Top 10 Lessons Learned: Year One

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

–William Butler Yeats

Buying any house is a gamble; purchasing and transforming a modest homestead with crumbly studs and a leaky pond into our dream home requires vision, optimism, and a smidgen of ignorance about the enormity of the task before us. This house has been our patient teacher, doling out knowledge in often stingy portions, somehow understanding our need to learn as we go.  This place has been ours for almost 14 months, and we’ve lived in it for nearly twelve.  Here are a few of the construction life lessons that we have been taught since christening our September Farm.

10.  You never know what you can do until you try.

The DIY movement has some serious disciples in this family, but it hasn’t always been so for the lady of the house.  I have astonished myself with the things I can do with the help of the right tools and some coaching from my man and Youtube. To answer the questions I am often asked:  “Yes, I put down that floor myself.”  “No, we didn’t use a contractor.”  “Yes, my husband thinks it’s sexy that I work with power tools.”  “No, I probably won’t install your floors for you, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like you.”  If you have ever dared to think you would like to try something new but were unsure of your abilities, put on your safety gear and go for it!

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Note to self:  borrow hubby’s safety glasses next time you take a pic .  Ditch the scuba mask.

9.  The right tools make all the difference.

Sure, you can spend three times as long trying to accomplish the task at hand with that rusty, whiny saw.  But why not save time and your sanity by purchasing the right tool for the job?  You will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.  Seriously, dig out your coupon and go buy that thing.  Now.  It will be worth it.

8.  Primer is your friend.

I must confess that I am a woman who is utterly enamored of and entranced by paint samples.  I must also sheepishly admit that though I have been painting almost everything that doesn’t move for upwards of three decades, I have only recently invited primer into the process.  And by recently, I mean since we have owned this house.  Can I just say, “DARLING, WHERE HAVE  YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE??!”  Primer seriously makes every painting job easier and brings forth better results.  This may have some of you rolling your eyes and muttering, “Duh, lady,” under your breath, but others of us can be slow learners.  Better late than never, right?

7.  Caulk covers a multitude of sins.

I’m not even joking, y’all.  Caulk has ushered some of our homemade-curtain-turned-prom-dress fiascoes projects onto the runway!  It makes everything look seamless, professional, and like you absolutely meant to do it that way.  When I’m armed with a tube of caulk, my handsome hunk lovingly refers to me as “the finishing crew.”

6.  Upcycling:  it’s a thing.

We have recently acquired a few old doors that belonged to David’s grandfather; what joy to learn that he salvaged them from construction sites and trash heaps as he was building his own cozy cottage!  My current infatuation with architectural salvage knows no bounds, so I snatch up doors and windows like stray puppies.  Just remember that a door isn’t only a door; it can find new life as a wall, a headboard, a table, or whatever your sweet Pinterest-filled-mind can dream up.  We’ve used many unconventional materials to bring whimsy, history, and function to our home.   Ugly, landfill-bound items can be reborn as enchanting pieces.  Try it once, and you’ll be hooked.

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I can hardly wait to show you what this ugly duckling has become!

5.  Pay attention to the hidden structures, not just the aesthetics.

Bless my heart, I want the pretty stuff first!  Paint gives me a rush.  No, I’m not sniffing it, but I simply enjoy the instant change that it brings to a room.  I peruse fabric samples and decor catalogs before a room is even built. However, I have learned that the wiring matters.  The plumbing matters.  A dry basement matters.  The A/C certainly matters, especially when you are….ahem….of a certain age and feeling those pesky hot flashes now and then.  When you have to spend money on these non-pretty items, just do it.  You will be glad later, even if it means you don’t get to display the 14 adorable  throw pillows you made for another 6 months.

4.  Hire a professional when necessary.

If, say, you need a new electrical panel and power pole or a new sewer pipe connection for the bathroom addition, for pity’s sake, please hire a professional.  It doesn’t make you less capable; it makes you smart.

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Kids, don’t attempt this at home!

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This is just the beginning of our master bath!  More pictures to come soon.  

3.  The inspector is, in fact, a valuable asset to your project.

Not that I had any foundation for this, mind you, but a creeping sense of fear and rebellion would overtake me when I heard the word, “inspector.”  As in “county building inspector representing THE MAN who wants to make it hard for us to live our dreams.”  We’re independent here, right? This is our land, our home, our Ponderosa, by golly.  Must we really submit to THE MAN?  Well, the answer is yes, you must.  And no, he isn’t here to steal our souls or crush our dreams.  Our inspectors have been extremely helpful on this journey!  I daresay they have even saved our lives, as it was one of the inspectors who pointed out copper gas pipe running throughout the house after we’d opened up a kitchen wall housing said pipe!  Inspectors have given great advice and been more than willing to share their knowledge.

2. You WILL make mistakes.  Learn from them.

Guess what?  It’s not the end of the world.  Some of our building mistakes have led to unintentional awesomeness!  What you end up with is a custom piece with a funny/crazy story behind it.  What’s so wrong with that?  You might also have a little regret that you forgot what a fantastic gardener your hubby is and didn’t teach yourself to can his bounty of vegetables before the harvest came in, but there’s always next year.  Go forth and do better next time.  Remain teachable.


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1.  Be yourself.

 Not everyone will embrace your vision.  Heck, sometimes you yourself will question it and make changes accordingly.  Just remember that this is your nest, your safe place, your haven.  You have to abide there.  You will make lasting memories in that amalgamation of wood and glass and metal and insulation.  If someone else doesn’t get it, that’s okay.  You don’t have to make your house fit into someone else’s idea of what a proper home looks like.  Be yourself and afford your dwelling the same luxury.

It seems that this house is always imparting not just building wisdom but life wisdom. It affirms some solid things we knew and disposes of flimsy bits we thought we were sure of.  In the end, this first year of building and living a country life has lit a fire in us to know more, do more, and explore more.  The best is yet to come.

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