Finishing What I Started

Editor’s Note: In the last edition of Lehman’s Front Porch Newsletter (April 9th), I used a quote from this article as the opening to my “editor’s notes.” If you thought I found that quote on my own, you’re dead wrong. In truth, I had just read the following article by Sherry, and I was so inspired by HER use of the famous quote that I “stole” it and used it before this article was even published. I hope as you read on, you’ll understand why I was so taken with this quote from Goethe – and I also hope Sherry can forgive me for my reckless fit of fancy… S.N.

Five years ago, I moved into a house that I was surprised to find passed final inspection because of how unfi87588391nished the inside was.  This was a house I had put my heart and soul into designing (an effort that took nearly two years), and then acted as General Contractor – something that should come with a warning label, “Do Not Try This While Working Full Time” – for nearly another year.  The interest-only construction loan was costing about a full mortgage payment each month, having been drawn to its limit, and ready or not, it was time.  For the first few weeks, I would look at the ragged edges of sheet rock around the windows and doors and smile, knowing I could do the simple forms of finish carpentry myself, having tried it at my former home in North Carolina.

I forewarned friends who wanted to see the new house that if they insisted on having a door to close when they went to the bathroom, they should hold off visiting.  The 3/4″ thick hardwood floors that gleamed on the first floor stopped abruptly at the bottom-most step going up, and in fact the stairs themselves would have to wait for sanding and several coats of sealer and varnish.  Perhaps most unnerving was that the kitchen was bereft of cabinetry, with a web-work of dimensional lumber holding up the kitchen sink and a sheet of plywood that would serve as a place to prepare food for the time being.

This past winter, when I was snowed in for two full weeks and had a long time to really look around, put the situation plainly before me.  I had somehow worked around, overlooked, and basically gotten used to the place being unfinished and had made other things a higher priority.  It started bothering me, and I knew that given my financial situation, I was not in a position to make any significant progress unless I did what needed to be done myself.

As often happens when we tempt Murphy, the week after I had signed up to take a woodworking class and learn cabinetmaking, the boiler in my house needed repairs, my tractor had to be parked until something could be done about hydraulic fluid spewing from around the gearshift, I developed something that went from bronchitis to pneumonia to (could it be?) whooping cough and after a first tentative week back at work on a half-time schedule, was summoned for jury duty in a Federal Court case that took a week and was deeply disturbing.  At last, I finally got back to my job and woodworking classes, having missed the first four weeks (eight classes) of the twelve week course.

87515681Undeterred, I decided that the stack of “stickered” wood out in the little barn was at long last going to be used, and I took several pieces of the milled, rough lumber, its bark still clinging to it, to class.  My shop teacher, from whom I’d taken classes before, pointed out that the little holes and dust were the work of wood borers.  The beautiful boards that turned out to be White Oak, yielded about 20% or less of usable wood from each length that I ran through the table saw, jointer and finally the thickness planer; and the 30″ x 40″ medicine cabinet I thought would make great practice for upper kitchen cabinets shrank to 18″ x 24.”

There was something about it though.  Something about being in the shop, watching the grayed, rough boards made bright and square, the grain of the wood appearing magically, that came back the way a scent wafting through the air can bring back whole scenes from an earlier time in our lives.  What was coming back was all good, and I consoled myself about the unusable wood by bringing the cutoffs and waste home to fuel the last of the early spring fires in the fireplace.  Watching it burn and enjoying the warmth of it, I thanked the tree and found myself looking around the house with new eyes.

Journal Entry Sunday, March 28th

I’ve made a decision, and it has not been an easy one.  I need to finish my house and it has to become a priority.  One of the things that will have to go, at least for the time being, is the martial arts classes that have been taking two evenings per week and a monthly fee, not to mention a lot of gas for the two and a half hour round trip to classes.  I have been looking into going back to school in the fall, and if I do that, I have a five month window of opportunity during which I can either work flat out on my house or dilute my time and money by staying with Aikido.

I’ve been letting the house – my home, my haven – take a backseat for a half-decade.  It’s time.

There’s an old quotation I especially like that applies to times like this:

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred. A stream of events issues from the decision, raising unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

As difficult as the decision was to withdraw from the class and to have to say good-bye for now to the people, both senseis and fellow students who’d taught me so much over the past months, I felt indeed as though I had a newfound power behind me, and that things would work out.  The garage would have to be cleaned out, rearranged for maximum work space for the woodworking (for which part of it had actually been designed) and my tools would need to be cleaned, some of them de-rusted and tuned up, and I would perhaps most importantly have to allow myself the luxury of making mistakes at times.   But it felt wonderful.Lamb Cakie #1

W. H. Murray, quoted above, was a big fan of Goethe and was in fact paraphrasing something he’d said once, the rest of which goes like this:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!”

It’s going to be a wonderful spring and summer.  A special friend is joining me for Easter dinner and I hope he will be surprised to find that I’ve gotten a mold to make a free-standing cake in the shape of a lamb (thanks, Lehman’s!) like the one he said his mother had always made for the family when he was growing up.  The cherry tree out front has buds swelling and showing red tips a good three weeks behind those in Washington, D.C. two hours drive away, and my big shaggy dog is about due for his ‘sporty summer do.’  I truly am blessed, and I sense that now that I’ve committed to finishing my house, indeed Providence will move to assist me.  I wish you all well, and hope your springtime is joyous,


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Pete Laus
Pete Laus
13 years ago

It has been said that when you are living in a house that you are finishing by yourself, things will proceed rapidly until you are 90% complete. After that it will remain 90% complete forever.

I can definitely attest to that.

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