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Ammi Midstokke: The regret and celebration of the relentless optimist

Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

If ever I want to push the big red buttons of my betrothed, I suggest that some various task, activity, or project will be easy. And that it will take approximately 18% of the actual time frame, money and effort most experts would estimate.

This is one of the benefits of not being an expert and ultimately a compliment to those who are experts and make everything look easy. My relentless, naive optimism has me jumping into monthslong projects with blissful ignorance and childlike excitement. It’s only when August rolls around and I’m considering selling a kidney to pay for another bundle of shingles when reality hits me.

I realize that many things in life must go this way or we as a human race would never get anything done at all. If we had the forethought to understand the physiological severity of ejecting an entire human out of our bodies, we would never have babies. If we could visit our emotional selves at Mile 22 of a marathon, we wouldn’t sign up for them. If I actually thought about how many cedar splinters I’d be pulling out of my palms, or the fact that I’ve dedicated the summer to swinging a hammer and making sandwiches for my diva carpenter dad, I might have bought one of those tin-shell garden sheds.

But had I done that, I would not have had the opportunity to surround myself with the rich experiences of slamming my thumb nail with the hammer, bleeding money at the hardware store, and developing a fine set of battered and blistered hands. Also, I have learned that a desire to hike, run or do anything other than eat hamburgers after a long day of hauling lumber in the sun is rather unlikely. And I know why there is a high correlation between cold beer drinking and carpentry. Various other mysteries of the universe are also being revealed to me, such as how chalk gets in those little box things and stair math, which should come right after college level calculus and trigonometry, as far as I am concerned.

While all of that is horrible and lovely, and I am grateful that this “quick little summer shop project” is turning into a veritable mansion for bikes and garden tools and future evicted teenagers, what I am going to most remember about my summer of schlepping tools is how many people came to help. And perhaps commiserate.

There were the odd friends who stopped by on their way through town and stayed an extra day to help lift heavy beams. There were the friends that left their families on a Saturday to raise walls and install trusses. There were neighbors who were riding bikes past our driveway and paused to check in on us, only to be roped into hours of framing. There were friends who asked if we wanted to go play at the lake, then gave up their own fun time to shovel gravel. And the friends who show up with a flatbed trailer full of scaffolding so that you might not plummet to your death on wonky extension ladders. And day by day, a building was raised. More important, a community of memories was made.

Just like any birth, I’ll forget the pain and no doubt be trying to tell the Bearded Man of Reason that the sauna I want to build next summer can be made entirely of reclaimed wood in a single weekend. And while most of what I might assume about the project is not correct, there is one thing I know for sure: We won’t be doing it alone. The Do-It-Yourself movement is mostly supported by friends and family who enable one’s undaunted optimism.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at ammimarie@gmail.com. Her inbox is currently filled with neglected letters, but she promises to respond as soon as the siding gets up.

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