Spring: Memories of a Childhood Outdoors


If you’re just now getting in on this I am writing a little bit about my life growing up in Iowa. As I said in Part One we grew up in a time when things were pretty peaceful. At least to us. I think there were some guys going over to fight in Korea but if this bothered my folks I didn’t hear about it. Our dads went to work and came back home for lunch and went out to work on the cars and trucks or in the garden. Sometimes my dad would go out and chip golf balls in the back yard. Our moms kept house and had long phone conversations with the other mothers and were there for us when we wanted. My mom always landscaped our yard with a lot of flowers. She had peonies, castor beans and four o’clocks and she even planted corn in the corners. I thought this was weird but my mom said “I think it’s a beautiful plant.” We kids spent all our time outdoors. If the weather was halfway decent which it usually was and even if it wasn’t we just bundled up and went anyway. The only time we were indoors is if there was a thunderstorm and a tornado warning or coming in sideways in a blizzard.


Spring was a time of water. The snow would melt all around our local area but what we didn’t think about as kids was that snow was melting way up north, too. All that snow melt went in to the rivers and caused flooding. I can’t remember what year they put in the dikes along the Iowa River but when I was young they weren’t in yet.  So every spring the Iowa River and Linn Creek (which we pronounced “crick”) overflowed their banks. I felt sorry for the people who lived nearby but it was exciting to drive out to the old power plant or be on top of the bluff at the cemetery and see miles and miles of flooded fields. Our big recreation park Riverview where the public swimming pool was located would be a giant lake and you couldn’t drive north out of town on Highway 14. A bridge on Highway 14 went across the Iowa River at the park.

The farmers would be waiting for a break so they could go out and plow their fields and eventually there would be a break and they’d plow and then my dad would wait for it to rain again. Then he and I would get in the car, drive some place east or south of town and go walk the muddy fields looking for arrowheads. My dad knew where to look and he got permission from the farmers to go. My dad would say, “Don’t walk on the corn coming up. Stay inside the rows.” It was just correct behavior for the privilege of walking out there. My dad would say, “Look for an unusual shape”. And he would also say, “Don’t look hard. Just scan the area and you will see a shape or color that doesn’t fit.” Our boots would be caked with mud. I called it “mud foot” and it was hard to walk. But every once in a while there would be something that didn’t fit and there it would be. Mostly hide scrapers but sometimes a whole arrowhead. I still have two small hatchet heads. My dad would say, “It fascinates me to think that I am holding something and the last person to hold it was maybe the person who made it.”

I credit my dad with teaching me how to see. I had so much practice seeing while walking those plowed fields. I can find anything now.

Sometimes it was a beautiful day. A little cool, very clear and breezy. Hawks would be circling right over our heads. I tried whistling to them. Sometimes they would whistle back and we  would have a short conversation before they would move on as if to say, “Nice talking with ya but I’m on the hunt for breakfast.” Whenever I see a hawk now I always try to make conversation. They always look, at least. What is she saying? Terrible accent. Sometimes they whistle in reply. Or so I’d like to think.

Spring is a time of wind in Iowa. Strong steady wind from the north and perfect for flying kites. The best part was letting the kite go. It would go so high! I could barely see it! “What if an airplane hits it, Dad?”  I don’t know why I worried about this. Airplanes were rare in the 50s. When an airplane flew by we would run until we saw it and crane our necks. It was a special occasion.

Dad would make the appropriate amount of tail from ripped bed sheets so the kite wouldn’t whip around in frantic circles and then we’d let it fly. There is a lot of open space in Iowa so a kid can let the kite go a long ways without issues. Dad would say, “Let’s send a message to the kite” and we’d write a note. He’d tear a little hole in the middle of the note and string it on the kite string. Up that note would go. Can I remember what I wrote? Not at all. But it doesn’t matter. We were sending a message into the stratosphere.

Late spring in Iowa is also a time of tornados. Sometimes we would go to bed and suddenly mom would be at our bedroom door saying get to the basement now and we would grab a blanket and run down the basement stairs to huddle in the southwest corner until the storm passed. Mom said the southwest corner was the best corner. She said that tornados usually travel from southwest to northeast so if we were hit the debris would fly away from us. Is this scientific? Beats me. It’s just what she said.

When a storm hit in the day time Mom would tell us to turn on the TV and see if the screen glowed a certain way. If it did the tornado was imminent. She’d then tell us to go to the side of the house away from the direction from where the storm was coming from and open the windows a crack. She said this would equalize the pressure and maybe the house would not fly to bits. She said the reason a tornado would make houses fly apart was that the pressure inside the tornado was less than the pressure inside the house and that made the house explode when the tornado came close by.

I loved and was terrified of wall clouds. The colors in a wall cloud could be a weird  kind of green. There would be a wall cloud coming from the  west (all our weather came from the west) and the wind would blow furiously toward the cloud. When the edge of the cloud was on top of us everything would go silent. Eerily silent. No birds. No nothing. And then the gust front would hit. It would hit like crazy. Rain would be coming down in torrents. Lightning so ferocious and thunder so loud that the house shook.

A huge funnel cloud touches down in Iowa (AP Photo/Lori Mehmen)

Once before a wall cloud hit I looked up and saw little tiny tornados forming way up high. Then they disappeared. I have loved weather ever since. Nature’s fury and majesty.

After the storm and the danger of lightning passed our street would be flooded because the storm drains couldn’t handle all the water. We’d go out and run and splash. It was a very good time.

In May my dad and I would go over to Lennox where he worked. It was my mom’s birthday on May 15th and he would pick armfuls of lilacs to give to her. Those lilac bushes towered over our heads but the heavy blooms made the branches bend down to greet us. Here we are the flowers would say. Come bury your face in our lavender fragrance.  To this day I still love lilacs. They are my favorite flower. There is something about that scent that fills me with an almost indescribable joy and bliss.


Part One – Memories of a Childhood Outdoors


I am tempted to call this story Days of Heaven because growing up in Iowa in the 50s was pretty wonderful. Our dads went to work and came back home for lunch and went out in the evening to work on our cars or in the garden . Our moms kept house and had long phone conversations with the other mothers and were there for us when we wanted. When we weren’t in school (for that’s another story) we spent all our time outdoors. Oh, there were the early morning Saturday cartoons when we were older and finally got a television. Cartoons started at 7 am and ended after breakfast and then it was up and out if the weather was halfway decent which it usually was and even if it wasn’t we just bundled up and went anyway. The only time we were indoors was if there was a thunderstorm and a tornado warning or coming in 50 miles an hour sideways in a blizzard.


Sometime we had a blizzard and when it stopped we would pile in the car and go sledding at the Country Club golf course. We had sleds and inner tubes and sometimes one family would bring a toboggan. The snow in Iowa was perfect for sledding. The first time I went skiing at Lake Tahoe I thought “let’s go sledding” because I was used to Iowa conditions. That thought was promptly squashed when we realized that the Sierra snow was too deep and all you did was sink. Not going anywhere on a sled, you weren’t! But in Iowa it was gravy. I mean it was perfect snow. Only about 3 or 4 inches deep and, boy, you could go fast! We kids would be airborne most of the time on those long slopes. A little bump and whoo-wee up you’d go sled or inner tube and all if you were holding on. If you weren’t you were ejected and flying on your own. I wish I had a photograph of the entire scene. It would have looked like a Courier and Ives postcard.

Our Weimaraner dog Heidi (in silhouette), my sister, my mom and me.

From our house on Fifteenth Avenue you went down Nevada Street to there was a little grocery store called Twin Foods.  They sold milk and bread and a few other things. They had a real bakery in the back where they made the most scrumptious white sandwich bread, crusty crust and soft, chewy insides. In the winter the owner had the brilliant idea to take his tractor and scoop out a shallow depression that he then filled with water to freeze and make a kind of ice skating rink.  Then with our classic white figure skates we girls would tentatively swoosh around. The boys would swoosh around on hockey skates because no self-respecting boy would be caught dead in figure skates.   Sometimes we would go over to the bottom land on North Center Street where water went over the bank of the Iowa River, gathered in large tracts and then froze. We would skate there, too, but it was not very smooth ice so I never got very good at skating. I mostly got good at not falling.

My dad holding the buck. Howard Stegman holding proof of the recurve bow. They fletched their own arrows, too.

My dad was a hunter. He hunted all manner of wild animals. He hunted squirrels, pheasant, ducks, and rabbits. He even went to Canada once and bagged a moose. We were eating moose for a year. But deer were the most prized animals. He and his friends hunted deer with the classic recurve bow. Compound bows did not exist at that time. Al Polley was a farmer out north of town and he had corn fields and timber that bordered the north side of the Iowa River. He gave my dad and his friends permission to hunt there. To keep warm while they were hunting my dad and his friends built a plywood one room shack that they called the deer shack. Like I said they used it to warm up in. They needed this because how you hunted deer with a recurve bow was to make a little platform high up in a tree next to a trail that the deer used habitually. The hunters would sit for hours in the tree waiting for the deer to come along. But the deer didn’t come like clockwork so when our dads got cold they would climb down and get in the deer shack to warm up. Some snowy winter evenings we would take a big pot of chili out there and build a big fire and then stand around the fire and eat the chili with crackers. Later on I would go with my dad in the dark to scout for deer sign while the others stayed behind. I guess it had to be in the dark so as not to spook the deer so much. Dad never explained much of anything. But it made me fearless of the dark.

Other winter evenings we would go out in the car just after dark and drive into the corn field stubble and circle the car around so the headlights would illuminate the perimeter of the field. If we were lucky we would see a deer herd feeding on the corn stubble. Their heads would pop up and we’d see their shiny eyes. Such beauty. My dad hardly ever hit a deer with his bow and arrow. I think maybe he hit one or two in all the years I was growing up. It’s hard to hold a recurve long enough to get the perfect shot and the deer would not come into the perfect position. Tree branches could be in the way. The dads practiced all summer at the Isaac Walton League so they would be as ready as they would ever be when deer season came.

Next: Part Two – Spring


Sharing Power

Something is going real wrong in our country. My partner Marty’s feelings are a small example. He says “but what about us guys?” I say “what do you mean ‘us guys'”. He says “No one is paying any attention to us guys. We have misery, too.”

He doesn’t understand why blacks are all upset. He doesn’t understand why women are all upset. This is because he’s a fair-minded individual who’s never been prejudiced against any person or group. He looks on misbehavior the same way for everybody. If you do wrong you should face the consequences. He also believes that if a person has a problem they should work at it until they fix it.

I say “I’m not pointing a finger at you but there has been a historical effort from the white male supremacy to keep certain groups under the thumb. Now there’s back lash against that supremacy. For every action there’s an equal an opposite reaction. It’s ordinary physics. It’s to be expected.”

Which brings me to a theory I have about all these shootings and bombings. The ones who are doing this are the extreme radicals of Marty’s group who feel the pressure of losing power that they have been used to and like. Some guy friends of mine say “how come we never worried about guns when we were young?” I say “You guys were in power then. (50s and 60s). Women and blacks, etc. did not have power. You did. You would not need to resort to gun violence to get noticed. Back then everybody from cartoons across the gamut represented you.”

I think some of the fringe white men from Timothy McVeigh on up are doing whatever they can to feel like they still have power.

Until we address this it’s my opinion we’re going to keep having this sort of gun, bomb, fill-in-the-blank violence. How to fix it? It’s my personal opinion that the men who are starting to feel disenfranchised need to have a come-to-Jesus meeting (not literally) and realize that there are ways to share power. The men who “get this” need to help their brothers.

(photo by Mark Jackson copyright 2018)

The Ranch Man: a non-academic study

marty CocoThe Ranch Man is a peculiar kind of human. They are what might have been known in earlier times as the “rugged individualist”. I have a Ranch Man so I know what I’m talking about. I have done a casual study on the Ranch Man. Here are my findings.

A Ranch Man doesn’t cotton to what they perceive in others as dishonesty, arrogance, pomposity, know-it-all and other self centered behavior. It does not matter to them that sometimes this means that they are guilty of this very behavior themselves. Their sense of right and wrong is keen and is written in a book of which they are the author.

When the Ranch Wife encounters this in her Ranch Man it is best that she take a deep breath and hold her tongue. There is nothing you can do to change him, girls. This is the way he is and this is what you love about him. Keep repeating this mantra! He is single minded. He knows how to do things and he is sure of himself. This is a very endearing quality. However, it becomes less endearing when he directs this behavior toward you. This is where patience comes in very handy and if it gets too much for you to bear then knowing how to put your foot down without making him mad is useful.

Ranch Man will always be fair if you are fair. Remember, Ranch Man is good at training colts. He is patience and kind but if the colt misbehaves he will make it very difficult for the colt to misbehave. He will make it easy for the colt to behave the right way thus making it seem to the colt that it is the colt’s idea to behave correctly. Girls, we need to take a cue from this very successful training system. You can use it on Ranch Man. Before I proceed I must warn you to never let on to him that you are doing this. Never, ever tell him, oh, you are just like a stud horse or that kids can be trained using horse training methods. He will not take kindly to the comparison. He thinks he is superior to livestock. You know and I know he is not superior but we can’t let on that we know this truth. We must keep him in the dark about this reality if we are to keep him happy.

This does not mean we look down on the Ranch Man. To the contrary, we have a deep respect and love for Ranch Man just like we have deep respect for the livestock with whom we partner and depend on. For example, the horse can bolt and kill you. It is obvious that it is unwise to disrespect the livestock and it is necessary for survival to know and understand the critter that you are dealing with. Ranch Man is not any different. Ranch Man can use the English language and the livestock cannot. This is the only difference. However, this breaks down if you have to go out in the field with Ranch Man and he starts using his hand signals on you from afar. Then you know he is speaking another language and it is not a language from the planet you live on. It is best you learn this language. Other Ranch Men understand this language. You can learn it, too. Unfortunately, the only way you can learn it is through trial and error. Ranch Man does not know how to teach it. He learned it through trial and error himself. Just keep breathing. It will come.

Finally, living in harmony with Ranch Man is not for ignorant, stupid girls. This is why the most successful Ranch Wives are of superior intelligence. If you meet a successful Ranch Wife you will be immediately struck by her calm demeanor, knowledge of life and how to get things done. The average Ranch Wife will dominate over the average City Wife at any level.  This is just a fact of life. I’m all about giving credit where credit is due. Let’s hear it for Ranch Man and Ranch Wife!


purpleflowersWhen I teach art in elementary  school I always hear negative comments.  “I can’t draw.”  “I don’t know how to do this.” “It’s ugly (what they’re drawing).” I can relate to these comments. Every artist has had these thoughts. I’ve had these thoughts and I’m no different. Maybe you don’t even have to say these things to yourself. I’ve seen people look at a painting and say, “A monkey could do better than that.” People will step up the plate and help you be critical of yourself. The negative voice outside of you also lives inside your head and is alive and well.

Let’s overcome this.

Here’s what I tell my students.

I cut to the heart of what is going on. They look at what I drew and theirs does not look like it. I say. All you kids, I don’t want you to draw like me. Don’t compare your drawing to your class mate’s drawing. If everyone drew the same how boring of a world would it be? That’s the beauty of art. Everybody does their own thing and that’s what makes it interesting.”  Do it your way. The most important person is you. Please yourself first. Please other people second.  If you want.  You aren’t obligated to please other people. Right here and now. Let’s give ourselves permission to not please other people when we do art. In personal expression here’s the thing: do the best you can right where you are today. Be like Scarlet O’Hara. Tomorrow is another day. You can do something today and then you can keep going tomorrow.

(By the way, I’m not talking about commercial art. In commercial art you have to please your boss and that’s the deal you sign up for to make a living.)

In art there’s no right or wrong. Is there right or wrong in arithmetic? Yes. One plus one always equals two. Two plus two always equals four.  Art is very cool. There is no right or wrong in art and that’s the beauty of it.


If they’re particularly stuck I will show them how to get unstuck. There’s always a way. I sit down and show them step by step how to build their drawing. What did you want to do? How is it not measuring up to what you wanted to do? Art is getting something in your head and then breaking it down into steps of how to make what you have in your head appear like magic on the paper. (Yes, it’s magic all right. Making something from nothing.) Only pure abstract artists are uncontrolled. Only artists in New York or Los Angeles and other places, who are trying to amaze themselves, gallery owners and prospective buyers, are doing things without a plan. But guess what? They actually have a plan. It just doesn’t look like it. I’m letting you in on a secret. Don’t tell.

Sometimes after many years of practice some artists develop a facility that allows them to be 100% free and spontaneous and still end up with something good. Picasso was 100% free. His studio was littered with thousands of drawings that he drew in the spur f the moment on crappy, non-archival paper. He drew on anything. He just did stuff and put it down. You can, too. If you want. There are no rules.

So I ask you.

What art would you like to do but haven’t done? Why haven’t you done it? Do you tell yourself you don’t have time to do it? Do you tell yourself it costs too much? Think of all the reasons you can’t do it. I’m here to tell you none of those reasons are any good.

If you don’t have enough money, do your art project on a smaller scale. If you don’t have enough time, do it a little bit at a time. Five minutes max. Two minutes. One minute. I’m here to tell you the reason you haven’t done it is your mind has made up a reason. Your mind has habit grooves. Ideas are water that flow down these habit grooves in the same old way we have always been doing things.  So if you’ve always wanted to try watercolor but find yourself on the couch watching TV every night it’s because you’ve been laying on the couch more than you’ve been getting up to try watercolor. This is the point where I want you to understand that you don’t have to beat yourself up by telling yourself there’s something wrong with you for not doing what you want. Blame your habitual brain.

The way to overcome it is to act like a baby. Babies take a step and fall down. How many times did you start to walk when you were a baby and fell down but you got up and started over until now you walk just fine! We all need to cultivate our baby minds.

For some of you being perfect is important. If you’re afraid of not doing it very well I’d like to say No One Was Ever Good When They Started Out! Think about your baby self trying to learn how to walk. Embrace your baby-ness in this! When you make something and you don’t like it, crumble it up and throw it away. So what? Start over.

Please go online or to the store and buy your materials. When you’re in Wal-Mart go to the art section and buy student grade watercolor paper and watercolors. Those kind that we all had in grade school. The ones that come in a little tray. Then sit them on your table and wait. Don’t try. Wait. Set it all up so it’s all ready. Look at images. Look at pictures that thrill you. Or make stuff up in your mind. Then one day surprise yourself and go over to the table, open everything up and just make some marks on the paper. Get the feel of it. Don’t even try to paint anything. It doesn’t matter. You’re a baby learning how to walk. In between the other stuff you do all day go over and make some more marks. Just do it long enough to get a feel for the paint. Pretty soon you’ll be branching out and walking. You’ve made some new grooves in your brain.


Recently I decided that I was going to try something I haven’t really done much of before. I have been enjoying and doing portraiture, objects and animals for most of my life. I haven’t been a big fan of landscape. Trees have been my particular nemesis. Too many details! Ridiculous number of leaves! And yet when I go to some galleries I see luscious landscapes that just thrill me to my core. I love the California Colorists.


Selden Connor Gile is one. He wasn’t bothered by details. Why am I stuck in being bothered by details?

I’ve also been fascinated by Fauvism. They were a group of early twentieth-century artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong color over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism. Les Fauves comes from a French word meaning “wild beasts”.

Paul Gauguin is a good example of Fauvist painter.

So I decided it was time that I try landscape. I decided that I would take my own advice and ease into it by painting simple shapes. With color. This is how I started with pastels  ten years ago. I took a class at Albany Adult School and the teacher brought fruit to the class which we were supposed to draw. The challenge was that the fruit was all one color. At least to the person who does not “see”. They “look” and they see one color. If you really look you will see that the lemon is not really yellow but all sorts of colors. So that’s what I did. I drew what I saw. All sorts of colors.

It was fun because I decided that I was not intent on impressing anybody but myself. Just like I said before. I did not care about the outcome.  After a couple weeks one of my fellow students came up to me as I was drawing and said “Your drawing gets up off the page and SINGS.” What a compliment! I put red next to green, yellow next to purple.

So with landscape I’m going to try this same strategy. Color!

Once I get my legs under me I will move up to complicated landscapes. It won’t take long. I really don’t care if I goof up.

I used color straight from the tube for almost all parts of the painting except where I needed a pastel hue and then I added a bit of white. White also helps with opacity. Just for your information I never use black. Until I get better I’m going to give life to my paintings by only using color. You can use purple or burnt umber instead of black.

Tile On, Ye Kings of New England!

And so it came to be that we decided we would lay the tile floor ourselves.  We had no money to hire it done.  Anyway, we wouldn’t learn anything that way, would we?

By golly, we could do it! We are cut from the do-it-yourself cloth. So when we decided to tile the bathrooms and the kitchens we took classes at Home Depot and watched videos to prepare ourselves. When we felt sufficiently prepared we went out,  bought the tile and supplies and started in.

Now we’re almost done with the “practice” bathroom. We just have the grouting to do.  We are taking a break. It has been, shall we say, a learning experience.  I found that I could do 5 or 6 tiles every 3 days and then I got sick so I could do even less. Tile. Let it dry. Get distracted by some other project. Start in again. Marty could not lay tile. He gets the thin set all over the place and becomes frustrated.  I, on the other hand, have patience and confidence.  Probably unjustified confidence. I just believe I can do it and actually have no investment in it if I fail. My cake baking experience has shown me how to spread frosting on a cake. Thin set is not unlike frosting for consistency.  So, me. I get to lay all the tile except the two Marty did.  What Marty does is power tools. I hate power tools. They frighten me. So he uses the tile saw and cuts tiles. He also mixes the thin set. Teamwork. He gets to use the table and sit down in a chair while he does his job. I get to hunker down on the floor and get a good old-fashioned charley horse. Hmmm, let’s see. It’s keeping me young, right? Use it or lose it. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

me tiling
Put long gray hair on this guy, get him to lose a few pounds and it’s…me!

Thankfully it’s only a 50 square foot floor. It will take us 3 weeks to completely finish. That’s not so bad. We have another bathroom so we’re fine. Getting the odd-shaped tiles that go back behind where the toilet was is the hardest. And why do the toilet connections always have to leak? There I am trying to contort myself around the bowl that’s catching the slow drip. I’m also enjoying (not) being near the toilet connection in the floor and lovely stench of the septic tank wafts up through the hole.

What crazy maniac set this tile?

Here I feel compelled to say this to the professional tile setter: We are not worthy! You, O Amazing One, have the mystery! In the doing of it I find that the Home Depot classes definitely don’t tell you everything. They trot out the premixed thin set so you don’t get to learn how to mix thin set correctly and dependably. They lay a cement board for a practice surface on a table, give you a few small rubber backed tiles and a spatula and say “want to try it?”. They don’t tell you anything about over or under mixing thin set, letting thin set harden around your newly laid tile (don’t) and, of course, it’s all done standing up at a table. Where in the world will anyone lay floor tile while standing at a table? They should conduct the class on the floor! Then you get the correct idea. Bring in the knee pads? Wash your ibuprofen down with a fine single malt scotch! Now we’re cooking with gas as me dear old farver would say!

It’s back-breaking work, folks. There you are, down on the floor, bending over, slapping thin set all over the place, spreading it, combing it and hefting heavy tiles into place and, lord forbid, if you make a mistake you’re prying said heavy tile off the floor and the thin set won’t let go. Dadgummit! Let go!

Of course, as with anything the more we do it the better we will get. By the time we finish the kitchen we’re going to be experts.


The Flipper’s Advantage

maxresdefaultThis is not the house we bought in 2016. But it might as well have been.

We bought a great property in 2016. It was just what we wanted or pretty damn close. It was in an OK neighborhood, with all the features we wanted (horse infrastructure) and at the right price. It was a dump. It had not been taken care of but it was solid in its bones and all we had to do was fix it and update it.

So that’s what we’re doing. First thing we did was have the roof and windows replaced. The roof was as old as the house. Thirty one years old. It was shake shingle and it looked like it should be leaking like a sieve but fortunately it wasn’t. The windows were also as old as the house and had obnoxious dark screens on them. Maybe to keep out the summer heat? Who knows? All they did was keep the light out. The interior of the house was  very dark and cave-like and it didn’t help that the walls were painted a “sophisticated” dark taupe. Which we subsequently covered up with a nice creamy white. Creamy white = good palette for everything else.

Fixing the roof and windows made a huge difference. We bought windows are highly efficient, insulating and triple pane and the roof is what’s known as a reflective “cool” roof. While the roof was being replaced we had extra insulation added in the attic. This has made it a lot easier to heat and cool the house. It gets pretty hot here in the summer so that’s mandatory. It doesn’t get very cold here in the winter but it’s nice to be able to heat the house with our  wood stove. So we do and it is nice. We have low utility bills. And wood is plentiful here. We just go down to a local orchard and get seasoned almond wood for cheap. Like $74 a half cord.

Here’s another thing we did. We traded the old, inefficient, non-EPA certified wood stove replaced for a new one free from a San Joaquin Valley air quality program. With all the bells and whistles. Ok No bells and whistles but Canadian and pretty darn good.

While all that was in process we removed  the popcorn from the ceiling in Marty’s office as a test. Did I mention I hate popcorn ceilings? I think it’s like living in a scrubby pad. Yah, popcorn is easy for the builder by cracky. Making a smooth plaster wall is not for the faint of heart, I tell you. We tried it. Hard, I tell you. Impossible as a matter of fact. I had seen it done years ago. I had even done a bit of it years ago but I guess I had not done enough to really know.

Getting the popcorn off was easy although unbelievably messy. First, we had it tested just to absolutely make sure there was no asbestos in it. Before 1977 they might have made it with asbestos. Ours had no asbestos. If there was  asbestos in it the only thing we could have done was to have it removed by specialists for about a million dollars or leave it alone and or cover it up. By the way, did I say removing popcorn is easy? Lay down a tarp over everything! Squirt the ceiling with water. Wait a bit. Scrape it off. Drag the heavy tarp full of popcorn out to the trash.

And did I tell you I love smooth plaster walls? I believe I did. Since I thought I knew what I was doing we tried to do it ourselves. We bought everything and started. We quickly became over whelmed. We did the whole room and stepped back and pronounced it bad. Bad to the bone. So we hired a professional to fix it. The professional plasterer showed us how making a smooth plaster wall takes forever. You have to get the surface immaculate. Then you do your first skim coat. Then you let it dry. Then you sand. Then you plaster. Then you sand. Then you plaster. Then you sand (how many times can I type that?) And then in 2 years your drywall nail holes start to show because of settlement and earthquakes and what not. The plasterer talked us out of smooth walls. Boo Hoo! He talked us into knock down texture on the ceiling and walls. Boo Hoo! It cost a lot for him to do that. What an education!

Now I have to live with popcorn ceilings throughout  the whole house. Boo Hoo!

This is why flippers have an advantage. Have you seen a show? They GUT a house, I tell you. Now I know why. If you take everything down to the studs you can fix the plumbing. You can rewire. You can start with new sheet rock and plaster the right way. You can rearrange the kitchen. You can take out a wall. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

If you don’t do what the flippers do you are at a huge disadvantage. The house dictates what you can or cannot do. The house is the boss.

Now we are tiling the bathroom floor. We bought everything and then when laying the tiles out we find that the floor is not flat. Whaaaat? Another thing about flipper TV shows. They make it look so easy and fun! When you watch the flippers and you haven’t paid close enough attention or you don’t have experience I will tell you they leave a lot out. They leave out things like this: to tile you must have a completely FLAT floor. We find out that in an ordinary house the slab will not be flat. Like who cares when they first built it? Slaving over getting it flat is time-consuming and expensive. So guess what the original builder does? He covers the floor with vinyl and carpet. Close enough for government work!

Tile will teeter totter on a floor that is not completely flat and will eventually break. Now we have to remove the linoleum and do a bunch of stuff first. No getting right to the excitement of laying tile. Let me tell you removing linoleum is hard! It’s stuck down good and here we find 2 layers of yucky old linoleum. But we are game. We are going to do it. The house will not win this one.

So we have to buy primer. We have to buy leveler.  And then we get to tile the floor. This is what you find out when you have an older house that has not been updated. This is what it is.

Tracy Kidder wrote a book called “House” about the building of his dream house. There also is a movie called “The Money Pit” but, of course, that was Hollywood and not realistic.

Just start remodeling your own house and you will be able to write a story of your own. It’s guaranteed.