Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Fencing June 10, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:57 AM
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This is the first section of fencing, nearest the house, that I stained.

IT’S DONE, PEOPLE. Done. Done. Done.

Last Saturday, with the assistance of my I-finally-have-time-to-help-you husband, I finished staining the 10 lattice-topped fence panels that enclose our backyard. Please note that I use the singular “I” here rather than the plural “we.” This project belonged primarily to “me.”

It didn’t start out that way. Originally, I was supposed to stain the panels nearest the house using foam and bristle brushes. Then Randy was supposed to spray the remaining panels with a handy dandy cheap air-pumped sprayer we picked up at a big box store.

From the get-go, I did not think the sprayer system was a good idea. I was concerned about overspray (stain drifting onto flowers, plants, the lawn, the house, the neighbor’s fence, skin, eyeglasses, clothing…). I also doubted a sprayer would provide even coverage. Would the stain truly adhere to wood when misted, rather than brushed, on?

However, Randy remained determined that he could spray the panels, thereby saving me hours and hours and hours of labor. Nice thought from a man who claims, “I’m always thinking of you, dear. It’s my job to keep you happy.” Oh, so sweet…

Sometimes simply going along with a plan works better than arguing with one’s spouse. OK, I admit, I protested several times, telling Randy that since he really didn’t have the time to stain when the weather was cooperating, I would continue brushing. I might also have mentioned a few times that I didn’t think spraying the stain would work.

Finally, I was down to the last four panels, the ones nowhere near the house and thus safe to spray.

The last of the 10 panels that were stained.

But as sometimes happens in marriages, Randy and I experienced a communication break-down. He wanted me to stain the last panel, the one embedded in wild raspberry bushes. Having already battled wayward ferns, a floppy bleeding heart bush, heat and a sliver in my finger, I was in no mood for his chastising words: “You should have painted that panel by the raspberries.”

I burst into tears and suggested that he should be grateful for all I had done and that I had no intention of dealing with thorny raspberry bushes. So I didn’t.

Wild raspberry bushes grow along one side of the last panel next to the woods.

Several days later he cut away the prickly branches closest to the fence before laying down plastic, filling the plastic spray tank with stain and spraying.

As predicted by me, the spray process failed. Picture a Holstein cow (that’s a black-and-white spotted cow for you non-agricultural people). Not how I want my fence to look. The nozzle clogged. This was not working.

I wanted to say, “I told you so.” But, instead, I mentioned that an apology would be accepted regarding his earlier criticism of my staining with a brush when I should have/could have waited for him to spray all of the panels (his words, not mine) in an hour with the sprayer.

“I wake up every morning apologizing,” Randy responded.

Did I tell you that my husband is also a funny guy? He makes me laugh.

In the end, he worked on one side of the fence while I stained on the other. We finished the three panels as a team.

As for that sprayer, Randy poured out the stain, cleaned the tank with paint thinner, then placed the unit in the original box. “We’ll sell it at a garage sale,” he said.

As you can see in this image, the fence panels are beginning to come apart. This is the third time we have stained the fence. It was last stained in 2005. I was extremely ill with whooping cough during that summer of staining, meaning I didn't have to stain the fence. I expect we'll put up a new fence before we stain this once again.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Where is Tom Sawyer when you need him? May 26, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:29 AM
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Three of the seven panels yet to be stained.

LAST WEEK I STARTED re-staining the fence that borders our backyard. Progress has been frustratingly slow and tedious.

With rain falling daily or every other day, or so it seems, sunny, stain-applying days have been sparse.

Even when it’s not raining, I must wait until the wood dries, and then the rain is falling again. At this rate, I should finish by, maybe, Labor Day.

Pretty to look at, challenging to stain.

The other issue is the fence itself. Take a good look at this fence with the lattice work top border that nicely dresses up the panels. That decorative touch sure looks pretty. But it’s difficult and time-consuming to stain. We’re talking tiny foam brushes here to apply stain to that lattice.

Do you know how quickly foam disintegrates when brushed against rough wood? Or how easily foam brush handles snap?  Yeah, that quickly and that easily.

But, hey, at least we have a pretty lattice-topped fence that keeps our property from looking like a fortified stockade.

As careful as I was, I trampled several ferns growing next to the fence. I also broke off several iris buds.

Under ideal circumstances, I would have completed this project a month or more ago, before my ferns, hostas, irises and bleeding heart erupted through the soil. But given the less than ideal spring in Minnesota, that did not happen.

Therefore I am forced to sidestep plants as I stain. Sometimes I fail to sidestep plants as evidenced by trampled foliage.

In a hurry to finish this project, I am constantly checking the weather forecast, or asking my husband, “Is it going to rain tomorrow? Can I stain the fence?”

If the wood is dry and the sky cloud-free, I stain. And then, if rain is predicted within 24 hours, I drape the newly-stained panel in plastic

A sheet of plastic protects a newly-stained fence panel from yet another day of rain.

weighted with rocks and clipped in place with clothespins. Twice I’ve had to protect the panels.

And I’ve stained just three panels. Only seven more to go.

OK. OK. You are probably thinking, “Why doesn’t she spray the stain onto the fence?” Number one—the first two panels are too close to the house for spraying. Number two—plants. Number three—I don’t think spraying will work, although my spouse thinks it will. He intends to try spraying, but has not had time or a dry evening to attempt this application.

So for now this project is mine, solely mine, as I do not seem to possess the persuasive powers of Tom Sawyer. Tom, as you may recall, manipulated his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence by making a game of the chore.

Could I possibly convince any of you that staining my fence would be fun? I’d even throw in a cold beer. Or two.

I've used nearly a gallon of stain on three panels thus far.

HAVE ANY OF YOUR SPRING projects been delayed by cold and rain? I’d like to hear. (I know. I know. Really nothing to complain about compared to cleaning up and rebuilding after a tornado.)

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling