A (belated) Tale of Thanks

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!

Pre-mourning the end of the season…

Pre-mourning the end of the season…

… the Football Season, that is. There is no game today, at least none for a team I personally care about. So I’m sitting here suffering in advance that soon (it’s getting inexorably closer, I tell you!) the season will be over and what will I do until the merciful Spring Training starts??? Meanwhile, I’m thinking of numbers. Such as:

108 POINTS IN TWO GAMES

28 POINTS IN 6 MINUTES

3 TOUCHDOWNS IN 52 SECONDS.

I wonder if they’ll have a side of stuffing… Bring on the Jets!!

Now, I ask you, well-informed reader/football viewer: Is this not what one envisions would be God’s team in Heaven? I firmly believe that Tom Brady might very well have been the prototype of the perfect race chosen by Hitler, had they lived in the same era. Dr. Mengele’s Children of Brazil would have been a bunch of little Bradys, I tell you.

In any case, as much as I mourn the lack of a game today, this past Thanksgiving Day’s game was the perfect excuse not to go to bed after the meal, risking possible overflow by foolishly placing one’s body in a horizontal position. And what a game it was!

If T-Rex Ryan weren’t such an arrogant jerk, shooting his mouth off with nothing to back him up… If Mark Sanchez were a real QB, instead of a toy one with barely any talent to dust Brady’s shoes… If the Jets weren’t from New York… then maybe (unlikely), perhaps (I think not), I would feel sorry for them.

Nah, who am I fooling?? DEATH TO THE JETS, and PARTICULARLY to Ryan – though I am pretty sure that Jets’ fans already took care of him. Say, has anyone seen him after Thursday night?

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….

A matter of perspective

A matter of perspective

Disclaimer: I would like everyone to know that I am extremely grateful to the United States, my adoptive country, for giving me the opportunity to adequately provide for my children and to succeed professionally by pure hard work. This doesn’t mean I negate my home country, Dominican Republic. It only means that I appreciate having been accepted and having my work rewarded.

Having said that, Americans (in general, I’m sure YOU are not like that) tend to be a bit, how shall I put it, self-centered. Not individually (though there are some of those as there are everywhere), but collectively, as a nation. I have a suspicion that World Geography is either not taught, or is an elective (doomed to never be “elected” by any hot-blooded child, not that they’re to blame). Consequently, the average American young person (older people excluded here due to their having lived world wars and thus learned about other countries) KNOWS there are other countries besides the US; however, this average young person is not sure what the names of these countries are, or where they reside in the global planet scheme of things. It would seem to me that a world map, in many of these persons’ minds, looks like this:

Please note the vague gray areas which resemble countries, but one cannot ever be sure.

Now, a map of the United States, per these young people, might look like this:

I am sure it is not their fault, but the sum of many misguided hints. Please indulge me as I give you some examples:

1. The World Series – There is nothing worldly about the World Series, played in the US by US teams (and, if lucky, a Canadian team). Wait, I take that back, there IS a worldly thing – the players. There are numerous foreign-born pro-baseball players. In fact, one cannot throw a stick at any of these teams without hitting a Hispanic player, who will most likely be Dominican, and more often than not from San Pedro de Macoris (which happens to be my hometown but that’s not here nor there).

A few years ago, my office mates (a Chilean translator, and an American who had served in the Navy and lived in several countries during his service) and I had the idea to do a little survey. We would ask whoever came in our shared office the following question: “How many countries are there in North America?” Some of the answers:

“This is a trick question, right?”
“One”
“Ha! You thought I’d forget Canada – two”
“Everyone knows that – One, the United States.

NOT ONE PERSON KNEW. Of approximately 15 people surveyed in a global industry environment. It is sad, but I’d like to mention here that, contrary to popular belief, “America” is NOT a country, it is a WHOLE CONTINENT. The US is only one of the countries in America, and not the one with the most original name either. Actually, it is a very vague name, when one considers that the legal name of our neighbors to the South (hint: they are still part of North America) is Mexican United States (DBA Mexico). So technically, Mexico is also a United States of America, but let’s not dwell. So, people from Canada (gasp!), Brazil or Argentina, are in fact Americans. This brings me to the second example:

2. Other Countries – This is where our children get confused. Just the other day (as if the example above were not enough), I witnessed an exchange on a popular social network. The conversation goes so:

  • Person Who Is Travelling For Work: I’m going to Budapest at the end of the month! Does anyone have any suggestions as to what to do, places to see?
  • Person Who Might Have Been There But Maybe Not: Awesome! It’s a beautiful city, you’ll love it!
  • Person Who Actually Knows Budapest (I believe it may have been a Budapest resident): This is great! You should go to [insert place] and eat at [insert restaurant].
  • Clueless Person: Huh? Budapest? Where is that? I don’t know where Budapest is?
  • CluelessER Person: I think it’s a borough in NY. Or maybe a foreign community in Des Moines (OK, I made that one up).

Now, SERIOUSLY?? Clueless Person?? So in these days when knowledge and information are at the tip of your fingers – literally (and believe you me, I use that word with caution), instead of GOOGLING “Budapest” you chose to broadcast to the entire population of the Earth (including baffled and offended Budapest denizens), plus the occasional alien monitoring social media from far out galaxies (for entertainment purposes), your absolute geographical ignorance??? It would have taken less than what it took to write that unhelpful comment. It is not like you had to go fetch a heavy encyclopedia tome, provided you do know where in the alphabet the word Budapest would be. Sigh.

Interactive blog activity: Do YOU know where Budapest is? Suggestions and ideas welcome. Please comment on this blog with your thoughts and I promise I’ll feature the best comment (and its author) in a future blog.

3. The media – OK. I hear your collective groan. Bear with me. Let me preface this section by saying that I am in no way making light of the terrible devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of our country. What I am going to refer to is the media behavior PRIOR to a storm, any storm, any day, any year.

So here goes what you would see/hear at these situations:

–          Anchorperson 1: Let’s go to our weather expert, Justin Windfall, who is on location in South Miami, Florida, to get the latest on Tropical Storm Horace!

–          Weather Person Justin Windfall: [prolonged pause, like Weather Person is actually in Greenland, instead of Florida (though come to think of it, Florida is not technically the US… but that’s another blog)]. Yes, Melanie, this is terrifying! I am here joined by Jesus Hernandez, long-time resident of Miami. We are here at the local Home Depot, where Jesus is buying some boards. Jesus, what are you doing to prepare for the storm?

–          Jesus Hernandez: Well, like you said, I am buying some boards.

Now, I ask you – What did Jesus do with the boards he bought LAST YEAR, for last year’s hurricane? Did he chop them up for firewood? Do you need firewood in South Miami? Really.

So the screen gets back to the studio.

–          Anchorperson 2: As folks prepare for the hurricane-force winds in the next few days, 2 Americans have been evacuated from Haiti by Coast Guard teams volunteering for this dangerous mission.

There is nothing wrong with this, of course. US citizens should be taken care of by the government wherever they are. However, this is being said as the storm is swallowing entire islands whole, while digesting the previous 97 islands she previously ate. But then again.

–          Anchorperson 2: Let’s go to our correspondent Frank Winterberger, in South Dakota. He is there now with Ernie and Mildred Winthrop, who were just rescued from Haiti, where they were researching the history of Voodoo [shot of Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop, wearing Hawaiian shirts – though to my knowledge to this day never has Haiti been confused with Oahu]. “It was a harrowing experience!” – says Mildred. “We didn’t know if we could get out alive!” – says Ernie.

Meanwhile, the entire third of island that Haiti occupies in Santo Domingo is entirely wiped out, not that there was anything there to wipe out anyway. So the fact is Yes! We evacuated 2 Americans! And Crap! 20,000 Haitians died! It’s sort of ironic.

In any case, my point is (I have a point!!) that there are HORRIBLE things happening in other countries, caused by the same threat looming over the US, and there is a certain lack of awareness that there exist other countries, other peoples, and that they are WAY WORSE than Americans are. Do reflect.

Two different worlds + Possible Storm of Century: A look into hurricane preparedness

Two different worlds + Possible Storm of Century: A look into hurricane preparedness

“We’re not trying to hype it,” National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Kocin tells Bloomberg News. “What we’re seeing in some of our models is a storm at an intensity that we have not seen in this part of the country in the past century.”

Hmm. Time to stock up. This, I was surprised to see when I first moved from the Caribbean to the US, is done in an extremely logical and organized way here. Supplies look like this:

Figure 1.
           

On the other hand (would be fair to say, in another world), my fellow islanders (more specifically, Dominicans) would gather essentials such as these:

Figure 2.

         

Irresponsible, you say? Shaking your collective heads, New Englanders? I can explain.

In your average Caribbean island dwelling, the following supplies are ALWAYS available (not only for natural disasters, but as daily life staples):

–          Water – There is not a faucet in the entire country one would trust to drink from. Thus, innumerable containers with water “for drinking and cooking” are handy in every room. As for water for cleaning, bathing, washing – well, that is where Ms. Sandy comes in handy: Every caldero and bucket is sitting outside catching rain water.

–          Batteries, flashlights, gas lamps – Power outages are a fact of life. Not a day goes by that there isn’t one.

–          Food – Non perishable items, such as the plantain tree in the backyard or the freely-roaming chickens are available year-round. Also, there is no money to buy what people don’t already have.

Radios are always around, not to listen to the National Weather Service or Emergency Management authorities (who, come to think of it, may have gathered the exact same supplies shown in Figure 2), but to listen to music or radio soap operas.

Hurricanes are thought of as excuses for being off work and school. The whole vecindario gets together (please refer to dominoes and cards) and alcohol replaces milk. As the storm brings tons of water and strong winds, people (having consumed by the 3rd hour approximately 7 bottles of rum) are grateful for a respite from the heat. A communal sancocho (thick Dominican soup) is underway. The comadres gossip, the compadres drink even more and gamble, and the occasional fight is stopped by the neighborhood abuela (who is usually a small old lady  — don’t be fooled, everyone is scared to death of her, and with reason — who everyone calls “Mama” or just “La Doña”, and who achieves this by separating the fighting parties and smacking each one in the head).

Having grown up in this environment, I find it difficult to get alarmed when there is a hurricane alert. Why, I have survived approximately 37 major storms by now, with a lot less resources and inadequate emergency supplies (please refer again to Figure 2). My husband, on the other hand, looks at me with alarm and barely refrains from shaking me to drive some sort of reason into my carefree island head. Me? I say bring it on, Sandy. I’m ready.