Living in an Unfinished House

27 Jun

My house sits on a hilltop. From my lawn I have a view of trees and green, rolling fields that blur into blue and white mountains in the distance. I’m far enough from major population centers that on a clear night I can look up and see the thick bands of stars that make up the milky way.

The house itself is unique and charming. It’s post and beam construction and the superstructure, the posts and the beams, were all fitted together without benefit of nails. My parents logged the wood for the beams themselves and had a friend plane and shape them. My grandfather and great-uncle did the wiring and plumbing. My parents and their friends poured the concrete for the foundation and did most of the rest of the work themselves. That was all thirty years ago though, and “most” is not all.

My uncle and I installed insulation in the roof and put drywall up over the ceiling last fall. Well, we installed *most* of the insulation and *most* of the drywall. There are still a few sections to do.

Before I moved back into the house, a tenant put up siding … on the south wall. When I moved in the north, east, and west walls were all still bare (thirty-year-old) plywood. The first summer I lived here my uncle and I, with the help of my neighbors, started putting up siding on the west side. It’s not done yet either.

I'm not the only one at who's made my peace with constant construction.

I’m not the only one at who’s made my peace with constant construction.

There are framed sections of wall that still need to be drywalled. There are sections of drywall that need to be mudded and textured so they can be painted. The stairs are still the funky temporary things my parents put up thirty years ago. There are two areas under the eaves in my bedroom that will, someday, be closets but right now they’re just odd unfinished spaces. Some of the doors and windows are trimmed, but not all of them.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m sure you get the idea: I live in an unfinished house. There are lots of good reasons it’s still a work in progress and will remain so indefinitely. They’re not really important. It is what it is and I love it anyway. (I won’t lie. I’ll love it even more when it’s done, but even in this half-finished state it’s a great house.)

I’ve been thinking about half-finished projects a lot since the most recent family work party coincided with my writing group’s annual retreat. I left my mother and uncle to work on my unfinished house while I holed up in a cabin with my writing friends to work on my unfinished novel. The retreat is over and my novel is still far from done. My family leaves tomorrow morning and the house, ditto.

I wonder if I’m too easily contented by small measures of progress: a doorway framed, but the door unhung; a chapter outlined, but not written. Or maybe the reason I’m mostly happy, mostly stress-free, is that my need for progress is so easily satisfied. Better to be content and moving only slowly? Or better to be discontented and thereby driven to move faster and do more? I don’t have an answer, and I don’t know that there is one. I could, and probably should, move more quickly, do more every day, than I do. But I’ll be living in an unfinished house, and working on an unfinished novel, for a while. Today I’m at peace with that. Tomorrow, who knows?


Posted by on June 27, 2013 in biography, Family, friends, Idaho, stress


15 responses to “Living in an Unfinished House

  1. Marsha R West

    June 27, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    Well, Corina, it strikes me you’re still in recovery from you’re overstressed, lawyer life. I get that. After I retired as an elementary school principal, it took me a good two-three years to be able to schedule stuff and not freak when I had more than two things to do in a day. Three and four and my shoulders hiked and the stress bubbled.

    So during that time, I didn’t make much progress with my writing (thank heavens I didn’t have an unfinished house! Nothing would’ve happened there either.) And If I’d sold early and had to deal with all the deadlines associated with having a book coming out soon, I’d have been a basket case. Finally, and thankfully, my task-oriented self has reasserted itself.

    Give yourself time, Corina. You have youth on your side.

    How awesome for you to get to live in a house with all this history this one has. I have to tell you, I think HGTV would love to get their hands on you and your house. I just saw on line where they’re looking for folks to be on their shows. Your story would be great, and it would be fun to see how they’d help you finish. Guess the “mom” in me is worrying if you’re warm enough in the winter. 🙂

    A writing career is not a sprint, but a slow and steady one. You’ll be fine. Let me know if you check into HGTV. I can sure see a story developing around your house. I’d put a romantic suspense spin on it. Someone is buried in a wall and the bad guy doesn’t want you to do any more work on it, for fear you’d find it. The sheriff doesn’t trust the big city lawyer who’s come to live in his small community. His ex-wife left him to go to the city to work as a lawyer. And there’d have to be some reason you don’t like him. Need more time to develop this. LOL Thanks for sharing your beautiful story.

    • Corina Mallory

      June 27, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      Thanks Marsha! I really don’t know how I seem to turn all of my blog posts into pleas for affirmation and support. I don’t mean to, honestly. One of these days I’ll write something that’s just funny. But I really do appreciate how supportive all of you are. You’re completely right that I’m still affected by my time as a lawyer, but it’s been over six years. I think at this point I can say the change is permanent and I’m as recovered as I’m going to get. Which is fine! Really!

      I love your idea about HGTV, that could be hilarious, especially because one of the reasons everything is moving so slowly is that I *hate* the idea of having strangers working on my house unless I can be at least a state away at the time. My mother has finally cottoned on to my subtle sabotage of all of her attempts to hire a contractor and resigned herself to my molasses pace.

  2. Jennifer

    June 27, 2013 at 8:31 AM

    I think all that matters is that you’re happy.

    • Corina Mallory

      June 27, 2013 at 4:12 PM

      This is, basically, my life philosophy. It doesn’t stop me from questioning my own contentment though. Instead of poking at a sore tooth I keep poking at perfectly pain-free teeth, just to be sure everything is still OK.

  3. Janis McCurry

    June 27, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    I agree with Jenn. I’ve had a long time to be unpubbed, but I wouldn’t give up on the other satisfying parts of my life for anything. I’ve made peace with the fact that I don’t write every day and my life won’t end if I never get the call. I do my best and I have a great life.

    • Corina Mallory

      June 27, 2013 at 4:12 PM

      You do have a great life! I just can’t stop questioning every decision I make, for good or ill.

  4. Judith Keim

    June 27, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking time to complete things – one doorway, one chapter at a time. Everyone rolls differently. However, it would drive me crazy to have things undone. We restored an old carriage house on a summer estate and worked our fingers to the bone doing and getting the basic work done and then spent eleven years upgrading and adding on, etc. Since then every house we’ve bought has been brand new! LOL Good luck with the house and your writing. You’ll do fine. I love Marsha’s idea of HGTV brought in but that’s a choice only you can make.

    • Corina Mallory

      June 27, 2013 at 4:25 PM

      Judith, my dad and stepmom were constantly renovating a house when I was growing up, just to turn around and sell it once it was perfect and start all over again. I hated it and never would have guessed I’d end up living in the middle of so many undone projects and being even moderately at peace about it.

      As for HGTV, I blame my loathing for strangers in my house on the summer I spent with a bedroom “wall” made of clear plastic. On the other side of the plastic? A construction crew adding a second story above the kitchen. It’s *just* possible that waking up every morning the summer I was 17 to the sound (and sight) of a construction crew making coffee and framing an addition has left me with more than a few mental quirks regarding construction. *sigh*

  5. Lynn Mapp

    June 27, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    I too agree with Jenn. It’s about your happiness. You’re okay with the progress, and that’s what’s important.

    • Corina Mallory

      June 27, 2013 at 4:27 PM

      But am I really OK Lynn? Am I really? Or do I just tell myself I’m OK because I’m lazy and I don’t want to put in the work to change? And does the difference matter at all? (Healthy tooth: *firmly in mouth* Me: *poke* *poke*)

  6. Peggy Staggs

    June 27, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    We build a house two years ago this summer. We moved in to a “totally” completed home. The reason I emphasize totally is because in the past 43 years I’ve lived through enough remodels that I should have my contractor’s license.
    I remember a day that had been more stressful than usual. Plumbers and electricians who are all just sure I have no idea what I really want. They were all are bent on doing it their way because after all I’m just the home owner and (wait for it) a woman.
    As if that wasn’t enough my husband walks in from work and says (I’m not kidding) “This is great! I love this. I informed him that if he loved it so much he was welcome to it…alone.
    Architects love to change things.
    So you see why I insisted that this house be complete before we moved in. That lasted almost eight months. That’s when my husband decided to build a shop/greenhouse. I let that one pass because I got my greenhouse.
    You have all my sympathy.

    • Corina Mallory

      June 27, 2013 at 5:25 PM

      Oh Peggy, that does sound like a nightmare. At least when my mother or my uncle shoots down my perfectly sensible idea, I can console myself that at least I’m not paying someone to condescend to me! I think this post would have read a lot differently if I’d written it a year after I’d moved into this house. I was a lot less easy-going then. In some ways I’ve had my standards forcibly lowered and I guess I’m just grateful because if I hadn’t? It’s entirely possible I would currently be in jail for assault with a staple gun.

      • Marsha R West

        June 27, 2013 at 9:42 PM

        LOL This is why I love y’all’s blog so much. The conversation is uplifting, funny, and challenging. Cornia, it’s okay for you to be okay with it the way it is. I’m with Judith on this. It’d make me nuts. (or more so LOL ) Most of us could add a story or two to your 17-year-old fiasco, though that is dreadful. I always compare remodeling (or building new, but it’s not as hard because you’re not living in the midst of the chaos) to the Israelites (sp?) wandering in the desert. When the present looks so crazy, even the bondage in Egypt began to look pretty good. In the midst of remodeling, don’t you always wonder, Now why did we need to do this? You are way okay, Corina, as a writer and a person. We each have to travel our own path. (I didn’t think you were whining. We all have days of doubts.)

      • Judith Keim

        June 28, 2013 at 12:37 PM

        Corina, I’m laughing…your assault is hilarious and one that would be so satisfying! LOL

  7. maryvine

    July 2, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    I think being at peace is something important to realize. I’m so impressed that you CAN remodel a house. Bravo, girl.


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