A Homeowner’s Self Induced Curse

Robin: Aren’t you one of those guys?
Quinn: What guys?
Robin: Those guy guys, you know, those guys with skills.

Quinn: Skills?

Robin: Yeah. You send them into the wilderness with a pocket knife and a Q-tip and they build you a shopping mall.

(from the 1998 movie Six Days and Seven Nights with Harrison Ford and Ann Heche)

It has been a while since my last post. I have been busy because I was pulled somewhat reluctantly back into my handyman persona for a short time. I am a native New England-er, raised in Maine to be more specific. And as such, I was raised in a culture where self taught, self reliance is an enforced necessity. This is especially true if you own your own house.

After a short climb around my family tree You would meet self reliant owners of small farms, self taught mechanics, repairmen and other practitioners of what Jeff Foxworthy might refer to as “Redneck Tech”

I am proud of this heritage. My Dad had a wood shop for building signs. I had ready access to tools and all the scrap wood that I wanted. I built my sister a somewhat crude doll house when I was in the second grade. From then on I grew up unafraid of the sore muscles and occasional cut or scrape you get sometimes get working with hand tools. I learned by watching. When I was a small child, every time my folks hired a TV repairman or my call up my Uncle to come fix the washer or other misbehaving appliance, I would be right there watching the man work. I was fascinated with the magic of it all. My Mom usually tried to get me to leave the repairman to his work but every one of them seemed to understand my awe and let Mom know that It was okay with them if I stayed and watched.

My grandfather was famous for his love of tinkering. In his life he had been a mechanic, He had managed a saw mill once and spent a good part of his life raising his family working the family farm. In his later years he never gave up his love for tinkering with cars and always had some near operational junk car to work on in his driveway. I have a memory of him struggling with a wrench under the hood of one of these cars, swearing with his thick Maine accent, “Dammer-we-gotter-now” Before Grampa started to fail in health, he built the well house in my folks yard that is still there today and he taught me how to change the tire on a bicycle.

There is a family story my grandmother shared with me when I was young. I t seems that Grampa wanted to help Grammy by installing an old washing machine motor on a hand butter churn to make life easier for her. The project failed when the motor turned out to be too strong for the way he had it set up and the result splashed milk all over Grammy’s Kitchen walls and ceiling.

Which brings be to my first point about being handy. Handy men are never discouraged by failure. All mistakes are actually just lessons that we accept and then we move on. We learn that in order to be appreciated we only have to get it right once. All the screw ups are are actually collections of left over tools, supplies and lessons that are applied to the next job. Eventually, when you become old enough to actually start to feel annoyed by the folks who start to rely on your expensive hard fought knowledge, you become competent. After 17 years of home ownership I can assure you, that you will remember every errant missed paint drip and and every accidental divot caused by the rented floor sander on your beautiful oak hardwood floor. Like life, you live with these things, become philosophical and move on to the next project.

Which brings me to the present. It all started with a pesky leak in our shower. My wife noticed the puddle in the basement and asked me to fix it. I had been getting tired of re-caulking our leaky tub surround all these years and proposed a trip to the local “handymans mecca” to consider replacing the the surround which I thought I could accomplish in a day or so. I work nights so the time to get this work done was not easy to come by.

Things escalated after we got to Lowes Home Improvement Center. Two days later a new surround, new fiberglass-acrylic tub, 6 sheets of mold resistant green-board (drywall), and a set of nice glass shower doors arrived to our garage. My wife now parked her car in the driveway and two days later we were all taking sponge baths in the sink and showering at my mother in laws.

Demo-ing the walls was fun but it went down hill from there. The original cast iron tub weighed as much as a car engine. My son and I slid it out of the house on a blanket. Underneath where the old tub had been, water had damaged the floor joists. More repair work for me. The new tub weighed only 60 lbs but required a cement mortar base to be poured to support it. Before this I had to modify the original stud-wall and move all the plumbing over 2 inches and dry fit the tub. It took three attempts to get the fit right and in the process I was on the internet ordering a kit to fix a small chip I managed to get in the acrylic.

After the tub was installed and properly plumbed, I installed the green-board which was supposed to back up the surround, at the advice of Lowes I might add. The surround and doors would be installed last to finish up the bulk of the project.

With the drywall taped, mudded and sealed nicely, I gave myself a pat on the back as I went to the garage to get the plastic surround. The pat was premature. The surround didn’t fit!. On looking at the instructions again I discovered that it was designed to be installed directly on the stud-wall!

With much swearing and gnashing of teeth I ripped out a days worth of unnecessary work and a few days later the surround and nice glass sliding doors were installed. Dammer-we-gotter-now!

The first shower in my own house after 3 weeks felt heavenly.

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Who Is My Neighbor?

One of my favorite sayings is from the TV program “The Walton s” where the character Olivia Walton uttered the wise words: “It takes all types to make a world”. It is so easy to get caught up in myself and forget that at times. In our own families we can often get close enough to each other to recognize each others feelings and dreams. In healthy families, we do our best to support each other and share each others strengths without taking advantage of each others weakness. In healthy communities and neighborhoods that trust and support extends outwards to our neighbors. We are strongest when we learn enough about each other to tolerate and even support each others differences.

I wonder if people are willing to consider these questions. What are your next door neighbors names? If you noticed that the mail was piling up in their mailbox would you go over to check on them? If your new neighbor came from a different culture or background would you ignore them out of fear or walk over and welcome them to the neighborhood?

On a trip to Pennsylvania that my wife and I took some years ago I was impressed by the beautiful well-kept farms in the Amish/ Mennonite communities that we got to see. The family values in these close-knit communities often extended into the design of the architecture. You would often see the living structures with up to three separate additions to accommodate the family as it grew. As the farmer’s sons grew up and married, an addition would be built to house the next generation. The elders were cherished cared for and respected as contributing members of the family.

Most of this country is accustomed to training our young to be kicked out of the nest as soon as they are able to spread their wings. Many parents start planning for this from the day their child is born and start saving for the child’s education. As these same parents grow older there are often practical and financial obstacles to rejoining the children in a mutual living arrangement. When health deteriorates and the kids are in two job households, there is no one to watch out for Mom or Dad as they enter the twilight years. Indeed their contributions to the family can often be overlooked as the new generations struggle to raise the kids in a new cycle that disconnects families. It would be preferable for most of us to live at home surrounded by family instead of living alone in a nursing home. Yet with the way families choose to structure themselves, the nursing home is often considered as the only alternative even though a visiting nurse is all that is needed.

It is so easy to forget the things that made us strong in this country. Many have been crying out for our government to step up and take care of the helpless and infirm and indeed that is a role that it should be playing. The Federal role in this is currently under much debate. However I would like to remind everyone in this country that while the argument is going on, we are not helpless. We are often disconnected from each other but this does not have to be so. We do not have to wait for the Federal budget. We do not have to wait for the States and Municipalities to raise our taxes to compensate for federal shortfalls. We do not have to wait for “someone else” to do anything.

We can check on our neighbors before the next Northeaster to see if they have enough food or heat and share what we have. If your elderly neighbors or couples live alone, invite them over for a meal, a cup of coffee or a game of cards, We can invite our parents and children back into our homes and lives. We can and should share and respect our valuable experiences with each other.

Some families and cultures can do this with ease and for others the learning curve will be steep. But we can care about each other if we really want to. Individuality and privacy are nice to a point in this American culture But we need to care about each other and that is a deficit we can all start working on today. Okay pop quiz: Who is your family? Who are your neighbors?

Reflections Over Choices That Rule Our Selfish Politics.

I have been feeling a bit of unease and unexplained guilt these days. Seems like lately that I have been living in a bubble where events have been stomping on the lives of others while fate has been carefully avoiding treading on the blessings in my life. We had a wonderful but all too short vacation in Maine and arrived home just in time to prepare for and survive Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, which roared through our area and caused a great deal of damage and some loss of life. But not to me personally.

Across the river in nearby Vermont the damage was profound. Towns were stranded and isolated by flood waters. Hundreds of roads were closed for days. People lost their homes. Some folks lost their lives in the deluge. The other day I heard someone talking about a Dairy farmer who lost 80 cows in the flood. Three historic covered bridges, that I knew and admired, are now gone. In my own state 15 miles to the south a beautiful scenic road through the White Mountains was washed out and closed.

Personally, my family and I got off easy. The threatening storm forced us to move over 4 tons of rock and sand by hand to finish a project in one day that I was planning to do at a much slower pace over 2 weeks. We got some extra exercise and some sore muscles. But so what? In my case, the exercise was a good thing. We got the job done just in time for the day of heavy rain and wind that Irene provided as she raced through our area. With all the damage that occurred around us, we got through it without even losing our power or cable TV. We lost the internet for a short time. That was it. The heavy rain and wind did not even affect our unprotected garden. I am in the process of canning another batch of tomatoes today.

Then we all relived the awful attack on our country of ten years ago. We were all one people for a small moment in time. Ordinary citizens were suddenly fighting and dying against an evil hatred and forces that I barely understood.Like a lot of us in this country, I had been blissfully ignorant of this profound hatred. I came to the conclusion, after a while, that we needed to fight against the evil that attacked us by fighting the evil that also exists within ourselves.

I personally lost no one in the attack of September 11, 2001, but it has taken me 10 years to realize that in this instance I did not emerge unscathed. The bubble of blessings that I have been living under has not protected me from everything. I have felt for a long time that compassion always trumps fear. Yet for a short time I allowed fear and anger to rule my thinking. I let fear tell me that the freedom we have given up in the last 10 years was okay. I let fear rule over compassion as I viewed strangers with suspicion because they did not dress the way I did. I have watched Judaism, Christianity and Islam all claim to understand that God is sovereign over his creation yet I watch each claim to have the right to kill to defend their interpretation of what God wants. I wonder if anyone ever really gets around to asking God what he wants and at this point I wonder if we even deserve an answer anymore.

Blessings are gifts. You may not be worthy of the gift when you get it but like all gifts it often incurs a sense of obligation to reciprocate in kind if you want to maintain a friendship with the giver.

I want to practice and remember what is worthwhile in living my life. I realize now that I can no longer rely on ignorance to provide that feeling of peace and contentment that I thought I was working for. I have responsibility to maintain my compassion and awareness of others that I did not feel before.

We all need to choose between compassion and fear and then build our ethical platforms around the choice. I choose compassion. Others will not and that is the only true battle we are facing in this life.

Compassion is a direction and a path which requires a map. Fear is a path that is easy to follow. All it requires is to allow ourselves to become lost. Now all we have to do is stop and ask for directions. I am not too proud to ask. Please join me.

Happy Birthday

(This is part fiction and part fact ,based on a dream that I woke up in the middle of. The waking up grumpy with the TV blaring part is based on factual events)

Yawn, damn I can’t sleep, Who left the TV on come on guys I have to work tonight.

For almost a a half century Quality and beautiful craftsmanship has been hallmark tradition here in the North Country”

Damn I hate this commercial now its going to be stuck in my head all friggen night. HEY COMMON GUYS WHAT DID YOU DO WITH THE FRIGGING REMOTE I NEED TO GET SOME SLEEP

I HAVE TO GET UP LATER AND DO SOMETHING shit now I’m so tired and pissed and I can’t even remember what I was supposed to do. I hope it wasn’t important. She always gets grumpy when I forget stuff I told her I would do.

All the things you wanted but couldn’t have for Christmas are on sale now at Sears

WILL SOMEBODY PLEEEZE FIND THE REMOTE AND TURN THIS OFF!!!.Dammit now I will never get back to sleep. What was I supposed to do today? I know. I will look in her calendar! Oh shoot there is this big X on tomorrow now I know I am in trouble. What the heck was I supposed to remember to do? Aurgh!

and now we turn to our Hallmarks Hall of Fame family movie, Hallmark, When you care enough to send the very best”

Ya right what genius came up with that sappy phrase, I SWEAR IF YOU GUYS DON’T TELL ME WHERE THE REMOTE IS SOMEBODY IS NOT GOING TO BE HAPPY! I will never get these gosh darn TV ads out of my head now.

Knock , Knock, Knock, “ Dad Can I come in?”

“Yeah sure. What can I do for you son, Have you seen the remote?”

“ Its right there under your pillow Dad, Uh can you do me a favor and take me to the mall in the morning when you get home from work? I haven’t got a present for Moms birthday yet.”

SO THAT WAS IT!…. ohshit

“Whats that Dad?

“ Uh nothing , Yeah Okay meet me in the drive way when I get home and I will take you.”

“Thanks Dad. Mom would not like it if I forgot her birthday.”

Hurricane Irene is expected to make landfall as a category 3 storm sometime tomorrow morning. Full report at six”

It Begins With: We The People, Not We The Government.

I have never been without access to adequate food clothing or shelter. There were a couple of times in my life that I came very close to living in my car but I never crossed that threshold and I never had to ask for extra government support to dig my way out of the hole that I was in. My parents raised us on an income that sometimes was considered near or below considered below the federal poverty guidelines for a family our size, but we never ever considered ourselves poor. And most of the world’s true poor would not be impressed if we tried to make that claim as they struggle daily for access to proper food shelter and clean water. My grand parents on both sides of the family hustled and scraped and generally worked their tails off to get by in the most trying economic times this country has ever seen. My parents lived through the Depression and war-time rationing that forced them to set clear and severe priorities just to get by. There is a true story in my family of my grandfather traveling to purchase fish which he brought home to fillet in his kitchen which he then proceeded to sell door to door to earn some money to support his for his family. My wife’s grandfather raised 15 kids working a farm, also starting and running a lumber camp and generally doing everything he could to support his family without help from the government. My mom was bought up on a family farm and her story is similar.

The point that I want to make is that I grew up in a family tradition where hard work was considered a normal state of life. Divorce was rare. Parents married and then raised their children. Fathers stuck around for better or worse and respect for each other was measured by your level of honesty not by how nice a car you were able to own.

Having said this it should now come as no surprise that I hold these very same values as founding principles for good citizenship. I feel this way because I have observed that a strong family is the framework on which everything else in our society depends on.

The world has changed a lot since my parents and grandparents time. This is our time. Divorce is more common. I have experienced the trauma and sadness of it myself. Families have been fractured and redefined. My son has more than one phone number for some of his friends as they move back and forth between two families. I know a great many single mothers who need WIC, food stamps and their low paying job just to get by. And I know many grandparents who are placed back into the role of parent after their own children have grown just so their children can work as daycare is too expensive on the wages paid at Wal-Mart. We are a service economy now. Most of our higher paying jobs are being lured overseas to countries that offer lower corporate taxes. While many still have families to turn to we also have an older population now and senior citizens who hoped to find support from their children have found that it is not as abundant as it once was.

We are going through a rough time and it is going to get even harder. I think my generation is having a difficult time maintaining the family values that my parents grew up with. Yet we can no longer afford to think of ourselves as a society of individuals only. Those of us who remember how to work hard, love each other, and care for our neighbors, as those who preceded us before us had done, ought to succeed brilliantly just as the previous generations have done. If we stand alone doing nothing but shaking our fists at the world we will accomplish nothing and we will surely succumb to our troubles as many failed societies have done before us. Our predecessors have shown us what we should do to get through our present difficulties. We should start remembering those lessons while our governments are fumbling around trying to get through this. We already have what we need. We just have to remember who we are.

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