Friday, March 31, 2006

Have you ever had the opportunity to tear down drywall? A great activity for taking out any pent up frustrations. Even though the methods aren't that sophisticated, I still needed instruction, being a drywall demolition virgin.

You have to swing the hammer pretty hard to crash through the drywall, particularly if there is a stud there. I keep having a tendency to grasp the hammer too high, limiting my range of motion and force of the blow. I'm not sure if the hammer is too thick or my hand is too small. Either way, it took me a few swings and a couple of pointers from the guys to really get some results.

The hardest part of the demolition was not the tearing down of the wall itself or even the clawing out of the nails that held it in place. The real grunt work came when we had to load up the trashcans with the rubble and haul them up the steeply sloped backyard to the trailer. My right arm was a bit more sore than the left arm the next day though. I'm going to have to learn to swing with both hands if I keep this up. But I guess we're all a little lopsided so maybe it doesn't matter.

(You guys catching all the metaphors here, or do I have to point them out? I believe this post has something for everyone.)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I'm becoming more accustomed to the curious double takes on the job. Other subcontractors and the customers are unsure about the girl on the job. The elderly woman whose bathroom I am helping rennovate seemed confused when I arrived at her house. She thought maybe I was the general contractor's daughter, although he doesn't have one and is couple years younger than I am. She was more surprised to see me actually doing work, like maybe I was an inspector or supervisor. She even started asking me structural questions about her house as if I was the contractor.

She caught me out by the trailer where I was trying to balance the weight in the trashcans of concrete rubble, tile & drywall. She had a lot of questions about how I came into this job and what were my intentions. She seemed delighted and fascinated and said that she would have loved to have done this when she was younger. It struck me that maybe she had always done what she was supposed to do, what was expected of her. I don't want to be looking back with those regrets.

It's tougher to explain my presence to Spanish speaking subcontractors. I need to learn a few phrases. Sometimes I know the subcontractors have asked about the "chick on the job." Other times they just look over and I can see they are surprised. I can't stop and talk to everyone, even though I like talking to strangers.

I am enjoying being out of bounds a little bit. The step over the line wasn't that big, since I had been hanging out at the boundary for a while. I lived inside the bounds for a long time and it surely didn't do much for me. It's very freeing outside the box and I don't mind explaining to the curious. I like curious people.

I'd love to hear about you guys. Are you in bounds or out? Curious or bored? What's just over your lines? Who drew all those lines anyway?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Today the highlight of the day was without a doubt the lunch break - kinda like in school when lunch was your favorite subject.

The fun bathroom tear-out of yesterday is on hold while the plumbers do their thing. I had to get to some office work accomplished to move forward on the really cool project we're developing. So I really don't mind because the end goal will be so fun. But after a day like yesterday where I got to smash down a wall and jack hammer up a floor, a couple hours in a cool basement office were a tough adjustment.

The construction boy lunches present an interesting variety. There's a whole range from the healthy seaweed milkshakes to the 7-11 drive-by bucket of soda and hot dog. I tend to have meals similar to whatever I packed that morning for my kids: peanutbutter (I go ahead and leave my crusts on,) or ham & cheese sandwich. Some days I don't eat until I get in the car to leave. Some days I get to sit on the grass for a few minutes.

Today was a beautiful sunny day in the low 60's. I stole an hour with a friend who also needed an escape from the stress of her daily grind. I brought over some burritos and we climbed up on the roof of her house - just like I did as a teenager. We took in a little solar therapy and let our inner bitches have some air time together.

I hope you all have a friend like that. If you do, see if you can find a ladder and hit the roof. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fun day at work - demolition.

Today commence the first job that I started at the beginning. We are gutting a bathroom, replacing everything except the tub. Due to some unusual quirk in the building of this house 50 years ago, there was an extra layer of concrete in this basement bathroom that had to be taken up - with a jackhammer!

As jack hammers go, this was a smaller one, but it was still quite a formidable tool called an electric hammer drill. It required a lot of protection: ears, eyes, respiration, gloves. Concrete debris and powder was everywhere. Definitely the messiest job I've been on yet. The concrete dust really stiffens up your hair too. I had to break out my hairband.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to operate that thing.

I had been watching Stan tearing up the floor. Not much communication can go on with all the noise and various face coverings. Through sign language I was handed the jack hammer. Usually I ask a couple of questions before trying a new tool for the first time, but all I could get this time was pointing. So I grabbed both handles and dug in.

That thing was heavy and the slippery tile surface required my attention to keep the hammer away from the tub and everyone's feet in this small room. I had to lean all my weight onto it to bore through the concrete and to control the vibrations. Between the sweat from the physical effort, the dust, the sunglasses I was using for eye protection, and the steamy breath from my face mask, I was having a hard time seeing my work. I cleared out a few passes and handed it back over. It was hard work. Even though it was totally cool to be jack hammering and I could have done more if I had to, it was weird being watched so closely with no feedback. I find that I am still more self-conscious on this job than I mean to be.

I suppose I am more comfortable doing some work with some tools in private.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I got an itchy sawdust shower today. I was down in that ugly closet mostly going for more tools so my co-worker could cut a hole in the ceiling for an air vent that would come out in the kitchen above. Once up on the ladder in that tight space, it is annoying to get up and down for other tools. But since you can't see what you're doing until you are up on the ladder, you don't know what tools you need until you are wedged in there.

Although the gopher duty is not necessarily exciting, today it took a bit of an exciting turn when the tool I needed, the jigsaw, was up with the other guys on the roof. They were putting in a solar tube. I think Harry was surprised to see me walk up there and ask if he was done with the jigsaw, which he was. It's interesting that not only is one level's ceiling another level's floor, but even the roof can become a floor in a sense. It was a nice warm day to be out there on the top of things.

The floor/ceiling hole that we cut was started by Don with the Fein Tool and then the jig saw. But there were two layers of thick plywood and a layer of vinyl on the top. He cut away the first layer and let me do the next part. Even with goggles on, the sawdust got in my eyes, mouth, ears, and all over my clothes. It wasn't a ton, but that stuff is hard to shake all out of you. And because of the tight quarters, you couldn't really move out from under it.

The Fein Tool wasn't performing great, partly because the blade was dull. So I found a new one with a very helpful warning sticker on it suggesting we not cut off our fingers with it. Good advice. But even with the new blade I had a recurring problem. The screw that held the blade in place kept loosening, maybe because of the overhead angle or the thickness of the wood I was cutting. Since I was up on the ladder in the closet, Don tightened my screw so I could get back to work.

Don't you just hate it when the screw loosens and the blade goes limp and you have to stop and tighten things up again? But it was worth it since I did get to break through to the next level.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

I finally figured out how to get a counter on my blog. It's way at the bottom. But now I feel more pressure not to skip a post because I can see how many people have clicked on my blog. So I'm sorry for skipping yesterday, but it has been a great and busy weekend. Construction Girls have fun weekends.

I went out dancing with a group of friends in the nearby big city and I noticed the bouncer at the door was discriminating between the men and women entering the club. You guys all know I don't want anyone to assume I can't do something because I'm a girl. Although special treatment can be an advantage at times, I can't stand discrimination. Anyway, when I got to the front of the line (finally,) I held open my jacket for the pat down the strapping young bouncer had been giving to every guy who entered the club. He nodded for me to go in without the pat down as I had observed him doing to all the women in line ahead of me. But I would have none of his pretentious chivalry. I insisted on equal treatment, although I think he frisked the guys a little quicker than he did me. He was probably just being thorough.

I was suspicious that he had not been as thorough with many of the men dancing there that evening. I decided to take it upon myself to double check his cursory frisking techniques. The whole club might have been at risk. Somebody had to do it, but I felt up to the task. Well, I didn't get to everybody, but I did my part. The random sampling I tested proved that he had done fine.

But maybe it was a fluke. I should probably go back to spot check his work on another night. Any of you girls want to come help me?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Have you ever noticed how much more quickly things come undone than get done?
Today we had a customer change his mind about the shoe mold in his addition. (I have been trying to learn the difference between toe kick, shoe mold, and baseboard. Just remember that toe mold is not something anyone wants, although I hear they have medicine for that now.) So even though one of the guys spent a whole day measuring the trim and cutting the angles to piece together this large room's trim, the customer didn't like the color once it was all in place. Nothing personal. The work was good. No one was mad.

I got to remove all the shoe mold and nip out the nails left in the trim or the baseboard. It's a good thing I had all that practice with the end nippers. I used a little flat bar to pry off all the trim. I'm sure it was a small fraction of the time it took to install.

Isn't that true of many things? I know, for example, that a big family dinner for a holiday takes days of planning and coordination, not to mention cooking and serving. But the actual meal is pretty much over in minutes. I have had the experience with weight loss too: months of diet and exercise undone over summer vacation. And how about relationships? There is so much invested in the initial stages and it can all come crashing in and end rather abruptly.

Anyway, I didn't mind pulling it up. I was glad I had toughened up my hand on the nippers before. Who needs delicate hand anyway? Not construction girls. Building stuff and tearing things up makes you tougher.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Although you probably don't think about this very often (unless you are a contractor,) there is a lot of stuff between the ceiling of one room and the floor above it. Not only is it crowded with wood framing and insulation, but there are networks of copper and PVC pipes, duct (not duck) work, electric wires, and other cables and such. None of it is pretty, which is why it is hidden. But every house has a closet or furnace room where a lot of that is accessible. When it's not accessible, holes have to be cut in the drywall which can make a big mess that has to be repaired.

So today "we" were measuring the ductwork in the ugly closet where that stuff is readily accessible. (Again, I was just watching as Don was explaining what he was doing and why.) You have to be able to get to those ducts and pipes and wires you'd rather keep hidden because those inner workings make the air breathable, the toilets flush, the lights turn on, the televisions get their pictures. They are so important that when something goes wrong with any part of that network and you can't get to it, you have to cut holes to access it if it's sealed up behind drywall. When this family's beautiful addition is complete and they are showing it to their friends, I'm sure they will not bring their guests down to the furnace room to show how the air duct had to be re-routed with flex-duct to venthilate that room.

I got thinking about the necessity of closets like this in a house and the flip-side of this metaphor.

We all have parts of our lives we'd like to keep out of the view of others, the guests in our lives. These pieces that we build our lives around are not necessarily pretty, but they help us function. They help us breathe, wash, get information, and flush away the shit. We have to have access to the ugly parts of our lives so that our current situation can function. Now your family might know all about the ugly closet and how those wires are crossed. You may have had to call in an expert to re-rout your air ducts - especially if you are building. But we all have that: a functional or even beautiful front for public viewing, and a whole bunch of crap that makes that possible. If we seal up the ugly parts, eventually, we will have to make a mess to fix it or possibly ruin more of the house by letting the leaky pipe or moldy air duct go unchecked. We just need to remember to give each other a break about that.

Hopefully if you have to work in a tight space like that with someone else, it's with someone who knows what they are doing and doesn't mind getting close. I know it makes my job more pleasant.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Today I met the guys outside the house with the beautiful new kitchen to fix a minor leak. Neither of the owners' cars were there, so we used the time to clean out and organize the trailer and van that serve as the mobile construction shop. I learned more about what the little widgets, gizmos, and hoochies are. I might also now be able to find more things I'm sent to look for. I still have a big learning curve ahead of me. I am finalizing my official training schedule so I can be sure to cover some of the more basic skills necessary to house maintenance.

Anyway, after cleaning and organizing for a while, the owner returned with her groceries. She had left a purple note on the door inviting us in while she was out. Her front door faces sideways from the street, so we hadn't seen it because none of us actually went up to the front door and looked. We drew our conclusions at a distance and were mistaken. Once in, the repair took only one tool and a few minutes to rectify. Stan spent longer watching the trap under the sink to be sure that the leak didn't recur than he did fixing the drip.

So the moral of the story is that you should get yourself to the front door. Opportunities await. You can't make an informed decision from too far away. If, however, you are delayed from entering due to obstacles or ignorance, you don't have to sit idly by. Use this time to purge away what isn't necessary and to find a place for all the little hoochies you might need. You'll get in eventually.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

An important part of house maintenance is a service contract for your HVAC system. Even though it is the first day of spring, it got pretty cold last night. There was even some snow today. So you can imagine my frustration when I realized that my furnace wasn't working. By the time I woke up this morning, my house was a chilly 62 degrees.

Since I don't have anyone here to help heat me back up, and the space heater can only work so hard, I had to call my service contractor. They sent someone right over. It turns out my old igniter was cracked. Maybe it got too hot recently. But now I have a nice new igniter and can get as warm as I want to.

So if you don't have a service contract, you should get one. It is good to have someone to call when you need igniting.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I finally got to read the book recommended in a comment back in February called "Self-Made Man" by Nora Vincent. Great recommendation.

The author, Nora, disguises herself as a man and "infiltrates" certain situations to learn what she can about the differences between the sexes. What she learns often surprises her as does how the whole experience affects her. Although there are some big differences in Nora's experience and mine, there are many similarities. She certainly is starting in a different place than I have and with different motives. Her conclusions, however, I would be comforting to both men and women and how they relate to each other.

As I have worked in this male dominated field, I have made some observations about how men's interactions with other men are different than when they are just around me. I have certainly learned that men like to talk about their tools and their skills. They have been eager to share this information. They all seem confident that their skills are the best too. So as I continue to sample these skills, I suppose I will have to draw my own conclusions about their individual competence. They certainly all have something they can teach me.

Anybody else out there the minority gender on their job? What have you learned from the experience?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

I'm losing the battle with my garden hose. I was trying what I thought would be a simple maneuver on my list of domestic duties today. Remember I said I had a faucet moved in the backyard? Well today I was going to move the hose from the defunct hook up to the new one. I need to counteract the water displacement in my hot tub.

For the first time ever I thought to myself, "I need channel locks." But they weren't enough.

Without pointing any fingers, let me just say a previous occupant of this house has connected hose pieces with unusual methods. So again, just like at work, there is this puzzle to solve. I have several hose attachments, but the problem I keep coming up against is that I have two male ends to hook together - kind of a brokeback hose dilemma.

I bought a few pieces this morning at the hardware store, but not the right ones. I may have to go back. It would be easier to work on if the wind weren't so cold. So I'm taking a break to blog and thaw, but now I'm off to screw with the hose again. Wish me luck!

* * * * *
I did it! Sometimes it helps to walk away and then come back to a puzzle. I know it works for me with Sodukos and crosswords. I just got my new utility knife and cut off the part I couldn't work with. Too bad I hadn't thought of that much earlier. My new connection doesn't even spray at the connections like the old one did. cool.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Spackling is pretty much about covering your mistakes. Maybe you cut a hole in the wall in the wrong place. Perhaps you took three tries to hang a picture in the right place. Of maybe you just put your fist through the wall. Whatever the cause of the damage, you have probably already demonstrated the skills for proper repair.

Putting on the spackle in the first place is like frosting a cake. The putty knife and little trough used to mix and hold the spackle cannot be put away dirty. If you've ever washed something off with a hose, like dishes when you are camping, then this task won't be a problem for you. After the spackle dries you have to sand it smooth and see if you need a second coat. If you've ever managed a nail file, then this should be a cinch. Probably the hardest part is the waiting for it to dry when you'd rather just complete the job.

Repairing your mistakes is not necessarily difficult. You probably already have the skills to do it. But to do a good job, it does take time. Some things can't be rushed.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Apparently there is a bigger demand for flare nuts than I ever realized. (Anybody see "Office Space?") Yesterday's attempts to hook up the ice maker stalled because the local hardware store was all out of flare nuts. Although a variety of compression nuts are used in plumbing, this particular ice maker required not only a flare nut, but a flaring tool to stretch the copper pipe at the end. For some reason I kept thinking about those blue leisure suits from the seventies.

But by the end of the day, the ice maker was running properly. I am struck by how so much of kitchen remodeling and really any remodeling work is like solving a giant puzzle. I see the guys open boxes and consider the various parts and tools required, making lists for the hardware store and consulting with each other on installation techniques. I imagine these guys liked Legos and models and other puzzles when they were kids. I like puzzles. Even so, my one small contribution to the ice maker project had to be removed and redone. At least I'm the one who figured out that I had done it backwards. It is annoying when there is one piece leftover at the end though.

I got to help a little with the pvc piping and hoses between the kitchen floor and basement ceiling too. I learned that for the connection between two pieces of PVC to adhere, you have to first apply an acrid smelling primer and then a more viscous glue. Once both pipes are slimy, they slide right together and adhere. Then we braced the hose by screwing it to the joist. So it was prime, slide together, then screw. Not a bad day's work.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I should've used my stud finder today.

I was cutting a hole in a garage wall to insert an electric box. I was using the Fein tool to cut out the piece, but it wouldn't budge. I thought the little rectangle would pop right out. So I went back over the rectangle thinking I hadn't cut in far enough. Still, it wouldn't pry out.

I put down the Fein tool and went in to find a putty knife or flathead screwdriver to pry out the piece, but when I came back out my helpful coworker beat me to it. (I didn't realize he was watching.) The reason it hadn't come loose was that it had been glued to the stud. Being glued to a stud is sometimes difficult to remedy. The hole had to be recut just to the left and the drywall repaired.

What is that saying...?
A good stud is hard to find.
A hard stud is good to find.

Either way, it is better to know where the stud is before making a commitment. Surprise studs can create problems.

I better put batteries in that stud finder.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I missed the last day of work at the house where we have been renovating the kitchen. I had some office work that had to be done, meetings with the software designers, new things added to my list. It would be nice to be two places at the same time. Or maybe that would be exhausting. I suppose it is a good situation to have two places I'd like to be at the same time.

A busy schedule does force you to prioritize your time. Although you can't always get time with your top priority, you have to choose how much time you can give to each of the different settings of your lives, be those settings family, friends, office work, field work, or personal time. The hard thing is focusing on the setting you're in when you are feeling pulled by another.

Tomorrow I get to go back on a jobsite. The end of one job marks the beginning of another. I wonder what adventures await.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Today we went back to the kitchen we've been slowly finishing to replace the two cabinets that arrived damaged with the two replacements that had finally come in. Once those were in place we could complete the final trim work around the tops of the cabinets. But of course, nothing really went by-the-book perfect. I suppose it already hadn't since these were replacement cabinets. It is probably a good idea to always allow for extra time, to plan on being flexible. Etched in stone is breakable - ask Moses.

Anyway, one of the cabinets that needed replaced was the corner cabinet. It had been the first one installed, even though it was damaged because the other cabinets' positions depended on this cabinet being hung first. So hanging it originally hadn't been a problem. Removing it, however, was a problem.

The molding around kitchen window was preventing the cabinet from sliding out. Initially, no solution came to my mind because I am not used to solving these puzzles. I like puzzles, but I am still way behind the learning curve here. I asked what they were going to do.

"Take the molding off around the window," Stan replied.
"Really?" I asked, incredulous.
"It's either that or take down this other cabinet beside it."

Removing the other cabinet seemed like a more plausible solution since I had seen that done before. I could imagine all the steps necessary to do that. But Stan was confident removing the molding was better.

I'm not surprised that he was right, since he's been doing this for a long time. He's familiar with the tools, the recurrent problems, the creative solutions. As a novice, I couldn't imagine it because I had never seen it before. Molding seemed kind of permanent to me.

Sure enough, in a few quick maneuvers the molding was off, the old cabinet down, the new one up and the molding not only restored, but neater looking because of the new caulk.

So here are my questions. (I have found that questions are really better than answers.)
Have you ever encountered a predicament where you couldn't even imagine a solution, and then someone showed a solution that was available all along that you weren't aware of?
Are you in one of those situations now?
What is it that seems permanent that perhaps isn't?
Is it possible that you already have the tools and you just haven't applied them in the right way?

For example, just now I finally learned how to make the spell check run on blogger. I had some protective software blocking it as a pop-up. I'm sure some of you will be relieved. You'd think as a former English teacher, I'd be a better speller. There are so many words though. Like pylon and pile. Doesn't it make sense to call that long piece of timber a pyle since it can also be called a pylon? But no, I was wrong. I'm getting more comfortable with that, being wrong. It's a little freeing. Perfect is too difficult to maintain.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I have noticed that construction boys come in all different shapes and sizes and fitness levels. Because of the natural discrepencies between men's & women's strength, however, I have not felt like I can be lax in my fitness program. I haven't gone crazy working out because I already have a pretty full schedule. But I did add an arm component to my regime because I wanted to be strong on the construction sites.

Last night someone noticed my efforts which is always nice. I was wielding a pitcher of beer and my favorite optician, Chip, complimented my biceps. So I figured I can at least handle this one important skill as a construction worker: pouring the beer at the end of the day.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I’ve made a decision about my tattoo.

After my fantastic adventures with the pyle drivers on the beach, and after my trip to the internet café to post you all about my day, I decided to treat myself to a little shopping.

I usually come to this artsy beach town in the summer with my kids and some other friends. So this time, alone in the off season, I was able to linger in the shops with the breakable things. I even tried on some clothes in a little boutique that only sells black and white clothes. I decided to celebrate my day’s adventures by purchasing a pretty little black dress, which got me thinking about the tattoo.

I think I don’t want it on my arm after all. Maybe tucked up behind my shoulder. I just couldn’t visualize the party dress with the saw blade wrapped around my arm.

This is not a dilemma for construction boys since they don’t usually wear halter tops.

If all the shops were open, I’d get a henna tattoo as a test. darn. So I’m still debating the image, but have narrowed down the location.

* * * *
This morning I went down to the beach to try flying my fun new two-stringed kite. It’s a sunny Saturday morning and I thought I might also collect some shells from the great cache churned up by the construction site.

I saw my favorite pyle driver working by himself this morning servicing the equipment. He showed me how to oil the excavator. You just attach a hose to a nut and squeeze the pump.

What a vacation.

Friday, March 10, 2006

You guys will not believe what an absolutely perfect Construction Girl vacation I’m having. Really. It’s unbelievable.

I’m staying at a friend’s beach house on the east coast for a little R&R. I was planning on some reading & writing, sand, and some cold beer. I arrived last night after dark. This morning I walked down to the beach to stick my feet in the ocean, which was stabbing cold. And even though the sand was blasting me in the high wind, the sun was shining and it was beautiful.

Right at the end of my street on the beach, however, was a huge construction sight. Now that I have been alerted to how interesting construction is, I stood a safe distance away and watched as a crane and an excavator were trying to drive pyles into the sand for a storm drain that will run out to the ocean. When the crane’s attachment tried to drive the beam into the ground, the beach under my feet vibrated. They were having trouble getting one in. I was watching to see how they would solve the problem when my luck took a sharp right into fantastic.

A man in a hard hat who I took for the site manager came over to talk to me. I hadn’t figured out what the project was and he kindly explained the whole drainage project that they’ve been running up and down the beach. I told him a bit about my job which piqued his interest and so he invited me in for a closer look.

The work had halted while they attached a hose with a bigger pump to the steel H-beam they were trying to drive into the sand. Apparently they had hit a layer of hard clay and had one last hope with the equipment they had on the site to get it in. I got to walk right down into the coffer dam that they had set up so they could work out in the surf.

The coffer dam is two series of steel sheet pyles that acted as a barrier to the surf so they could run this long pipe out into the sea. The waves would crash into it making a thunderous boom and spraying white water probably 50 feet into the air. Cool. Freezing actually.

The crane operator, John, had joined our conversation and he invited me to see his crane up close. (I know you are grinning at that sentence.) He said this crane was only a small one at 110 feet. He was certified for much bigger. I had not doubt. He let me get in. He let me operate it! I got to lift the huge vibrating hammer that combined with the 35 feet H-beam weighed about 9 thousand pounds. I never imagined they made vibrators that big.

Well, I obviously stuck out like a sore thumb on this job site. I had just happened into it, so I was not even dressed like Construction Girl: green topsiders, bright pink hoodie, jeans with flowers embroidered on them. So I had attracted the attention of the other guys who were also eager to show me their big equipment. Man it’s great to be a girl!

Before my impromptu two hours on the job were over, Jeff gave me a lesson I’ll never forget on the excavator. We were pulling up hoses out on the end of the temporary sand jetty that the coffer dam created. The poor guys on the ground hooking the hoses to the excavator really got sprayed by the waves up so close to the front. But it was so cool to be right there in the action - probably cooler for me up in the excavator than for the guys with their giant hoses in the surf. Beats the hell out of office work.

Then to top off the day, since they had to stop work because they didn’t have a strong enough pump on the job, I got to push sand on the beach with a big bulldozer. It was unbelievable. What luck!

So John & Jeff, thank you for a fabulous day. Getting driven by pyle drivers is definitely a memory for a lifetime.

I did get pictures, but with an old fashioned camera. I’ll see if I can figure out how to scan them in and post them once I get back to the office.

Was I right? Amazing. What a vacation!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

On major home additions and renovations, the general contractor has the major task of orchestrating the arrival of materials with the necessary sequence of sub contractors. Often one component of the renovation cannot begin until another is completed, even if the materials are available.

In the house where I nipped out all those staples from the floor, a subcontractor, Max, was working on staining and finishing a beautiful set of wooden stairs. The decorative wooden spheres that had been ordered for the end posts of the bannister had been sitting in the unfinished addition for a few days before this subcontractor arrived to install them.

Because they had been in a room under construction, the pieces had become dirty and needed to be cleaned before the stain could be applied. Max, who was the uncle of the teenage boy in the house, teasingly blamed his nephew for the fingerprints. Once the endpiece had been attached with a sticky new layer of stain, Max warned his nephew not to touch them.

"Adam," he winked, "You better not touch these balls with dirty hands again. And if you touch these balls now, you'll get sticky fingers and you'll have to wash up again."

Now I suppose that was good advice.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

In my former life, I spent a couple summers cleaning houses. After spending the day scouring and dusting, I would come home and be much more aware of the cleaning I needed to do at home. Now, I've grown accustomed to a certain level of chaos, especially now that I'm working more hours than I have in years.

But the same thing is happening as before. Now I come home and see all the house maintenance items on my growing list. I see windows and trim that need new caulk, hear toilets that need new flappers, see grout that needs replaced, walls that need spackle, driveways that need sealing. I know I just need to make a list and start crossing things off.

Although I am enjoying my time on the remodel sites and will continue working on those when I'm not working in the office, I am compiling a list of everyday maintenance items I need to learn to do. Hopefully soon I can begin more of my maintenance training with these smart & funny guys.

So what do you suggest I put on my list? What home maintenance jobs do you think you should be able to do yourselves, but you feel a little intimidated to start? I have no doubt that as long as the job requires any kind of tool that it will be fun to learn and fun to write about to you. Some of you I know are brave and capable handy men & women. I'm trying to get there too. I am an eager student and there is so much to learn.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Much plumbing work is done in dark tight places. It takes a little flexibility to get your hands on some pipes. Once you get into position, you certainly don't want to be fumbling with the lights.

My co-worker, Stan, has solved the problem with a nifty ball cap that has two little "snake eye" lights in the bill. He was struggling with the connection up behind the sink. He let me take a look and explained what the problem was, and he let me use his nifty hat so I could see up there. I had never looked up there before. It was interesting.

When I got up, I let a good one slip by me before I realized the implications.

Still marveling at the engineering of the light hat, I actually said out loud,
"I bet it's more comfortable than those strap-ons."

There is just no safe territory in this jargon.

So, if you find that you need the lights on in those dark places where your pipes are hidden, you will be happy to know there is new merchandise available at the hardware store that is more comfortable than your old strap-ons.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I finally got my wish on a little plumbing work today. But I should be more careful what I wish for since it was my own plumbing that needed work.

The good thing about working for a contractor is knowing good specialists. So when I called the plumber, I got the good one.

I've been writing for a website that will help our customers maintain their own homes more efficiently with personalized e-mail reminders. So I've written all this helpful information about things like turning off your outside water before it freezes. So even though I wrote about that and revised my writing, I still forgot to actually do it myself. Too bad the software isn't developed yet. It would have saved me a plumbing bill.

My faucet was terribly inconveniently located under my deck, which made it easy to forget. So since my pipes ruptured, I not only invested in a frost-free faucet but I had the faucet moved up the wall so that it is easily accessible.

So whether your pipes get stiff for four hours or even for a whole season, a little investment with a professional can keep things flowing and accessible all year around. Definitely worth the investment, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Let's see who reads blogs on the weekend.

Did you all realize that you can fill out a profile about yourselves on Blogger? It's kinda fun and I would love to read more about some of you who haven't filled one in yet. The fun part is the random question you have to answer. You can go back and change the question later too if you want to freshen up your profile.

Also all you readers lurking out there who never post comments, go ahead and do it. If I can figure out how to use a Fein tool and which angle to place the wood on a chop saw so that the trim meets up how it should, I know you can creat an account. It's free and you can create a whole fun alias for yourself if you wish to remain anonymous.

I look forward to hearing more from you all. Thanks to all of you who do post comments.
Have a great weekend!

Friday, March 03, 2006

No matter how good your tools are, they can only help you if you can find them when you need them. One of the services I offer on the jobsite is the mom-enhanced finding skill. Years of "Mom have you seen, homework, phone, hairbrush" have translated easily to "Has anyone seen the allen wrench?"

To help me with this, I started wearing a tool apron, not exactly the same as a tool belt, but very handy. They are much better than a purse and would be helpful to wear during the Mom Show hours too. So I loaded my apron with some frequently needed items, tape measure, screw driver, some extra screws, and for my own pleasure, a stud finder. I also keep my cell phone and my Burt's Bees tinted lip balm.

I had to remove one tool though. A benign and oft needed implement is a pencil. Harmless right? Mostly, yes, unless you have to bend over. I had sharpened the pencil before I put it in my apron. That wouldn't have been a problem if I stood up all day. But even something that seems useful and innocuous can sometimes turn out to be a prick. You just have to be careful where you put things.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I've been pondering the prep work I did yesterday for a new tile floor. I really think every single thing we do and say has at least two meanings.

On the surface...
Before you can lay tile, you have to have a smooth surface for a base. So you have to tear off the old layer, in this case a vinyl floor. That floor was worn and didn't match the beautiful addition to the house. Under the vinyl was a layer of something called luan, a plywood that reminded me a little of the balsa wood model airplanes that kids don't really ever get or play with anymore. That luan was stapled down securely. I am sure that whoever went staple-happy on that luan never imagined that one day it would all have to be torn up. It was hard work nipping out and hammering in those staples. Every bit of that stapled-down luan had to be picked off. If not, the new tiles would not lay flat. The uneven surface below would stress the tile, making it more susceptible to breaking. I suppose a less thorough contracting company might have let some sloppiness slide here. But not Michael's. He's seen the results of sloppy enough times to be sure we take the time to do it right.

Ok, now flip that info over and you have another layer of meaning.
Say you are contemplating a new relationship. You see some beautiful tile that would go well with the new life you're constructing. You think you might be able to live with that new tile for a long time. But if you want this new relationship to last, you have to take the time to pull up all the tacks from the old layer. You had high hopes for that first layer and put in a lot of fasteners that don't pull out easily. Removal is hard work. It takes time and can give you blisters and splinters. You will most likely need professional assistance and with any luck, someone to laugh with while you are pulling those suckers out.
If you try installing the new relationship without first clearing away the debris from the old, your new one will eventually crack up.

Do you think all the guys on the job yesterday were thinking about the symbolic significance of staple removal? It seemed so obvious to me. Maybe that's just the divorced ex-English teacher, construction girl, poet showing through.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I'm going to feel today's work more tomorrow. I spent a few hours crawling around on plywood nipping out staples. I have a blister on my hand and sawdust everywhere. A couple of times I got a little shower of sawdust that reminded me of confetti on New Year's Eve - just with no music or kissing.

Stan told me that before the day was over I'd have the hang of it, and he was right. I used end nippers mostly, but also side nippers when the staples were in hard to reach places. What I couldn't nip out I had to hammer in. By the end of the day I was getting more out than snipping them off. Don helpfully instructed me on better hammer technique. It seems you get more impact at the head if you hold it at the tail rather than the neck. I'll have to remember that trick.

Here's a tip to increase your comfort when sitting on staples, sawdust, and plywood: when you have to move, lift rather than slide. Sliding makes for some splinters in some very uncomfortable places. I had a helpful offer to help remove the splinter, but did manage to handle the problem myself.

And a construction girl fashion tip - black jeans act like a magnet for sawdust. I had to vacuum myself off at the end of the day. Luckily I had help. Aren't these guys so helpful?