Sawing wood is what she was intended for

Our story so far: We were deep into the construction phase of converting a 126-year-old church into our dream home.

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By now, Tyler had finished constructing the walls on the main floor and upstairs. We were ready to think about the second floor ceiling.

Unlike the main floor’s drywalled ceiling decorated with beams, we chose something with a bit more farmhouse flavor for the upstairs, which would house a bathroom, bedroom and my office: Pickled, planked plywood.

We’d seen Tyler’s cousin’s husband turn plain old plywood into beautiful planked flooring when we were camped in their yard (was that only last year?), and we thought we could copy the idea on our ceiling.

Pickling and installing the ceiling was a multi-step process that began with a good day’s work ripping boards on the table saw. Tyler chose to do this with me on an otherwise quiet Saturday.

The table saw is not my favorite piece of equipment since it carried with it the threat of cutting off one’s digits. But the boards were too big for Tyler to cut straight without help, so the foreman tagged me as his crew.

sawdust.jpg
Check out that mountain of sawdust.

I caught on quickly when to push, when to pull and when to catch newly sawn pieces of lumber, but let me tell you, 20 pieces of plywood is a lot of 5.75-inch planks. And a half a bagel for breakfast wasn’t enough to fuel the manual labor. We took a couple of water breaks, but by the end, my self-talk sounded like this (if you could have heard it over the whine of the saw):

“Think about sawing, not about lunch. Don’t let Tyler’s fingers get cut. Seventeen planks to go. Who left the front door open? Concentrate on the saw. Tyler, be careful. Don’t slip in the sawdust. Don’t pull too fast. Watch Tyler’s fingers. Sixteen planks to go. Do I want tacos or a bratwurst for lunch? Don’t think about lunch. Step over the pile of sawdust. Watch Tyler’s fingers. Is that fifteen or fourteen? Keep the plank straight. Don’t push too hard. Watch Tyler’s fingers.”

Finally, the stacks of plywood were piles of planks.

ceiling planks
Stacks of planks. With the table saw looming in the shadows.

We still had days of sanding and painting and nailing ahead of us before we’d have a finished ceiling, but Step One was complete and so were Tyler’s hands.

Time for lunch.

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Today’s headline comes from Mark Twain: “Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

Tomorrow: Chapter 17 opens with a day in the life of an inexpert renovator. Read about it here.

‘Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel’

Our story so far: We unearthed a number of interesting things, valuable and amusing, as we cleaned up the 126-year-old Methodist church we planned to turn into our house.

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“Advent is a season of preparation.”

Perhaps a church sign is dangerous in the hands of a writer. Instead of just listing the service times, a clever sign keeper can post phrases like “If you’re looking for a sign from God, this is it” and “God answers knee-mail.”

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Only the first of a string of messages with double meaning understood, perhaps, only by me.

Well, the old Methodist church came with a sign.

Originally, I thought we’d eventually demo the sign, but more and more friends urged us to keep it and post messages like “We welcome the Hendricksons for dinner” and “Guess who turns 51!”

And on Day Two of cleaning up the church and tearing down the crusty stuff, I found the box of metal letters for the sign board.

Actually, Tyler found them, and he directed me to remove the message about the food shelf moving across town and replace it with “Merry Christmas.”

The only problem was, it wasn’t Christmas yet. It wasn’t even December.

It was the last glorious day in November, unseasonably warm enough to remove one’s jacket if one is working hard trimming hedges, carrying brush and raking leaves. As a fairly regular church goer, I knew the first Sunday in the liturgical year when Christians all over the world celebrate the beginning of Advent was coming in a few days. Advent is the run-up to Christmas, a liminal season of expectation. But to describe it only as a time of waiting sells Advent short, just as the days between Thanksgiving and December 25 are more than simply an out-of-breath sprint to be endured.

Bible readings this time of year are about waiting and preparation and expectation. I enjoyed Advent, reminding myself it is not an empty time. It is a season of fullness. Because preparing can be just as meaningful as the celebration itself.

And so I posted a message on our church sign with a handy double meaning: “Advent is a season of preparation.”

I could have been slogging through days of demolition and cleaning and organizing, simply wishing we could be done with them. But with months of work ahead of us, I’d be wishing away a significant portion of my life. I’d better be enjoying the dirty, noisy or drafty moments for what they were; anticipation should be as joy-filled as the hullabaloo for which we’re waiting.

I was inordinately pleased with my church sign message. I smiled to myself every time I drove by. One day, the former pastor of our old Methodist church stopped by when Tyler was burning brush in the back yard. She thanked him for preserving the old building, and she also made a point of telling him she liked the message in the sign.

“She got it!” I shrieked happily when Tyler told me about the encounter.

A writer never tires of the act of publication, even if it’s only as public as a church sign.

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Tomorrow: More revelations during the demo phase. Read it here.