Monday, September 20, 2010

Debbie Is a Carpenter

For years now, my brother has given me tools for my birthday and Christmas. Hammers and saws, screwdrivers and Leatherman tools. He actually did have to buy me a Leatherman, one of those all-purpose Swiss knife-type things, on two occasions, because I forgot I had one in my purse at the airport in Beijing shortly after September 11. Nobody was fooling around about possible weapons being brought on board and now some nice Chinese family is hopefully getting lots of use out of my first Leatherman.

As of today, I am getting a lot of use out of my power drill! Dave gave it to me last year and, I'll be honest, I never even opened it. While I own an impressive array of tools, a collection that would make any handyman pretty proud, I usually hand them to my dad or brother and let them do the tough stuff. But all that changed when I purchased a roll-out lid holder recently for all of my cooking pot lids. I've always kept the myriad lids precariously perched atop one another in a cupboard next to the stove and every time I went for one, it was pretty much a lid avalanche onto my foot. But small spaces need tremendous organization, so I invested in the lid holder, not really knowing I would need to use a power drill to install it.

Last night I pulled out the drill instructions and then spent a good hour trying to extricate the drill from its plastic prison. Man, they don't make it easy to get stuff out of its plastic packaging! But when I finally did I was very excited to start drilling, until I read even more instructions, this time for the drill itself, only to learn that the drill would have to charge for seventeen hours before I could hope to use it. I was a little concerned that I would never actually do the project, as I'm prone to procrastination when I am not granted immediate gratification, but when I got home from work tonight I found myself picking up the instructions again. Nobody was more surprised than I was.

I was especially shocked when I read that not only would I have to use my cute little power drill to drill in simple screws, but I would also be required to use a 1/8" drill bit to drill a starter hole before that! Yikes. Thankfully, Dave also gave me a pack of drill bits that included a 1/8" bit, or else I would have been out of luck. I pretty much guessed what to do and how to do it, and when I was finished I had used an Allen wrench, a Phillips screwdriver, and a power drill with various attachments to install my lid rack. I would be lying if I said that every screw went in perfectly straight like it does every time on HGTV, but they all went in well enough that the roll-out rack glides with ease from its tiny cupboard space. And I'm no longer in danger of bruising my foot when I open that cupboard to grab a lid! What will my next power tool project be? The sky's the limit! Or else maybe I'll just hang a poster. Either way, I'll be ready.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

No Man's Land

Note: I was going through old electronic files tonight looking for some information when I stumbled across this essay I wrote after returning from my first lengthy trip to Ghana, West Africa in 1991. What you're about to read is all completely true, and horrible. I clearly didn't finish writing the tale, because if I did it would have included an account of the angry border agent who threw my and my friend Lisa's luggage out into the rain and my semi-illegal re-entry into Ghana without a proper visa, but still it's an amusing story. Maybe someday I'll expand on it. Hope you enjoy...

I can think of few things less glamorous than being attacked by a fierce colony of swarming black flies as you empty your bladder in a makeshift toilet in West Africa. It happened to us while we loitered impatiently in that stretch of land where one country border meets another, a place literally referred to as No Man’s Land because it belongs to no one, perhaps in the case I refer to here because no one wants it. This particular No Man’s Land is at the border where the western post of coastal Ghana meets the eastern post of Ivory Coast in sub-Saharan Africa. Lisa and I were simply trying to survive the brutally long car trip west from Ghana’s old, boring capital, Accra, to Abidjan, the contemporary capital of Ivory Coast. After several months hanging around provincial, small town Accra, conducting research for our college degrees and at the same time trying to stay healthy, we were excited to visit a city where we’d heard stories of skyscrapers and croissants and nightclubs. To us at that time, Heaven didn’t hold more promise than Abidjan.

The journey to the Promised Land was a rough one at best. Our overstuffed hired vehicle raced down roads impossibly laced with deep holes, like a highway made from Swiss cheese and dirt. Every few miles our car was stopped in the rain by military police men looking for something to break up the monotony and, if it was a good day, a bribe as well. As we sped past villages comprised of mud huts and an occasional lonely tree, we ran hard over a fleeing chicken. Normally something like that would have been devastating to me, but after three months of being rudely awakened at four in the morning by the roosters outside my window in Accra, it felt like some sort of karmic justice. That was the first animal ever hit in a car I was in, but in Africa, sadly, it wouldn’t be the last.

By the time we reached the border to Ivory Coast six hours after leaving Accra, both Lisa and I were more than ready to use the facilities. There at No Man’s Land, a local (of which country I wasn’t sure) pointed a bony black finger towards a cement structure free of the usual dust that permeated most buildings on this part of the continent. The old man proudly declared that the toilets there were new and very nice. Delightful! We ambled down the rain-soaked path to the new concrete box that would certainly compete with the bathrooms at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the nicest bathrooms I had ever seen. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Inside the box were smaller, door-less boxes and in each box a single hole in the ground and a box of crumpled-up newspapers. Ouch. We each entered a stall and commenced doing what you do when you’re in a small concrete box with a hole in the ground in West Africa. Seconds later there was a roar coming from somewhere nearby, a sound unlike anything either of us had ever heard before. I thought it sounded like a train careening down the tracks and said as much to Lisa. Since there were no doors in the structure, just walls, she was able to hear me, but just barely over the roar. Before I even had the opportunity to consider that there were no trains in that part of the continent, the source of the noise became only too clear. Giant black flies came shrieking out of the cement holes, obviously disturbed by our presence and bent on revenge. Without any discussion, Lisa and I adjusted our clothing and ran screaming from the nice new toilets, trailed by flies the size of gold finches. Filthy, disgusting, disease-ridden gold finches.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ginger the Bear Cub Potato

I hate starting each new post with an apology for not having written sooner, so I won't. Instead, I present you with this peace offering - a potato that looks just like a bear cub! See, you feel better already.

This potato, which I named Ginger because of her uncanny resemblance to a nice big knob of ginger, came out of the ground in Byron, Minnesota, on the farm of the Hanson family. I didn't notice it till I got home, but the second I took her out of the sack of potatoes, I couldn't believe my eyes. Much how you might be feeling right now.

Because potatoes don't last forever, I had some professional shots done of Ginger. You know, just in case the Letterman Show calls. So far, not so much.