Sweat Equity

The living room with its bank of Richard-made windows on the left. The windows are simply tacked into place with scrap lumber.

If my blog posts don’t come as frequently as they used to, it’s because my “spare” energy goes into finish carpentry these days.

I write until about two in the afternoon, immersing myself in the painful and beautiful journey with my late love and brain cancer. Articulating what we learned in that transition from imagining we had our whole lives ahead of us to realizing that “our” was quickly becoming finite involves intense focus and serious emotional and creative energy.

When I pull myself away and re-enter the now, I make lunch–usually half an organic grapefruit and a bowl of Ploughboy deli soup, and read the news and answer emails.

I love Richard’s huge JET table saw for its spot-on fence and those generous side and back extensions. (Listen to me, talking “tool!”)

Then I slip on an old denim work shirt and head out to Richard’s shop, where I stoke the wood stove and set to work on whichever carpentry task is next.

Lately that’s been ripping, sanding and painting the surrounds for the bank of eight windows that harvest the abundant winter sunshine; the living room floor soaks up that free energy, keeping the house comfortable, day and night.

Richard assembled that bank of windows ten-plus years ago as part of “drying-in” this house, making what was then just a shell weather-tight. The windows have done their job perfectly well without surrounds, but the warped chunks of lumber holding them in place are not exactly lovely.

I start milling the surrounds by ripping a 1X6 board into three equal pieces lengthwise. As luck would have it, the width of each upright is exactly one-third of a 1X6 (which, despite the name is actually 5.5 inches wide), minus saw-kerf, the width of the table-saw blade.

The first cut coming out of the back of the table saw.

Then I chop each to length with the miter saw, label the back with a pencil so I won’t forget what the piece is and to identify the color it’ll be painted (“LR upright blue”), sand the cut edges with the wide-belt bench sander, wipe the board clean and put it on the painting table for its two coats of paint.

It’s a laborious process, but it’s also very satisfying to trim this house Richard built with his creativity, skill, knowledge and love. I don’t have his strength or skill–nor his creativity either, but I can manage the relatively simple carpentry I’m learning.

The work is physically hard and my energy’s limited enough that I can’t stick with it for more than an hour or two on weekdays, half-days weekends. From ripping to ready-to-nail takes two or three days (each coat of paint has to dry overnight). Some days I push beyond my limits and then wake in the night feverish, shivering and aching all over.

New blue trim surrounds cover the weathered window framing.

But oh, when I pry those warped scraps away and place the new uprights, their blue paint rich, it’s all worth it.

It’s not just finishing the work Richard began, though that’s an important part. Nor is it another step along the long road of getting this house ready to sell, though that’s important too. The joy that wells up is for seeing these hard-working windows turn beautiful, honoring the view they frame, a panorama of forested ridges and peaks rising over town that inspired us to design this place-embracing house.

I think Richard would be pretty proud of me. And that brings me joy too.

The title for this post came from a comment in an email from fiber-maven, writer, teacher, and editor Deb Robson. I would never have thought of the phrase “sweat equity”–adding value through the work of one’s muscles, as applying to decidedly skinny and unmuscled me. Before this strange turn in my life brought me to the necessity to learn trim carpentry, sweat equity was not something I imagined myself capable of.

A view worth framing (despite the drought that has left the valley dry as dust and the peaks with almost no snow).

Now I know I am. I think Richard would be proud of that, too.

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