Becoming American

Sixteen years and a few days ago I immigrated to America. Being only twelve years old, I found this task relatively simple: I woke up one day and got on a plane. We watched Shrek and ate pistachios. In the life of a twelve-year-old, however, there are some unexpected difficulties in immigration.

One of the first things that we packed to move to America was our stuffed animals. We referred to stuffed animals by the term ‘teddy bears’, even though they were not all bears [I assume this is similar to the people that call all soda ‘coke’, even though it isn’t]. My mom gave me and my brother a box for all the teddy bears we wanted to immigrate with us, and all the ones that were to remain behind [and, I assume, be adopted by a loving family] were to go on the couch.

Biggest-little-brother and I were of one mind on the subject. We put all the teddy bears into the coming-to-America box except for one. It was a pink, care bear style bear with heart paw prints. My mother felt sorry for the care bear. All the teddy bears immigrated with us to the United States. They are now [as American bears] known as stuffed animals, or [I’m told] stuffies. Littlest-little-brother’s teddy bears were known as ‘loving buddies’ – but I’m not sure if that was because they were American bears, or just beloved.

The day we arrived in Boston Logan Airport [2 adults, 4 children, 3 carts of luggage, and a dog in a broken-wheeled box] we must have made a rag-tag parade of exhausted immigrants, winding our way through crowds of people. I recently saw a home video of my husband vacationing in Maine on the day I was arriving. I like to imagine that this was some sort of sign, and that we might have driven past each other on I-95.

Another aspect of moving to America was extreme self-consciousness about my accent. Many people I met loved my Irish accent, and would frequently comment on it and ask me about my heritage. Twelve-year-old me didn’t like this kind of attention as much as twenty-eight-year-old me does. As a result, I made every effort to hide my accent and take on American terminology and pronunciation.

About five years ago I travelled back to Northern Ireland for a short visit. While there, people asked me if I was American. While here, people ask me if I am from away. My lovely plan of assimilation has backfired and I seem to have ended up with some sort of hybrid accent that identifies me as an outsider wherever I go. This is the exact opposite of what twelve-year-old me had in mind.

There are no snakes in Ireland [St. Patrick chased them out, you know] – so when my brothers and I first discovered a family of garter snakes on the rocks in our yard, we were very concerned. We had never seen a snake in the wild before. We clarified more than once that these snakes were not dangerous. I still find snakes a sort of evil, fascinating, unusual animal, even though I know they are actually common here.

Other things that were of extreme interest to me when we moved to America included: peppermint stick ice-cream, pink lemonade, measuring cups, top-loading washing machines, cranberry-raspberry juice mixed with ginger-ale, loons, pecan pie, iced tea, and Fashion Bug.

Things that were of extreme distress to me when we moved to America included: Hershey’s chocolate, cool-whip, cinnamon in everything, that people called badminton ‘bad mitten’, humidity, mosquitoes, window-screens, slidey-door minivans, robins, and the word “aluminum.”

Despite my studious attempts to blend into American culture, I still can’t help but call trash cans ‘bins’, spell neighbor with a u, get confused about what we’re talking about when we’re talking about football, and I occasionally panic in case I might be driving on the wrong side of the road.

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Coveting

Recently, in order to save money on our internet connection, my husband and I got cable tv. Yes, it cost us less money to add cable to our internet service than it cost just to have the internet. Anyway. Since getting cable, I have discovered my new favorite thing: HGTV, Home and Garden Television.

HGTV is a fascinating and unique place. There are all sorts of things that are considered normal on HGTV that I never realized were household requirements. HGTV has brought me up-to-date on the vital improvements that must be done to our home in order to make it suitable for habitation.

hgtvOn HGTV kitchen countertops are only available in granite, quartz, or marble. I used to think that butcher-block countertops were lovely – but then I learned about quartz. Have you seen quartz countertops? They are silvery-white and creamy. Basically, they are so beautiful that I would just serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner directly on the counter. No need for a dining table (usually custom built to the exact specifications of a family), no need for silverware (probably reconditioned from an antique, real silver set) – we’ll just plop down at the quartz counter top and eat right there.

On HGTV hardwood floors are a status symbol. I’ve pulled up a corner of my carpet more than once just to check in case there are hardwood floors under there that could be sanded, stained, and double the market value of our house. They aren’t there – but I’ll probably check again tomorrow, just in case I didn’t pull the carpet back quite far enough.

 

On HGTV you can’t have a master bedroom without a walk-in closet and an en-suite bathroom. Home renovators on HGTV always make big, glass, seamless walk-in showers with rain shower-heads and enough room to bathe a small heifer. All bathrooms have double vanities.

On HGTV laundry rooms can take up a large portion of the overall square footage of the house. Last week I watched a show where a whole bedroom was sacrificed in order to host a laundry room. Washers and dryers go in this dedicated room with a special folding table and are, naturally, smart-machines. I don’t know exactly what a smart-machine does. Does it sense when the clothes are dry and stop on it’s own? Does it alert you if the red socks are dying your white shirts pink? Personally, I’m not interested unless they switch the washed clothes into the dryer and fold them when they’re done.

On HGTV all kitchens are chef’s kitchens and set up to feed the five thousand. They all feature large islands (complete with that quartz countertop), custom-built cabinets, and sinks (with windows overlooking the backyard). Speaking of sinks, ever since I have learned about farmhouse sinks I simply cannot do the dishes in my own sink anymore (not that I exactly enjoyed doing them before, but this just adds insult to injury). Now that I know that there are over-size, ceramic, built-out sinks, I have realized that there really isn’t enough room for my pots and pans in the sink.

On HGTV walls are of the devil. The first thing the designers do upon entering a house is decide which walls they’re going to demolish. This is in pursuit of the god of HGTV, which is the open-concept layout. Having an open-concept means that there are no walls dividing the kitchen from the dining room and living areas. I love an open concept, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I like to eat my dinner without being in full view of all the dishes we’re going to be doing when we’re done eating.

Yesterday I thought I was getting a little too addicted to HGTV, so I branched out to the DIY channel. I watched a show where they were building custom pools. Don’t you think a custom pool would look lovely in our backyard? They could make it look just like a natural pond? With fancy stonework and little waterfalls? Lily-pads? A koi pond, too? Heated, naturally, so we could use it as a hot tub in the winter? That’ll work, right Tim?

 

 

 

 

At Home in the Depot

Prior to purchasing a house my average trip to Home Depot lasted about 3 minutes. It was typically a mad dash to the snow-shovel or light-blub department and a quick self-checkout. I would then recover from the dreaded visit with a double-shot latte and a large oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

I would spend the rest of the day complaining about how the big-box-store air dried my contacts out and the bright lights gave me a headache.

I would spend extra money at local, smaller stores, just to avoid going inside.

No more.

I went to Home Depot and Lowes three times this past weekend. I perused many aisles. I took photos of things to send to my husband. I did multiplication and square-footages estimates on my cell phone. I drove through the parking lot slowly so that I could see the prices of things placed outside Home Depot. Then I went to Lowes and took more photos and stood staring at samples for 35 minutes. Then I went back to Home Depot and looked at their samples and did more multiplication.

Then I went home and went on lowes.com and homedepot.com and put things in baskets.

I am planning our next painting adventure. Our living room and hallway are currently a half-hearted shade of mustard. It is as though the previous owner wanted to paint the living room yellow but didn’t quite have the guts to do it properly and settled for a not-quite-so-yellow compromise. They also seem to have run out of paint halfway up the stairs. You can see where they rolled the paint roller and then where they gave up on rolling.

I will be painting the living room, stairs, and hallway a lovely blue color that has yet to be determined. My recent trip to Home Depot [along with my long-suffering mother] was to acquire paint cards to stick up and around the room. The colors vary in loveliness from “Afternoon Siesta Blue” to “Hazy Seacliff Teal” and “Ionic Sky.”

While at Home Depot we almost purchased kitchen tile, laminate wood flooring, a lawn mower, a shed, bushes, and counter-tops [this blog entry does not even include the trip we made to TJ Maxx the same day where I almost purchased three sets of curtains, five paintings, and a large assortment of throw pillows].

I should set up some sort of deal with our bank where I am not able to spend more than an allotted sum of money on any given trip to Home Depot or Lowes without adult supervision. It is my grown-up version of a candy store.

[Let’s be honest, though, I would behave exactly the same way in a candy store]

Tune in sometime after April Vacation to read about our upcoming escapades with the blue paint in the living room! I will count this décor-spree a success if I manage to paint the entire room without getting any paint in my eyebrows.

Blues!

Dresser Woes [Or, The Night that Netflix Won]

Yesterday I tried to build a dresser. It was going to be wonderful. I had this great plan. I even tweeted about it. I told people at work about my plan.

Thursdays are the day that my husband doesn’t get home until late, so I thought I’d build the dresser and put all the clothes in it, instead of their current position on the floor in piles [or not in piles, as the case may be], and set up the new bedside lamps and put pictures on the walls [which have been blank since my recent painting extravaganza]. Then, when my husband got home, I would surprise him. Oh, it was a lovely plan!

Being proficient in DIY is an important part of owning your own home. I thought to myself, what better way to practice DIYing than to DIY a dresser all by myself on a school night before dinner.

The first step to building any dresser is opening the box. I tried to move the box into a convenient opening and building location. It was too heavy. I thus decided to build the dresser in the living room, blocking the entrance from the kitchen to any part of the house. It would be built by the time anyone needed to access a bathroom, right?

I searched for our box-cutter, but when I came upon a steak knife first I decided that it was more than sufficient for opening the box. When I opened the box it contained all the pieces in a color much darker than I had expected – so dark, in fact, that I might decide not to paint it after all. I also decided not to use that steak knife for eating steak ever, ever again. The box did not seem like it came from a frequently cleaned warehouse.

There were approximately 543,459,305.21 nails and screws and other screw-like things and those special screwy things into which you screw screws. They were itemized in 14 languages on a piece of paper that contained 20 deceptively simple looking steps to build a dresser.

I couldn’t find a hammer, which the pictures strongly recommended, but I thought that the back end of my Phillips Head screwdriver would work just fine. It was heavy. I could hold on to the screwing part and swing it like a hammer.

One of the first steps included hammering little plastic pieces that are used to make the drawer slide in-and-out into the wood of the drawer. My screwdriver was insufficient. I narrowly missed my fingers several times and so I spent an additional 30 minutes searching the house for the hammer. I found it in the kitchen drawer where I had tidied it after I had last done household fixer-uppering.

After 15 minutes of very loud hammering the first step was done. 1 down, 19 to go! Then it came time to screw the front part of the drawers into the side pieces of the drawers. The picture of the screws that I was supposed to use looked like no screws I was in possession of, and so I took a guess and started screwing. Forty minutes and two blisters later I was done with the left side of the drawers. I couldn’t figure out how to make our special screwdriver go “righty-tighty” as opposed to “lefty loosey” and so I had to use the regular screwdriver and, at one point, nearly poked my eye out while rearranging my wayward pony-tail.

The next step also called for unidentifiable screws. Eventually, after much measuring and deliberation and comparison, I chose a screw and started to try to put it where it was supposed to go. I screwed it [despite my blisters] and it would not screw. I tried hammering it on the top a little and it would not hammer. I tried fitting the other options into the hole and they either disappeared or wouldn’t fit. I tried cursing the screws. I tried cursing the screwdriver. Neither was intimidated into fulfilling my request.

At this point my husband arrived home to quickly change his clothes before heading out again. My brother was riding with him. I’d been working on the dresser for over 2 hours.

They entered a house to see me, grumpily, sitting on the floor trying to force several different screws into several different holes with several different screwdrivers. I [in high-pitched tones] informed them of my troubles with the hammer, and my plan about the pictures on the walls, and I [tearfully] demonstrated to them the actions of the rebellious screws.

Then I moved all the pieces of the dresser to lean against the wall and made myself a bowl of pasta in alfredo sauce and watched Netflix.

Adventures in Painting

Last week I had vacation from work and I made great big plans to decorate our bedroom. Our house is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but it hasn’t been decorated since what must be 1985. Our house was built in 1989. But. There you go.

It has matte-stained mahogany-colored doors and trim throughout. Our bedroom was [poorly] painted a crisp, cold white.

Bedroom Before

I made big plans for a tan/green/gold bedroom. I pinned a thousand pins on pinterest. I picked up a thousand color cards at Lowes and Home Depot and Sherwin Williams. I held them up to the wall and squinted at them.

I made plans to paint all the trim in the whole house a warm shade of white. I thought that choosing white would be one of the easier choices – white is white, right? Nope. When I picked up some samples at my local home-décor stores I ended up with colors which all looked relatively similar to me, and sported elegant names. Eventually it came down to a choice between Cloud White and Almond Cream. I abandoned Antique White, Oyster, and Snow. I thought I’d made an excellent choice, but after waiting in line at the counter for 10 minutes I looked at the Cloud White again and ran back to get Almond Cream. It just seemed much more delicious.

While at the counter getting our gallon of trim, gallon of walls, and gallon of old-trim-sealant, the older lady behind the desk asked my mother and I if we were sisters. At first I felt flattered for my mom. But, later, I started thinking. What if it wasn’t a compliment to my mom, what if it was an insult to me? Do I look old enough to be my own mother? Was choosing whites really that detrimental to my health? I knew buying a house would make me feel like a grown-up, I didn’t know it would make me look like one too.

[FYI – my mom looks significantly younger than she really is – I can only hope I age like her!]

And the evening and the morning were the first day of the painting project.

On Tuesday my mother [who had agreed to “get me started” with the painting] and I woke up bright and early and put on old clothes. I moved everything I could out of our bedroom and put it in neat [ish] piles on our guest room floor.

Then the painting began.

We started with the trim, as the online advisors were divided on the best place to begin, and we felt overwhelmed because there was so much of it – all to be painted with a coat of sealant and 2 coats of Almond Cream.

We were moving along at a daring pace when my knees started to get a little sore. I thought to myself that I’d just slide over and sit on my patootie for awhile while I painted the bottom of a door. I slid, I sat, and my knee popped out. I heard it pop. I felt it squish and pop. I was paralyzed with fear and pain. My mom encouraged me to straighten my leg at inch-wide intervals. I tried, but I cried. My mom tried to help me stand up so that gravity could help with the straightening. I tried, but I cried again.

At this point I had visions of half-sealed bedroom trim being abandoned whilst I was checked into the nearest knee-specializing hospital. I envisioned knee-replacement surgery in my not-too-distant future. Maybe the woman selling us the paint had been a prophetess about my age?

Tim arrived home in the middle of my knee distress. He and mom together lifted me up and, after a few minutes of encouragement, and some help from gravity, my knee popped back in to position. Crisis averted.

And with a coat of sealant and a coat of Almond Cream, the evening and the morning were the second day.

I awoke at 5:45 on Wednesday morning, on the couch [since our bed was covered in paint-drop sheets], and every bone in my body ached. My knee sported a lovely gray-blue hue, not unlike the shade I eventually plan to paint our living room and hallway.

I painted from 6:00am to 4:00pm on that day. I finished the first coat of trim and completed the second coat of trim. I taped the edging with blue tape to protect the hardwood floor. When I pulled up the tape it turned out that a large portion of Almond Cream had run under the tape and dried on the floor. The last several hours of daylight were spent in a sort of downward dog yoga position with a box cutter, carefully scratching the paint off the floor without scratching the floor off too.

At this point I paused with my damp cloth to wipe several footprints off the floor from where I’d stepped in a drop of paint and walked it across the room.

At this point not a few curses were uttered.

And the evening and the morning and the cursing and the scraping were the third day.

On Thursday morning I was up early with my gallon of Plateau [a warm beige-tan color] and planned to do the first coat before lunch and the second coat after lunch. Future me chuckles when I remember the innocence of past me.

I began with a nice, blank, empty wall. I thought I’d start at the corner and practice my “cutting in” before I tried it for real by the ceiling. It seemed to go well.

At this point let me take a moment to tell you about my step-ladder. It is made of metal. The top step is 6 inches wide and slopes to the left at a 45 degree angle. There are edges that will pinch your toes. It will randomly drop clumps of dirt on the floor, even though it looks clean from the outside. At times, when you climb to the top, it will suddenly slope to a harsher, more acute angle. You will pray your final prayers, your heart will leap to your throat, you will regret that you didn’t get to see how Plateau looked on your walls before you kicked the proverbial [paint] bucket.

Once perched atop the ladder of death I began, carefully, “cutting in” where the wall met the ceiling. More paint went on the ceiling than on the wall. Drips fell on my face and dribbled down my wrist into my sleeve. I muttered under my breath and tried a narrower brush. More paint went on the ceiling. I began sniffling.

Eventually I painted the entire edge of the wall with a ¼ inch wide brush that I’d bought to paint on small canvases when I was in high school. It looked like crap [there are stronger words, but this is a family show]. When my husband arrived home from work [and painted the rest of the walls with the roller] I burst into tears and cursed the day when I thought I could paint a bedroom.

On this day I had to stop early to cook food. Because, you know, painting is hungry work.

And the evening and the morning and the dripping and the stuffing my face with alfredo were the fourth day.

On Friday I had invited people over for dinner. I had to do the second coat of paint, put up the curtain rods, iron and hang the curtains, and tidy up the [neglected] rest of the house by 5:00pm.

It worked. I painted and screwed screws and ironed, I did dishes, I swept floors, and I picked up cookie crumbs. I did not sit down. The bedroom painting was done. No clothes were put back. No pillows were on the bed. No lamps were on the bedside table. But I was done. I am done with home décor. At least until my bruised knee improves and I wash the Plateau highlights out of my hair. And, to be honest, the dark brown trim isn’t looking so bad anymore – maybe I can deal with it for a few years.

Finish Bedroom

And the evening and the morning and the pizza and the rum-and-coke were the fifth day.