Handyman? Wait, what?

How the pandemic has changed me.

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Something strange happened to me after March 13, 2020. I went through this transformation from scared to get within earshot of a circular saw to Mr. Do-It-Yourself.

It all started rather innocently.

On one particular day while we were all in lockdown, I was feeling down because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. As I went outside to get some fresh air, I looked down at my deck and saw some rotting wood. I can fix that, I said to myself. I took some measurements and later that day, I was at the lumberyard, had them cut the new decking to length (I wasn’t ready for the saw just yet), and went home to pound nails.

It was … exhilarating.

My kids were home from college and taking classes via Zoom, my wife was teaching on the same platform, and I was working what seemed like 24/7 trying to keep Islanders informed of the latest COVID-19 developments. In the few hours I did have off, I wanted to be as far away from a screen as possible.

And everywhere I looked, I could see something that needed some attention or, honestly, some things I wanted that I never got around to doing because weekends were spent on the go.

I turned the pandemic into a time to do projects, and my wife has been a cheerful. if at times reluctant, project partner.

The first thing we tackled was an enclosure for an outdoor shower. It all started by taking rides around various neighborhoods to look at what our neighbors used for enclosures. Some were elaborate; others were kits you could buy at a big box store. We got ideas, but ultimately took those ideas and designed something on our own, using pressure-treated wood for our frame (hard to get early on during the pandemic) and metal roofing for the walls.

For this project, I had to get comfortable with a power saw. I carefully cut each piece, remembering my late father’s sage advice, “Measure twice, cut once.”

The enclosure’s not perfect, but I was quite pleased that between my wife and me, we designed it, purchased the materials, and built it — all in a weekend. (One of my flaws — and not necessarily a bad one — is that when I start a project, I need to complete it.)

Some of our pandemic projects were necessities.

Two months into our mostly staying at home, we decided — with much prodding from our at-home college kids — to get a puppy. (Those were hard to come by, too.) But we found Frankie in upstate New York, and brought our chocolate Lab home. Our yard was mostly fenced in, but we wanted an enclosure where we wouldn’t have to worry about her running off and getting into trouble.

Too big a job for us, we thought, so we had a contractor out to the house. He quoted us more than $5,000. Mind you, he didn’t have to enclose the whole yard, there was already a fence around portions of it, and we live on a 10,000-square-foot lot. The price felt a bit steep.

Nothing quite motivates me to get to work more than saving a buck or $4,000.

First we replaced a couple of sections of stockade fence that took a beating during the winter, then we added agricultural fencing in front of some of the hedge that lines our backyard. It blends in nicely, and unless you’re right up against it (or the winter has shed the hedge of its leaves), you can’t tell there’s a fence.

We still had one problem. We needed (wanted?) gates.

Now comfortable with my circular saw, I went onto YouTube (my go-to for DIY videos) and figured out how to build three gates for various entry and exit points in our yard. After I posted the first gate on social media, one of my “helpful” Facebook friends pointed out that I had the diagonal brace on the wrong side. So on the next one, I was able to rectify that to make it sturdier. (In one instance, I built the entire gate, didn’t like the way it looked because it blocked a view, took it apart, and redid it in a smaller version.)

In one part of the yard, between arborvitae, we mixed things up by adding a wooden screen door (typically for use on a house) as a gate between our front and back yards. Not only is it functional, but it also makes for a more interesting look.

Somewhere along the way, we figured out my wife is allergic to wood. The particles from cutting it triggered her allergies. After that, it really became “do-it-yourself” projects, though she still helps out when she can — wearing gloves — and is always supportive.

Because of that allergy — and because the smoke from burning wood was particularly bad for her — we removed our outdoor fire pit, gave it to a colleague, and installed a stone patio from a kit. We purchased a gas fire pit, put it together, and now have an outdoor fireplace my wife can enjoy again.

My pandemic projects didn’t end outside, though. With both kids home, we needed more groceries in the house. We had an old refrigerator in the basement where we kept extra food, but I was getting tired of going up and down the stairs several times a day. So we decided to redo our pantry.

When the house was built, the pantry was supposed to be half-office and half-storage. But with no window, it never quite worked out as an office. We yanked out the desk, ordered a refrigerator, and then ordered some cabinets to fit the space. I was really outside of my comfort zone now. I measured three times before placing that order.

I even had to try my hand at tiling, because the desk was installed before the tile was originally installed, leaving only a subfloor where the fridge was going.

Because of manufacturing slowdowns as a result of the pandemic, it took months to get the fridge and cabinets. We ordered the fridge on Black Friday, and didn’t get it until early March. The cabinets came in just days after the fridge.

Again, with a YouTube video as my guide and a trusty stud finder in hand, I bolted the cabinets to the wall surrounding the new fridge, and reworked where we store food and beverages. (Our kids are long back at school, even though they’re taking classes remotely, but we’re still thrilled with the new setup, and they’ll be home soon enough for summer break.)

I’ve since purchased a table saw, and have corralled a corner of the basement where the extra fridge once was to create a workspace. I’m loving this newfound appreciation and respect for power tools. The pandemic will hopefully be over soon, with more of the population getting vaccinated. But after I get mine, I’m going to keep giving do-it-yourself projects my best shot.

 

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