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Around the Bend: Others’ hands make ‘light’ work

You’ve heard the expression “If you want something done, do it yourself.”
I use this a lot. Like a few weeks ago, when I stared up at the dome ceiling light over our kitchen table and announced my plans to replace it with a proper chandelier.
My husband, Mark, groaned. He wasn’t opposed to a fancier light, but lately he’d been working so much his focus was more on putting food on the table than on illuminating it.
When he complained that he didn’t have the time or energy to deal with a new light right now, I held up my hand.
“You don’t have to do a thing,” I said. “I know how to install a light fixture. I watched several YouTube videos.”
In marriage, words aren’t always necessary. So I took Mark’s steely glare as silent approval of my plan.
Instead of buying a new chandelier I wanted to refurbish an old one, thus satisfying the two urges that drive almost all my decisions: (1) to add needless time and effort to any project in the name of creativity and (2) to avoid spending a single penny more than I absolutely have to.
I quickly found the perfect light — not on eBay or Craigslist, but hanging, rarely used, in a friend’s kitchen. I had planned to sneak in and steal it while she was sleeping but she took all the fun out of that scheme by offering it to me in exchange for our current overhead light — provided I had someone with actual electrical experience swap it out.
Mark groaned when I appointed him.
“What’s the big deal?” I asked. “Five minutes, tops.”
But of course it wasn’t five minutes. In taking down our old light, Mark discovered the electrical box had been fastened to the old plaster and lath more or less on the honor system. Then at my friend’s house other issues, such as the old wires being too short for the new fixture, challenged his patience. He spent an hour working from a ladder while below we chatted and drank coffee and failed to hand him tools in a timely manner.
Over the next couple of weeks, I took the old chandelier from drab to fab all by myself. I cleaned and painted it and rewired the innards, turning it from last-century brass to classy matte black. Finished, it looked just like a low-end Hubbardton Forge knock-off — exactly what I was going for.
When Mark got home from work late one evening, I met him at the door, chandelier in hand.
“Isn’t it pretty?” I said. “I just need a little advice from you on how to get it to stay in the ceiling when there’s nothing but broken lath up there.”
He gave me that same old glare, which I interpreted to mean, “Wow, honey, you did a great job painting that thing,” and brushed past me to help himself to dinner. It could wait, I guess.
I set the light in the middle of the kitchen table, 36 to 40 inches below where it would eventually hang. (Even unwired, it lent an air of sophistication to the room.) There it sat for a couple weeks, while Mark logged more and more hours and work and refused to share his knowledge.
As the days grew shorter, the lack of a light became an issue. One evening, as we ate in the dark around the chandelier centerpiece, Mark blindly reached for seconds and stuck his hand in the mashed potatoes.
“Hey, that reminds me,” I said. “How would you go about putting up this light, if you were me?”
He didn’t speak. He may have glared at me; I couldn’t see. He sighed and trudged out to his truck, returning with two well-stocked electrical toolboxes.
“You don’t have to do it,” I said. “Just tell me how.” At this point, even I didn’t believe myself, so I added, “It will only take five minutes.”
For the next two hours, Mark drilled holes and built braces and made things fit. By the end of the night he had not only securely installed the light but also retrofitted a new dimmer switch. All without having watched a single YouTube video. The man’s a genius.
I still believe if you want something done, you should do it yourself. But I also have a revised motto, one Mark absolutely hates: “If you want something done but can’t do it yourself, make it inconvenient enough that a capable person will step in and finish it for you.”
Works for me.

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