Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lessons Learned by Tony Burton

Tony Burton has been writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction for over fourteen years.  His published works include two cozy mystery novels, a collection of supernatural crime stories, and stories in seven anthologies, as well as short stories in Woman’s World magazine, Great Mystery and Suspense magazine, Reflection’s Edge ezine, Crime and Suspense ezine, and other venues. His articles on the craft of writing have been published in Writer’s Journal magazine and Reflection’s Edge.

He is also the CEO and chief editor of Wolfmont LLC, a small-press publishing company with three imprints: Wolfmont Press, Honey Locust Press, and Denouement Press.  He has a particular affinity for the short story form.

by Tony Burton

I thought about writing about writing (no, that wasn’t a stutter), but good grief! Who really wants to hear another writer or publisher waxing rhapsodic about his or her struggles with pen and ink, or more likely, keyboard and electrons?

So, since Ms Kaye was so kind as to invite me to visit with her on her lovely blog, here are a few words of a different sort.

Like Kaye, we live out in the country, although a couple hundred miles south by southwest of her, in the Appalachian foothills of northwest Georgia. We love country living, and my wife Lara (who is a healthy-food nut and originally from northern Wisconsin) is enchanted with the long growing season here for veggies.  She and I are in the middle of a multi-year project to build a house that will suit our tastes and our needs for space… along with our budgetary requirements. We’re saving a bit of money by doing for ourselves anything that we are capable of doing, but it certainly slows things down.

Both of us have learned a few things about building, and about each other, in the process. Here are some of them:

If you are building a home on a concrete slab, be sure the guy who is pouring the slab knows how to read dimensions on a blueprint, and is familiar with the local building codes.

If you are not doing your own plumbing, be sure your plumber (a) also knows how to read a blueprint, and (b) is not drunk when he supervises the plumbing crew.

Once the drain pipes are set in the hardened concrete slab that weighs about 180 tons, you are not moving them to account for the mistakes made by the drunken plumber’s crew.

It is not easy to change house layout to accommodate a toilet drain that is six feet away from where the blueprint shows it should be.

The wife will be annoyed if the plumbing crew neglects to install a sink drain in the kitchen area.
Hired professionals, often aren’t.

No matter how flexible a spouse may claim to be about how things turn out, there are always a few things that he/she is adamant about… and usually it’s something the other spouse disagrees with.

If you need to do serious digging in the clay-and-shale hills of NW Georgia, you are not going to accomplish it with a shovel and mattock.

Pursuant to number 8 above, you also will not accomplish it with a DR Towable Backhoe, no matter how easy it looks on the DR website. It’s easier to simply hire Mr. Hooley (our local heavy equipment operator) to do it.

Tarps disintegrate in about a week under the stark UV rays of a summer Georgia sun.
No matter how much storage space you have, you always need more.

Dropping a bag of Portland cement on your foot, that has managed to get damp and harden because of your inadequate storage, hurts like heck.

When mixing your own concrete from scratch, be sure to check each shovelful of sand for sleeping toads or other creatures.

Of course, I have to say that I’m Divinely Blessed to have a wife who believes in buying the best tools we can afford. If I say I need some sort of tool to work on the house, her usual response is “Don’t go cheap! Get a good one!” It’s so nice not to have to justify spending money on a new chop-saw or a new drill. (I recently took a count, and we now possess eight drills.)

The downside of this, of course, is that I never have an excuse not to do something that needs doing, since I now have an assortment of tools that many professional contractors would envy. Now, if we can only get the house completed so I can move all the tools into the lovely new shop that will be behind the garage!

In the end, though, we have discovered that we often do just as good a job ourselves as the “professionals” can do, or better, and we take more care since we will be living here. Plus, we’re cheaper! And Lara really has that concrete recipe down to a science—she can whip up a batch of concrete from scratch in no time flat! Now, if we could just come up with a good recipe for healthy whole wheat biscuits….


The Stiletto Gang said...

Having just done minor plumbing work myself last night, I appreciate your "do it yourself" tips. Great blog!

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Julia Buckley said...

WOW! I am duly impressed at your do-it-yourself attitude, despite some of the setbacks you encountered.

And I love the name Mr. Hooley, which sounds like a character from Petticoat Junction or Green Acres. :)

Rev. Dr. Anthony Burton said...

Thanks, Rhonda. We're making progress, but I don't know if we'll be in the house by Christmas as we hoped. We'll see!

Julia, thanks for the compliments. We're trailblazing here in this county, building with a material that most homes don't use (AAC) and with the first approved graywater system in NW Georgia.

Mr. Hooley is a real person, with six children. He is a great guy, a Mennonite, and he always does quality work for us.

Mason Canyon said...

Tony, enjoyed your post. Sometimes doing it yourself is the best way. Living in Georgia, life is always interesting. Best of luck and hope you're in your house soon.

Kaye, thank you for featuring a Georgia author and one that doesn't live to far from me. You're the best.

Thoughts in Progress

Radine said...

Whoeee...memories, since my husband John and I (with the help of a few friends and some professionals who, happily, WERE professional) built our own home in the Arkansas Ozarks. Took two years. Would we do it again? Nope, though the benefits are clearly stated by Tony and my husband is the pickiest and most careful carpenter I've ever seen.

Jill said...

Great post. I was giggling about the toad. While making concrete art this summer I threw a bucket full of sand into my mixer....looked in and two large unhappy eyes were staring at me. I screamed and ran. Then realized that it was only a very upset toad that was staring back at me. I was glad that no one witnessed me screaming and running, was funny and ....I am a girl (just not little anymore). Ha ha.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

All this DIY stuff scares me to death. I am hopeless. Donald, on the other hand, is amazing. If it's something he doesn't know how to do, but wants to do, he'll start researching it until he's got it down. This curiosity and aptitude of his are enviable (and lovable).

Tony & Radine - you and your smart spouses are my heroes.

Mason, I didn't know you were in Georgia! That's where we were before coming to Boone.

Rhonda - don't I recall you having a major plumbing incident a few years back??

Julia - I thought the exact same thing about the name Mr. Hooley!

Jill - this killed me!!! I spit on my monitor when I read this about the eyes.

Margaret Maron said...


Apologies for not responding to the comments on my post on Monday. Thanks for all the good wishes. I'm going to be fine.

Tony, I loved your post. Reminded me of when we built our house. My husband dug the footing for our concrete slab himself (no roots, no rocks, just sandy loam) and I learned how to use a hammer and chisel to cut the cement blocks to fit around doors and windows. Our builder had less than a high school education but he had tons of common sense which is better than any degree and there was no drinking on the job. It's so meaningful to live in a house you helped build, isn't it?

jenny milchman said...

Wow, Tony, what range--in terms of writing AND living self-sufficiently (or almost). Good luck with your house! I'm impressed. And personally, I'd recommend using 1/3-1/2 whole wheat pastry flour instead of white and then your favorite biscuit recipe. Aren't "they" saying that butter--and even lard--are healthy fats now anyway?

Rev. Dr. Anthony Burton said...

Thanks for all the comments, folks!

Mason, what part of Georgia do you call home?

Radine, when it comes to carpentering, I'm pretty picky, too. But most of this work is masonry, and boy... it's a different world! Lara and I have been learning as we go.

Jill, sadly, the first toad to get into our mixer did not survive the trip, as Lara found him after the mixing was done. But she was more careful after that, and the next one was promptly fetched out and rinsed off. We like toads since they eat mosquitoes, gnats, and other pesky insects.

Kaye, thanks so much for the opportunity to blog here this week. DIY stuff comes naturally to me, I guess, since my dad was a house builder and general contractor for a few years. He taught me a lot.

Margaret, I wish I could have dug the footing here myself! Or rather, I wish I were capable of doing that. Mr. Hooley, even with his very large backhoe and bulldozer, had a few challenged moments when he was prepping our area for the concrete folks to come here. Lara likes gardening, and when we plant fruit trees, we make "grow holes" by breaking up a nice hole in the rocky ground with a pick-axe and filling it with topsoil, then planting the tree in the hole.

Jenny, we are aiming for as much self-sufficiency as we can muster. Eventually we will have solar power and solar hot water, and when we settle in, we'll have chickens and guineas. (We had guineas and goats before, but it didn't work out trying to build the house, work our jobs, AND take care of the critters. Something had to give.)