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The Joys Of Doing It Yourself Very Badly, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:47am


I am performing small touchups to my house, very badly also with glee upon glee upon glee.

Backing up, it may come as no surprise that I know nothing about fixing much of anything, having over the years done much more inventing than repairing. When one has a certain talent, by which I mean nothing glamorous, just a methodology that seems to produce success, one uses it. The point is that getting older can allow for growth.

Growth, for me at least, requires not minding non-catastrophic mistakes. You? If we’re lucky, even enjoying them.

Door handle showing very bad Bondo repairs

That’s a doorknob. You’d guessed. But the wood around this doorknob had rotted, and split, to the point where once I poked around a bit I could see right through to the other side. I have previously replaced this entire door: it’s prone to water damage because of where it sits. This time I took a risk. Prompted by Daniel Kanter, to whom I then failed to pay sufficient attention, I bought a can of something called “wood hardener” and another can of a very gloopy substance called Bondo, which hardens to essentially plastic when you mix it with a little tube of less gloopy stuff.

Oh the cursing! Oh the fussing about with plastic cloths and putty knives and the spilling of wood hardener on gray slate. And is there anything so heartening as the raucous laughter of a no-longer-middle-aged woman all by herself confronted by her own witlessness? Because in the end although this looks terrible, at least it’s solid. Lesson. For life?

It got worse.

The worst Bondo job in the entire world

Because then I tried to repair the door header. Can I tell you that I only just now found out what the board thing on the top of your doors is called? Yes.

This required standing on a ladder. A ladder! I haven’t yet explained that Bondo hardens in 1-3 minutes once you add its companion goop but now imagine I am trying to splop (splash+plop) this stuff over rotted wood chasms without having it adhere in drops to my poor slate patio? I’m not even going to show you a photo of what this header looks like now, because while I did sand as directed, turns out the people who do this regularly have power tools. I had failed to pay attention. Power sanders or whatever they called. Older lady biceps do not qualify.

The board is white now, and perhaps less reminiscent of a Japanese wave painting. At least the rotting process should have been arrested.

I have also washed most of my windows, spackled walls where a leaky roof caused the paint to peel, planted 16 white alyssum in the empty raised bed in the front yard, and chopped down as many pyracantha branches as I could reach from a tall ladder. As opposed to my short ladder. Yes, I have two.

I did this all badly, except planting the alyssum. I can dig holes; I can get my hands dirty.

Pyracantha branches laden with berries

The pyracantha berries planned to clog my gutters and rain was on the way. Sorry, fruit frens.


  1. Holidays are here, and I am using upcoming guest arrivals as deadlines for completing tasks. Love me a deadline, love a series of small tasks that can become a named project.
  2. I am home. I have the time. Hiring people in the Bay Area is tricky these days.
  3. These days it’s not so scary to try things. YouTube exists. Not that YouTube videos of men spreading Bondo made me good at all this, it just made me less scared of failure. I’m all for mastery but for my particular being, willingness to screw up as long–as it’s not a disaster–might be more valuable.
  4. Turns out DIY is kind of fun! Turns out that fixing holes makes me happy even if the results are ugly. I’d never be satisfied by someone else doing work like this because I wouldn’t be able to include having fun in my internal calculations of value.
  5. It’s freeing. It’s new. It’s calming, to believe that rain will not leak through the door, and that my gutters will not overflow.

However, I did not repair my roof, myself. Nor do I plan to refinish my kitchen floor, myself. I’m a fool perhaps, in the court jester sense, but we hope no longer foolhardy.

Oh, and I have yet to polish my silver for holiday meals. That’s next, or maybe priming some more leak stains, don’t know. But guess what? There’s a YouTube video for silver polishing. I’ve always found the process tedious but this man loves his forks. The joy of small things.

Have a wonderful weekend. Fixing a hole where the rain gets in, and stops my mind from wandering, where it will go. Some of you will know exactly which song that is. Happy American Thanksgiving to all!




21 Responses

  1. Holiday silver polishing! One of the dreaded chores of my distant childhood. Which reminds me, since my mother is no longer compos mentis, my sisters and I should probably look into the state of the silver and china, of which, as the eldest daughter of her generation, she has ended up with a lot of. It probably needs polishing.

    1. Unless it’s been sealed exquisitely tightly in one of those tarnish prevention bags! Sorry about your mom, and I wish you a good holiday.

  2. I grew up watching my father do home repair and either inherited or caught the bug, at least for small jobs. It is very satisfying to put a hook up just where you need it, or to fix that drawer that always got stuck. Next step for you is power tools! Having a power drill makes lots of jobs much easier, and a good one is not too expensive. And if you need to sand something, maybe you could rent a sander from your local hardware store.

    1. My father was terrified of home repair himself, so, I can only imagine how much one could absorb either genetically or through days spent in company. I admit, I have thought about a power drill. I’d like to rehang some curtains about 4 inches higher than where they are now…

    1. Thank you! I’m such a dilettante, I do not have your way of mastery, but at least I can laugh at myself;)

  3. Oh, DIY is a mixed joy, isn’t it? My ancient house is an endless list of things that need mending! Currently in the process of getting the big living and dining space ready for holiday feasting. Thank goodness for the bonus nephew and his GF!

  4. Today a header, tomorrow the WORLD!

    Newly-divorced, in a rent-with-option cottage, the first thing I did [back then] was change a doorknob that I just couldn’t stand the SIGHT of. Like you: thanks to a YouTube instructional video.


    Next I conquered a caulk gun, and now can pull/finish a bead way better than my husband.

    You’re just beginning, and I’m cheering you on from across the country!

    Cheers, Lisa!

    1. I love this story. That scene of you and a doorknob belongs in a novel. Now, a caulk gun?!?! The guy who came to deal with our termites, because I don’t do that myself either, told me I should think about recaulking some windows. So I at least know what you are talking about but at at least 3 levels down the ladder! Thank you for the encouragement!

      1. Oh wow, now that you mention it: Door knob, opening a door. And it sure did! I immediately bought the place, kept watching YouTubes, sold it for 2x. Bought another, sold it for 3x. And all because of that door knob. KEEP WRITING, YOU CLOSE READER, YOU!

  5. Just for your information: aluminum foil hot water and baking soda in a glass 8×12 or so pan works easily for the silverware. Look at a Food 52 article about this- I have lovely 1950’s silver plate
    And it works like a charm!

    1. Mary, so, I have tried this method. I’ve tried it several times. I’m always left with a white haze on the silverware. Having watched Rajeev’s video, I think it’s because I let my stuff get so tarnished that polishing is necessary. Or maybe my silver is just haunted. Either way. But yes, many people swear by this, and I am glad it has worked for you.

  6. For my sterling flatware that is of very simple design, I polish but for the set with elaborate design, I actually favor tarnish to show off the design. Not ALL tarnish but just swipe to polish the high bits. That’s just me……

    1. That makes total sense to me. I’ve only got the one set, and we eat with it every day. Very simple. I wish I could say I favor the tarnish, because I do like the look you’re talking about, but I just hate kitchen work LOL.

  7. Bravo for the good fix! I’ve not heard about Bondo for wood repair and thought it was for auto body repair. Must investigate. I recently had woodpecker damage on my cedar siding. 3 small holes. My hardware store sold me Elmers tinted wood filler (in a squeeze tube) and told me to fill the holes, immediately smooth over the top and paint when dry. Even with my lack of skill and knowledge, this worked like a charm. Next year when I have the entire house painted, they can replace the board I repaired if needed. Winter is coming and for now it looks fine. Like you, I feel pretty accomplished. P.S.: My repair included a ladder too.

  8. I love the process of polishing when I actually do it although I can waste inordinate time thinking of reasons to put it off. I think what I actually like is the idea of something becoming shiny and pretty before my eyes, not the work involved.

    DIY, sigh. I love you photos and your story. I always find myself excited by performing the most basic things. Even something silly like removing a broken sprayer nozzle from a hose that a handyman had put on too tightly, it took me hours and two wrenches and I felt like I had accomplished something as significant as climbing mount Everest. Now I do my own hoses and nozzles and know not to tighten them too much. I am much more forgiving of my own mistakes with DIY than I am of shoddy work I paid for, but the biggest reward is that I somehow feel invested, connected even, to my space in a meaningful way.

    This is such a joyful post.

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