Leaping into December, Power Drill in Hand

9 Dec

The Grande Dame, Looking Regal in the Snow

My house is a beautiful old center hall colonial.  It was built in 1906, and it has the bones of a century-old home.  It also has all of the problems of any grande dame of its age: creaking and sloped floors, cracked plaster walls, screws that wiggle themselves free from God-knows-where to pop up suddenly under my bare feet, knob-and-tube wiring that prevents us from plugging in two blow dryers when a lamp is on anywhere in the house.

Many homeowners approach the care of an aging and temperamental home with gusto.  Not us.  After 13 years, we still live in our house as though there is a landlord, but he’s not answering his phone, dammit.  Something needs to be fixed?  Panic!  Wring your hands!  Don’t just do something; stand there!

Added to this chronic inability to fix anything is my level of extreme disorganization – which, I’m sorry to say, seems to have been inherited by all three of my children – Peter’s pathological horror of spending money, and my own genetic predisposition to a chronic and severe packrattedness.  The end result is that our beautiful home looks like it is occupied by the Joads.

For example…

We have French doors…with one panel of glass that’s been broken for two years.  I don’t mean cracked; I mean it was shattered by the large, hard head of a big dog chasing my cat.  (The cat was fine, and so, thankfully, was the dog.)  The pieces of glass that fell out were swept up, but a row of jagged glass teeth remain in the window frame.  For a while had a piece of cardboard – actually, part of the carrying case from a six-pack of beer – taped over the jagged glass with some attractive masking tape, but the tape eventually dried and curled and fell off, no longer holding the Molson artwork in place.  (There is a second cracked pane, but the glass is still intact in that frame, so, from Peter’s point of view, why would one even consider replacing that?)

The knob to our front hall closet broke some time ago.  It’s a funky, old knob that isn’t any kind of standard size, so isn’t easily replaceable.  And besides. there is still a small metal base of the knob, which, if  grasped firmly and carefully, can be turned to open the closet door.  Of course, we don’t actually use the closet for our coats because it is stuffed full of old coats that don’t fit anyone, along with a half-a-dozen bike helmets from when the kids were little, various pairs of boots that also don’t fit anyone, a bag of baby clothes and two pop-up tents.  I don’t know where the pop-up tents are from or why they are in the coat closet, so don’t ask.  We hang our actual coats on a free-standing coat rack in the front hall.  However, we do need to get into the coat closet every day because our porch lights, which are on an automatic timer located in said coat closet, don’t go on automatically.  No one knows why; we lost the directions for how to program the thing, so we have to go into the coat closet to override the non-working automatic function.

Actually, we didn’t lose the directions; we’ve just misplaced them.  They are definitely in the house somewhere.

Speaking of doors, every single screw on every single doorknob backplate has come out, so the backplates spin around like roulette wheels.  It would seem like a simple thing to screw the screws back in.  Unfortunately, all the screw holes are stripped.

A couple of the doorknobs come apart completely periodically, with knobs and various internal pieces clanging loudly and unexpectedly to the floor.  Usually this happens late at night.  Also, the door to the linen closet has to be hoisted up and jiggered into place in order to be closed fully.

The knob on the dining room light switch popped off and disappeared.  It’s not an up-and-down switch, but one of those knobs that you push in to turn on and off and rotate to brighten or dim the lights.  No one seems to make this kind of dimmer switch anymore. I’ve gotten quite adept at pushing and turning the little plastic stick that should have a knob on it.

And the gutters.  I pay my yard guy hundreds of dollars every year to clean them, but they seem to become clogged again by the first rainstorm after a cleaning.  Then I spend months standing in the rain, shaking my fist in frustration as water pours over the side of the gutter while nothing – not one drop – trickles out of the downspout.

So I have a vision for December.  This last month of 2011, I am going to learn to take care of my house.  I am going to climb up on a ladder and take a gander at my gutters myself, thank you very much.  I’m going to learn how to use wood filler and an electric drill.  And I’m going to replace that damn broken piece of window glass all on my own (okay, maybe with someone coaching me through it).

I am not so naïve as to think I’ll be pouring a foundation or framing new walls by January. But I do have a brain that, mostly, works, and this year is about trying new things.  Here we go…


12 Responses to “Leaping into December, Power Drill in Hand”

  1. Laura December 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Laughing so hard I’m crying!!!

  2. schmeightschmatchers December 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Love this! So funny! Sounds like our house. Can you believe it’s been 13 years? We’ve been in our a little more than 11. We’re hoping to insulate so the cool winter breeze doesn’t blow through the house this year.

    Good luck with your handywoman repairs.

    • Cathleen Barnhart December 9, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

      We too have some good breezes. We have a huge picture window in our back hall that is apparently not even put in properly. We just try to ignore it.

  3. Louis Greenzweig December 9, 2011 at 4:04 pm #


    First of all do not climb up on a ladder if you are over 50 and have not done this regularly in your profession for the past 30 years! Secondly, I think Peter is a great man with incredible skills but.. you should have married a shop teacher, such as myself, and all the i’s would be dotted and t’s would be crossed. I am also extremely well organized to the point of needing some therapy. I do not hold on to anything and have great garbage for the pickers. With that said, ” Happy Chanukah”.

  4. Rob Hirsh December 9, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Kathleen…..we have a “handyman” who is trustworthy and does excellent work . He actually worked as the foreman on the job of putting the addition on our house. He has two flaws…. He likes to drink and occasionally doesn’t show up. He charges reasonably materials(shows receipts) plus $45 per hour. We make a list of things that need to be done and he picks them off one at a time on evenings and weekends. Currently he is working on redoing our garage, cementing loose walkway stones and tarp over porch damaged by the storm. He has replaced all our gutters with new ones and placed gutter guards. With the exception of Jesus, Jews are not good at being carpenters, electricians or handymen. Honey do just doesn’t work with doctors. In the words of Dr Ira Karmin we do what we do well (doctoring) and what we don’t do we pay someone to do it for us (like a moiel) at a reasonable price. I love reading your blogs but this one I can help you with. If interested let me know and I can give Peter the info. Make a list and Every week pick a eject or two to tackle and just do it, before long their all done and you’ll add on new ones. That’s what happens in an old house. Prioritize based on need, season and expense but don’t let it slide because it piles up.
    Rob Hirsh

    • Cathleen Barnhart December 9, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

      By all means, give Peter the info. We have a great plumber and a fabulous electrician, but haven’t had luck finding someone to do the little stuff. I do still intend to try and learn to do some of this myself because I am tired of feeling like I’m in a sinking ship and don’t even know how to bail out the water.

  5. A December 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    Okay, now I am irritated! I woke up this morning to a really nice sunny day. I had a great creative project in mind, and instead, I have spent the whole day noticing the millions of little repairs that are needed in our house! Three insulating windows installed so far, and the living room windows cleaned! I hate you. A

  6. bronxboy55 December 10, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    I think you should email this post to one of those HGTV shows where they send a crew to your house to humiliate your husband and fix everything for you. I’m not saying you should put away the power drill, because they probably won’t come anyway. But you never know.

    • Cathleen Barnhart December 11, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

      Having an HGTV crew – or a This Old House crew – come to my house is actually my ultimate fantasy. If they would give me one of those cool little tool aprons and let me follow them around – wow! that would be heaven!


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