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Contractor’s Notebook: Spring Cleaning, 40 Foot Ladders & In Remodeling, Close is Close Enough


Similar to the post – Contractor’s Notebook, this article is a combination of three shorter posts that contractor Barry Morgan published with us between November 2010 & August 2011. Barry is a professional handyman, working in coastal Delaware. He has a way, I think, of capturing the essence working … the prep, progress and completion. Enjoy. ~jb bartkowiak,


Spring Cleaning: Time to Clean the Van

The coastal winters of Delaware can be a test of endurance. While they are not as extreme as in some places they are filled with windy, chilly days. As I get more and more bundled up, my attention to detail in the van slows to a crawl. Things get out of place and sometimes they stay that way until Spring.

Spring is more than a Time of Year

These days, the beginning of Spring is marked, for me, by the coming of baseball. The winds warm up, grey turns to green, and baseball comes along with an intense schedule that reminds me to endure. I begin to feel more energized, which is great because Spring is one of two busy seasons for me. I get an urge to get outside and into the van.

“Getting into the van” is a literal and figurative description of what happens next. I ponder the state of things as I pull out winter hats, jackets and acquired junk. Here too, I evaluate tools to see if they are used enough to keep onboard.  I hunt for where things want to go because everything wants to go somewhere. It’s a celebration of and a re-connection with my tools through care. Just as I have done  every Spring since I bought the van in 2004.

I also slip off to throw balls with happy, invigorated dogs. It is a working party and together we shake off cabin fever.


40 Feet, 2 Legs & 1 Strange Feeling :: Working on a 40 Foot Ladder

When I climb to the top of a 40 foot ladder something very strange happens.

First of all, I carry a little more weight these days than I would like and getting up there is no longer a nimble raising of one foot and then the other as though I was crawling up the rungs. Now, instead, I favor one leg to do the work of bringing me up and the other leg lags along almost lazily. This is because I experience pain in the knee of that lazy leg when I try to do things the proper way. The pain is probably from my weight but who knows because it is hard to keep up with what gets hurt on the job over time.

The Mid Point

Once I hit the midpoint of a 40 foot ladder I start to feel the sag. This is always a fairly welcome thing because the top and bottom of the ladder seem very secure. The sag works its way out as I come closer to top and that is when things start to feel a little funny, like my weight is no longer adding to the overall security of the set up. A tiny breeze is amplified up here and can make me huddle close to the frame.

It is at this moment, when I feel the least secure, that I find myself in front of the thing which demands my attention. I begin the work for which I mounted the ladder in the first place. To my surprise the ability to get the job done takes over. I drill or nail or screw or staple and calm comes over me. I am at one with the wind and the work for some time, doing almost as good a job as I would on the ground and then, all of the sudden, the strange thing happens.

Out of the blue, I get the feeling that I am about to step off the ladder. Not like my mind will tell me to do so and I will but more like my legs will do so without asking my permission. It is unnerving and has happened to me time and time again.


Sometimes Close is Close Enough: Remodeling to the Inch

I am at the tail end of a long running renovation for my nephew. Family jobs are complicated (like families). The finer points of these undertakings deserve a dedicated post but, for purposes of our story, the end of this complete interior renovation is near and most everyone is unscathed.

The job has grown considerably from fairly humble beginnings. The growth was everyone’s fault, it was both organic and forced and the single client I set out to work for became a couple along the way. Families have a way of growing…

So, this started out because my nephew hated his house, but evolved into a 3 person collaboration — my nephew loves his fiancée. In much the same way as Tom Waits‘ music changed when Kathleen Brennan came on board, this renovation blossomed and morphed in strange and beautiful ways.

Lighting Layouts are Sometimes Interrupted by Framing

It has been a long road and of my final tasks has been to install recessed lighting in a hallway which leads to the back bedrooms. I left it for last as I was not quite sure which way to go with it. The ceiling was full already with a smoke detector, a pull down attic stair and a centered light fixture. I took the path of least resistance, ticking most everything off the list before I took it up.

When I began laying out the position for the three can lights I found my trepidation warranted. I quickly discovered that because of framing, the length of the hall and the attic door, there was no way to space these cans evenly. So, on a real deadline and in difficult circumstances, I began considering the modification of framing.

During a smoke break, I told Tyson that there was no way I could make the layout work. “I can get it close…” I said, to which Tyson replied: “Close might have to be good enough”. And then, like a shaft of light through broken clouds, it hit me: Why not get it close? Why not work with what you have? Why add stress and strain by going into full demo and rebuild mode so things can be perfect? Why is right — perfectly symmetrical and if perfect is right, then is right the right thing to do? In this case I decided it wasn’t, I decided, with some help from my friend … that close is close enough.


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