June 26, 2014
Thanks to our recent eight day monsoon, nearly every conversation I’ve overheard in the past week has been some version of, “What did you get?” “Three and half inches, last time I checked the gauge, how about you?” (Rain, people. Wipe off those smirks.)
Me? I got laminate flooring in one of our apartments and a utility sink installed in my porch at home. A sink we have owned for almost two years. Because yes, that is what it takes before home improvement happens out here on the ranch. The complete and utter inability to do anything else.
Even then, the amount of improving inflicted upon our home has strict limits. Mostly financial, but some technical, because when you live an hour from town it is incredibly difficult to recruit skilled workmen. Not impossible, mind you, but doing so requires serious incentive, which takes us back to the financial part.
First off, we live and work on my parents’ ranch. Therefore, we are improving a piece of property which we do not own. Even I, business-challenged as I may be, can see how that might not be considered a good investment.
Add in the fact that I sleep in a chicken coop. Every night, not just the ones when I’ve been more annoying than usual. It’s my grandfather’s chicken coop, which he cleaned up and moved down to the yard to use as quarters for the hired man. Single room, slanted roof, and the north wall is only five feet tall so I can’t quite stand upright. No running water. Back in the forties, though, it was considered more than sufficient for living quarters.
In the seventies, my parents decided to class up the joint and added plumbing: a closet-sized bathroom and a kitchen, for a total of around four hundred square feet. The lap of luxury, right there. Over the years the bunkhouse had several residents, including my brother, and many left their mark. A yellow haze of cigarette smoke staining the ceiling. Scratches and scars on floors and walls. And most intriguing of all, a hole blasted straight through the bathroom medicine cabinet and into the kitchen cupboard, leaving a distinct pattern of buckshot on the inside of the wooden door. Oddly enough, no one has stepped forward to claim credit for that one.
Fast forward to 2008, when we moved home to the ranch. Other than my parents’ spare room, the bunkhouse was our only option for living quarters. We gutted the chicken coop portion, tearing out moldy walls and ceilings and replacing my granddad’s newspaper insulation with something with a slightly higher R value. The kitchen became our son’s bedroom, with just enough room for a futon.
By halfway through the first year, we were more than ready to expand. Again, though, on a budget. We poured a concrete pad, dragged an old wooden granary onto it, nailed it to the west side of the bunkhouse and called it a living room. Our son upgraded from a futon in the kitchen to a mattress in the living room.
Then, over the space of two and a half years, we dug in sewer and water, poured concrete and built on a porch and a room for our child. Yee haw. We have an actual house. But here’s the thing about home improvement as done by us. We are pretty good at making things functional. We have no clue when it comes to pretty. As I tend to warn unsuspecting visitors, we have shelter. We do not have décor.
You think I jest? Stop by and check out my living room walls, which are the original plywood of the inside of the wooden granary, embellished in a few spots by streaks and squiggles of paint and primer, test patches done approximately six years ago, after which I decided neither was going to be much of an improvement. The living room floor is still concrete, though we did stain it a rather blotchy brown. Our doors and windows are tightly sealed and insulated, but none have trim, sills or door jams. The light switch in the bathroom is nailed to a naked two by four, and the ceiling and walls above the shower enclosure are bare particle board from which the occasional spider drops into the bathtub. Foam insulation bubbles out from the seam where the two parts of the house are butted up against each other.
And I can’t blame this on my husband. As long as I’m warm, dry and everything fulfills its intended function, I tend to overlook aesthetics. Besides, if we spruced the place up too much, where would the boy practice roller skating and jumping on his pogo stick without fear of damaging the knick-knacks?
Thanks to the rain, though, I finally have my utility sink, complete with hot and cold running water and a working drain. Now, what do you suppose it’ll take to get those porch cabinets installed that we’ve had in storage for five years?
Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real