July 13, 2012

Do-it-yourself lessons abound

Posted in Between Us column, Women at 12:27 am by dinaheng

My parents’ house is 40 years old now. Whenever I visit, the rooms are usually filled with the sound of grandchildren, shrieking and laughing. Over the last decade, the kids have drawn on the walls with crayon and dinged the plaster by slamming various doors.

In preparation for a house-full of guests the week of July 4th, my sister Linda and I decided to paint one of the guest rooms, the hallway, and one of the bathrooms.  Since neither of us had ever painted a house before, we consulted friends for advice and read a couple of “how to” guides on the Internet.

Everybody made it sound so easy.

As Linda ran to Home Depot to pick up a can of paint for the bathroom, I started to scrub the walls. It’s funny how kids’ artwork can become a part of the house, to the point where you don’t even notice it anymore.

Here was a scribbled spiral from Emily, an ocean wave of blue crayon from Mitchel. On one switch plate was a sticker of “Old Turtle” (my favorite picture book, by Douglas Wood) that Nicholas and I stuck in the bathroom.

When Linda returned, the two of us tackled the trim in the bathroom, painting the cabinet that runs the length of the room, the frames around the doors and window, and finally, the door separating the vanity and double sink from the toilet and tub. After four hours, we were too tired to eat a late dinner, and just went to bed.

The next morning, we got up to examine our handiwork. Linda hated the “Pineapple Sorbet” we’d used, saying its yellow tint made the white walls look dingy in the light of day. Lesson number one — don’t paint the room without comparing color swatches in different lights first.

So the two of us headed back to Home Depot to look at color swatches. With the help of my friend Virginia, an architect who advised us over the phone, we chose a brighter color trim and a contrasting white for the walls. Back to the bathroom.

Suddenly realizing we’d never get the hallway and guest room painted on our own in time for the arrival of the other house guests, we needed to find a handyman to help finish the job… the next day.  Lesson number two — don’t count on the Internet to make important connections.

None of the handyman sites we tried on the Internet answered our phone calls, so we searched the old fashioned way. As we sat in a diner for lunch, I asked the waitress if she knew of any handymen who could spackle and paint walls. She said yes, her  boyfriend Alex worked on the side as a painter.

As luck would have it, Alex was available the next day. When he arrived, we told him that we’d take care of the bathroom if he could concentrate on the guest room and hallway. We figured we’d get it all done in four hours. Lesson number three — let the painter give you an estimate before you get started.

As Linda and I repainted the bathroom trim in “Swiss Coffee (a much better choice), Alex spackled cracks and holes in the walls… and taught us the proper brush strokes to use. By the time three hours had passed, it was clear that “we” were never going to get it all done in time.

Alex agreed to stay longer, and we agreed to get out of his way. After nearly eight hours, he left… exhausted. After paying more than anticipated, Linda and I were… exhausted.

The week of July 4th came and went quickly. The grandkids all came to the house, oblivious to “our” paint job. The rooms were filled with the chaos of little ones, and the walls were all fresh and bright.

The night before I left to return to Los Angeles, my sister said to me, “Next time you come out, let’s paint a wall in the dining room. Just one wall. We can do that ourselves.”

Uh-huh.

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