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Every year, when the first breath of winter hits the valley, a caring resident writes a reminder about snowblower safety based on his own experience. He explains that in a contest between machine and clog-clearing hand, the hand will lose - fingers. It’s a selfless gift to the community and, after wincing, I always want to follow his lead.

Since I’ve never owned a snowblower - or been able to get one to start - I can’t add to his caring caution. But based on experience nearly as traumatic, I can offer this:

Dear Fellow Methowians,

Spring is just around the corner - a time for lambs, seed catalogs and the joy of rediscovering traction. It’s also the season for building that home of your dreams. Like many, you fell in love with the Methow, found the handful of acres that spoke to you, paced through the well drilling, ground down pencils sketching floor plans (after giving up on the incomprehensible “easy home design” software), asked everyone at the bakery who the best contractor is, and then . . . pulled the trigger (the one that mobilizes the excavators).

Congratulations. You have a 0.34% chance of this being an enjoyable experience. I understand - I’ve been to that bubbly, positive place too. But there are greater forces at work now and I want to help by sharing these simple tips:

ADVANCE FIGHTING. The point is to quickly get to where nothing seems worth fighting about any more - and still be together. Argue early, argue hard. Start with punches like:

  • “You’re acting just like your mother.”
  • “Has your butt always been that big?”
  • “Hey Doughboy, have you noticed what a hunk our contractor is?”
  • “I think I forgot our anniversary because it’s not important to me.”

Then zero in with more topical standoff starters:

  • "I’ve decided on a hunter orange front door and lime green trim.”
  • “The man cave needs to be designed for cuddling.”
  • “I want a workbench right in the living room.”

DECISIONS IN REVERSE: Normally the floor plan comes first and details left for later. Big mistake. Start with the color of the switch plates (hint: they will be beige, or “light almond” if you want to spend more for the same thing). From there move back through the 6,000 other decisions you’ll face leaving less important ones - like size and shape of the house - until last.

Grout color, faucet finish, window shade pleat size, cabinet handles - that’s the sea of negotiation to navigate first. If you get stuck on something critical like color of the little crank thingy on the window in the laundry room, just veer away for a bit by saying, “I never thought you’d have so many ugly wrinkles at this age.” If you wear down to where none of the decisions seem important, congratulations. Leave the rest to your builder . . . or your Ouija board.

MONEY FLOW: It flows out. Like spring runoff. Early conditioning is important. Toss a bucket of twenties into the air on a windy day. Stop by the bakery for coffee and pick up the tab for every person there. Practice writing checks in amounts that spill out of the little box and continue down the side.

During our construction phase I suggested filling a 50 gallon drum with cash every day so the crew could dip in as they left. I thought it was a great joke. They thought it was a great idea but wondered if 50 gallons would be enough.

ACCEPT YOUR ROLE: Try as you might, you are never going to look as good in a tool belt as that hunky crew. You are also long past being able to carry sheets of plywood like they were big graham crackers. They are called builders for a reason. When they use the nail gun, one nail comes out and goes where it’s intended. When you try, three nails come out, one in the wrong place and the other two whizzing through the job site like little law suit warheads.

By not helping, other than coffee and cleanup, you will save yourself from pain and embarrassment AND help save your relationship by not adding injury and exhaustion to your busy arguing schedule. You’ll also save money by not taking up 20% of the crew’s time asking them how to do everything.

TEMPORARY QUARTERS: Take the total square footage of your new place and divide by 10. That is the maximum size of the place you should live in during construction. Make sure it’s in a bad location and favor any place that has:

  • noisy appliances that barely work
  • water damaged wood paneling walls
  • buckled flooring (or orange shag carpet)
  • windows that won’t open, doors that won’t stay closed
  • bare light bulbs, half of them burned out
  • 3-6 pounds of water pressure

The idea is to keep your new place always looking like a palace, particularly those beige switch covers. That way, when you run out of money and have to move in with sawhorse kitchen counters and a visqueen shower, you’ll still love it.

There is, of course, an even simpler approach. Rent a small dumpster, put all the money you have in it plus 20% (the local banks are familiar with this special need), lock it, and give the key and a power of attorney to your contractor. Then take a 9 month vacation to someplace like the Ross Ice Shelf or Pitcairn Island. Leave your phone behind and don’t forget the temporary quarters rule.

I know there are some out there chuckling at such superficial silliness. You are the ones who breezed through housebuilding with nary a wrinkle in your relationship. I admire you. And I’ll bet you are very nice . . . for androids.


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My favorite response to my wife Avis when we were designing and building our house was "Sorry dear, that would not meet codes"... Later, this response shortened to just "Not Code"... Worked most of the time... :-) We started in 2003... Getting just about finished now... And it is BUILT TO CODE... lol.

Ray Peterson