Carpe Diem, Mama-Judy-style.

Mama Judy's favorite chair with her portrait overlooking the space in our family room.

The building of a house, the making of a home, the birth of a farm….these things seemed nearly impossible not so long ago. A few years back, my husband’s mother (Mama Judy) fell ill. It happened suddenly and in slow motion all at the same time…. In January, we got a call of concern from my brother-in-law. By spring it had worsened. By summer she was gone. We were left with three things: A hole in our hearts. A little bit of estate money. A desire to NOT take life for granted. When we first thought of buying property and building a farm, it seemed expensive, futile, hopeless – yet we felt a certain pressure to move forward with our dream. You see, Mama Judy was a dreamer. She knew practicality, but she practiced ‘carpe diem’. In order to act in keeping with her spirit, we knew we had to act boldly, even if it was against our better judgement. With the help of my parents and the leftover estate money, we were able to afford (in part) the property. The rest was up to us. (‘Was’ being ‘is’…seeing as how we’re only part way there.) We have had so much good fortune in this process that I have a hard time believing that Mama Judy doesn’t somehow have her hand in it….somehow.

You know that feeling, when you’re starting a new project and there are so many facets to it that you don’t know where to begin? This is how I felt through the entire house building process. Not only were we completely unfamiliar with the procedures, but we were expected to dictate every action, foresee every variable, surmise every step. I’ve never experienced such a steep learning curve. Needless to say, we stumbled here and there. Sometimes we pissed people off. Occasionally we swallowed our pride and had to admit we were idiots…..something I’m fairly comfortable doing with a smile on my face and a chuckle in my heart. And at other times, we had to stand by our convictions and convince others that they were in the wrong. For the most part, we decided everything ourselves. We had to know when we were right and accept when we might be wrong. Sure everyone has an opinion to offer….but it’s our forever home, our farm. I wasn’t willing to blame anyone but ourselves if it didn’t turn out the way we planned.

The best advice I received was from our friend who designed the house. ‘Make a poster board of ideas, pull clippings from magazines, think of your end product and work backwards from there.’ I don’t know what we would have done without this advice. It lead me to the realization that we wanted antique cabinets instead of new ones. It helped to design my kitchen around my commercial appliances instead of trying to squeeze them into place after the fact. It influenced our color schemes on our walls, created natural light in a bathroom with no exterior walls, gave creativity to the incorporation of spaces and rooms… made our house unique, made it what it is…..This also backfired in a few ways. We decided we wanted lightly colored walls downstairs and full-light exterior doors, not realizing they would both be covered in dirty fingerprints in no-time. We waited until the last minute to remove the bluebird’s nest from the soffit framing of our great room pop out so we could give the babies plenty of time to grow before blocking their access to the nest, only to realize that we had simply allowed the cat enough time to climb up 12 feet of vertical, exterior wall and eat all of the occupants of said nest…

Installing antique cabinets in the kitchen.

Probably the biggest oversight was when we decided that we wanted a vaulted ceiling in the great room. For some reason, we thought that the room would seem small even though it measures about 15′ by 35′. And we thought it wouldn’t seem grand enough with a flat, low ceiling (even though all of our first story ceilings are set at 9′). So, we decided on a ceiling that slopes from 9′ to 13′, remains flat (at 13′ high) for about 6′, then slopes downward from 13′ to 9′ on the other side of the room. When the trusses went up, we loved it, when the drywall was on, we loved it even more….when I started priming and painting it, I fucking hated it. It went something like this: One sunny day in the spring, as I was putting the second of three coats of paint on the great room ceiling, our bank’s inspector stopped by. I happened to be cussing (quite loudly and in a particularly nasty manner) during the painting of the ceiling, only to turn around to find a frail little man standing in our (open) doorway, with his jaw fully dropped…. All I could muster at this juncture was, “I wish we hadn’t made this ceiling so tall.” To which he replied, “Believe me, I heard that…” But it didn’t stop there….the bank inspector’s job is to inspect the house and make sure that materials are being delivered and used in a manner appropriate with the amount of money being requested from the bank. So as he walked around the house ‘inspecting’ our progress, I spent the next several minutes laughing while trying not to laugh. (Like when you rip a silent one and start laughing quietly but then the urge to laugh gets stronger and instead of actually laughing out loud you just start having these full body convulsions and tears coming out of your eyes and everyone is like ‘what the hell are you laughing at?’ and then the fart rolls in as the punchline…so it was like that, but without the punchline. And then I was like ‘Jennifer, you are a grown-ass woman with three small kids, you need to pull your shit together and act like an adult – and adults, by the way, do not threaten to find their great room ceiling’s ‘ceiling family’ and murder them in their sleep.’ – I know, it was morbid and wrong, but I was seriously pissed as the inspector can attest to.) So then I decided to take my own advice and did two things: I grew up and settled down….and proceeded to say things like ‘gosh-darnit’ and ‘son of a gunderson’….at least until the inspector’s car was out of the driveway.

I think it’s safe to say that we all learned a little bit about ourselves throughout the building process. We took a huge chance in buying the property we loved and chasing a dream we thought was impossible to come by. We took on a few attributes of someone we missed and admired, we added our own style and flair, and we built a house that we love, love, love! and wouldn’t trade for any other. Like I said, we are only a fraction of the way through this entire process, but as I look back on all that has happened I can’t help but feel like Mama Judy has had a hand in making things go so smoothly for us…..too bad she couldn’t have helped out the bank inspector just a little bit as well, poor guy…..

Double Rainbow...proof that Mama Judy is watching over us (to be explained in another post).


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