Category Archives: home improvement

Outdoor Instant Pot! (Or What to Do When You Find Out You’re Never Going to Have a Kitchen.)

First came to brisket in the outdoor slow cooker.

Today, I borrowed an instant pot from my friend R., and I’m christening it outside on the back steps. I moved the plants out of the way and am staring at it until it’s done.

I should preface all of this by saying that I am not allowed to own a mandolin. When I say not allowed, I mean that every time I buy one, M returns it. I am a clumsy cook. OK, I am a clumsy everything. A mandolin would have me without a finger within a few seconds. The conventional wisdom was that an Instant Pot (pressure cooker) would have me decapitated in the same amount of time. Everybody was sure I would explode it in the kitchen.

Guess what? I don’t have a kitchen! And we just found out that we have to submit plan amendments to the department of building in Yonkers so I’m never going to have a kitchen!

I just have to keep Lois and children away from the machine, because I’m fine decapitating myself, but the cats are a whole different story.

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Filed under cooking, home improvement, Kitchen, remodel, knife rack,

Brisket in the Rain

Because the kitchen renovation has me making toast in one room, coffee in another, and eggs in a third, this is where I plug in the crockpot.Outside. On our back steps.

Several hours after I plugged it in, M came home for a meeting with the contractor, architect and engineer and sends out a message to our family Snapchat group (hush, now): RAIN!

Even though Weatherbug showed zero chance of precipitation, it was pouring.

I immediately sent him a hysterical tweet: BRISKET IN YARD. PLEASE CHECK THE BRISKET!!!!

Turns out, the meat was fine — or so I’m told. Also turns out brisket is even better when it’s cooked outside — who knew? It was quite an operation getting it back into the kitchen, or at least I made it look that way. I made a big show of it as I passed by the team of men in whose hands the fate of my kitchen rests, huffing and puffing as I walked through.

Now I just have to wash the crockpot out in the downstairs toilet.

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Filed under construction, home improvement, Kitchen, remodel, knife rack,, Uncategorized

Black Coffee In Bed.

Our ground floor is a construction site. Sort of. A group of men came in, demolished two thirds of the floor, ripped out our kitchen, and then completely disappeared. It has been two weeks since I have seen anyone working. They tell me this is normal. But enough about that.

I have long been wanting a coffee maker in my bedroom. I do not like waking up and having to work out how best to passive-aggressively ask M to go downstairs and make me a cup of coffee. (M can shower, get dressed and do all sorts of things without the assistance of caffeine, but I cannot.) Now that our kitchen is basically a hot plate and a kettle — which cannot be used simultaneously lest the entire room lose power — I had good reason to move the machine upstairs.

I don’t know what took me so long! Now I can drink black coffee (the cheaper the better) before I have to talk to anyone, before I have to take more than 20 steps. I may have to plug the Crock Pot in outside (more on that later) and keep the toaster in the bathroom (who doesn’t want to eat a bagel on the toilet?), but I do it all while very well caffeinated.

Given that we may not have a kitchen until mid-2020, I am going to need all the coffee I can get.

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Filed under coffee, construction, home improvement, Uncategorized

Everything Must Go (Or, why it pays to have a pogrom in your DNA.)

After months of waiting, crying in the building department, and all but offering myself up to the gods of Yonkers (because, surely there is more than one), we finally got our construction permit. Still, we weren’t starting anytime soon. Our contractor told us we’d have to wait a few weeks while he finished up the job he took when we got delayed.

And then, in a text, he told us he could start in 48 hours. (I’m trying to ignore the nagging feeling that this guy may not have been the best choice, but I’m keeping that to myself for now.)

Here’s what I learned:

1. It helps to have a pogrom (or three) in your DNA. Polish ancestry means one thing if you’re Jewish: You can pack in a flash, even when there aren’t Cossacks at the door. As I used my great-grandmother’s linen tablecloths to wrap my dishes (once the newspaper ran out), I had enough time to hum the entire score of Fiddler. Good times.

2. Jet lag is AWESOME when you have stuff to do! Turns out, keeping my watch on NY time during our trip may have kept me awake the entire time, but it didn’t ensure that I’d come home on local time. (Who knew?) So, I hopped out of bed at 3.45 AM and got cracking on packing the kitchen and tossing anything that does not bring me pleasure. (This was a good thing. Because M is no fan of throwing out anything and believes this whole de-cluttering movement is nothing more than an excuse to buy more shit, I usually have to toss things under cover of darkness.)

3. I was put on this earth to answer the question: How many glass jars can one person own?

4. I apparently also have a thing for egg cups.

5. M has a thing for free water bottles. The shittier the bottle, the more we have. If you happen to need one, there will be a box of them in front of our house as of 4AM. (shhh.)

I’ve been awake for over a week and I have miles to go.

If Marie Kondo calls, I’ll be throwing out egg cups.

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Flirting in Yonkers.

Our kitchen is in Yonkers.**

Because we want to renovate our kitchen, we need approval from the Yonkers Building Department. (Even now, it is hard to capitalize those words, so unworthy are they; there is nothing proper about those nouns.)

I had heard nightmare stories about the permit approval process so when our permit was denied the first time, I was told to “put on something cute, go down to the Building Department, and flirt.”

“Oh,” someone else added, “you should bring cookies.”

I heard M sniggering when I relayed the pieces of advice. First of all, nobody really wants to eat my cookies. I live with teenage boys, who will eat anything that isn’t soldered to the plate, but Building Department people? Surely, they wouldn’t want burnt-on-the-bottom chocolate chip cookies which are raw in the middle?

The flirting got an ever bigger laugh from M.

If nobody wants to eat my cookies, even fewer want to see me try and flirt. “What does that even look like?” M asked.

What does that look like? It looks something like this:

I woke up early and put on a pencil skirt, blouse and a pair of heels. I had an early morning breakfast midtown, and I planned on going straight from there. I looked cute enough for the breakfast, but after a subway ride home and an hour or so of NYC humidity, the bloom was most definitely off the rose. When I got on the subway, I threw my heels into my enormous bag and put on a pair of Birkenstocks. When I emerged above ground and caught sight of the size of my hair in a store window, I threw it up into a twist. By the time I climbed into the minivan, I had untucked the blouse, which was drenched in sweat and something else which I could not identity but which it hurts to think about.

By the time I got to Yonkers, I was less Breakfast at Tiffany’s, more Travels With My Aunt. Still, I persisted. I walked into the building and into a time warp. I had to exit and enter again just to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind. Although it was 2018 on the outside, in the Yonkers Building Department, it was either 1957 or 1978, depending on the floor. Either way, it called for a lot of eye shadow and some pretty big hair. (My eye makeup had long since melted off, but my hair was certainly complying.)

I found the right floor, tucked in my sweaty shirt and marched on. When I was greeted by a room of partially gray women, sitting at desks, nursing giant mugs of coffee, my heart skipped several beats. A room of older ladies? These are my people! I can definitely flirt with this…

I collapsed into a chair.

“What’s wrong, honey?” One of them asked.

“I looked a lot cuter when the day started,” I said. “And I really want a permit for my kitchen.”

The thirty minutes I spent with the ladies of Yonkers was lovely. They assured me I looked just fine. We laughed about summer hair and what happens to your feet when your take off your heels, put on Birkenstocks, and try to get your heels on again. They even gave me a special number to call to check on the status of my permit revisions. I left feeling so much better about myself and the Yonkers Building Department. (Caps restored!)

I called that number every day for ten days and nobody answered. I even tried the special email they gave me: nada.

I went back yesterday, all gussied up, and received a second denial, in person. I was even wearing heels this time.

I guess I really don’t know how to flirt.

PS: A snapshot of the current state of my kitchen.

** Our house sits on the county border, but our kitchen is firmly in Yonkers.

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Filed under home decor, home improvement, Kitchen, remodel, knife rack,, yonkers

Bubble, Bubble…

I’m feeling pretty good today. I’m feeling good because I believe this is the first day in two weeks that someone in this house has NOT had some form of the stomach flu. 

This flu was especially nasty because a) it coincided with Thanksgiving traffic and we suffered through a five hour car trip, much of it spent while holding a bag of a child’s warm vomit and b) because when we returned home from said trip, we found a puddle of sewage bubbling up in the basement. Every time somebody flushed a toilet (which happens quite often when the stomach flu pays a visit), the pipe in the basement would spew sewage. 

I immediately got on the phone and called plumbers. Plumbers can be so very dramatic that I half expect them to burst into iambic pentameter. I have a particularly bad memory of a plumber visiting our very first house in LA and taking a video of the scope he did of the plumbing underneath our backyard. The video was dark, creepy, and emotionally narrated. It soon became known as the “Blair Witch Plumbing Project.” It was LA, so perhaps an out of work actor was doing our plumbing and filmed the video, but I soon learned that all plumbers have a flair for the dramatic.

It’s never a good sign when you call a plumber, describe your problem, and hear him say, “Uh-oh” or “Oh, that’s pretty bad.” It’s an even worse sign when the plumber you have called says, “I think this job is too big for me, you need to call a plumber with BIGGER equipment.” (Read: NO thanks, lady. I’d like to take lots of your money. Really, I would. But your house sounds like Chernobyl.)

The problem sounded enormous. Plumbers gasped and sighed at my descriptions. Nobody was interested in coming to help. I was quite sure that whoever did come to help would leave our house with all of our money in hand. 

I was all but ready to tell the kids that they were getting plumbing for Channukah.

The plumber who finally agreed to come (and who frankly sounded excited by the challenge) arrived first thing Monday morning. I think plumbing is a great job — not just because of the bucks involved, but because people are REALLY happy to see you. After twelve hours of no plumbing and with several family members on the tail end of the tummy bug, our house was beginning to resemble a large, furnished port-o-potty. I almost leapt into the arms of the unsuspecting plumber at our front door. I think I may have scared him a bit with my exuberance. He beat a hasty retreat to the basement to fix the problem. 

A couple of hours later, he emerged victorious. Crisis averted. The problem was not a bad as it sounded. At least for now. We live in an old house. Even with updated plumbing, problems arise. 

Here is a picture of the bag-o-vomit. 

 
And here is a picture of a toilet in our house. I could have taken pictures of the basement spewage, but even I have my limits. 

 

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How much wood?

Spring may technically have sprung, but it seems to be taking its sweet time. Still, it’s already April… which means we get some of this: 

 

I could not for the life of me tell you what this bush is called, but it makes me happy to see it.

But spring also means that it’s time to deal with this: 

 

This is one of two large piles of logs of wood. We had to have several trees taken down when we moved into the house, because our very chatty and pricey tree guy told us they could fall onto the house at any given moment. The tree guy wanted even more dollars (many more than we had) to chop the wood.

And then M had a brainstorm.

He needed some more exercise in his schedule and he did not need to shell out thousands of dollars to the tree guy, so instead, he shelled out 40 bucks for an axe. Yes, that’s right. He was going to learn to chop and tackle the wood himself, killing two birds with one stone. Everybody, including our Sicilian gardener, laughed. They promised he would chop for 30 minutes and then spent three weeks in bed recovering.

They obviously have not encountered the dogged perseverance that is M trying to prove a point to me, while avoiding shelling out money to a tree guy who probably has three homes of the Hamptons because of us.

Sometimes he chops alone. Sometimes he lets a certain 13-year-old help him. Sometimes he has the assistance of an equally stubborn friend.

I won’t say there are no injuries. I believe this morning he went to work with what appears to be a broken pinky. 

But I believe you need to take achievement wherever you can find it. And if it lies in a pile of snow-soaked wood that may one day be a home for thousands of flying termites, then that’s where it has to be.

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Filed under home improvement, New York City, spring