaning Bob again–) were able to put in recessed lights and rewire for lights over the island. Truly, my job during this whole first part was to help think about the light placement and to hold the tape measure. I learned a lot. For example, I learned that the air conditioning duct has to run some place…and that some place generally is right where you want to put your light. I also learned that there are umpteen types of recessed lights and sure enough you won’t buy the right one the first try. This part alone was an experience and offered many opportunities to visit our local Lowe’s and Home Depot.

No wonder Rebecca was looking for a summer job!
Matthew found his niche, taking
all those fairies off the wall!
“What I did on my summer vacation…”
Of course we have a mitre saw!

We did not use a general contractor (and yes, it might appear we used some slave labor…) It might have been easier but over all scheduling everything went very smoothly. As long as we had our part done the guys could do theirs. The place where we ordered our cabinets recommended a non-profit agency who would come take out the cabinets, clean them up and resell them. I loved the idea of recycling PLUS, we didn’t have to do the removal! You may see them now at the Stardust store in Phoenix.

Originally I wanted to be Super Woman and take up all the tile myself. After all, I had seen this gizmo on television and was sure I could do it in no time. Fortunately, I was convinced to let the tile remover guys come in and what a smart move that turned out to be. Apparently, the tile was pretty well stuck and the super buff muscle man used a giant sledge hammer to pound most of it up. (My little As Seen on TV gadget wouldn’t have lasted long.) Instead of taking it up, Matthew and I sat in the living room for two days as the crew worked. I knew it would be noisy but had not realized how much dust and grit they would create. Oh the mess! At one point I got up out of the chair and looked back to see a ghost print left from the dust in the air.  Fortunately, that was the worst of it. The cabinet guys delivered their stuff and everything fit perfectly. The counter top guy brought the slab of granite and cut it in the yard. He was amazing and took painstaking hours to find the perfect design before cutting the granite. The tile layer was another perfectionist working ten hour days so he could get the job finished on time.

Aren’t they lovely?

Just when we thought everything was going to go swimmingly we realized the stairs had become a problem. The new stone was not the same height as the old tile and everything had to be readjusted. After a whole bunch of ideas we found that Lowe’s carries ready made stair tread so we (and yeah, you got it, Bob) spent the weekend ripping out the old stairs and installing the new before the tile guy arrived.

After the cabinets and tile were done it was finally my chance to work. We cleaned, and cleaned, and are still cleaning the dust from the tile. It didn’t matter that we covered things, the dust and grit permeated everything. Once we got the dishes and food back in their homes that’s when I started looking around at the walls. It’s been a while since everything was painted and you know how it is, once you paint one wall you have to do the one next to it, etc., etc. We became good friends with the Sherwin Williams clerks. I also learned, if you’re not sure you’ll like one color don’t go wasting your time and energy painting the vaulted ceiling wall first. Oh well, Bob reminded me the walls probably needed that extra coat of new paint. I almost forgot, because had the tile done it made sense to take up the base board molding. After looking at all gunk and old paint we decided it would be much easier to replace it. Again, having a husband who understood mitre cuts was certainly a savings (although he decided he got much better making the measurements and cuts by the end of the project).

Just some of my paint…

What’s left to be done? Since I piled all the junk in the laundry room and it’s still waiting for me to sort through, hopefully tossing most. Then we’ll finish painting it. We also don’t yet have all the pictures back on the walls. And…forgot to order enough hardware for the bathroom cabinet. We’ll get that ordered soon. We also did not finish the back splash in the kitchen. There were too many textures and colors to think about so we’re still thinking. Most likely we’ll just have the tile guy back and just tell him to make it pretty.

Stain does not easily come off the fingers.

Oh, I know you are wondering how the budget went. Well, we didn’t start out with a “budget” per se. I think we did well by shopping at several stores. Both the cabinet and tile stores were smaller companies and not located in the fanciest part of town.  But they both were licensed and bonded, etc., etc. There were plenty of unexpected costs; the wire for the lights, that hardware, the faucet, even the new toilet paper hanger in the bathroom. Oh, caulk, lots and lots of caulk. I didn’t know my Discover bill could go so high! Bob is still eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to make up for it.

So here you go–photos of the before and after. And trust me, it didn’t take us long to fill all the flat spaces with clutter…

Bathroom under constructions…note the four different colors
of paint I tried for the walls…

After: Bathroom (rid of that sunny yellow!)
Before: Pantry area
After: You know it’s the same house…
see all the pictures on the fridge!


Before Kitchen…
After...Yeah, I know…new cabinets are almost the
same color as the old… How’d that happen?

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