DIY home repair

Farm Forum

Among the many benefits of homeownership are the joys of home repair.

The current fad among homeowners is do-it-yourself home repair. This is primarily due to televised homeowner erotica like “This Old House” and the DIY network and “Gilligan’s Island.”

These fantasies are flagrant violations of truth in advertising regulations and should be taken off the air. On such shows, any home repair job – including turning a tarpaper shack into a mansion that would rival Biltmore – can be completed in an hour. A nuclear power plant could be constructed from scratch in the span of one episode.

I recently learned that the landscaping timbers that border our flowerbed needed to be replaced. The timbers were installed by me thirty years ago in a delicate, five-minute process that involved throwing the timbers onto the ground and nailing them together.

“Those landscape timbers are rotten,” announced my wife.

“I think they look just fine,” I replied, giving a timber an experimental tug. They say that we lose muscle mass as we age, but that’s a load. I was able to snap that timber like a matchstick.

“See? They’re toast,” said my wife.

“That’s one theory. The other is that I’ve grown so much stronger that I can now break a hunk of wood that’s nearly as thick as a utility pole.”

“The only thing that’s gotten stronger about you is your breath!” she retorted.

We motored to the home repair megastore “just to look,” which, I have learned, is code for “get a bunch of stuff.”

I pointed out to my wife that they still make wooden landscape timbers. She pointed out that it’s been proven that they don’t last.

“But the old timbers went thirty years,” I argued, “And thirty years from now, it might not be our problem anymore.”

We compromised by purchasing a bunch of decorative concrete bricks to make a new flowerbed border. After trundling the materials home, I threw myself into the task of border construction. I have zero training in the art of masonry but have never let such insignificant details as a total lack of knowledge or experience stand in my way.

As my wife helped unload the bricks, I started laying the first course. I used the empirical method of bricklaying, also known as “by guess and by golly.”

“Isn’t that row sort of crooked?” she asked.

“Of course it is! Have you ever noticed how, on a globe, the north-south lines are curved? This row runs north-south, so the same thing is happening here. The bow is due to the curvature of the earth. There’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

“OK, but why does the east-west row curve?”

“That’s because of the Coriolis effect. It’s what makes the water spin counterclockwise when you flush the toilet.”

“I guess I’ll never understand bricklaying,” said my wife. I was grateful when she went into the house to prepare refreshments. All those questions made my head hurt!

As I labored, Sandy, our golden retriever, superintended from the shade of the pickup. The exertion and the blowtorch heat of the summer sun caused me to sweat so much that it looked as though I had strolled through a carwash.

Pausing to eyeball my handiwork, I asked Sandy, “What do you think?” He replied with a wan smile and a perfunctory tail wag.

“We’ve known each other a long time,” I persisted. “You can tell me the truth.” Sandy responded by sitting on his haunches and licking himself.

“You’re right,” I replied dejectedly. “This brickwork isn’t worth a burp. But what options do I have other than going back to the home repair superstore and spending a fortune on a laser level and a GPS and a sextant and who knows what else?”

The dog yawned and laid down for a snooze. This seemed like sound advice, so I went into the house for refreshments and reevaluation.

“You look warm,” said my wife as I plopped down at the kitchen table. “Here, you’d better have something cold.”

I munched the icy treat. A frozen food headache jabbed my brain, causing a nearly-forgotten memory to erupt from its depths. I recalled seeing a technique that’s thousands of years old, but could still work.

“You have to eat a popsicle too,” I urged my wife.


“Because we’ll need at least four popsicle sticks. And where did you put that ball of string?”

Our little landscaping project worked out well enough. The new brick border may not be exactly plumb or level or straight, but our hope is that it will hold back our flowers for at least thirty years.

If you’d like to contact Jerry to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can e-mail him at: