Construction Week 49
We’re already at week 49?!?!
This week flew by. Seriously. I went into it feeling really stressed out. I keep looking at the calendar and counting how many weeks we have until move day and thinking about everything that needs to be done, and then my head wants to explode while I crumple to the ground and cry. But then I went into this week and changed some things up and all I can say is WOW.
I have pictures, but they don’t really communicate everything that was accomplished this week. It’s crazy and mind blowing.
Let me put it this way – on Monday morning I walked into the house and the only stuff in the kitchen were the boxes of fans that needed to be installed and a pile of plywood. That’s it. Yesterday when we drove off site at 5:23 pm I had lower kitchen cabinets with a very freshly poured concrete counters.
I’m not even kidding.
We went from me trying not to hyperventilate and imagining us cooking on a stove outside to “We have a kitchen!!!” And, a pretty darn nice one if I do say so myself!
So, what was the change I made this week? I recruited help. One of our workers, Johnny, stopped and was chatting with me last week while I was out there working, and I found out he’s been studying to be a carpenter, and was very interested in what I was doing. He was always admiring the stuff I was making, and on this particular day was asking a lot of questions. I suggested that if I needed help with anything maybe I’d have him work with me. On Sunday that’s exactly what I decided to do for the next day. When I came home that day I was amazed at how much we’d gotten done. He’s been such a blessing to work with. He’s very smart and attentive, eager to learn, takes instruction well, and we got to the point where once I explained what we were doing and we started he was able to anticipate what I needed. A lot of people here don’t understand things like how to use power tools well so they work for you, checking details like angles, and structural stuff. Johnny was so on top of all of it.
The first time we went to start ripping down some plywood I explained the Kreg Rip Jig that I got. It attaches on to a circular saw and holds a measure so you can rip in a straight line. It’s a fabulous tool because I can never cut in a straight line with a circular saw. Anyway… I explained what it was and what we were going to do. He got the plywood, we set ourselves up, and I cut the first cut. Our friend Al was out helping that day and needed to talk to me so I stepped away and went inside. A few minutes later I heard the saw start up and almost had a panic attack. I’m so used to people trying to be helpful, but not fully understanding what’s needed, so it makes things worse rather than better. I went out and saw Johnny cutting down the next piece of wood – flawlessly. From that point on I decided that I wasn’t just going to have him help, I was going to teach too. I became the wood holder and he was the cutter. My body wasn’t sorry at this division of labor, no siree!
We quickly got into a rhythm in everything we were doing and by Wednesday I was able to start giving him tasks while I went and did other work. We started joking around and talking a lot more, and on break on Wednesday we had a great chat about so many things. It was just a great week of feeling helped and encouraged, and having the pleasure of teaching someone something. He’s like a sponge, which is so fun.
The other fun thing has been watching the process come together for him. Simply saying, “Okay, we’re going to build a kitchen this week!” becomes so much more when someone is walking through that process for the very first time. As a part of the puzzle would come together I could literally see the lightbulb come on and it was so fun. It was good for me to be the teacher in a new way too. I’m learning a lot about how I communicate, and where I need to be more direct and clear. It was also fun to introduce him to new things that I know he wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to learn simply because the carpenters here do so much by hand with simple tools, and they all tend to build furnishings in similar ways. He keeps thanking me for teaching him so much, and I keep thanking him for being so helpful :)
One of my favorite moments from the week? Showing him how to use a chalk line when we needed to cut some strange cut outs for the counter tops. When I stretched it out, explaining what was going on as I went, then pulled it up and snapped it his face literally lit up like a kid opening a Christmas present. Part surprise, part wonder. So funny.
By Wednesday we had all of the cabinet boxes built and the face frames on. That’s a huge amount of work in and of itself, and I was anticipating it would take me most of the week to get there by myself. I realized at that point that if we pushed a bit we could pour the counters on Friday afternoon, and we’d be sitting in a great place. And you know what? We did it. And we did it without cutting corners. In fact, in moments where I knew we could do something better, rather than letting it slide and just accepting it, we redid it. I’ve realized this week that when I get tired and discouraged I let myself get away with stuff like that. Working with someone else who’s on the clock had me wanting to maximize our time and make every minute count. Then I started seeing how much we were getting done and I got excited. And then more got done. And now I feel like we might actually get everything done that I had on my list before we move. And that’s crazy.
I’m so excited with how everything is coming together. I was telling Chris that I’ve literally been thinking about all of this and working on plans for two years. And now those days of thinking, and pinning things on Pinterest, and drawing out plans are becoming something tangible. It’s amazing to go in the mission house and know that I dreamed it all up and put it on paper, and then other people ran with that. I walk through and can visualize how the spaces will be used, and it makes my heart so happy.
So, where are we at?
Well, like I mentioned, our friend Al came out to work with us for Monday, but he was also there Tuesday. Such a huge help! He was able to get our last door installed, the one for what will eventually be the pantry under our stairs. It’s a smaller opening, so it was hard to find a door to fit. We needed one that was 28″, and I saw one one day in Port, but wasn’t able to buy it, and then never found them again. Two weeks ago I was in town again and found one at a different store, but it was a French door. I knew it was either that or I was making one, and I knew I didn’t have time for that. The fun part is that now that we have it and I’ve painted it I love it.
I decided to do something different with it. Rather than match it with the stained doors I painted it grey. This was a total surprise to me. I’m not usually a grey person, but the night before we were in town to buy paint I decided I wanted grey in the house. I’ve been trying to think about the things that bug me or end up being more work, and to eliminate as much of that as possible so our house is lower maintenance for us and Yonese. While I love the color of our current kitchen cabinets, the thing I don’t love is that they show every single thing that gets splashed on them. Chris loves spaces to be as bright as possible, and I’ve learned that trying to explain what I was aiming for is something he just has a hard time with. He’s much more visual, so I mentioned wanting to go darker on the bottom kitchen cabinets while keeping the uppers white. He finally said that I could just do whatever, after I asked him to just trust me. I could see it all coming together.
So, back to the grey. Originally the plan was to have all white built in cabinets in the office, but I kept looking at the desk we currently use and the fact that it’s no longer white, and I knew we weren’t going that route this time. The day before the Port trip I decided we were going to paint the lower cabinets grey in the office, and the one sole upper cabinet would be white. I had also originally planned on putting in a white subway tile in the kitchen, but when I couldn’t get it at the tile store we were getting our floor tile from I decided I wasn’t going to drive all over town looking for something that might not be available. And I’m glad I did because I think I gave myself permission to do something I am so excited about in the kitchen. Not going to let the secret out yet because it’s one of those things that I think will be better when it’s just seen rather than explained. But, it’s going to be amazing. With the grey in the office and the kitchen surprise, I knew I could get away with painting the pantry door grey, so I did. And I love it. I’m waiting to take the plastic off the windows until after we finish with the paint around the door jamb. And, the windows will get a frosted vinyl put on them because I don’t want to be looking at my pantry shelves all the time.
Al also installed all of the door knobs on the downstairs doors, so we can close them now. We’re still waiting for our solar batteries to arrive, and until they do the power won’t go live in the house and we have to use a generator. That means anything that needs power, whether it’s a drill or the water pump, needs to have the generator running. And it’s loud. But while we’re working inside we can close the office doors and cut some of the work sound. LOVE!
The other good thing about the doors cutting the sound a bit is that I can actually hear my phone now. Which is good for when people get stuck in places. Like Al. On Tuesday he was putting the door knobs in, and the jambs had warped a bit from when they filled in the concrete, so he was planing them down and trying to get the doors to fit. I had been outside with Johnny, and eventually noticed that Al wasn’t in the house, but just thought he’d gone out to the bathroom. Then I went to the bathroom and it clicked that since I was in the bathroom, Al wasn’t. I also had my phone in hand and scrolled through my messages and saw that Chris had just phoned, and then noticed that Al had sent me a text, which seemed strange since he was working just inside. Until I read it, and it said, “I’m stuck in the storage room”. Sent 45 minutes before… Darn loud generator. We had a good laugh about it.
So we now have fully functioning doors all through the main level of the house, and no one will get stuck in any of the rooms. They look so good. I’m really happy with the stain color and how they look in general. I need to finish painting the door jambs, but that only takes a couple of hours. You probably noticed that our exterior doors have something on them – that’s primer. Olivia panicked and wondered why on earth we’d ruined the doors. I had to tell her to chill and trust me. They aren’t going to get the final coat until just before we move.
On Tuesday All had some extra time before he needed to go, so he installed the office cabinets. I was so happy! I didn’t know when I’d get to them, and now they’re almost all in place. Two need to get attached to some other stuff because they’re going to sit away from the walls to create a wrap around work center.
The floor tile upstairs is still moving. We’re down to two bedrooms now. We did actually have a tile crisis last week when we realized, for certain (it had been mentioned, but we weren’t sure) that we definitely didn’t have enough tile. We’re not sure where the miscalculation happened, but we were two bedrooms short. Thankfully, because we went with a neutral, plain tile, it was something they had in stock and we were able to pick up the rest the next day. On Friday Abner got the joints grouted in the bathroom, and Thony got the last coat of paint up so we can start prepping for installing all the fixtures. This next week Johnny and I will be building the bathroom vanity, which I’m really excited about. It’s going to be a mix of rustic looking wood and a concrete top, which you’ll see we poured yesterday. I think we should be able to get everything finished in a couple days in there and be ready for putting the ceramic up. It would be amazing to have it all finished this week.
And now, the kitchen.
You guys, I’m SO excited about how it’s all coming together. Like, happy dance excited. The guys had been watching the cabinet boxes come together, then get spray varnished, then get other stuff done, and then we took them inside. I’ve pretty much banned everyone from going through the downstairs unless they’re working in there, so they didn’t really know what we were doing with all these things. Yesterday as we were getting the last bits in place before we poured the concrete, Abner came down and did a full inspection of the cabinets. I wish I’d taken a picture because he was literally lifting the plastic and sticking his head inside. He was just so interested. Later when they started pouring he came back and we were chatting and he just had this look of admiration, and kept saying, “It’s a normal kitchen”. Most Haitians cook outside, so by “normal” he meant first world. Last night as we poured and it was all hands on deck the guys just kept talking about how nice it was already, and we don’t have paint or anything done. I can’t wait to get the form work off and to sand and polish the counters. I think the guys will all be fascinated by it.
Yesterday was also a day where I got to see our guys shine. It’s been a long week and everyone wanted to quit at 2, the end of the work day. It’s quite normal for the construction crew to work later. Evens came to talk to me and I told him I needed to get the counters done, so if a few people could stay and help that would be great. He knows we’re pushing to get done, so he talked to everyone and told them that if they wanted to leave at 2 they could take a tap tap, but that some people would be staying. About half of the guys stayed to help.
When it came time to pour, we got all the concrete in place and mostly smoothed and then the guys started packing up. I asked when they were going to really smooth it and we all realized we had different ideas about what we were doing. They thought I was going to put ceramic tile on it, so having it rougher would be good. I thought they knew we weren’t. It was my fault because I didn’t clearly communicate what we were doing. I’d talked to a lot of people about it and just forgot that those people weren’t the people in the room, and that there are a lot of ways to do a counter top in concrete.
They were all very gracious when I apologized for the confusion, and they went right to work at getting things smoothed out to where I can polish them. They’re really proud of what they’re doing, and even though we were literally watching the sun go down and burning daylight, they kept going and got it done. I know that when I look at the counters I’ll remember so many hands going to work and their great attitudes. In Creole there’s a saying – Anpil men fe chaj pa lou – Many hands make the load lighter. It was so true yesterday.
Looking forward to being able to share pictures of the finished kitchen soon! I’ll be posting a separate post about the whole process of forming and pouring the counters, because I know there are people that are interested.