Sleep Training: Day Two

The short version: We are far from out of the woods, but day two showed tangible progress over day one. Matty was able to get himself to sleep in only 37 minutes, which is 19 whole minutes faster than day one! (Yes, I realize this metric is meaningless in the grand scheme and that we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.)

He has spent the last two nights on the floor behind his door, lying on his stomach as if he were trying to see under the door, or, you know, ensure that his shrieks and wails are as loud and grating as possible for those downstairs. I actually hate the idea of him screaming through the gap under his door more than I hate the actual screaming. We stopped using the monitor when we moved him out of his crib, mostly because, if he woke up, he would immediately leave his room (and the visual range of the monitor), and we didn’t need any technology to let us know that our son was standing at the top of the stairs yelling our names. Now that he is locked in his room, we have reactivated the monitor so we can, er, monitor his activities. Seeing him lying motionless on the floor definitely triggers a slight rescue response every time I look at the monitor, which is awesome. Then there’s the guilt when he wakes up with a puffy eye and carpet tracks on his face. But, whatever, these are all miniscule issues. Onward!

Sleep Training: Day One

Last night we jumped into LONG OVERDUE sleep training with both feet. A little background:

Matty first began sleeping through the night when he was around 5 weeks old (the first time it happened, it scared the shit out of us). From the time he no longer needed a late night / early morning feeding, he slept like a champ. At home, we could put him in his crib wide awake and he would either go right to sleep, or protest for 5-10 minutes before giving in to the sandman. Away from the house, one of us would have to stay with him until he fell asleep, but it rarely took more than 20 minutes, which was perfectly tolerable.

This lasted until Sunday, March 13, 2011, a date that is traditionally known on the Roman calendar as HA HA FUCK YOU PARENTS Day.

Daylight Saving Time messed up Matty’s schedule something fierce and he never really recovered. I say he never really recovered, but should I actually say that Gia and I never really recovered his schedule for him? You betcha. Our bad. Matty was around 18 months old at this point and starting to become A) much more willful, and B) much more physically capable of doing whatever the hell he wanted to, like, for instance, climbing out of his crib. We converted his crib to a toddler bed via rail removal, and you would have though we converted his pajamas to rusty chain mail. So, he wouldn’t stay in the crib, but he couldn’t handle the toddler bed. One option he seemed somewhat interested in was the “big boy bed,” which is actually just a full matress and box spring parked on the floor in his room. We went with it. And that is where he has slept since last summer.

Since that transition, the bedtime routine has been this (with one or the other parent):

  • Head upstairs for a bath after dinner
  • Put on pajamas
  • Brush teeth
  • Read books
  • Turn off the light
  • Lay in bed until Matty falls asleep

    Sometimes he would fall asleep in 5-10 minutes, sometimes it would take 45 minutes. But if you got up to leave before he was asleep, he would follow you right out the bedroom door (which he can unlock) and stand at the top of the stairs, howling. [Side note: Matty's room is upstairs and our room is on the main floor, so we have a gate at the top of the stairs.]

    Even with the falling asleep variable, the bedtime routine was largely manageable. It was a nice way to end the day and spending some quality quiet time with your kid before they go to sleep is something akin to the fabric holding civilization together.

    The main problem is that Matty wakes up anywhere from one to three times per night. And when he wakes up, does he find a stuffed animal and put himself back to sleep? HAHAHAHAHAHA shut up. No, he climbs out of bed, walks (or runs) out of his room, and stands at the gate screaming bloody murder until one of us goes upstairs and puts him back to bed. And putting him back to bed is simple, right? Just tuck him into bed, kiss him on the head and you’re good, right? Again, har har har. No, one of us would have to stay with him until he falls back asleep. NOT MANAGEABLE.

    So, despite being in full agreement that this situation was one big Are You Kidding Me?, that’s the way it has been for the past, oh, 5-6 months. Until last night.

    When Matty falls asleep quickly and only wakes up once during the night, we are okay. Unfortunately, that combination only occurs maybe two or three nights out of seven each week. The other four or five nights were some version of oh-my-god-we-have-to-do-something-I-am-actually-willing-to-throw-all-of-our-money-at-the-problem-if-that-will-make-things-better. And with me facing an extremely busy travel schedule this year, well, Matty might just destroy Gia. And then Gia would destroy me. Mutually assured destruction is not a family value.

    We had tried a few touchy-feely “no cry” techniques, but Matty proved far too headstrong and willful for any sort of timely success. We saw little incremental progress, and when we would revisit the teaching materials, they would say things like, “You might have to work on it for a few months,” and, “You most important contribution is patience, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s working.” Exsqueeze me? No.

    On the other hand, the idea of locking him in his room and letting him shriek himself into a coma never sat quite right. I didn’t like it, and I have a much stronger stomach for toddler torture than my lovely wife, So, we decided on a hybrid approach: Lock him in his room (I turned the door knob around so the lock is on the outside), but go to him periodically, gradually increasing the time between visits until there are no more visits.

    So last night we gave it a shot. I put him down at about 7:45. I was barely out of his room and he was already trying to negotiate the door knob, which had become solid and motionless.

    The betrayal was, as expected, devastating. And he let us know all about it, for 56 straight minutes. The noises he made probably wouldn’t have been as guttural had someone been causing him actual physical harm. Gia wore headphones. We both drank whiskey. But less than an hour later, he was asleep. Sure, it was on the floor behind his door, but I had braced for several hours of terror and ultimately giving in. So … score!

    As I type, we are 27 minutes into Sleep Training: Day Two.

    2011: Music I Listened To

    Russian Circles - Empros

    Oh, is it that time of year again? The time just before the end of the year when everyone else’s Best Of lists have been published for weeks, thereby allowing me to peruse them and cobble together my own Best Of list based on everyone else’s editorial efforts, making it look like I spent the whole year researching and contemplating new music? Haha, just kidding! Mostly.

    I started writing this post and it immediately spiraled into a long, rabling analysis of how I listen to music, why something should end up on a list, the reason best of lists should eve exist, and BOORRRRRRRRRING. Let’s just get to it.

    This year I came across 6 albums (released in 2011) I thought were worth talking about:

    Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
    ZOMG, a rock opera from a hardcore band! When I first heard this record, I absolutely loved it. It had The Shape Of Punk To Come aspirations and I wanted it to live up to the hype. After about a week of listening, however, I decided I hated this record. Exhibit A, the opening lyric to “Turn The Season”: “Things go up, and then go down. Chase a smile with a frown.” Are you kidding me with that Dr. Seuss filler? After a few months off, I gave it another listen and had a much more balanced experience. Spin magazine made this their album of the year, which, okay. I guess my biggest complaint is that it takes itself WAY too seriously (see the video below, though, band nerds beware–the female actor’s “conducting” is going to make you really angry). After much internal deliberation, the bottom line is that I like listening to this record and I’ve returned to it repeatedly, so it’s on the list.

    Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground
    I love me some Hot Water Music, even if they did get a little glossy there toward the end. I say the end, but they reunited and are recording a new album early next year. During the HWM “hiatus”, Chuck Ragan has released three full length solo albums, the most recent being this year’s Covering Ground. It’s hard for me to describe Ragan’s solo work without sounding like Jeff Lebowski, so I won’t. It’s gruff, powerful folk music, but it’s uplifting and triumphant. Listen to “Nomad By Fate.”

    Old 97s - Grand Theatre Vol. 2Old 97s – The Grand Theatre Volume 2
    It is well documented that The Old 97s would have to really shit the bed in order to not end up on my list in any year they release a new record. I got to see them play earlier this year at the newly renovated Buckhead Theater. During their set, I remember thinking, “If I had to describe my moral center in one word, it would be Old 97s” (yes, that is one word). That is likely aspirational, but I believe it. About last year’s Grand Theatre Volume 1, I wrote:

    I just picked this one up a couple weeks ago and I am still digesting it, but there are elements on The Grand Theatre that harken back to the mid-nineties, which, let’s be honest, is really all anyone has ever wanted from the Old 97s. Most notably, The Magician sounds more like Doreen or Time Bomb than anything since the first Clinton administration.

    I originally thought Volume 2 might actually be a little bit better than Volume 1, but I have to come to appreciate them both equally. Not that it really matters.

    Torche / Part Chimp - Split EPTorche / Part Chimp – Split EP
    Torche is great. Like them a lot. I hadn’t heard Part Chimp before this release, and I was dismayed to learn that they are in the process of calling it quits. Drag. This was a vinyl-only release so finding tracks online is tricky. Here is a link to Torche’s cover of “Exit Flagger” by Guided by Voices on Soundcloud. No idea for how long the link will be good.

    Dead Man Winter - Bright LightsDead Man Winter – Bright Lights
    Last year was all about Trampled by Turtles. TbT did not release a new record this year, though I believe they have one in the bag. TbT frontman, Dave Simonett, did release a record this year for his solo project, Dead Man Winter. DMW is described as an outlet for Simonett’s songs that don’t quite fit with TbT. Whatever, I love it. It paired brilliantly with our trip to Iowa in August.

    Russian Circles - EmprosRussian Circles – Empros
    Sprawling, instrumental metal. Devilishly sludgy riffs contrasted with soaring melodies. Something sounded strangely familiar the first time I heard this record. I read later that Russian Circles’ bass player is none other than Brian Cook from Botch and These Arms Are Snakes. I’m not saying I could pick him out of the mix, I’m just saying something sounded familiar and I have listened to a lot of Cook’s playing over the years. Shut up. Leave me alone. This record is frigging awesome and everyone should listen to it. If you only give it one song, make it Mlàdek:

    I listened to a lot of new music this year. I also missed a lot of new music, which I’m sure you’ll let me know ALL about in the comments (note: please do). Reading other people’s Best Of lists, I found myself thinking, “Who are all these bands? I haven’t listened to shit!” And you probably noticed that my list is full of stuff I was already familiar with and pretty much expected to like.

    I also seem to have this habit of discovering lots of great new stuff the year after it was released. For instance, this year I spent a lot of time with Cavalcade from The Flatliners and Chamberlain Waits from The Menzingers, both of which were released mid-2010 and both of which are great records to listen to while running.

    Albums I listened to this year that I enjoyed, but didn’t find myself returning to repeatedly:

    Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
    400 Blows – Sickness and Health
    Bone Dance – Split w/ Divider & Plebeian Grandstand
    Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
    Future of the Left – Polymers are Forever

    It would be a grind, but it is moving too quickly

    Clearly things are moving way too quickly for me to keep up. Let’s take a look at the past three weeks.

    The trip to Iowa was awesome, and it moved us deeply. The last time I attended an event with that much family was probably our wedding in 2002. It certainly didn’t hurt that the setting was perfect: Late Summer in the most fertile region in the Universe. High temps in the upper 70s. Farmland and gardens bursting with all manner of produce. One late night rainstorm to freshen things up. Everything was perfect. My family hails from Waucoma, but we made numerous trips up the road to Decorah, and fell in love. Case in point: I was standing in the local food co-op holding two bottles beer brewed in Iowa. An attractive hippie chick (see: food co-op) walked by and said, “That Peace Tree IPA is really good.”

    I responded, “Do you carry any other Iowa-brewed beers besides these two?”

    “Have you been over to the brewery here in town?”

    “This tiny town has a brewery? Of course it does. Where is this brewery?”

    “Couple miles that way. It’s called Toppling Goliath.”

    Naturally, we rolled over to TG and had a couple. Picked up a growler for the shelf (also because the beer was really good). Atlanta, you are on notice.

    I could write a lot more about Iowa, but THERE IS NO TIME. After one trip, I would definitely call myself an RV enthusiast. I have always enjoyed really long road trips, and an RV is obviously an excellent way to really formalize the whole experience. I will say though, trying to cover long distances on a schedule kind of ruins it. RVs are big and slow and meant to be enjoyed. Trying to keep the needle pegged above 70 so you can cover 900+ miles in fewer than 15 hours takes what should be a relaxing meander and makes it just another large task that has to be completed on a deadline, psychological slowdown be damned.

    The reason we had to bust it back in a hurry was that I had to be on a flight the morning after we got back. Fewer than 12 hours after arriving at home, I was en route to the mid-Atlantic region. I happened to be driving a rental car on I-476 in SE Pennsylvania when the OH MY GOD EARTHQUAKE hit the area. Because I was driving, I didn’t feel anything, which can only be because I am such an excellent driver.

    I was able to shorten that trip from 2 nights to one, which led to 7 full days at home, a welcome respite.

    Last Thursday, the Simons and the Vonks piled into the Vonks’ Honda rocket ship and raced down to the FL panhandle for some sort of beach trip [FORESHADOWING]. The six-hour drive with two two-year-olds went as well as anyone could have hoped. They each had brief moments of being totally over it, but, for the most part, they sat in their seats, ate their goldfish, drank their juice, and actually slept for a good chunk of the trip.

    Oh, you’re going to the beach this weekend, they said. Yes, we said. You know there’s a Tropical Storm in the gulf right now, right? Yeah, we’ve heard that, but I’m sure it will be fine. How will a trip to the beach be fine with a Tropical Storm bearing down on you? LALALALALALALALA.

    It was not fine. The rain had not rolled in on Friday morning, but it was cloudy and windy. We made our way down to the beach to discover that the beach smelled horribly. It was like thousands of tiny fish had taken their leave of this Earth, right on your upper lip. We toughed it out until nap time and headed back to the ranch. Then the rain rolled in and did not roll out. Ultimately, we decided to pack it up a day early and head home. Having two toddlers trapped inside on a rainy day at home is bad enough. In a [smaller] vacation residence is way worse. We opted for, uh, less worse.

    As I type, I am 38,000 feet up, headed to Texas. After this, I’m home for a couple weeks before three weeks in a row on the road starting at the end of the month.

    I haven’t brewed in months, and there are still some semi-important tasks to complete on the deck. And football season is on us which equals weekend evaporation.

    That’s it. I have no witty conclusion. It just keeps going. WHEEEEE!!!

    A Pilgrimage

    My maternal grandmother is celebrating her birthday this Sunday. I will refrain from divulging her actual number of laps around the sun because I am a gentleman and she gave life to the wonderful woman who breathed life into me and it would be inelegant, insensitive, and gauche to trivialize such an accomplishment by such an inspiring woman. She will be ninety. Holy shit.

    Granny (that’s what she insists we call her, dead serious) lives in a small town in Northeastern Iowa. My mom grew up there and Granny still lives in the family house. I’m not sure when she and my grandfather moved there; remind me to ask my mom next time I see her (this Tuesday). When we lived in Minneapolis (where I was born) it was a not-unreasonable drive South to visit. When we lived in Denver, it was a bit of a haul, but one that we made smack in the middle of the Blizzard of ’82.* I remember playing outside in the snow and asking oh god why does this suck so bad and getting the response because it is twenty below, you idiot. What are you, five? Yes.

    Because this is the only time Granny will reach this particular milestone, a large familial contingency is congregating in Iowa this weekend for the festivities. Lest the sarcastic tone of this post be misleading, I couldn’t be more excited. I really only remember two trips to Granny’s house: my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary in 198x (Mom, help), and my grandfather’s funeral in 1993, when I was 15. That’s not to say I’ve only seen her twice in the past 25+ years–she’s actually traveled to many of our own milestones. Really there are two primary backstory facts here: I don’t get to enjoy my grandmother’s company all that often, and I haven’t traveled to see her at her house since BEFORE WINDOWS 95, so this is a big deal. A bigger deal than it should be because things shouldn’t be like this? Obviously. A big deal nonetheless.

    From Atlanta, the least insane way to get to Granny is to fly into Minneapolis, rent a car, and drive just under 200 miles South. Not a crazy trip for adults, but a ridiculous trip for a two-year-old, one of whom we have. To wrangle him for a flight, and then toss him in a rental car for 3 hours, PLUS deal with all of his “accoutrements” is not an insurmountable feat. Nor is strapping him into his car seat in Atlanta and pulling onto the highway, then not pulling off for 10+ hours. It’s just that “vacation time” is such a precious commodity that I am simply unwilling to commit to either of the aforementioned options, significant family milestone or not.

    You don’t think this is a just a long, awkward way to announce that we’re skipping, do you? No, silly. The Duke, Mrs. Jazzbone, The Geester, and I are renting a 36-foot RV because AMERICA. The thinking goes like this: We can pack up as much crap as we want, hit the road whenever we want, take however long we want, get there whenever we want, and then sleep in our car, which is arguably more comfortable than your house.

    Before any enthusiasts reading this decide I am talking out of two buttholes, I’ll come clean: I have never rented nor spent any significant time in a RV before. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on chartered buses, but, you know, CHARTERED. It might suck, horribly. I’m sure parts of it will. But here are the facts:

  • A week with my parents and Matty
  • Mattias gets to meet his great-grandmother for the first time
  • ROAD TRIP!
  • Plugging hard into the family tree for a few days. My mom’s sisters are rad.
  • America’s bread basket. Late summer.

    Even in the worst of circumstances, I’m hoping the actual circumstances fall by the wayside, as they should always. Based on what I’ve read, RVing seems like a Flanders-modest middle finger to everything that isn’t an RV. If, after this, that holds true, I will buy six of them.

    * This marks the first time I can remember ever referencing something that happened to me, during my life, that sounds like the name of a shipwreck. I have shifted a couple steps closer to something and a couple steps further away from something else.

    146 Days Later

    Russ arrived at 9 o’clock Saturday morning. As I had done nearly every single weekend since March, and Russ probably a dozen or more times himself, we set about working on the deck. It started out just like so many deck-building days before it: drag tools out of the garage, review goals for the day, laugh mightily at naive ambition, reduce goals by 70%, commence sweating.

    Over the course of this project, we learned it is best to accomplish as much work as possible before 1PM. The reason for this should be fairly obvious. The rear of Tall Brown faces East and is heavily wooded. During the morning, it is actually quite pleasant in the backyard. However, at approximately 1PM during the summer, the sun comes over the trees, and you suddenly realize how all of those poor ants and G.I. Joes felt under the terror of your magnifying glass.

    I started this project in early March (March 6th, but who’s counting) specifically so it would be finished before the weather became Georgiarific. I thought it would probably take all of March and a couple weekends in April. Rather than have me do all of the work for you, please look at today’s date on a calendar and insert your own joke about my life. I’ll wait.

    Seriously, it has been so hot out there I just want to crawl into a storm sewer and weep softly. Many days I wore only gym shorts and shoes while I worked. Yes, gross. This was my routine while installing the actual deck boards:

  • Install a row of 3 16-foot boards, drink a pint of water
  • Install a row of boards, drink a pint of water
  • Install a row of boards, drink a pint of water, re-apply sunscreen to my spare tire
  • Install a row of boards, drink a pint of water
  • Install a row of boards, drink a pint of sunscreen, wonder aloud whether ’tis wiser to simply burn the house down than continue putting my friends and family through this parade of retarded
  • Install a row of boards, drink a pint of water
  • And so on

    Armed with this knowledge, Russ and I hit it hard right when he arrived. The job for the day was to install the 2×2 balusters on the railing. There were a helluva lot of them (204 total, but who’s counting), and, while I wanted to get them all installed that day, I also knew this step could drag into the following day. You know, just like every single step before it.

    We worked hard (and smart), and around 11:30AM, something very strange happened.

    The deck was finished.

    Wait, what? I mean, I know the system we designed for measuring, cutting, spacing, and attaching the balusters was genius, and it allowed us to knock out one baluster every ten seconds or so, but that’s it? Just like that?

    The finish line kind of came out of nowhere, and it’s passing was actually rather anticlimactic. Russ held the last baluster in place against our brilliantly designed spacing mechanism (a 2×4), I fired the final two nails–POP! sssss POP! sssss, and all of a sudden it was like, Oh, hey, the deck’s done. Huh, I guess you’re right. Neat.

    Naturally, there is a list of outstanding tasks that still need to be completed before I can really get to work burying this project deep in my subconscious, but the construction part is OVER and not a day too soon. Next Saturday, August 6th, would have marked the 5-month anniversary of demolishing the old deck. Turns out I am more sensitive about this than even I might have realized. Earlier today, Gia was saying something about something, probably using the really low, dumb voice she uses to impersonate me, and she finished a comment about the deck with, “Yeah, and now it’s August,” to which I snapped, “IT IS NOT AUGUST. IT IS JULY. TODAY IS JULY 31st.”

    Leave it on the court, Tony.

    Hot Sauce

    [Testing the WordPress iPhone app]

    I stayed up late last night, and I’ve been feeling a little MEH all morning. I put some of this hot sauce on my lunch (leftover shrimp and grits courtesy of the Geester) and now I feel like I could kick a moose over a minivan. A full-sized, adult moose. Not the little mascot under my monitor. Don’t be ridiculous.

    20110729-122110.jpg

    Post-publish edit: The WordPress iPhone app works pretty well. It allows you to assign categories and tags, add images, videos and other attachments, preview and save drafts, and schedule specific publish dates and times. It doesn’t have any built in text-formatting features, but you can always just add the html tags yourself. Same goes for adding links, etc. It also doesn’t support any of the post-editing features made available by this fancy-ass theme I’m using. So I had to come back to the desktop version and do quite a but of tweaking. Still, I approve. WILL EBAY AGAIN.

    So Just How Bad Was The Old Deck?

    Throughout this saga, I haven’t really taken the time to establish a benchmark around why even bother to spend millions of dollars and billions of man hours replacing some rectangular boards with … other rectangular boards.

    When this project was still [apparently] picking up steam in 2008, I snapped a bunch of photos of the old deck to document its design and condition. Would you like to see them? SUPER!

    Here are two shots of the entire structure, the first looking Southish, the second looking, uh, Northy:

    From these angles, there is little to indicate any impending catastrophes (aside from the wildly out-of-code balusters; must be less than 4″ apart). What I did not capture in the photos to follow:

  • There was no flashing between the deck and the house. This may seem trivial for the uninitiated, but it is a one-way ticket to a rotten deck and rotten house. Someone throws a party and suddenly there are 30 people on your deck; fast forward to EMTs pulling bodies out of deck rubble. I will go into much greater detail about flashing in a subsequent post (with pictures!).
  • There were about half as many bolts holding the deck to the house as there should have been. This alone is not a reason to tear the whole thing down–I could have added bolts pretty easily. The point is, EMTs pulling bodies out of deck rubble.
  • Now then, let’s take a closer look.

    Notice how the south end features a sweet-ass wall, likely intended for privacy. I try to stem the rage by thinking back to 1985 when the neighborhood was being born. The trees were likely a lot smaller and more sparse 26 years ago, so a privacy wall might have seemed like a good idea. In practice, it was mostly an exercise in WTF.

    The sun pounded the outside and top of the wall somewhere between 21 and 29 hours a day, while never once so much as kissing the inside. For a structure made of interior-grade 2x4s and cedar siding, this was a recipe for success.

    Here is a better look at the wall from the outside:

    Aaaand, the inside, complete with cosmetic siding repairs done by moi because the siding was already rotting when we moved in:

    Here’s a shot up the top of the wall. Looks fine to me:

    Here is the wall’s killing field. This is as much sun as this part of the deck/house ever received. Couple this with the lack of flashing and … let’s just say lingering moisture was stoked:

    As you can see from the first two photos at the top of the page, this was not what one would generally call a “small” deck. Yet, somehow it was infuriatingly tiny. The deck ran the entire length of the house (45′), yet here are the views from either end:

    ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Look at that spot between the chimney and the railing. I’ll tell you: Not much more than four feet. What the hell good is any section of deck anywhere that only extends four feet from the house? I could maybe see it if that little span connected two large usable areas, but this is the usable space we’re talking about here:

    I just … I am getting angry all over again going through these photos. Why would you … god damnit.

    Let’s close it out with a series of super-fun photos titled, “Why They Invented Homeowner’s Insurance.”

    The steps don’t look too terrible, until you notice there is no center stringer supporting, you know, the part where people walk up and down the stairs. The squeaks from these over-extended boards sounded like they were saying, “You’re fat, you’re fat, you’re fat, you’re fat”:

    Also, the stairs weren’t attached to the concrete pad at the bottom, but don’t worry about that:

    I don’t really know what is going on here. I just always assumed this part of the railing was only for decoration:

    Again. What.

    Oh, here’s a good time. Holding the deck up were an assortment of powder-coated iron poles, much like the ones you see used [primarily] in interior basements:

    At first glance, one would think, Dude, awesome. My deck is being held up by IRON POSTS. EFF A BUNCH OF STUPID TERMITE BAIT. IRON. Despite the powder coating, all of the iron posts were rusted at the bottom, as a result of, you know, iron living outside with rain and Georgia humidity. Also, we discovered during demolition that the iron posts were not in any way attached to the cement footers. An ambitious meth head could have kicked the deck over. I have actually contemplated contacting the previous homeowners about this part because it is so shady. Let’s just say this project has made me a more conscientious homeowner.

    Finally, the picture you’ve all been waiting for … The Cobra:

    In the photo above, I would say the Cobra is at roughly half mast. When it was persistently rainy, he would lie down flat, even with the other boards. During long hot, dry spells, however, he would rise up so high that the two “fangs” would point right at you. That we let the Cobra exist, as is, from 2003 to 2011 is a testament to how often we visited that end of the deck.

    As I sit here typing this, the new deck is nearly complete, so a lot of the rage is retrospective, which I think is good. Still, I am very glad to be able to get these pictures down “on paper” as it were.

    [Name To Be Revealed Later]

    Let’s quit screwing around and pick this pig up where we left off three years (!!!) ago, which is talking about the GHAT DAMN deck I have been building nonstop since my last meaningful post. You knew that was why I quit updating the blog, right? Oh, you thought it was because I got busy at work or had a kid? No no. I have been building a deck every day for the past 37 months. I was fired from my job back in 2008 after not showing up for several weeks. That red-headed kid in all the pictures on my Facebook whom many of you have met? Yeah, we’ve been borrowing him from an orphanage here in Smyrna just to keep up appearances. Sweet kid.

    Well it certainly feels like I’ve been building the deck that long. And I’m sure it’s felt that way for the numerous friends who have donated entire Saturdays and Sundays to risk heat exhaustion and slipped disks only so that I can have ~1000 ft² of pressure-treated lumber to pee off of late at night. And during the day.

    So, following the sink hole rodeo from our last episode, I fell out of attack mode and into a spiral of uncertainty. Did I really solve the problem? What happens if I spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on a new deck only to have it fall into a hole in my yard? What if the solution costs hundreds of millions of dollars? I might have to get a loan for that kind of cheddar!

    The Summer of 2008 came and went. I changed jobs in the fall, which was demanding, but, let’s be honest, ain’t nobody building shit during football season, not because of the football games, but because somehow it’s always like, “HURR, AUTUMN, WHAT DID YOU DO WITH ALL MY WEEKENDS?!!” To my credit, however, I did install bamboo floors on the entire first floor of our house that fall. By myself. Like a boss. All day. Real talk.

    Then the holidays.

    Oh, is it 2009 already? Oh, is your wife pregnant? Sounds like a FINE time to forego nesting and spend your time hammering together a tree house for the grill. Good luck with that. Despite the CIIIRRRRRRRCLE OF LIIIIFE disruption, there was one notable deck development in the summer of ’09. Since the original sink hole project a year earlier, I noticed a couple spots had settled, meaning I was inevitably going to need to get out the big(ger) guns if I wanted this problem solved. In June, I rented an excavator, and Danny and I spent an afternoon trying to figure out how to stop almost killing each other. We also managed to move some dirt. Look, there’s a [bad] video:

    We dug out the hole until it felt like solid clay on all sides and the bottom; much, much more than I had done by myself the previous summer. After replacing all the dirt (kill me), everything seemed pretty solid, albeit compressed slightly. (Lest it seem like this is foreshadowing, I’ll go ahead and tell you everything has remained stable since the excavator exercise. Exhale.)

    In September, Mattias was born, which was rad. I showed Matty off to the deck project, and the deck was cool about it, but I could tell he was more than a little resentful. I even caught a couple off-handed comments over the following months. “Hey. What’s up? Just chillin’ in the back yard like, uh, every day. Listen, I thought, maybe if you weren’t busy this weekend, you could maybe, I don’t know, it seems like it would be pretty easy to start the demoli–oh, right, you did already tell me about that. No, I mean, of course you should. Kids these days certainly can’t like raise themselves or whatever. I guess I’ll still be in the yard if you need me. Fuckin’ kid huh? What? I didn’t say anything. Yeah sure, later.”

    So Matty was born in the Fall, and we’ve already covered what Fall is like. So … THEN THE HOLIDAYS!

    I’d like to pause and reflect on how cavalier I am about my life going past me like a bullet train. I should probably take some time to sit down and wri-ONWARD!!!

    Let’s see … 2010. Two Thousand and Ten. I don’t remember a god damned thing about 2010.

    So here we are in sunny 2011. At some point during the winter, my inner monologue convinced me to quit agonizing over every little detail and just start the stupid piece of crap. There was a slow clap and everything. How does the saying go? A journey of a thousand miles begins with numerous, confidence-draining false starts?

    So start we did. On Sunday, March 6th, a little hungover, we (Russ, John, Dave, Keith, and Garrett) tore the old deck off of Tall Brown.

    I guess I should pause and tell you why I am replacing the old deck to begin with …

    Premature deck announcement (aka – SINKHOLIO)

    So … we’re going to put a new deck on our house. I originally planned a big announcement (which really just means a long blog post with lots of capital letters), but I’ve come to realize if I try to plan something to completion, I will spend the rest of my life in the planning phase. It’s best to just start whatever needs starting and figure it out as I go. SO HERE WE ARE.

    I mentioned the deck plan a couple months ago, and since then, I’ve done quite a bit of research and talked to a handful of professionals. My original plan was to have a contractor do the entire project. It’s going to be a very large job and as I tried to wrap my brain around it, I convinced myself that it would be worth a couple (THOUSAND) extra dollars to just have the pros come in and knock it out.

    After having no less than three contractors take a look at the project and give me high level estimates, I realized that I had underestimated the market by about two-thirds. We could have purchased a nice automobile for the money this was going to cost. The options we were left with were A) pretend we live in a high-rise condo with no deck or yard, or B) build the damn thing ourselves. I found as I socialized the project that my friends and family tended to agree with whatever my plan was.

    “We’re going to build a new deck.”

    “Awesome! Deckbuilding is fun. I will help.”

    “Actually, I think I’m going to have professionals do it. It’s a huge job.”

    “You should totally have professionals do it! Your time is worth too much to spend all your weekends building a deck.”

    “I talked to some professionals, and I think I’m going to do the whole job myself.”

    “You should totally do it yourself. Deckbuilding is fun. I will help.”

    I’ve been reading books (including this one put out by the Forest Products Society — highly recommended), talking to people, and creeping around friends’ houses looking at the underlying support structure(s) of their various outdoor leisure areas. Mostly, I’ve been preparing myself mentally for the project, which will doubtlessly gobble vastly more time and resources than I have ever invested in a home improvement project to date. It’s going to be a huge job. Like, retarded huge.

    And we’ve already hit our first significant speed bump!

    Two weekends ago, I was in the back yard outlining the proposed new deck with string to help visualize the project. As I was anchoring a pole where one of the new deck posts would be located, my foot sank into the ground. And it wasn’t like sinking into soft dirt or mud. It was like the top 2 inches of clay gave way and a hole about a foot deep opened up underneath me.

    Oh. Great. A sinkhole. Right there. Where the deck … of course. Where else would a sinkhole … SENSATIONAL!!

    I grabbed a shovel and quickly unearthed a problem area. A hole like this should take more than 10 minutes to dig:

    After the existential freakout subsided, I contacted several of my landscape architect friends (Note to self: Why the hell do I know so many landscape architects?) Their initial diagnoses were identical: It’s an old construction bury pit and I would need to “over-excavate” the area and re-pack the dirt. So that’s what I did last Sunday. I wish there was a more entertaining story to tell, but I don’t know what to say about me digging a hole and then filling it right back up. Living the dream, indeed.

    Photo set of me moving thousands of pounds of dirt with a spade shovel.