Mysteries of the kitchen

I’ve been watching a lot of TV shows about mysteries: Mysteries of the unknown. Mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle. Mysteries of the weather. Mysteries concealed on satellite images. Mysteries of why we gain weight even though we SAY we don’t eat too much ice cream or drink too much beer.

But while I’m hooked on finding explanations for all of these worldly and even cosmic curiosities, it has also made me wonder about why we can’t solve some mysteries closer to home. Like literally in my kitchen. Because there are big mysteries in there that defy explanation and evade all answers. So, I put together this “Mysteries of the Kitchen” list in hopes that one day we might find a way to explain them all (hopefully on TV!):

• Why do Youtube videos make it seem like kitchen appliance repairs are so simple, raising my hopes and encouraging me to pop out a water dispenser panel on the fridge? But the guy in the video didn’t break two critical pieces of plastic when he did it, and then spend the rest of the afternoon Gorilla-gluing his fingers to his fridge. (Or maybe they just edited that part out?!?)

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Hey Hurricane Irma, you left a tree on my house!

“There’s a tree on my house.”

If you ever say these words out loud, your ears will hear them, question what was just said, and spark an internal debate: “A tree on my house? Is that what I just said? No! There can’t be a tree on my house.”

Only, yes. It IS a tree. And it’s leaning on my house. Look!

There it was. A photo in a text from my neighbor. My neighbor, Forest, stays through all the storms. Even better, he sends me texts, photos and videos at all hours. This year during Hurricane Irma he even streamed live video from his upstairs porch.

The news is always good. That’s what I was expecting when the texts came in the morning after the storm. But they showed damage on the street. A transformer dangling from a pole. A massive tree that took out power lines clear over to Riberia Street, two blocks away. Then I saw it. It was agonizingly slow to load, taxing the struggling cel network in the powerless neighborhood where my family had evacuated to. It was of a pink house — boy, that’s similar to mine! — with a big cedar tree parked against an upstairs porch.

GASP! “There’s a TREE on my HOUSE!!!”

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Now back to coverage of the Florida Summer Heat Games

“Now we return you to live coverage of the Florida Summer Heat Games where native Floridians prove their mettle in a series of insane outdoor events testing their courage, their stamina and their ability to overcome sweltering temperatures and oppressive humidity. For these competitors, household projects take on epic proportions in weather that could cook a rack of ribs quicker than you can say ‘BBQ.’”

“Today we have competitor Brian Thompson, who is tackling a small wood-working project that he SHOULD have done in the cool temperatures of April. But that’s the beauty of the Games, Bob. Dumb people doing dumb things in the kind of heat that will buckle a bridge.”

“You’re so right, Jay. And Brian has his work cut out for him, doesn’t he?”

“He sure does. He already passed the Sweat Stain Rorschach T-shirt Test when he went inside for a drink of water and his daughter pointed and laughed at what she said was the shape of a three-legged elephant in a party hat. I personally saw a lion-tailed macaque throwing up, but it’s hard to make everything out in this heat haze.”

“That’s right, Jay. Brian has been working on a project that should have taken him all of three minutes, but he’s managed to turn it into a day-long affair thanks to his incompetence and this insufferable heat. Now, he did survive the morning’s Mosquito Mowdown, when 15,000 blood-sucking skeeters descended on him, tapped his jugular and drew 12 pints. He turned white as a ghost and started hallucinating, but after nearly cutting off a finger in the power saw, he regained his composure and pushed on. It was a sight to see, and boy did we hear some salty language!”

“I tell you, Jay, I was really worried when he decided to dig around in that stack of paint cans. He has 42,000 rusting cans stacked 18 feet high in that shed, and he went rummaging in the middle of it to find a gallon of yellow for his wife. When that thing wobbled and came down on his head, I thought he was a goner for sure! But he has shaken it off and come back strong.”

“And good thing, too, Bob, because next up is the Weed-and-Wilt. This is a must-see event! Competitors notice weeds in their front yards and impulsively decide to pull them up right then and there, all under the hottest heat of the day! We put a pan of bacon out to check the temperature and the whole thing caught fire and melted. It’s going to take all of his strength to pull this one off.”

“Jay, he’s stumbling a bit and holding an insightful conversation with thin air, but he’s got a good anger face going and seems totally focused for someone whose body is likely to go into heat-induced cardiac arrest. So, I think his odds are about 50-50.”

“We’ll find out right after this commercial break …”

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Lessons in childhood chores

I started rubbing my hands together. Scheming. Thinking about all the tasks and jobs and things I hate to do.

My wife — I can’t even remember why —said to my daughter one day: “It’s time you had some real chores. You need to come up with a few ideas.”

I popped up out of nowhere, complete with a puff of smoke. “I’ve got some ideas!” I said.

I think my daughter hadn’t finished something or tried to order room service after the kitchen had closed. Something that kids are known to do to set parents off, and get them threatened with more tasks around the house.

It was music to my ears. Free labor! Handing off tasks I hate. Giving up household duties that threaten life and limb — MY life and most of MY limbs!

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Flight of the bomb-crater chicken

My chickens have it pretty good. A nice, roomy house, an enclosed run where they can stretch their legs, and even a “private” yard with a picket fence so they can explore a bit when we’re home.

All I ask in return are two simple things: 1) provide us eggs and 2) don’t venture out into MY yard where they dig giant holes, toss around pine needles and devour anything green like a giant swarm of drunken locusts.

Two simple things! And two of my three birds abide.

But then there is little Phoebe — the bomb-crater chicken. A house, a run and a yard are not enough. She needs to roam and explore. She needs to wander MY yard, scratching for bugs, eating plants and digging massive holes that that look like a World War II air raid.

How does Phoebe get out? Well, chickens do fly, you know. But most of the time they’re too lazy, too fat or frankly, lack the smarts to remember they have this skill.

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The evil side to the friendly fire alarm

Need proof that technology has a mind of its own? Has a sense of mischief? An evil streak?

How about this: Why does a smoke alarm decide that the appropriate time to let you know it needs a battery replacement is at 2 a.m.?

Not at 4 p.m. on a weekend, just as you’re launching into other house projects. Or 10 a.m. on a weekday, when no one is around to care.

Two … in … the … MORNING!

And does it gently prod you? Offer a nicely-worded reminder? Nope. Instead, it emits a sonic burst so shrill and piercing that it feels like a stream of molten lava has been poured into your ear canal.

For some reason, fire alarm manufacturers see no need to differentiate between, “RUN, fool! Your house is on fire!” and “Please, sir, kindly gather up a 9-volt battery, but only when you have a moment.”

Practically the same thing in my book.

This is what happened in the Thompson house at 2 a.m., directly above my head, while I slumbered in the deepest of sleeps. You don’t come out of those easily, and certainly not from a single blast of the fire alarm. The little bugger is kind enough to issue a single “blurt” before pausing for 30 seconds or so.

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That old house fascination

A postcard arrived in the mail. One of those gimmicky ones made to look like real handwriting. It said, “I’m interested in buying your house …”

My wife always takes great offense to things like this. We get them every once in a while. Part anger, part sarcasm and part joking, she said she wanted to contact this person and tell them we would be happy to sell … for a price that was three times what the place is worth.

“Actually, could you imagine that?” she said. “We could buy a huge lot somewhere and build whatever we wanted.”

“Yeah,” I said longingly, picturing never having to nail down a loose porch floorboard or fixing another termite-eaten piece of siding on the century-old downtown house. “I can imagine it!”

My daughter wasn’t so amused. “We’re not selling the house,” she declared at dinner. “Not for any amount.”

“Nothing?” my wife asked.

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Critical steps for all you DIY-ers

When did “do it yourself” become such a trendy, positive, popular term? I mean, it used to be a negative. Something you would shout when you were fed up with someone, and usually with a bit of nastiness tacked onto the end: “Oh yeah, well do it yourself … jerk face!”

But, not today. Not when we’re all proud “do-it-yourselfers.” And even though I’ve sworn off doing-it-myself — numerous times — I always find I’m pulled back in. Lured to a new project I should have hired out. Like when I decided to fix a water filter assembly in my refrigerator. Yeah! Good idea!

So here are a few tips I think everyone should ponder before launching into their own DIY nightmares … I mean … projects:

• Make sure you do it right before heading out of town on a business trip. Your wife will absolutely love this when she realizes the “fix” you may (or may not) have just completed could send a jet of cold water spraying into the kitchen while you’re gone.

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The taming of the yard

What does a fountain say about a yard? A fancy, sophisticated fountain. A big one, bubbling and gurgling with delight. There are few sounds better than that soft, flowing collision of water. It doesn’t take much — just a splatter or two — and it will transform a mood. Calm the senses. Make you say things like, “Nirvana!” (And I don’t even know what that means.)

That’s what we just installed in our backyard — a fountain. Amidst some fresh pine needles. Where I tore up all the roots and vines. Where I just landscaped.

The child’s fort and swings are down. The chicken — there’s only one now — is no longer allowed to dig her bomb craters and root around in the pine needles. The dog is banned from cutting ruts like tank tracks.

Now the fountain is the coup de grace. (And I don’t know what that means, either.)

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Spring, and the house project misfires


Minor slip-up. Minor scheduling delay. Misread the calendar. Or the month. Or the year.

Could be I stepped into some kind of time warp. Launched me forward into the future. That would explain it. Nothing else will. How it’s suddenly March and the task list from December (which is really from September) is still sitting on my desk.


March!?! Wait a minute, say that again. That’s virtually spring. The pollen is already out. And for that matter, it’s practically summer, when the heat kicks in. And if I’m not careful, it’s fall.

It’s practically fall, people!

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