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One of the truly difficult things in the world is to remember to think about what you don’t know to think about. The past week has shown me how important it is and the outcome of not thinking about what you should have thought to think about.

Our house is a showcase of wood. We have hand hewn 8×8 posts. We have three different kinds of tongue and groove wood, 2×6 on the vaulted part of the ceiling and 1×6 red pine on the kitchen ceiling. We have 1×10 inch northern white pine flooring. We have a 32 foot long hand hewn king truss with corbels. We have wood, special and unique and custom wood from one end of the house to the other. We live in a wood producing area so we wanted to showcase the craft person-ship and the beautiful wood. One of the attention grabbing pieces is the hand made railing that starts at the bottom of the log stairs rising to the top of the stairs and then turning 90 degrees to run 25 feet across the loft. The loft is held up, in part, by two massive hand-hewn 8″ x 8″ posts. Between the post and the log railing is a 12″ face board that is also hand hewn. It is impossible not to see the wood when you come in the door.

We though of the alignment of each piece of wood, the direction of the grain of the wood, how there would be minor differences across the same types of wood as they show up in different places in the house. The sizes of the wood echo each other. We thought of everything but the alignment of the post on the log railing with the post holding up the loft where the log railing runs.

On the day the railing arrived, I walked around to admire admire it and there in front of me was the thing I did not think to think about. I quietly asked one of the crew who have been working on the househouse under construction showing the posts of the loft railing and the posts holding up the loft misalignec for months if the contractor had seen the railing meaning had he seen this misalignment. I knew it was the sort of thing he would be worried about. Everyone stopped working and came to peer over the railing or peer up at the railing. If anyone had thought of it before we saw it they had the good graces not to mention it.

When our contractor came in he and I stood looking up at it. I said, “I cannot believe I missed this. I should have thought of it. It is so obvious.” I wanted him to say, “Well, I thought about it but thought it would be OK” just so we could stand there without feeling like someone did not think to remember to think about it. Instead he shook his head and wisely said, “Some things you have to see to think about them. This is one of those things you just have to see.”

We both continued to stand there looking up while the crew tried not to look like they were watching us stand there and look up. I counted the spindles and the newels and they were neatly arranged to be perfectly balanced to the proportion of the room but the posts below define the space in the room creating their own proportion. Between each newel there were 11 spindles. Three sets of them. Perfectly organized and logical and breathtakingly beautiful. I closed an eye and squinted at the railing and decided if the group closest to the stairs had 12 spindles and the next group had 10, the posts would align. My heart sank thinking of the cost of cutting new parts and having to dissalble 25 feet of railing to change out two spindles.

My contractor and I decided that we should find out how bad it would be. As I told him for the next 20 years, until I move into assisted living, I would see that more than everything that aligns. Today we found out that fixing the problem won’t cost a whole lot so I was relieved to know it could be fixed and not send us into another cost spiral. Still, I should have thought about it.

Our kitchen cabinets are hanging on the wall, not fully painted, but there. I set out to paint the cabinets a lovely historically correct blue. I wanted a nice sturdy paint that would not show brush marks and not be shiny. My spouse dutifully went to the paint store for more paint. It is a small store that sells regionally produced paint. We have bought about 50 gallons of paint from them and have gotten to know them. My spouse described what I wanted to do and they were excited to share their “Ultra-II” product with us. It is effectively a self-leveling paint. You put it on the wood and just go over it with the brush once and as it dries it forms a smooth layer.

It does just that. It wants to find the horizontal plane with which to align. What I did not think about was that cabinets are three dimensional and you paint in all three dimensions, not just the flat side. overlooking multiple cabinets lying on the floor being painted blueWhen I put the cabinets on their backs and painted the fronts and then over the edges where the doors and drawers attach, the paint on the flat areas of the front wanted to stay there. The paint on the vertical parts of the wood where the frame holds the doors and drawers also wanted to be horizontal. In its effort to run to be smooth, it ran right off the vertical pieces until I had perfectly smooth puddles of paint on the inside of the cabinets and no paint on the frame cross pieces. Every time I put paint on a cross piece it would yearn to be flat and leap off the frame onto the interior cabinet walls. I tried over and over to find a way to keep the paint on the vertical wood and off the cabinet interiors without success.

I should have thought about it but did not know to think about it. When I did think of it it made all the sense on the world. When I set out to paint I was excited that it was going to make my inexpensive ready-to-finish cabinets look more professional and less like their humble origins as Lowes-on-sale-in-the-back-of-the-store cabinets.

This week the person from the log home company is driving over for the far north, northwest part of Montana to bring us one new post and the hand-carved top and bottom rails that have 10 and 13 holes in them to replace the ones that have 11 and 11 holes. Tomorrow I will call the paint store and I am sure they can help me figure out the right technique for painting with the Ultra-II paint. All will be well. Still, I feel like I should have thought of it.


In real life we cannot fix not knowing to think of things we don’t know to think about. I think the best we can do is to recognize those moments when we learn what we should have thought about and know that we did the best we could when we set out to think about it. Reproach would be easy but it is far worse to err about what we do know to think about than it is to fail to think about what we don’t know to think about.