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Handyman Letter -  August 1, 2002



1) About her hair... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Our appreciation to sites and publications that have recently linked to,
listed or featured NH!

3) Sweepstakes Central... win great home repair stuff!!

4) News from the Basement Annex!!

5) Q&A with our readers

6) LINKMEISTER's Corner...

7) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!



It was early April 1999. I hadn't seen her in quite a while. I always enjoy working at Marcia's home. A photographic artist, creativity weaves like a thread through the fabric of her life and her home reflects her free spiritedness. I can't remember a visit to Marcia's house that wasn't both a challenge and an adventure. Unlike many of my less involved clients, Marcia usually knew what she wanted and I merely acted as a conduit to direct her electric inspiration to the ground!

Something seemed different this time, though. She had a look... her face a gauntness uncharacteristic of this absolutely fit and vivacious woman. I knew Marcia as an "aeroboholic" who had found some religion in her training. And her hair seemed unusual... not Marcia, not Marcia's hair. She confided to me some scant detail concerning her ordeal with uterine cancer.

I can admit being a little afraid, not of Marcia but what she represented. I don't do well with mortality, even after having a few close calls myself. Less so with the big "C". My mom died of lung cancer when I was 17. At that time there was no formal familial support. (Is there any now?) No one talked to me about what was going on... I of the large Italian family. No one directly told me she had cancer, as if it could be kept secret. Lots of vague, around the edges inferences. I was detached and floating in suffocating mist. She died while I was away at college. The goodbyes were very cold.

I saw Marcia a number of times of that year, in April, June, July and November. The July visit was perhaps the most memorable. When I walked in the door, I found Marcia hairless. Actually, she had been hairless for quite a while but I had closed my second eyelids and had not wanted to see. She flipped it off, saying "I would have put the wig on, but I don't care if you see me this way." She was coming to grips with her new self and I was being pulled along. I didn't mind. I have been in countless homes and seen countless wigs shrouding chemotherapy's bittersweet legacy. "Hey... it's my hair... really!" the wigs shout, but at the same time whisper, "Do me a favor and play along, okay?"

Marcia has chronicled her journey in a book entitled, "About My Hair, A Journey To Recovery". A book was never her intention, but she was encouraged to publish by other artists who realized the value of her images. It is a short read with unashamed self-photography... she is a photographer first. In those few words she captures the essence of a struggle only a woman may face and few men could hope to understand.

Marcia has a website (currently discontinued) where you can view some of her work and also read some excerpts from "About My Hair". I encourage anyone who may be touched by cancer to find some inspiration and hope here. As Marcia says in her closing remarks, "The work helped me maintain my positive attitude and has pushed me to places where I surely wouldn't otherwise have gone."

Me too, Marcia.




Dear NH,

I am in the process of getting my kitchen floor ready for new ceramic tile installation. I am putting down new subfloor underlayment and will be using 12" square ceramic tile. I read your article about replacing broken tiles and you mentioned that "thinset" mortar is not recommended due to poor adhesion if not promptly applied. However, my instructions say to use latex thinset mortar.

What kind of mortar/adhesive do you suggest I use for minimal problems and maximum adhesion?

Thank you very much.

BG from Somerset, OH


My choice of adhesive depends largely on the size on the tile and whether the job is a repair or a new installation. I do have a preference for mastic. Mastic is much easier for the amateur and some-time tile installer to use. It is more accepting of errors and even allows for easy tile removal (within 24 hours) if you find a few misplaced tiles. Thinset (once fully hard) is not as forgiving.

You can't use a premixed mastic on 12 inch tile... you must use thinset. The reason is that mastic needs some contact with air to dry properly. Though mastic under a large tile would eventually dry, you would have to wait at least two or three days before grouting (longer is better). Once you seal all the joints with grout, air circulation under the tiles is virtually eliminated and mastic drying time can extend to weeks... especially if you use a moisture-proof underlayment! During this time, walking on the tile would be discouraged because the tiles may move, though you could lay a sheet of plywood over the top for "emergency traffic".

Thinset "sets" with or without air and the tiles can be walked on after an overnight dry and grouted then, too.

Thinset requires a little more care and preparation since you are working against the clock. Most important is to have your tile layout determined before you begin mixing the thinset. The best way is to lay out your center lines across each dimension of the room and then actually lay out rows of tiles with the proper spacing (plastic spacers are a big help in getting uniform gaps, though most pro's can do it by eye). Then, adjust your center lines to put the tiles in the best position for cutting around doorways and other obstacles. There is always some compromise because architects don't design homes for the tile guy's convenience. Generally though, you want to avoid any tile pieces much smaller than half a tile (if possible).

Don't apply the thinset any thicker than recommended, or you will have a sloppy mess to deal with. The excess will erupt like lava from between the tiles as you press them in place, making the job more difficult and messy than it has to be.

There's a lot to tile installation, but hopefully these tips will help.



Dear NH,

I need to re-glaze an older single-pane window that does not have putty anywhere. The glass seems to be held in place by wood. I checked carefully, scraped the paint off inside and out, but there is no putty. The inside of the window has 2 small holes (about where I would expect to find points) on each side where the putty should be.

So how do I remove the old glass?

UW from Fort Collins, CO
(Handywoman in training)


Some single-pane windows utilize wood or plastic moldings instead of putty. I have often found this on windows in garage doors and some non-wood exterior entry doors... rarely in normal wood windows.

Plastic moldings are generally held in place by visible screws (though they may have round plastic covers over the screw holes). They are easy enough to disassemble once you get the covers off.

Regarding wood glazing trim, don't expect to be able to save the old pieces of molding. If you feel lucky, you can try to pry one up slightly with a putty knife and, using a hacksaw blade cut the nails to free this first piece. Using your putty knife to cut through the "paint line" along both edges of the molding will also help free up the molding.

Because all of the moldings are mitered (cut on interlocking angles), the first piece is the most difficult. The others will pry out easily once the first piece has been removed. If you are reusing the moldings, try to pull the nails out carefully from the BACK, not the front. It will cause less damage to the molding.

If the wood begins to crack, lose the finesse and just break the molding out and replace it with new molding, keeping a piece for a sample. Odds are you will be able to find a suitable replacement among the standard moldings at the local home store or lumberyard.

Once the moldings and the nails are completely removed the pane should come free. There may be glazing points, but probably not. It is also possible that a little glazing putty might have been used between the glass and the wood to make it rattle-free. If this is the case you might have to use a putty knife to break the seal and free the glass.

Be careful not to cut yourself and wear eye protection. And... go handywoman!




Dear NH,

You should take great pride in knowing that your website was a lifesaver to me during my toilet repair adventure! I just wanted to jot a quick note and say "Thanks"! Your jokes made things go a lot better!

DH from Cincinnati, Ohio


It's good to know there is someone else who can laugh when they are knee-deep in slop! I thought I was just a little crazy! Thanks for writing and wish you continued home repair success!



Dear NH,

In your June 1st newsletter, you mentioned taking a few preemptive aspirins before embarking on a digging project. A friend of mine suggested that I should do the same thing before engaging in particularly physical handyman activities, and so I did, until the day I experienced a massive hematoma.

I was working on a job from a three-foot high platform. While concentrating on the work above, I accidentally stepped off the platform, striking my shin just below the knee as I fell. I brushed it off as just another bruise and kept working. Later that day, while disrobing for a shower, I was surprised to find a bump on my shin the size of half a baseball, and internal bleeding that turned my entire leg purple from just above the knee all the way down to my heel.

My wife was more alarmed about it than I was, so she called a neighbor who is an emergency room nurse and asked her to come over and take a look at my leg. The first thing she asked was "Have you taken any aspirin today?" When I proudly told her I had taken my preemptive aspirin in the morning, she told me that doing so was the worst thing I could have done to prepare for the aches and pains of the day, and that taking the aspirin was most likely the cause of the large sized bump and extensive internal bleeding, also known as a hematoma resulting from a contusion.

Although aspirin may be good a good pain reliever and help to reduce the risk of a heart attack, its preemptive use in anticipation of aches and pains can cause serious complications. Ibuprofen is safer for this purpose, but be advised that taking ibuprofen before taking aspirin reduces the effectiveness of the aspirin by up to 98%. Also, aspirin remains in the blood stream for up to two weeks, so if you are planning to undertake a job with a risk of bumps and bruises, you might want to stop taking aspirin a week or so beforehand.

BB from Chagrin Falls, OH


Great cautionary tale and I appreciate your sharing it with us. Interestingly enough, I was told by two different physicians (who exercise heavily and ache like we do) to take aspirin... because they did themselves! Honestly, I have been doing it for years and never had even a minor bruising problem. And I have been whacked with the best of them!

Not that I doubt your story. In fact, I think it raises an important issue for everyone... whether you work with your body, sit at a desk or somewhere in between. I think every body reacts differently to medication, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in dramatic fashion. We all need to know the risks involved in any drug, even the most common medications, and take responsibility for our own welfare.

Personally, I have never had very much luck with either ibuprofen or acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) when it comes to pain relief. Being a headache sufferer, it is amazing how a couple of aspirin can do what a day's worth of the other medications won't. Again, that is how my body reacts.

As confounding and frustrating as it must be to the medical profession, the human body remains unpredictable in its reaction to drugs. We must all learn to know our bodies, listen carefully to its warnings and then ACT in our own best interest! No one can (or should) care more about your body than you!



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