It is almost spring. It is Saturday. I am trying to push myself away from the breakfast table and go stuff a hose up a downspout. Or slap some sealer on the basement walls. Or map some electrical circuits.
These are activities that motivated home-maintenance types are supposed to be doing this time of year. I know because I read it in the "Season-by-Season Guide to Home Maintenance" written by John Warde ($25, Times Books). In this just-released book, Warde, a home improvement columnist for the New York Times, arranges household projects by the seasons of the year.
I got the book the other day and thumbed through it looking for interesting ways to spend my weekend. Given my druthers, I would prefer to while away my weekends sunning in Majorca or lounging in front of the TV eating beer nuts. But when you have an old home, aging cars and young children, you take your xTC pleasure wherever you can find it. Often I get my kicks in the basement, with a flashlight, a tool box and a list of things I should be doing.
Reading this book taught me that winter, with its low humidity, would have been the ideal time to plane that swollen wooden door in the kid's bedroom that was rubbing against its frame.
I also learned that winter is a bad time to strip. Frankly, I think any time of year is a rotten time for the smelly task of refinishing furniture. But winter is an especially inopportune time for that activity, the book said, because strippers should work near open windows. They need fresh air to fight off the fumes from the refinishing solvents. Summer is the season to fix window screens, repair concrete steps or patch the driveway. Fall was the time to clean the gutters.
I hurried through the off-season sections of the book, but when I got to spring, March to May, I slowed down and went shopping for appealing weekend projects.
Stuffing a garden hose up a downspout looked promising. I had never done that before. The reason I wanted to do it, other than the sheer thrill of the novelty, was to make sure the downspout was clear of obstructions.
I wasn't sure what exactly would take the trouble to lodge itself in a downspout. Leaves? Tree parts? Members of the Downspout Defense League? But whatever was sitting in there, we home-improvement types were dedicated to getting rid of them.
The book told me how to search out and destroy. First, I would stuff a garden hose in the lower end of the downspout. Then I would force the hose up the downspout until it either emerged victorious from the top, or became jammed.
Jamming meant there was trouble, squatters, in the downspout. The best way to deal with such obstructionists, the book said, was to blast the bejabbers out of them with water from the hose.
I couldn't wait to play Rambo with the water hose. But the weather wasn't warm enough to turn on my outside faucet. So that little downspout drama will have to wait until April or May.
Waterproofing the basement by slapping on some penetrating paint fortified with cement sealers also sounded exciting. I like to paint. But then I read that before I could slap on the sealer, I had to remove all the old paint by treating the walls with a muriatic-acid solution. I lost my enthusiasm for that project. Painting is fun, but the prep work and the cleanup work are work.
Finally, I found the project made for me, mapping the electrical circuits of the house. Breathlessly I read how to record the intimate electrical details of our dwelling. How to draw sketches of each room in the house and note, in my own private code, the location of each outlet, ceiling fixture and wall switch.
Soon I will have complete electrical skeleton of my house. In addition to providing me with the aesthetic joy known to collectors of electrical data, the map will help me when one of our kids breaks one of the few remaining lamps. Now when a lamp falls victim to a flying object and the lamp is still plugged into a wall outlet, I will use my new map to quickly turn the juice off to that outlet.
Part of my map-making duties included writing down the number of which circuit breaker in the basement controls which household outlet. And so when the family room lamp falls, I will know to turn off circuit No. 6. When the bedroom lamp bites the dust, I hit No. 5. And so it goes.
I recognize that mapping your electrical circuits may not be some people's idea of a spring fling. But it will hold me. At least until the weather warms, and I can stuff a hose up the downspout.