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Last year in my March 29 blog “My Sweet Home Has Gone Missing” I wrote about pulling the rabbit out of the hat. At the time I was overcome by solving problem after problem after problem with our insurance replacement process, with trying to build a house and juggling work and family and my grief. Today I feel like I am trying pull rabbits out of the hat but it is very different. I am not struggling with grief.

Last year I wrote: I have to trust one more time that we can solve one more problem but at this point I have to wonder how many more times you can pull one more trick out of the hat. Does a time come when there is nothing left in the hat? Ah, but that is the trick you see, it always has appeared that there is nothing in the hat anyway. The true magic is not reaching in and pulling something out but believing that when you reach in there will be something there.

Today the last two sentences ring true.. The beginning of the paragraph came from exhaustion of the grief and sorrow of the fire. This year, as it was last year, the sheer volume of work done to make sure building things are selected, paid for and on site when they need to be is daunting. I am tired from lack of rest. I am tired from doing this for a year. Every day there is something to do for the house. When I asked to be allowed to be an active participant in purchasing the finishes and fixtures for the house I did it with the belief that I could find nice things for less money if I spent time surfing the internet compared to bulk contractor purchases. We could not afford a “designed” custom home but our house that burned spoiled us. It was a designed custom home because we spent 15 years making it that way.

I have been able to find incredible things. I like DIY stuff and home improvement stuff and prowling around the internet looking for the best price on lamps or the coolest hand-cut nails or door knobs find is fun. It is like a shopping habit fed. However, like any feeding there is a point when you are too full. That is where I am now. I am too full but I am not sorrow-full.

This morning when I awoke after a late night I felt happy. Tired, but happy. At first I could not think of why I felt a lightness of spirit. Then I remembered that I had a complete budget. I had real numbers. While the numbers added up to 15% more than we had set aside for the house I knew what was going on. For me, being over our hoped for budget was nothing compared to not knowing what was going on.

As I ran through the information this morning getting ready for a meeting with our contractor I needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat. I needed to find money or to find things that we could cut the budget on. Having held federally funded research grants for 20 years before I retired, I know what it means to have budget constraints and needs that cannot be meet in any way that is apparent. On my grants, we never failed to make our budgets work. My nickname at work was the “Budget Savant.” Our finance staff would work on numbers then come ask me what I thought. I usually matched their days of work, or if there was a discrepancy, they went back to the books because it probably was a calculation error. I do not add the numbers. I just have a sense of how much it is going to be because I have a sense of what were doing was like.

In graduate school after failing calculus an embarrassing number of times it came to me that I did not have a relationship with the numbers we were using. The calculus we were doing was based in trigonometry and they, not the calculus, were the issue. I did not have a relationship with those numbers as much as I did have a relationship with my statistical model building.

That is where I am with the house. I have a relationship with these numbers. For a year I have worked with a 27 tab spreadsheet for the house. Finally, yesterday, with our gathered information every number in the workbook had a meaning to me. I could tell where there were likely problems and I could tell how things would unfold. When I meet with our contractor he was kind enough to let me interview him page by page. As I expected, some of the materials and even some of the labor was double counted. Roof felt showed up as a line item on the roof tab but it was also on the laundry list of “general materials” that came from Western Building Center.

We also decided today to reduce the complexity of the ceiling. We planned tongue and groove across large wood rafters to be the structural roof as well as our ceiling. We will have tongue and groove but no exposed rafters. Because of the extremely high snow load we had to switch to a trusses rather than rafter system which rendered the rafters non-structural. Today they were non sequiturs, and they were budget friendly. We almost decided to do this a few months back but it brought me to tears. Our old house was build with that method and somehow the grief of the fire was awakened by the building of this house made it impossible to let go of the design. Today I was the one who broached the issue. It was not without some wistfulness that I suggested we delete the exposed rafters but it was with knowledge that this new house is our home and it is not our old home that burned in the fire.

So today I pulled a budget rabbit out of the hat. We are not in the clear on the budget but we are in a manageable place. Today, pulling the rabbit out of the hat was different than last year when I posed the question. Today it is the tiredness that goes with difficult work, not the tiredness that goes with grief and difficult work.

Without the grief, it is not a question of how many more times you can pull a rabbit out of the hat. It is the certain knowledge that the true magic is not reaching into the hat and pulling something out, but believing that when you reach in there will be something there. Today being able to afford our house was in the hat.

view of house framing looking out over what will be the upstairs front wall where there is a view of distant mountains