Last night when R was coming up to bed, he turned on the light at the bottom of the back staircase. Only it didn't turn on. He was a little concerned because the lightbulbs in the two fixtures attached to this switch were newish (less than a year old) CFL bulbs. They shouldn't even be close to the end of their life yet. So this morning he decided to check it out. And we're both glad he did.
The first thing he realized was that the light fixture wasn't attached to the ceiling very well. In fact, hardly at all. When he took it down, about 20 acorns and other miscellaneous "stuff" fell out of the ceiling.
He ended up taking down the drywall in this part of the ceiling because he wanted to clean out all of the acorns and debris, and also get a better look at the wiring. This staircase is one of the areas we're planning on completely gutting so I had no problem with this.The drywall would have come down eventually anyways.
R went to Lowe's and bought a new electrical box and a simple $1 light bulb holder similar to this. We figured it would be fine as a temporary fixture until we could get to gutting and remodeling the whole staircase. However, just like everything in our house, it just wasn't that simple. After a couple hours of staring and testing, R decided he wasn't comfortable enough messing with the wiring. It appears that it wasn't done correctly (in fact, there's all black burn marks on the back of the drywall and wood showing that the wires/fixture got too hot) in the first place, and some of the wires were frayed, so we both decided it would be best to have a professional look at it. Until then, we don't have any electricity in the back half of the house (both upstairs and downstairs). The only room with power back there is the upstairs bathroom and the attic. So we've been using a lot of flashlights and extension cords :)