House Renovations

Ok, it's really Tracy and Ryan's house, but hey...it's construction.I love to mow the lawn.

I first started mowing the lawn as the result of a disastrous decision. One of those that you replay over and over again in your mind, wondering where you went wrong, and hoping, thought sheer will and imagination, to go back in time and undue it. I am referring here to our decision to renovate our house.

House plans were once my hobby. I would read books on housing re-design, and flip though tabloids featuring modernized kitchens and bathrooms in the supermarket line. I subscribed to a magazine featuring energy saving home improvement projects. Unfortunately, my husband did not share my vision, or enthusiasm.

Where I could smell fresh sawdust, picture soaring arches replacing walls, and gleaning slabs of fresh lumber rising to become the shell of a elegant home, all my husband could see was plaster dust up his nose, and a hammer homing down on his thumb.

So we discussed this issue for a considerable amount of time. However, as our family expanded we really did have to do something, and when we made this decision mortgage rates were at 14 percent, putting buying a new house out of the question. I didn’t want to BUY a new house anyway. The joy lies in the journey, not the destination. So, we both developed plans. One (mine) consisted of a conservative, sensible design to put a dormer on. This would add a second bathroom, and convert a two bedroom attic into a three bedroom upstairs. The second plan (his) was a rather grandiose vision for a sun-porch/second family room. We examined our finances and reached a sad conclusion. We did not have the funds to do both. One of us would have to blink. Surely we could trust in our better half to go forward with the second addition when funds became available.

So, we stared each other down. Hours became days, and our eyes were getting a bit dry. At that point, …and I blessedly do not remember which of of us came up with this suggestion…we decided to do both, but only hire someone to complete the outside of the additions. We could complete the rest of the renovation ourselves. I was ecstatic about this. I was the daughter of a part-time carpenter and the granddaughter of carpenter. I would finally get the chance to fulfill my heritage! I would nail, I would sand, I would plaster, I would paint, I would… get pregnant!?! Oops.

We quickly redesigned the upstairs to include four bedrooms instead of three, and I resigned myself to serving in the role of part-time carpenters wife, like my self-reliant mother and grandmother before me. I would just direct and oversee the construction. My husband alone would know the sensuous joy of creating with his hands, his tools, and fresh wood. Oddly enough, he did not seem as excited about this as I was, but I had faith that his temporary misgivings would soon be swept away in the joys of home construction.

We made this decision in April, and the outside construction was completed by September. I was anxious to begin our adventure, and at last we were ready. We began by moving all the furniture from the two rooms upstairs to the four rooms (and unfinished sunporch) downstairs. We made a kids bed by putting a mattress on the floor in one small corner of the den, and explained that they would be “camping” for a short time. They were delighted with the camp bed, and the new furniture arrangement, because to travel from one room to another you needed to be able to climb. In fact, the entire house became a giant obstacle course, perfect for evading parents, and creating forts. We put our bedroom furniture on the unheated sunporch, and decided that maybe re-doing the interior of the porch should wait until we had finished the upstairs. We had plenty of time. The baby wasn’t due until February.

When my husband began his upstairs renovation he discovered another slight complication. The attic wiring had been completed by the former owner. Although we knew this when we bought the house, we had not actually seen his work close hand. After saying a short, but intense prayer of thanks that our house had never caught fire, my husband dismantled all of the attic walls, and tore out the wiring underneath them. Although this was still another delay, I was pleased because it meant more building, because it was a logical time to put small dormers on the front of the house.

Mercifully my memories of this process begin to dim after that, although my husband assures me that his haven’t. I do remember that our youngest spent his first four months sleeping between my husband and I, because sleeping alone in a basinet in an unheated porch in the winter was not a recommended child rearing practice. I think sometime in the second or third year after “the decision” my husband sprained his ankle and ended up on crutches for six weeks. At that point we both sighed a deep sigh of relief and hired someone else to finish the upstairs. I think the baby had entered grade school when the porch was finally completed.

In the meantime I learned something about the duties of a part-time carpenter’s wife. My mother had mislead me. My responsibility did not consist primarily of designing, directing, and overseeing the operation, or offering frequent helpful suggestions. I found out that the two really vital functions of a part-time carpenter’s wife were to 1) keep the kids out of the carpenter’s way and 2) (since kids, like small ducklings, do nothing but follow their mother) keep myself out of the way!

But I did follow my mother’s footsteps in one respect. I began to mow the lawn, something my mother had always loved to do. (Her fondness for the lawn had always puzzled me at the time. ) I began to mow, of course, when I realized that my husband could not mow the lawn and redo my upstairs at the same time. And I learned to love to mow when I realized that the duties of a part-time lawn-mowers husband were to 1) keep the kids out the lawn-mower’s way, and 2) keep himself out of my way.

Since, then we have come to an agreement. I will never again plan any house renovations. (“What dear? No I don’t have my fingers crossed, They’re just in my pockets.”) And he will always keep the kids out of my way while I mow the lawn. So now I spend my summer days creating soaring arches in the grass, mowing in the straight clean lines of a two story building, and pretending that the smell of fresh grass is sawdust.

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