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Handyman Letter - Dec. 2005 - Jan. 2006

In This Issue:

1) Secretive Santas... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Sweepstakes Central... Win great home repair stuff!!

3) News from the Basement Annex!!

4) Q&A with our readers

Secretive Santas... a message from the Natural Handyman

One thing about the Christmas season. There may be a shortage of spending cash, but there is no lack of wishes! We write wish lists and send them to Mom, Dad, our kids, the friends with whom we exchange presents... and, of course, to Mr. Claus (just in case!)

The fun and fantasy of Santa Claus stays with me, even with my unconditional childhood belief long-buried under sawdust. I can still recall the day I realized that Santa was not exactly... shhh... a person. The basement in our turn-of-the-20th-century house has a small area underneath part of the living room that was about half as deep as the basement. It housed the oil tank, spiders, mice and other unspeakables by Father called "collectibles". I can't say he was a packrat, Mother's firm hand keeping him from reaching his full hoarding potential!

I remember the old wooden wide-slat Venetian blind, rather chipped and grey, that once hung across the picture window in the living room till its appearance became an embarrassment. Mom's orders: one blind to basement, yes Sir! As always, Father's whim was to put an old dog to good use. So voila! The secret room became invisible; an imaginary window and hiding place crouching behind that ancient window dressing.

But I digress. Even with a belief in magical Santa, EVERY kid knows that at least some of the presents under the tree come from natural people. But where are they hidden? My mother was the stay-at-home type (but to say she didn't work would be at my peril). Needless to say, this made searching for presents more of a challenge. Especially in her room, which lay above the living room with a full complement of squeaky floors and equally noisy door hinges! Factor in her motherly "extra" eyes (front and rear of head) and it became a mission worthy of James Bond!

I found them, of course, but not where I expected. They were in the secret room, behind the ancient blind. Though the full list of found booty fades into my ancient brain cells, thoughts of a specific gift remain. It was a race car set (one of those old-style real electric setups that would probably be illegal today) complete with tracks in a fancy, colorful box. I hadn't remembered asking for it when bouncing on Santa's knee, but I've always (and still do) enjoy the surprise of an unexpected toy!

Of course, forbidden knowledge of Christmas soon-to-come can cause time to move with a painful creep. The weeks remaining till Christmas seemed like months! But time slid slowly onward and soon the happy day arrived. Presents were opened, pleasantries exchanged, but an odd thing happened. There was no race car set! For a second I nearly blurted out, "Something is missing!" But wise even in my youth, I stayed silent. Disappointed. Confused. Perhaps this was punishment for finding the booty? A little wake-up call from the old furry fellow himself, letting me know that doubting him can have unexpected results? When no one was looking, I crept into the basement and, behind the ancient blind, was nothing aside from the usual residents. Questions begging questions, answers not forthcoming.

Christmas day moved forward. One of the worst parts of Chrismas day was having to go visiting. All I wanted to do is play and play. But at least the major stop was an enjoyable one. We visited my cousins Carol and Joey, who were like the sister and brother I never had. Of course, it was never pleasant to have to spend hours watching other kids play with their toys, while yours gathered dust and pine needles.

To this day, I don't know if anyone heard the audible gasp when I saw the race car set, spread out majestically on their tiny, WWII vintage living room floor. You could have knocked me over with a snowflake, the tricksters! Suddenly, I realized then how wise indeed parents can be. They had swapped presents to keep the surprise alive, a secret carried with me to my own parenthood as a lesson well learned.

But what about Santa? Okay, maybe he wasn't a real person. But he might as well have been. Sometimes, symbolism has more power than reality. And who can fault the image of a friendly, giving old man who asks nothing more than reasonably good behavior?

Or fault a legacy of good thoughts and hope. Of wishes and dreams. Of joys and toys. And a teacher of how the best gift can be a simple surprise. Shhhh!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


3) News from the "Basement Annex"

All the hard working grunts, go-fers and assorted maniacs at want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year!

We can't thank our readers enough for their feedback, their loyalty and their patience with the weirdness that is this newsletter and We hope the holiday season is one you can treasure, and that the New Year brings new hope to those of us at home, and at war, in this often chaotic world.

Now, on to business! A few new articles were posted this month that you might be interested in!

Mistletoe: The Other Evergreen explores the biology of mistletoe. These handy facts may give you the ammunition to "change the subject" in case you get caught under a sprig by an over-affectionate worker at the office party!

Sneaky Re-Uses For Common Toys answers the question, "I paid so much for this piece of crap and now I have to throw it away?" This short article offers some cool suggestions, plus links to a number of resources to help turn that chicken-$%# broken toy into chicken salad! (Or soup, if you're a little under the weather.)

Fighting Holiday Grime and Slime! When the guests have gone home and you've recovered from your "holiday high", it's time to get serious... about cleanup! Here are a few tips from the pros to ease the inevitable pain of post-holiday yuck!

4) Q&A with our readers

Dear NH,

How do I get rid of my shower glass door from staining/streaking. We us a shower spray Tilex. However, we now after 5 years have streaks in the glass we cannot get out. we use the commerical product such as CLR with no results.

GC from Oakville, Ontario, Canada


Welcome to the club! I had a similar situation and, frankly, there is no solution. According to glazing experts, the tempered glass that is used in shower doors can, over time, become permanently stained from both cleaning chemicals and the minerals present in water which permanently change the glass. No amount of cleaning chemicals or so-called mineral "scale" removers will help.

To give you an idea of what I tried on my doors, here are the unsuccessful attempts:

Thorough cleaning with a variety of household chemicals such as Mr. Clean, Fantastik, etc.
Use of commercial and household mineralization removers such as CLR, LimeAway, phosphoric acid (masonry cleaner), and muriatic acid (a last chance desperate attempt). I even removed them and laid them across sawhorses in the yard so the chemicals would have a chance to work.

Yet, still no success! Muriatic acid will dissolve masonry, so when it did not even affect the streaks on my doors, I had to accept that the stains were indeed permanent.

Perhaps the best advise I can give to owners of glass shower doors is to use a squeegee after every use to remove standing water from the glass. That, plus cleaning them with a real glass cleaner, is the best chance of keeping them clear and clean-looking for their lifetime.

Or, the other alternative... get opaque as opposed to clear glass door... they will hide the inevitable streaking!

Dear NH,

We just moved into a new house and I have noticed they did not caulk around the toilets, shower faucets, or kitchen sink. I feel they should be caulked but have been told it is not required. Should it be done?

JW from Sumter, SC


First and foremost, congrats on your new home. I'm sure you'll find it both a joy and an adventure in the coming New Year!

Caulking is necessary to seal joints or seams between materials where there is a significant chance of water leakage. The most common interior use of caulking is within the shower or tub enclosure. Though it may seem sensible to caulk around toilets, shower faucets and the kitchen sink, it is usually unnecessary.

1) Toilets are usually not sealed against the floor unless there is a compelling reason, since it makes removal for repair much more difficult. Occasionally, toilet bases are caulked if there are special moisture issues. For example, caulk can prevent excessive condensation on the toilet tank from creeping underneath the toilet, which can rot the floor. Another use would be to help steady a toilet that wobbles excessively, though thin plastic shims can also solve this problem.

2) The decorative cover plates on shower and tub faucets are typically sealed against the shower wall on their "back-side" (either with a rubber gasket, o-ring or plumber's putty) during installation. Since some caulks are fairly strong adhesives, it's not a good idea to apply caulk behind these covers unless called for by the manufacturer. It will make removal for repairs very difficult!

3) Stainless steel kitchen sinks are always sealed to the countertop with either plumber's putty or caulk, but the sealant is underneath the rim of sink and not visible. Cast iron kitchen and ceramic bathroom sinks often have a neat bead of caulk around the perimeter, but their design allows it to be very smooth and unobtrusive. Undercounter sinks are also sealed invisibly to the underside of the countertop. As a rule, you don't want to smear caulk atop your countertop unless the original sealant fails and you don't want to remove-and-reinstall the sink to replace the original sealant.

Caulk is not a permanent material by any stretch of the imagination. It requires regular replacement as it loses its elasticity and/or adhesion on the material it's sealing. It also begins to look quite obnoxious, turning beautiful shades of gray and black as it ages from a combination of mold and reactions to cleaning chemicals. So anywhere you can avoid using it without incurring moisture damage, the less regular maintenance you'll need to do.

Dear NH,

How will pressure treated wood do if sprinkled with salt during a snowy time. We spent $2000 on stairs and a deck and want to respond properly to recent snow!

Your site is A-1!

ED of Chillilwack, BC, Canada


Thanks, ED. And by all means, make sure your deck and stairs are properly sealed! "Raw" pressure treated wood is vulnerable to the elements, and sun, moisture and chemicals will damage it. The "treatment" part of pressure-treatment is a fungicide and preservative meant prevent rot and insect infestation, not surface damage.

Since it is getting pretty cold in your neck of the woods, be sure to apply an oil-based product (to the tune of "Jingle Bells", no doubt). Oil-based wood preservatives can be applied in cold weather, though I would not do so if the temperature has been below freezing for a number of days since the frozen wood will not absorb the product.

Naturally speaking, the warmer the outside temperature, the more quickly the product will dry to the touch. Under duress, I've personally applied oil-based deck sealant a few days before a snowfall and, though this is not the most desirable situation, the finish not only adhered but showed no problems the following summer. Rain beaded on the surface like a champ!

About the only thing I noticed was, when the temperature warmed up again, the odor of fresh finish was evident. However, after a few weeks of warmer weather the odor disappeared and the deck was still well protected.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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