I'm Alicia Bien. Mr. Wonderful (aka my husband) and I are first time homeowners
California. Here are some of our adventures fixing up a house while living in it, parenting a baby,
coping with neighbors, and negotiating life in the married lane. Thanks for stopping by my sunny, funny blog!
"Your pool is looking good," my 86 year-old neighbor said taking down his U.S. flag for the day. "Thanks, Harold," I said shuffling toward The House after work. "I'm glad you kept the bricks around the pool." "Thanks--?" "But what're the extra bricks for?" Extra bricks?
I stopped in my tracks. Like most chlorine-loving, fish-wannabe people, our pool was located in our fenced-in, private backyard. So how did Harold know so much about our pool? Our backyard? Our lives? Did he jump the 6-foot fence and poke around when we were gone? Did he have X-ray vision? Was he a superhero in disguise?
I shared my disquiet over Harold's knowledge with Mr. Wonderful.
"He's bored so he takes an interest in us," my spouse said petting Jackson and sipping a glass of wine. "Plus he used to care for the pool when his parents-in-law lived in our House."
"That was 20 years ago," I said. "And doesn't explain how he knows what's going on with it now--!" Mr. Wonderful told me to relax as he filled my wine glass to the rim. Mr. Wonderful is persuasive. I drank, I relaxed.
The next day I had a vacation day from work. GLORIOUS! I waved good-bye to Mr. Wonderful as he went to the studio then I spent the morning working at home. In my pajamas. It was UBER GLORIOUS! After working out and showering I finally got dressed after 2 PM. I exited to the backyard to dump the recyclables in the blue bin when--behind me--I heard the worst sound: the door closed with a Click. The door was locked! I tried the doorknob. The lock was solid. I ran to the back door, front door, side door but everything was locked. I rushed to the kitty-door and pushed the flap in. There stood Jackson: my hero!
"Jackson, unlock the door," I pleaded, hope caressing my words. Jackson sat, lifted his leg--for a Bruce Lee karate chop?--then licked his toenails. One by one. Some hero.
I rushed to the guesthouse and tried all its doors, windows and ventilation venty vents. Everything was locked up like Fort Knox. Ugh! Why did we have to be so thorough?
I needed to get into the House. Maybe I could invite Mr. Wonderful home for a late lunch? I could call him… if I had a phone. Maybe our alarm system could help? I could call them… if I had a phone. Maybe I could call 911?… If I had a #$%^& phone!
That's when genius struck--granted genius avoids me at most points in my life but at this moment it hit me like a ton of bricks. A phone! I could call all these people if I borrowed Harold and Norma's phone!
I bounded over to the neighbors and rang the doorbell. Harold answered.
"We were wondering how long it would take you to come over."
"Norma said two hours. I said one." This was the creepiest thing Harold had said yet. Maybe I would be creeped out if I entered their creepy house?
"Come in, dear," Norma said with a smile appearing next to Harold. "Getting locked out is the worst."
How did he, she, they know?
Harold handed me the phone, I stepped into their living room and dialed Mr. Wonderful.
"Come home quick, I'm locked out and our neighbors are spies!"
"I'm in a meeting," he said explaining he couldn't come home for a late lunch, early dinner or four o'clock teatime. "You'll have to make do until tonight."
Reluctantly I returned to the spies' hangout--their family room. Norma got me a glass of water. I wanted to ask how they knew so much about us instead I sat across from them sipping water and making chitchat about the weather.
I set the empty glass on the kitchen counter and noticed they had a window over the sink. Looking out to see their view, I saw our backyard, our pool, our lives on display. Their house sat on a hillock putting it several feet above ours and those extra feet gave them a grand view over the shared fence into our place.
"So what are you doing without the extra bricks?" Harold asked standing next to me.
It's summertime, which means the living is easy, breezy and as sweet as cherry pie. Or Cherry Clafouti. A clafouti is a French dessert from the Limousin region made with black cherries or red ones, plums, prunes or apples. Whatever floats your clafouti, really. The fruit is spooned into the crust and over a flan type batter and sprinkled with powered sugar on top.
This weekend I'm not working on the house, the garden or debating with the neighbors. It's summertime, the living is lazy and I'm eating cherry clafouti. Oui!
"Where's Jackson?" Mr. Wonderful said pausing the TV show he was watching.
"Sleeping," I said sitting on the sofa.
"What'd he do all day?"
"What'll he do tonight?"
"Why do we have a cat?"
I had to confess, Mr. Wonderful raised some excellent points about the creature that lived in our house. I couldn't call Jackson a "pet" because a pet implied that you showered attention on that thing and that thing reciprocated you with love and affection. Even though we showered him with chicken, beef and more brushing than a Vidal Sassoon hair salon he still preferred sleeping. So Jackson wasn't a pet but a snoring fur ball that left unlimited cat hair--everywhere--in his wake.
Jackson was sleeping at the time but I only knew that because I saw him sleeping on my favorite piece of furniture and thought--more hair on my armchair! But maybe I had this all wrong. Perhaps Jackson slept when we were around because he felt safe in our presence? Or perhaps he only slept when we were around because he thought we should sleep more? Or perhaps--just perhaps--he slept so much because when we were away this cat did play. A lot.
Imagine: Mr. Wonderful and I get breakfast, get into our cars and get to work and the moment we lock the front door, Jackson awakes. He starts his day with stretches and kibbles then scampers into the sunshine through the doggie dog. He surveys the backyard to make sure it's squirrel free then climbs up and over the fence trotting to Harold's driveway to oversee our 86 year-old neighbor washing his car. Jackson heads to the park where he meets up with a couple neighborhood kitties with whom he wrestles, rolling around on the grass.
A sleek black cat walks by and she and Jackson sniff each other's butts. Before any more canoodling with the prettiest female on the block, he needs lunch so he races to the local deli for a pastrami on rye, which he washes down with an espresso and some light reading of War and Peace.
Returning to The House he finds the squirrel one dirty paw away from stealing fruit from the apricot tree. Jackson chases the varmint up and over the fence, across the Valley and into the Hollywood Hills. In the shadow of the Hollywood sign, Jackson pins the squirrel to the ground where the squirrel calls out "uncle" in squirrel-ese and swears never to bother our fruit or the Valley again. Jackson enlists the local coyote to serve as a witness to the squirrel's promises.
As the squirrel hops off into the distance, Jackson meets up with the sleek black female who shows him the joys of Koreatown: a kimchi dinner, a massage and lots of feline canoodling, AKA butt sniffing. After 20 seconds of pleasure, an exhausted Jackson races home, sliding through the doggie door and collapsing on my favorite armchair just as I unlock the front door to see him sleeping again. What a busy life our cat has--
"What?" Mr. Wonderful said.
"It could happen," I said with a lilt in my voice.
"Our cat? Has a life? Impossible," he said returning to his TV show.
Maybe Mr. Wonderful is right about the feline. So the question remains: Why do we have a cat?
Once upon a time the tumbleweeds were blowing in from the west. It was a hot, dry morning but my cowboy boots kept my feet cool. Or at least my boots' odor eaters did. I was up early doing what cowboys do: surveying the ranch, assessing the critter damage and drinking green tea from a dainty Japanese cup.
My morning property survey had proved that: 1) The mockingbird was still on its nest, which made my cowboy eyes twinkle; 2) The drought tolerant garden was doing its drought tolerant thing, which made my cowboy face smile and; 3) My old enemy, that thieving squirrel, didn't like drought tolerant gardens, which made me slap my cowboy knee with glee.
Not seeing that blasted squirrel was worth all the time, trouble and backbreaking work of creating that garden. So the front yard was now squirrel free. As for the backyard I hadn't seen much of the furry critter since my ranch helper had scared the begezuss out of it. Every cowboy should have a ferocious protector like Jackson, my pussycat. So the backyard was also free of poacher squirrels. As I shuffled across the driveway back to the homestead I sighed with relief. Finally this cowboy could relax--
What was that? A movement overhead at the neighbor's caught my eye. Looking up I saw it--walking the telephone wire like a circus tightrope walker. It was none other than that poacher thief--the squirrel. It scampered to the telephone pole then raced--head first--down to the ground.
Its mouth was empty as it bounded into the street right for my ranch lands. I knew what it wanted: to get on my property and steal more fruits, vegetables and pool rafts. To be fair, although it had never stolen a pool raft with this squirrel it was just a matter of time before it had a margarita in one hand, an apricot in the other while floating around on a raft in my pool. I turned in my boots and took five paces toward the varmint. It saw me and stopped in the middle of the road.
Partner, it was a showdown, like High Noon, Unforgiven, and Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Anyway you looked at it one of us was going to win while the other was never going to steal anything else from my ranch again.
I took a pace forward. The squirrel hopped once toward me. I took another step toward it, the squirrel bounded several hops toward me. It wasn't stopping. I waved my weapon--my arm--overhead. It did not care! It laughed in my face! It was leaping toward my property and I realized once it got on my land it would run up a tree--out of my reach--and jump from tree to tree thereby reaching my backyard and vegetable garden goodies. The varmint! Who was I kidding? I couldn't fight this bad guy by myself. I needed help from my cat but my ferocious Jackson was sawing wood. Again.
The squirrel bounded again landing two feet from my property line, I was just two feet away from losing every fruit and vegetable in these here parts, when the mockingbird came out of the trees flapping! It got in the path of the squirrel and flapped its gray and white wings in the varmint's face! The bird was fierce, relentless, tough! It spooked the thief who turned and raced back to the telephone pole it had crawled down from.
The mockingbird watched it go. I watched it go. I applauded the mocker and thanked her. She didn't pay attention to me. To her she was just keeping peace in this western town. Oh, yeah and preventing the squirrel from getting anywhere near her nest. The squirrel's reputation had precede it.
Once upon a time there was a squirrel who menaced an innocent cowboy so the area's lady mockingbird sheriff took care of the problem, which is another reason you should never kill a mockingbird.
Fathers. Who needs 'em? I do! And I speak from experience.
My dad was smart, well-rounded and kind. He ran his medical practice, which kept him busy. He was a real talker, which kept him busy. He had a large family, which kept him busy. Yet he always made time for the important things like going to the bookstore with me, introducing me to theater, teaching me about science, history, math--basically everything. Throughout his life he always made time for me, which made me feel special and loved. Although he's been gone for several years, I still remember that he did things with me; that he made me feel special; that he loved me. Which is why we all need to experience fathers in our lives. They are cool dudes. Happy Father's Day to father dudes everywhere!
"It's the weekend!" I said digging into my breakfast omelet at the restaurant table.
Mr. Wonderful smiled.
"A mini vacation. We can see our friends, the beach, the moon!"
"We can do anything today!"
"Let's go to the home improvement store."
My heart sank. Here we were enjoying our first sunshiny day without home improvement and he wanted to drop this for hardware? What idiot ever named him Mr. Wonderful? Oh yeah, right.
Since we bought The House, going to The Home Depot, Lowe's and any other home improvement store west of the Timbucktu had become our Saturday ritual, our Sunday ritual and a Hump day must do thingy. Today I would have preferred doing anything else like walking on glass, eating glass or poking my eyes out with glassy glass needles. After all we'd just finished redoing the front garden and already Mr. Wonderful wanted to start something new. What dingbat named him Mr. Wonderful?! Oh yeah, right.
"New" was not entirely true. Actually we were finishing up some interior painting we'd started before Christmas and Mr. Wonderful wanted to finish it now.
"What's the rush?"
"It's been six months," he said getting behind the steering wheel.
"So?" I said sliding in next to him. "Who's counting?"
What a dilemma. Should I choose my marriage or my sanity?
I made a proposal. I'd go to the hardware store (again) with Mr. Wonderful as long as we could: 1) Go to a different store; 2) Swim in the pool and; 3) Get smoothies. With a raised eyebrow and a bucketful of apprehension he stared at me for a full minute. What bozo named him Mr. Wonderful?! Oh yeah, right.
Finally he agreed. We ordered Jamba Juice smoothies--I got mine with extra boosts of vitamin C, patience and endurance. Then we strolled the aisles of a home improvement store we'd never been to. It was like being on vacation! They had paint but it was on the left hand side of the store not the right--Amazing! They had patio furniture but it was inside not outside--So cutting edge! And like every other store on the planet, they had concrete floors but theirs were polished to the color of fine mahogany--What a great idea!
He pushed the cart and I jumped on the front for some city surfing. We busted up laughing. Then I pushed him and he surfed. We laughed even more. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, we saw a friend of ours.
"What are you doing here?" I said giving Bob a hug.
"Getting supplies. Hey! Where'd you get the smoothies?" I let him try mine. "Great combination." The three of us chatted and laughed for an hour and not once did I think where we were. We hugged Bob goodbye and paid for everything at the checkout.
As the sun climbed overhead we painted; Mr. Wonderful on the ladder and I on my knees. For several hours I was bent into positions the human body was not meant to do. Ever. When we finished I spent another hour washing paint from the brushes and cleaning up.
"How you feeling?" he asked.
"What about that swim in the pool?"
He'd remembered our deal. What Einstein named him Mr. Wonderful? Oh yeah, right!
This girl chick found some feathered chicks at our house. Their parents moved in several weeks ago--a pair of busy Mourning Doves. The male was busy chasing the female and the female was busy running away from the male. I didn't blame her: I mean, the dude didn't believe in foreplay! Soon the female gathered an odd assortment of twigs, lavender and tinsel, which she called a "nest". It was perched precariously atop one of our exterior lamps, so I called it an "accident waiting to happen". In it she laid two eggs which hatched and grew into these fuzzy guys.
Then one of the chicks rolled out of the nest. It slid off the lamp and fell 10 feet to the ground! Amazingly it was still alive when Mr. Wonderful picked it up and returned it to its perch. Then Mr. Wonderful did what he did best: home improvement... of the nest. He built a mini support fence to keep the chicks from sliding off. He even painted it a discreet brown to mimic a tree. Soon the chicks grew up and flew away, in no small part to the best fixer upper on the block. Mr. Wonderful was thorough, good and a softie for chicks. And this girl chick was thankful.
I wasn't referring to Mr. Wonderful, my cat or Leonardo DiCaprio as "The Great Gatsby" although they all looked good in fur. I was talking about my fabulous new dishwasher. Even with all the amazing, articulate adjectives in the English language, I couldn't express how I felt about it because this was a love story--with romance and comedy--unlike any other.
The Romantic Comedy opens with a fun, spunky girl who's dating a big, loud jerk as wide as a refrigerator. The Frig doesn't deserve our girl but she's too nice to break it off with him. Ugh! They're so mismatched. Then the Frig dumps our fun, spunky girl! Can you say LOSER?
Our girl is sad for exactly two seconds then looks for a new beau--online! Gone are the days of trolling bars, clubs and the Trader Joe's produce section to find the right guy. Now she can see potential beaux's pictures and profiles while at home wearing her Hello Kitty bathrobe and fuzzy slippers.
Then she finds him! A guy named Ken Moore. She contacts him, they decide to meet in person. She goes to his crib--a place loaded with other available men but none as good looking as Ken. She is drawn to Ken's modern lines and strong, quiet nature. He to her fun, spunky personality. They are meant to be together! Can you say ROMANTIC?
But an Act Three problem surfaces when a Salesman glides across the showroom floor to tell her about another model he knows. This appliance is super quiet and very attractive but wow! So much more expensive. She pulls out her phone to google product reviews of both. She reads them all and gets more confused than following Ikea's how-to directions.
She leaves both appliances and exits the store. Perhaps she should forget Ken and go with the super expensive one because the most expensive is the best one, right?
Walking along the river with a gorgeous view of Downtown, Ken calls to her in a daydream. The spunky girl realizes she doesn't need the expensive guy who swooped in at the end. She needs the one she fell for initially--Ken! She runs down the street past her parked car because now we're at the end of Act Three and this is the moment of truth because this is when spunky girl runs like crazy to find Ken.
At the store, she embraces and kisses Ken, then hands over her credit card to buy him! Can you say COMEDY?
She loads him in her car and rolls him inside only to have Jackson sniff Ken all over like he's a salmon dinner. Mr. Wonderful gives Ken the once over approval then offers to hook up Ken. And Leonardo DiCaprio as "Gatsby"? Well he loves Ken because they both look good in fur.
It was inefficient, loud and stuck in the 20th century.
I wasn't referring to the neighbors, my mother-in-law or Time-Warner cable. I was talking about my dishwasher and I… hated it. The "my" was a misnomer. I didn't install, choose or even want it but when we bought the house of my dreams it came with the dishwasher of my nightmares.
The horror story began on a sunshiny day as an innocent couple bought their first home. As they squealed with laughter at how lucky they were finally to have a home of their own, inside lurked the dark force--the dishwasher.
Since this was a horror movie, the first thing the woman did was put on a bikini. The first thing her spouse did was not mention how weird it was that she was wearing a bikini. The couple ate a meal of roasted chicken and sauteed vegetables--just a little something she whipped up after work. They loaded the dishes in the machine, poured in washing powder and pressed "start".
They were greeted with clanking, pounding, wailing and wheezing. The machine sounded like a rabid badger crossed with a teenager trapped in her family's cross-country RV trip.
When the machine finished its cycle the dishes were wet but still dirty. The dark monster had won the battle! But every bikini-clad woman in a horror movie knew it didn't matter who won the battle there was still another hour to finish the war.
She tried expensive washing powders, detergent cubes, after-rinse and pre-rinse soaps--none of which worked. In desperation she succumbed to washing the dishes by hand before loading them in the machine. Afterwards they came out dirtier than when they'd been put in. The monster was back and winning!
She ran to the top of the mountain--to get a cellphone signal--and called the home warranty insurance company. They'd fix this dirty dishwasher since she'd been paying them for months for just this sort of repair.
"This machine doesn't clean," the bikini girl said to the appliance Repairman. "Please help." He nodded then gave her a bill for $100. "But you haven't fixed it."
"It ain't broke," said the Repairman.
"But it doesn't clean my dishes."
"Says who?" The Repairman exited laughing.
Every day the woman worked, cooked and cleaned stacks of dishes. Every day the defunct dishwasher made her life a waking nightmare. She called the home warranty company again. A new Repairman came to the front door and charged her $200.
"But!" the bikini girl said. "You didn't even look at my machine."
"I don't have to see it to know it isn't broken." He laughed while turning on his heel.
She called the home warranty back, they sent a third Repairman, who gave her a bill for $300 without even leaving his truck.
"You can't see how broken it is," she said.
"Our machines never break!" he said laughing like a hyena.
So much money had been spent for machine repairs that'd never happened. The dark force was winning. Oh the horror! The bikini girl took matters into her own hands. She ripped out the offending dishwasher and unplugged it. Then she smiled because she had killed the machine! She'd won the horror war!
Of course she still didn't have a functioning dishwasher, which left her heaps of dishes to do by hand. But she still smiled. In her bikini.
"Should I wear this?" Mr. Wonderful said pulling a pressed cotton dress shirt from his closet. "Love it," I said sitting on a pouf. "Or this?" he said flashing a 100% linen number. "That's great, too." "You're not helping."
To be fair both shirts would have looked dynamite with his suit. But Mr. Wonderful needed definite answers like: Yes that works; No that doesn't or; What?! You won't be caught dead in that! The reason for Mr. Wonderful's clothing anxiety was the Prince was coming to town. Which proved that even grown men will act like giddy teenaged girls when meeting a Prince.
Prince Philippe of Belgium was in Los Angeles for a business trip to promote trade between L.A. and the land of great beer and chocolate. Being a lover of great beer and chocolate, Mr. Wonderful had been invited to meet the Prince to discuss ways of bringing more great beer and chocolate to Southern California. On this trip the Prince brought some of his closest business pals, oh, like 400 of them. But none of them knew great beer and chocolate like Mr. Wonderful. Once I did a blind tasting on my spouse and in the beer department he could tell a Leffe Dubbel from a Leffe Tripel in 1.6 seconds. And you should see him with chocolate. Give him a 1 lb. box of Leonidas chocolates and within a minute he will tell you the color, texture and flavor of every chocolate in that box. Of course you won't have any chocolates left in the box but that's another matter. I don't quibble with the methods of gourmet tasters like Mr. Wonderful. Prince Philippe was traveling solo in the Golden State having left his lovely wife, Princess Matilde, at their little castle in Brussels. I knew how she felt since Mr. Wonderful didn't bring me to the royal reception either. I heard she drowned her sorrows by plopping on the sofa with a pint of Trader Joe's chocolate coconut ice cream and watching every season of HBO's Game of Thrones in one sitting. Or maybe that was me. I understood the royal couple; after all they were just like us: They were married, we were married. They were human, we were human. They had to borrow Harold's extra-tall ladder to hang a lamp. Or maybe that was me. In order to prep my spouse for meeting the future king to the Belgian throne, I quizzed him on what he could say upon first greeting the Prince: And "Hey Dude, wanna ditch this fiesta and catch some gnarly waves at Zuma Beach?"--didn't suffice. Rather I encouraged Mr. Wonderful to be respectful, to talk about the products he sells and ask if the Prince would be interested in learning more. "That's what you should say," I said ending my speech with a royal-worthy salute. "What if I wore this one?" Mr. Wonderful said pulling out a silk shirt that matched his eye color perfectly. "Yes!" I said. "The Prince will really notice you in that one!" Or maybe that was me.
"More?" I asked retossing the salad in the kitchen.
"Please," Mr. Wonderful said seated at the table. As I strode toward him with the salad bowl Jackson plopped on the floor in front of me stopping me in my tracks.
"I guess he wants salad, too."
Funny things had been happening since Jackson had gone for an accidental swim in our pool: 1) His coat got cleaned; 2) His fur turned as soft as silk and; 3) He became nice. The bratty and emotionally bruised kitty that we had taken in when no one else would, had--after one dunk in the pool--become a loving house pet.
We should have tossed him in the drink months ago.
When he was overboard in the deep end, we came to rescue him. When he was dripping wet, I rubbed him dry with fluffy bath towels. When he was soaked and looked hairless and hilarious (!), we did not laugh. Too much. These things had made a sea change--or pool change--in our cat's attitude about us.
To be fair Jackson had been warming up to us lately, specifically since our trip to Seattle. It was a simple six-day trip and a needed break for Mr. Wonderful and me. While we were perusing the Space Needle and coffee shops of the city where Frazierwas set, Jackson was doing what he normally did--sleeping 72 hours a day. Nevertheless, we'd arranged with Harold and Norma to feed and water our kitty while we were away.
When we returned full of stories of Washington wines and "Frazier Crane" sightings, Norma hurried over to our house with her brows knitted together and her blue eyes looking pained.
"We fed your cat all week," she said biting her lip "but I'm afraid he's… gone."
"No, we just saw him--sleeping in the spare bedroom."
"Oh thank goodness!" she said grabbing my arm for support. "I thought we'd lost him!"
"No, he's right where we left him."
"We came in the house every day to feed him but I never saw him."
"That's his normal. He's not fond of people. Us included," I said explaining the odd psychology of our house pet.
"Oh," she said sympathy oozing from her pores for us.
Once Norma had left the house, Jackson slunk out from his hiding place, he rubbed up against my legs, circling them then stopped to stand with his paw on my foot, then he repeated the dance with Mr. Wonderful and his foot. At the time it seemed to me that during those six days of our absence Jackson feared that we were gone and he would be on his own. Again. Then it must have hit him that he would miss us playing the ribbon and the stick game with him, miss us petting him, miss our bodies being furniture for him to lounge all over like a polka-dotted feather boa.
However this pool experience was different. After it, he'd become outright affectionate. Purring, wanting to be petted at many and various times of the day, holding my hand. (Okay that last one is a stretch, but he does put his paw on my hand now!) It reminds me of what they call the "White Knight Syndrome", which is when a rescued person falls in love with the person who rescued him. Perhaps we were Jackson's White Knights? Perhaps he now knew that we were his White Knights? And perhaps he knew that we knew that he knew that we were his White Knights?
Regardless, the White Knight Syndrome must have started while we were in Seattle when he realized that he'd miss us if we never came back and he lived on without us. Meanwhile while in the pool struggling for one of his nine lives, maybe Jackson realized that this time he could be the one to go and never come back; that we'd continue fixing up this house, drinking wine and coping with the neighbors but Jackson just… wouldn't. Following this realization through--if cats could do this--and since cats in videos can get 16 million views on youtube, I think they can do more than we give them credit for. Anyway, following this realization through, meant that Jackson wouldn't get any more petting or playing or catnip-induced good times racing around the kitchen.
I think his realizations after his dunk in the pool caused Jackson to die a little inside. But it also caused him to live and love a little more, too. Now he seemed to embrace living and interacting with us, which was a good thing. Or at least he stopped being a pain in the neck for his White Knights, which was a great thing.
Any way you look at it, water helped. Yep, we should have tossed him in the drink months ago. Ah, live and learn!