Like most people who have owned homes at one time or another, I have done my share of home improvement projects. Clearly, I am nowhere in the same universe as my brother-in-law, Barry when it comes to being handy at nearly everything. But, over the last 40 years or so, I have done a bit of painting, wallpapering,  carpentry, plumbing and the odd electrical installation etc.

Sometimes things went as expected, sometimes circumstances did not align and things got out of hand.

Like when I was mitering a corner for some crown moulding and sawed the miter box in half. I just never knew when to stop sawing.

Or the time I was installing a light socket upstairs while the carpenter downstairs turned the power back on. That particular event threw me for a loop.

It seems however that the big emergency issues appeared in the area of plumbing.

Like the night  I worked in vain for an hour to unclog an upstairs bathroom toilet while kids with full bladders,etc. had to go.  Finally, after calling a plumber, we were able to extract a purple plastic pig that Aimee decided to flush… to feed the starving kids in China.

Then there was the time the steam radiator key was “accidentally” dropped down a sink. With water and steam escaping at an alarming rate, I had to find the sink, take it apart and find the key to restore order to an out of control heating system that was about to blow.

All of this training however paid off handsomely this morning when after the new powder room was installed, the plumber could not figure out why the hot water faucet continued to be loose. Having known this problem before, I said let me see it. I unscrewed the fixture and pointed out to him the secret screw hidden in the valve.

“You have a Phillips head screwdriver?, I asked, “Tighten that screw and it will work.”

He did… and it did.

The young plumber said, ” Hey thanks a lot.  I learned something today.”

“By the way, were you ever a plumber?”

“Only when I had to be”, I responded.

Advertisements

Kate’s Crusade

June 27, 2012

A couple of years ago, while their parents had to attend a business function,  we took Sydney (now 14) and Kate( now 11) out to dinner.

I always like going out to dinner with Sydney and Kate. They are so much more worldly and sophisticated at their age than I was. They have been exposed to a wide variety of cuisines and know, for example,  how to use chop sticks or eat artichokes (both the french and italian style.)

Until I was 41, I thought an artichoke was some kind of wrestling move.
Anyway, that night,  we selected a fashionable restaurant in the well-known, Saint Louis Italian neighborhood, “The Hill.”

Upon our arrival, we were shown to our awaiting table in the dining room. It had all the promise of a delightful evening.

The setting  was wonderful.  We were just beginning to enjoy our beverages as we perused the menu  and chatted amongst ourselves  when our waiter approached the table adjacent to us. As waiters often do, he inquired if the two couples seated there were celebrating anything special, to which they replied, nearly in unison,

“No Kids!”
Hearing this response, Kate, stopped our own discussion and admonished to all within earshot, “How rude.” She was outraged at this blatant, public, unabashed display of ageism.

Now you need to understand that even at a tender age, Kate has fought the scourges of ageism with grit and determination. (She once left the Thanksgiving dinner table and locked herself in her room after her mother presented her with an ordinary knife instead of a sharp steak knife like the grown ups had at their place settings.)
A few minutes later, the waiter approached our table to take our order. Sydney went first, then Kate. Before, telling the bespeckled waiter with his tablet and pen in hand that she wanted spaghetti and meatballs, she advised him that our table was celebrating , “no parents night.” Oh, and by the way, she would love another root beer.

Not knowing whether to be amused or afraid of this 75 pound steely eyed ball of fire, he took the rest of our order and quietly retreated to the safety of the kitchen.

The rest of our meal went off without a hitch, except for the occasional furtive glances of disgust by Kate directed toward the unsuspecting parents sitting next to us.

Epilogue:

A few days ago, Kate called  me and said she and Sydney needed another “No Parents” night out. I said great, pick the day and restaurant.

So tonight is the night. We are going to one of their favorite restaurants, Annie Gunn’s in the valley. They love the steak and mashed potatoes there…and woe to the server who neglects to provide Kate with a sharp steak knife.

I better call ahead.

About a month after the stone crab season ends in mid May, we begin to see the beautiful atlantic blue crabs in great abundance. The late spring and early summer always bring these sweet succulent crustaceans to us just when we start to long for the taste of fresh crab… and hopefully before we get crabby.

Having harvested these sideways swimmers as a young kid, I always looked forward to their arrival each summer. As most crabbers know, soft shell crabs “happen” when the crabs shed their old hard shell and before the new bigger shell gets hard. Crabs in this state are the most prized of all. The hard-shelled crabs are just as sweet and succulent, but there is a substantial amount of picking work to get at the sweetness which is the atlantic blue. The soft shells on the other hand, can be enjoyed, as is,  after only about 30 seconds of cleaning** and rinsing.

Most people who have these  soft shells in restaurants have them breaded, battered and  fried. They are also frequently sautéed. Both techniques are excellent and produce a delicious product, but to me all that breading and battering muddles the crab’s fresh taste.

My favorite preparation method is to dust the crabs with some OLD BAY seasoning and cayenne pepper, drizzle with a little olive oil and put them back side down over a hot grill for about 4 minutes. Then I turn them for another 3 minutes or so and serve them up.

The result is a crisp, seasoned outer layer and sweet, soft,  briny crab meat inside. All of which can and should be eaten with a squeeze of lemon and home-made tartar sauce* if you desire.

Add a light vinaigrette salad of baby lettuce and sun gold tomatoes (picked from your own garden that day is best!) and you just know summer has arrived.

……………………………..

*Woody’s tartar sauce

2 Tbs good mayonnaise

1 tsp capers drained,  rinsed and roughly chopped

1 tsp sweet relish

1/2 shallot minced

1/2 tsp OLD BAY seasoning

Mix well and chill until needed

………………………………..

**To clean soft shell crabs:

1. Cut off the front of the crab about 1/2 inch behind the eyes and mouth.

2. Lift one pointed end of the crab’s outer shell; remove and discard the spongy  gills. Repeat on the other side.

3. Turn the crab over and remove the small flap known as the apron. Rinse the entire crab well and pat dry.

When I was a kid, if you wanted to hear a song, you could listen to the radio. It was the birth of Rock and Roll and there were tons of AM stations playing records.

You could also go to the O-CON-NEE diner and play one of those little jukeboxes attached to the booth. It was considered cool to listen to music while you were enjoying your hamburger and coke. The songs cost 10 cents a piece or 3 for a quarter. I only did it a couple of times. I thought it was a waste of good money.

However, if you were really into a song, you could go to the record store,  plunk down  79 cents for a single or $3.99 for an album. You then were able to take your recording home and play it on your record player until you memorized all the words, or…until you sister borrowed the record and scratched it up.
Fast forward the listening to music passed these old vinyl records,  through 4 tracks, 8 tracks and cassettes and you get to CDs. I kind of liked CD’s because, it seemed the sound was better and they were harder for your sister to scratch up.
Nowadays, if you want music, you just call up a sample selection on your iPad. If you like it,  then, you can buy it from the iTunes store, which I imagine is some giant warehouse in the clouds or outer space. I picture the same old guy from my old record store days still grabbing music off the shelves and sending it somehow back to earth and into my iPad.

The other day, I saw a piece of music I wanted to buy, so I pulled out my credit card and after a few touches on the screen, inputting my very secret password, and charging me $1.29, the music was in my iPad ready for me to enjoy.

It really amazes me that the sound coming out of this little tablet size device is so good. I think of the gigantic speakers of 30 years ago and shake my head as I drifted with the sweet sounds.

Still listening to the music, I suddenly heard a scratchy sound, … and for a brief moment, I thought my sister had somehow gotten into my iPad and scratched my music. However, when I looked down, I saw that it was Mikey who had gotten hold of my credit card and was using it as a chew toy.

Later, with the tones still in my head, I tried to get a replacement card.

The lady at the bank said, “Let me understand this, your dog really ate your credit card.”

“Yes”, I assured her, “I was distracted by the music.”

Fathers’ Day

June 17, 2012

Sandwiched in between Memorial Day and the 4th of July comes the third Sunday in June, Father’s Day. It is the weak sister of all the summer days of recognition; well behind the leader of the big three, Mother’s day.

Long forgotten are the inspiring sentiments about her own father put forth by Miss Sonora Smart Dodd in 1910. Sonora Smart Dodd, the “mother” of Father’s Day, greatly admired her father, a civil war veteran, who raised his family after his wife died.

Father’s day in 21st century America has  become an enhanced opportunity for merchants to unload their back inventory of skill saws and electric drills… and buckets of fried chicken.  Even the practice of getting your father some outlandish tie is no longer in vogue as few fathers actual wear ties anymore. But, maybe this is a good thing.

A good part of the reason Father’s Day is not the significant family celebration it once was, say in the 1950’s when I was a kid, is that nowadays, in certain communities in this country, well over half the families are without fathers.  This to me is indeed the saddest part of the Father’s Day.

Kids need their fathers. Families need their fathers. Our country needs its fathers. Hey, where would we be without our Founding Fathers?

But now, our Founding Fathers are gone, and where are our continuing, sustaining fathers?  Millions of boys and girls will never know the love of a father or the wisdom and perspective of experience a good father provides.

Fathers are valuable in shaping and directing kids’  lives. Fathers teach kids all sorts of things. Some are big and important, others are small and important.

Five things my father taught me:

How to drive a car and change the oil.

How to grow things in the garden.

How to throw a curve ball. (….and an illegal spit ball)

How to make an omelet.

How to make a slingshot out of a dogwood limb.

I think I got my sense of humor from him. He was good at telling stories.

Dad played minor league baseball and he liked to eat cherry vanilla ice cream out of the carton.

Cultures need fathers. Without kind and caring fatherly guidance entire civilizations have become extinct.

If you are a father, assume your responsiblity and provide the guidance and support that is your natural role. If you have a caring father, soak up all the lessons and learning he can teach you. Some day you will need that useful knowledge.

Happy Father’s Day!

For over 50 years, newspapers and I have had a close, personal,  daily relationship.

In the beginning, I learned about newspapers from my parents. I recall my father sitting at the dining room table after dinner, with his big glasses down on his nose and the newspaper spread out over the table. He took his time and examined each story intently, then when finished with one story,  he would moistened his finger to get a better grip as he turned the page.

I thought that this  technique was important to know.
My mother on the other hand , read her paper in bed.

When she returned home at 7 AM after working the night shift at Good Samaritan Hospital, she would make herself a fried baloney sandwich on white bread with yellow mustard.  Then she would  get in bed, eat the sandwich,  read the paper and fall asleep for a few precious hours while us kids went to school.
My newspaper relationship continued with  commercial influence  when I got a paper route. At twelve years old, I thought it an important responsibility to deliver to my customers an intact paper, in a dry, readable condition. Neither rain, nor sleet nor all that other stuff, would deter me from the sometimes not so swift completion of my appointed deliveries. For this I received about 7 dollars a week, mostly in tips of dimes and nickels.

As I grew into an adult I continue to read the paper daily. I enjoyed the NY Times and the Wall street Journal while riding on the train going to Wall Street for my first “real” job.

Even when I was not working, I always tried to read the paper daily. I especially liked to get local papers while traveling. I believed it enabled me to find out quickly the heartbeat of the town I was visiting, thereby making me seem less of a tourist. Ha.

For the last ten years or so however, things have changed between me and my newspapers. We have grown apart.

This I believe is due to the paucity of good papers as the quality of the printed product has declined.  This is the result of  more journalists focusing more on the  video reporting side of the business. These instant visual displays are favored because they are more timely, and I think, do not require as much skill or imagination by the recipient as having to actually read the written text.

Lately, because of this decline in print quality, I have turned the pages of fewer and fewer newspapers. I do however still read about a dozen or so papers daily online. I suppose this new technology saves thousands of trees, but it is not quite as enjoyable an activity as reading a crafted piece of wood pulp, sipping a coffee and moistening your thumb to turn the pages.

With the new system however, I can share stories with people more efficiently. I used to cut out articles, draw circles and arrows, write comments  in the margins and send them in the mail (snail) to my kids. Now I just push a button and I can “share” the story. Efficient, but much less satifying.

Some continue to be reluctant to embrace this new technology. Mikey, for example still prefers the old-fashioned printed word. Sometimes he gets so involved in the stories, he FRAPs** all over the place.  Then he has to take a nap to recover.

**FRAPing… (frantic running and playing…by Corgis)