113. If it’s Worth Doing; or, A Treatise on fixing other people’s mistakes

The DIY era is generally considered a good thing, right? In this age of instant how-to information, anyone can do anything.

And lately I’ve been wondering if that is a good thing.

I’ve had lots of time to think on this. In fixing up two old houses, Mr. H. C. and I have also been fixing other peoples mistakes. And all the time I’m thinking, ‘If you couldn’t do it right, you should have called a professional!’

The running joke at the cottage is that it was wired by Joe’s Electric. And we laugh and say its a good thing Joe was Mr. H. C.’s dad, otherwise he would come in for a lot of criticism.

Here at the city house we aren’t related to the painting crew that was here before we bought the house; consequently, the former owner has definitely been criticized. Several times. The painting crew must have been made up of ten year olds — nothing against ten year olds — and much of the other work done on the house was slipshod as well. But since I’m doing the painting, that’s what I’m noticing.

Whoever painted the basement took a giant brush and five gallons of gray latex basement paint and slopped it over everything. Door knobs. Door hinges. Metal floor drains. Electrical outlets and the covers. The lock and chain on the door. Not to mention the concrete floor.

There are slops, drips, and globs everywhere. Bristles from the brush left in the dried paint. Corners of trim left unpainted because it was, well, hard. And suddenly, it is my issue. If I just paint over the mess, now I’ve become the sloppy painter that I’m criticizing. And frankly? I don’t want the next owner complaining about me and my workmanship.

  • Any DIY-er knows to take off door hardware when the door is painted. Don’t they?
  • Any DIY-er knows to never use latex paint on metal. Don’t they?
  • Any DIY-er knows not to use oil-based paint on top of something already painted in latex. Don’t they?
  • Any DIY-er knows to take stray bristles out of the wet paint before it dries. Don’t they?

This is what worries me. What if the DIY trend is just acceptable mediocrity under the guise of pride in accomplishment?

I’m a DIY-er from way back — I helped build my first house starting in 1978, before the first Home Depot even opened its doors — so I’m including myself in this. In the interest of saving money, or pride in accomplishment, or whatever else drives us to do it ourselves, are we accepting a lesser quality than hiring someone who knows how to do it really well?

A few weeks back a blogger posted a photo of a coffee table she had painted. It looked lovely, though the photo was taken outside and there were shadows on the table. A professional furniture painter commented (very rudely) that regular people should not take on projects they can’t do.

Rudeness and Inappropriateness aside, I get what he meant. He is a professional who has honed his skill for many years and is trying to make money at it. And here come the amateurs saying Hey. We can do that! Let’s just buy some chalk paint. Or better yet, let’s make our own…

My chalk-painted chairs, $5 each from St. Vinnie's, and painted with DIY chalk paint.

My chalk-painted chairs, $5 each from St. Vinnie’s, and painted with DIY chalk paint.

I’ve done it. In fact, I do it all the time. Why should I pay someone else money when I might be able to do it?

Do you think it might be part of our national character? After all, most all Americans came here from somewhere else because someone we’re related to thought they could do better themselves.

But I digress.

As a recovering perfectionist (and married to one who is not yet recovered) I suggest that if a thing is worth doing yourself, it’s worth doing well.

Mr. H. C. is a professional who has been called in many times to rescue homeowners who got in over their heads. And I think it’s great that they had the humility to admit they couldn’t do it. I wish the former owner of our city house had called in some professionals.

When Mr. H. C. considers doing something sub-standard, he usually says, “No, it’s against my morals to do that.” I always usually smile when he says that, because, really? That’s the way everyone should work all the time. No matter what you are being paid, no matter who you are doing the work for, no matter how much (or how little) time you have to do the project. It should be “against our morals” to do sub-standard or sloppy or careless work.

If not for yourself, at least for the people who come after you, who have to fix your mistakes…

112. The Joy of Small Surprises

We pulled into the Apple Hill driveway Saturday evening at dusk after a long, grueling, expensive week at the city house. We were all tending towards grouchiness — even Henry the cat, whose nap had been rudely interrupted to be jostled along in the truck. There in the driveway, between two old pine trees — one dead and one not looking so good — was this joyous flower: belladonna amaryllis Yes, it certainly is odd. One lone stalk bursting into five gorgeous icy pink lily-type flowers that circle the top. We had no idea how or why that one odd flower was growing in that one odd spot. But it made us laugh and take a picture of it.

A Sunday afternoon porch sit with neighbor Betty gave me a clue. Clara always called it a Naked Lady and got angry at anyone who mowed it down while utilizing instruments of lawn destruction.

Yes, I’ve been there. Every gardener has. Belladonna amaryllis Later I googled Naked Lady Lily — ahh, the small joys of the internet — and discovered that it is not, in fact, a lily. It is Amaryllis Belladonna, and the only true amaryllis. You know those giant flowers sold at Christmas time, under the Amaryllis name? Not. (For your gardening pleasure, they are technically named Hippeastrum.)

These lovely Naked Lady Amaryllis grow leaves in the spring that die down, and then, right about now, send up one lone stalk bearing amazingly gorgeous flowers. Once I had seen them in my yard, I saw them three times yesterday in other places as well. Belladonna amaryllis Apparently Clara’s Naked Lady doesn’t know that it is hardy only up to Zone 8, and up here in the frigid hinterlands of Zone 5, the bulbs have to be dug up in the fall and replanted in the spring. They look best planted with hostas, and they don’t mind a shady spot, though they prefer sun.

These lovely flowers are originally from South Africa and were brought by sailors to Europe in the 1700s. They love the Mediterranean climate the best. (Who doesn’t?) Belladonna amaryllis So now I have a quandary — should I just let it be and risk losing it? Should I dig it up and replant it in the spring with a few others? One website noted that they really don’t like being disturbed… The bulbs are 3 for $39.95! Gulp. No wonder Clara only had one! Maybe I’ll just plant some pretty hostas around it…

C.S. Lewis wrote about interruptions in a letter that is quoted in Yours Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis. He said that interruptions of one’s own, or real life, are not interruptions at all, but your real life — the life God is sending you day by day. Life is filled with little interruptions — sometimes they aren’t pleasant, sometimes they are just irritating, but sometimes they are little gems of beauty, laughter, joy.

These moments are your real life; note them and be thankful for them. No matter how small.

I had other small surprises this weekend that made me smile. How about you?

111. Random thoughts about cleaning carpets, getting a house ready to sell, and a giveaway

I know this blog is supposed to be about the cottage…but we haven’t been spending much time there of late. We’ve been trying to plant the sign in the yard of the city house. And until you sell a house, I don’t think anyone has a clue how much Time, Intensity, Money, and Energy is expended on a house that you are leaving…

It is emotionally (and financially) draining. Unless, of course, the house you live in is perfect, in which case you just sign on with the realtor, la di da. No worries about

    that imperfect room you just lived with,
    the plumber who never gave you the inspection paperwork for the new sewer system he put in,
    the basement ceiling tile that looks moldy and might be made of asbestos tile, (thankfully, it isn’t!)
    the tree in the back yard that you hope doesn’t fall on the power lines while you’re waiting for the tree guy to show up, or
    all Mr.H.C’s junk — never mind about mine; it isn’t junk.

Lately I’ve been cleaning up and painting my old sewing room in the city house.

It was just my sewing room, crafting room, storage room, so the coordinating yellow country wallpaper put over masonite (probably in the seventies) uh, you know, didn’t matter to me. I didn’t care about the fluorescent light in the ceiling; it was good for working. The faded teal carpet didn’t matter either. Bleach spills? Paint stains? No matter.

Apparently it will matter to potential buyers.

So I was tasked with turning it into a charming little attic bedroom for a child. Or a garret for an angst-filled teenaged poet. Or another sewing room for a mom who just wants some time alone in a freshly cleaned and painted space.

I used oil-based primer over the wallpaper, and then painted the whole room creamy white. I guess it will be up to the new owner to give it personality with color. I couldn’t imagine that the carpet would clean up, but I rented an R2D2-look-alike carpet cleaner and used my new favorite product to clean the carpet. It looks good, which is also good for the pocketbook.

attic bedroom

And the wonderful new product? Folex.

Sister Nancy told me about it several years ago when she was regularly cleaning up after a new puppy. I’ve had a bottle forever, because it goes a long way, unless you are pouring it into R2D2…

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, I Love The Stuff! It is a miracle cleaner. Non-toxic, no smell, rub it in with your fingers if you want, and watch the stain on your carpet disappear! It’s amazing. It actually works better this way, than it does diluted in the rug machine. I did go around the entire edge of the carpet with my spray bottle and a rag. The edge of the carpet, which was black, is now bluish green again. (Folex has not paid me for this blog — they don’t even know I exist.) Although I should probably write them — in the past three weeks I’ve bought six bottles. It costs $5.78 at Home Depot.IMG_4466

That’s $34.68 + $30 to rent the carpet cleaner. I also cleaned the carpet in the master bedroom as well, and we couldn’t have bought new carpet for two bedrooms for $64. And believe me, that was a worry!

And just to prove to you, it isn’t a fluke, here is the downstairs rug that I spot-cleaned:

Now, this is no $50,000 Pottery Barn/Sherwin Williams giveaway, but I have an extra bottle of Folex that I’ll send you, if you leave a comment telling me why you really need to clean your carpets… And since it is still July, the seventh commenter wins… Just be sure to leave a way for me to email you.

And now, I have to go tear down moldy ceiling tiles in the basement and secretly throw away some of Mr. H.C’s junk  in the bottom of a new garbage bag. Anyone want a vintage cigarette holder/music box that Uncle John brought back from London? That’s the next giveaway…😎
vintage cigarette holder music boxcigarette holder music box

No summer vacation here until the sign is in the yard.for sale sign