New book offers do-it-yourself repair hints for women

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Julie Sussman began her home repair odyssey by climbing onto a roof and caulking a leak. Stephanie Glakas-Tenet dismantled a lawn mower to unclog the gas line.

Now the duo, CIA wives with matching tool belts, hope to convince women that hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers and even pizza cutters are implements of empowerment. And economy.

"Dare to Repair: A Do-It-Herself Guide to Fixing (Almost) Anything in the Home" (Harper Resource, 254 pp., $14.95) is clearly written for novices. It covers plumbing, electricity, appliances and home safety plus windows, walls and doors. There's a resource list and help on finding contractors.

The authors spent nearly a decade on the book while raising kids and running households in suburban Washington. "My husband was never home, and I couldn't afford a contractor," said Sussman, 42, mother of two and wife of career CIA employee Jerry Sussman. "When he was away, I was wasting precious phone calls with him on repair things -- the toilet, the garbage disposal."

Glakas-Tenet, 46, who has one son, learned from her father how to fix lots of stuff. "One day, my husband came home to see me straddling the chimney on the roof," she said of CIA Director George Tenet. The two met at a barbecue, and Sussman soon suggested they do a book demystifying home repair. They queried 500 women of all ages, races and fix-it know-how beforehand. Always the test was, "Could my 69-year-old mom do these repairs?" said Sussman.

What they did not want was a stylish, pricey coffee-table tome featuring "a Barbie with a blond ponytail doing wallpaper." They lobbied hard for an affordable paperback with Rosie the Riveter on the cover. Simple drawings illustrate tools and materials, often in the hands of old, young and multicultural women, some pregnant or in a wheelchair. The authors did every repair themselves.

Glakas-Tenet remembers a frantic call from Ann Mueller, wife of FBI Director Robert Mueller, about a flooded sink from a clogged garbage disposal. "I talked her through it. I told her to get a flashlight. We were both on our knees under our sinks. She fixed it in three minutes."

Not all their tools are conventional. A rubber jar lid opener doubles as a gripper and metal protector when using a wrench. And that pizza slicer? It works wonders on windows jammed or painted shut.

If "Dare to Repair" is missing anything, it's how to slip a listening device into the wall.

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