Flexing Muscles I Didn't Know I Had
In the living room just to the right of the old primitive blanket chest that serves as our coffee table, our window air conditioner unit rests on top of a wooden end table Patrick made during his furniture-as-art phase. It’s a lovely and sturdy piece, and he could tell you better than I about how he painted (stained?) the wood so many different colors, or why the drawer doesn’t have a handle. But he’s sleeping right now, and I doubt I could convince him to interrupt his horizontal morning bliss to add a paragraph or two to today’s post. Let’s be satisfied with the meager description for now, and a promise that I’ll ask him for the construction and finishing details when he’s more alert, and not bracing himself for another 8-hour day of muscle-stretching, marriage-testing do-it-ourselves mud room renovation.
We’re both off work this week, a mutually agreed-upon arrangement that centers on a long-overdue upgrade to the room off the kitchen, where the washing machine, woodworking supplies, and the window air conditioner unit share space with empty egg cartons, most of our plumbing, and all of our boots. Over the years, it has served multiple additional purposes beyond storage and laundry. We have fond memories of keeping day-old turkey chicks there in a round galvanized metal wash tub under a heat lamp until their larger pen was ready, and it’s unlikely we’ll forget the time two orphaned goat babies slept in a large plastic storage tub until they were big enough to rest their front hooves on the tub’s rim and climb out, hilariously startling the cat. I suspect most old farmhouses have a mud room or some other-named equivalent, where the more “works-in-progress” aspects of a family’s daily life could be curtained off when entertaining, or “put it here for now, we’ll get to it later” intentions eventually gathered cobwebs and dust until someone felt inspired to dig in and declutter once and for all. I’m smiling as I write that, because “later” and “once and for all” have yet to take up permanent residence here. They are extended houseguests at best.
I’m fairly certain we moved here unaware of what two people were capable of doing in the realm of home repair, until circumstance forced that card upon us. Now, coming up on our twentieth year as caretakers, I can bring back the right wrench from Patrick’s rolling red tool chest when he sends me on a fetching errand, lift the lid off one of the septic tanks (with assistance, as those are mightily heavy), start a fire using flint and steel and some char cloth, hook up the garden hose to the sump pump in the basement on an especially rainy day and drain the rising water from the crawl space where the furnace lives, and drive in metal screws while sprawled precariously on the roof of the turkey shed as Patrick cheers me on from below. Not enough to sell my services to our fellow county citizens, but plenty of experience to approach the next project with an expanded skill set and some rather plucky confidence. I’m less afraid to be here alone than I used to be.
So while Patrick sleeps, I’m prepping for today’s mud room to-do list: we’ll put drywall on the now-insulated ceiling rafters (really dry old wood that doesn’t take the screws well, stripping them before they rest flush with the beams) and walls, and study up a bit more on what we’ll need to mud-and-tape them seamlessly. In my brief stint as volunteer coordinator with Habitat for Humanity, I do have a blurred memory of watching a group of bankers do this one Saturday afternoon, but it’s less than helpful now, as the specifics of how much to apply and what it looks like when it’s dry enough to paint are completely gone. It goes without saying that I’m not the foreman on this project.
We’ve been at it three days now, and except for a brief case of the cranks yesterday while threading the electric wire through the large holes Patrick was able to drill into that dry old wood, we’ve partnered up well and are getting along famously. The time passes easily between us, we haven’t dispensed with the pleasantries (entirely), and laugh more than brood our way through any setbacks that an old farmhouse will naturally offer up when its secrets behind the warped brown paneling are revealed. I am also pleased to report that we have not uncovered any other relative’s actively inhabited den or nest filled with squirming offspring; only thirty-year-old dust and long-vacated neighborhoods with memories of behind-the-wall midnight scampering and gnawing. It felt good not to be in the evicting new landlord position.
For today, facing the drywall task is plenty. There will be a new floor as well, but one thing at a time. There are at least two levels to the current floor situation—one made of concrete that meets the out-of-square back doorframe, and one wood subfloor above a patch of dirt and gravel, atop which sits the hot water tank, the water softener, and the bladder for our plumbing system. The current plan is to install a floor that’s level with the one in the kitchen. But we’re still thinking through what to do with the wooden subfloor after that. It will be a step down, or at least a slope that comes with any variety of imagined “watch your step!” warnings if I want to make it safely into the living room with a load of laundry on my hip. Again, grateful I’m not the foreman here. I’ll fetch whatever tool Patrick wants as long as he’s wearing the yellow hard hat for this one.
I don’t expect we’ll complete the project entirely before we have to return to our 9 - 5’s next Monday. We have visions and plans to install a workbench below the east-facing windows, and find just the right set of rolling storage shelves to hold bins and totes of the various necessary bits of hardware, zip ties, foam brushes and chalk paint that are temporarily sharing living room space with the window air conditioner unit. There are weekends in our future, and, if the sun keeps coming up, we’ll have the chance to keep getting along famously like a couple of newlyweds as we put the finishing touches in place.
All I ask from the universe for now is that no other projects make themselves known until the walls are painted and that wooden table with the window air conditioner has found it’s way back to the freshened-up mud room without incident.
Sounds fair to me.