Baling wire and Band-Aids: a perfect holiday

Posted: Sunday, December 12, 2010

I love the holidays. For me, the Christmas holiday is just another excuse to get out the power tools and undertake more do-it-yourself projects.

You know guys like me (maybe you are one). We're the ones who look at anything and say in our out-loud voice, "Oh, shoot, I can (make, fix, fabricate, manufacture) that myself." And because we use our out-loud voice before we think about it, we're usually honor-bound to follow through.

Guys like me never say why we should make, fix, fabricate or manufacture something ourselves. Guys like me don't think we have to justify the why.

Take the traditional tree. Of course, you get a live tree, right? Cutting it yourself is the ultimate, but buying one is allowable in a pinch. The work involved in trimming the trunk, getting it set in the stand and getting it to stand up straight is a good half-day at least of planning, measuring, sawing and cussing.

Two years ago was the best because I spent a whole Saturday morning at hardware stores comparison shopping for a new tree stand. Looking at the engineering technology going into tree stands these days is almost as good as finding new table saw innovations.

Once that tree is up and straight (or as straight as it's going to get), time to make a wreath from those boughs you cut from the bottom. Sure, you can buy a wreath just about anywhere. But why buy when you've got all that waste material to repurpose? This is time for a little fine motor skills work with the picture wire, needle-nosed pliers and wire cutter. Of course, there are always a couple of trips to the hardware store for more wire and Band-aids. But the results are well worth the effort.

OK, so my wreaths aren't always perfectly round. But out-of-round gives it that more rustic look.

Next it's time to tackle hanging the holiday lights. This is more a challenge for me since I'm weak in DIY electronic projects. But I usually figure out how to turn a simple project into an afternoon and long-into-the-evening ordeal.

First, I insist that the same strings of lights that I got to work last year should work again this year. So I pull them all out of the cardboard box I threw them last year and start plugging in strings. I could just buy new strings, but it's more satisfying to pull every bulb in succession until I find the one little burnt out bugger that's killing the whole string. Finding that one dead bulb is an "a-Ha!" moment.

This process normally involves a few more trips to the hardware store for replacement bulbs. These are the times when I should acquiesce and just buy new light strings, but then I'd forego my "a-Ha!"

Now for the light-hanging chore I could get out the 16-foot extension ladder. But that seems like overkill for the lower eaves, and a dining room chair gives me just the right reach.

I save the ladder for hanging on the upper eaves. But 16 feet isn't quite enough. I could've bought a longer ladder. Instead, it was more personally satisfying to improvise. I've made a crude tool consisting of a length of 2-by-2 with a box nail in the end. If I fiddle with it enough I can maneuver the light string over the rusted nails in the eaves that originally came with the house. My arm gets tired after stretching it as far as it will go above my head, but it's just a once a year task. Well, twice 'cause I have to take the lights down again, but you know what I mean. And, the pain in my arms gives me another reason to go back to the store for aspirin.

Plugging them in means tapping into the porch light sockets at the front and back of the house. That means no entry lights for a few weeks but, hey, it's the holidays. I use mechanical timers to switch the lights on and off automatically. Usually I can get the front and back light strings synchronized after just a couple of days of tinkering with the timers.

Hanging the stockings gave me another excellent project a few years ago. The wall where the stockings went perfectly was covered with a mason-like material called Z-Brick. This stuff was incredibly popular in the early 1960s when folks wanted that cool, basement coffee house, Beatnik look in their homes. Yes, that was the last time our house had been remodeled. Problem with this stuff is that it's actually made of a concrete-like material -- and it's -inch thick.

The solution lay in yet another trip to the hardware store. There, I marveled at the variety of masonry screws, nails, adhesives and other fastening products to choose from. Since I had five stockings to hang, I tried different methods for all five.

I was in heaven. I love the holidays.

Larry Campbell is the executive editor at the Peninsula Clarion.

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