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Musing: Lowe’s Two-Trip Rule
No matter how thoroughly I plan a home improvement project, I always find myself returning to Lowe’s for forgotten supplies. I’ve labeled this phenomenon the Lowe’s Two-Trip Rule.
It doesn’t have to be Lowe’s, of course. It could just as easily be Home Depot, Walmart, or any other retailer.
Or not a retailer at all. Even gathering the right tools from my own toolbox before starting a project challenges me.
Let me illustrate.
Mounting a Weather Station
Saturday, I installed a mount for my weather station on the pavilion we built in the backyard. Even though we’ve only lived in our Asheville house for about a year-and-a-half now, I decided I might push the envelope. I know you might consider that rushing things.
For those keeping score, I never got around to installing the weather station in Murrells Inlet, so this is an improvement.
I ordered a mounting kit, complete with all the needed supplies. Installation required four wood screws and the accompanying washers to attach the frame to the fascia. A pair of bolts with butterfly nuts and related hardware secured the mast to the mount.
That’s it. Four screws. Two bolts.
Tools required? A drill for pilot holes plus a Phillips head bit to drive the wood screws. A level. A ladder. And a compass to align the weather station anemometer to true north.
Simple, right? Thirty minutes at best.
I grabbed the bag that holds my cordless drill from my workbench in the garage. A quick check revealed the battery was fully charged, a minor miracle. Plus, all the drill bits were in the bag.
I retrieved the level from the toolbox and added it to my stash.
So far, so good. All I needed was the ladder.
For most projects around the house, I use one of my two step ladders or the lightweight extension ladder hanging in the garage. This job, though, required the heavier extension ladder stored on the bottom hooks. When I went to retrieve it, I hit my first snag.
Because the ladder was rarely used, it had become a storage location. My extension pole pruner fit neatly on top of that ladder. A couple additional items rested on the floor—an easy reach over for the other ladders but blocking access to the one I needed. A pair of car wash rags dangled from the ladder hooks.
To gain access, I moved those items to the center of the garage floor. With the path clear, I reached down, gripped the ladder, and lifted. After only an inch or two of rise, it stopped.
A quick search revealed that the feet extended into the corner of the garage. That corner had become an accumulation point for a series of stacked items. At some point, they had shifted and now rested on the ladder itself.
The next few minutes comprised unstacking and moving items to the center of the garage with the earlier objects. A pyramid of decisions waited for me to resolve later, but at least the ladder could be freed. I carried it to the backyard and securely set it up.
A glance at my watch told me the project would now take at least 45 minutes. Finding homes for the pile of relocated items stretched that to an hour. As long as everything else went off without a hitch, of course.
I climbed the ladder, placed and leveled the mount, and marked my targets. With the drill and proper drill bit, I soon had pilot holes. After replacing the bit with the Phillips driver, I balanced the mount and its rubber gasket and positioned the first screw. With the drill, I reached up and… couldn’t reach the screws.
The drill was too wide and wouldn’t fit inside the mount. I needed the longer drivers—which were in the drill bag sitting on the table below me.
Scurried down the ladder, changed the driver, scurried back up the ladder.
Soon after that minor hiccup was solved, all four screws held the mounting plate. Before tightening them, I needed to ensure it was level. I checked my now empty pockets and looked around me.
The level sat on the table below. Exactly where I had left it when I switched out the drivers.
Scurried down the ladder, retrieved the level, scurried back up the ladder.
Checked the levels. Secured the mount.
Awesome. Now all I needed to do was attach the mast to the mount. The mast, of course, was on the table.
Scurried down the ladder, retrieved the mast, scurried back up the ladder.
Slipped the mast between the arms of the mount, slid the first bolt through, and…. It stopped. It needed a little tap to get through the opening. I had a level and a drill. No hammer.
Scurried down the ladder, went to the garage, retrieved a hammer, scurried up the ladder.
One tap and the bolt slid through. Loosely tightened the wing nut. Slipped the second bolt into its slot. Tapped it with the hammer.
It didn’t budge.
Upon inspection, I realized one of the rubber gaskets between the mast and the mount had shifted. To avoid disassembling my last step, I needed something to pry it into place.
A screwdriver would work perfectly, but all my screwdrivers were in my toolbox in the garage.
Scurried down the ladder, went to the garage, retrieved a screwdriver, scurried up the ladder.
Slipped the gasket into place. Realigned the bolt. Tapped it through with the hammer. Loosely tightened the wing nut. Checked the level. Secured everything in place.
The next part was planned. The weather station waited safely on the table since I didn’t want to bring it up before I was ready for it. So, of course…
Scurried down the ladder, retrieved the weather station, scurried up the ladder, installed the weather station, and aligned it to true north with my compass.
Gathered tools and returned them to their proper places. Hauled the ladder back to the garage and stored it on the hooks. Restacked the various items that originally hindered my access to the ladder, mostly in better places.
Total elapsed time? Ninety minutes, a mere 300% of my original estimate.
The Seven Ps
Inevitably, someone will point out I could have saved myself some effort with better planning. As I learned eons ago in some corporate training class, Proper Prior Planning Prevents Pitifully Poor Performance. And, yes, I know that many of you learned a different word than “pitifully,” but our trainers were trying to keep the class G rated. The retired Navy guy beside me in class found that amusing.
So, yes, I could have planned better. And, yes, I could have handled some contingencies by wearing a tool belt.
But if my little project had gone perfectly, then it wouldn’t have made for a good analogy for how writing works.
How Writing Works the Same
One of the constant debates in the writing world is whether someone is a plotter or a pantser. Plotters are people who plot out every scene of a story before writing the first word. Pantsers, who often prefer the much politer term “discovery writer,” are people who sit down to write without knowing the story or how it ends. That is, they write by the seat of their pants.
In using my weather station analogy, a plotter would map out every step of the installation, think through everything that could go wrong, and gather every tool before starting. A pantser would either wait until they were on the top of the ladder to read the installation instructions—or never read them at all.
The debate, though, misses the point. A week, a month, or a year from now, would anyone check my weather station and know how much planning went into its installation? The only thing that matters is that the station reports accurate statistics.
Or that a story entertains.
Whether a story was plotted or pantsed makes no difference to the end result. We each must follow our own paths.
Personally, when I’m asked whether I am a plotter or a pantser, I answer, “Yes.”
Characters in stories are notoriously unruly. I think I know exactly what they will say and do, and then they lead me down a different path. When that happens, I follow them. So what if it wasn’t what I had planned?
Just like the weather station, I make a general plan and gather my tools. But when I’m in the middle of writing (or installing a weather station), I’m perfectly comfortable changing. It might not be efficient, but it sure is more entertaining.
By the way, it’s 61 degrees outside with a light breeze. Just in case you’re curious.
Gratuitous Dog Picture: Jaunty Or Haughty
During our walk along the neighborhood greenway yesterday, a passerby complimented Typhoon’s jaunty stride. No, no, His Royal Highness Little Prince Typhoon Phooey replied, he walks in a haughty manner. Whichever it is, the Prince walks with quite a purpose in his step.
On The Website This Week
Vocabulary Word of the Week: Jeremiad
August survey results: Pumpkin Spice: Love It Or Leave It?
Last chance to participate in the September survey. I will be closing responses September 30 and reporting the results in October: Which monster scares you the most?
Whether you plan carefully or believe in charging ahead, may you have much success and little distraction this week. See you next Monday.
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