Tag Archives: DIY

Know-How

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I don’t know when it became clear to my father that I was going to be a musician, but when it did, he gave up any thought of my taking over his garage door business. Some of their parts, and the tools used to install and service garage doors and openers, are dangerous if an accident happens. Dad didn’t want to risk my losing the ability to play while I was learning a trade, so he simply never invited me to go with him on a service call again.

I barely noticed. I wasn’t drawn to his business. I enjoyed being with my dad, but I didn’t especially like being in other people’s dirty garages or handling the heavy tools, door parts, and hardware. It wasn’t until long after his passing that my mother told me about that decision. Dad knew how to do things, and how not to press an issue.

My hands were safe from the big stuff, but there was a lot Dad didn’t have the chance to teach me. He instilled in me a respect for electricity, and I knew abstractly how to use a hammer and screwdriver, but the rest I’ve had to pick up on my own. I don’t want to install my own garage door, but I’d like to rewire a light switch or a door bell, or maybe repair a leaky faucet.  Do-it-yourself manuals and YouTube videos have been my friend.

We’ve hired a contractor to do most of the work of getting the Country House ready for the market, but I’ve tried to do small things on my own. The light switches are pristine white to match the pretty walls. New smoke detectors are mounted and hard-wired into the house’s system.

The glowing green LED was the most beautiful sight I'd seen in ages; and, although the cat who'd been sleeping nearby disagreed, the sound of the alarm when I pressed the Test button seemed sweeter than children's laughter.

The glowing green LED was the most beautiful sight I’d seen in ages; and, although the cat who’d been sleeping nearby disagreed, the sound of the alarm when I pressed the Test button seemed sweeter than children’s laughter.

I’d like to think Dad would be pleased, even if he would also have been amused at my floundering. If he would have been frustrated by what he didn’t get to teach me, I’ve been at least as frustrated at what I didn’t learn.

There’s a faucet I want to replace, but I simply can’t get the old one out. Maybe it’s a question of strength or leverage, or maybe there’s something I just don’t know. Same with some electrical outlets that are supposed to be controlled by a wall switch. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but the switch is, literally, out of the loop. One of the lessons Dad didn’t get to teach me was lessons was probably When to Call a Professional.

I re-tightened the old faucet’s supply lines. I put covers on the outlets to protect them and turned turned the power back on. I baked a loaf of bread, and a batch of brownies for her birthday celebration. I’ll spend the rest of the day teaching children to sing, writing a choral piece, and conducting a performance of a musical. There are things I know how to do that my dad didn’t. I try not to beat myself up about the things I don’t.

That might be the most important lesson of all.

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The marshmallow peeps melted beautifully, but didn't brown as much as I'd hoped. Still, they are tasty brownies.

The marshmallow peeps melted beautifully, but didn’t brown as much as I’d hoped. Still, they are tasty brownies.

Shoots and Leaves (and Two Forks)

“Honestly, I won’t eat that at work.” I figured as much, but thought a little salad might go nicely with two slices of leftover pizza. “Let’s have it with dinner,” she said, handing me back the package as she packed the rest of her lunch. (I don’t so much pack her lunch as leave it on the kitchen counter; she puts it in whatever bag she’s carrying. Sometimes, as with the salad, she’ll pass on an item–“Yesterday’s yogurt is still in the office fridge,” for instance.)

Salads are tricky for lunch-at-your-desk, unless they’re the main course. There’s too much potential for dressing-spillage. Who wants to submit a report with vinaigrette on it–or, worse, requisition a new computer keyboard because Alt and Enter are gummed up with Thousand Island?

Also, she seldom eats salad alone. She “steals” it off a plate we share. It’s my salad; she’s just getting away with something. I’m not sure I understand, but it’s been this way for far too long for me to question it now. It makes things convenient when we’re out to eat, though: she’ll have the fries, I’ll have the salad, and we’ll split them both. (It’s not quite as stereotypically romantic as sharing a milkshake, but probably healthier.)

She brought home a bagged salad a week or so ago, and we agreed it was the best such we’d ever had: kale, cabbage, and carrot, topped with sunflower seeds, bacon bits, and a slightly-creamy citrus vinaigrette. The salad was tremendously crunchy and savory. The bitter greens were nicely balanced by the slightly-sweet dressing. My only complaint–and it wasn’t really one–was that the greens were shredded so finely the salad was more like a slaw. There’s nothing wrong with slaw, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. And maybe shredding the greens diminished their bitterness.

We met at a diner before going to the theatre last Wednesday. Diners with novel-sized menus can be intimidating, but I narrowed it down: since I’d had a sandwich for lunch, I restricted myself to the salad page. I wasn’t looking for meat or cheese. I didn’t read too closely, but the one with cranberries looked appealing.

Our meals came. We laughed. The cranberries were, of course, topping a bowl of kale, cabbage, and carrot. No sunflower seeds, though, and no bacon. Too many dried cranberries, maybe, and the oil-and-white-vinegar dressing was not so interesting as the bagged salad’s. The vegetables were in big pieces, almost the size you’d want for a stir-fry.

I wondered what it would be like to stir-fry that combination of vegetables and top them with fresh bacon, or maybe some sliced sausage. It would really be a main dish. She pointed out that greens become more bitter when heated. She’s right, which doesn’t bother me a bit, since I like bitter greens (and I like it when she is right). We’d want sweetness to balance, like the dressing that came in the bag–or, better yet, one just like it that is made only from ingredients we can pronounce.

I’ll try it some night, and serve it in a big bowl. With two forks.