A Comedy of Errors

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap  —  January 13, 2012 — 18 Comments

(also known as the post where you all realize I’m already an unfit parent)

This is the landing at the top of our stairs. It’s sort of like a loft setup. On the back of that right wall you can just barely see the door that leads to our master bathroom, and I’m standing in our bedroom to take this photo. You see that globe light on the ceiling? I’ve never been a big fan of the looks of it, but I love the function it provides of lighting my way up the stairs.

A few weeks ago, right before Christmas, the bulb in that little light went out. But when Nick went to replace it he couldn’t get the globe off. He worked and worked on that little finial holding the glass up but it just wouldn’t budge, I’m pretty sure he would have just left it at that if he lived alone. He would have said, “Self, this is too much trouble. I don’t need light on my stairs that badly.” But because he lives with me and my very vocal complaints, leaving it undone was not an option. I’m getting clumsier by the day and I NEED LIGHT ON MY STAIRS. He decided it would be easier to just replace the light altogether and I was thrilled.

So this weekend I found myself in the lighting aisle at Lowe’s where I spied with my little eye this lovely light for a mere twenty-five buckaroos.


Lowe’s had it labeled in-store as “vintage style” and, while I know it’s not actually vintage, it does have a certain vintagey appeal. It reminds me of those antique schoolhouse lights all those fancier bloggers keep raving about. Plus, the box doubled as an assistant for the next step any logical person would take in this situation: Nick used the closest thing he could find (a pair of pliers) to smash that stuck-on glass into smithereens.


It took us about twenty minutes to figure out which breaker controlled the power to this area. Every single switch in the box is mislabeled. The winner was labeled “washer.” Of course we didn’t even remember to shut off the power until Nick had already shocked himself, but whatevs. With the power off and the glass smashed he was able to remove the light pretty easily. We were feeling pretty proud of our DIY skillz at this point. The Tryforoses: Expert Light Removers.

The savvy among you may have already noticed what it took us an embarrassingly long time to figure out. After several hours of googling, arguing, and calling my dad we figured out why our light installation situation didn’t look anything like all the internet tutorials we were using to guide us. The old light had been installed without a junction box. Back to Lowe’s I went to get what’s called an “old work box.” Notice I said that I went, not We went. Nick would rather be waterboarded than set foot into a home improvement store. He hates it there. I was pretty mad that he refused to go with me, but when I got home I forgave him partway because he had vacuumed while I was gone. Then he shocked himself again and I forgave him all the way. Turns out he had turned the upstairs power back on to vacuum and forgotten to turn it back off. Hard to stay mad at a man who’s suffering. Once he recovered from the trauma he used a pencil to trace the outline of the box and a giant kitchen knife (clearly the most appropriate tool) to cut away the drywall.

But once he had the circle cut out he realized there was a joist or stud or whatever you call it behind the hole and that the old work box would not fit. So we did some more googling and this time he came back to Lowe’s with me and we argued in the lighting supply aisle before finally settling on a 1/2″ deep metal junction box. By the time we got home it was dark and the power was out upstairs, but Nick had the genius idea to use a floor lamp and an extension cord to light our work area.

He cut away some more of the drywall to make sure the hole was nice and clean, then popped in the junction box. Then we realized that we needed to pre-drill holes to attach it to the studs but our drill is electric and our extension cord only had one plug. So for each hole Nick would get the drill lined up in place and then when he was ready to go I would unplug the lamp and plug in the drill and he would drill in the dark. Teamwork makes it happen, even for DIY dummies like us.

With the junction box securely attached he screwed the mounting plate on there (that was the subject of our argument in the Lowe’s aisle, by the way–whether the screw holes on the mounting plate would line up properly with the junction box. Spoiler alert: they didn’t).

Nick was having a hard time getting the mounting plate screwed on there so that it lied flat against the junction box, but it seemed to be pretty secure and the end of this whole ordeal was in sight so we just said screw it and attached the base of the fixture. It was a beautiful thing.

Except maybe a little…askance. But we couldn’t be bothered with such details as being flush with the ceiling at this point in the project.

Nick popped a bulb in there and screwed the globe on without a hitch and we stepped back to admire our beautiful, crooked light.

A couple of folks who met Juliet for the first time over the holidays mentioned that the pictures didn’t really convey how small she is. But take a look below. You can see that she’s smaller than the cat! Shorter, at least. She is definitely longer than the cat. It’s her defining feature.

Right after I snapped this picture I decided to clean up the drywall mess, which is when I was hit with a sinking feeling of panic that maybe there was lead paint on our ceiling and I just ruined the baby. Even though I wasn’t all up in the drywall-cutting business, I didn’t, like, leave the room or anything. I was convinced I’d just inhaled what must be a baby-ruining level of lead. And let me just tell you, google was not at all reassuring. I seriously was too upset about it to even take a picture of the thing afterwards in daylight. Or talk about the project at all for several days. But then I went to the doctor on Wednesday and told him about it and he said that it was really not that big of a deal. He basically said that it takes a lot more lead than whatever amount I may have been exposed to, and that repeated exposure is what really does damage to a fetus. So as long as I don’t start knocking out lead-painted walls every weekend my baby should be fine. Then I told him about all the other things that have been haunting me, like spraypaint, warm baths, and that medium-rare steak that I ate. He said I was fine, fine, fine. Then he told me that a little bit of worry makes me a good mom, right before he added that some women worry so much they have psychotic breaks and I should try to avoid letting it get that far.

So if there’s anything for you people to take away from this blog post, it’s that Nick and I are far from perfect. We’re complete idiots when it comes to even the simplest of projects, we argue sometimes when we’re stressed, and we suck at remembering the hundreds of do’s and don’t's of pregnancy (except for the easy ones, like don’t drink alcohol and do love your baby). It’s hard to admit this publicly because I worry that well-intentioned friends and family will start dropping helpful reminders of all the things I’m not supposed to do, which will annoy me to no end. I also worry that folks who disagree with my doctor and believe that I did, in fact, cause irreparable damage to my unborn child will feel compelled to tell me so and the whole process of fretting over what’s already been done will begin anew. But, like my doc suggested, worrying too much will only drive you insane. And I preach to my teenage clients that worry and guilt are only helpful if they motivate you to take some positive action. No use stressing about the past.

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap


18 responses to A Comedy of Errors

  1. You’re cracking me up. I like the part with the floor lamp & the drill. And don’t worry, raising kids is easier than you think…you’ll be a great mom, just wait and see!

    Nothing in the world will test the bonds of marriage like replacing a light fixture in an old house. At least you didn’t have to run any new wiring. I’d rather divorce HH than ever have to “help” him fish another electrical wire through a wall.

    • Charlotte | livingwellonthecheap January 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm

      Lol I’m glad to hear we aren’t the only ones who struggle with lighting, especially since you and your husband are WAY more handy than us!

  2. There’s no greater test of a relationship than DIY house projects! Love the several trips to Lowe’s and arguing in the store because it reassured me that we’re just another normal couple with no clue what we’re really doing. :)

  3. Love it! Beautiful light. Would totally have left it crooked, too. I also was very concerned about lead while pregnant & remodeling, but luckily we didn’t live in our house until after that stage of remodeling, & obviously I wasn’t around for any major demo while pregnant. My site visits were short & I did usually wear a mask. So far, we have an adorable 5 month old, meting all her mile stones & not at all looking like a pencil. ;) Really, I think things will be fine & falling down the stairs is way scarier, at least for a klutz like me. :)

    • Charlotte | livingwellonthecheap January 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks, Stephanie! And you’re right, a tumble down the stairs would have probably been much worse!

  4. Janet (Country Mouse January 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    LOL. Poor Nick. Not only does he get involved with DIY projects, he has you to chronicle the whole thing. After building our interior walls together, we decided to hire a dry wall guy. The price of him was worth saving our marriage. I have a friend who has an agreement with her husband, “Whatever is said during the heat of the moment when working on a project together is never spoken of again.” It works for us as well.

    The baby will be fine. Many of us “old folks” were raised in those old homes with lead paint, asbestos shingles, and any number of evil things and somehow we turned out ok. Imagine, our mothers didn’t even have hand sanitizer!!! We survived. You are trying to do what is best for the little one and I’m sure it will be ok as long as Daddy doesn’t electrocute himself and Mommy doesn’t fall down the stairs.

    • Charlotte | livingwellonthecheap January 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      Your friend and her husband sound like smart people! Thanks for your reassurance about the lead paint. We have asbestos shingles, too! This house is a deathtrap! Just kidding, I love this place.

  5. Haha, love this post. This totally sounds like Ben and I! Makes me feel ‘normal’!

    I called my doctor because I ate a cold turkey sandwich, and after visiting Dr. Google, I was sure that I had killed myself and my baby. My doctor laughed and said to stay away from the internet during pregnancy! Best advice I got!

  6. Lowe’s no longer carries this fixture so I contacted Portfolio (manufacturer) and gave them #0277047 that appears on box in photos; they also need ‘item number’ before I can place an order. Any help would be appreciated.

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