Friday, May 30, 2014

One For Them

We grew artichokes.
We cut artichokes. 
We ate artichokes.

But I didn't harvest all the artichokes. After all, they are flowers and my pea-sized, pseudo-scientific brain located somewhere between my ears was curious: What would happen if I left an artichoke on the plant?

So I did. 

Soon the flower grew large and larger, then like a good flower, it bloomed. The petals were purple in color and hair-like in quality and the bees loved it! At any given time five bees have been crawling in, around and through that gorgeous forest of blooming lavender-colored petals.

The scientist in me reveled at the beauty of the flower, the industry of bees and amazing Mother Nature!

I might have left an artichoke on the plant but it turned out being one for the bees. So one for them and some for me.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hidden Hearts

"They've grown a lot," I said poking around the garden at dusk.
"Hmm,"Mr. Wonderful said sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. 
"They're looking good."
"Big and round."
"When can we eat them?"

When it comes to home improvement projects everyone wants them to be finished yesterday. And when I say "everyone" I mean "me". When it comes to home-garden produce everyone wants it be be grown and picked last week. And when I say "everyone" I mean Mr. Wonderful. The man is so patient in countless facets of his life: he can work in an unpainted office; eat in a wet-plaster walled kitchen; and live in a total disaster zone but he cannot wait the 126 days for the veggie plants to produce edible veggies to be cooked and consumed by his veggie-loving self.

Argh! Gourmets! 

That's why it's up to me for 126 days to do the watering, weeding and mulching. For 126 days I'm in stealth mode trying to fend him off from picking the veggies before they're ready. For 126 days I sneak out in the morning before work and the evenings after work to make sure that Mr. Wonderful hasn't plucked the artichokes, tomatoes or squash before it's time. As a famous megalomaniac once said, "I will pick no veggies before it's time." Or maybe it was an actor playing a megalomaniac? Anyway, for 126 days I protected the artichokes until they were ready. Then I cut the flowers, steamed and served them to Mr. Wonderful.

He made a mustard vinaigrette. Then we peeled off the dry outer petals, plucked off the meaty inner petals and dipped them into the vinaigrette letting our teeth scrape the meat off the petal. Finally we removed all the petals and got to the hidden heart of the artichoke. With fork and knife we dipped the artichokes into the vinaigrette and ate those tasty hearts. Their flavor was nutty and so worth nurturing and protecting for 126 days.

"Very good," Mr. Wonderful said laying his fork and knife across his artichoke-less plate.
"I'm glad we planted artichokes this spring," I said refolding my clothing napkin.
"They're a lot of work to grow and eat."
"But the nutty flavor is so worth it."
"Can't we eat more tomorrow?"

Argh! Gourmets! 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Vines are Back!

They grew last summer.
They nearly died last winter.
They are back this spring!

Full disclosure: I'm a wine drinker. Just in case my wine book Evolution of a Wine Drinker didn't tip you off about that little old fact about little old me. 

I am also a grape eater of the table grape, produce variety such as Thompson Seedless, Red Flame, Vitis coffeetableis and Vitis breakfast-tableis. So last spring I planted some grape vines for edible fruit. Last summer the trunks and canes took off extending their vines all over the back yard like a scary scene from a Tim Burton/Edward Scissorhands/wine grower's nightmare movie. 

Then after the New Year I did the unthinkable: I grabbed my clippers and chopped the vines back to the trunk! When the plants did nothing for months, I feared I had bruised their delicate canes; Mr. Wonderful feared I had totally annihilated them; Jackson feared the clippers would annihilate him.

None of us had anything to fear. By March the sap started flowing in my vines; Mr. Wonderful saw the green shoots pop out into leafs; and Jackson realized he's too furry and cute to ever be clipped.

Then the grape vines flowered! (See picture above). The grapes will grow from these clusters.

I can't wait to taste these Vitis breakfast-tableis!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Kitchen is Finished--BEFORE and AFTER pictures

Pies are done.
Cakes are done.
People are finished or through... with kitchen redo projects.

Kitchen redo projects are hard. But second kitchen redo projects done in the same year as the first redos are even more challenging because after making a mess of your kitchen--again--it's hard to remember just how necessary the second redo was. I mean, not having LED lights on a dimmer switch is not so bad. Did we really have to redo the kitchen for a second time for that?!

Luckily there is photographic proof. The best thing about Before and After pictures is that they justify all the blood, sweat and tears expended to make the redo project a great redo room. Okay, at least they look good.

Therefore without further ado the Before and After pictures.

The Kitchen Ceiling BEFORE.
Mr. Wonderful and I tried out several placements for the LED lights in the ceiling. Here you see where we thought we'd put two LED lights (the markings on the ceiling) as opposed to where we actually did (the LED lamp hanging from the hole). You can also see the guts of our old doorbell.

The Kitchen Ceiling AFTER:
I sawed holes in the ceiling for the lamps, Mr. Wonderful put the LEDs and their cans into the ceiling. Then I gave the ceiling two coats of paint. I love authentic things and wanted to keep the old doorbell. Mr. Wonderful painted its casing and silver bells so the doorbell matched our new color scheme thus making it better than new!

The Kitchen Ceiling and Cabinets BEFORE:
Before scraping off the four coats of ceiling paint down to the plaster, we also removed all the vents and cabinet trim to protect them. It would have been a shame to damage what we'd redone in the first kitchen redo during this second kitchen redo.

The Kitchen Ceiling and Cabinets AFTER:
With the vent and cabinet trim replaced and painted, the LED lights installed, and walls and ceiling repainted, the room feels brighter and cooler than before. While it was a hard work to do and live through, I'm happy that we did this second kitchen redo.

Now I love my kitchen... even more! Plus I won't be sweating under hot lamps when baking pies and cakes because each LED light we installed uses just three (3!) watts of electricity! It's grand!

So in this space I can bake pies until they're done and cakes until they're done. But as for me doing another kitchen redo project--I am finished!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Taking it Off

“I’ll be home late tonight,” Mr. Wonderful's voice said over the phone.
“That's too bad,” I said standing on the kitchen table.
“How so?”
“Because tonight, everything's coming off.”
“… Excuse me?”

No one works harder than Mr. Wonderful. The guy gives a 110% every day to every job and everything he does. But it’s exactly because of his giving, hard-working nature that sometimes the home improvement jobs at The House get started then stall because he’s doing things for other people, places and things. So that’s when I step in to finish the job.

Yes I: the woman who’s good at hammering nails and better at removing them. Yes I: the woman who excels at breaking a concrete sarcophagus in the backyard. YES I! The woman who knows there are two types of screwdrivers—the Phillips and the vodka/orange juice cocktail. 

So when Mr. Wonderful called to say he would be home late, I planned to surprise him by taking the rest of the paint off the kitchen walls and ceiling all by myself. So I slipped into something more comfortable—namely my painting shirt and yoga pants—and went to work. By my paint removal calculations there were seven coats of paint on the kitchen walls: five coats of various whites, over mint green over refried-bean tan. Evidently when the previous owners wanted to change their kitchen’s look, all they did was paint it again and again. And Again.

By comparison, the ceiling had a measly four coats of whites including: off-white, on-white, bright white and dirty white.

With the walls and ceiling stripped down to their naked plaster, I cracked open the paint cans, stirred the paint and set to work on redressing the walls and ceiling in a new, elegant white paint. Woo-wee! He was going to be impressed I’d taken all this paint off. And put more paint back on. I couldn’t wait to see his happy face!

Around 11 PM I heard my spouse’s car in the driveway. He hurried inside to find me standing behind the refrigerator wearing my paint-splattered shirt and yoga pants.

“Welcome home!” I said blowing a lock of paint-sprinkled hair out of my eye line.
“… Hey,” he said his voice dropping off.
“So what do you think?” I said swinging my arm around the room.
“I thought you said ‘everything's coming off tonight’.” 
“Everything did come off. In fact I scraped every last paint chip off the walls and ceiling but since you still weren’t home, I started painting again.” His face fell. This was not the happy husband I was hoping to surprise with my painting removal and reapplication. “Don’t you like what I’ve done?”
“Of course,” he looked at his feet. “But when you said ‘everything’s coming off tonight” I thought you meant something other than paint.”
“… like clothes?”
“… For instance.” 
“Well the night’s still young,” I said dumping the paintbrush in the can and stepping out from behind the refrigerator. He smiled. “But first tell me what you think of my painting!”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

As the Kitchen-Redo (Re)Turns (A Soap Opera)--Part 2

When her husband speaks of problems, should she be concerned?
Is a kitchen redo ever done?
Once a heart beats quickly, will it always beat quickly?

Find out now on the latest installment of New House Girl—As the Kitchen-Redo (Re)Turns… Part 2!

When we last met the New House Girl, our feminine heroine was as close as a woman can get to a man… while cutting holes in the kitchen ceiling. Side by side they had drawn holes, cut holes and together made long, hot, sweet… messiness of their kitchen. As they say in Buenos Aires: It takes two to tango. And: There’s only one Evita Peron. And: Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina. And: !Ay, caramba! Actually those beef-eating South Americans are very talkative, which is more than the New House Girl (uh, I) could say for herself and her stoic spouse. Looking back on their entire relationship, she could remember him saying just two things to her: “I do” on their wedding day. And yesterday, “About these lights, there’s only one problem.”  

“A problem!” she gasped. Her breath came fast, she gulped air into her lungs mostly because she was wearing a totally impractical peasant dress with a bodice that barely covered her heaving bosom. She tossed her hair back with a move so elegant she must have looked like Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor or at least Miss Piggy. She looked up at her man’s strong jaw, Roman nose and irascible eyes. He was a rake, impossible and her Guiding Light but suddenly she knew just what she had to say to him. Her lips trembled, parted and finally formed the words, “What do you mean, ‘problem’.”

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Now back to our program, As the Kitchen-Redo (Re)Turns… Part 2.

“What ‘problem’ are you talking about?” she said again because they always repeat the same statement after a commercial break. He wiped the sweat from his brow then looked deep into her green-blue-gray-hazel-brown-India-ink-jet-black eyes. 
“We’re going to have to repaint the kitchen.” 
“You mean,” she laughed “Just the ceiling,” she lifted her face to him revealing her beauty mark… which was one of several splotches of dirt and plaster that had fallen on her sweat-drenched skin during their saw-cutting fest.
“No,” he shook his head. “The whole kitchen.”
“Mister, I’ve got everything you need,” she said lifting… a gallon of Behr’s Elegant White paint and two brushes. “One for you and one for me,” she said running a brush over his muscular forearms.
“Not so fast,” he said standing so close she could hear his heart beat quickly. Perhaps he should have his heart checked out by a doctor at General Hospital? She made a mental note of calling the local Ophthalmologist and scheduling EKG, ESP and FYI tests for her husband. Speaking of her husband, he was still speaking, “First” he said “We have to remove all the old coats of paint, down to the plaster. Only then do we repaint the room and ceiling.”

“Down to the plaster?!” she said as a tear leaked from her left eye. He watched the tear cascade down her cheek, off her chin, around her ear, and circle her neck—three times—before resting on her ample bosom from which he heard her heart beating quickly. Perhaps she should have her heart checked out by her favorite Dentist at General Hospital? He stepped forward to tell her this but she moved way from him flipping her hair like Miss Piggy. What a woman, he thought! And what a muppet! When another tear escaped her right eye he suddenly realized the pain he had caused his spouse. What a fool he had been to put her in this position! He had not been upfront about what this job would entail. If only he had controlled his unquenchable need; his hungry heart; his burning desire… to put LED lights and a dimmer switch into the kitchen ceiling. 

“I’m sorry I made you cry,” he said taking her into his arms. With her head resting on his shoulder she felt like a child or at least All My Children. From this angle she also got a wide view of the ceiling and realized he was right—they’d painted the kitchen before when they’d done the first kitchen redo. But now they needed to do it… and do it right… on this second kitchen redo. Their eyes exchanged a look. Suddenly she and he both desired the same thing. Her hand grabbed what he wanted her to… a paint scraper. 
“One for you and one for me,” she whispered handing him a paint scraper of his own. Then she climbed on top of… the ladder and gave into the thrill, the unbridled pleasure of scraping off paint! Yes, yes, YES!

In one hour-long episode she learned that she should be concerned when her husband spoke of problems but that together they could handle any problem that came their way. Also she decided that a kitchen redo does begin and end. But there can always be a second kitchen redo or a third kitchen redo. Although if they had a third redo she would definitely complain in her next therapy session with a Surgeon, Oncologist or Radiologist. 

Finally, after medical appointments at General Hospital and Grey’s Anatomy, she learned that if a heart beats quickly, it’s usually related to stress, 16 cups of espresso or being scared of embarking on a second kitchen redo right after finishing the first kitchen redo. But once the kitchen work was done everyone’s heart rate should return to normal. At least that’s what the Proctologist said.

Standing in the kitchen with her husband scraping paint off the walls together, she looked forward to more Days of Our Lives. Or at least to finishing this @#$% second kitchen redo job!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

As the Kitchen-Redo (Re)Turns (A Soap Opera)--Part 1

Can she cut holes in the ceiling?
Will she destroy her kitchen to improve it?
Is her husband crazy or inspired?

Find out now on the latest installment of New House Girl—As the Kitchen-Redo (Re)Turns.

But before we bring you the latest adventure, first a recap of what’s been happening lately. For the entire month of April the New House Girl has been interrupted while she’s (uh, I’ve) been traipsing through the Low Countries eating waffles in Belgium, chocolate pralines in Brussels and partying in the orange-loving Netherlands. But now April’s good times are over and it’s back to the ranch in sunny California for more home improvement, kooky cats and kookier neighbors.

When we last saw the New House Girl she was debating her relationship with her husband, specifically: what to do with the kitchen ceiling. Seated at the table across from her spouse she looked at his strong arms, his wide chest, his thick hair.
“I love…” she said breathlessly “Everything about our kitchen.”  He raised a rakish eyebrow before his dark eyes met hers with a smoldering look. He inhaled the air scented with her one-of-a-kind perfume—a base of oregano and tomatoes from the pasta sauce she’d made mingled with the swimming pool chlorine in her hair. He exhaled.
“Want to punch a hole in the kitchen ceiling?”

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Now back to As the Kitchen-Redo (Re)Turns—

“But why?” she gasped, her bosom heaving. Although she was young and restless, she was still trying to wrap her brain around his question. Perhaps the doctor at General Hospital was right and her spouse was crazy and addicted to… living in a disaster zone. The doctor would know everything about psychological and addictive personalities since he was a trained… gynecologist. After all, a doctor is a doctor, right? Her tongue flicked over her lips and she leveled her gaze at her spouse and pouted, “But we just finished redoing our kitchen.”

Then he spoke to her of LED lights and how they were energy efficient and cool (as in, they did not heat up when turned on, unlike her) and how he could put them on a dimmer switch. His words were very persuasive. As were his arms and all his tools. Before she knew what was happening he was standing on a ladder drawing circles on the ceiling of where the new recessed LED lights should go. Then standing close to her he unhooked… the existing overhead lamps. Then she grabbed that symbol of manliness… a saw. Before she realized it, he lifted her onto… the ladder where she cut a hole in her own kitchen ceiling! Yes, YES! Causing havoc in a room she’d already redone was dangerous, stimulating and so thrilling!

She punch-cut holes in the ceiling. She destroyed her kitchen to improve it. And the man of her dreams was not crazy but totally inspired! Doctor General Hospital was wrong. Aren’t those doctors always wrong? Man oh man: these LED lights were going to be great! She hugged her inspired husband.

“About these lights,” he said looking into her bold and beautiful face, “There’s only one problem…”

What is that problem? Find out on the next installment of the New House Girl on As the Kitchen-Redo (Re)Turns!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Vacationing in the Low Countries: Reflections on Writing about Belgium and the Netherlands

This was my second year participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge. Last year I wrote about wine--which became part of my comedic wine book, Evolution of a Wine Drinker. Meanwhile this year I wrote about the Low Countries. As an American who's spent beaucoup time in Belgium and the Netherlands I gambled that I had enough material to write for a whole month about these two adjacent, diverse yet different countries.

I should have bet double or nothing because I would have won big time. I had so much to write about  I ended up cutting material. I'm a good gambler.

Like last year, I wrote a list of A-Z topics in advance but did not write the actual blog post until the day it needed to be posted. Writing this way is a great challenge to me and I enjoyed it. While last year I found it tiring to write every day, this year my blog post was just one of the several things I was writing: namely a novel, a screenplay and comedy sketches. My writing work ethic has improved in one year and the A-Z Blogging Challenge has helped that.

As a side note I learned during the challenge that a screenplay I wrote made the top six finalists in a screenplay competition. From these six, one finalist will be chosen to have their screenplay made into a movie. The finalist winner will be announced in June.  Pretty exciting stuff.

During the A-Z Challenge month I switched between writing about the Netherlands then writing about Belgium. For example, I wrote A is for Amsterdam, B is for Brussels, C is for (Dutch) Canals, D is for (Belgium's) Diamonds, etc. this worked well and kept things lively.

This year I had the label of (HU) for Humor and I'm glad I did for it helped readers identify me as a humor writer. Just in case they didn't get my hilarious, knee-slapping jokes.

I visited a number of other blogs which, like last year, reminded me how vast the world and blogosphere are. It's a good reminder. Since I couldn't visit all of them in April I plan to try to visit the rest now that the Challenge is over.

The two best things about this year's Challenge were: 1) The people reading and leaving comments; and 2) Trying out a non-humourous post on my blog. About the first, the comments are proof that the reader read the post, which always makes me happy. As for the second--the un-funny writing--when writing about Belgium, I felt I had to write about Ypres, the Belgian town and site of five big World War I battles. With this year being the 100th anniversary of that War to End All Wars, I took a gamble that my usual and new readers would go with me on the sad, historical journey to Ypres to remember the 1.7 million soldiers and civilians who died near Ypres over the four years of the war. I should have bet triple or nothing. Not only did they go with me, they spoke and wrote to me about it afterwards. Not everything in life is funny. Sometimes we have to suppress our funny bones and feel with our hearts. Writing about Ypres showed me that.

All of which brings me back to the best thing about the Challenge: the people.

Thanks to all the people who read my blog, participated in the Challenge, and wrote their own blog(s). Finally, a special thanks to all those writers who organized this year's wonderful event! For me it was even better than last year!

I gambled and learned so much in this year's Challenge, so now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the racetrack to gamble on California Chrome in the Preakness!