“Sweet Pea” Weighs In on Home Repair

Through the miracle of technology, today’s post is being published in absentia. I am currently on the road (about 5 hours into a 14 hour trip) with Kids A-E, as we are heading to the beach for a few weeks. Sheepdog has graciously agreed to fill in for me, and while he may not be as quick-witted, he certainly is a lot less dimwitted. I am very grateful for his contribution and I certainly second the message that you can do a lot more than you think. Especially when you learn to delegate. Ta-da!

Also, I believe that doing your own work and home repairs will contribute to the de-pussification of Americans, which really needs to happen soon. Nobody does their own stuff anymore. Did you know that they had to add a fight class to basic training in our military because so many new recruits had never been punched in the nose up until that point in their lives? We need to toughen up, people! So start by fixing your own lawn mower. And there’s nothing wrong with a well-deserved punch in the nose.

P.S. Do not think about breaking into my house while I am on vacation. Sheepdog is home with all of the guns and he is always looking for an excuse to shoot someone. Plus, I think that absolutely everything we own is in this car with us right now. Seriously, these kids sure “need” a ton of stuff.


The people who came up with the whole Idiot Series really tapped into a huge market, didn't they?

HOME REPAIR: DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL by honorary guest writer, Sheepdog

In one of the recent posts, Stacy mentioned that I replaced our ailing dishwasher. Don’t be impressed – anyone can replace a dishwasher. Installing a dishwasher is a small job. There are only three connections: electricity, water and the drain. Stacy could have easily done it given a bit of notice and more time. I challenge and encourage everyone to try to do that next home – or auto – repair project on your own. You will probably learn lots and enjoy it more than you think.

I replaced the dishwasher because I hate waste and inefficiency and paying someone to do something I can do myself seems wasteful. Also, I wanted to make sure it was done right. I have had to redo several jobs I paid people to do incorrectly and/or inefficiently. Whenever I am looking at a project, the first thing I do is make sure I am not biting off more than I can chew. You can go online and quickly learn whether the job is beyond your ability. I analyze whether the task requires a technician or a craftsman. I can replace a dishwasher but finished carpentry requires a craftsman, an artist, and I don’t currently have the skills to do it correctly, or the time right now to learn them. But don’t underestimate yourself. Kid A recently helped me refinish our wooden front door and it turned out really nice – and I am proud every time I look at it. Err on the side of trying to do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. Worst case scenario, you hire the person you were going to hire anyway.

I am lucky. I learned to fix things at an early age. I grew up in West Virginia. To say rural would be redundant. Things were pretty spread out. I spent lots of time on bikes, mini-bikes and motorcycles. These were fun but also important to get to the ball field or friends’ houses. We didn’t have lots of money and I was hard on equipment, so I had to learn to fix things or be stuck at home. I was also lucky to have a dad that encouraged me (sometimes forced would be more accurate) to help him work on his trucks and around the house. Some of my best childhood memories are of listening to Mountaineer football games on the radio with my dad while we changed the oil, did a grease job or a break job on one of his work trucks. These experiences gave me confidence to do other projects later.

Even if you didn’t grow up wrenching, it’s never too late to learn. When looking at a new project, I usually start on the internet. But it is tough to beat getting help from someone with experience, so ask your mom or dad or a friend for advice or to help. Head down to the local VFW, buy some guys some beers and then turn the discussion to your project. You will be amazed at how many guys would love to help. Just be prepared to be referred to as “Nancy,” “Sally,” or “Sweet Pea” all day. This is part of the fun and a little humble pie is good for all of us. If none of these are available or the options make you uncomfortable, the next time you hire someone, stay while they do the project. Watch and ask questions. Remember, you are paying them.

Once you have decided you are going to do a project and have some information, I suggest applying the following principles to all projects:

  1. Read the directions carefully – This is a habit I developed in engineering school and it applies to home projects too. I usually read directions at least three times: the first time to get acquainted with the subject matter, the second time I highlight and the third I take notes. I almost always supplement the directions with internet research.
  2. Prepare – Think the project through. I assemble all the tools and material I think I will need before I start. This should include things like buckets and towels if you are working on something with water (I always spill some water). Trust me, take the time to learn where all the shut off valves are located before you break the water line.
  3. Plan to fail – Plan enough time to complete the project without having to rush. Anticipate setbacks. Almost every project will have some kind of unanticipated obstacle. A good rule of thumb is that the project may cost double what you expect and take three times as long. This is true whether you are doing it yourself or paying someone.
  4. Relax, take your time and enjoy the process – If you are rushing you increase the likelihood that you will make mistakes and that you will not enjoy yourself. I used to rush through every project. It is a good way to mess up. I remember the time a friend and I replaced the clutch in my mid-80’s S-10 Chevy Blazer. We put the pressure plate in backwards. We figured this out at 10 p.m. and I needed the truck the next day. The four-hour job became a nine-hour job (we stopped to curse… a lot). We were more meticulous the second time. Take your time and the project will go faster – slow down to speed up.
  5. Retreat and call reinforcements if necessary – Ask for help if you get in over you head. No need to trash the equipment or your house. You can still hold your head high. You gave it a shot and you will definitely learn something when help arrives.
  6. Check your work – I test everything before buttoning it up. When I replaced the dishwasher, I left all of the trim off and ran a cycle to make sure nothing leaked before closing it all up. You will usually see problems right away if you made mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to fail. In my experience, too many people (me included) too often let fear keep them from doing things that would be enriching and enjoyable. WIth a little preparation you will be amazed at what you can do. Plus, experience is the best teacher. The more projects you do, the more you will learn and future projects will be easier and less intimidating. What you learn replacing the dishwasher will help you when the garbage disposal dies. You will enjoy the sense of accomplishment in a job well done. I almost always appreciate home improvements more when I do them myself than when I pay someone. The confidence you gain will carry over to other aspects of your life. These projects will help you to continue to learn and grow. So give it a shot and enjoy!

Girl Power: Fail

I have always been the kind of girl who wanted to do the stuff, instead of sitting idly by and watching someone else do it for me.  As a toddler I’m sure I petulantly said, “Do byself!” more than I said, “Mama.” (Sorry, Mom).  As a teenager I excelled in both Home Economics and Industrial Arts classes; I even earned the Shop (I.A.) Award at my 8th Grade Graduation ceremony. “That’s my SON!” yelled my dad, his chest swelling with pride.  I know how to sew a button, drive a stick shift, change out a toilet flapper, orienteer myself out of the woods, and cook a medium-rare petite filet on a gas grill that I lit all by myself even if the starter does not work.

Now don’t go thinking that I am some angry feminist who does not need no ma-an around to help me survive.  I just like the security of knowing that I could do these things if ever I need to.  I have no desire to cut my ma-an off at the boy parts to show how strong I am.  That would be a dumb power play and, I think, the mark of an underconfident, weak woman.  I respect and value Sheepdog and his contributions very much.  I think that Sheepdog and I make an excellent team because we respect each other and we have walked a mile in each other’s shoes (well, as much as that is even possible) and we both work together to run this family.

The problem with our current roles is that we have been in them for a while, so my survival skills are now a little stale.  I haven’t been the breadwinner in this family since we were first married and I worked full-time and Sheepdog was in law school.  I would most likely not succeed in an office environment at this point in my life (Um, so you’re saying that I should not take a little siesta after I watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey on my computer.  This company is lame.  Take this job and shove it!), nor would Sheepdog last being a full-time stay-at-home-dad who has to sacrifice regular workouts for sick kids and cross-country travels for SpongeBob SquarePants (truth be told, SpongeBob is awesome and we both watch that show if it happens to be on), but you understand what I’m saying.  Unless you keep practicing all of your skills, you may lose them.

As you know, the past few days have been filled with E.R. visits, pediatric orthopedic surgeons and Wee Walker Boot applications.  It has also been filled with the cold-that-will-not-go-away, a kitchen knife accident (I actually have a lot of these – I think my knives hate me) and a broken dishwasher, thanks to good old Mr. Murphy and his stupid Law.

Fortunately, the home improvement stores were having Memorial Day sales this past weekend, so we got a new dishwasher for a great price.  Delivery was scheduled for Wednesday.  On Tuesday the robot lady called and informed me that our delivery time was to be between 8 and 10 PM.  Odd, but I can’t exactly question a robot and I know we’ll be home then, so I pulse uno para “si.”  Sheepdog says that it is a good plan, because he can disconnect the old dishwasher when he gets home on Wednesday night.  Don’tcha know that the delivery guys call me the next morning, after Sheepdog has left for work (that is decidedly not near our house, by the by), and tell me that the robot lady has a screw loose and she actually meant AM.  So they’ll be by within the hour and could I be ready to accept delivery of the new dishwasher and give them the old one for free pickup?  Ever the “Do byself!” Girl, I again respond in the affirmative, and proceed to get my dishwasher disconnecting groove on.

Do I cut the red wire or the blue wire? Do a good job. Do a good job. Do a good job.

Long story short, even though I have Sheepdog on the speaker phone for tech support and I send him a picture of a new problem every two minutes from my phone, I do not manage to disconnect the dishwasher by the time the delivery guys ring my front doorbell.  I do, however, manage to almost flood the kitchen (which is directly above our fancy media room, mind you), seriously scratch up the wood floor in a spot that I look at every single day and it will quickly drive me mad and require a complete refurbishing of all of the wood floors on the first level, and also turn off both of our hot water heaters which later required Sheepdog to relight the pilot because no one was getting hot water for their evening showers.

Sheepdog then comes home after a full day of work, uninstalls the dishwasher, installs the new one, diagnoses and fixes the above-mentioned hot water issue, and then does about two hours more of work on his computer before bed.  I think I heard him make a couple of Tim Taylor Tool Time self-satisfied grunts throughout the night, but I did not comment at all because they were completely justified.  In my self-pitying rut, I threw in the towel about making a nutritious dinner, ordered pizza and picked up a giant bottle of wine.

Girl Power: Fail.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a crap load of This Old House episodes to catch up on, so that I may continue to be worthy of that Shop Award.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…