The unexpected heartening that comes with tackling odd jobs around the house

When I turned the cold water on at the kitchen faucet weeks ago, I noticed the faucet’s base seemed a little loose. I was putting off investigating the specific reason because, as noted in other columns, I live in an old farmhouse.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure, you know that simple projects often are not that simple in an old farmhouse — especially anything to do with water.

My water is very “hard” — it has lots of minerals in it, especially calcium — so it basically eats plumbing for lunch. My late husband Jim and I had installed a water softening system years ago, but it only slows down the process of deterioration.

The other deterrent to tackling the project was that I knew I would need time to actually clean out under the sink and reorganize when I put the various cleaners, fresheners and polishes back where they belong.

So with that all in mind, I’ve managed to procrastinate when it comes to this particular project.

But on Saturday, I decided it was time to “woman-up” and get to work. I took everything out from under the sink, sorted through it, grouping similar things together in their designated areas on the kitchen floor that made sense to my brain and throwing out other stuff, carefully cleaned the walls and “floor” of the cupboard, and bravely got out a mirror and flashlight.

I had found pieces of something black as I had cleaned everything out of the cupboard, so I was braced for the worst. As it turned out, a plastic nut that anchors the cold side of the faucet base in place had fallen apart.


I realized after talking it over with Jim in my mind — as I often do with things that are out of my comfort zone — that to put a new one on would require disconnecting the hose to the waterline.

Since there blissfully were no leaks anywhere, and it looked like the pipes were cemented together for all eternity, I decided to just treat my faucet assembly with care when using water in the sink and leave well enough alone. At least for the time being.

I had replaced the metal pipes to the sink with plastic several years ago. The metal pipes literally had fallen apart in my hands, and I didn’t know why water wasn’t spurting all over the place, but it wasn’t. I got out my Handyman book on plumbing and worked through my particular issues that time around.

No problem. But now I’m older, my plumbing books are outdated I’m sure, as is my plumbing probably, and I have more awareness of all that can go wrong. Plus, I am constantly dealing with the confidence issues that widowhood has thrust upon me. So even having the confidence to look at the situation was an accomplishment.

With the kitchen faucet’s issues diagnosed, and the area cleaned up and organized, I felt empowered to tackle something else. The linen closet was next.

Everything came out. The closet walls and shelves were cleaned. Towels and washcloths were refolded and stacked neatly. Among the many items in the closet were used toothbrushes in unlabeled baggies found in abundance. I’m sure most of them belonged to my daughter and stepdaughter, but the mystery will never be solved and I tossed them.

I found about a half dozen open bags of cotton balls. They must have kept getting lost in the closet, so I would buy a new bag. There were also dried out partially used containers of lotions, half a dozen hair styling blow brushes — I suspect some of them belong to the girls.

And things I didn’t remember I had, like rice packs you heat in the microwave and a back massager on a stick.

My grandest accomplishment of the day, though, was cleaning out Jim’s shaving kit. Whenever I’ve opened it before, I’ve instantly been in tears and have had to close it and put it back where I had found it.

But this day, I no longer saw Jim when I opened the shaving kit. I saw some old toiletries that needed to be thrown. The only thing I couldn’t open or part with was the gray plastic case I knew held his travel toothbrush and toothpaste. I don’t know why, but it will have to stay in the closet a little longer.


I also didn’t want to throw out the shaving kit case itself, so I cleaned it up and now my spare toothbrushes and extra toothpaste are neatly contained in it.

A compromise of sorts.

I had hoped when I cleaned out the linen closet, I would be able to tackle Jim’s toiletries in the top of the cabinet next to the bathroom sink. I opened the door and looked. I climbed my step stool and began to reach for the items, but could not take them down.

Another time perhaps.

With the kitchen and bathroom tasks, I felt like I was not only cleaning up and cleaning out, I also was fixing my self-confidence with each accomplishment. But after those two projects, I decided my next one should be something more routine and familiar. Something I always did anyway.

It was time for the Christmas tree to be undecorated and removed from the house.

On some level, I hated to part with the tree. It was very shapely, beautiful in all of the small colored lights, and I smiled whenever I saw it because of the fun my parents and I had the day we got it on a friend’s tree farm — but it was time.

And as I lovingly rescued each special ornament from the tree, I thought about all of the happy memories associated with them. Not only the ones we made recently, but also the ones I had made with Jim.

And my heart smiled.


Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.