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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Thursday, September 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Ammi Midstokke: The continuing education of a homesteader

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

Once, I took a class on building birdhouses. I thought it had all the basic carpentry skills I would need, no matter that the wood was precut. There was glue, nails, some paint, which seems the main fabric of any good home as far as I could tell. But being a home owner has taught me a few new things about building and myself.

Such as how much I loathe taking a trip to the hardware store. Failure is imminent. There is no such thing as a single trip to the hardware store for me, even if I only need a single item. Inevitably, I will buy the wrong thing.

This is because I talk about bowel movements for a living, not tools.

Even if I end up getting the right part, I’ll return home only to discover I don’t have the right tool to properly install the right part, which is why most of my home projects involve winging it with bailing wire and duct tape.

Standing in the wood stove aisle this morning, I was staring at boxes of things with numbers and pictures on them. I make the same confused face when I am standing in a cosmetic store, where I also buy things I don’t know how to use.

Someone in an orange vest approached me like a rescuer and offered to help me figure out what the pictures and numbers on the boxes meant.

This, of course, results in me trying to describe, through interpretive dance and technical terms like “whatchamacallit” and “doohickey,” the means by which I will install a wood stove pipe. I am baffled that they do not have a wood stove pipe that is exactly the length I need.

“What do you mean I have to put it together?”

This was followed by math, my other not strong suit, because they only had wood stove pipes in 2-foot sections with a ridiculous amount of cardboard packaging. (I guess I know what I’ll start the first fire with. Don’t worry, I bought some Soot-B-Gone or something, too.) Since the distance is an odd number, my math skills suggested I would have to cut a piece of pipe.

I think I am getting good at this homesteading thing because at least I am cognizant of the reality that there will be other steps in a seemingly simple process and that step will most likely require tools that I neither own nor know how to operate. With the expert at hand, I inquire.

I was directed to aisle 11 for metal cutting utensils, thereby learning other things about tools.

Touring hardware stores is like hands-on Wikipedia for me. Which is suitable, as I get most of my skills from watching YouTube videos and reading my trusty copy of “Homesteader’s Encyclopedia.”

Even with most of my projects held together by Gorilla Glue, there is something liberating and empowering about doing a thing with my own two hands. Especially if it’s a thing I had no idea how I was going to do in the first place – like raise a kid or run a chain saw.

With every little success or crooked stove pipe, I am convinced that my powers are unlimited. I am less intimidated by nail guns and metal roofing.

Most of all, when disaster strikes as it often does around here, I don’t wallow in apocalyptic agony.

“Let me just go grab my box of duct tape,” I say, and then I pick out the one with floral print. So what if all my repairs look like the inside of a scrapbook. Except the stove pipe. I used aluminum foil on that.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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