DIY Masonry OR How to Develop Forearms Like Popeye

Back in the 90’s, I had this crazy fantasy about living in this magical English stone cottage in the country where I could live off the land and raise goats and chickens and garden and my family would live in harmony and love it as much as I did.

Wow.  I have to laugh at my naivete.  I have a very vivid imagination.  Most people have fantasies but they REMAIN fantasies forever, unblemished by the truth and bitter realities of life.  But I’m so crazy that if I CONCEIVE an idea, I try to CREATE it.  And it rarely ends up playing out as perfectly as the dream.  Go figure.

So I designed this house with the full approval of my (then) husband, Michael.    There was a walk-out basement.  The exterior was stucco and exposed beam, but the majority was stone.

This what it looked like at the end. Worth the effort?

We were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.  I was working as a waitress and he was an artist and part-time art teacher.  The reason I get into so many diy projects is because I want something I can’t afford, so I make it.  Like an English Stone Cottage.  It’s like having the most expensive and time-consuming craft project ever.  Yes, gentlemen; it is worse than scrapbooking.

I soooo wish I could have afforded to sub contract this out, but we just didn’t have the money.  I  tried cutting back on the stonework in the design stage, but Michael (the artist) was mortified at the thought of damaging the aesthetic integrity.  I agreed.  Like a fool, I agreed.

The first step to the “cultured stone” process is to wrap the entire house in tar paper.  This is akin to gift-wrapping a HOUSE.  Think about that for a second.  Gift wrap.  An entire house, where the second story above the exposed basement is nearly 25′ off the ground.  Using giant rolls of heavy tar paper and a staple gun.

The second step is to staple razor wire, excuse me, wire mesh to the entire surface.  Sheets of this material are bigger than me.  Up the ladder, with the staple gun, in the wind.  Even WITH gloves, this stuff is out for blood and at the end of the day we both looked like we’d been attacked by feral cats.

Step three is to frost each stone with cement and stick it on the razor mesh.  This is like working a puzzle, only each piece weighs 4-8 pounds, and much of the puzzle is only reachable on a 25′ extension ladder.  This is quite the workout.  I think they should use stone masonry on a giant house as a challenge on “The Biggest Loser”.

Everyone that works the stone puzzle has a different style.  I put my stones close together.  Michael found that he could move much faster if he left enormous gaps between the stones.  He was very pleased with his method and insisted that I leave bigger gaps, since we wanted the stone work to match and mostly wanted to be done with the job as soon as possible.  I didn’t want to fight about it, so like a fool (again), I succumbed to his method.  Even cutting corners and with the help of family and friends, this process took over a month to finish.

Step four is to fill in all the gaps between the stones with cement.  Imagine frosting a birthday cake that is 40′ x 20′ x 25′.  The piping bag weighs 10 pounds.  It was 2 months of work.  That BRILLIANT idea that Michael had (since he is sooo much smarter than me) to leave huge gaps meant that sometimes it took an entire bag of cement to surround one rock.  That meant many, many trips up and down the 25′ ladder.

So here is where our minds are dwelling during this process:

It is hot.  We are covered in cement.  I am climbing a giant ladder to do a task that will never be finished and would be infinitely easier if we had done it my way.  He is furious with me because this whole “house” thing was my idea, and now all of this work is therefore my fault.  He is an artist and should be exempt from work.  It is his job to think creative thoughts and make thought-provoking sculptures and play the guitar.  I am a proletariat and it is my job to do all of the physical labor and support him.

Not that I am bitter.

I lost a lot of weight that summer, not just because of the physical labor, but also due to the fact that at the end of a day, my arms were too tired to lift a fork all the way up to my mouth.  There aren’t many photos of myself from back then, but the few that I have scare me.  Holy cow.   My arms were huge.  And not in a pretty way.

Lessons learned:

1.  If it involves heavy lifting, hire it out.  Signing a check requires virtually no upper-body strength.

2.  Some fantasies are best left as fantasies.  If it involves heavy lifting and I can’t afford to hire it out, it should definitely be left in my dreams.

3.  Don’t marry an artist. No matter how sexy he is.  Engineers are a much better bet.  They are sexy in a different way.  I am learning to how to to thoroughly appreciate that.

4.  Think it all the way through before buying non-refundable materials.  Actually, I have not learned this lesson yet.

Rats.  Well, I’m working on it.

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About howhardcoulditbe

While this started as a chronicle of my many (sometimes ill-conceived) "Do It Yourself" projects, it has morphed into a journal of my 9-year journey as a single Christian woman striving to live by God's design.
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2 Responses to DIY Masonry OR How to Develop Forearms Like Popeye

  1. You would have been better off to rent a portable trailer mounted manlift. It is much safer and much more productive since you are now able to work with both hands from the safety of a bucket and not have to hang on with one hand for dear life.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

    • cathleenolney says:

      A cherry picker was waaayyyy out of our budget. We did end up getting our hands on some scaffolding, which made the project easier. But there was still the long climb up…

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