The Intricacies of the Project By Grandpa Jack* Have you seriously thought of doing something that seems like just too big a project to take on? Maybe there was something that you did many years ago that left you feeling quite satisfied with yourself -- a project for a younger person, and it came out well. Something that friends thought you were foolish to tackle as you had never done such a thing. Even with advancing age one feels young in springtime when you have to mow your yard for the first time, even if it was the same day of our first tornado warning. The youthful feeling led me to a decision to re-dash our stucco house – for a second time. I had done so 28 years earlier. It had lasted well, but 28 years of Minnesota weather takes its toll. (Not unlike that on the owner.) They say that if stucco has never been painted, not to paint it, as you can never re-dash it again (unless you sandblast the entire surface). Of course the easy way out would be to paint it. But “easy” seems to be a route I seldom choose. What I discovered by default is that I had forgotten many of the intricacies of such a job. First of all, a trip to a big-box do-it-yourself store (you know the kind – the ones that have been know to actually “stimulate” some middle age guys when they walk down the hardware aisle) ended with me taking home 120 pounds of a product that was not applicable for stucco. The store expert said it was OK, as did the 800 number fellow I checked with later when I got home. But he did not sound convinced, so I e-mailed Quikcrete. Yep. Wrong product. But the one they recommended is not available in Minnesota. I discovered this after going back to the store, of course. So I bought two bags of the good “old school” Portland cement. As I lifted them out of the truck they let my back know that they outweighed me by 34 pounds. Now if you are going to spend that much time up on ladders you might as well also paint all the trim. That of course added about a week of scraping, sanding, priming and painting. That’s a job not unlike sitting through all the previews and cartoons before the main movie feature. One just cannot jump to the main event without the preliminaries. Those preliminaries took about as long as re-dashing the stucco. I can assure you that the many trips up and down the five ladders were more than the equivalent of my every-other-day workout at Lifetime Fitness. Finally: the main event after two days of pressure washing the house – applying the Portland cement via a 9-inch roller with a 1½” knap. It took a little time to get the right slurry to apply to the pre-dampened surface. You often had to stop and re-wet the stucco if you did not move fast enough to keep up with the drying. Then, of course, unless you had a precise spray nozzle you would wash off cement just applied – and have to wait for the too-wet surface to dry a bit. Working from the ground was a snap. But getting to the peak of a two-story house with a third floor (a.k.a. attic) with a 12’6” ceiling takes a little courage – and more importantly – focus. It is easy to load up the aforementioned roller, with its absorbent 1½“ knap, with cement at the end of the three section telescopic painter’s pole. Lifting it into place and controlling its roll, so as not to roll across a window frame or drop a gob or two on your spouse’s favorite trillium, is something one should practice more than once every 28 years. In fact, I eventually found it more practical to do most of the work from various ladders stationed around the house. But therein lays another problem, one of sequence and logistics. Now, I am not saying that tackling this ascent is akin to the north face of the Elger in the Alps. However, I am convinced it will cause one to focus all one’s attention on the task at hand, i.e., no Walk-Man or answering an inane question from a passer-by such as, “Hey, what’cha do’in’ up there?” (Even in sky-diving with a tandem partner or by static line, you do not have to do anything for you have nothing to control or be responsible for.) It took time to get it right. In the meantime, the question was how to take the cement up with me. I mixed what I thought was a reasonable amount, weight-wise, in a five-gallon bucket, and started up. The first thing I noticed is that climbing a ladder with a bucket of cement is more difficult than mixing it with a paddle and electric drill. It weighs much more when in the hand than it seems to on the ground. With trepidation, I ascended to a working height where I had previously stationed my loaded hose with pistol grip, the handle of which barely hooked onto a step. It was a balancing act worthy of the swaying pole act of the Barnam & Bailey center ring. Once there I found out that the largest S hook sold in the big-box store would not go around the step onto which the bucket would hang. So down I go to get a U-shaped piece, with threaded ends and adjoining strap with wingnuts. It will go around the step onto which the S hook will hang. Suspended from that will be my precious cement – which I know by now is slowly hardening into a perfectly round 4” stepping stone in the bottom of the bucket. Now, that U-shaped threaded rod was one of two that held a stabilizer on the top of another ladder. So down I go, removed it and replaced it with several turns of the handyman’s ever-ready solution: duct tape. (I had just enough from the roll that held the legs of my jeans on.) I return to my bivouac at base-camp plus one, and attempt to assemble the apparatus. I am wearing rubberized cement gloves that are wet and sticking to my hands, not unlike Donald Trump’s hair to Mt. Baldy. It’s all downhill now. The rubber gloves provide too much friction to slide into my blue jean pockets to reach the two wing-nuts now in hiding. And of course, I cannot pull one off with my teeth due to glove shrinkage. It is impossible to use both hands to solve the problem (including folding them in prayer) as one hand is still holding the bucket with its roller and the cement brush. I never drink coffee before working on a ladder. But it made no difference as my left arm had a tremor and was screaming to please descend to Base Camp. I agreed but got a surprise on the way down when the hose nozzle’s pistol-grip came loose and gave me a cold shot in the netherland as it plummeted to the valley below. This is where determined focus came into play. Once on the ground I recalled Grandma Barlow’s admonition when at about age 10, I carried far too big a load of firewood into the cabin – spilling about half on her clean floor. Smiling, she said, “Why, Jackie, that’s a lazy man’s load!” She had to explain, of course, that I was too lazy to make two trips, and paid the price. I will remember that lesson as I ascend the yet to be conquered north face. My knees are complaining already – pleading, “Can’t we wait another 28 years?” (I think not – as I would then be 103 years of age.) * Grandpa Jack of The Elderberries performs handyman chores with a hilarious twist at his home in St. Paul, Minn., and a longtime summer cabin in Wisconsin, too. By Jack Neely • www.LifeWithTheElderberries.com • © 2019

The Intricacies of the Project

By The Elderberries

By Grandpa Jack* Have you seriously thought of doing something that seems like just too big a project to take on? Maybe there was something that you did many years ago that left you feeling quite satisfied with yourself —…

Read More
Old Mother Hoarder

Old Mother Hoarder

By The Elderberries

By Sheila Edee* Before your bridge, sewing, book, bunco or canasta groups get wind of this, donate some of your hollow ware to the church. There are so many pastors’ aid receptions these days. I was quite touched and taken…

Read More
A Hitch in Its Git-Along

A Hitch in Its Git-Along

By The Elderberries

By Sheila Edee* Always, we are on the lookout for new ways to make life easier . . . and more diverting. My leap into the next decade includes an iRobot Room-ba, the self-propelled carpet and floor vacuum. Mine is…

Read More
Top Drawer

Top Drawer

By The Elderberries

By Grandpa Jack* It is the time of year we share moments of the past year with well wishes for the future. Often the annual letters are sprinkled with baby births and oldster’s deaths; changes in jobs, health conditions and…

Read More
The Rock Professor

The Rock Professor

By The Elderberries

A neighbor is making a dry stream bed for better drainage in his yard. He said the project reminds him of the first landscaping project he ever attempted. He had gone to the lumberyard to buy rocks. Once he saw…

Read More