Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Throwback

"Happy Halloween, Harold!" I said carrying bags of candy from my car.
"Is that today?" my 86 year-old neighbor said taking down his flag.
"What candy are you handing out?"
"None. I won't be home."
"You're going to a party?"
"No, I'll be home."
"I hate Halloween."

Since moving to this suburban neighborhood in Southern California, I'd seen and heard a lot of unusual things but I could honestly say this was the first time I'd ever heard any human being say that they didn't like Halloween. How? Why? When I  was a kid I distinctly remembered one house on the block that handed out huge Hershey bars. Throughout the year I had no contact with that house or its residents but on Halloween, the lady of the house kindly asked what I was dressed as for Halloween.

"A pum'kin."
"And what a fine pumpkin you are," she said smiling and dropped the biggest chocolate bar I'd ever received into my bag.  Suddenly that house became the "chocolate bar house" and every year I went back to get another huge chocolate bar and share some nice words with the lady. That house, that lady, those chocolate bars made me love the 31st of October. Halloween was a holiday of costumes, practical jokes and free candy. How could anyone not like it?

"Harold, what's not to like about Halloween?"
"I hate the costumes, the practical jokes and handing out free candy," Harold said. Ahhh, just when I thought I knew my neighbor, he went off and surprised me. "The kids know to avoid our house."
"You can't avoid Halloween."
"Yes, I can," he said rolling up his flag and pulling down the blinds inside his house.

Harold may be a Halloween bah-humbug but his wasn't the only house on the block.

I saw Jerry sweeping his front steps.
"Getting ready for Halloween, Jerry?" I hollered.
"We've already had several groups of trick or treaters," he said adjusting his San Francisco baseball cap.
"It's still light out."
"The kids know we've got candy for them."

Which is how it should be on the 31st of October.

Inside The House I opened a bottle of wine and poured the candy I'd bought into a bowl. The candy bars stuck out of the bowl because I'd bought the biggest chocolate bars I could find in honor of the lady I knew from the Halloweens of my youth. I can't wait to ask kids what they're dressed as and give them free candy. For me, Halloween is about paying it back.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


"I got the pumpkins," I said lugging two orange gourds to the table.
"Okay," Mr Wonderful said looking up from his book.
"We're going to a carving party."
"It's going to be fun!"

As a kid, the best things about Halloween are dressing up and eating free candy. As an adult, the best things are: 1) Dressing up; 2) Eating free candy; and 3) Carving pumpkins!

Unfortunately, I was the only one in The House that thought so, which wasn't saying much since the only other person in the household was Mr. Wonderful.

"Remind me why people carve pumpkins," he said looking at the gourds as if they were foul-smelling skunks.
"It's tradition."
"Which doesn't make it right."
"Traditions are good."
"What about dressing in blackface?"

He did have a point. Some things that happened in the past should be left in the past. And people today should be smart enough to know what offensive things from the past should be forgotten and what good things from the past should be kept. Here's my short list: pumpkin carving should be remembered and celebrated.

Never having carved a pumpkin, Mr. Wonderful was not convinced. However through the power of promises of wine and free candy, I lured him to the carving party.

Our hostess provided homemade chili, carving tools and even patterns. She really outdid herself! While sipping wine and munching on candy, chips and salsa and that tasty chili, we hobnobbed with the other guests and learned that I had the most experience carving pumpkins. The reason was that my father had encouraged me to be good with a knife. Apparently he hoped I'd grow up to be a doctor, a surgeon or a ninja. Although I didn't choose a medical career, becoming a ninja is still a possibility.

Since I'd carved so many pumpkins in my day, I could carve the pumpkin of every person present in 6.6 seconds and bake the pumpkin seeds. I drew an outline on my orange globe and went to town on the carving. Meanwhile Mr. Wonderful cautiously picked up a pen and began to outline his pumpkin's face. While I cut delicate eyelashes into my pretty pumpkin's visage, he charged ahead carving his gourd with bold, Zorro-like strokes.

SWISH, SWISH, SWASH. I watched his face as he worked and it was covered in a broad smile.

"Let's see," I said before he spun his pumpkin toward us.
"Ahh!" Its fierce eyes, its toothy grin, everyone loved his carved pumpkin. In fact, his first try at carving was better than all the pumpkins I'd carved in my entire life--combined.  He was a natural with a knife.

As we left the party carrying our carved pumpkins I asked my spouse what he'd thought of the evening.
"It was fun," he said.
"Because it's a tradition worth keeping or you're actually a ninja in disguise?" He showed me the long blade of his knife and smiled.

My father would have been proud of him.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's Over

I tried to make it work.
I failed.
It's finito.

Southern California is world famous for growing oranges, lemons and the budgets of blockbuster Hollywood movies but this summer it failed in the tomato department. I know what you're thinking: "Are my tax dollars paying for the Tomato Department," let me assure you that they most definitely are not. And even if they were--which they most assuredly are not--it would not have helped the pathetic red fruits in my backyard's garden patch. In fact, the entire bajillion-dollar budget of the federal government could not have helped any of my tomatoes. And that was before the government shut down.

This year was the worst six months of tomato growing on record--that is, on my record. There are some years that produce superior quality products, like: 1) Chevrolet's 1955 Bel Air; 2) Bordeaux's 1982 grapes; 3) Last year's tomatoes. But this year was horrible for tomatoes, or as the experts call it, "An icky, stinker year".

My summer tomatoes were small in size and smaller in number. For months, going out to the veggie patch to pick sun-ripened tomatoes was depressing. So I'd made a decision: I would rip out the tomatoes and not replant them or any other veggie or fruit. I was done with fruits and veggies. In the future, I would just plant perennials and natives. I cleared the garden bed in 6.1 seconds dumping the dead tomato plants in the greens bin. Jackson, my trusty helping cat, sat near me looking on with disinterest.

Staring at the empty garden bed the mystery of why the tomato plants failed fired my mind. Much like how a murder mystery would tickle the brain of the brilliant Sherlock Holmes. A thought came to me. Perhaps the cause for the paltry pasta-sauce making produce was due to global warming? Yes, Watson! The planet's warmer temperatures had caused 1) Fires in Colorado; 2) The Super Storms of Sandy; and 3) Iceland's entire population to have golden, full-body tans. So perhaps global warming had prohibited tomato growth in my backyard? It was elementary! Although… tomatoes do love the sun, which is why they grow so well in SoCal, Italy and at the beach.

"Global warming was not to blame for my lack of tomatoes," I told my trusty helper. Jackson licked his paw.

Perhaps it was the lack of bees? Bees are pollinators who play a crucial role in fertilizing plants to produce the fruit, which ripens to feed every pasta lover on the planet. However an epidemic was sweeping farm country--and my backyard--where whole bee colonies were dying. Ah-ha, Watson! Fewer bees translated to fewer tomatoes. It was so elementary! However after significant research, it seemed that the bees have been dying off because of pesticide use. I didn't use any pesticides in my backyard, which meant:

"The lack of bees did not cause my lack of tomatoes," I announced to my trusty sidekick. Jackson rolled in the sun.

What other reason could explain the slim pickings in my tomato patch this summer?

"TCH, TCH!" A sharp sound echoed across the yard. I looked to the fence and there, perched on it like he owned the place was my ultimate nemesis: The Squirrel. And he looked very plump. Of course, Watson! That sneaky, no good rodent was the cause of my puny tomato pickings. His thicker body and serious weight gain was all thanks to the tomatoes he'd stolen and eaten since May! It's very elementary! I knew just what to do!

"Attack, Jackson!" I said willing my lazy kitty to action. But he didn't need my encouragement, he'd heard The Squirrel and was staring right at the portly rodent.

"TCH, TCH!" The Squirrel flicked its bushy tail, which only spurned Jackson on. Jackson bent his legs then slunk across the yard to the fence where our supreme nemesis perched. Jackson leaped into the rosemary bed. I saw the panic in The Squirrel's beady eyes. Jackson extended his forelegs up the fence with an audible "Ping, Ping, PING!" as his claws sprung out like Samurai swords. His sharp claws were just two feet from The Squirrel. As the rodent's eyes popped out of its head, he turned and scampered into the neighbor's tree far away from my trusty, clawed assistant. And what a trusty assistant! He was my Watson and I was his Holmes. He would keep The Squirrel at bay!

This year is over and it will go down as the worst year for tomatoes. But this fall I'm planting again: spinach, lettuce, broccoli, kale, onions, and chives to be ready for tomato planting next summer.

It's beginning.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Accident

"A driver just hit my car," I said into the phone, my arm shaking.
"Tell me about your accident," the insurance agent said flatly as if she were asking for directions.
"It's not 'my' accident."
"Whose is it then?"
"She hit me."
"But it happened to you."

Here's what I know about car accidents: 1) Every accident is unique; 2) Every accident costs money; and 3) Every accident is a pain in the rear-end, posterior, derriere, seat and tuchis. And if you get rear-ended like I did, you can add "pain in the neck" to the list of ailments. Here are some new things I've learned about accidents: 1) Whip lash is no fun; 2) Talking to insurance companies, mechanics and doctors takes time; and 3) Women drivers. There, I said it.

The accident happened when I was stopped at a traffic light. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a white car approaching from behind. The white car didn't stop. Boom! It hit me. The other driver said she'd pay for the damages out of pocket. I believed her. Stupid me.

I went to the doctor for the pain in my neck. I took my car to body shops. I got estimates for the repairs. I called the woman who hit me and gave her the estimates because she said she'd pay. She refused to pay. Stupid me.

Luckily I'd called my insurance company who were great and handled things. I felt less stupid.

At work I told two female friends about the accident and the woman driver who refused to pay.
"Accidents are the worst," Monica said shaking her head. "When I hit that guy two years ago he was a jerk about it."
"You hit him?" 
"Yeah, he was foreign and cursed me out in Italian."
"Accidents bite the big one," Susan nodded. "Last year I backed into a guy in the parking garage."
"You hit him?"
"Yeah, and he went ballistic."
"Mercedes ballistic or BMW ballistic?"
"Porsche ballistic."

I didn't press my friends any further on their accidents because they did the right thing. They caused the accident and they paid for it.

Causing an accident is like being pregnant: you either are or you aren't. There's no middle ground. So it doesn't matter if you hit a Jaguar, a Ford or a dune buggy, if you caused an accident, you need to pay for it. 

So women--and men--drivers, when you're behind the wheel, do everyone a favor and don't text or talk on the phone. Just focus on driving. I bet then there would be fewer accidents on the road. 

And if not, I'll just curse in Italian.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wine and Halloween!

If wine isn't part of your Halloween, then you need to make some new traditions! And if you need some suggestions, I have some here for wine and Halloween traditions!


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Waiting for Godot

"Where is he?" the plumber hollered at the fence.
"Not here," I said letting Michael into the backyard.
"I bet he won't come."
"We'll find out soon enough."
"Nothing to be done."
"Except… wait."

Ahhh, Waiting. It's an exercise in patience whether you're waiting for a pot to boil, a pay raise to happen or Santa Claus to bring you Barbie's Malibu Beach House, the Exclusive Pinktastic version.  But all that pales in comparison to waiting for the City Inspector to approve the work on your house.

It took several months of back-breaking work but after digging a trench, hiring plumbers and electricians to do the work, the day had now arrived when we'd learn if everything had been done correctly. I thought Michael's plumbing work was professional and Jeffrey's electrical work was stellar, but my opinions didn't matter if the City Inspector didn't think so. In home improvement the City Inspector is the judge, jury and king. And it's very good to be king.

Hoping to impress the Inspector, our plumber arrived first thing in the morning wearing a clean t-shirt and jeans to answer any questions the City Inspector might have about Michael's work. Only the plumber--not the electrician--was required to be present for the inspection. When I asked why this was Michael said there was a pecking order in home improvement inspections: The Inspector is the Emperor, the Electrician is the Empress and the Plumber is the Court Jester.

"That means you're funny," I said before Michael gave me a dirty look and retreated to his car to make phone calls, proving that Court Jesters don't necessarily have a sense of humor. After waiting three hours in his air-conditioned but still hot car, Michael marched up to The House.

"He's not coming."
"He'll be here."
"I'm tired of waiting. I'm leaving."
"No!" I said thinking fast. "Can I get you something?"
"You have a phone charger?" Michael had made so many calls that his phone was dead. I handed him a battery charger and he stomped off to his car. Two hours later he reappeared.

"He's not coming."
"He'll be here."
"I'm leaving."
"No! Uh, how about a drink?" I said filling a glass with ice water and handing it to him.
"I'm not thirsty" Michael sniffed. He'd been sitting in his car for five hours and it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit in my kitchen freezer, of course he was thirsty. And hard-headed and the antithesis of Court Jester funny.
"Drink it," I pushed the glass at him. Michael accepted the beverage and gulped its contents in 2.6 seconds. I refilled his glass then watched as he proceeded to drink enough water to fill Hoover Dam. Twice. But still, the Inspector did not come.

"Where is he?" Michael stamped his foot then retreated to his car to listen to music.

An hour later Michael pounded on the door.
"He's not coming."
"He'll be here."
"I'm leaving now."
"No! Uh, how about lunch?"
"I'm not hungry," Michael growled. He'd been at our house for six hours waiting for the City Inspector, of course he was hungry. And stubborn and the dictionary definition of "not funny".
"I'll make smoothies," I said pouring fresh strawberries, yoghurt and juice into the blender. I whirred its contents at the exact moment Michael was shaking his head and protesting. I popped a straw into the glass and handed it to him. "Drink it."
He sipped some then stopped.
"This is good."
"I used Greek yoghurt."
"You went to Greece to buy this?" Michael asked with a slight upward tilt to his mouth.
"Specifically, Athens. There's a joint next to the Parthenon that sells yoghurt two for one."
"Ha-ha!" Michael said sporting a full smile. Maybe the Court Jester did have a funny bone after all?

In the shady backyard we sat at the table and cracked jokes. We devoured our smoothies and the refills. Michael said my avocado tree looked lame because good avocados can't be grown in Los Angeles. I protested. He said Mexico had the world's best avocados. For the honor of our countries' produce, I challenged him to an arm wrestling match. We were laughing, our forearms locked in battle, when a voice over us sounded:

"I don't want to interrupt you and your friend but I'm the Inspector." The 50-something man said peering down at us.
"We've been waiting for you all day!" Michael and I said in unison.

The City Inspector came! He approved all the work! The Court Jester was free to go!

"And I was having so much fun," Michael said kicking the dirt with his shoe. "So, I guess this is... good-bye." He lingered at the gate, reluctant to go. I thought about future jobs in The House.
"Do you do bathroom repairs?"
"All the time."
"I'll call you."
"You better," Michael said leaving with a smile.

Sometimes the waiting is the worst part, and sometimes, it's the part that makes everything worthwhile.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Wine Changed My Life"

Wine smells good, tastes good and can change your life.

If you don't believe me about the changing-your-life part, check out this story about wine changing a guy's life.


Monday, October 14, 2013

The Electrical Princess

"The plumber's work is done," I said buttering my toast. 
"Yes," Mr. Wonderful said reaching for the ringing telephone. 
"And tomorrow the electrician comes to do his work."
"Yes?" he said into the phone.
"So by Monday night everything will be done!" 
"No," Mr Wonderful said handing me the phone.

The phone call brought bad news. But phone calls with good news never happen first thing in the morning unless you're 1) The grandmother-to-be of a new born baby (which I wasn't); 2) The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (which I wasn't) or 3) Meryl Streep (which I wasn't... yet). 

The voice on the other end of the line belonged to the electrician who informed me he was canceling. Canceling the day before a scheduled work day! UGH.

"Why," I said choking on my toast. 
"My third-grade daughter is playing a princess in the school play tomorrow."
"But why," I said brushing crumbs from my face. 
"She's loves princesses?" the electrician said questioning his own excuse.
"But why now?"
"She had a great audition?"

His daughter's school play? What kind of excuse was that? Please. It wasn't like she'd never be in another school play again. These days kids have school plays every week in third grade. But the electrician didn't care that he was leaving me in the trench-laden lurch while he skipped off to the elementary school's cafeteria to see his princess play a princess. I wished he hadn't told me why he had to cancel. UGH.

So it was back to the drawing board for me in finding an electrician. Whoever said Sunday was a day of rest did not have to deal with finding an electrician. I searched Angie's list, the neighbors' lists and all the lists of my 6,000 Facebook friends. I dialed, emailed, texted, tweeted, Pinterested and Instagramed for an electrician. Finally, lo and behold, I found one!

Jeffrey came, saw the situation, gave me an estimate and left. On Tuesday, Jeffrey's men came, saw the work and left… to get more parts. Soon both electricians returned to the house and while the young one worked on the wiring, the older one left… to get more parts. Again.

I chatted with the young one who was so amiable and pleasant. When the older one came back to work on the job I chatted to him and he was even more amiable and more pleasant then… he left to get more parts. The older one spent more time "going to get more parts" than there were parts required to do all the work on our house. Into perpetuity.

The whole day was an endless stream of electricians coming and going. But by the close of business on Monday, the electrical work was done, it was professional and it looked stellar. I thanked both men profusely. They smiled and nodded.

That evening I called Jeffrey.
"Your men did a fabulous job on my House. Thank you," I said smiling into the phone.
"On your job," Jeffrey said "I miscalculated the parts, the labor and the work. It was the job from hell. Serious hell."  UGH. I wished he hadn't told me how hard the job was. My House is my joy. No one wants to think that the thing they love dearly--their House--is anything less than perfect. Suddenly I understood how the first electrician felt about his third-grade daughter performing in the school play. Whatever or whomever we love is our princess and others should respect our loved ones.

I called the first electrician and asked how his daughter did in the play.
"She was the perfect princess," he said beaming.
"Of course she was," I said. "Because she's yours."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Being the Bad Guy

"The plumber's back," Mr Wonderful said peering out the window and setting down his coffee cup.
"Good," I said emptying my tea cup.
"I'll be the bad guy."
"I'll be the bad guy."
"I said it first."
"I'm more diplomatic!" I said elbowing past Mr. Wonderful.

The hardest thing for DIY fixer uppers like Mr. Wonderful and I was letting someone else do the work on The House while we sat idly by. The short--and long--reason was: We didn't trust anyone to do the work as well as we knew we could. But the plumbing and electrical projects we needed had to be done by licensed, bonded professionals. So after we dug a formidable trench, we contracted a plumber who came, installed pipes and left. The only problem was said plumber did the work while leaving said pipes sticking out of our house like the bolts poking out of Frankenstein's neck. The short--and long--of it was: It wasn't pretty. So now Mr. Wonderful and I were debating who would to talk to the plumber about this Franken-house problem.

"Morning, Michael," I said waving to the plumber.
"Hi--" Michael said smiling.
"My wife wants to talk to you," Mr Wonderful said deferring to me. Ahhh, I married a wise man.
"What a beautiful morning," Michael said flashing his pearly whites. Note to self: everyone in L.A. has gorgeous teeth, including the plumbers.
"That's right, I want to talk to you," I said leaping between my spouse and the plumber.
"Your house is so beautiful," Michael said looking around. "When I was here yesterday I spent all day in the trench and attic that I didn't get to experience how nice it is here. It's really nice."
My anger faded. My heart melted. The plumber liked my House? I loved this plumber!
"Thank you," I said blushing as if he'd complimented me on my hair, eyes or stellar sense of humor. "You did excellent work," I added. Behind me I heard Mr. Wonderful roll his eyes. Without a doubt, he is the loudest roller of eyes I've ever known. 

"Okay, I'll be going then," Michael said turning on his heel and heading back to his truck.
"Wait," Mr Wonderful said in a slow, deep voice. My spouse's vocal chords were well suited for a radio announcer, a story-book reader or a hard-baller giving someone a big-time reprimand. Now I thought--now!--Michael's going to hear how unhappy we are with his work, see how it looked like a Frankenstein plumbing job, and know that it had to be redone like, yesterday. 

Unfortunately Michael was either a rebel or terribly hard of hearing because he kept walking. He walked away from Mr. Wonderful, away from me and toward the back gate which would give him total freedom from our wrath. Once he passed through that gate, we'd never get him back to fix this horrible pipe job. 

When suddenly, a miracle happened.
"Meow," Jackson said rubbing up against the offending pipes sticking out of the house wall. "Meow."
"Hello, pussy cat," Michael said bending down to pet our tuxedo feline. Jackson plopped down on his belly right in the plumber's path causing the workman to freeze. He looked at the pipes, coughed then said, "Why didn't you tell me I did a bad job right here?" 
"Ahhh. Well?" Mr. Wonderful and I said in unison and shrugged. Michael tsk-tsked us.

The short--and long--story is: Michael removed the pipes from sticking out of the facade of our House and relaid them so they were hidden and flush with the wall, just like we wanted. And they looked great.

Ahhh, Jackson. He had freed Mr. Wonderful and me from being the bad guy. Next time we need a hard-hitting complainer to talk to the contractors, we're going to the ultimate baddie: Jackson our tuxedo-wearing cat.