What happens when you push yourself to do new things? I learned I can do so much more than I ever imagined.
The Condo Project Nears Completion
I walked into the kitchen and sighed. The soft grey walls contrasted nicely with the crisp white subway tiles. Light from the windows reflected off the stainless-steel sink and bounced off the black appliances. I could imagine the smells of food cooking and laughter ringing. A far cry from the dismal dump we’d purchased a year ago.
Two summer vacations of hard work, a week at Christmas, and two shorter trips had wrought a miracle in the physical space and within me.
For most of my life, I’ve operated with the belief that I can push myself and learn to do new things. If I see a recipe, I can make it (and often make it healthier). Complicated period costumes don’t daunt me—I’ve sewn hundreds of them. When I couldn’t walk after ankle surgery, I couldn’t photograph birds. So, I learned how to paint.
Of course, all these things interest me. Pedro has a similar attitude, only his centers around all things mechanical. Sometimes, we joke about how we each know just enough about so many things to make us dangerous. Which explains how we got into the condo project in the first place.
When Pedro arrived in Alaska this summer to work on the condo, we divvied up the list of remaining projects. His list included things I had never done and had no desire to learn how to do. Installing a garbage disposal, replacing plug-ins in the kitchen, putting door handles and locks on the doors, replacing light fixtures, and installing all the trim.
But as the first week passed, I realized he wouldn’t finish his list before he had to fly home.
It’s Time to Push Yourself
I looked at the garbage disposal box sitting next to the sink and shuddered. “It’s time to push yourself,” I said, giving myself a pep talk. I didn’t want to install a garbage disposal, but how hard could it be? Pedro didn’t have time, and I really didn’t want to install trim.
Installing trim involves saws and measuring. I’d used saws before, but they scared me.
Pedro gave me a few precautions about overtightening water hoses and showed me where to turn off the electricity under the sink. Five hours and one trip to Home Depot later, I turned on the water, flipped a switch, and the garbage disposal whirred to life like magic. I couldn’t believe what I’d done.
The next day, Pedro hooked up the dishwasher, and we ran a load of dishes. What a sweet relief not to have to wash them in the bathtub! But within five minutes, water had flooded the kitchen floor. After tinkering with new seals and deep cleaning the buildup of mineral deposits inside the dishwasher, we tried again. Same results.
I spent a day frantically trying to find a new dishwasher in our price range within a hundred-mile radius. After I drove to Anchorage to pick it up, I made another snap decision. Empowered by my garbage disposal success, I told Pedro I’d tackle the dishwasher installation.
“You really want to push yourself this summer, don’t you?” he asked.
“Not really,” I admitted, “but I can at least do my best. You have other things you need to do, and I can’t move on to tiling until the appliances are all in.”
Installing a dishwasher included double the number of things I don’t care to do. I used a sharp knife to free the dishwasher from the box. Next, I had to figure out how to hook up electrical wiring and attach hoses. I have a hate relationship with hoses.
Pedro helped me secure the dishwasher to the bottom of the countertop, and we filled it with dishes and started it up.
A Minor Setback
It worked great. Until a flood of water poured out from underneath it. Evidently, I’d taken his precautions about attaching the hoses on the garbage disposal to heart when attaching the hoses under the dishwasher. I hadn’t tightened them enough. It didn’t take long to fix the leak.
Nevertheless, I counted it a successful project where I had once again pushed myself past what I thought I could do.
Pedro had almost finished the trim work but hadn’t had time to replace the electrical outlets in the kitchen. “Time to push yourself again,” I whispered as I looked around the kitchen.
Electricity scares me. Growing up, I always got the heebie-jeebies anytime I saw my dad messing with electrical boxes and breakers on remodeling and construction jobs.
Now, I needed to overcome my fear. Pedro patiently showed me how to turn off breakers, use a tool to detect live wires and replace an outlet. Two days later, I’d replaced all the outdated outlets, fixed a faulty wiring problem that prevented the microwave from working, and put spacers behind the outlets so they would lay flush with the tile.
I almost gave up on the second day when we discovered the microwave no longer worked. Through the process of elimination, I identified the problem and fixed it.
Doorknobs and Tile Saws
I watched multiple YouTube videos on how to tile a kitchen backsplash but kept putting it off. Installing doorknobs seemed easier. After figuring out how to free myself from a room I’d locked myself into during installation, doorknobs posed no threat.
I purchased a used tile saw on Facebook Marketplace. A laser level and leave-in spacers (trust me, if you plan on doing tile, go with the leave-in spacers!) rounded out my tools for the tile job. Pedro showed me how to set up the wet saw, and I managed to finish one small section in the kitchen before he flew home.
Cutting tile made a mess. You take hardened mud, add water, and turn it back into clay to make a cut in the tile. A week later, I’d successfully installed subway tile and added the grout. My back ached, my arms ached, but the kitchen transformation looked amazing—and I’d finished just in time to drive back to Arizona before school started at the beginning of August.
The End of a Project
I looked around one last time before heading to the airport last Monday. I’d learned about all the amazing things you can do if you push yourself. Even though I’m a granny, I learned how to do simple electrical upgrades. My age and gender didn’t prevent me from installing a garbage disposal or a dishwasher. I know how to dismantle a doorknob if I ever get locked inside a room.
When I checked Zillow and discovered the value of our condo had almost doubled, I knew it hadn’t been such a crazy investment of time and money after all. Pedro and I had persevered and put in the sweat equity by pushing ourselves. We took the time to do the jobs well and can take pride in what we accomplished.
I challenge you to push yourself, too. Do you have a project you’ve put off because you think you can’t do it? Learn at the feet of masters on YouTube. Do you have a half-finished project dragging you down? Don’t despair. Push yourself to find solutions. During my electrical woes, I put the number of an electrician on speed dial, just in case.
You can do so much more than you think you can. What will you push yourself to do today, this week, this month, or this year? I’d love to hear from you!
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