Mindful Manual Labor


This past Labor Day weekend marked the 11th weekend that my husband and I have been working on remodeling our kitchen. We’re not done yet, but we’ve come a long way and it’s looking great!

We started this big project on Memorial Day weekend and have been working on it, solely on Saturdays and Sundays, ever since. With the exception of a couple of weekends we spent visiting with family, one weekend where Mike and our son Jaden went to Portland, to see Flight of the Conchords, and one weekend we went camping with our sangha, we’ve spent every weekend, since late May, in our construction clothes, wielding a variety of tools, ordering food for delivery, and working long hours – and when we weren’t at home working, we were at the Home Depot: researching materials, buying materials, wandering the aisles looking for materials, and riding on the metal carts to load our materials (OK, well, that was just me).

Oh, and FYI: if you happen to have a super bright orange shirt that you’re thinking of wearing for your home remodel project, think twice before wearing it into the Home Depot. Turns out Home-Depot-orange is not the best choice to wear into Home Depot, unless you want others to think you work there and want to field all of their questions :)


We purchased our lovely little 550-square-foot home in 2004, after we had rented it for one year prior to buying it. If I remember correctly, it was built sometime in the 50’s. It wasn’t built where it currently resides but was moved from a busy corner close by, where there’s now a gas station. Prior to our moving in it was a rental for many years, and prior to that the previous home owners raised 3 kids here. Given when it was built, the fact that it was moved, and its long rental history we’ve had to gut each small room one-by-one. The plaster walls were all cracked, the fiber board ceiling in the kitchen was falling down, there was no insulation in the walls, the windows were single-paned (and some were cracked, painted & nailed shut), and the electrical wires were the old kind wrapped in cloth – not to mention an old chimney and TWO water heaters that were buried in the kitchen cabinet area. Thank goodness our house is small and doing all of this work ourselves has been pretty manageable! And thank goodness my husband Mike can pretty much do anything construction/skilled labor wise – and if he’s never done it before, he’ll figure it out! I’m a good manual/grunt laborer, as I like to call myself, and a skilled organizer so we make a good team :)

Here’s some more pics of the unfolding process we’ve been going through – check out that top right pic: that’s our old linoleum floor that was sealed down with some kind of roofing tar.  FYI: I’ve concluded that plaster walls lined with chicken wire were not intended to ever be taken down. What goes up, must come down (eventually)!


Things I’ve appreciated about our current renovation project:

  1. My husband’s skills, talents, positive attitude, and diligent nature
  2. My enjoyment of manual labor, organizational abilities, and strong work ethic
  3. Having access to building materials that fit in our small budget
  4. The local landfill, for taking and managing our demolished kitchen debris
  5. Two of our friends and my stepdad for lending us a hand when we’ve needed it
  6. Having a mindfulness practice that’s enabled me to develop a realistic vision of the project, and not form lofty expectations of how the project “should” go or an ETA of when it “should” be done
  7. Having a closer relationship with my house and seeing up-close some of the deeper elements that go into its creation
  8. Having the physical ability and capacity for doing manual labor
  9. Seeing the transformations take place, both small and large
  10. Getting rid of our old, perpetually stained/dirty and falling apart kitchen!
  11. Being able to open & close our new kitchen windows (our old ones were nailed & painted shut)
  12. And as of just this past weekend: sitting & laying on our new countertops! (we couldn’t do that before on account of the 2 water heaters and old chimney in the way)
  13. Being attentive and grateful for both the current state we’ve been in AND also for the continual unfolding process to come as well – enjoying the moment and looking forward to what comes next at the same time

To see our online photo album of the whole process thus far, which I update every week following our progress: https://deerparkmonastery2016.shutterfly.com/pictures/96

What we have left to do: trim & baseboard, installation of 2 more cabinets and an over-the-stove microwave, re-plumbing the kitchen sink under the house, re-routing our heater’s stove piping (since we took out the old chimney to open up more space in the kitchen). In another month or so I imagine our weekends will suddenly feel very spacious and we won’t know what to do with ourselves, without something to sand, or paint, or cut, or install – but I feel confident that we’ll figure it out :)

Here’s a pic I took yesterday at the landfill  – I love the colors in the sky and composition.

Nothing disappears, not entirely.


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