The Bravest (Craziest?) DIYer I’ve Ever Known

I often have people (including my own husband) ask me things like, “Kristi, how did you learn to build and make things?  Who taught you how to use power tools?  How do you have the confidence to start a project that you’ve never done before, and know that you’ll be able to do it?”

I don’t remember ever having someone teach me these things.  I think I just learned by being around others who did them, and by growing up in a family surrounded by creativity.  I learned by osmosis.  Oh, and the confidence thing?  Perhaps I learned that too…from a very, very early age.

Let me tell you a little story of the bravest DIYer I’ve ever known — my father.

You see, when my mom found out she was pregnant with me, to say that she was surprised would be an understatement.  She was 35-years-old, already had two teenage kids, and hadn’t planned on any more.  My family lived in a three-bedroom ranch-style house in the suburbs, which was the perfect size for a family of four.

House before upstairs addition was added - 1966

My family’s home in 1966 – seven years before I came along.

It was all the room they needed…until I came along.  :)

After I was born, they realized their previously-perfectly-sized house was too small.  (I guess neither my brother nor my sister wanted to share a bedroom with me!!  How rude!!)  :-D  So my dad decided to take things into his own hands and build an upstairs addition onto the house.

Let me put this into perspective….

My dad wasn’t a building contractor.  He wasn’t even a hobby carpenter.  He was an accountant.

At this point in his life, he had never even built so much as a dog house.  Seriously.  NO. EXPERIENCE. AT.  ALL!!

So he went to the public library, checked out some Time Life books on how to build a house, and then on August 16, 1973, almost two months after I was born, he decided it was time to start building.

While he was at work that day, he instructed my brother and sister to go up to the roof and start removing shingles from the area that he had marked off.  Then when he got home from work, he took his circular saw up to the roof, and started cutting the roof off of the house.  :-D

Can you imagine?!  He had never even so much as built a dog house before, and he was cutting the roof of of his home!!  :-D

Yesterday, I said to my mom, “I can’t imagine you letting him do that!”  She responded, “Now, I can’t either!  But he assured me that he knew what he was doing.  And I was so naive, I believed him.”  :-D

And just like many DIY projects, this one had it’s share of bumps in the road…right from the very beginning, in fact.

On the second day, my dad finished removing the roof, and then covered the opening with really heavy plastic since rain was predicted.  Then the family left for an evening out.

The rain came, alright.  A very heavy rain.  And the plastic didn’t hold.  They came home that night to find that the plastic had come loose in one section over the kitchen, and had basically formed a funnel right into the vent hood above the stove.  Everything was soaked.  Kitchen drawers were filled with water.  The vinyl flooring came loose and was curling on the edges.

My dad worked until 2:00am removing insulation and drying the sheetrock in an effort to save the kitchen ceiling.

So the addition was off to a rough start, but that didn’t ruin his determination.  Building proceeded, and it became a family affair.

House Addition 14

My sister, Cathy, and my dad, working on the very beginning of what would become the upstairs addition.

House Addition 17

My brother, Rod, helping with construction.

On September 24th, my dad worked until 3:40am putting boards down on half the roof.  So from August 16th until September 24th, the roof had been open where he had cut it off.  Ha!

House Addition 2

There were many late nights, with my dad hammering away until the wee early morning hours.  I’m sure the neighbors loved him!  In fact, after the addition was finished, one of the neighbors commented to my dad that he was having trouble sleeping without the sound of my dad’s hammering.  :-D

House Addition 4

A nail gun? Pffftt! Who needs that?! A hammer works just fine!

And of course, he used safety and precaution at every turn.  Completely OSHA-approved methods here.  :-D

House Addition 3

House Addition 11

In December, the windows were finally installed.  At this point, there was still no stairway.  There wasn’t even a hole cut through for the stairway.  The only way to access the upstairs was with a scaffolding outside, and they would just crawl through the upstairs window.

House Addition 10

On January 26, 1974, five months after construction started, the hole was finally cut for the stairs, and the stairs were added soon after that.

House Addition 5

Me, supervising from the bottom of the new stairs.

House Addition 18

My mom taking a break from construction.

Construction lasted for almost two years, so I was eventually able to help as well.  :)

House Addition 1

When I wasn’t helping with the construction, my sister was generally keeping an eye on me.

House Addition 19

And if she wasn’t available for babysitting duty, my brother would take over.

House Addition 20

In April 1974, my brother and sister were finally able to move into their new rooms upstairs.   At that time, the bathroom still wasn’t finished, and the upstairs had no heat or air conditioning.  The bathroom was finally finished in May 1975.

Soon after my brother and sister moved upstairs, there was a big storm with heavy winds, and my mom said she lay in bed all night praying that the upstairs addition wouldn’t blow away and take her kids with it.  :-D

It survived the storm…and has survived all of the other storms since then.  My father passed away ten years ago, but my mom still lives in the house today with my step-father.  It looks a bit different today, but it’s still the same upstairs that was added on almost 40 years ago by a man with absolutely no previous construction experience, and just armed with book knowledge and sheer determination.

House 2013(1)

So where do I get my DIY confidence?  I think many of my talented, creative, crafty family members have contributed to that quality in me, but there’s no doubt that a big portion of it comes from my dad.  :)

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Comments

  1. says

    Such a great post!! & how awesome that you have all these pictures! Such great memories. This makes me want to take more pictures of the process of all my DIY projects. Yes, I take pictures of the projects for my blog, but more pictures of the people I am doing the projects with would be amazing to look back on someday. Amazing story! Thanks for sharing & I’m glad it has survived all of the storms ;) xx Liz Marie

  2. Jennifer Loy says

    How awesome it is that you have all these photos of the process. I love the one of you sitting on the cement with Dad..I would say you are your Fathers child..and I’m sure he watches over you while you are doing your DIYing. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Nicole says

    This is a great story. My dad was pretty fearless when it came to building major structures too. When we were little he built a shed that later became a playhouse for my sister and me. It was awesome to watch the structure come together. His confidence has also helped me to be more daring when it comes to improvements around the house. Most projects can be fixed if you mess up so why not just dive in?

  4. Susan DeYoung says

    What a truly heartwarming and touching story! It brought tears to my eyes! No wonder you are so talented, you inherited the drive from your Dad. Thank you so much for sharing such a great story and HUGE kudos to your Mom for being so PATIENT through such a long process! Keep up the inspirational work girl! I love you and your stories!! :)

  5. Cim Allen says

    That is an amazing story .. the pictures are so sweet and priceless ! Your Dad would be proud of all that you have accomplished in the DIY world :)

  6. Joan Wyatt says

    LOVED this post! My husband is the same way. Never had any construction experience when we bought our first 102 year old house. He wanted to save money and do everything himself. He replaced all the windows and even added a window in our dark hallway, re-roofed the house and garage, remodeled the bathroom, put in a gas fireplace, and he and I remodeled our kitchen. He just went online and researched and did a great job with everything. There’s nothing like the satisfaction and pride of having done it yourself.

  7. says

    When I was 3 months old, my parents moved to a big, two-story farmhouse that was heated with propane. There was no indoor plumbing. The old man who had lived there kept chickens in one of the upstairs bedrooms and threw his trash out the window into the yard. Plumbing was added after my brother was born, when I was 2.5 years old. It was an awkward house to live in. My brother and I slept in my parents’ bedroom until my sister was born. I was 7 and my brother was 5 when we were moved to a room across the hall from my parents. That rooms was heated with a small stove. The huge central hallway was not heated, so if you had to make a nighttime run to the bathroom, it was a run because the floors were cold. There was very little insulation; the house had been built in 1890. The room that had housed the chickens? That eventually became my room when I was in high school. I had an electric blanket; no stove. My parents worked on that house and made it into a home that nourished us through the years. They moved out when I was in college and Dad gave up farming. I still dream of that house and the good times we had there.

  8. says

    This has to be one of my favorite posts on your blog. I grew up with a father that was always working on something and he is totally my DIY hero. Thanks for sharing a little bit of your family.

    Stephanie @ thestyledsoul.com

  9. says

    What an amazing, amazing post!!!
    Love the photo of your father dangling up there with his arms outstretched lol
    How impressive – how absolutely, over the top impressive, that he managed to do that
    with no training!!!
    Did he quit his day job after that, lol?
    XOX

  10. says

    There’s a big lump in my throat as I write this comment. What a lovely and touching story. You are a lucky woman to have been had such fantastic role models.

  11. Pat says

    Here’s to fearless dads and daughters who learn from them. I remember spending most of a summer when I was a kid pulling nails from maple flooring that my dad salvaged from a tear down. I guess being around a DIYer gives you the confidence to just go ahead and try it on your own. Keep on posting!!

  12. says

    Thanks for sharing your story! What a wonderful one it is! Your dad had a lot of guts, and I can’t believe your mom didn’t completely freak out when he started his project!

  13. ChrisE says

    That is a great story and your mother is one brave woman!! All the men on both sides of our family are very handy and I have a father-in-law who built a second story on his house too!! I feel the same way about being taught about tools… it just kind of happens when you’re around it. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Christine says

    that’s amazing! Your dad did a great job! My dad was a carpenter, so I know that’s where I get my ideas and know hows!

  15. Sue says

    Wowzers! What a great story and tribute to your father, complete with some amazing photos! He was quite a fellow and you’re following in his footsteps. What better way to pay homage to him?

  16. Celina says

    What a great post – just beautiful. My father was a carpenter and joiner. He built the family home and garage and workhop and lots of bits and pieces along the way. One of my favourite memories is sitting on a step and watching him work. I adored my dad. He died nearly 6 years ago and I still missing him more than words can say. Thanks for reminding me how special my dad truly was. Greetings from Victoria, Australia.

  17. Carla says

    I envy people who grew up with DIYers. Some of us came very late to this party. But at least we came. Great post and pictures Kristi.

  18. says

    What a cool story! And heartwarming too, it literally brought me to tears. I grew up with constant DIY at my house (my parents also took off our roof and built a whole second story when I was a young teen). I think that these experiences must contribute to our own passion for DIY – and our confidence too. I always believed my Dad could do anything, so maybe that is why I feel confident enough to tackle projects and learn as I go. Thanks for the thought provoking insights Kristi!

  19. Tammy says

    Love your story and love your projects. I am a late in life unexpected baby too who had a dad that was a DIYer. Brought back wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing.

  20. julie says

    OMG, I have tears in my eyes. I just love this story…LOVE it! I’m like you, people ask me how I know how to do all that I know how to do re building and home improvement, etc, and the only thing I can think of is that growing up around my father instilled the same kind of DIY skills that yours instilled in you. It’s that osmosis thing. We didn’t have money to hire people to do stuff around the house, so if it needed to be done, he did it. (Boy, this is sounding familiar, lol.) Love that your dad was an accountant. Mine was a furniture upholsterer. :) And that addition is still there. Wow. LOVE it.

  21. says

    Kristi,

    I am so impressed at your authentic voice and how you incorporate your life and how it intertwines with your DIY life and blog. It makes it so much more personal and heartwarming. It makes me coming back for more. Your Dad was certainly brave. Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and roll with it…lol

  22. says

    What a wonderful story. So heart-warming. Dad’s are pretty terrific. Mine was very handy. My hubby is a contractor with a fine eye for detail so I’m very fortunate that way. Thanks so much.

  23. Sisi says

    What an inspiring story! Just goes to show, if you put your mind to it you can do anything! And, I agree, you were extremely lucky to have such wonderful role models in your life. Love your blog and thanks for the inspiration!

  24. says

    I was one of the curious ones that wondered how you learned to use power tools, and to look at a space and know how to recreate that space. I can see it runs in the family starting with your courageous Dad.

  25. says

    Kristi!
    I LOVE this story! What an awesome Dad you had and what precious memories of him. I love his fearless attitude and hard work ethic. I definitely think that is probably where you have inherited a lot of your own.
    Love it!
    Traci

  26. Linda says

    Your story touched me. I grew up with a Dad who was always tinkering at his workbench. I came from a broken home and as an eight year old traumatized after my Mom picked up and left with no explaination – my Dad was my rock. He “had” me on the weekends and my fondest memories were the times I spent by his side at that workbench. He was a bricklayer and coppersmith by trade and built the home he and my mother first resided in. I don’t have a fraction of the skills he had, but at that workbench, he would talk to me..explain what he was doing and why. I am so grateful for those learning experiences with my Dad. I don’t know if realized how idea how that time together would impact my adult life.

  27. Kathy Carenza says

    What I find amazing is how many pictures ya’ll have from that time period. Besides having a dad who was an amazing DIYer, you had a mother and father who were excellent artistic photographers. Loved seeing what makes you tic. Thanks so much for sharing with us all

  28. Mary Stewart says

    Okay, now that I’ve managed to pick my chin up off the floor (that’s where it went when you said dad had no experience) all I can say it WOW! Your daddy must have been so proud of you!

  29. Susannah says

    What a wonderful story. And what a woman your mom was to go thru all that. I would have moved out LOL. But your dad saw a need for his family and he took care of that need. What a wonderful man.
    suz

  30. Mary says

    This was a wonderful wonderful story. I am about 13 years younger than you. I have two children: 12 and 9. My husband is a carpenter / contractor. I loved seeing your photos. I can’t wait to share your story with my DH. Your father, obviously loved his family. Incredible , that he did what he did.
    How wonderful you have obviously inherited his talents. FANTASTIC. I am sure he is *proud*
    Blessings!
    Mary

  31. Vicki says

    I LOVE this story about your dad building the addition to your childhood home. The photos are priceless, and your comments (especially the OSHA one) made me laugh out loud and hurrying to see what you’d say next. Thank you for sharing this chapter of your life. You ARE very talented and skilled!

  32. Becky says

    This is so awesome:) My dad was like your dad, he learned a lot from books and would just make things. He had a little training in electrical work in the army and then went on to be the chief engineer at a couple different radio stations. He also built things like a camping trailer, mini bikes, furniture, etc…mostly by reading. His own father died when he was only 12, and he had to figure things out for himself a lot. He and I used to hang out in the garage and he would give me pieces of wood to hammer nails into. I don’t think I ever made a perfectly square box, which he said was the foundation of carpentry:) Love, love, love this story…your family is beautiful:)

  33. says

    I followed the link from BlogHer…so glad I did! My step dad was in construction, so I know how much work it is (I often helped do remodeling projects), so for someone who was NOT trained to tackle such a ginormous project…well…insane, for sure. But, what a neat guy he must have been AND what a great story this was. Thank you for sharing it!

  34. Karen H. says

    Wow! What a wonderful dad! And what a wonderful tribute to him and his love for his family. The house really looked great after his addition!

    You seem to definitely have inherited his skill and determination to do whatever needs doing!

  35. Mehndi says

    I knew as soon as I saw the heading that this post was going to make me cry. My DIY beginnings mirror yours in many ways. I was born in April 1975 & adopted by my parents just weeks later. They owned a small 2 bedroom house. They had adopted my brother 5 years before & adoption waiting periods were long sothey weren’t sure when, or if, they would be approved & assumed their ages probably hindered their chances. (Mom was 38, Dad 42) My Dad worked on Tinker AFB, he was in no way a carpenter. Within weeks of my adoption he started building an addition to the back of the house I lived in all my life, so that I could eventually have my own room. I have pictures of my parents, my brother, & myself in all different stages of the construction, and we all helped. Due to money restraints it was slow going. I always tell people that I grew up in the “Perpetual Project”. Both of my parents were avid DIY’ers and I got the bug from them. I don’t think my Dad ever thought he couldn’t build or fix something, it was just a puzzle he needed to solve. Sadly I’ve lost both of my parents (’05 & ’07) but I certainly appreciate and cherish the Do It Yourself spirit they left me with.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  36. dodie says

    wow – enjoyed your story ! i shared it with my husband in the hopes
    that he would do something more nervy than building a bench and a couple of
    tables. thanks for an inspiring story !
    dodie

  37. says

    It was wonderful to read a bit of history, your history that shows where you get your ‘go’. I had a good chuckle over the ‘neighbour not being able to sleep without the hammering’, what great neighbours your parents must have had! Being on the H&S board I really cringed over your dad nailing that sheet of wood…
    Debbie :)

  38. Lyndsay Turner says

    How incredibly inspirational for anyone ever scared to attempt something new!!! And touching, I was almost in tears!!! What a great tribute to your dad!!!

  39. Pamela says

    Kristi….WOW….no wonder you are ‘SuperWoman’….your dad was ‘SuperMan’….what a beautiful story!!!

  40. says

    What a fantastic story! It reminds me of my dad and my husband. Dad learned a lot of construction out of books too, and my husband has more real experience but will still tackle something he hasn’t done and do it well the first time.

  41. Beverley says

    I loved that story. And i am fairly sure there is a good childrens book in there some where. It was very moving and lovely to read. Greetings from a hot sticky Brisbane, Australia.

  42. says

    Oh KristI! What a great story, you made me miss my dad, but all in a good way. My dad passed away 10 years ago as well. He was a major DIYer and would never dream of hiring anyone to fix or build anything around our home. I grew up thinking this was perfectly normal. Of course there were many jobs that weren’t done right, or had to be fixed, again and again, but I learned that there are no boundaries when it comes to what you can dream up and build. I loved reading the story about the roof, the rain all the hard work that went into building that 2nd story. I love that your dad had never done any DIYing before. What a treasure of a story and a post. Thank you for sharing. Here is to amazing Dads all over!

  43. Alice says

    This may be one of my most favorite posts ever in DIY blogland. You came by your upbeat, can-do spirit honestly, that’s for sure! Thank you for sharing and starting my day off with a big smile.

  44. Brenda says

    Kristi, your posts are always enjoyable and informative, but this one is down right sublime. I am a life-long voracious reader and this is some of the most satisfying reading I’ve had in a long time. I recognize that spirit exhibited by your dad and it continues in you! Thank you and bless you! Brenda

  45. Anat says

    Kristi, sweet touching story, thank you for sharing,
    you are also great writer, not only DIY-er … love photos

  46. says

    Hi Kristi, I love this post, the pics and the meaning behind it all!! So funny, too!
    The OSHA shot is priceless. How amazing that your dad, never having done anything like this before, went to the library to read up on the subject and then actually followed thru with it to completion. And kudos to your mom for standing by patiently. What great role models!!! Thank you for sharing this story. Amy

  47. says

    Such a touching story!! I grew up in a house under construction too and I grew up thinking it was ‘normal’ to tear out a 70’s indoor atrium to replace it with a sunken family room and a skylight. Kitchen re-do? Of course you gut the whole thing and live off a microwave for 18 mos., doesn’t everyone? Love, love, love your inspiring story!! :)

  48. says

    Kristi,
    What a great inspirational and heart warming story! The pictures of you and your family are precious and the OSHA pic of your father is hilarious!

  49. says

    What a touching way to remember your dad and you were so cute! It was a warm welcome to have a whole home addition built in your honor. I never used tools until we moved into a fixer upper. I got tired of waiting for my husband to do stuff so I decided to do things myself. This spring I’m helping him build a deck. He can’t believe how I’ve changed over the past five years.

  50. Kim says

    I loved this post. I grew up with a dad like this too. He passed away 2 years ago and I miss him dearly. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

  51. beth says

    I love this story. Your father must have been an amazing man and so intelligent to understand how to construct such a big undertaking. It is a wonderful story.

  52. says

    What an amazing story! I come from the opposite type of family. It was just me and my mom growing up, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her do any more than use a hammer or a screwdriver. I’m such a perfectionist that I’m intimidated to start things unless I know exactly what I’m doing. Many times I wish I was the type of person with confidence to just jump in and figure it out as I go along. Of course, on the flip side, I know that if anything turned out looking not-so-professional, I would be bothered by it day in and day out. Ah, well!

  53. designdreamer says

    Awwwww,
    I had a big grin on my face as I read most of this post, and now I have tears in my eyes. You and your DAD are quite an inspiration.

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