A Little Light Plumbing

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I do my own repair-work; I have a set of wrenches, screwdrivers, and even a power drill with complete set of drill bits. Most of the time I simply hang pictures, make things, change light bulbs, and do whatever needs doing to keep the home in one piece, however this weekend my talents in the DIY department went to the next level: plumbing. My toilet has been doing strange things lately - running extra water, dripping and swishing in the dead of night. The float ball was out of whack and the flapper chain kept disconnecting. What’s a single gal to do when there’s no burly-but-ever-so-adept-at-fix-it-chores boyfriend in the picture? I wanted to stamp my foot and be petulant, although I knew that wasn’t going to get me anywhere. But this is plumbing! This involves water valves, and washers, and shanks, and levers, and this is serious…and in the meantime, the water kept running. Something needed to be done, but was I really the girl for the job? Straightening my shoulders I realized that no one could rescue me but myself, so I did some research.

Through the magic of the internet I was able to determine that not only are toilet repairs common, but they’re actually quite simple. Don’t bother with replacing parts, replace the entire mechanism in one go and totally improve your household plumbing experience. Luckily, there’s an amazing hardware store just around the corner from me. Hardware Unlimited is a neighborhood place, still independently-owned, where you can buy everything from a tea kettle to an elbow join. The staff is uncommonly kind and knowledgeable, and no request is beneath them – even when I need an ultra-miniscule screw to reattach a one-of-a-kind button on my Paul Smith handbag, they are happy to find just what I need. So, a-hunting I went for a complete toilet repair kit.

And voila! There they were in the center aisle. There’s the basic, old-fashioned kind, but reading the packages like I do at the grocery store, I found that the newer kind are better. What’s this? Not just plumbing, but modern plumbing? Oh yes. Don’t go with a float ball when the all-in-one float cup is a better option. It precisely regulates the water level in the tank, which is just what I need because I determined that my overflow pipe was taking in too much water. (My what is taking in what? Wow, I'm smart. And handy.) Victory! Now all I had to do was swap out the old with the new. Here’s where things got tricky.

I turned off the water well-enough, disconnected the supply, drained the tank, etc., but I thought the old valve would simply come right out on its own. Little did I know that old toilet valves are very stubborn things that don’t like to move – especially when they know they’re being replaced. Mine took a severe beating, and more than a little truck-driver-esque profanity, before giving in to the physics of its threaded shank. Make no mistake Mr. OldValve, you will be moved.

Following the overwhelming, but still somewhat readable directions of my new Fluidmaster 400/AK Complete Repair Kit, I disengaged washers, lock nuts, and couplings, and connected tubes, angle adapters, gaskets, and valves. It is more than a bit disconcerting to look at your only toilet and see it completely disemboweled, knowing that you will probably need to use it sometime soon. The trepidation inherent in this realization certainly helped to spur me forward. I was tough but gentle, improvising but precise – I was a home improvement surgeon. The whole procedure took about an hour, and no sports fans, no “plumbers crack” was shown to anyone. (Oh, and don't worry, I have since treated myself to a manicure...)

My toilet now sits silently, flushing beautifully with a simple press of the finger.

I am proud. One of my colleagues warned me to never let a man know that I can perform this task on my own – they would surely want to marry me instantly.

Image from Getty Images 

How to Host a Happy Hour

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HOORAY! It’s Friday. The gang is coming over for cocktails after work to help me celebrate the P&C launch. Am I worried? Not at all. I’ve done this before, and it’s very easy. I know those magazines like InStyle try to encourage the hostess in everyone, but they make it so complicated! I’m here to break it down for you, impart my happy hour knowledge, and show you the brighter side of a simple get-together. With this advice in the pocket of your Sevens, everyone will wonder how you’re so relaxed, collected, and full-of-fun!

First of all, the word “Happy” is in the title of this event, so that is the very mood you are trying to create by hosting your friends for cocktails. You should be the root of the “happy,” happy to be around people you dig, happy to have them in your home, happy that it’s finally time for a Friday cocktail. The other word in the title is “Hour” – 60 minutes, maybe 90 or 120 if you stretch it into another round or two, but it’s really not that long! This is an event for minimal fuss, stress, and even effort if you follow a few guidelines…

  1. Clean Up – Okay, you don’t need to do a white-glove check on all of your surfaces, but do a quick sweep of the kitchen floor and clear the counters of clutter. Make the bed (if you can remember how,) and run the vacuum, but don’t worry too much. Approach this like a triage unit with your highest priority on the bathroom – this is where you absolutely must have a spit-shine. Make it sparkle, and make sure there’s TP and soap. (I know it’s obvious, but you wouldn’t want to overlook it.)
  2. Be On Time – Happy Hour should not start any later than 6:30 or 7PM (if it’s in your home.) You should be coiffed, lipsticked, and rouged by this time. You can put out chips and light candles, etc., while you wait for your fashionably-late friends. The hostess is never fashionably late.
  3. Be Classy – Show your worldly insouciance by putting out a few books or magazines that will be conversation-worthy once people arrive. Nothing pretentious (hide your Paris Review archive,) but a mix current and classic tomes. Vanity Fair, bien sur, WWD Scoop, Blahnik by Bowman, and Michael Roberts’ monograph are all cultured, but not-so-serious choices that I currently have on the coffee table. If you’re a lit-head, don’t be too intimidating…Hey, who put that copy of War and Peace over there?
  4. Be Classy Part II – Be a good host. My mother sometimes asks me: “do you need hostess towels?” And I never say yes, but then I find that I need them. Hostess towels are those artistically adorned rectangular paper towels that you put out in the bathroom for when people wash their hands. In vintage stores you may find some that are fabric with some fun embroidery, but these generally come out around Christmastime. Go with the hostess towels. I know this is a bit adult of me, but do you really want people wiping their hands where you wipe your face? If you don’t have any, simply put out some dinner napkins, but hang them up on the towel bar so people will know they’re supposed to use them.
  5. Be Classy Part III – Ixnay on the lasticpay. This is Happy Hour, not a barbecue with kegs. Leave the plastic cups and paper plates in their bags for another time. In these modern times, you can buy a cocktail glass for $2.00 at Cost Plus World Market. Do so. Happy Hours don’t generally involve more food than a few nibbles, so don’t even put out plates – if you do, put out real ones. I have my grandma’s china cake plates which I love, and you could find your own set of inexpensive china at Goodwill or the same vintage store where you’re going to buy your hostess towels. Paper cocktail napkins are of course, completely fine and can be great fun if you find some odd ones.
  6. Keep it Simple – If you sent out an email stating “cocktails” then that’s what you do. Don’t worry about buying up all kinds of beer, wine, & champagne. Folks will know what to expect. As a non-alcoholic option, go with San Pellegrino. If you’re uncertain of your mixing abilities (I know, people get snobbish about shaking up cocktails, but puhleeze,) then make them ahead and have them ready when people arrive. I have done this many times and found that guests are relieved – they see a big pitcher of a ready-made libation and they know they don’t need to think about it, just grab a glass and drink. If you are mixing, don’t do anything exotic like mojitos or sidecars. Leave the mottled mint to the experts and just go with martinis, or something equally minimal – they get the job done.
  7. Finishing Touches – Light a candle. Or ten. We all love flowers, but they’re pricey. I recommend investing in an orchid or a potted flower (big, pink hydrangeas at Whole Foods are $16.99) that will last you a month or two. Fridays are a good flower day though, since many vendors slash their prices. One near my office sells them for $1.00 a stem and blows out two-dozen roses for only $8.99. Treat yourself if you like – it’s Friday. Put on music – like your reading choices it should be a mix of current and classic. The new Jurassic 5 album is fantastic, but since it’s a sunny day I may choose the tropics of Bossa Nova and go with Elis Regina and Toots Thielemans’ Aquarela do Brasil – one of my favorites.
  8. Enjoy Yourself – It’s your house, your friends, your booze. Enjoy it! Don’t worry about the dishes, and don’t start to *do* dishes while your guests are still there. After an hour or two, everyone will want dinner, so leave the glasses and go eat. Happy Hour is now Friday night, is now the Weekend…go big.