September 2017–I knew it was there somewhere. Deep in my second floor storage closet in the Noble Hotel was a rectangular, blue, Tupperware bin of tools. There was an old Skil saw, a drill, a hacksaw, and hammer, among other things. I acquired the hammer when AYA closed in 2003 and it had carted it around since. It is red, lighter than the framing hammer my father had used, and was sold by the Do-It-Best® in Loa. I needed a hammer to start working on my house: that and a wonder bar. The small pry bar has numerous uses and one of its best is dismantling wooden construction. Being the thrifty and non-consumer oriented person I am, I didn’t want to buy things. I had, after all, just spent a good portion of my life’s savings on a house down payment. A few days earlier, standing in its doorway, looking at the pine paneled bedroom, I knew it had to go. It was simple. I would just pull off the paneling, put up some drywall and call it good. But I needed a hammer. So I dug.
The tool bin was secured and the pine paneling pried off the walls. I tossed it out the window in to a pile in the yard. It wasn’t as simple as I thought (lesson One from this old house): insulation, wiring, ceiling, and walls were all revamped. Three years later that room is still a work in progress; I just got the last of the drywall delivered today (2/27). Along the way, smaller, different projects always seem more exciting and help keep the interest high.
Repurposing the paneling had me perplexed. Pulling nails from the pine paneling sure wasn’t sexy but it was one of those tasks to do if I wanted to throw away less, buy less, and repurpose. And if I didn’t do it then, the pile would sit. And much like needing the hammer and wonder bar to take the paneling down, I needed the correct tools for the pulling the nails. Sawhorses. I remember two sawhorses of my dad’s that were small, perfect height for cutting with a handsaw. If only I could find some sawhorses, I could take the nails out of these boards. If only, if only, if only… those words permeated my house and mind. In the early days, I was always needing something to move forward. I set to making two of my own.
Looking back now, I recognize pivotal moments of homeownership and beginnings of renovations. The hammer, the wonder bar, and the sawhorses. Each spurred the project forward in their own way. Each enabled me to move forward and each has proven to be endlessly useful.
These days as I accumulate more and more stuff, both externally, which manifests as tools and supplies, and internally, like experience and knowledge, those “Sawhorses” become fewer and farther in between. The stumbling blocks become less. Trips to Ace or Valley Lumber to get a tool or supply don’t have to happen as frequently (though they can still happen daily, sometimes twice!) While insulating, drywalling, and generally renovating my closet (a side project distraction caused by a leaky roof) a Sunday afternoon found me at a spot where I needed an eight foot 2×4. The lumberyard wasn’t open but that would have been my second choice anyway. I walked into my garage and started rooting through the pile of stacked, used planks and boards. Sure enough, an eight foot 2×4 presented itself. Taken from somewhere, at some point, it had been stored, and now I found its use.
But there are other types of Sawhorses out there too. These days Sawhorses are really about motivation, hurdles, and desire.
November 2018–Maybe I don’t eat well. Maybe that is it. My mind is tired. My body is tired. I lay on the roof, looking at the piece of polycarbonate flashing that I need to attach to the wall and the roof. Order of operations. Sweep out the leaves; I feel around behind me and my hand blindly grabs the dust broom. I use it to move the leaves even as more come down in the wind from above. Check. Drill the screw holes into the existing roofing panel: ok. The drill looks so heavy and it will be hard to fit it under the eaves. I can’t will my arm to reach out and pick it up. It is a move of inches in a journey of miles. I have the end in mind, but the energy is gone. All I want is to finish the roof. Somewhere inside I know it will be a process of years. I have no faith. (spoiler alert– I finished the porch roof project and bought supplies to do another similar job)
I texted Anna a picture of my mudroom with some of its drywall and trim torn off; “Needed a side project with a foreseeable end”.
“A project that isn’t the black hole of the bedroom?” she replied.
Side projects are frequently low hanging fruit: impact versus time/money. Refinishing and replacing a door is low hanging fruit as is updating trim; both are visually satisfying and easy enough to not feel overwhelmed. Re-wiring has become within my wheelhouse as well, but sometimes that is hard to see.
No doubt, projects are not in short supply at 616,though sometimes the motivation to work on them is. There is symbolism in the first step; whether it is pulling a nail out of metal roofing punching a hole in the wall, or biking to Valley Lumber to buy paint. As someone who, given the opportunity, heavily analyzes new situations before committing to action, it is the doing that seems hard.
I see these patterns through my life: writing, house projects, relationships, climbing. Starting is always the hardest part and everything has to start somewhere. And sometimes I don’t know where that is and sometimes I just don’t want to go there. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. Sometimes that step is out onto a small edge with fingers deftly and blindly searching for a crack and sometimes that step is carving out time to sit and write amidst all the other distractions.
Ultimately I never regret the step and I typically learn and grow through it all. Truth be told though, that is not always motivation enough. Crossing things off the list and the satisfaction felt from the completing, creating, and repurposing have their places too. Obligations (to my readers to write, someone renting my house, etc.) helps me drive on too.
But as it is with rock climbing, so it is with renovations; some days I just don’t want to start up the project**; somedays I just want to sit and play solitaire on my iPad…
Featured Image: The two mini sawhorses that inspired this post (photo: Nancy Spaulding)
**I find the solo nature of renovating so much easier than the partnered nature of rock climbing; someone else doesn’t have to watch me struggle and see what a mental and physical mess I am…that is until I no longer have the house to myself…