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Winter Work- We all need it.



Winter in Chicago can be brutal, on that we can all agree. Some folks ‘snowbird’ in the winter. I mean, not too many folks that I know have that luxury, but I have heard tales told.


Most of us hunker down with a combination of movies, soup and winter projects to keep us focused elsewhere while the outside weather does its thing. The pandemic has brought a whole new meaning to ‘winter work’ for me. All fall I seek out a project that will keep me from longing for Chicago’s favorite season ‘Sprummerall’. Basically a combination of every season except winter.


Now, to be fair, winters in Chicago, while being notorious, are not those of legend anymore. Yes, we have had 5 foot snowdrifts in recent memory, and have had our share of polar vortexes, but winter, in the past decade or so, has been a January-March affair vs October-May.

I’ll take it.

Additionally, there is simply nothing like a walk on a fresh layer of snow, whether under streetlights or in sunshine. Kids get pulled in sleds down sidewalks, dogs ‘snow zoom’ through empty parks, and there is a reason that most every Chicagoan should invest in a pair of snow pants. Chilly winter snow days, and the subsequent return home to a hot cup of tea or cocoa is just the best.


Winter work for the construction trades, I am finding, is coveted work, albeit a tender balancing act. Nobody likes being forced to work in sub-zero weather, but I have found that a combination of closely watching the weather forecast, good communication and hot coffee available from work start to work finish can actually make winter work a pretty attractive proposal.


I hadn’t suspected that I would be launching into my coach house project in December, just before the holidays, having started things in March but, there I was. I was up for the challenge.


I have never lead a collection of construction crews before, but I have lead many a group into battle in questionable and challenging circumstances. The big things that stick with me include “ask, don’t tell” when it comes to inspiring folks to do things that may initially seem unsavory. Nobody likes to be forced to do things, irregardless of money, especially when it comes to uncomfortable situation. Communication is key, and when faced with the big picture and with an understanding of empathy, most often people are up for the tasks at hand.


Another thing that makes a world of difference is that nobody wants to see someone in an ivory tower telling them “it’s not so bad out there.”. Plan on getting in the trenches with the others.


Just the other day I found myself 16’ in the air on a ladder at a 25’ pitch cutting some slack out of a cable line to allow for the brick layers to continue their work without obstruction. I was shaking in my boots, holding onto my tools with cold and nervous hands, and trying not to look down. At the end I was dirty, sore and completely accomplished feeling.


So, winter work is is. Spring is on its way, and my evenings are spent seed stalking and with visions of the bulbs poking their heads out of my garden.

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