"Mom, there's ceiling in my soup."
"Eat it," I tell my daughter. "It's fiber."
The sky, or in this case, our roof, had been falling all week. I was trying to brush this off because I felt the situation reflected poorly on my parenting.
At my core, I believe parents should keep a roof over their children's heads. I was failing.
The house in which my daughter and I live -- not to be confused with my house, which it isn't, and certainly not my home, which is a highly fluid concept for me these days -- is getting a new roof. The roof was not my idea. In the year I've lived here, I never once pulled up to the house and thought, "Good heavens, that roof is a disgrace." It looked fine.
However, the longer I live, the more I realize that what I think doesn't matter. Who am I? I just live in a house some bank owns that I rent-slash-stage to make look desirable until someone buys it. And that just happened.
Apparently, as the buyer, broker and bank banged out the deal, a new roof got factored in.
"Can we live in the house while they do this?" I asked my property manager, when she told me the news.
"No problem," she assured. "People live through it all the time."
Living, I've also learned, is one of those highly relative terms subject to interpretation.
Now the roof is off. And the two-day (bahahahaa!) project is going on three and is only halfway done. The roofing company blames the "steep slope of the roof," which is just so feeble. I mean the slope of the roof hasn't changed since they bid the job.
A Dumpster the size of a train car is in my driveway. We park on the street all week. The beach towels we've spread under skylights to collect falling debris don't catch half of it. Vacuuming is futile because every day, the ceiling rains shrapnel.
And here it is Saturday, our only day to sleep in. We wake at dawn to the thumping of heavy boots on the roof and to strange men on ladders lurking out our windows, which is another threat I feel parents should protect their children from. I am falling short, I tell you.
Wham. Pound. Stomp. Kerplunk.
Still, my chin remains resolutely up, as I show my daughter how to take life's many inconveniences -- men on the roof, drywall in soup -- in stride.
Although roofs fall under that essential category of food, shelter and good parenting, I can't think of many home improvements that are less exciting, except for maybe new sewage lines.
"That's why the roof is the most ignored of all home improvements," said Joan Crowe, spokeswoman for the National Roofing Contractors Association. "It doesn't bring that big reward. You're not going to notice it much."
"You think I'm overreacting?" This would not be a first.
"You should not have drywall in your soup," she added.
If your house needs a new roof, here's how Crowe says to go about getting the right one over your head.
When to replace. Roofs provide looks and function. If yours leaks (signs include water stains on the ceiling and bubbling plaster) or starts looking as weathered as the Roman ruins, it may be time.
Replace, repair or recover. Replacing a roof is the surest way to get a consistent looking, well-sealed covering. A patch may solve the problem for a lot less money and buy you time; however, matching new roofing materials to old is almost impossible. Recovering a roof, where workers lay new roofing material over an existing roof, saves the cost of roof removal but usually can be done only once.
Find a reputable roofer. Beware of storm chasers, Crowe said. "They pull up in trucks after big storms and offer to replace your roof for a suspiciously low price." You want an established company with a permanent address, a license to do the work and proper insurance. Ask to see it.
Get several detailed bids. "Be wary of one-lump sums," Crowe said. Ask for a breakdown. For instance, see whether the price includes new flashing, or if the old flashing will be reused.
Choose the right stuff. When choosing new roof material, go with what you have. Whoever designed your house probably chose the right material for the home's architectural style and location. Three in 4 U.S. roofs are asphalt shingle, which last around 20 years. Wood roofs made of shingle (machine-cut) or shake (hand-cut) last longer, and are common in California, the Northwest, and the Midwest. Tile or clay roofs top Mediterranean-style homes, common in the Southwest and Florida. Slate roofs, common in the Northeast, last longest -- more than 50 years -- and are most expensive.
See a sample. Before work begins, get a large sample of the material the roofer plans to use. "A common complaint we hear," Crowe said, "is we ordered gray and got black." Ask for a brochure featuring pictures of homes with roofs in that material.
Be sure you're covered. Ask what warranty will be provided on the material and the workmanship. Also be sure the contractor is approved by the material manufacturer to apply the product. Not all roofing companies are certified to apply all types of roofs.
Do your research. The association website, www.NRCA.net, is a good consumer resource and will field homeowner's roofing questions.
Get out. Forget what they tell you about living through the project.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press).