Monday, November 26, 2012

The Economics of Boo-ty

(Apologies for running two holidays behind)

The first time I ever fell asleep in class was during high school economics my senior year.   I’d like to say I fell asleep because I was staying up late working or even going out with my friends (I won’t even try to say it was because of studying).  It was also the first time I ever earned a D in a class.  When my parents asked about the grade, my response was the same as most students’ whose grades were slipping, “The teacher is boring.”
Of course, that earned me narrowed eyes and a big, “So what?”
I loved school and learning.  “Dull” was one thing – a teacher who lacked a dynamic personality - but that had never stopped me from learning before.  Then I realized “boring” meant that I couldn’t relate my life to anything that the teacher was describing.  I can still hear the teacher saying, “Guns and butter….”
How (or why) would butter be made in a gun factory or vice-versa?  And wouldn’t there be metal shards in the first batch of butter?   That would be dangerous.  How long did it take to clean the equipment to make it safe for making butter?  Were the first batch of guns slippery? 
And then everything would fade to black and the unicorns and rainbows would appear and all was right once more.
“How can you not understand economics?” my dad asked.
I had run two “businesses” prior to my senior year – first the quail raising fiasco with my neighbor throughout middle school and in my sophomore year when I served as vice president of marketing for Junior Achievement (where we actually decided on a product, made it, and sold it, not just filling out a workbook, which is what happens today).  I knew about cost effectiveness, the difference between gross and net, the importance of pleasing stockholders as well as keeping worker morale high (all members of JA were paid) among other concepts, although without the terminology.
But there was a simpler way for the teacher to relate economics to all students:  Halloween booty.
While costumes were important, as every child knows, a significant part of Halloween is about candy, not just quantity, but also quality. 
It starts with market research.  This is done the day before Halloween, an informal survey among fellow students.  With a neighborhood school, everyone knew where their classmates lived and most of us were within walking distance.  “What kind of Halloween are you guys giving out?”  Chocolate earned high marks, taffy, low. Pixie sticks and Smarties were flexible depending on one’s taste.   A sufficient number of chocolates warranted adding that street to the route.  There was also some research done on the fly as one group left a house when another approached.  “What are they giving out?”  “BUTTERFINGERS!”  Yes!  Or (sigh) “Neccos.”  Ugh.  Pass.

Business Plan:  Having a plan was key.  How long would trick-or-treating last?  What routes would maximize quantity and quality?  What size of bag would allow for a good take, but not look too greedy not to mention be comfortable to carry with its weighted load.  Plastic pumpkins cut up hands, and we wanted payment to be as painless as possible.
Sales:  For safety (and fun), no one went trick-or-treating alone.  But the number in the group, along with the type of costume needed to be considered.  A large disorganized group allowed for occasional double dipping, but could also result in team members being overlooked.  If costumes were too threatening, the homeowner would want to be done with the transaction quicker.  Small talk or gimmicks (singing or other performance) were worthwhile at places with high value candy. 
The trick-or-treating business did not end once we returned back home. 

Gross Profit:  Candy was counted and sorted.  Any open candy was tossed, naturally. 
Then negotiations began.
Supply and Demand:  Fortunately, my sister and I had differing tastes in candy.   She preferred tart and powdery whereas I preferred chocolate with something (Butterfingers, Krackles, $100,000 Bars) and caramel (Milk Duds, Sugar Daddies, and caramel squares). Some items were an equal exchange -  Bit O’Honey for Pixi Stix.  And then there were the disposables – Specials, Neccos, and 3 Musketeers.  Depending on the trend, there might be more tart than chocolate, potentially giving my sister the advantage.
Pricing:  While tart wasn’t my favorite flavor, was I willing to sacrifice quantity for quality?  Mid-value candy (butterscotch, Jolly Ranchers, plain milk chocolate and lollypops) gave a little more flexibility.  Full size candy bars and Dip Sticks were gold. 
Taxes:  As with the monetary world, a portion of the Halloween booty went to the governing forces.  My dad didn’t have a sweet tooth, but my mother had some favorites.  At the time, since neither my sister nor I liked dark chocolate, all the Specials would go to my mother.  She could have the 3 Musketeers as well.  However, sometimes those didn’t suffice and taxes were raised.  My mother would ask for our Snickers.  My sister didn’t mind, but I liked caramel, so it became an issue of negotiating Mr. Goodbars and Baby Ruths, again decreasing quantity, but increasing quality.
Budgeting:  My mother rarely bought candy and when she did, it was usually a box of See’s.  My sister and I were allowed to keep our candy, eating as much or as little as we pleased whenever we liked (although, there was The Great Disaster when our dachshund found my stash and devoured all but a single Tootsie Roll that bore a piercing the diameter of his tooth).  It was considered a high achievement to still have candy when Thanksgiving arrived, and it never tasted sweeter than when the other sibling had squandered their portion. 

Disposable Goods:  My sister and I got so good at “budgeting,” that some candy turned sticky and gooey before we could finish it.  We learned which candies kept (bubble gum) and which went “bad”(hard candy) and organized our consumption to accommodate expiration dates.
I took economics again in college, dreading the moment.  However, my professor used a variety of illustrations, including a Broadway musical song, to explain terms and concepts.  I didn’t fall asleep and surprisingly, I had the highest grade in the class.  Sweet.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Despite being a native Angeleno, I’m not enthralled with cars or driving. I wasn’t eager to get my driver’s license; I didn’t beg to get a car; I rarely volunteer to drive the carpool, and I don’t know where the drive-thru fast food places are. Because I like to observe, I much prefer public transport, or, better yet, safety and comfy shoes permitting, walking.  While driving, one is required to be vigilant rather than observant, but I tend to slide from the former into the latter, which isn’t safe and I realize that.

It doesn’t matter so much if I’m caught in traffic on the 405.  Being vigilant, I notice the driver to my right is shaving with an electric razor.  But then I observe how he shakes out the razor and start wondering if his car is coated with a fine prickly silver dust of razor stubble and if so, how thick is it?  It’s kind of gross, but how much grosser than, say, dog hair, which isn’t as prickly but probably stinks a little and - -


I dutifully pull up the half car length that appeared during my observation/wonderings.

And then I become aware that the driver to my left is reading a book, and of course I start wondering what kind of book he could be reading.  It must be pretty intriguing since he can’t put it down long enough to drive where he’s going.   At least I’m not reading, and I feel a little better about myself, but he’s so interested in the book that I’m a little jealous.  Maybe he’s reading an assignment, but he’s too old to be a student.  No, that’s stereotyping.  He could be a  - -


I’m careful as I nudge my way forward because the driver in front of me is applying make-up.  She’s curling her eyelashes and I have to wonder if she’s ever been startled and accidentally pinched off her lashes.  Then she applies mascara and I obsess about rear ending her because just a little bump could cause her to jab her eye and I think if I bumped her just a tiny bit, that would teach her a lesson about how dangerous that is.  But then I imagine her eye on a mascara wand looking something like a Halloween Charm Pop and that freaks me out.  What would she do and how would the other drivers around her act, because for sure they’d notice a woman with an “eyeball pop,” wouldn’t they?


My family is aware of my tendencies.  Safety and practicality were always top priority.

The first car I drove was the family’s silver station wagon, a 1968 Chevy Impala.  

“It’s heavy and safe,” my mother declared.

It was a behemoth of steel.  Once, while my sister and I slept soundly in the far back, we awoke to a thump and the sound of breaking glass.  We’d been rear-ended. My father cursed, stomped on the parking brake, and went out to inspect the damage.  It was raining and my sister and I, hands and noses flattened against the back window, strained to see into the watery night. The other car had broken headlights and a drooping front bumper.  My dad grumbled something, got back in the car and we drove off.  The next morning, I hurried out to see the damage to our car, hoping it would enhance the tale of Our Car Crash.  But the effect was lost when I saw that the only damage sustained was the tiny bent step, a palm-sized, rubber topped protrusion.  My sister made the first and only dent in the car 11 years later, when she took out the cement block wall in the high school senior parking lot.

My next car was also “safe and reliable,” a Honda Accord that my parents purchased from a family friend the year before I graduated college. The only thrill about it was that it was a stick shift.  My sister eagerly taught me how to drive it.  Oddly, it was my future husband who had taught her how to drive stick.  I brought the car with me to Baton Rouge, where it was totaled on a rainy day when, ironically, I was rear ended.  However, I had run into the car in front of me first while sharing my observations with my passengers (who weren’t harmed).

My mother made me promise to buy something “safe and reliable.” I did.  I drove that car to Washington, D.C. and then over the Chesapeake Bridge.  My vigilance slipped into the observation and I realized that at some point, between the “bridge” becoming a tunnel, there was water level.  I panicked.  What would happen if a big ship came by, creating a giant wake?  Wouldn’t the tunnels flood?  I pulled over in one of the observation areas, and my then boyfriend took over driving duties while I scanned the bay for giant ships and rolled down the windows, planning to get out of the car before the water in the tunnels peaked.

It wasn’t until I got tenure as a high school teacher, that I decided I would finally get a car that I wanted, one that I might actually enjoy driving.  I saw a convertible 1997 Toyota Celica. My husband slid in next to me and his head scrubbed the ceiling.  I pictured his bald spot getting larger with the chafing.

“If you like it, honey, get it.  It’s your car,” my husband said.

But I was already picturing him driving it.

There was a Mitsubishi Eclipse parked next to the Celica.  We tried that.  My husband’s head cleared. 

“Why would you go do something stupid like buy a convertible?  The roofs tear and leak in the rain,” my dad snorted.

“Because it’s fun,” I said, at least as “fun” as a mode of transportation could be. 

I like the car because it gives me some variety (top up or down?), and it’s pretty.  I thought that having a smaller car would make me more vigilant, but it doesn’t.  My husband was afraid to drive it since we wouldn’t be able to afford the insurance if he got a speeding ticket.  The car doesn’t have many miles on it, considering its age.

When the Eclipse started rattling, my husband said it was time for something new.  I’ve kept the car for 12 years partially because it meant no car payments, but also because I didn’t see what difference a newer car would make.  But he was right.  We needed something that would allow us to transport the dogs.  I’ve never liked SUVs, so that left “cross-overs” or station wagons.  I checked out the Prius V.  It wasn’t stylish but it was reliable and safe.  But the gadgetry concerned me.  Would my exterior observations be drawn into the interior?  Then I saw the gas mileage:  42 miles to the gallon compared to 24.  Sold.

It’s just dawned on me.  I’m back to a silver station wagon.

“Let’s take your car, honey,” my husband said as we prepared for a weekend trip.

“Sure, but you drive,” I said.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Turnabout is Fair Play

Read about Kristina Wojtaszek's inspiration for "Cinder" here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Heeeeeere!

Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales has arrived in the virtual world!  Kindle users click here.   Paperback version gets released tomorrow for all you bibliophiliacs!

Find out if it is "Safe Upon the Shore!"

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Body of Evidence

“You’re a happy eater and a sad eater.  That’s not good.” 
-          A friend

Let me clarify, my friend wasn’t speaking to me, but she could’ve been and in my case she could’ve added “stress-eater,” “celebratory eater,” and gourmande.  Food and I have a love-hate thing.  No, it’s more like food “just isn’t that into me.”  Although, it is way into me, especially around my belly - a good couple of few inches thick at that.  And so, it’s on to The Salad Days.

I hate salad.

O.k., not really.  Plenty of people have witnessed me ordering a salad and eating it with a fair amount of pleasure. There are even some salads that I crave (gasp!) – the salad niçoise at the now gone Left Bank for example or the seafood cobb salad at Marmalade Café (sans bacon).   So, it’s not salad itself that I hate, but what the Salad Days represent: penance, order, rationality.

The irony isn’t lost on me. Perhaps it’s another sign of our times that the very phrase that has historically meant a time of abundance and wild abandonment has come to mean a period of asceticism and temperance.  How is it that fresh and nutritionally rich food is considered a penance?  How is it that I scoff at this permitted unlimited indulgence, which rewards me with better health and appearance?

The penance isn’t so much because I’ve gained weight, although that is a problem since even my “fat clothes” are getting a bit snug.  If I’d over-indulged in martinis and raw oysters, white chocolate macadamia nut cheesecake, Irish mussels, or lobster boils, that would be fine.  I love those foods.  But I can’t remember what I’ve been scarfing down for the past few months, and that for me is the bigger problem.

I’m not a control freak, because if I were, I wouldn’t be in this situation.  And I’m not completely out of control, because if I were my situation wouldn’t matter.  My problem is that I want to be a control freak but it, or rather I, go pear shaped and now I’m trying to run damage control.  Welcome to the mind of a bulimic.

Bulimia isn’t just gorging and purging. Bulimics don’t eat everything anywhere, that would be pica and in the eating disorder hierarchy, people with pica are the bottom rung.  For the record, anorexics are the top wrung, ethereal creatures that have complete control over the basics of life.  They’ve got attitudes.  They mock those of us on the lower rungs. They keep to their delusions.  They don’t waiver between the two worlds.  

Bulimics blur the line of rationality.  They think each step of the process through, but not all at once.  They know the laws of association – that eating certain foods recreates emotional memories.  Like the first puff of a cigarette, the first bite triggers emotional memory, but then it disappears and that pleasure of the first bite is followed by a neutral second, third, fourth, five thousandth bite.  Then it’s time to chase the emotional fulfillment with the next food that has a similar association.  And then the next.

The problem arises when, unlike alcoholic drunkenness, “sobriety” returns instantaneously.  It’s like having the cheesecake goggles ripped off my face, knowing that “magic food” is not the solution to the problem.  Then damage control kicks in:  the purge. There’s actually two kinds of  purges:  the kind to alleviate gastric pressure – which happens while still on a glassy-eyed bender and then the second, which is a pathetic attempt to undo what’s been done – not the consumption of calories so much as an attempt to turn the clock back to rationality.  It’s part of denial.  We don’t want anyone to know that we’re subject to bouts of irrational thinking and we’ll go to great lengths to hide it.

Claims of “chapped hands” explain teeth chaffed knuckles, excessive love of citrus explains acid erosion of gums and teeth.  Mouthwash and perfume hide the scent of vomit, but when barf spatters force a change clothes or worse, the need to wash one’s hair, there is panic.  Showering after a meal and changing clothes raises questions.   People will know about those Lost Hours. “Pure” bulimics (as opposed to anorexic-bulimics) tend to be overweight. The shame of the weight is not so much body image as the fashion magazines and feminists would like us to believe.  Excess weight is seen as the record of how many moments of irrationality we’ve experienced over a period of time.

Several years ago, I thought I’d take the bulimia by the horns.  I realized that no matter how much salad I ate, I could lose weight.  I looked great.  I had more energy.  I started doing things I enjoyed again like writing, dancing, and going to concerts.  With such good memories, I was hoping that salad would become my “go to” comfort food.

It’s not.  Long running habits are difficult to break, especially when my comfort foods factor so strongly in society’s moments of celebration and conviviality.  This only reinforces their emotional connection for me.

I don’t purge anymore. The damage it poses to my health are worse than the shame of irrational food consumption.  Besides, I have many irrational behaviors, so what difference does one more make? 

The Salad Days are here.  It’s time to embrace them.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble

Murder most foul... or crustacean, in this case
It’s been a difficult few months.  My husband suffered the brunt of what has happened. I’ve only been support.  So, when my birthday arrived, my husband gave me a look of exhaustion and futility.

“No worries,” I assured him. 

Even so, having a birthday is a perfect excuse for a celebration, an invitation to luxuriate in happiness with those around us.  And we needed to celebrate, not for me, but to remind ourselves that life goes on.

“Hey, I have a crazy idea,” I said, calling him from the downtown parking lot.

 “Uh-huh,” he replied warily, knowing few of my ideas aren’t crazy.

“What if we have lobster for dinner?”

“Lobster?” There’s a hint of despair in his voice and I suspect he’s checking his wallet.

“Not going out,” I assure him.  “What if we cook it?  The live ones at the Asian market weren’t that expensive ….”

There’s a long pause from both of us.  It’s understood.

“O.k.,” he says, tacitly agreeing to the unspeakable.

I go to the market.  The tank is over-crowded, stress inducing, intolerable.  I finger which lobsters will be “freed.”    I carry them to the car and debate whether I should put them in the trunk or the cabin with me.  I opt for the cabin since it has air conditioning but as I drive home, I imagine them tearing their way out, charging me, claws snapping as I swerve into oncoming traffic.

 “Where are they?” my husband asks, lowering his voice and looking around the kitchen after I arrive.

“In the fridge,” I say.

We exchange looks. 

If it were done when t’is done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly.

I hurry to my computer to look up how to cook lobster.  I know they should be boiled or steamed.  But, what I’m really looking for isn’t cooking time, but dying time.  When I was a child, my mother bought live crabs from the wharf, thinking it would be cheaper to cook them at home.  I remember the horror of hearing the crabs hit the top of the pot, the lid popping off as they tried to climb out, my mother panicking as my dad cursed and grabbed the crabs, throwing them back into the pot and holding the lid down as they shrieked.  He assured me it was just steam escaping their shells.

The Lobster Institute must encounter many people similar to me, although their responses are a bit elusive.  When asked “Do lobsters feel pain?” they equate their neurological system to that of insects.  A crafty move.  I don’t consider pain when I squash invading spiders or fleas.  But when asked specifically about the “movement of lobsters in a boiling pot,” they say that it is “a reflex action to any sudden stimulus.”   A reflex which continues for over a minute?  While a lobster can’t “process pain,” it can feel it and its reflex action is to get the #$%^ out of the situation.

Boiling appears to be the “fastest” death, although what is done before putting the lobsters into the pot makes all the difference.  “Hypnosis” actually doubles the time it takes for the lobster to die.  Slow heating in salt water also increases the amount of “activity.”  However, chilling the lobsters (putting them on ice or in the freezer) not only delays the reaction to pain, but by the time they feel it, they’re almost dead.

I inform my husband.  He rushes to the freezer and makes space.  We put the lobster into it.  I make martinis.

I prepare the water and set it to boil.  I make a salad; chop up potatoes and corn to add to the pot.  My husband paces, glancing at the pot through the glass lid.

“Is it time?” he asks.

The water is at a rolling boil.


He opens the freezer and rips open the bags.

“Wait,” I say, “let me get the camera.”

He’s appalled.

Out, out, damned spot.  Darn, I think it's butter.
I film him putting in the first lobster and stop filming so that I can put mine in, but before I can do it, he puts the other one in and shuts the lid.  He glances at me, then stares at back at the pot, holding his breath.

There’s not a sound.

He heaves a sigh of relief.

“I have done the deed.”

 All hail, Thane of Concord.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Power Tools

Weekend warriors grab your palm sander!
 I get a thrill out of using power tools.  It seems cliché, but it’s only been in the last ten years or so that women have really embraced getting involved with the more “heavy” home improvement projects and my age group was at the tip of this wave.  It’s not the tool so much as the power it implies.

With women regularly seen in the military, sports, as anchorwomen, doctors and lawyers, we forget that this has all happened in recent history, within two generations.  Although the Women’s Liberation movement was in the 60s, my mother and the mothers of my friends rarely had a career before they got married and less so afterwards.  Despite this, our mothers were the first generation to experience divorce with increasing regularity.  If they themselves weren’t suddenly single, they certainly knew people who were.

While divorcees were pushed into low paying jobs and working long hours, our mothers sought to arm us with education, skills and the confidence to stand on our own, carve our place in the world and survive, or better yet, thrive without needing a man.  The thing is, they weren’t entirely sure how to do it. 

I remember a light in one of the ceiling fixtures blowing out and my mom sucking her teeth and saying, “Daddy will have to fix that when he comes home.”

I’m not sure if my father had to do it because changing a light bulb was considered a man’s job, because of my mom’s diminutive height (she is only five feet even), or because of the inconvenience of having to go into the garage to lug the ladder into the house.  Still, it angered me that we’d have to wait helpless in dimness for someone to do something that couldn’t possibly be more difficult than changing a light bulb in a lamp. 

So, I did it.

Not a huge feat, but I felt a small sense of victory while ignoring my mom’s cries to not electrocute myself.

Another time my mother returned from coffee with another mother.  My mother’s eyes were bright, “Mrs. S showed me her garage.  There were all kinds of big saws and tools.  I told her, ‘You’re lucky to have such a handy husband.’  Do you know what she said to me?”

My sister and I shook our heads.

“She said, ‘Those are my tools.’”  A smile of admiration and wonder spread across my mother’s face.

She told us how Mrs. S built a doll house to Barbie scale and furnished, painted, and tiled it as well.  And then she worked on her own house.

My mother was in awe.

Entry into the “boy’s world” was seen as the key to independence and security.  Almost all the girls joined a soccer team.  We didn’t all stay, but we got a taste of a contact sport.  Unfortunately for me, most of the contact was with the ball to my face.  “Tom Boy,” a formerly derogatory term for lesbians, suddenly became a badge of honor. Girls started playing all variety of sports, excelling in math and science, and swearing like sailors.  They took auto and wood shop classes.

One of my closest friends is the boy I grew up with from across the street.  Together we learned how to build a tree house, a go cart, and an aviary.  I learned the names and how to use a variety of tools, and because my friend’s father was an engineer, he was able to explain the whys and wherefores of how things worked and ought to be built.

And then one day, my mom saw me using a jig saw.

There was a mix of pride and horror in her face.  “Stop that!  You’ll cut off a finger!”

“I’ll have nine more,” I argued in snarky adolescence.

“You can’t be a pianist and brain surgeon with only nine fingers,” my mother retorted.

To which my friend, despite his best efforts at suppression, snickered and started to laugh uncontrollably.

I know the laughter was meant for my mother’s ridiculous fantasy of my future, but in it I also heard the soft click of a door closing between the male and female world.

I think that independence frightened some of our mothers.  To quote Rocky Horror, “we tasted blood and wanted more, more, more.”  While they wanted us to have prosperous careers as doctors, lawyers, or computer programmers, they didn’t expect us to question other female stereotypes. 

The past had Nora Helmer, Marlo Thomas, Mary Tyler Moore, and Golda Meier.  The 80s kicked ass. We were Madonna and Annie Lennox, Ellen Rip1ey and Sarah Connor, women who had guns and “guns.” Connie Chung and Tricia Toyota became anchor women.  Bitch was a compliment and never paired with “my.”

We weren’t afraid to live on our own or travel alone to foreign lands.  We moved to different cities, states, or even countries not to follow someone, but because we wanted to explore something different.

The finished project.
While starting my own business, I felt frazzled and insecure.  I figured part of it was due to the disarray of my “office.”  I decided to put in built in bookshelves and cabinets to help organize the chaos.

“We can’t afford to hire anyone,” my husband reminded me.

“I’ll do it,” I said.

I am woman.  Hear me drill.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good-bye, Kitty

The cat's away. What shall we play?
Let me first make clear that I love my husband. He’s witty, intelligent, and easy on the eyes.  He helps with housework, tolerates and, at times even encourages, my idiosyncrasies, and loves the dogs.  He is excellent company and a wonderful companion.

Still ….

When familial or work duty calls for him to be out of town, I feel a slight thrill.  While the cat’s away, the mouse shall play.  The house will be mine.  All mine.  Mwahaha.

Like an adolescent who discovers her parents are leaving her behind on a long weekend, I start crafting devious ideas.  Grand Plans.  It’s not like I’m planning a raid on the liquor cabinet or advertising “Party at My Place!” on Facebook … although I suppose in a middle-aged way, I am.  I have visions of inviting my girlfriends over for a slumber party where we revel in martinis, cheesecake, and period piece movies with men in boots and breeches and the next morning we’ll go out for brunch or stuff our faces with Entemann’s cheese-filled coffee cake.  Woohoo.

Yes, I dream big.

But that’s not quite how it pans out.

First off, it’s just too much work. I’d have to clean the house twice (once before the guests and again afterwards).  And where would everyone sleep?  My friends are beyond the sleeping bag on the floor days, not to mention the almost impossible to remove film of dog hair and questionable stains on the living room carpet.  There is the couch and the bed, but is it appropriate to ask friends to double up?  Then there’s the matter of which t.v. to use.  My office is too small with very little seating and my husband’s office, with its full-sized couch, has the t.v. awkwardly placed for group viewing.  I suppose we could all gather on the bed upstairs, although that’s a little too Valley of the Dolls for me.

So, party of one it is. 

I plan a menu of all the foods I love but my husband dislikes: smoked salmon, dressed up ramen noodles, arugula.  I intend to get a slice of cheesecake for dessert, but I usually wind up with white cake. I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s the frosting, although I’m not particularly fond of frosting.  It’s probably the vibrant colors.  Sometimes, I’ll get Mango Lemonade to mix with vodka for pre-dinner cocktails but I usually forget about it until long after dinner, and by then it’s too late for an aperitif.

I can’t remember how to get the dvd player to work on my husband’s office, and the one time that I did, I couldn’t remember the code to get into the Amazon Prime streaming account.  That leaves watching one of the boots and breeches dvds that I own or checking out the free movies On Demand.  

Sadly, even those plans fall through.

I usually wind up on my computer, writing and taking occasional jaunts onto YouTube to find obscure 80s music videos, to which I dance and sing loudly, which scares one dog but encourages the other to join in the fun. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a movie that’s been broken up into ten fifteen minute sections, which is becoming a rarity since YouTube has been cracking down on copyright violations.

I usually clean the house, playing swing music or musicals on the stereo, which is silly since I can’t hear it over the whine of the vacuum cleaner or when I leave the living room.  But it’s being able to do so that counts.  I’ll do “major laundry” which means I’ll throw the slip covers into the wash.

Truth be told, I don’t do anything that differently from when my husband is home.  But there’s a definite luxury in not having to ask what someone else wants to have for dinner, working on my own schedule, and not bothering to tone down my more annoying habits.  I leave the bathroom door open when I’m using it, which is important since the dogs feel compelled to check-in on me, something they don’t do when my husband is home.  Maybe that’s how they interpret my husband’s request that they “take care of the mommy.”  If so, I have very responsible dogs who take their job seriously.

Of course, there are times when I leave town and my husband will be left alone.

“What are you going to do while I’m away?” I’ll ask.

He frowns and shrugs.  “Enjoy a little peace and quiet,” he says with a wry smile.

“Don’t you want to hang out with your friends?”

“Sounds good,” he admits.  “Maybe I’ll catch a disaster film on t.v. … Nah, I’ll probably just sleep.”

I’m pretty sure he will.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Person of Color

Making the rainbow connection.
 Just say it.  It’s only two words.

“Swiss Coffee,” I say, trying not to sound morose or resigned.

Swiss Coffee sounds like the canned sugary instant beverage that came out in the eighties, but it’s not.  It’s a paint color.  A bland, commercial paint color only mildly less dull than Navajo White, which is like saying it’s Hellman’s rather than Best Food’s mayonnaise. 

Our tenants moved out of our house and, after seven years, it needs a bit of freshening up before the next tenants can move into it.  The thing is, because the previous tenants were family and it was a quick switch as we moved up North, the colors were the ones I’d originally selected when we first moved into the house. 

I use “colors” loosely, but I don’t really know another term to express the situation.

Let’s start from the beginning:

I blame my mother.  That’s how it always starts, isn’t it?  Despite my mother’s dreams of me becoming a concert pianist/brain surgeon, she encouraged creativity.  During rainy days or moments of “boredom,” my mother would challenge my sister’s and my artistic visions.  She’d put on music and ask us to draw what it made us feel like.  She’d cut open brown bags and have us draw on them, sometimes together, sometimes on our own.  She gave us round pieces of paper or other odd shapes so that we’d learn how to organize space.

So, when I grumbled about the dullness of my room, my mother suggested that I paint a mural on the wall.  I was giddy with the idea.  I sketched out horses in a pasture with a hill and trees.  I painted them with acrylic paints.  I was pleased.

"Why did you make them so small?” my mother asked.

The painting was more like a frieze than a mural. Still, I liked what I’d painted and didn’t want to cover it to re-do it, although I liked the idea of doing something life-size.  When my dad cleaned out the garage, I painted a saloon scene that took up the entire wall.  It was primarily figures and the bar.  It still didn’t fill the space.

I repainted my bedroom, this time blue, a royal blue so bright that it radiated into the hallway and my mother asked me to keep my door shut to contain it.  I liked the glow.  It reminded me of television light.  When I left for college, my mother put up wallpaper on one wall.  She’s a huge fan of wallpaper.  But when she painted the other walls, she painted them a soft green, rather than white, a huge difference for her.  I like to think I inspired her. 

Several years later, I moved into half a duplex with my then boyfriend.   There was peeling grass weave wallpaper on the bathroom walls.  My rabbit chewed on the frayed edges.  I removed the wallpaper and decided to try a faux finish, which was just starting to become trendy.  I did a golden yellow for a fresco look.  And, as with every fresco, there should be angels, so I painted them as well.  When I gave notice, the landlord made a remark about the angels.  I informed him that I’d painted over them in a pale blue, but he kept my deposit anyway.

My husband started out as a “white walls” guy, but the townhouse he bought had every wall covered with blue, orange, and/or peach eighties wallpaper.  The highlight was the second master bedroom with a paper of  blue, green, and orange paint spatters.  I removed the paper, but because of the damage done to the walls, a French wash was a necessity.  I did a combination of moss greens.  He liked it.  Then I painted the tiny washroom downstairs a deep jade green.  Once the mirror and artwork were in place, he liked that as well.  Then I painted vines in the kitchen, “hiding” mice and bugs among the leaves.  The living/dining area became honey brown, which naturally requires a swarm of gold bees.

When we decided to sell, I’d watched enough HGTV to know I had to “vanilla” everything.  We hired a painter who made everything Swiss Coffee.  It didn’t bother me at that time, probably because I was ready to move on to another house, one with a yard for the Uber Hund.

Black lacquer and gold ginko leaves
have no place in a vanilla world.
The house we bought, the one that later housed the tenants, was a 50s modern and we both fell in love with it.  I saw an Asian theme. I painted the trim black in imitation of shoji screens.  The living area I painted to resemble, ironically, grass weave wall paper.  The bedroom looked like gold leaf, the bathroom glowed with a metallic mix, and the kitchen got black and white stripes with red washed cabinets.  It became a Tony Duquette japonais fantasy.

And then we moved again.

While I wanted to move to the Bay Area, I couldn’t bear to part with the Southern California house.  I loved the openness of the house, how it overlooked the Japanese garden I’d created, the quirkiness of my paintings.  It had become extremely personalized.

Perhaps that’s why I’m reticent about making this house “vanilla.” I’m still attached to it.  It’s still “ours.”  My sister suggested a compromise, “Decorator’s White,” the current “hot” neutral in the design world.  While it was neutral and “white,” it was too austere. I needed something warm, familiar, comforting and sweet.  Something that anyone could enjoy.

I needed Swiss Coffee.  So, maybe it isn’t so different from the instant beverage.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cutting the Cord

"Where are they?"
Like many people, my husband and I are looking for ways to cut back on expenses.  One of the luxuries we’ve been examining is the cable bill.  What started out as a “reasonable” price has ballooned into ludicrous amounts, inching its way up like a kudzu vine.  So, when my husband asked what I thought about it, I cried out, “Cut it!”

He looked at me, frowned, blinked a few times and shook his head.  Yes, I am the very same woman who upon waking and heading downstairs, beelines to the t.v., turning it on even before starting the coffee.  The same woman who turns on the t.v. upon entering an empty room. The same woman who sets the sleep timer on the t.v. so that it’s the last sound she hears.

And now, without a moment’s hesitation, I’ve told my husband to cut it.

It’s like a junkie telling their supplier they’re done.

O.k., not quite.  I didn’t tell him to toss the t.v., I just said to get rid of cable.  But really, what is there on “regular” t.v.?

On the other hand, what is there on cable?

Oddly, there aren’t many shows that I feel compelled to watch.  I like Grimm, but I’m not shattered if I miss an episode.  The shows in which I do have any sort of “dedicated interest” tend to be “short term” – shows that run maybe a dozen weeks, and then finish.  Project Runway and Downton Abbey were my recent shows.  I used to watch Top Chef and Dancing with the Stars, but I didn’t like the drama on Top Chef and Kate Goslin bores me so I quit both shows.

Then, what the heck am I watching all those many hours that the television is on?  Frankly, I haven’t the faintest idea.  Most of the time it’s just on for noise.  Granted, in the morning it’s the news.  Not serious news.  I don’t want to be smacked in the face with a sledgehammer first thing in the morning.  There’s something lulling about hearing, “Lindsey Lohan blah, blah, blah and in other news, yet another suicide bomber has destroyed a school that also served as a home for invalids, nursery, and animal shelter, killing dozens of women, children, disabled people, infants, elderly, and several kittens and puppies. Oh, how sad.  But now, pastel jeans.  Are they the new black?”   If there’s something that’s caught my interest, I’ll either look for more information online or I’ll turn on NPR.

Even when I actually want to watch t.v., I spend more time looking for something to watch than actually watching anything.  Ninety percent of the time, I end up watching one of the Law and Order shows, just because it’s the lesser of the many evils and that Dick Wolf is a clever monkey with all his ridiculous twist and turns of plot. I used to resort to HGTV until it became the House Hunters channel.  The Food Network is turning into the Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives channel, which isn’t awful, but does make me hungry for something drippy and greasy.  Whether I’m channel surfing 30 channels or 200 channels, it doesn’t make much difference, even if I throw in free On Demand.

In addition, what I’ve discovered - and indeed I know I’m quite late to this “discovery” - is that pretty much any show I want to watch is usually available online.  To my great horror, I watched the entire first two seasons of the BBC version of Being Human in two sittings.  Yes, I know.  What a time suck – especially considering how this season started. I also watched 2 full seasons of the BBC version of Shameless (quite good, and not just because that little biscuit James McAvoy is in it), both seasons of Downton Abbey (which I started watching on t.v., but then grew impatient), missed episodes of Dancing with the Stars (when I was still watching it), and movies and documentaries galore.  Whew.

There’s also our dvd players which can stream YouTube, Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, and Netflix, although I really can’t go back to Netflix after the snarky letter I wrote when they doubled their prices even after they’d lost streaming rights to Sony productions.   And there’s pay-per-view, of course.

So, my enthusiastic call for dumping cable really isn’t that big of a sacrifice.  We’ll be reduced to channels 1-30, meaning I can still watch the “news” and public television, but will have to watch everything else online, which is fine because the t.v. is behind me when I work at the computer and I’m getting neck and shoulder pains from twisting.

This just in:  it looks like our cable has been granted a reprieve.  With all the trading and bargaining for internet access, phone lines, security systems, and cable television, my husband has negotiated a price that will allow us to keep channels one to 100.  HGTV, TNT, Food Network, USA and History Channel live.

I have to say I’m a little disappointed.  I was looking forward to bragging about a life without cable.  Sure, I can choose not to watch t.v., but now I figure if we’re paying for it, I should watch it. 
Hm.  E! channel. Ice Loves Coco.  Surprisingly, not as awful as one might imagine ….

Monday, April 30, 2012

Picture This

Having a GREAT hair day in Dublin!
After a friend posted gorgeous photographs from her trip to Alaska, she stated that she was eager to see my photographs of our recent trip to Dublin.  The thing is, there’s only about a dozen or so, and that includes the photos of a bound pork leg and wax figures of Bob Geldof and Liam Neesom, pictures that serve no purpose except for momentary amusement.  I’m awful about taking pictures.  I generally don’t like being in photographs but I’m also bad about recording events with photography. 

It’s not that I don’t want to remember moments or locations, but at the times when I should be “preserving the moment,” I’m usually so wrapped up in participating that I forget.  For example, while we visited the Dead Zoo (an excellent name for the Dublin Natural History museum), there were various scientists posted throughout the museum offering hands on displays.  One scientist brought giant bugs.  While I wasn’t about to hold the tarantula, I did hold the giant millipede.  Later, it occurred to me that people usually photograph moments like that.  I’m not sure if it’s to celebrate bravery or just to preserve an encounter with a rare creature.  Of course, it was too late at that point.  Still, I’m not likely to forget the sensation of a foot long creature’s hundreds of legs creeping along my hands and arms.  But later, I photographed a shop display of meerkat figurines dressed in various costumes.  They weren’t even taxidermied meerkats, but they were cute.

Generally, there are three items I deem photo-worthy:  architecture, plants, and animals.  People rarely make an intentional appearance.  My husband only appears in one photograph from our trip.  I don’t appear in any.  There is, however, a photograph of a knife and fork burnt into a tabletop at Avoca, something I thought would be an interesting idea should I decide to re-do our kitchen in Irish country chic.  There’s also a photograph of the front counter for the same reason.  Somewhere, there’s a similar photo of Balthazar’s counter in New York, also as inspiration should I ever get around to redoing our kitchen.  But there aren’t any pictures of us on any of our New York visits, although I’m pretty sure I was there.

Another reason why I don’t take many photographs is that I don’t know what to do with them afterwards.  I’m not big on hanging personal photographs on the wall.  I have some photo albums, but the last time I organized my photos in an album was for our first trip to Ireland 15 years ago.    Even with digital technology, out of roughly 200 photos, I’ve only bothered to print maybe 10 images and of those, only perhaps 5 are framed, three of which were from my sister’s wedding.

I do like photographs, per se.  I post a photograph almost daily on my private FaceBook page that I call “Beauty of the Day,” which mostly consists of flowers and leaves that I encounter while walking my dogs, some of which appear in the Gallery portion of this blog.  I view my photographs as a form of artistic expression, like painting or music rather than a way to record a memory.  And then there are the occasional forays into “photo as proof,” as if Photoshop doesn’t exist.  But I’ve pretty much given up on photos of a personal nature.  Even photos with friends.  I’m incredibly un-photogenic.  Back in the day when one actually had still photos taken of their wedding, my sister raved about our photographer because he was able to get at least a few photos with my mouth shut and both of my eyes open.  In group photos, I’ve taken to positioning myself on the ends so that I’m easily cropped out, thereby preserving the moment and esthetic appeal for the rest of the group.  Thank goodness for video still shots.  That’s how I manage the self-portraits taken for this blog.  I film five or ten minutes of footage, and no joking, I go through it frame by frame to get what appears “in print” – and sometimes things don’t appear, which are the entries without portraits.

I think part of the reason why many people take photographs is to share them with the next generation, to prove to them that indeed we were young at one point and led a rather interesting life pre-parenthood.  It’s one of the things we missed with my mother.  Her family destroyed their family photos because they feared repercussions during World War II, so I’ve never seen my mother as a child.  The oldest photo we have of her was taken in her 20s, when she was a model, and she looked hot.  But when she regales tales of her childhood, I can only imagine what she and the places looked like.  My nephews and nieces have grown up seeing photographs of their parents at all ages and laugh about their fashion choices and how they’ve lived their lives.  But my husband and I don’t have children so photographic documentation is mostly for our own amusement and nostalgia, and even so, we never look through old photo albums together.
Meerkats in Dublin - at least they're not as creepy
 as the tea party kittens in Potter's Museum of Curiosities.

Still, I’ve one upped an idea from Nicholas Sparks’ sappy story, The Notebook.  I’ve started putting together scrapbooks of pretty pictures cut out from magazines and postcards.  I figure, if I ever get Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia, my husband or maybe even my nieces and nephews could just grab one of those scrapbooks as fits their fancy for the day.  We can flip through the pages together in the convalescent home and they can tell me about my life as one of King Henry VIII’s wives, or how I lived as a courtesan in the demimonde of 19th Century Paris.  I also have one as a noted member of The Algonquin Table.  How would I know the difference?  It certainly would make for an intriguing past, and no one would have to worry about getting the story “right,” not to mention the pictures are lovely.  Why not? Over time our memories of the origins of actual photos fade anyway, and frankly a picture of the Tower of London, where I awaited my execution makes much more sense than a photo of a meerkat figurine display in Dublin shop.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bag of Illusions

Travel is a great way to tweak first and only impressions.
“I’m going to Ireland for work,” my husband announces.

I can’t help it.  My lower lip automatically protrudes and I glower.

You don’t even like Guinness or Smithwicks, or steamed mussels or jigs or - -

“Want to come along?” he asks.

I’m just about to scream “yes,” but then I realize I’m tight on cash and I have appointments.  My car needs some repair work and we don’t have a dog sitter who lives close by anymore.  Such is the price of modern married finances.  Separate is not equal – although it keeps spending arguments to a minimum.

My lip starts to quiver.

“I figure since it’s our 15 year anniversary, we can relive our honeymoon,” he continues.  “It can be our anniversary gift.”


My lip pops back in and the glower turns into a grin.  My husband laughs.

“I guess that means, ‘yes?’”


I find a dog sitter.

I pull up the old edition of what needs to be done, emergency contacts, and maps. Much has changed over the couple years since we last traveled together.  I’m adding, adjusting … and deleting.  My finger pauses, hovering over the delete button each time it’s something that relates to Uber Hund.  I feel guilty about erasing him, declaring him irrelevant. Is it foolish that I save the old copy?

I clean house like a madwoman.  Nothing makes me realize my lax cleaning habits more than having guests over, and having someone living in our house while we’re gone makes me even more aware.  I even vacuum the box springs.

I get the Euros.  I haven’t seen them before.  I spread them out and my husband and I study the various denominations.  We hold them up to the light, looking for “secret” watermarks.  We gripe about how dull our monochrome money is, despite the portraits getting their facelifts.  I still have Irish coin from when we went to Ireland for our honeymoon. I kept it in hopes we’d go back someday.  Who knew they’d completely change currency?  They’ll make nice charms.

Now the fun part.

I look up things to do in Dublin, make a list and add restaurants.  I probably won’t go to any of them, preferring to be inspired by serendipity, but it provides a good starting point.

And then, there’s the “travel wardrobe.”  My husband doesn’t understand, but I’m pretty sure most women do.  It’s like preparing for the first day of school. A fresh travel wardrobe is about making a good impression, putting a best foot forward, creating a fantasy.

“You’re not going to see these people again, in fact, you’re not even going to really be meeting anyone at all,” my husband says. 
There's more to Ireland than Guinness and craic.  At least,
that's what people tell me.

“True, but that makes it all the more important to make a good impression,” I say.

In a strange way, because I know I won’t be seeing any of these people again, a vacation wardrobe grants creative leeway in my sartorial selection.  Vacation attire (not to be confused with “resort wear”) allows me to project a fantasy image of who I would like to be during that time – someone who doesn’t have to worry about muddy paws, potential dog bites, and dog treat bags. 

I check the weather for Dublin.  Not surprisingly, it’s cold and rainy.

I opt for the spending-the-week-at-the-country-manor look:  sweaters, boots, my overcoat, scarves, tweed and cashmere.  I don’t want to scream tourist, but it’s not like I can blend with the native population any way.  Still, I’ve traveled enough to know that tennis shoes, especially white tennis shoes, baseball caps and shorts are typically American. I can also spot German tourists, especially male German tourists. 

“What you should do is pack really old stuff,” my husband says.  “That way you can throw it out after you’ve worn it so it you’ll have more room in your luggage for souvenirs on the way back.”

I stare at him.  It makes complete sense, but it’s a disturbing image.  Somehow, borderline homeless never figured into the wardrobe fantasy.

That’s really what vacation is about, isn’t it?  Fantasy?  It’s not just the clothing, but the lifestyle as well, staying in hotels, eating out, exploring, living a life of leisure.  In a way, vacations also give our imagination a break.  That’s what makes vacations magical.  They  make our dreams reality.
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