Home Repair Lessons

Over the course of my life, I’ve had the privilege of working with two talented men – my father and my husband – on a variety of home repair and home remodeling projects. My dad taught me basic things such as how to paint and varnish, how to hammer a nail properly, and how to repair cracked wood with putty.  By my teens, I could repair, sand, and paint all manner of things around the house.

My husband and I have painted every room in our home at least twice, learned to put up wallpaper together, and rebuilt a spring house.  Actually, he did most of the work on that project, but I did hand him tools and materials, so I watched the whole thing take shape.

This week, it occurred to me that I’ve also learned a lot of things that help with home repair, but aren’t actually home repairs.  For example, many years ago, I realized that it’s never a good idea to “eyeball” things to determine if they are straight.

This lesson was brought home about twenty years ago, when my husband and son were placing a large Christmas tree in the stand.  One was lying on his stomach, securing the trunk to the stand and the other was halfway inserted into the tree, holding it up.  My job was to tell them when the tree was straight and could be fully secured.  I did this rather well, I thought, and the screws were tightened.  Then they pulled out from their respective positions, looked at the tree, and then looked at me like I had grown a second head.

That was primarily because the tree was at about at 60 degree angle, tipping widely to the left.  Our son even drew a picture of it to commemorate the occasion – after he wriggled back under the tree to loosen the stand.

It’s an important lesson, and one which is why some smart person invented a tool called the level.  We used the level this week when we were attempting to find and create a chalk line on our living room ceiling. We used a pole to mark the center of the ceiling, and since all lines were going to come from that mark, it was important that the pole was level.  I was looking at the pole from across the room, assuring my husband it was straight.

He wisely used the level to move it about an inch to the left, and then, it was straight.  Lesson learned.

The reason we were being careful was because it is important that our chalk line is right down the middle.  That’s the second lesson I learned this week – make sure that your chalk line tool has chalk in it.

 We pulled the little string out and I thought it was going to be difficult to see the chalk line if it was white and the ceiling is white. It took several times of rewinding the string and pulling it out for us to realize that there was no chalk in the tool.  So…off we went to the hardware store to buy blue chalk dust.  We filled the tool, shut it tightly and voila! We were able to make a perfectly visible chalk line!              

Putting a chalk line on the ceiling requires both of us to be on step ladders.  These ladders weren’t terribly tall, but did the job for us. At least, they did when placed correctly.  The third lesson I discovered is that when placing a step ladder, it’s critical to make sure the floor is flat and secure. 

The floors in our living room are 210 years old and there’s one little piece that’s about 4 inches long by one inch wide that’s just wedged in between two other pieces.  Naturally, that’s the tiny little area I placed the right front leg of my ladder. 

Having not noticed this little wood chunk, I was surprised when the ladder leg slipped down several inches, toppling me off the first step.  That poor little wood chunk wasn’t prepared to hold my weight at all!

 Lessons learned:  use a level, fill your chalk line reel with chalk, and place that ladder carefully.  Also – not a good idea to use a ladder in flip-flops.  This wasn’t a problem (this time), it’s just good advice.

Things Come in Threes

My mom always said that bad “stuff” came in threes – bad news, bad experiences, bad luck – you know, “stuff.”  Sometimes weird stuff comes in threes, too.  I know this because we had a really weird day this week.   

               It started when I decided to ask my husband to go out for dinner after we mowed and gardened all day. He had been given a gift card to Outback Steakhouse over a year ago and I thought this was a good day to use it.  That way, we got a free or inexpensive, but good meal.  Now Outback isn’t a place we go routinely, but I generally like it. 

               So, being a good sport, he agreed and I snagged the card from the desk and off we went.   As we passed by our gardens, Matt remarked that two of our solar lights weren’t working and perhaps the batteries were bad. Neither of us pondered that for long. 

We went to Outback and enjoyed a great loaf of warm bread and two excellent salads.  My shrimp was tasty.  His sandwich was a bit on the skimpy side – only about a half teaspoon of the “signature sauce” (our waitperson brought more) and the butt-end of a tomato.  You know, the last slice with the little tip on the end?  We typically give that to our dog, and in fact, the part we give him is quite a bit larger than the quarter-sized “slice” on that sandwich.  But…that wasn’t the weird part.

               The first weird thing that happened was when I opened my wallet to retrieve the gift card.  Matt asked me, “So where did we get that card from?” and I told him from one of his staff persons when he retired.  As I pulled the card out, he said, “That was from Texas Roadhouse.”  I looked down at the card, and indeed, it was for Texas Roadhouse.  Thankfully, I hadn’t actually placed it in the folder to try to pay the bill with it.

               As we waited for change, having not had a free or inexpensive meal, I texted our son.  He’s been laid up lately and I asked if he wanted anything.  He asked for a sandwich from Steak-n-Shake.  We drove there next, and got in line.  After waiting about three minutes, the voice on the speaker told us it would be “about a fifteen minute wait.” Okay, we love our son, so we decided to wait.

               About five minutes later, a young man came out of the back door to tell us (really to yell at us from 30 feet away), that their “system was updating” and it would be – “hopefully” – another ten or fifteen minutes before we could order.  Apparently they cannot prepare food when their computers are down. I reasoned that they had never been instructed on the use of antique implements for documentation such as paper and pencil.  We drove away and procured food from McDonalds.  A sad substitute (though our son consumed it like manna from heaven). 

               Returning from our two-time weird dinner trip, we walked again toward our garden.  Matt suggested we look at the lights and both of us realized, simultaneously, that solar lights do not have batteries that “go bad.”  That’s when Matt said, “Did we ever turn them on?”

               We grabbed one light each, flipped the little switch and voila!  Gardens were lighted!

               Weird things do come in threes, but as Matt pointed out, at some point I do get another dinner out – this time at Texas Roadhouse.  Perhaps that was my subconscious plan all along (I’ll never tell)!

Godwinks

I’m late in posting but not much funny has happened.  Masks are coming off and people are still driving selfishly.  Neither of those things are funny.  More people are getting vaccinated and people are still throwing junk in our yard.  Not amusing, either.  Our son had an accident and fractured his ankle, requiring surgery and a lengthy recovery period.  Really not anything there to make me smile.

               So, I’ve been struggling to post a late spring, early summer, funny blog entry.  It’s rainy, hot, humid and people are complaining about the weather (remember when it was February and people wanted it to not be cold?).  I’ve been dashing back and forth, trying to keep our son’s house tidy, food in his fridge and worrying about him/praying for him (counter intuitive activities, I realize).

               Then, I had a Godwink day.  Several things happened that made me realize the world is still rotating and my personal little world is going to be okay.

               I’ve had an appointment with an oral surgeon for several months, waiting to hear his recommendation on a tooth that needs extraction.  I’m a nut about the dentist anyway – even a simple cleaning raises my blood pressure many points and causes panic attacks.  So the thought of an extraction had me on the edge of my seat.  The dentist!  Surgery!  The pain!  Complications!  (Okay, there probably won’t be any, but it’s a possibility that strikes terror into the already-fearful brain).  The horrible food afterward! (Seriously, I am shunning carbs these days, so there’s maybe two things on the list I can actually eat – eggs, and sugar-free jello.  Gag.).

               So, there I was, sitting there with palms sweaty, wondering just how horrible this appointment would be.  Then the receptionist happily announced that my dental insurance was in “their network.” That was a first – and happy – moment. 

               Shortly thereafter, the nurse, Julie, came to get me.  She was pleasant, too, and very kind to me while I babbled, fidgeted, and basically behaved like a scared child.  When inputting my name into her computer, she double-checked that my actual name is “Sue” and not “Susan.”  As her name is “Julie” not “Julia,” we shared amusing anecdotes about times people have called us by incorrect names.  As the morning progressed, I was a little less nervous.

               The doctor came in the room, still chatting with the nurse who was with him, saying something like “I’ve decided not to be frustrated about it.”  (It’s a good thing when your oral surgeon isn’t frustrated, by the way).  I naturally inquired what was going on and he indicated he was having problems with the licensing bureau.

               If you’re a driving adult on the planet, you’ve likely had some difficulty with the license bureau.  But after a few inquiries about what he’d been going through – trouble getting the same person on the phone, being told he hadn’t submitted proper paperwork, renewing the temporary tags, and getting a vin inspection – I had a sense of déjà vu.  “Did you buy your car online?” I asked.  Because our son did this in January, and it took months of emails and phone calls to get his actual license plates.

               As it turns out, he did and he is currently going through the same rather annoying process to get his actual license plates that our son did.  I was grateful to be able to assure him that, with perseverance, he would prevail in getting a real license plate.

               It felt a bit like these interactions were all just supposed to happen.  Maybe this tooth extraction won’t be so bad, after all. Godwink moments really do make a person feel better.

Landscape Lanterns

We had this great idea to spruce up our son’s house landscaping by adding some solar lights to his steps.  Well, okay, it was my idea, but my husband indulged me, saying he thought it would look great, as well.

This being my idea, it became my project and I was certain it was so easy I would need no assistance whatsoever. (First mistake, never take your own skills for granted!). I managed to get to the store, find the solar lighting I wanted, purchase eight of them, and return home without much stress.  In fact, it was completely stress-free –which maybe should have put me on full alert.  Really, my projects are usually great ideas, sometimes fun, but rarely stress-free.       

Now mind you, we only needed five lanterns, but they come in sets of four. Or at least the ones I liked did.  Fortunately, we have seven or eight garden areas around our own home that can benefit from lighting, so I wasn’t worried.

I opened the boxes and removed the instructions, carefully setting them aside to read  – if needed – later.  I mean, come on, how complicated can solar lights be?  I then took out each and every one of the lovely little lights and removed them from the loose, plastic baggie one by one.  I carefully set them on the side of our son’s driveway, which faces south and gets full sun most of the day.  It was about noon and the directions indicated that it took 12 hours for a full charge, so I figured we’d get some light that evening and fully charge them the next night.

               Then, because I didn’t read the rest of the directions, I turned the lights onto the large end (which, as it happens, is upside down).  I can’t honestly say I did this with some conscious thought, it just seemed to me that the battery must be in the bottom, so that’s the end that would need the sunlight (another mistake, are you keeping count?  If so, you actually already missed one).

               After dinner that night, we were too tired to go out and assemble the lanterns.  I thought it was okay, since they weren’t going to be fully charged until the next day anyway.  But Matt went out with the dog and when he returned (after dark), he asked me if I had taken the plastic off the lanterns.  Well, duh, yes, the bags surrounding the lights were hard to miss (I thought this, but of course merely responded, “yes, honey, I did”).

               Just about dark, our son arrived home and texted me “are you painting the lights?”  I texted back, “no, they’re just charging and should be on tomorrow night.”

               What NEITHER of these guys said to me is anything about why those lanterns, which had been in the sun since noon, were not lighted. Neither of them said, “well, then, why aren’t they on?” They just accepted my answers to their rather ambiguous questions.                    

               So the next day, I went out to assemble the lights on their stakes and when I turned the first lantern over, I saw…yeah, plastic film.  (this was the second mistake I made).  Then, when I finally removed the plastic film I realized that this was the correct end of the light to be in the sun.  So naturally, the batteries weren’t charged in the slightest.

               Having removed the film and turned them right side up, they were beautiful by nightfall.  Another successful project completed!  But don’t worry, I’m not quitting my day job!

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