Hear the siren call of the do-it-yourself stores, offering us transformation.
You can install a center-set faucet, they promise.
You can use a miter saw to build a picture frame, they assure. You can power up a drill press to construct a Mission-style table -- they are positive of that.
Make over your bathroom in one weekend. Install ceramic tile. Put in outdoor lighting and improve your family's safety. Save money by reducing your family's energy bills. Lay your own pavers.
Stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot have plans for us, big plans, and they sound so sure we can measure up. All we have to do is buy a little paint, pick out some ceramic tile, get some free tips, fit the tile around a new sink, and our homes will look new and better, and so will we.
I was once skeptical about do-it-yourself -- until I persuaded my husband to do it himself. We had a problem, a family-room addition that had a concrete floor, covered with a rat-gray carpet. We were ready for a wood floor, and we were prepared to pay for the privilege.
Except it turned out to be more of a privilege than we could afford. The new floor needed more clearance than we had and would have required not only taking off old stained-glass doors to trim them down but removing and adjusting a baseboard heating system.
I headed to Lowe's and Home Depot in search of other options and returned home evangelizing for composite flooring with a woodlike finish that looked very good, because it was thin enough to slip under the doors and heaters. Of course, it wasn't as beautiful as the hundred-year-old wood floors in the rest of our house, but it would fit, it wasn't too expensive and it looked a whole lot better than the old carpet.
Bolstered by a pep talk, helpful tips from a couple of the salespeople and an instruction video, we picked out a promising shade and hauled it home. I watched as my husband installed. It took him twice as long as expected, but he did it. Himself! And once we scattered some rugs, it looked fabulous.
Now, my restless eye has fallen on the lavatory, and in the interest of equality and the knowledge that my husband has had it, I have decided to learn how to paint a faux finish.
Every Thursday evening in October, Lowe's stores have been teaching rag rolling; in November, they move on to sponging and stripes. Home Depot has been doing "You Can Have Fun With Color and Faux" on Sunday afternoons.
My Lowe's class, taught by a retired painting contractor who works in the store, had about eight people, men and women. At the Home Depot class, an enthusiastic college art student who works in the paint department -- and has a great sense of color -- gave the class, and she wouldn't let me go until I tried it myself.
The Home Depot clinics began, informally, in the stores' aisles more than 20 years ago, said Ellen Dracos, Home Depot's vice president of brand marketing, based in Atlanta.
"An associate would be helping a customer, explaining a project, and a crowd would gather," she said. "Now we offer six classes a week."
For the past five years, the clinics have been organized nationally, with each store offering classes on topics such as gardening and plumbing at the same time on the same days of the week. The most popular ones involve paint, Dracos said.
About a year and a half ago, Home Depot started running Do-It-Herself clinics once a quarter, on Mondays. "It started in the stores," Dracos said. "We had football widows looking for something to do on a Monday night."
Since May 2003, more than 220,000 women across the country have signed up. One clinic is scheduled for tomorrow: "You Can Create an Inviting Entryway," followed by "You Can Build a Serving Cart."
Lowe's has been running its clinics since 1993, said Julie Yenichek, a spokeswoman at headquarters in Mooresville, N.C. For the store, she said, it's a way to share a warehouse of information.
Obviously, a do-it-yourself store will make more money if its customers are inspired to take on more projects and buy more materials. And just as obviously, there's enormous appeal in the prospect of ceramic tile made easy.
Don't we all want to save money? Don't we believe deep down that a makeover (a new haircut, a new bathroom) will somehow change our lives for the better?
"To offer a clinic is very helpful to the store and the customer," Yenichek said. "The customers are empowered. They go to a clinic and find themselves saying, 'Gosh, it's not that hard. I'm going to go home and do that.' Next thing you know, they're coming back to learn how to put in a faucet."
Now Lowe's is expanding beyond plumbing and painting, beginning a series of craftlike projects with a cornucopia class Tuesday. The cornucopia clinic is the first of a series of "creative ideas clinics," Yenichek said.
While Lowe's has observed a growing interest in decorative projects, she said, the desire to learn practical techniques remains strong. Women have shown great interest in a Habitat for Humanity Women Build project in which Lowe's teaches them how to build a house, bit by bit, in six clinics.
Last spring, Lowe's sponsored such a house-building in the Pumphrey area of Anne Arundel County, providing lessons on such things as power tools, drywall and framing at the Glen Burnie store. "Women would come the week before to learn what would happen that Saturday -- roofing, landscaping, painting," Yenichek said. "Talk about empowerment!"
A recent Lowe's survey found that 67 percent of all women feel prepared to be solely responsible for their homes, including maintenance, repairs and improvement. Home Depot says that 50 percent of its customers are women.
Dracos, of Home Depot, said that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks people have been more home-oriented.
There are now 37 home-improvement shows on television, she said, and Home Depot sponsors 34 of them.
"People are more focused on entertaining, on making their home livable and pleasant," she said. "The home is a sanctuary now."
Right now, I have a Mexican Chile paint chip in my purse. I intend to use that as a glaze over a Hawaiian Passion base coat in my lavatory. As soon as I can get to it, it's going to look like Italy in there, with my sponging technique creating the kind of beautifully weathered terra cotta I once saw in Tuscany.
Yenichek offers one, shall we say, warning:
"Once somebody comes to a clinic, they get hooked," she said.
Look out, mosaic tile, here I come.