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Filtering by Category: PROJECTS

Standing in the Clearing


When I was 15 my father and I took night-walks into the woods, pausing every 20 paces, listening, seeing how close to the pond we could get without alarming the peepers into silence. Often we heard deer-munchings. Once we saw a moonlit porcupine up a tree. Always we had an ear out for the Whippoorwill on the berm of RT 538 nested in the gravel. If we did hear it, my Dad would whistle back a fair but quiet imitation. (The song of the whippoorwill occupies the lower courts of whisability.) On one such occasion, having come to a star-drenched field, the milky sky-way blazing above, my father broached the subject of my romantical sighings. “I've watched you looking at a girl...” he paused, “your whole demeanor has changed. Your eyes are soft; you look sotted with love.” He was smiling. “Are you ready to get married?” I admitted that the desire was strong. All that stood between me and marriage was the scarcity of years to my name, the lack of a willing partner, and my inability to speak in the presence of beautiful girls. Other than that, I was ready.  “And how,” his voice was still smiling, “do you propose to support a wife?”

Now this was a question dripping with subtle accusation, which I readily ascertained as a trap. My father himself was the youngest of four and was no stranger to my pressing the advantage of last-born to the avoidance of Work. Yet I considered myself a skirter, not a shirker. I met my obligations with gusto and performed my chores and duties with whole-hearted energy, but the prospect of added responsibility I met with the elusive charm that only the baby of a family can wield.


This cursory self-evaluation left me knowing I COULD work to support a wife, but something was wrong with that answer. It wasn't just that I knew my father was waiting for that response; there was something my heart was not articulating. So I remained silent under the stars, delving deeper into myself. An owl hooted from the end of the meadow. I eventually touched a finger to the feeling and opened my mouth. What came out was woefully garbled and inadequate. The rudderless hormonal ramblings of a 15-year-old. I'm sure it did very little to allay my father's misgivings. But now, after 16 years of marriage, I think I can finally put it to words, though I warn you, it may still be the wide-eyed lowing of a calf on the moor.

Bethany and I and the kids were on the Kaiser's garage roof, about 6 months into our trip, hammering shingles down on a cupola. It was around 95 degrees. It might have been a recipe for foul tempers had we not each held a hammer and nails.

The fundamental joy of pounding a nail with a hammer seizes our imagination as a toddler, becoming an icon; the quintessence of 'making something'. Bam bam BAM! And when we've grown to actually heft and strike the hammer we discover our childhood expectations of pure fun are delivered in full. Pounding a nail really IS the sweet spot of construction!

So we were all in fine spirits, sweating, building this little house on the roof peak, which 3 weeks before we'd had no idea was called a cupola. Now we knew how one was built.

I watched Bethany pound a nail. When she looked up we both grinned, and it dawned on me, this was it. This was the very thing I'd longed for at 15. To have a real live girl pouring her heart with my heart into the same project. Pouring our hearts together into whatever work there was. Into whatever people there were. A real live girl unafraid to hoist sails, sing songs, cross swords, and pound nails. RIGHT BY MY SIDE!


I stood under a sunset sky on the Kaiser's roof, spellbound by this girl with the hammer. Tears flooding my eyes. God got me good with this one. How long had I tried working to support a wife, when all along it was wiving to support a work. Not the 'behind every great man is an even greater woman' kind of work. Not MY work. Our work. A 'weaving our separate thousand dreams into one fabric of Doing and let God blow the sail' kind of work. This was the sweet spot of marriage.

As I reveled, dusk descended on the Kaiser's garden releasing a great cloud of mosquitoes. We were determined to nail the last eight shingles before it was truly dark. Our sweat hung like stratas of soup steam, perfuming the air. The mosquito cloud (like 10,000 Bugs Bunnies, floating on their fingertips, noses in the sweet-stream) ascended to the cupola and engulfed us. Have you ever swatted a mosquito biting your person with a hammer? We were dancing the Macarena at triple-speed, but the onslaught was so relentless and overwhelming our sanity was starting to suffer. We abandoned ship leaving the last few shingles for morning.

It is a fine morning waking up with hammer girl.

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No Fixed Address


I'm sitting in the shade of a live oak tree, looking out over a sunbaked and drought-goldened valley of grass. A hot wind blows, dead leaves dance at my feet, and a very dusty Edmund just sauntered off after lying on my foot for a few minutes. There are crows calling, the occasional squeak of dusty wheels on Fynn's latest lego creation, and the faint sound of an engine passing somewhere over the hill.

When I booked this campsite, the site photo included a lapping lake at the foot of what would be our domain. A lake that started shrinking 10 years ago, and hasn't really stopped. The horizontal lines undulating across the hills in front of me mark the shrinking of the years, and young trees mix with the rotting stark remains of the ones that were lost when this area was flooded in the late 70's, creating the 5th largest reservoir in California. It's astonishingly low now, having lost something like 60' of depth, emptying many fingers of it, and pretty much puddling others. The boats still come though, the houseboats huddle where they can, and the rangers smile wide.

I'm looking for those smiles, while struggling with my own. We've covered a lot of ground in the last few weeks, and a lot of emotional territory in the last few months. Time that's filled many corners, and thinned out others. Some wells good, other wells dry. I miss my Mom. I miss my family, my community, my friends. I miss the knowing, the depending, the sense of regularity and solidity that comes from a semi-ordered life. It comes from the approaching 2-year anniversary of this venture, and from spending 3 weeks with my sister and 5 with my Mom. From falling into communities, and then pulling out of them again. From not communicating enough, and not carving out enough family-based routines for ourselves and our kids. Things we Do as a family, no matter where we are. Exercises, end-of-day highs/lows, reading together, schooling together … the bits of routine that mostly fall by the wayside when we're in someone else's territory.

It also comes from being this far in, and feeling no closer to our end goal. No cob classes taken yet, no leads on location or property or final anything … I'm an awful lot closer to the buzzard who is currently circling above me than I am to the ground squirrel whose burrow I can see four entrances to from where I'm sitting. I love both. Crave both. And the two are rather at odds.

I had a long conversation with my sis this morning (sitting on the floor of the bathroom, so my phone could be plugged into the only outlet in this hookup-less campground) and she was talking about hesitating to take on another weekly commitment when I suddenly realized how this trip has basically made me commitment-free, and how utterly delicious that is. It's the golden flip side of no fixed address or community. My own little conundrum. The grass is always greener, blah blah blah …

So what Did happen in the last 7 weeks or however long it's been, and how did we get from Chicago to the foothills of the Sierra Madre?

We spent one – two – three! Weeks at my sister's place, having all kinds of fun and doing all sorts of projects. And playing with piles of perfect kittens, watching with deep amusement as our two cats fled from them in terror. The City Museum was devoured (a must for anyone who can walk or crawl), a dumpster filled, painting and sorting and organizing and roofing done, as well as some very fun demolition of a furnace and some ductwork. Interspersed with tea and conversation and delicious meals and nephew wrangling. All good, every bit of it. More, please.

Then a week of time with my fam at the same house we had last year in Indiana, swimming and gaming and talking and puzzling. Mom participated often, with her eyes, sometimes her voice, and sometimes her hands. She chopped and diced and set tables and put together puzzle pieces, watched her grandkids avidly, and watched Dad when she wasn't doing any of the above. That love runs so deep and strong you could calm a storm with it. I think they do, actually. It's what's there, what they've built, and it's carrying them through a constantly changing landscape that looks like it's heading into ever deeper canyons, but the ride is still smooth. Some ripples, but no rapids. It's a braid of love, acceptance, and God, and it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

After our time together we hopped on up to Ken and Tina's (retracing last year's steps again) and followed up on all the progress they'd made on what we started last year, and it was awesome to see. I did a bit more compulsive garage tidying (I truly can't help myself, the list of ones I've ravaged continues to grow) and in the process unearthed a dress that Tina's Mom wore in the 60's, promptly borrowing it for the wedding in CA that was on our radar for August.

Then we hiked up to Chicago and parked at first in Tina's folks' driveway, having missed them entirely in last year's visit there. We did a wee bit of work removing old solar panels and putting up a new mail post, but mostly hung out with my folks, celebrated a 10-year-old, and caught up with friends. I did a few days of Mom-care, filling in most of one week while her regular caregiver was away, and a few days the following week. Coming in off an unpredictable life, it was a remarkably serene and ordered change. We went through photo albums, took walks in the park, shopped and cooked, and once or twice lapsed into uncontrolled and mutual giggling that was a chunk of pure gold that's still warming my heart. Balm, that was. She watched, I worked ... she followed, I directed. She enjoyed, I looked for ways to connect, and worried a wee bit on the side. Not all that different from the mothering she gave me, I don't think.

We moved to my folk's driveway for the next 4 weeks, and spent half of it working on restoring an old playset/treehouse at the Kaisers to working order again. Growth and storms had rendered it unsafe, skewed and bashed in by falling branches, and rotting in places. It was a great learning experience, and one with a very satisfying result. I hear there's been a tent pitched on the upper deck since then, so it's solid enough I guess!

Before ...

Before ...

After ...

After ...

Winding down our time there included visiting lots of friends, painting some skylights, putting in a new radiator and building a fan shroud for Matilda (thanks Tim and Rebecca!) and getting to see That's Weird Grandma (thanks Su!), which was a hoot ... Michael wanted to join the cast on the spot, I think. There were many meals out, picnics on the back porch, and even a day at the lake going kayaking with Dad, while Mom watched on shore and was reassured constantly that he was coming back. Sometimes hard to be fully present and enjoying, with the flutter of the flag that reads Last? shadowing your back. Onward. Is there any other option?

Extricating ourselves was unbelievably hard, and if it weren't for Michael's “Let's Go Now!” I'd still be sniveling at the end of the driveway.

We pushed off for the dunes of IN for a few days of R&R, starting to sort out feelings and trajectories and plans. We were down to 3 weeks till the wedding in San Fran, but needed to catch our breath first. We also had a couple visitors who made the trek there to see us, enjoying 3 lovely days with Marie and Carpenter and Auzlo, whose visit we managed to keep a secret from Fynn until he ran into them in front of the campground office. Truly speechless for once :). Mike also came down and kept us lovely company for a few days, bringing music and musings and injections of confidence into wedding outfit choices (platform heels, yes, lovely ones indeed.).

The day after Mike left, we headed out … Westward Ho!

(to be continued ...)

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happy. humbling. holland.


When we finally pulled away from Addison, my heart was in tatters but it was time to go.  We left Mom waving in the yard, and thru a haze of tears I started looking up possible campsites for the night, as we’d not made any reservations anywhere.  By the time we hit the quarry on I94, I got someone to pick up the phone at a campground near the Indiana Dunes, and felt the knot in my stomach begin to settle.  We had a destination.

This wandering thing has put an interesting twist on my routine-loving heart.  I like order, simplicity, and thinking ahead so I can plan the most efficient way to get it done … leaving me more time to relax.  I grew on up travel of all sorts, from visiting the backcountry of Peru and Bolivia by bus and open truck, to road tripping across the US curled up on a home-rigged platform in the back of my folk’s 4-cylinder minivan, tents and camping gear stowed underneath me.  Any trip that was not designated as a sight-seeing one was executed in the most direct manner possible.  Stops were as short and infrequent as we could manage, and when we were young they were bypassed entirely if it was just one of us kids needing to pee, we had a can for that in the back.  Spending time at the destination was the goal, not meandering our way there.  We always knew who and what was waiting at the other end.

This trip has very little of that going on, though we sometimes know who and what are at the next stop.  That’s good for my detail-loving side, as it lets me plan enough to get the necessary stuff out of the way whenever there’s a chance.  Phone calls, laundry, blogging, photo processing, grocery shopping, schooling, camper organizing (Fynn keeps collecting things, and we can’t seem to turn down books … ), and trying to plot a somewhat logical course that keeps us from spending a bajillion bucks on gas.  I like things planned.

So that knot in my heart when we left Addison wasn’t just saying goodbye to my folks for I-don’t-know-how-long, it was also the unease over finding a place to spend the night that wasn’t a truck stop or a rest area, which don’t generally lead to restful sleep.  I’m slowly learning to roll with it a little better though, and as we just got a 2nd battery hooked up to the camper we have more ability to spend a night or two not hooked up to anything, which really increases our options.  It widens the “what’s next” pool hugely, and that helps me a lot.

So back to heading towards the Dunes … we found our site, settled in, and took a deep breath.  Just the 4 of us again, wheee!  We took a day to go to the beach, and after finding it crowded and hot we climbed up some dunes and the boys played The Game (something Douglas invented while we were in Chicago, involving found-object-fortress-building and warfare, medieval style) while I vegged in the shade and watched people and waves, two of my favorite past times.  One more night and I was almost starting to relax … but it was time to go.  We were working against the deadline of Michael starting a Sol LeWitt installation job in New Haven CT on August 3rd, something we committed to back when we were still in TN.  So we wanted to fit in some work that logically fell in between Chicago and CT.  A lot of ground, and only 10 days available between the two. 

Our next stop was at Gary and Peggy Nielsen’s, who call Holland Michigan home, and Peggy just happens to be the sister of John Kaiser, whose cupola we had just built.  She’d contacted me several months before with a lovely email, and the mention of a couple projects that they’d like to have done if we had the time.  So we pulled into their gloriously double-wide driveway on Saturday evening, and did a quick setup before being taken out for a yummy dinner.  Their kids are all grown and the grandkids are multiplying rapidly (Mark! Abby! xoxo), so they fill their “free” time with work in Moldova with university students via Intervarsity and their own organization called Second Fiddle Ministries.  They don’t exactly act retired, and seem to be masters of giving people wings and hope.

The two projects offered were some calligraphy on the dining room wall, and a fountain/waterfall feature in the middle of one of Peggy’s lovely gardens.  We opted to start with the waterfall, and were given some guidelines as to how it should sound, an idea of the desired height, and some images of styles that they were drawn to.  We did some measuring, some thinking, and a bit of sketching.  Then we just kind of dove in … it seems hard to do anything else when you’re working with stone. 

A trip to Home Depot netted us a small pond liner that we buried to ground level to act as our water source, and it also had three built in stands for water plants, which we thought worked well as a sturdy base to build on.  In order to bury it, we had to remove a few plants.  A very few actually, as Peggy’s hosta plants were the most humongous ones I’ve ever seen, and I think I measured the one we took out at 5’ in diameter.  It was remarkably easy digging, given that they live just a couple miles from the shore of lake Michigan, so the soil there is still very sandy.  We hoped to leave the other plants around the structure, so kept what we removed to a bare minimum, and did our best not to trample too much getting in and out.


Next, we drove most of the way over to Grand Rapids in Matilda, on a very hot day, to visit the closest stoneyard we could find.  Given that it was an hour away, we thought we better get everything we needed in one trip, and knew we needed to keep it economical.  We’d brought the pond liner along for size, and basically started building up a possible fountain structure right in the middle of the stone piles, in order to know what to buy.  The boys found the only shade on the property, invented a few games, got hot and bothered, and started raiding the water cooler in the office.  We kept hauling and building and rearranging and weighing our piles, sweating buckets in the sun.  After something like 3 hours, we threw in a few more stones for good measure, tallied up our scribbled sheet of weights and stone types, and trudged into the office.


The man who’d helped us at first was as shy as they come, and had long ago stopped offering help, seeing that we were going to be awhile.  His brother in the office was a bit chattier, and gladly accepted our tally sheet in lieu of weighing anything themselves, and so we scooted back to Gary and Peggy’s as fast as possible, knowing we were supposed to be ready to be taken out on a boat in Lake Michigan after dinner that night by one of their neighbors, named Doug. 

We decimated Peggy’s taco bar, grabbed suits and life jackets for the boys (who’d been promised a swim) and headed for the marina.  Parking Matilda in the private hangar there for members was a bit of a hoot, she was certainly the oldest matron in the place, as well as the only one with a backend full of 900+ pounds of rock.  There were still a good 2 hours till sunset, and the plan was to tour Holland’s Lake Macatawa a bit, and then head out into Lake Michigan to catch the last rays of the day.


We saw all kinds of fancy homes, and then headed out towards the sun.  Felt a familiar pang when watching all the folks on the end of the piers, as they watched us heading out … guilty pleasure at being the one On the boat this time, rather than watching from shore.  Guilty as I’d envied the boat dwellers more times than I could remember, but still enjoying it to the hilt.  The boys jumped in after awhile, got nicely chilled, and were wrapped in multiple towels when they climbed back in after a bit of swimming.  First though, Douglas was sent out maybe 50 yards from the boat to retrieve something we saw floating there, as I thought it might be a good choice for our Michigan memento … we’ve started collecting some small natural object from every place we visit, with the intention of building it into our house when we get to that part of the plan.  After hauling in what turned out to be a little piece of broken mast/driftwood, we had a good laugh … stuck to it was a tiny “made in China” sticker!  It obviously had just adhered to it in the water somehow, but made it rather amusing nonetheless. 

We sucked in every last drop of the sun, doing nothing but watch its dive towards the horizon, reveling in the colors, the quiet, and the peace of lapping water and no other agenda but enjoying the beauty.  We all needed it I think.  A truly perfect evening.

The next morning we unloaded stones, set the boys to scrubbing and washing them, and started stacking.  Many configurations later, we felt like we had a good tower going, and started running the pump hose up the back side so we could test the waterflow.  It turned out to be way too strong, tending to splatter well beyond the perimeter of our little 3 foot pond.  We called it quits for the night, to “think on it”, and tore it down and started over the next morning.  Another day of building and playing got us to a better solution, which included drilling through one rock to make the flow come up underneath a capstone and be diffused a bit that way.  We chose the haphazard pile approach, wanting to make it produce a variety of sounds, be visible over the hostas and lilies in the summer, and look good for a full 220 degrees of viewing angle given its mid-garden placement.   

The next day we fiddled a lot with stones to hide the hose up the back, filled in some corners with marine foam just to make sure things weren’t going to shift around in a Michigan winter, and somewhere late in the process heard a little crack/click sound that we managed to write off as the basin doing a little settling.  Of course that’s all it was.  We put the finishing touches on the edging and blending into the surrounding plants, and had the big sound test, which gave Gary a sound close enough to what he wanted to declare it “Right on!”.  We went to bed tired, about 70% happy with what we’d accomplished, and planning to pull out by noon the next day ... Friday morning.  CT minus 3 days.  I wanted to be happier about it, but felt it wasn’t quite up to par.  Something was just a bit off. 

You probably saw this coming a mile away, but the next morning I checked out the fountain on my way into the house, and my heart sank to my toes.  The water level had dropped significantly overnight, and the fountain hadn’t even been running.  Aaaargh!  We broke the news to Gary and Peggy over breakfast, and said we’d stay to fix it.  Somehow.  They were incredibly gracious about it, and said we were welcome to come back some other time and work it over, but we really wanted to avoid having that big question mark hanging over our heads.  Having raised 6 kids, they are masters of knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em, when to walk away, and when to run … they have patience, insight, steadiness, and humor in spades, as well as a quiet undercurrent of love that keeps them humming along side by side, each doing what they do best. 

Given that the pile was already adhered together, we couldn’t exactly lift 900 lbs to find and fix what we now knew must be a crack in the basin.  Sand doesn’t support things the same way dirt does, and we hadn’t accounted for that.  Praying and plotting netted us the plan to fill the basin up with concrete to the three little stands, on which we’d rested the biggest base stone.  We ran to Home Depot again, found an angel in the concrete aisle who knew the properties of every single one of the 20 types they had, told us which one to get (not the one we’d already lugged onto the cart) and explained how it wouldn’t completely solve our problem, but would help it significantly.

Back at the house we dismantled all the stones around the base, and just for kicks I lay down on my side and reached back under the base stone and traced where it met the plastic with my fingertips.  I couldn’t reach it all, but just as I came to the end of what I could touch, I found the very edge of a tiny crack.  Score!!  Having been told that concrete won’t really adhere to plastic, Michael grabbed the boys’ fimo collection, and I went to work sealing as much of the perimeter of that stone/base junction as I could, willing my claustrophobia to stay away.  Buried up to my shoulder under a pile of stone, with my face inches from it and my arm contorted crazily, I wasn’t terribly comfortable.  It worked much better to keep my eyes closed.  Funny, that’s true for a lot of things. 

Gary and Peggy packed for a weekend away with friends (planned long before), while we used contractor bags with the corners cut off as giant frosting tubes, squeezing mixed cement down into the three small openings we had into the pond area underneath our base stone.  It took all four of us, and the boys really pulled their weight.  A bit of a race against the clock. 

We filled up to the base stone, and then let it start to set while we cleaned up everything.  Once it was getting stiff, we scooped out a hollow in the back section where the pump was to rest, hoping to leave enough volume of water in the basin to keep up with the pump.  We knew it was going to be really close.  We waved Gary and Peggy off on their trip, and then put back all the surrounding stones, spread more pebbles, and took some final pictures in a lovely Friday night sunset, praying that it would be a workable fountain once the concrete cured.  We couldn’t stay around to find out.  Gary promised that he’d give us a full report once they got back home, and word is that it works well and sounds good, though the water flow is a wee bit lower than before.  A relief, though a bit of regret. 

We learn something every time, that’s for sure.  Not just about stone and construction and how to work together, but about human nature and people and hearts and lives and the brokenness and beauty that is in every single person we meet.  Some triumphantly flying, some humming, some limping, but all moving forward.  All loved.  All with something to teach us, show us, or shower on us.  Willing to let us in, trust us, and share whatever they have.  Gary and Peggy were no exception, and gave us far more than they likely realize.  Beautiful, humbling, and loved, they are … thanks you two, for everything!

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Chasing Waterfalls and Shedding Past Promises


Tina wanted a shed.  This was important.  There were a lot of things to be put in a shed.  There used to be a shed in the back yard, when she and Ken moved in some 20 years ago, but it had rotted away. 

When we had supper at Chipotle with them almost 2 years ago, we told them our newly formed plan to travel the country with tools and help people out.  I believe they were the first ones we told.  They had looked at each other, “Oh!” Their eyebrows were up, “We have a shed,” Ken said.  “In the garage,” Tina said.  “That needs put together,” they said together, smiling big smiles.

“Yes,” we said, “That is the kind of project we would enjoy.”

“And …” Tina listed off about 5 other projects to be done.  “There’s also …” Ken listed another 5.


We told them it might be awhile before we got our plan rolling, but they were definitely on our list of stops, never suspecting they’d be our second.

They told us about their store.  It was moving.  A few years before, Ken and Tina quit their jobs and started a scrapbooking store called Café Crop.  Business had been scant.  The location was not good and the landlord was not cooperative.  They were just about to sign on a new location but it would be stepping out on faith.  It’d take everything they had.  For us it was great to see them doing something together.  Something life-consuming.  That was right where Bethany and I wanted to be; eyes glowing, scared to death.  It was inspiring.

We pulled up to their driveway 2 years later.  The pouring rain had just stopped, and there they were; waving and smiling.  Ken guided me in, we unhitched, and spent the evening reminiscing on the back lawn.  Ken got out his wiffle-balls and gave the kids a golf lesson.  That night we slept in the camper.

Tina had emailed us a week before to say moving the business and getting it running had occupied most of their time and the shed was still a project waiting to happen.  We were gung-ho to start in the morning.  Monday.

There was a good thunderstorm right before dawn.  The rain had quit by the time breakfast was over.  Tina went to work at Café Crop.  We staked off an 8’ x 12’ footprint of the shed and began removing the ground cover and bushes.  It was muddy work.  It began to rain again.  We looked like mud-wrestlers.  It began to pour and we could hardly stand up.  The clay in the soil was very slick.  We decided to wait for the rain to stop.  “Can we open up the shed kit, while we wait?” Bethany asked.

“Well … that might be hard,” Ken said, “why don’t you come look at it.”  We followed him to the garage and stood dripping with amazement in the doorway.  “That’s a corner of it, right there.” He pointed towards the bottom of a vast heaping of boxes, tools and equipment.  “We’d have to move the stuff off it,” he lamented.

“But,” said Bethany, walking back and forth in the 4 foot path cleared to the fridge, peering on tiptoe into the garage, “there’s nowhere to put it!”

“If it stops raining, we can move it to the driveway.” Ken suggested.

“Hang on.”  Bethany was still pacing.  Then with great formality she turned to Ken and said “Ken, may I have permission to organize your garage?”

“Sure,” said Ken, “go to town!”

“OK.” Said Bethany “Here’s what we’re going to do.  Open the awning on the camper.  All the big tools, mowers and blowers and anything that goes in the shed goes in the driveway under the awning …”  And so it began.  8 hours of hefting, consolidating, stacking, and shifting all under Bethany’s command.  By the time Tina came home, there were swept paths to every part of the garage and the shed lay fully and circumnavigably exposed.  Later in the week when Tina was hounding Ken to take out the garbage, he said “Sheesh!  You’re almost as bad a slave-driver as Bethany!”

That evening, it began to rain in earnest.  It rained all night.  By morning, it was thinning.  “We’ve got a nice lake in the yard!” Tina said brightly, as she left for work.

We went outside to look.  Sure enough, right where the shed was to go, stood a three to four inch lake.  “Hmmm,” I said, “this appears to be the low spot in the yard.”

“That would explain why the last shed rotted away,” Ken mused.  We considered building it up with gravel, but decided the water would still sit on the clay under the gravel.  We discussed drainage this way and that way for half an hour, before Ken, arms akimbo, said “Wait a minute!  I have an idea!  Now, this might sound crazy, but 18 years ago I promised Tina a pond … “ Bethany and I exchanged worried glances.  “I actually promised it in writing,” Ken confided.  “What if we dug a pond lower than the foundation, and the water could drain into it.”

 “Well,” I said slowly, “That WOULD give us the dirt to raise the shed foundation.”  We began to talk about what a pond would involve.  Bethany and I got some garden hose and made a pond shape in the grass.

“I just had another idea.”  We looked up.  Ken’s arms were akimbo.  “What if we made a waterfall with a stream that fed into the pond!  It could start there behind the shed and flow around this way!”

“Um, Ken,” I said tentatively, “We’re only going to be here till Saturday.  I don’t think we can get a pond, a waterfall AND a shed done by then.”

“You’d have to agree, though, that a waterfall and stream would look REALLY nice, and if I’m going to make a pond for Tina I want to do it right.  Because, see, what I’m really imagining is sitting over here and HEARING the splashing of water.”  I looked at Bethany and could see in her eyes that she thought it was CRAZY but that she was also half convinced.  The opportunity to play with rocks was a strong lure.

“Well,” I said, “If you’re ok with doing the shed yourself, I’m game to make a waterfall.”

Ken called Tina and told her the plan to make a pond with a splashing waterfall.  She says “OK,” Ken announced.

Ken and I mapped out the pond and stream with electric dog fence flags (did I mention they have poodles?)  We began to dig, while Bethany took her Vorpal Blade and began hacking underbrush out of what Tina called the Back 40.  Douglas and Fynn pitched in hauling tarps of weeds and breaking clods of clay.  Funny thing about clay is, the more that sticks to your shoes, the more sticks to your shoes.  Eventually we were digging in platforms too heavy to lift.  I opted to dig barefoot at this point which was pure delight to the toes. 

We dug down two feet and threw the clay in the lake/foundation.  The boys squished it flat.  The hole dug, Ken and I went to Lowes to get a liner, a pump, some hose and a wee impulse-buy fountain. 

By the time the liner was in and the pond filled, we’d missed Tuesday night bingo at Chick-fil-a, a tradition of Ken and Tina’s.  Instead, we sat on the patio enjoying a jar of Knoxville strawberry hooch to the tinkling of the wee fountain.

We’ve known Ken and Tina since way back.  Back in the days we frequented the same bible camps; back before any of us were married.  Back when love and theosophy swam unblinking wide-eyed circles in our pools of innocence.  Tina grew up near Bethany and they got along like sisters.  I was fast friends with Tina’s brother.  My brother was good friends with Ken.  My sister was BFF with Bethany’s sister.  When Ken and Tina began dating, their names became synonymous with “Moon-eyed couple,” and after a year or two it was “Couple-who-won’t-quit.”  As a 14-year-old I was fascinated.  I would splay my angst-ridden soul before each of them late into the nights, hoping their experience might gain me some foothold on the ladder of love. 

And here I was again nearly 25 years later, fascinated by their love language.  Ken was pleased as punch that he was finally fulfilling his pond promise, and Tina would not give him the satisfaction of her appreciation until she had a shed. 

Wednesday, we laid gravel on the foundation clay, and rolled it flat with a concrete roller the neighbor kindly offered.  Bethany and Ken went to get rock, while I made the stream bed and the boys chased each other around the yard with sticks they were supposedly bagging.  The cats wandered the neighborhood making friends.  We unloaded rocks, tested the stream and Ken and I left to get sand hogs for building up breached walls.  It was looking like the pump was a little too strong for the job. 

Thursday we drained the pond and cleaned it.  Some rocks we put in had muddied the water.  By afternoon we were testing the waterfall.  It was TERRIBLE.  The pump was too strong, water was coming out everywhere.  So we talked drainage this way and that way.  I thought we needed more stone for the waterfall. 

“Wait a minute.”  Ken’s elbows were out.  “I just had an idea!”  Our eyes were wide.  “If I bought a diverter we could split the line and regulate the flow to make the waterfall the right pressure.”

“And the second hose would go … back into the pond?” I asked hopefully.

“Over a SECOND waterfall, right here!” He pointed triumphantly.  I was about to say look, we don’t even know if we can build ONE working waterfall when Bethany jumped on board.

“That COULD work,” she looked at my worry, “We only need one flat stone.  It would be a small stream,” she assured me.

We spent the rest of the day cleaning stones, making sand hogs, and perfecting the flow of everything but the waterfall.  That night Bethany said to me “Ken has work away from the house till noon, and we need him to get the rest of the stone.  Let’s open the shed kit and see if we can get the base laid in the morning.  It will feel a lot better if we at least have the shed started before we leave.”  I whole-heartedly agreed.

So by noon on Friday we had the floor laid and the kids got to hammer nails.  Whee!  Ken returned pleasantly surprised, and we went out for stone.  He hadn’t been able to find a diverter.  By 6:00 pm we had stacked and restacked the waterfall many times to no avail.  It was a sloppy mess.

Ken had to take a load of grilled chicken to Café Crop and we sat down to eat some of the same.  It was really good.  We looked at going back to the waterfall.  Bethany looked like the waterfall was about to come out of her eyes.  She was spent.  I was out of ideas.  We prayed.  “Hey God, we really would like to be in Chicago for Father’s day.  Give us an idea for this waterfall, like, right now.”

We crouched by the waterfall.  Bethany lifted a stone, languidly, and set it back down.  I realized this one was on me to see through.  And then it came to me.  “OK.”  I said.  “Here’s what we’re going to do.  We’ll cut a big piece of liner, lift up the whole inner stone stack and wrap it from underneath till the liner comes above the top cascade stone, and all water exits towards the stream.”

And that was it.  I’m sure any fountain builder would look at me and say “Duh!”  Not only did it work to contain the water, we no longer needed a diverter, the pressure was fine.  With renewed energy we set to finishing by dark, when Tina came home.

Ken was bristling with excitement to show Tina the finished pond and waterfall.  Tina was bristly.  She spent 10 minutes in the kitchen talking to Bethany about her day while Ken opened and closed the patio door, saying “Can you hear that?”  Eventually we all filed outside.  Tina made a beeline for the Back 40 and began questioning Bethany about everything she’d removed.  Ken was nearly beside himself with impatience.   After another 10 minutes she sauntered over to the pond where Ken was basking in the babbling sound of the waterfall.  “What do you think?!”  Ken asked proudly. 

“It’s nice,” Tina said minimally.

This was certainly not the effusion Ken was hoping for.  He climbed on to the shed base “AND,” he spread his arms wide, “we have a shed floor!”

“Yes, but no shed,” Tina pointed out. 

“But … “ Ken was reeling.  This was so anticlimactic, it was ludicrous.  “Just listen to the waterfall!” he pleaded.  Bethany tried to help by pointing out some of the features and how we had made them.  Tina engaged her coolly, but it was clear she had taken a stance and was not going to be budged.  Ken came and stood by me.  His mind was in full gear.  He still had one card up his sleeve, if he played it right.  “Does anyone in your family like pancakes?” he asked innocently.

“Oh my, Yes!” I exclaimed.  “Bethany can’t eat gluten, but the rest of us can’t say no.”

“Well, there’s a Fireman’s pancake breakfast tomorrow morning I’d like to take you guys to.  We’d have to leave at like 6:30, but it’s all you can eat and they let you climb in the fire trucks.”

“Do they have sausage?”   Bethany abandoned her and Tina’s pond-side chat. 

“Oh, yes!” Tina joined.  “Stacks of it!”

“Why don’t we invite Lisa and Shaun?”  Ken suggested idly to Tina.

Lisa helps at Café Crop and has been invaluable to Ken and Tina.  Her husband Shaun is a veteran handyman with a lot of tools.  He helped build out the new Café.  I was told earlier in the week that he had offered some time ago to help Ken build the shed but I didn’t make the connection until I met him over pancakes the next morning.

Our plan was to go to Café Crop around 11:00 am and see Tina in her element, which we hadn’t gotten to do all week.  We were hoping maybe to try a Family Drawing with her, and get on the road by 3:00 pm.  As far as work was concerned, we were done, finished.  Kaput.

“How many pancakes?”  The unsmiling senior lady asked the man in line ahead of me.

“Three.”  She robotically moved the tongs to the mountain of pancakes.

“How many pancakes?”  She asked his daughter in the same monotone.

“Two, please.”  The tongs went for two.

“How many pancakes?”  She asked me flatly.

“Twenty,” I said.  The tongs moved automatically, then stopped. 

She gave me a big grin.  I was still chuckling over this small victory when Shaun joined me walking back to the table.

“S-so when do you want to s-start on the shed?”  Shaun had a slight stutter and eyes glowing with enthusiasm.  “I’ve got a truck f-full of tools.  I’ve got a n-nail gun.  I can start right after we eat.”  I suddenly realized how Ken had orchestrated this.  I smiled.

“Ken DID tell you we were leaving today?” I asked, sitting down by Bethany.

“What?  N-no!  What time are you leaving?”

“3 o-clock.”  Bethany’s horror-stricken face said she realized what we were discussing. 

“Well, we could g-get the walls up by then.”

I looked at Bethany.  Don’t-you-dare lasers were shooting from her eyes.  “We’ve also promised Tina we’d come to Café Crop at 11:00.”  I glanced at Ken who was studiously eating his pancakes. 

“We b-better get s-started soon then!” Shaun said, grinning.  Shaun’s drive to work had been hinted at before but facing it head-on I had no resistance.  I gave Bethany a pleading look.  She too was crumbling under Shaun’s confidence and excitement. 

“We HAVE to leave at 11:00,” she conceded.

After the kids toured the trucks, we headed back to Ken’s.

MAN could Shaun work!  The walls flew together and were ready to be put up by 11:00.  Bethany called Tina and put off our arrival till 1:00.  By 12:30, we had the walls up and were ready to start the roof.  I said, “You boys are on your own” to Ken and Shaun, and we headed off to Café Crop.

“I see you got the walls up!” Tina had received a text from Ken. 

“Yeah!”  We were exhausted and happy.

Now I don’t know much about scrapbooking, but from what I could tell, this was scrapbooking heaven.  One half of the store was dedicated to merchandise.  Hundreds of patterned paper stacks, rubber stamps of every kind, assortments of stickers, fringes, tassels, ribbons, buttons, and best of all baskets of found objects like scrabble tiles, sea shells, and small toys.  (Fynn picked out what looked like an old clasp and immediately had built an entire medieval costume in his mind.)

The other half of the store was spacious work tables surrounded by comfy chairs, a third of which were filled by ladies working on projects and chit-chatting animatedly.  The atmosphere was very conducive to creativity.  There was a side counter laid out with muffins and lunch meats and snacks, which we gladly dug into before setting up for family drawing.  Had I any mental energy left from a week of hard work I would have designed a drawing that incorporated some of the cool stuff from the store, but I opted to repeat an older drawing, modified slightly for our time constraints.  We had a great time. 

As we left, Tina let her composure melt, hugging us with tears streaming.  “Thanks guys!  You got more done in a week than we could have in a year!”  And that felt SO GOOD! 

We drove back to where Ken and Shaun had the rafters half installed, hooked up the camper, hugged Ken goodbye, hugged Shaun goodbye, and headed for one night alone together at a campsite with direct sewer hookup.  The next day we’d be in Chicago, where at least 5 people had projects waiting. 

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Mother and Son Portrait Commission


Michael put the word out last month that he was available for portrait commissions, and one came in almost immediately from a friend, to commemorate the birth of a mutual friend's first child.  The photo that inspired the project was the work of Trina Dinnar Photography,  one of a lovely series of newborn family portraits of M&R and their delicious baby B. 

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Portrait Drawing


We went to the local Knoxville Homeschool group's climbing outing yesterday, and while I belayed kids, Michael drew portraits upstairs on the balcony.  Not a lot of customers, but happy ones!  He had a chance to draw a great pic of Douglas in between customers ... look much like anyone else in this family?! 

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