My dad can fix anything. Growing up with doers as parents is difficult. Because I have the gift of procrastination, almost anything that has ever needed doing, my parents have done.
Because they live several hours away and they are busily embedded in their own retirement over the past few years, I’ve started outsourcing some of the projects I had typically saved for my dad. When the house needed painting, Jim the Painter did a great job. I found people to help me from top (Dana at Dr. Roof http://www.drroof.biz ) to bottom ( crawl space http://www.newleafcrawlspace.com). I even found a place to change the oil in my car. When the brakes needed to be replaced, Les Schwab was amazing.
Unfortunately, because my parents don’t visit as often as they used to, I’m blissfully unaware of projects that I should be working on in order to prevent the need for help later. Now that I am retired and on a fixed income, I am suddenly aware of the things I’ve neglected. Drains clogged with something, air vents full of dust, broken light fixtures, dripping faucets, fencing on the verge of falling down and a deck with peeling paint have all been in the back of my mind for a few years (or since we moved in). I’ve neglected each of these parts of my home thinking that someday, I would get to them. Fortunately, I have friends over regularly* so the most important things are lovingly pointed out. Picky friends help with prioritization.
Last week, I had numerous reports of a faulty light in one of the bathrooms. I thought I’d addressed the problem with a battery operated nightlight type device. In fact, it made the bathroom seem also romantic. In the softly lit space, the cobwebs seemed to disappear. Sadly, users of the space seemed to demand a more permanent solution.
On Monday morning, I called my dad to share my dilemma and by Monday afternoon, a new light fixture was installed. Based on my history of identifying a concern and my dad fixing it, one might think that he came to my rescue or at the very least, given me a pep talk that would help me justify the cost of an electrician. Instead, he assisted via FaceTime and I did it myself.
Here are the steps my dad walked me through and important lessons I learned.
Step 1-Define the problem. Some wise person once said, “A problem well defined is a problem half solved.” My dad asked if I’d changed the bulb, what happened when I flipped the switch, if the other switch in the bathroom still turned on the fan, if I’d checked the circuit box and if I’d checked youtube. He assigned several youtube videos and a virtual trip to HomeDepot. We determined the problem was the light fixture.
Lesson Learned: At one point, he suggested we go from a phone call to Face Time. When talking on the phone, my dad will often have a thoughtful pause. I assume he’s thinking hard before he responds. On FaceTime, I saw him LAUGHING and regaining composure before responding when I asked questions. Have I misinterpreted his quiet pauses for years? Over the years an educator, I’ve had to bite the inside of my cheek when kids say things that seem ridiculously silly so I won’t laugh at them and crush their spirit. I’ve always thought of it as a well developed skill but maybe it’s something I learned from my dad. No matter how ridiculous my questions, he provided a reasonable answer.
Step 2-Turn off power to the area and remove things that can break. Based on his emphasis, multiple reminders and frequent checks for understanding, this must be the most important part of electrical work. He encouraged me to remove the glass parts of the fixture and the light bulbs before taking the rest of the fixture down. He didn’t know that I also had glass candle holders in my bathroom but I only had to drop my phone and one screwdriver (several times) before I realized that the candles and the mirror might also be better off elsewhere.
Lesson Learned: It’s easier to prevent a mess (or electrocution) than it is to deal with it after the fact. My dad has always been good at thinking about everything that could go wrong and planning for it.
Step 3-Purchase a new fixture. The $24.98 fixture ended up having an out of pocket expense of about $150 due to the time of day I went shopping. Home Depot at 10:30am on a Monday is like heaven! The aisle were nearly empty and I wandered up and down every one. There is so much to see and explore.
Lesson Learned: Just like you should never show for groceries on an empty stomach, you should never go to a Hardware store with a wallet.
Step 3.5-Because I was home alone, I unlocked my front door and left a trail of tools to the space where I was working. I did not test whether or not Siri would call 911 if asked but I know she will call my husband and children so I assumed that if I was injured in any way, the open door and well marked path would assist rescue personnel in finding me if someone needed to call for help.
Step 4-Remove the old light fixture. This included UNwiring things which seemed a little odd. Wire screws and electrical tape are handy tools I’d only used for craft projects so it was interesting to see how they are intended to be used. Because the location of the devise was in a room with no natural light and I don’t have a handy extension cord and utility light like my dad and the folks on Youtube, I was able to use my headlamp (used for early morning walks) to successfully see what I was doing. The flashlight on my cellphone, resting on my cleavage and held with my chin did not work very well.
Lesson Learned: Chairs are not ladders. Cell phones are not back up lighting for home improvement projects. The right tools matter.
Step 5-Reverse the process to install the new fixture. The color coded wires are supposed to match up. For instance, the black wires from the wall connect to the black wires in the new fixture. They go together handily using a wirenut.
Lesson Learned: It’s easier to add electrical tape that has been precut but if you use tape directly from the roll and drop everything, know that you can have several do-overs and you’ll be glad you moved the glass items from the area.
Step 6-Plan the next project. Because the unit with the wires was not perfectly centered above my sink, the new unit didn’t have as much wall coverage and I have 1998 wallpaper I had to place the new fixture in a way that would cover the hole in the wall. Unfortunately,, my new fixture is sure to irrigate people who like things aligned My next project could include plumbing or wall paper but at Home Depot, I also got a Drain Weasel and that is sure to provide hours of fun!
Here is the Drain Weasel in action!
*We have a weekly gathering at our house. A door to door salesperson who happened to stop by on a Wednesday and was invited in for food called our event a “Jesus Party” and I think this perfectly describes it. People that come to our party have Jesus in common—they are curious to learn, actively following, or have been invited in for a free meal by someone in the curious or active category. Because those who show up always bring fabulous food AND we have live music, very little is expected of me. For the most part, I need to make sure I toilet paper and everything else takes care of itself.