My Other, Other Job

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in the last few weeks, but even though it’s summer, I’ve finished my first draft of my book, I’m sheltering in place like I should…I still am keeping busy.

I have a wife that I love very much. She knows that I can’t sit still very long. So when she mentioned a few months ago that our brick patio had seen better days and that we really needed to replace it, she really should have realized that I would have obsessed over it this summer. Summer and Christmas break are really my project times, both for writing and for home projects, that is, until next summer when I retire.

Bricks. Lots and lots of bricks. I pulled them up, I broke them apart, then we had to get rid of them. Sigh.

We decided on a flagstone patio, and started researching what it would entail. The brick that was there was broken, worn and sunken and even missing in several places. The first part of the job was to rip out the old brick. I started on that part before it got hot, which in Texas is anytime before June.

After I had huge piles of bricks where I wanted to put the new flagstone, I had to decide how to get rid of them. Some people said–and I already knew–that I could sell the bricks and make a few dollars. But that would involve cleaning them up, separating them out (broken and unbroken), and then finding someone to come pick them up. Instead, we just wanted to get rid of them. So I got one of the people at the university where I work to come get them. As it was, it was still a huge job. He came with a trailer, and we ended up loading up four trailer loads over several days.

Staking out the sand, getting ready for the gravel.

Then I was left with a sand base. It was a cooler part of the spring, true, but we got into the rainy season, and things slowed down with monsoon rains. I had to wait and let things dry out.

Then I had to dig out the foundation for the gravel base. Sand is great for bricks, but we needed something solid to hold up flagstone. We opted for two inches of gravel base, followed by two inches of decomposed gravel. In addition to leveling it, based on the recommendations on YouTube, I put in a slight incline so that rain water would run away from the deck and toward the lawn. When we put the gravel in, we used a manual tamper to press the gravel down and level it, but when we put in the decomposed gravel, we rented a mechanized compressor that really packed the soil down.

Gravel is down, decomposed granite follows. You would think the hard work is almost done. Think again.

Then we were ready for the flagstone. Shelly went with me earlier this week and we picked out the stone that would be used. We went with a blue-brown Oklahoma mix which turned out very pretty. They delivered it yesterday in the heat of the day. This morning was our first time working with it.

We ordered 4 1/2 tons of stone. That sounds like a lot, and when it got here on three pallets, it looked like a lot. But that’s what they estimated I would need, based on my measurements. So we will be working with it for a while: unloading, cleaning, placing, cutting, fitting.

Flagstone, finally. Unpack, clean, cut, fit, etc., etc. Down to the last bit.

That’s probably more information than you wanted to know about our project. But there are a lot of lessons to be learned here as writers.

First, I think it’s important that writers find a physical outlet beyond sitting at a desk and writing stories. You need to keep your body active and healthy, and the exercise always gives my brain an opportunity to work on stuff I need to process.

Second, there are a lot of parallels between what I am doing in my backyard with my patio and the process of writing a book. Most people think writing a book consists of writing that first draft, then sending it off to an editor. They don’t consider the hard work that comes before you write that first draft, as well as what happens after. The same goes here. If I were to just rip out the bricks and drop the flagstone on the sand beneath, within six months I would be a very unhappy camper. I’ve got quite a bit of time and money invested in this project. I want to do it right. The same should go for your writing project.

I’ll keep you posted, and be sure to share pictures of the finished project. Blessings.