DO NOT FEAR (OR REJOICE, AS THE CASE MAY BE)…

… I’m still alive!! And although you might think I am in an environment such as this:

Beach hut and boat

I am actually and very evidently in this one instead:

Messy desk

Except I don’t have black hair, I wear glasses, and I actually have a whole desk and workstation! And a chair! And instead of a drawing of my cat I have a stuffed baby elephant (fact)!

In any case, I have not forgotten about you my peoples, and I’m planning lots of fun posts (well, one or two), and there are exciting news about upcoming publications EN ESPAÑOL!! So those of you who speak Spanish, take a look at the LIBROS EN ESPAÑOL tab (which if I were not the most un-tech person in life I suppose I could link here, but I fear my tech cells never developed), and write me a note/comment if you’re interested in getting more information.

I will come back soon, I promise. Take care!!

A (belated) Tale of Thanks

I know, I know, you have all moved on to the next holiday (whatever that one which does not offend you might be – and by YOU, I mean YOU; you know who YOU are). But, since I got carried away with the Patriots last week, I forgot to post this very pertinent Thanksgiving commentary about my favoritest of all topics: FOOD.

So, in addition to being a Handy Man, my husband (previously known in DIY blog as HMH) is also an Accomplished Cook (herein now referred to as HM-ACH). What’s that you ask, ladies? What can he NOT do?? Why, that would be laundry (but that is a whole ‘nother post). Anyway, what with my husband’s culinary skills, plus our living within walking distance (it would take several days, at least for me, but I’d get there) from the inventors of the FIRST THANKSGIVING MEAL site, Plymouth, MA – though I am aware that this is no longer thought to be true, I still have this movie-like scene in my head:

Elder Pilgrim Person: We thank the LORD for this bountiful meal and our health (the 5 of them who are still alive, down from the last 489 who came over) and the fertility of this land and our women (only one left who is of child-bearing age [14], and that will be with the Natives, since the only English males left are the same elder who’s praising the Lord – who she wouldn’t let near her if the fate of the human race depended on her –, a little baby [hers], and a boy who heretofore was raised as a girl but was recently discovered to be just a boy of delicate frame who prefers sewing to building huts). Meanwhile, said Natives sharing the feast are thinking:

Wise Bear: Lord, Schmord, you funny-looking white person whom I despise, but since I am not speaking your language – not for lack of knowledge, but because I’d rather be trampled by a herd of buffalo than talk like you – you will never know. Now, how am I going to tell Little Wilting Flower that the bird you’re eating is her beloved pet Smooth Feathers??

But as usual, I digress. That was not what I wanted to talk to you about. The thing is, you see, yours truly here, surrounded by New Englandness and the original thankful spirit, as demonstrated by consuming large amounts of food – facilitated by an awesome cook (HM-ACH) – does not particularly like the traditional Thanksgiving food. Now don’t get me wrong, the meal is indeed comprised of many fine ingredients, not the least important of them the actual turkey, which I do like, especially when cooked by HM-ACH, and which is referred to in this household as “the Thanksgiving Chicken”*.

Pretty Thanksgiving meal display. Lead role: The Chicken.

*Author’s Note: Every single bird and sometimes other species are referred to, in this family, as “chicken”. This stems from two things: One, my husband’s surprise when seeing actual chickens roaming the streets in my home country when he visited (had never thought of chicken as freely wandering pets), and two, the fact that every single dish I used to cook for my boys when they were little, from real chicken to cow tongue or turtle soup, was classified as “that’s chicken, now eat your food”. So, going back to the fine elements of the Thanksgiving meal, the problem is the transformation of these otherwise perfectly good (most of them) ingredients into dishes that do not, as a rule, taste like anything at all.

Take, for example, the pumpkin. This is a particularly noble vegetable. Now, before you start protesting that “pumpkin is a fruit”, I tell you this: it is not an animal, and it is not a mineral, so it is, by elimination, a vegetable. Also, speaking in a culinary way – today’s topic – it depends how you will use it. For savory dishes, it is a vegetable; for sweets, a fruit. Since this particular example is a sweet one – pumpkin pie – and I do not like sweets in general and specifically dislike pumpkin pie, I will decree it to be a vegetable anyway. And also-ER, please note that mushrooms belong in their own particular domain, “fungi” (this is totally unrelated but thought I’d include just to confuse the enemy). So, as we were saying, the pumpkin, which as soup is delicious and a festive bright orange color, as pie it mutates into a brownish, unnaturally waste-like color (and consistency, if I may add), which you can confirm by this picture:

Another one is yams. I do not believe the good Lord was in a good frame of mind when He invented this thing. For one, as festive as the pumpkin’s orange is, the yam’s is a very strange one, a color I do not believe is found in nature (except for in the yams themselves, and even in them it does not look natural). Pray refer to the following picture.

Does this look natural to you? I didn’t think so.

Now, take the white sweet potatoes (the fact that I grew up eating those instead of yams has nothing to do with it). A nice, creamy color reminiscent of the actual potatoes they take part of their name from. Please do take a look and compare:

Now that’s what I’m talking about! White sweet potato pictured here,
as any self-respecting Dominican dish should be, fried.

Wouldn’t you, dear food lover, rather get a hold of those sweet potato fries instead of the above-pictured who-knows-how-they-were-cooked-and-with-what yams? Go ahead, admit it. We won’t tell anyone.

Then there’s the stuffing. I actually do like HM-ACH’s stuffing, as it is a known fact that he makes the world’s most delicious stuffing in the history of stuffing. But still, can’t bring myself to eat more than a forkful. So I find myself longing for some (what else?) savory Spanish rice… wait, I don’t long for it because many years ago I sort of squeezed it in the Thanksgiving meal and suddenly yellow rice is part of the feast [insert evil laugh].

All that being said, do not think for one second that I suffer in any way during our holiday meals. My love of food overcomes every obstacle, including food I don’t like (I have been known to train myself until I start liking foods previously hated – yams are not one of those, sadly). It does help too that my husband is a caring, cultural diversity-loving person, who (thank you, Portuguese peoples of New Bedford who influenced his cooking!!) actually enjoys flavorful foods, as opposed to the fine peoples of New England who I do not mean in any way to offend, it’s just that they truly do not know what they’re missing.

Happy [insert holiday of choice, since Thanksgiving already passed and MY next holiday will be featured in a future blog] to all!

Adventures of DIYers (AKA “Universe, why do you hate me?”)

So my husband is a handy man. Which, as you may infer, comes in handy. It is good, in a way – he can replace flooring, dishwashers, garbage disposals; install washers and dryers, you name it. However, with all this home improvement comes a lot of Home Depot visiting. Now, I have nothing against Home Depot, per se. I just hate shopping in general. And the DIY experience is adventurous, to say the least.

It was a shock to me to find out, as I started my homeowner life with my husband in this fine country, that things here are a “standard” size. You have your standard doors, windows, sinks, cabinets, chunks of wood. You see, I come from a country where there is not one thing the same size/shape as another. This might be partly due to the fact that almost every single skilled worker, be it carpenter, electrician, plumber, etc., is either drunk (Tuesday through Sunday) or hung-over (Monday). So you, the helpless homeowner, give them money IN ADVANCE (for the materials. What, you thought they had their own?), and, say you needed four 2x4s to patch that armoire that’s been in your family for centuries. Well, when the contractor finally comes back 2 or 3 months later, you get three 1x3s and have by now forgotten what you wanted to do with the boards – plus that repurposed shower curtain is quite convenient.

Nice, organized Home Depot lumber aisle

Anyway, the good and practical US does have its standards, and that applies to home appliances/parts/most children and some pets. So it should be a piece of cake to just go to the hardware store and get a [insert appropriate size] vanity or window, correct? Wrong! Wronger than wrong! Wrongissimo!! Because YOUR PARTICULAR HOUSE, the one you naively bought a couple of years ago, and the one that appears (to the naked eye) as perfectly standard and ordinary, IS NOT. Why, you ask? Because the previous owner (may he die a slow death and then rot in Hell for Eternity, or at the very least catch the pox – or an equally disfiguring medieval disease such as leprosy – from an unsanitary street person in Hong Kong), had everything CUSTOM-BUILT. That, or just plain made holes and inserted pieces however he pleased with no regards to the laws of physics and mathematics. Take the following (recent) experience in my house:

  • Handy Man Husband: Hey, we need to replace one of the pantry’s folding doors. I’m going to get it off and measure so we can go to Home Depot and get a new one.
  • Un-Handy Woman Wife (me): OK.
  • HMH: [Swearing] Of course, it’s NOT standard size (proceeds to explain that normal closet doors are – making up the number since I don’t remember – 32”. The OPENING on this pantry is 311/8”. Please note that all the discrepancies in these projects are based on eights of an inch).
  • U-HWW: Why am I not surprised.
  • HMH: Let me get online and get all the specs; then we’ll go put in a special order.

OK, so previous owner who I hope is as we speak choking on his fried clam or current seasonal shellfish, perhaps you didn’t have ENOUGH WALL there to put a closet? Anyway, what’s done it’s done.

After all necessary research, and armed with a notebook of serial numbers and measurements, off we go to Home Depot, armed with practical equipment*. Now, for some reason, it is a law that Home Depot will never be anywhere near your house (*it is thus recommended that you bring with you a change of clothes, plenty of water and provisions, toiletries, and charged cell phones – also, if you live in the Northeast, blankets and firewood). This peculiarity could be because it occupies an entire city – so first thing one has to do is pay attention, once one gets there, to which door is the closest to where one parked one’s truck. There are several doors at these places, and they are all in different counties.

As we enter the store, we are immediately welcomed by Friendly Home Depot Employees standing by the door (two of them!).

Well, this is not really the entrance, but you get the picture 

See, each one of these stores has approximately 1.3 million employees. I am convinced it also has its own government, like your average small town. These employees are divided into two categories:

  1.  Friendly, Willing to Help Generalists – these are the ones that roam the aisles doing various tasks, such as greeting you, mopping the floors (for which they need a tractor-like thing they ride; otherwise it would be the equivalent of mopping your streets with a Swiffer). Willing as they are to help, the only thing they actually know is which aisle you need to go to so that you can then ask a:
  2. Specialist – These are highly trained employees and only know about the particular section they are assigned to. It is no use, for example, to ask a Kitchen Person about Lighting.

So we go over to the Doors section, while fending off Generalists offering help at every step. When we get there, we are greeted by… nobody. Well, there ARE all kinds of doors – front doors, patio doors, sliding doors, closet doors, screen doors, storm doors, trap doors, hidden doors – as you can probably not really see in this picture:

However, there is no Door Specialist here. This must be the only section of the entire Home Depot that is actually deserted. There is, though, a stand with a little sign that reads “Please push button and a customer service rep will be right with you”. We push it and, what do you know, a light goes on THE ACTUAL BUTTON. I wonder, at this point, if this is some sort of bat signal and find myself discreetly looking at the ceiling, trying to spot a hammer-shaped light (or a doorknob shaped light, in this case) – similar to the below, except with a more appropriate tool shape. Because unless the Door Specialist has a built-in chip that captures a signal from this light, or unless he/she/it IS ALREADY THERE, there is no way in hell that anyone else (besides the button-pushers) can see this little light.

Finally, we hear voices (not the ones in our heads, if you were wondering). Here comes The Door Person, along with a customer. Sigh. “Be right with you”, he (not entirely cheerfully) says. The customer, a young man (note: young for me is anyone 40 or younger) and a little kid, who looks like a mix between Alfalfa (Little Rascal) and Will Robinson (Lost in Space). The young customer proceeds to put in his order (after apparently having been taken on a tour of the entire store) on every possible variation of door you can think of. Perhaps he owns an apartment building, or a castle. It takes approximately 2 hours, during which my husband goes to the bathroom twice, I watch the little Alfalfa/Will kid daringly going through doors that are staged in frames and lead nowhere (and indulge in wondering if maybe one of those could potentially fall on him and kill him, or injure him fatally, but the adult with him is naturally oblivious); I peruse all the different doorknobs on display (not that we are buying any), etc. Finally, after what seems to be like our 5th day since we left home, the customer is done and says, a bit apologetically (to his credit) – He’s all yours!

Well, you’d think we are near completion of the expedition. Sadly, you would be wrong again. Door Person asks what we need, HMH proceeds to explain. Door Person gets out from somewhere inside the stand a book roughly the size of the Bible, if the Bible were printed twice and then bound together.

  • Door Person: Hmm. Interesting. I don’t seem to have that particular model. It appears as if they discontinued it.
  • HMH: This house was built in 2002.
  • Door Person: That’s odd. Perhaps it wasn’t popular [no sh*t Batman! They only made my previous homeowner’s single door and workers at factory are dead after laughing until they choked in their own spit, thinking once the damn door fell off not even the actual creator would have a replacement!]. Let me call the manufacturer [calls. Silence. “I see”. Silence. “Thank you”]. Well, they discontinued it.
  • HMH: Great. What can I do?
  • Door Person: I don’t know [tries, but does not succeed, to look sorry].
  • HMH: So I should, basically, build a door from scratch?
  • Door Person: If you know how to, that would be my recommendation, yes.
  • HMH: Thank you.
  • U-HWW: (in my mind) For nothing.

So, roughly a week after we left home, the non-standard one with the now half-open to the entire world to see pantry, we get back. I ask (as a last resource, though I know the answer) if husband can put old door back. Of course he can’t. Door is practically disintegrated, which is why we needed one in the first place. Next steps are not brought up or discussed, I wonder but am scared to ask. Four months later, I still have half the closet exposed to the elements and seeing eyes of all who go by. Considering that re-purposed shower curtain as we speak….