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  • Shelly Elliott

Power Tools & Green Thumbs


Hello Steel Toe & Stiletto followers! I promise I haven’t forgotten about you and I apologize it has been a few weeks since our last post! I have been working hard on something new, exciting, and inspiring (hint) to add to the blog, and I hope to have it launched and officially announced by mid-June!

On another note, my husband and I have also been doing spring cleaning and preparing the yard for summer! When we lived in Houston, we had a townhouse that didn’t have a yard, so we didn’t have much “prep work” for the yard. Now, in our rental house in Pittsburgh, we have a huge backyard that Biscuit absolutely loves! We have enjoyed having the extra space and we decided to take on a new adventure this year by planting a garden. We’re doing it a little differently though because we want to be able to take our garden with us when we buy a house in the area, so we decided to do raised garden beds.

Biscuit With His Summer Do

Scott did a lot of research on them and found a set of plans that fit the size we were looking for. Since I was out in Iowa for my work project basically all of April and May, he started the project on his own and put together the first two of the three beds. When I was home the first weekend in May, we were able to plant the first two beds together, which required 15 square feet (15 traditional bags) of soil apiece! We were able to plant zucchini, yellow squash, spinach, radishes, and green beans.

Last weekend, we tag-teamed putting together the third bed. We bought the lumber uncut and Scott has a rotary saw that he used to do the cutting. For the first twenty minutes or so, I watched him intently. Growing up, my parents NEVER used power tools. Ever. My dad can paint and that’s where the handiness ends. Mom and Dad always had my uncle and my godfather on speed-dial for when something propped up and we didn’t know what to do. About two years ago in Houston, I found an Introduction to Woodworking class that was being offered, and Scott and I signed up. I hadn’t touched a power tool since my tech ed. class in middle school, but I had an interest in it and I figured- why not? Scott, whose dad is extremely handy, agreed to take it with me, and it was a really fun way to spend a couple afternoons, learn how to use basic tools, and create a cutting board that we now use to serve cheese on.

The Final Product

But back to the garden beds. As I sat there watching Scott, I paid attention to every move: how he measured out each board, how he lined up the cut against the blade, checked the alignment, started the saw, slowly brought the saw down to make contact, pushed it smoothly through the blade to make a clean cut, then lifted the blade out of the board before he took his finger off the power switch. He looked up a few times, and he could read on my face that I wanted to do it. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t speak up to tell him I wanted to give it a try, but I’m also proud that Scott saw I wanted to try it and he said, “Why don’t you take a few cuts?” A man encouraging a woman to do something that’s not associated with the “housewife” role is something we need to see more of.

When we finished cutting the boards, we started lining them up and drilling them together. Again, I watched Scott intently with how he pre-drilled the holes, changed the drill bit, lined up the screw and drilled it straight into the wood. I watched about three times before speaking up and saying, “Let me try.” He didn’t hesitate. We were able to work in tandem and got the full bed put together and planted with tomatoes and peppers just before the skies opened up and a storm rolled through. It was a small project- after all, it wasn’t like we built a house or remodeled a bathroom- but it was satisfying and I felt a sense of accomplishment.

Shelly With The Saw: Getting my hands dirty and cutting the boards.

I started thinking about how many adult females I had seen use a power tool before. You know what the number was? One. One single person, Natalie, who ran our Introduction to Engineering class lab at Notre Dame. And if you don’t count a classroom setting, the number is zero. ZERO! At least not anyone that I could remember, and if I can’t remember, clearly it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

What I took away from this experience is how easy it is in our every-day lives to spot gender norms and, to tend to conform to them. I had Scott take the picture of me operating the rotary saw and I sent it to my mom, and the first thing she said was, “Stop! Do you really think you need to be running a saw!” Running a saw was never her thing, and it’s not number one on my list of fun things to do either, but there’s absolutely no reason why I can’t. I think part of my mom’s reaction was because she didn’t trust that I knew what I was doing, but I think that the other part was more of a generational gap. Mom took home economics instead of shop class, and similarly, she never saw her mom or aunts working with tools or building things.

I'm definitely not going to become "Shelly the Builder," and I'm not considering a career change into carpentry. But I am excited about future projects like these, and someday, when I have kids of my own, boy or girl, I want them to see me doing things that are typically associated with men like fishing, woodworking, mowing the lawn, washing the car, and similarly, see their dad do things that are typically associated with women like laundry, cleaning, and cooking (If you know us personally, you know he already does a majority of the cooking!). The bottom line is that it's hard to inspire change, especially a cultural change, if we don't exemplify the behavior ourselves when the future is watching. My challenge to you is what can you do to help?

For anyone interested, we got our garden plans from: http://www.wisconsinmommy.com/build-elevated-raised-garden-bed/

#summer #gardening #powertools #engineer

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