Monday, May 6, 2013

Of Power Washing and Problem Solving

If we look for them, we can find life lessons in even the most mundane tasks. I found a few today.

Last summer, I noticed that our concrete patio and pool deck were filthy and slimy. I pledged to power wash them in the spring before opening the pool or bringing out the patio furniture.

I have never power washed anything. I'm not sure I'd ever seen a power washer. I, however, fancy myself as capable and hate to spend money. Since I'm not trotting off to work each morning, I'm the cheap labor around here. I went to Home Depot and rented a power washer. I cleaned concrete, but I also learned how to tackle any problem.

power washer


I didn't know what I was doing, but I didn't want to hire someone. That left me.

Avoid diversion. Focus.

I planned to work while the kids were at school because I can't accomplish a damn thing when they are around, at least not without interruption.

Ask questions.

I marched into Home Depot and announced I wanted to rent a power washer, as if I knew what I was doing. Then I asked the guy renting it to me if he would show me how to operate it. Not wanting to admit I didn't know, I gave in to pride and didn't ask him what the choke was or how I should use it--but only because I knew I would call my dad and ask him as soon as I left the store. (More about him later.)

Plan ahead.

I tested that I could lift the machine and was pleased that it fit perfectly into the rear well of my minivan, meaning I didn't have to fold down the seats. I failed to plan ahead, however, because lifting a heavy item up off the floor is a lot easier than wrestling it out of the rear well of a minivan, hoisting it over the rear bumper, and lowering it to the ground.

Think of alternatives, but try it yourself first. 

I wondered if any neighbor husbands would be home and willing to help, but I didn't want to admit defeat. I climbed into the car, then twisted and turned the power washer until I got it up over the bumper. It was hard, but I did it.

iPhone call screen shot

Know your lifeline. 

After I spent half an hour getting the power washer hooked up, I couldn't start it. I was panting and bleeding. I'd read the directions and still couldn't figure out what was wrong, so I did what I always do in these situations--I called my dad. He is my home maintenance and power tool lifeline. He told me I'd probably flooded the engine and explained what I should do next. It involved waiting, which was convenient because I was too frustrated to keep at it anyway.

Take a break. Have a snack.

I went inside, had a snack and a drink, and read a few blog posts. I didn't need small children to teach me that snacks make every situation better.

Dig in.

After my snack break and a little more panting and frustration, I got the washer started. I was afraid that if I turned it off I would never get it started again, so I put my head down and kept at it until the machine ran out of gas, then repeated.

Keep trying. You will improve over time.

About ten minutes into the actual washing, I noticed that the finished area was cleaner but still had little slimy spots. I adjusted my technique but had to redo the work I thought I had completed.

Listen to music. It helps.

I'd been so busying figuring out what I was doing that I didn't notice I had silent earbuds in my ears. I turned on some upbeat music and power washed to the beat.

Pause frequently to admire your success. It makes it easier to keep going.

Every now and then I would stop to admire the difference between the dirty and clean areas. Sometimes, I took photos. It made me happy.

power washed concrete pool deck

Things may get messy.

The pool deck has a pool on one side and a rock border on the other. Given my (lack of) precision, rocks, mud, and nasty green pool water were flying everywhere. I showered and cleaned my clothes, but I still need to rake the rocks back into place.

dirty shoes and jeans

Watch your step and keep your balance.

Soon after removing a corner of the pool cover to clean under it, I nearly fell backward into the pool. Concentrating and walking backward, I dangled on one foot over the freezing, nasty water. I'd like to credit my balance and agility, but it was luck that saved me.

Accept your limitations.

I was disappointed that I had completed only half of my projected task when it was time to clean up and pick up the kids from school. It's a good thing I did. My back and knees ache, my hands are throbbing and unable to grip, and my new calluses are stinging.

I'm only halfway done, so I will be power washing again tomorrow. Now that I've learned so much on my first day, I hope the work will go more quickly on the second try.

I even know what the choke does and how to use it.

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1 comment:

  1. Love it. Good for you...on all counts. I admire your stick-to-itiveness.