Working on a Roof When You’re Afraid of Heights

I was never a big fan of heights. Growing up, my brother was the one who climbed up on the roof to clean leaves out of gutters. High ropes courses left me jelly-legged and lightheaded (that’s assuming someone was able to persuade me to even scramble up the ladder).

woman wearing grey long sleeved top photography
HAHAHA, NOPE. Photo by Artem Bali on

Then in my late teens, I found myself working in a clothing store with one pregnant co-worker and another stricken with vertigo. There was no else to climb up to the tippy top of the ladder and change the light bulbs – except me. I learned to tolerate heights, but I’m still not a great fan. I can climb up on my roof a) if it’s the flat part and b) if I stay at least four feet away from the edge.

As a homeowner working on a budget, sometimes you just have to face your fears and patch roof leaks on your own.

So you can imagine how much I looked forward to installing the roof on the shed extension.

As with the rest of the framing, I wanted to mimic the rafters of the original shed. It was a basic design – a 2×4 on each side with a trapezoid of plywood nailed to the front and the back, stabilizing the whole structure. Then the rafters are then toenailed into the header (the board laid horizontally across the tops of the studs). And if I’m particularly good, they’ll be further secured with hurricane ties to help them stay in place during high wind or pressure changes (thanks, hurricane season in the Gulf!).

I could’ve done a bunch of math and measured angles to determine the cuts, but truth be told, I have a history of messing that kind of thing up. The faster and more accurate route that works for me is to trace the original and make a pattern.

In the above photos, you can see how I made a paper pattern of half of the original trapezoid (it was easier to do half) and then turned that into a full plywood pattern, which I used to draw the rest of the pieces (6 total).

The surface where the 2x4s met was a similar process, although I actually tried to measure to angles and had to make a few practice cuts to get it right. Honestly, guys, geometry was one of my worst subjects in high school, which makes building things really challenging sometimes.

The angles were the hardest part of the rafters. It was easiest to start the toenails with the rafters on the floor of the shed, so that when I lifted them to the headers, I could support the rafter with one hand and hammer with the other.

In the “shed” portion of the, er, shed, the plywood roofing is nailed into the rafters, securing the structure to itself. But for the greenhouse portion (the front 4 feet of the shed), the polycarbonate panels were a bit different. Most sources I found on the internet advised installing boards to stretch between the rafters for the panels to “rest” on. Since I’m a one-woman shop, nailing those boards onto the rafters while they were still on the floor – or even while they were in place – wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, there’s hardware for that!


I chose supports for fence beams so that I could easily slide the boards right on in. Supportive hardware makes things soooo much easier when you’re working by yourself.

After that, I popped the boards in.


The directions on the polycarbonate panels stated that underlying wood needs to be painted white. Well, they just so happens to jibe with my aesthetic anyway. Truth be told, my white paint is just a few layers of Kilz primer. When I’ve needed to slap some white paint on something outside, I often just end up using Kilz and it tends to hold up pretty well.


I think we’ll call it quits for now. The next post will be dedicated to covering all of the – well – coverings!




< Step 2: And the Walls Rise

Step 4: Covering Up! >

Dress Nicely on Mondays

Sunday nights often arrive with at least a few negative emotions – apprehension, a touch of dread, disappointment that the weekend is nearly finished. Even though my day job is satisfying and my coworkers are clever and fun, I still have to concede that come Monday morning, most of my daylight won’t be as wholly mine as it is on the weekends.

I work in an office environment that has a somewhat loose dress code. I make an effort to dress somewhat professionally, though, to visually mark myself as “not a grad student.” Most of my coworkers are professors who taught me only a year or two ago, and I aim to make it as easy for them as possible to treat me like an employee instead of their student.

But I make an extra effort to dress up nicely on Mondays.

These babies don’t just get busted out on any old day.

On an average day, I will probably wear a skirt, flats, and a nice t-shirt (tailored, solid color) or a button-down. In weather that doesn’t feel like Satan’s armpits, I might swap out the skirt for some pants (I’m a fan of the Sloan and Ryan cuts from Banana Republic). My hair, which is several inches past my shoulders, is probably slapped up in a bun or maybe braided.

But on  blank(1), I usually wear a dress and possibly some heels or a pair of suede sandals (particularly if I’ve painted my toenails on Sunday night). I’ll wear my hair down, or perhaps clip just a bit of it up.

Of course, “dressing nicely” means something different to everyone. I ask myself, “what would I wear to a black-tie event?” and base my choices off of a scaled-down version of that.

But what’s the point? Mondays are full of bleary-eyed drones who miss the weekend, so who cares if my hair is up or down?

Well, for one, I do. It’s similar to the principle of wearing nice underwear – no one else knows, but it gives the wearer a little boost of confidence. When I dress up at black-tie events, I feel elegant and powerful. On Mondays, I like to tap into that feeling.

beach blue sky clouds dress
Like this – but in a cubicle with papers scattered everywhere. Photo by Lucas Allmann on

And because I enjoy feeling elegant and powerful (c’mon, who doesn’t?), I look forward to dressing nicely. That anticipation takes away some of the sting of the weekend’s close.

Moving away from personal effects, I believe there are also benefits to others when I dress nicely. In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth argues that one way to grow and improve is to surround yourself with gritty people so their habits and values will rub off on you. Now, I’m not thinking “gritty” when I slip a dress over my head (unless I’m at the beach), but I do think that dressing nicely encourages others to not only treat me more professionally, but to subconsciously make similar efforts in their own lives.

Okay, let’s take some leaps and say I’ve ignited change. Everyone in the office is impeccably dressed, and we look fiiine – but so what? Well, for one thing, the subtle boosts of confidence all around can improve the quality of our work (which I’d argue is already excellent, but I may be biased).

Looking professional and put-together also makes a good impression on the students, faculty, and visitors who come through the office. Whose advice would you be more likely to follow:  a woman in a wrinkled t-shirt and holey khakis, or a woman in a tailored suit with styled hair? And if they both presented the same idea to you, would you support the one who looked like she just rolled out of bed, or the one who looks like she has her life together and can easily see the idea onto the next stages?

woman wearing black cardigan sitting on black mesh back rolling armchair and using silver imac
I was going to find a “sloppy” contrast photo, but apparently the stock photo gallery only features beautiful, put-together people. Photo by Christina Morillo on

I work at a public university in a state ranked #49 out of 50 in education (purely looking at higher education, we do slightly better at #42). Ouch. We need all the help we can get. Therefore, when it comes down to votes or public issues related to supporting education, it’s in our best interest to have the most positive associations popping up in the minds of everyone who comes to us – and that includes dressing nicely.

“But wait!” you might be shrieking while jabbing accusatory fingers at your screen. “You specified Mondays as dressy days!”

I did! But here’s the thing:  I’ve found that starting the week off by making an effort at my appearance means I’m more likely to continue doing that throughout the week. In other words, if I don’t care about my appearance on Monday, I’m less likely to care for the rest of the week. However, if I dress nicely on Monday, that subconsciously becomes my standard for the week.

But, ya know . . . as soon as I get home, the dress goes back in the closet and out comes the rags and the muddy garden clogs. Life’s about balance.


The Final Step: Walkways!

I’ve spent the last several weeks or so tromping around on paths that were black weed cloth held down by landscape staples. They were ugly, and neighbors kept asking if I was putting in a water feature (I don’t know why that was the though process, and not “hey, that’ll be a path!”).


What took so goshdarn long to get my walkways filled in? Buying filler material, whether it be mulch or sand or gravel, is way cheaper in bulk. Wait – didn’t I buy my mulch by the bag? Yes, and it was a pain in the butt and took several trips back and forth from the store.

I decided to fill in my walkways with a layer of sand to help block the light and prevent weeds and then top them off with pea gravel. I would love to use crushed shells at some point (just for the aesthetics), but my go-to materials yard doesn’t have that at the moment. My immediate goal for the walkway is just to have something to help maintain the shape of the paths and be easier to traverse than cloth over slippery clay.

While I adore my RAV4, it’s not great for hauling bulk materials. Therefore, this process required some strategy. The guy at the materials yard suggested I visit U-Haul for a pickup truck. All in all, that was a great recommendation. The rental was easy, and it was way cheaper than paying $150 for two deliveries (the sand and gravel would require separate trucks). I’ll include a cost breakdown at the end of this post.

My main concern with renting a pickup was damaging the truck bed, so I laid a heavy-duty tarp across it before the first load.

So. Much. Sand.

I bought one yard of pump sand – the cheapest stuff they had – because it was basically a filler. It took me about two hours to shovel all of that onto the paths. A yard ended up being more than I needed for the paths, so I topped off my turfstone driveway and piled the rest in place that will eventually become (another!) garden.


The ground beneath the weed cloth isn’t particularly even, but I tried to rake the sand to a somewhat level surface. Since I’m not using pavers, though, I spent most of my energy on slingin’ sand instead of making it look perfect.

After a quick lunch break, I headed back to the materials yard for the pea gravel. Because I ended up with so much extra sand, I opted for half a yard of pea gravel. Was it enough? Of course it wasn’t. There’s a few feet of path that’ll have to get covered in bags. 3/4 yard would probably be the optimal amount. Oh well.

The gravel also took a few hours to spread; it’s heavier than sand and I was beat to a pulp by that point.

Have I mentioned yet that my front yard is in the full, blazing sun?

And that my house is located in southern Louisiana?

Let’s take a glimpsie at the weather station to see how the day felt:

Oh, it was only 104F!

*cries in sweat*

But it’s (more or less) done! Eeeeeee! Much excite! (and you can see a bit of my bird-luring efforts in the left photo – more on that in a future post).

Now for the cost breakdown:

  • U-Haul pickup truck rental:  $65.71
    • Includes $19.95 base daily rate, $10 insurance (because I live in a place with terrible drivers and I’m not used to driving a large pickup truck), mileage rate, and gas.
    • Delivery, as stated earlier, would’ve cost $150.
  • One yard of sand:  $27.50
    • The same amount of sand bought in bags from a big box store would’ve cost about $190.
  • 1/2 yard of pea gravel:  $38.50
    • The same amount of pea gravel bought in bags from a big box store would’ve cost about $170.
  • Even though I already have the spare bags of pea gravel needed to cover those last few feet, I’ll throw those in here:  $15.20.
  • Total cost:  $146.91

I didn’t include the tarp because that’ll be used for future projects. I can always use a good tarp!

Now that I’m more or less done with the transformation, I’m working on a total cost breakdown of Operation: Chaos into Beauty. I might also write up a list of things I wish I would’ve done differently, though I’ve mentioned bits and pieces along the way.

If you’re taking up a project like this on your own, I have two important tips for ya:

  1. Plan hard (and budget deviations from the plan).
  2. Hydrate.


< Step 7: The Painting of the Pickets

The Painting of the Pickets

Guys, I was away for way longer than expected. Last week, I made my annual trek back home to see me ma and pa, as well as my best friend and her adorable baby. Great visits took up every day, but like most vacations, it was way too short.

But on the plus side, my lil picket fence is stained and lookin’ pretty. I have to admit, the fence took way longer to stain than I expected. I’ve come to realize that I have a very poor grasp of how long projects will take. With the pickets, for example, I planned one night for sanding all the rough edges and one night for staining.

And the universe laughed so hard, it ripped its pants.

Sanding took all of half an hour. I was mainly focused on smoothing out the “hang nails” and any remaining jagged edges. Afterwards, the fence got a thorough hosing off to wash away all the dust and bird poops that had already started to accumulate. Then, onto the staining!

If you have a large outdoor paint or stain project, I would 100% recommend getting a little powered paint sprayer. They aren’t perfect, but they will save you time. I got this Graco years ago (out of stock – but you can probably find a better one) and it sat unused until I built my pergola in 2016. There was no way I could get all the nooks and crannies with a paint brush.

Similarly, Senorita Graco also came in handy while staining my fence.

Unless you plan on staining your mulch too, you might want to use a drop cloth.

I’ve never used a solid stain before. To be honest, I didn’t even realize they existed until right before I bought one! But the pickets ended up being such uneven shades that I needed something relatively opaque. Paint has a reputation for peeling, chipping, and coming off in all sorts of ugly ways. Voila, the solid stain!

An important thing to note:  I wanted to have the fence stained within a week of installing the pickets. I’ve only ever built fences in south Louisiana, so other regions may vary. However, we have so much humidity and heat and so many insects that even pressure treated pickets will start to show weathering very quickly.

Much to the chagrin of my dad, I frequent Lowes because it’s nearby and I get a veterans discount. Fortunately, I wanted a basic white stain – I say “fortunately” because there weren’t a ton of options available in-store. The solid stains were all similarly priced, so I went with a gallon the fanciest:  Olympic ELITE. The white color is called “Avalanche.”

It’s supposed to have super-duper climate protection and durability, so we’ll see. Here’s a disclaimer, though:  I didn’t 100% follow the directions. You’re supposed to use 2-3 coats for the stain to really be truly opaque and off the full protection. After one coat, I was ready to be totally done. I think the fence has a cute vintage look to it, and if my fence falls apart sooner than expected, I’ll know to use two coats next time.

I love eet.

The pickets had different absorption rates, which accounts for some variation in color. However, They’re all close enough that the pickets look like a finished set (rather than a project in-process).

Freakin’ adorable, y’all.

Is my fence perfect and even? Heck no. But I really, really love it. I never thought of myself as a “white picket fence” kind of person, but I really do find it charming. Coming home to this sweet little fence and garden every day makes me very happy.

One part where I reeeally kinda messed up was setting a few of the fence posts on the right-hand side. You can’t tell from the above picture, but I set the first several and got nervous about property lines*. I figured I’d subtly and diagonally guide the fence line more into my property.

*My neighbors are super cool and have helped guide escapee ducks and chickens back into my yard. They probably wouldn’t have cared about too much fence, but I didn’t want to cause any problems in the future.

Hrm. Well. The fence line didn’t not exactly end up being subtle. I didn’t realize how unsubtle it looked until the rails and pickets were in place. I was not willing to rip everything apart and redo it. Therefore, I decided to get some vines.

That little blue box is a free neighborhood mini-library – I love my street!

As my main flower colors are yellow, orange, and pink, I wanted a vine with yellow flowers, then one with orange, and finally, pink. The yellow and pink were super easy. Mandevilla grows great in my yard. It dies back a bit come winter, so the vine should grow lush without every totally taking over. I’m still on the hunt for a vine with orange flowers, though. The main contender seems to be honeysuckle and other creeping vines, which are notoriously invasive. I don’t want to introduce something that’ll require significant wrangling in years to come. Ideally, the vines will grow over the fence and balance out or obscure the, er, less even bits.

So does this mean we’re done with Operation: Chaos into Beauty??? Eh, mostly. I’m still slowly adding plants (guys, I know I’m trying to budget, but it’s thrilling to wandering through a nursery and actually “need” plants). The walkways also need to be finished with sand and gravel. But yeah, all the main structural stuff is done. Hooboy.



< Step 6:  Installing a Fence: (not so) Perfect Pickets and the Women Who Love Them

Step 8: The Final Step:  Walkways! >

Installing a Fence: (not so) Perfect Pickets and the Women Who Love Them

When we last met, the fence rails went up and my neighbors started wondering why I was turning my yard into a pastoral, split-rail wonderland.

Darn, this is rather charming. Maybe I should just rip out everything and move away from the city.

One of my concerns with this fence was building it so that my house didn’t feel closed off. I host a regular stream of guests through AirBnB, and my goal is to offer a welcoming house to strangers from the moment they step out of the car. Therefore, I planned my fence about three feet tall with plenty of space between pickets. The main reason I wanted a fence at all was to help the garden seem a bit more contained – actually, the real reason it’s there is to keep dog pee and drunk feet off the flowers.

Now, do you remember how valuable hard work is? Let’s talk tedium! Because my fence was only going to be about hip high, and I’m trying to avoid bankruptcy-via-projects, I figured the pickets should be on the narrow side. It’s totally fine to use six-inch-wide pickets on a short fence, but for my cottage aesthetic, I needed something narrower.

I’m sure you can buy pickets that are three inches wide and three feet tall. Lowes even sells panels that are pretty close to suiting my needs. However, for less than half the cost (and better quality, according to the reviews), I could build exactly what I wanted. It just involved a ton of sawdust all over my body.

I bought over 40 standard, six-foot-tall, six-inch-wide, pressure-treated pickets that were on sale for $1 each. Then, before I even set the first post, I started cutting them down. It took forever, but it was kind of mindless work. A little meditation with nothing but the endless shriek of the circular saw in my ears.

First, I cut each of the boards in half, into three-foot-tall sections. That was the easy part, and the work went quickly.

Lined up like little drunken soldiers – and my trusty speed square is peeking at the bottom!

Then I sawed each board into two three-inch-wide halves. That work went extremely slowly. I don’t think my saw much cared for the curves in the cheap fence boards. I actually sawed these in batches as I worked on the fence over a week or so because this was the tedious part.

We draw the line. Then we cut the line. We draw the line. Then we cut the line . . .

But I finally ended up with a set of narrow, short pickets. Yay! But wait! All of the tops are uneven! Once again, I am faced with a few choices as to how to shape the tops of the pickets. Gothic is very pretty but way to intricate for me to cut a hundred times. A simple point is easy, but remember how we’re trying to make my yard welcoming and not like the land leading up to Vlad Dracula’s castle?

I ended up going for the tried and true dogear cut, using a pre-cut piece as a stencil. Then bzzt! bzzt! Voila, dogear.

Sooooo I know most people put up fence boards with nails. But here’s the thing:  I hate nails and avoid using them whenever possible. If I even look at a hammer too closely, I get blisters on my hands. Therefore, these puppies got installed with one 1 1/4″ screw in the top and one in the bottom. I spaced them three inches apart – the same width as the pickets – for an airier look.

My routine for several evenings involved heading to my front yard with a stack of pickets, Sir Speed Square, a beer, and some music. As much of a pain as cutting a bazillion pickets was, installing them was the nice kind of tedious where you step back and are proud of what you’ve done.

Are my pickets perfect and parallel? Pfft no. But I have to say, I’m pretty happy with the result.


“That is one fiiiiiine fence,” you might be saying to yourself as you lick your lips (okay, maybe not that far). But wait! We’re not done yet.

See, this project is happening in the land of termites and rot. It’s a beautiful place that’s full of life, but that comes along with tons of bugs and micro-organisms. That poor little fence won’t last long without a stain or paint or a little raincoat covering it.

But covering the fence has been it’s own ordeal, so we’ll save it for next time!




< Step 5:  Installing a Fence: Time to Get Railed

Step 7:  The Painting of the Pickets >