The Lean-to that would be a Castle
Spring and Summer 2003

© 1998 P. Arthur Stuart
Updated June 7, 2018

(Excerpt from Dear God Letter © 1998 P. Arthur Stuart)

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I began writing this piece in 2003 and continued to add to it. Since the last entry, 2006 or 2007, my beloved has passed away. As I read through this letter, I began to understand some of her actions. The most important thing I’ve discovered as I reviewed events, is how ignorant I was. Knowing what I know now would certainly make me smile, instead of getting annoyed. Specifically, I learned that women and men that care about someone, want to be helpful and supportive, not necessarily bossy.

For reference I've included the first paragraph of the letter.

Dear GOD,

I guess, to have been more proper I should have opened with Dear Mr. God? Or should I say Miss? Or Mrs.? Or Ms.? Oh well, to begin, I am writing to you because I don't have anyone I can confide in, but you already know that and for that matter, you already know what I'm going to write, but for my sanity I'm going to write it anyway. Thanks for being patient. For the record, I view myself and believe, I'm just an average male (if there is such a thing,) who is neither overly bright, nor excessively dumb. My ability to read things close up is decreasing, I find I need longer arms, and I am seriously scared of what will happen next. In addition, I only have a few hairs left, which are rapidly turning gray, and skin that is showing the passage of time. My dreams of grandeur have faded, and what remains are my hopes and desires for a peaceful future, albeit short, and the wish of success for my children and others I care about. I guess I am just getting old, I hope it's not senility, but I find now that things I would brush off in years past, now bother me, and conversely things that bothered me in the past, no longer seem as important, or even to matter. I feel tired both physically and mentally. Before I retired, I dreaded going to work, and much of the time, I dreaded coming home. Now that I'm retired, I just dread one day at a time. When I first started to write you, I was in my early forties.

The following is the excerpt story of "The Lean-to that would be a Castle." When we started the project twenty years have passed since I began this letter. It is a work that keeps growing and growing.

This is about how a simple covered shelter for our goats became a small barn with extensive modifications and hence numerous complications. This chronicle started one day when it was raining hard and we noticed that our goats were unprotected; they were soaked. So, the next day we put some boards across the corner of a corral as a temporary shelter. We explored different ways we could build a shelter for the goats. The first thing we considered was using an old rusted small camper frame, which we could cover with wood and rolled roofing, and place it on a concrete block foundation. We also considered a wood frame structure of 2 x 4's, covered with particle board or plywood. There were a few additional ideas kicked around but none fit the immediate need. We settled on building something on an existing slab; exactly what we didn't have a clue.

In the corner of our place, we had put up a small chickencoop on a ten-by-twelve slab. The coop had long since been demolished but the slab still remained. We kicked around several ideas on how to best utilize the slab, then settled on placing blocks, mortarless, around the perimeter – specifically two sides and the back, thereby leaving one side open. Sort of a square U shape. The shelter would be built as a semi-temporary structure. We would put down six rows of block which would make it three feet high. On top of the blocks, we would place a simple square wood framing unit that would raise the roof another foot or two. It was one of those projects anticipated to be quite simple, extremely easy. Yeah right!

Before the first course was started, my wife asked, "Should we put a doorway in the front – all we would have to do is add a few blocks inward at the open end."

I asked, "What for?"

"To stop some of the wind coming from that direction and it would be useful," she replied.

My thoughts, Useful? uh, oh! It should have been a clue of things to come but I was oblivious to it. My mind was on the wind, which to my knowledge rarely, if ever, came from the north, but I kept that to myself.

When we had completed the first row, doorway included, my wife said, "Should we put some reinforcement (rebar) in the walls?"

I replied, "No, I don't think we need it. This is only a temporary building anyway."

She stated, "The goats are pretty strong, and they might push it over." I relented. As we began the walls, she asked, "Should we fill the blocks, with cement?"

Again, I said, "I don't think we need it."

"How are you going to hold the roof down?" she asked.

I said, "It will be heavy enough to stay in place and the wood posts I'll put in the block will also hold it down."

A few hours later she said, "Don't you think we should fill the blocks with cement?"

"No," I replied, "but how about we just fill the corners and a center unit."

"OK," she responded. A few days later, after all the blocks were in place and we were admiring our work she stated, "Don't you think we should fill all the holes, we're going to be mixing cement anyway and it wouldn't be that much trouble. And it will be stronger." I looked in your direction (I assume heaven is upwards) hoping you would come to my rescue – alas, you didn't come.

I wanted to say, I'd like to fill you with cement. Nevertheless, I kept it to myself and we then discussed it several more times before I caved in.

Sometime before we started to fill the blocks, she said, "You know it would be nice if the roof were made high enough for us to walk-in."

"Why?" I replied, "It's just a shelter for the goats."

"Well, if we build it right, we can also use it to store garden equipment. The goats will only use it in the rain and it doesn't rain here a lot," she stated. I proposed several alternatives and eventually it was settled on that we would use a barn type roof. I must tell you at this point that the slab was not level, it had been built with a slope so that water would run off fully when we hosed it down to clean up the chicken fertilizer. Bottom line – nothing lined up. Before we filled the block cells (all of them), I fabricated roof framing anchors. I used one-foot threaded rods, six 3/4 inch and ten 5/8 inch, wired securely to rebar that would extend to an inch or two of the slab.

She asked, "Will this be strong enough?" I told her that if the roof came off, the plate we bolt down will still be there. I told her I believe that if we attached the bolt to a crane with chains, the crane would be able to lift the slab, blocks and all. She accepted that, I thought. So, I set the anchors in place.

The blocks have a portion that extend about half an inch above the top. She asked, "How are you going to make the boards fit flush with the top of the blocks. I told her I would router out what needed to be. I measured, cut, and routered the framing plates, now I needed to drill the holes in the right place to match the anchors. While I was setting the boards in place to measure where to drill the hole, my wife told me that I would have to measure from the end and side to locate the place to drill – duh. Well, I measured, drilled, and made repairs. And I was now ready to install the boards.

As I started to put the boards in place, she asked me, "I thought you said you were going to use the bigger anchors at the ends. How come you didn't use any on the rear or front boards?" It was a mute question because the anchors had already been cemented in place.

I answered anyway and replied, "I only had six large anchors, from the very beginning, and they're on the side boards because all of the roof's framing connections and weight will be supported by them." My comments appeared to satisfy her and beside there was nothing either of us could do to change it – pardon the pun but the anchors were cast-in-stone.

We needed to put up the roof framing now. I measured and marked the center of the side boards. My plan was that we would install the middle frame and work towards the ends – this would give equal spacing of the end frames. She asked, "Why don't you start at one end?"

I told her, "By doing it this way we would have equal spacing at the ends. It would be just under two feet. And it really didn't matter if we started at one end, I chose this way because I like symmetry."

She replied, "I don't think that's right. You have a twelve-foot-board and seven frames. That's one on the end and one every two feet thereafter."

I told her, "The last frame would be an inch and a half closer." She asked where the tape measure was and began to measure. We started in the middle.

While we were installing the roof framing, she commented, "The framing is a bit flimsy, are you going to install braces to strengthen them.

"Yes, that's what all the 1x2's I cut are for," I replied. After the framing was installed, we put on the roofing particle-board (a mistake I'll not make again—never use particle-board) and the first layer of roofing material—tar paper. All this was done with minimal bickering. Basically, flat pieces that didn't need special cuts or alignment. The tar paper was pretty much the same; line it up with an edge(s), overlap the proper amount, nail, and apply lap cement. This was a job we had done several times before and had established a cooperative routine.

I stopped here and stalled doing the front and the doors. What brief discussions we had indicated to me that I was in for big trouble in selecting the material and how to do it. I didn't know what to do and then you came through. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The timing couldn't have been much better. It goes to show that even bad events can lead to some good, at least from my prospective. One of our relatives was scheduled for an operation and ask that one of us come to help out. Since our relative was a female, we decided it would probably be best if she went. We made the arrangements for her three-week trip.

Before she left, she made me promise not to finish the roof, which I did, but I didn't promise anything about the front or doors. So shortly after she left, I decided what I was going to do and purchased the materials for the front and doors. There was no debate, that may come later but I'm not going to take anything down. There were many odd or irregular cuts and I made a mistake or two, but I finished the front and doors in a couple of peaceful days. I'm pleased with the results. Now all that is left is to finish the roofing, finish the rear outside wall (she wants to install shingles), paint, and install interior shelving. As far as I'm concerned, this is her bailiwick and I'll just go along -- for the so-called ride.

You may think that I exaggerated, but if anything, I believe that I have left much out.

An epilogue, of sorts, to this story.

My wife returned today, so I met her at the airport with our daughter and granddaughter. On the way home and later at dinner with the family, she complained about how our relative was so demanding. She said, "Whenever I would start to do something, she would tell me how to do it. She would tell me which tools to use and how to use them. She would tell me what material I needed and how to apply them. Whatever I did she would give me instructions and directions."

I was able to maintain a calm manner but it was very frustrating. I smiled, inwardly relishing it. I wanted to shout, "You know that's exactly what you do to me. You might think about this the next time you see me doing something." It took all my self-control to keep my mouth shut. It's funny, just knowing this gave me a sense of vindication and an inner feeling of peace and satisfaction. I guess there is some truth in the saying, "What goes around, comes around." I think it’s called “Karma. It's a shame we cannot see the behaviors that exist in ourselves, that we readily see and criticize in others.

I spoke to soon.

I wrote the epilogue a bit early thinking that there would be "no" conflict or decisions of confusion. I thought that putting on the rolled roofing would be simple—measure, cut, blue-line, and install.

The first section went without incident or hassle. I was amazed. I picked up a pair of scissors and was about to trim the ends. She said, "Don't you think it would be better to do it later?"

I wanted to say, "If I thought it would be better, I wouldn't have attempted to do it now." I put down the scissors.

We were getting ready to put down the first run on the other side of the building. I had put a ladder, the stapler and hammer at the rear of the building, which made that end the left side. My wife asked, "Which end do you want to start on?"
I said, "The ladder is over there."
She ignored my answer and asked again, "Which end do you want to start on?"
I being a bit slow, replied, "The hammer and stapler are there" and pointed.
She said, "but we've put the others down right-to-left." It really didn't matter to me, so we installed—right-to-left.

Nailing and tarring went relatively smooth.

A bit later. It is now the summer 2005; winter 2006; spring of 2006; summer 2006 and we're still not finished. We still need to paint, put hinges and hardware on, install shelving, and move tools and equipment in. I must admit that part of the reason for delay was due to installing a new roof on the main house; after all who wants rain inside their home. The new roof was a major task that included removing the old roof down to the wall plates, installing new trusses (this would give us more pitch), decking, and all the roofing materials. It was quite a job for two old fogies. Our main roof was put up in a similar manner to the barn but that's a story unto itself. We finished the main roof around September of 2004.

I guess I'd be a bit remiss if I didn't let you know what we actually did for the goats. Once the doors were installed it became obvious that the goats were no longer welcome, and we realized that the primary reason we started the project had not been met. It was back to the drawing board. We settled on one of the original ideas. Namely, use the old-rusted camper shell, and place it on a mortarless block foundation, without grout or rebar. We put down three courses of block, without filling them with grout, and placed the camper frame on top. We put some old plywood that we had on top of the shell and covered it with rolled roofing. We had some significant winds and rain but it's still standing. It was a simple project that the goats do use. And they do use it to get out of the hot sun, as well as the rain. I just did what I was told on this project, it was hers, thereby eliminating any confusion. My standard reply to all questions was, "Whatever you want honey is fine by me." This seemed to work really well in eliminating any conflict and the frustration I would usually have.

Just a note: If this were the end of the letter, I would express my appreciation and add the appropriate closure.