Thursday, August 19, 2010

Operation: Garbage Retrieval

I have to apologize.  I'm afraid I may have mislead you all when I made the bold statement last week that the Director is a magician.  It turns out...not so much.  The proof of her muggleness being August 16th (which, in case any of you forgot, was a Monday).  Turns out what I naturally assumed was magical ability apparently is only a combination of luck and talent.  (All the more disappointing because I thought she was going to be able to finally grant me my ultimate childhood wish - to ride on a unicorn.  I never wanted to own one - you can imagine what an expense that would be plus the whole liability aspect of the thing, what with the horn and everything)

Monday, August 16th arrived.  That's it, that's all I have to say about it - Monday, August 16th arrived.  Tuesday, August 17th arrived and I did see a truck that may have been related to Western Building Restorations, Inc. pulling out of the driveway as I turned in to make the long haul up the hill (It's not called Cherry Hill for nothing).  August 18th arrived but I didn't because I wasn't in that day, but I was assured that nothing happened.  August 19th arrived and bam! - now we were cooking with gas because as I drove up the hill to park in my usual parking spot I was greeted by a sight that never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would find so attractive and welcoming - a silver chain link fence.  That beautiful specimen of metal work (has anyone really taken the time to truly appreciate the links of a chain link fence?) stood in place, ringing the front section of the porch.  But not only was there a fence, but by golly by gosh there was a real live truckish-sort of vehicle (cars have never been my thing) with a, be still my beating heart, a real live employee from Western Building.  In my excitement, I grabbed my purse, got out of my car, (got back in my car to put the car in park), jumped back out of the car and circled around the back end all the while grinning idiotically as I sought eye contact and once having gotten it, gave a booming hello.  Judging from the confused and slightly alarmed look on the man's face I realized my enthusiasm was a bit overdone so I tried to reign it in and settle for a more normal expression, unfortunately I think I only succeeded in looking like someone suffering from partial paralysis of the face as I tried to keep my lips from smiling while talking at the same time.

Can you see the morning sun glinting off of the metal loveliness?

(I'm sorry I just have to take a moment to sit and listen to the melodic sounds of plaster being removed from the interior wall of our South Parlor on the floor above me...and I'm back)

I entered the building to find my Director sitting at the table in the volunteer room, or perhaps it would be better to describe her as being held up by the table in the volunteer room.  She fixed me with a bleary-eyed look and explained (because the Director does not complain...never...ever) that she had been at the museum since "7:45!"  Now I'll admit that I wasn't very impressed, especially because my morning started at 6:23am with me waking up to the weight of my soon-to-be three year old son sitting on my spinal cord and cheerfully inquiring, "When mommy's done sleeping then I can have cereal?"  But I did my best to look sympathetic and understanding.  I think I must have emoted the right mixture of both, because the Director seemed to perk up a little (that could have something to do with the IV bag of coffee that was producing a steady drip of caffeine into her veins which was weird but since she didn't mention it, I didn't ask about it) then informed me that the chain link fence I was so enamored with went up this morning and that the construction guy, we'll call him Big D, would begin to remove the interior plaster from the North and South Parlors of the house today.

And what's more, he actually did.  Trust me, I know because I've been hovering around him with a camera in my hand like some crazed Justin Bieber fan and probably scaring the h-e-double hockey-sticks out of him in the process.  Trying to learn from my disastrous first attempt to talk with an honest to goodness restoration worker, I approached him a second time, with a slightly less psychotic smile on my face, introduced myself, asked if he minded me taking pictures and then, because when I'm feeling a little self-conscious I tend to uncontrollably spew forth unfiltered sentences,  I announced that I was probably going to be bothering him "with lots and lots and lots" (no exaggeration folks, I really did say 'lots and lots and lots') of questions and then proceeded to bother him with lots and, well you get the point, questions.  Luckily he was able to choke back his fear of the crazy lady in front of him, and explained that he would ultimately be removing the plaster from the two parlors, as well as both sides of the front door, from just under the windows down to the base boards.  According to the construction schedule provided by Western, the work of removing the interior plaster in those locations, as well as exposing the front facade of the house by removing the exterior siding will take place over the next week or so.  As it turns out the porch demolition won't be taking place till closer to Labor Day.

Preparation for removal of interior wall plaster in the South Parlor

At one point, when Big D was out of the house I slunk back upstairs, to take pictures without running the risk of freaking him out even more than I had already managed to do that day.  The Curator and the Intern joined me and we examined the work done so far.  The baseboard had been removed and the nogging (rough brick masonry used to fill in the gaps in a wooden frame, to function as another source of structural support) was exposed.

The visible brick masonry work is what those in the know call  "nogging"
Our goal is to reuse as many of the original materials as possible.  Therefore the baseboards will be kept safe to be reinstalled at a later date and the Curator informed me that lath (narrow thin strips of wood used as the backing for plaster) that is removed will be reused to the greatest extent possible.  Of course her information exposed the depth of my ignorance concerning lath and plaster techniques, so I sheepishly asked her how that all worked again (I like to add in 'again' at the end of my questions, because it implies that at some point I did know the full explanation for the question I'm asking, but for some inexplicable reason can't recall it at the moment). 

She explained that the lath is nailed in strips to the studs across the length of the wall.  Once the lath is in place, an initial, binding coat of plaster (which is full of rough particles like animal hair) is smeared against the lath, the rough particles in the plaster are necessary for the first coat to adhere to the wood.  Then a couple more layers of plaster are applied on top of that first rough coat so that by the last coat there is a smooth finish in place. 

Big D then is removing the coats of plaster which of course are covered by the existing wall paper, and hopefully the remaining lath will be reusable. 

Have you no shame madam? - The exposed lath of the South Parlor

I don't know if the hardware, (i.e. nails) will be recycled as well, but clearly it's made of strong stuff having hung out in the walls for a couple of hundred years. 

These were the only two nails that were keeping the whole east side of the house from collapsing (note - totally lying for dramatic effect here, give me a break, how else do you make a picture of old nails exciting?)
I never expected the first day of real construction work to go off without some unexpected problem turning up.  That's what makes the process exciting to talk about.  I was not wrong.  Very quickly it became apparent to our Facilities Support Assistant/Program Assistant (FSA/PA for short, which it is not)  that there was a potential hostage situation in the works.  The chain link fence that has Cherry Hill under temporary house arrest (pun intended) is also holding our garbage can, and several rotting lawn bags of weeds and leaves hostage under the stairs.  We have been unable to establish communication with them at this point, but we have gotten some glimpses of them through the fence. 

In this surveillance photo you can just make out the huddled forms of the hostages
They look about as well as you can expect a garbage can and rotting lawn bags to look under the circumstances.  They're holding up, but who knows how long they'll last.  The FSA/PA bravely offered to scale the chain link fence after a brief reconnoitering mission.  But gathered around the table in the volunteer room we discovered a logistical problem that threatened the whole mission - once inside, how do you get the hostages out without making a mess an alley cat would love?  Turns out the whole thing was an overreaction on our part as a quick conversation with Big D revealed that the gate will open in the front to allow access to the porch and the areas under the porch.  Stand down staffers, I repeat, stand down.

On a serious note, it's exciting to see the real construction work touch studs of wood that haven't been exposed in a couple of generations of Cherry Hill family ponder whether two nails we're holding in our hands are of 18th or 19th century origins.  But as thrilling as it all is, I promise to continually fight the very strong impulse I have to ask Big D if he has a spare construction hat that I could wear while I'm at work, or at least wear while asking him lots and lots and lots of questions.  It's tough, because I think I could pull off the whole construction hat look, but I am going to try to quell the urge.

The following is a prepared statement from the Communications Coordinator:
There have been some aspersions cast on my posting from last week which included what one board member referred to as my "deifying of the Director."  I want to emphasize that I was in no way attempting to negotiate an increase in salary from the said Director and Board (no matter what I might have hoped for in my heart of hearts).  Having worked in the non-profit world for long enough, believe me when I say that I am perfectly aware that a monetary raise is a little harder to come by than just penning a flattering ode to a Director.  In fact I am perfectly content with the system of "raises" practiced here at Cherry Hill, that includes but is not limited to, receiving an update in computer software from Microsoft Office 95 to Microsoft Office 2007, or trading in one old secondhand desk chair for a less old secondhand desk chair.  By my estimates, I may be the highest paid staff person on paper. 

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