The Difference Between DONE and NOT DONE……and why I won’t brush my teeth in the lake.

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Can you pick out the kitchens that are done?  And the ones that are not done?


The text on Tuesday said “We are planning on coming up on Friday.  What kind of progress do we have?”

The reply:  “Will Finnish soon.  Everything done except tile.”  So his autocorrect changes “finish” to “Finnish” which means that he texts the word “Finnish” more than he texts the word “finish.”  How many of you can say that?

During the summer and into the fall, I check in with the Finnish Carpenter like this often, giving him lots of notice of our visits so we don’t arrive to a big pile of uninhabitable cabin.  And what I’ve learned is that “done” is a very relative term.

I’m mostly concerned about the toilet because it gets hooked up and un-hooked up frequently depending on what work the SuperFinns are doing in the bathroom.  My concern doesn’t make tons of sense to the Finnish Carpenter because you could just as easily dig a hole in the ground for your dirty business.  In fact, he suggests putting a box over the hole and cutting a hole in the top so you have a nice place to sit.  And if you want some real luxury, you can even put a toilet seat on top of it.

I laugh heartily.  But he doesn’t laugh back.

And then I feel like frickin’ princess.

I start to say “It’s different for girls.  I can’t just whip it out every time I need to throw a whiz.”  But then I remember his deer hunting daughters who probably have no problem with the toilet-seat-on-a-box-shithole;  they would happily poop on a box in the woods.  And I’m not really in the mood to shine a light on the fact that mere children are way tougher than me.

So I keep my mouth shut.

When we arrive on that Friday night, I’ve given him plenty of notice and I’ve made sure that the toilet is functional (because I forgot my shitbox at home).  One of the SuperFinns is waiting for us so he can ask some questions about lighting and wiring.  Like a small subset of Finlanders, he is olive skinned and dark-eyed, peeking out from underneath the bill of his cap.  Not in a shy way but almost more of a sinister way.  Except that he’s nice.  There’s also the slow, gravelly ex-con voice but he’s super nice, I swear.

He’s lived up here his whole life except for the three months he tried Denver.  But it didn’t take so he came home.  Being isolated suits him just fine.  He confesses that he just learned about Ikea a few weeks ago from the Finnish Carpenter and I assure him he is probably better off for it.

He shows us the work he’s done, explaining what is required to add more than a night light to our dark little cabin.  He’s a wiring machine , installing lights and electricity in awkward places that were intended to be dark and appliance-free.  I quietly back away and allow him to focus on Mike because I’m just nodding my head anyway, every nod a lie, like I know anything at all about conduit.  I’m totally making that up, actually,  I don’t even know if conduit came up – but it’s the only electrical term I can come up with.  Like I said, just nodding.

But I do contribute this:

“It must be nice to have all this expertise  –  you must do all your own wiring at home.”

“I wouldn’t know,” he growls.  “I don’t have electricity.”

He doesn’t have a cigarette in his hand but, if he did, this is when he would take a long drag and squint at me with his dark eyes a la Matthew McConaughey.   Like there’s a smugness that comes with being the electrician without electricity.  I picture the SuperFinn going home to a dark, spare cabin and lighting a candle  –  opening a can of cold beans that he will eat straight from the can and then sitting down by the candle with Moby Dick in hand.  I’m starting to understand the enigma that is this SuperFinn.

Before he goes, I make sure the toilet flushes (it does) but I notice that there’s an empty space where the sink goes.  I think about “everything done except the tile” and wonder if this has been forgotten.  Whatever.  I can rough it with one sink for a weekend.  We can wash hands and brush teeth in the kitchen.

One sink is okay, I can work with that… sinks is not. Here’s where things start to fall apart:  when chatting with the SuperFinn in the kitchen before his departure, he casually lifts the corner of the kitchen sink and peers below at the pipes while he talks.  Like it’s a construction guy tick.  Must mess with tools and parts.  How is he doing that? I wonder to myself.  How come the sink is movable like that?  Oh no…..

“Wait….”  I say.  “Is that sink not hooked up?”

“No,” he grunts casually.  “Not yet.”

I quickly run through the consequence of what it means to have a sink not hooked up, open to below.  I picture turning on the faucet and watching the water run through the drain, pouring and splashing into the cabinet below, unencumbered by pipes or the inconvenience of finding its way outside.

I say it again, this time as a statement.  “That sink is not hooked up.”

“Nope.  Not yet.”

“We can’t use that sink.”  Stating the obvious.

“Nope.”  He leans against the sink casually, clearly not feeling my panic.

“And there’s no sink in the bathroom?”

“Yah, I guess not.”

Now I’m mad because the text said “everything is done except the tile.”  And I feel the need to point out what’s going on.

“If there’s no sink anywhere,  we can’t stay here.”  There’s almost an exclamation point at the end of that statement but not quite.

He doesn’t say anything, like he’s pondering, but I’m sure he’s just trying to determine which response is best.  If he lives every day without electricity, I’m sure he’s stayed in lots of places with no sinks and he’s not quite sure what to make of me.

So I provide an example:  “How do we wash our hands?  In the toilet?”

This turns into a staring contest because he knows I’m going to ask him to stay, on a Friday night, and install the sink.  He probably wants to go home to his electricity-free cabin and be free of all my princess-like needs like LIGHT and a place to wash my hands after I drop a dooce.  This turns into a mild-mannered standoff, he with the dark eyes peering out from beneath his cap and me blocking his way to the door.

“Don’t leave!”  I say as I pick up my phone.  I’ve just driven four hours to find out that my hotel room doesn’t have a sink and I am NOT spending my weekend at the casino again.

I dial the number of the Finnish Carpenter and get right to the point.  “There’s no sink!”  I say.  “On Tuesday, you said “everything is done except the tile” but if there’s no sink, that’s not exactly accurate, is it?”

He’s totally caught off guard.  He’s already in full relax mode and I’ve just ruined it.  “Oh…” he says, buying time.

“How do I wash my hands after using the bathroom?  Do I just turn around and swish them around in the bowl?  Omigod, what will we drink?  All I’ve got in the cooler is 6 ounce Pepsis and a bottle of gin.  Which is probably fine for Mike and me but I can’t give my kid shots of Tanqueray in the middle of the night when he’s thirsty!”  I realize that statement is not super well thought-out but I think I must have been assuming that you can’t give caffeinated beverages to a child who’s trying to sleep.  Maybe.  I don’t know what I was thinking.

“Hmmm…..yah.  Well – hmmm.”

Then I get to the point:  “If there’s no sink, we can’t stay here.  And if you had told me there was no sink, I wouldn’t have come.”

I’m a little bit mad.  And this is very uncomfortable talk for two native Minnesotans.  But I’m also not letting anyone leave until I have a sink.

“Well….” he says calmly, “you could go down to the lake and wash your hands.”

“Where do we brush our teeth?”

“You could do that in the lake, too.  Really, you can do all that in the lake  –  shower, teeth, whatever.”

All of this is true.  I know that.  And he’s trying to be helpful in a way that allows him to not work on a Friday night in the summer.  And for some people these are completely reasonable suggestions.  But here’s the deal:

“Dude!  That’s CAMPING!  If I liked camping, I wouldn’t have bought a cabin!”

I hand the phone to the SuperFinn and they volley back and forth about tools and parts and who has what in whose truck.  Together they begrudgingly cobble together a solution that allows the SuperFinn to get in his truck and drive away.  And the Finnish Carpenter gets in his boat, leaving his family, and drives across the lake on a Friday night to install a sink.

While he’s working, I hear him confess to Mike that sometimes he struggles with how his version of “done” compares to his clients’ versions of “done.”  He’s sheepish.   It’s his way of apologizing.  And I feel bad.  And princess-y.

So I thank him for giving up his Friday night for us.  I know he’s busy in this way-too-short-northern-Minnesota summer and I know his kids don’t see him as often as he’d like.  And I understand and appreciate what just happened here.  I tell him that I’m not a princess.  I’m just not a camper.

And, with that, we are friends again.

That night, I watch from the porch as he gets back in his boat and heads for home.  And then I turn around and peer through the window at my pretty much done kitchen.



(Done Kitchen Photos:


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