Sunday, October 25, 2009


As a kid, I loved Halloween almost more than Christmas. Neighborhoods were safer then, and Halloween actually commenced after dark. Nothing was more exciting than racing along dim streets in our costumes. The candy part was anticlimactic. I don’t remember even sampling the candy until after I got home—NO, the real fun was running free in the night, shouting, knocking on strange doors, and comparing notes with my friends on which houses were handing out the best loot. If you got a full sized Hershey bar, that was AMAZING. And by the way, the person who coined the term “fun sized” for those stinking little miniature candy bars is a master of brainwashing, as far as I am concerned.

Another fantastic feature of Halloween, in my youthful opinion, was what it did to ADULTS. Some of the most dignified and respected parents donned costumes and acted extremely frivolous. One of our neighbors dressed up as a witch every Halloween and should have been ashamed of herself, as far as I was concerned. Luckily for me, my mother behaved in an acceptable fashion and merely answered the door and meted out the candy. Period. Of course, SHE didn’t have much fun, but I was fine with that.

This brings me to today. In our family, no one loves Halloween more than my husband. Not me, and not our daughters, even when they were within trick-or-treating parameters. To say that Charlie REVELS in the holiday doesn’t even scratch the surface! At our house, there is an electric jack o’lantern that revolves on a turntable with a fun house mirror behind it! We have scary music blaring out into the night! There are skeleton lights in the tree! It is all I can do to keep Charlie IN the house (in past years, he would meet the little kids at the edge of the yard, and it was reported that they were becoming intimidated…) until the doorbell rings.

Last year we ran out of candy. Panic ensued. I began searching around the house for alternatives as Charlie stalled the children at the door. At first, all was well, as I found some granola bars in the cupboard. But when those were gone, necessity became the mother of invention. Do you remember getting APPLES in your trick or treat bag as a kid? AND HATING THAT??? I rejected the fruit idea. Charlie suggested giving pennies, but Annie reminded us that inflation would dictate that in 2008 the equivalent would be quarters, at least, and we had a dollar’s worth. Another quick rummage through the kitchen.





After a few similar exchanges, with the children on the stoop becoming more restive, verging on violence, I found a box of Quaker Instant Cinnamon Oatmeal, and that was reluctantly accepted by two small ghosts and one tiny cheerleader. Charlie was becoming desperate, his reputation as neighborhood Halloween bon vivant at stake. I began throwing anything I could come up with into the treat bowl: one unopened package of Tic Tacs, two packages of peanut butter Nabs, one carnation instant breakfast, and just as I was about to throw in some microwave popcorn, Annie said, “OK, this is ridiculous, just SHUT THE DOOR AND TURN OUT THE PORCH LIGHT!”

This year, I am going to be smarter and get more candy. No more panic on All Hallow’s Eve for us! And, of course, as a weight watcher, I know enough to get candy that I don’t like.

But I do worry about this, because when Charlie finds out that we are giving out Horehound Drops and Licorice All Sorts this year, I am not sure what he will do…

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I love pomegranates. The seeds are like little jewels. They taste kind of like a combination of grapes and cranberries: sweet, with a little kick. According to the folks at the health food store, they are extremely good for you—loaded with antioxidants and vitamins that keep you living a long time. The problem with pomegranates is that they are hard to open and eat. Those little seeds tend to break open when I cut into the fruit, and they squirt all over my shirt. Others fly around the room as I try to disengage them from the rind and put them in a dish to eat. I can never seem to track all the errant seeds down, and so days later I either step on them, discover them stuck to the walls, or find them dried up on chair cushions. As a result, I eat mostly easy fruits like apples.

This is the story of my life, I guess. As a kid, I never wanted to do much that required major effort. Piano? Are you kidding? You have to practice a half hour a day! Sports? You mean you have to break a sweat? Homework was another thing. If it took hours to write a term paper worthy of an “A,” then I settled for a “B.” I loved books, but if the description of the bosky dell was too detailed, I just skipped pages until the lovers were actually DOING SOMETHING.

This whole habit has stayed with me. I am not proud of it, necessarily, but I feel the need to defend myself against all of those perfectionists out there who feel that doing something requires doing it to the best of one’s ability. THIS IS HOGWASH, IN MY OPINION. Life is short. I want to cram as much in as possible. In order to accomplish that, I have to cut corners.

Let’s consider housework. My mother had a system of keeping house that required an ENTIRE DAY for each activity! Monday, she ironed. I buy wrinkle resistant clothing for all family members. Tuesday was for shopping. Ok, I like to shop, so I do it on a regular basis. Wednesday was for dusting and vacuuming. Dusting? I use my hand; it takes about forty seconds. I vacuum only when I can no longer discern the color of the carpeting. Thursday was for cleaning the bathrooms and washing the floors. I do clean the bathrooms to prevent diseases from spreading, but who ever heard of dusty floors hurting anyone? Mom went on like this all week. I have chosen to work outside of the home and get PAID for it.

Parenting is another area in which I evidently took the easy way. I was never a room mother, because luckily, I was a “Working Mom.” The fact that Charlie also worked and managed somehow to serve up mashed potatoes in the school cafeteria did not escape the notice of my children. When the request went out for cupcakes for the Sunday school bake sale, I always felt that ones made by professional bakers were far superior to the lopsided ones fashioned in the home kitchen. And what is all the fuss about home sewn Halloween costumes? They wear them once, and then GROW OUT OF THEM, for Petes’ sake. Why NOT get them at Wal-Mart?

Yard work is very time consuming, and it is very hard on the knees. I have never really liked flowers all that well anyway. And why in the WORLD would anybody want to spend four hours a week DEADHEADING? I can think of so many other things that I would rather do. Weeding, to me, seems as futile as trying to pick off every single poppy seed from a bagel, one at a time! Our yard looks just fine, thank you, with its ground cover and hardy perennials. Mulch, you know, is not expensive, and if you spread it around thickly enough, it chokes the stuff that isn’t supposed to be growing in those beds. The muscle-bound yard guys I pay to throw the mulch around are also fun to watch from inside the house!

I have never enjoyed cooking. It seems a colossal waste of time to amass ingredients, massage them around, let things rise, baste stuff, and learn how to finesse pie crusts and separate eggs. It takes a member of my family exactly two minutes to polish off dessert. So where is the logic in spending three hours making it?

I am an expediter. I know how to get things checked off lists! My house looks good enough, if you don’t check the corners or wear white kid gloves. I have lots of spare time in which to do fun things. When friends who read what I have written suggest that maybe I might want to write a book, I consider what being an author entails: Thinking of a plot. Description. Exposition. Dialogue. Writing actual chapters. Proofreading, editing, honing, character development…


Saturday, October 10, 2009


There are days when things just don’t go well. The talking alarm clock stops speaking to me. My cell phone dies during an important conversation. I spill juice on yet another brand new T-shirt. I crack my head on the cupboard above the sink. It’s rainy and dull outside. Yesterday was such a day for me. I was wan, depressed, and limp. Charlie saw the situation and jumped into the breach!

“Ok, what do you want to do this afternoon as a fun diversion?” he asked. I, in my weakened state, could come up with nothing. We had seen all the movies, eaten out once already this week, and thanks to the economy, the budget was shot. I sank a little further down into the chair cushions and stared out the window at the empty bird feeder.

After a few minutes of reflection, he came up with a plan. Charlie’s plans are usually excellent. He knows how to spend a day! Our vacations never falter with Charlie at the healm. So I surrendered to his plan, and we got in the car.

The first stop was the music store. He said, “Wait till you see this; you won’t believe it!” He was right! Inside a darkened studio in the bowels of the store was a large box, more like a cabinet. It had a glass front, and it resembled those fortune telling machines at Coney Island—remember the movie “Big?” Inside the display were two antique accordions. Charlie eagerly pushed a button, and the lights came on inside the box, there was a loud WHOOSHING sound, and then the accordions began to play! As they played, Charlie informed me that this machine was probably the only one like it in the world (understandably, in my opinion, but I kept quiet)! The inventor had seen player pianos and decided to make a “player accordion” machine. The music store owner traded a couple of pianos in order to acquire the machine. Seeing it did cheer me up a little, but I experienced a fleeting stab of sympathy for the music store owner’s wife…

We got back into the car and drove out into the country, and spent a fun half hour shopping for pumpkins. I stepped in some slime, convinced Charlie that doing the corn maze in the rain would not be enjoyable, turned down the chance to go on a hayride (wet hay?), and finally purchased a pumpkin. We tasted some cider, bought some Apple Butter, and got back in the car. I was starting to cheer up!

The next stop was “Bed, Bath and Beyond.” Charlie chose this, because, as he told me, “I thought that shopping around would make you happy.” This man KNOWS HIS WIFE. We browsed, we tried on “Snuggies,” and discussed the merits and drawbacks of inflatable beds. We then discovered that in the front of the store was a MASSAGE CHAIR DEMONSTRATION set up. We tried them out! For twenty minutes, the two old folks sat in those chairs, and let me tell you, that SHIATSU setting really works! Picture us: Charlie in his corduroy pants and baseball hat, me in my jeans and Weight Watchers sweatshirt, sitting in the massage chairs, side by side. In the front of the store. In a mall. Probably two hundred people walked by and saw us earnestly testing the equipment…

Feeling energized, we returned to the car. After driving for about a half hour, looking at all the construction in the downtown area of Dayton, we began to feel a bit peckish, and so we decided to have dinner. Charlie gave me my choice of my two FAVORITE restaurants: MCL Cafeteria, which for all of you out-of-towners, is a cafeteria habituated by geriatrics, BUT IT HAS GREAT FOOD, REALLY! The other choice was my favorite pizza restaurant. Remember, we are operating under an austerity budget. Pizza won out, and we had a fun dinner. I even had a glass of wine.

By now, the trials of earlier in the day had been forgotten. Upon arriving home, we sat down to a full evening of Tivoed selections. One of my favorites, about burly tattooed men rescuing chickens in the Bronx, was on, followed by a show with one of Marion’s clients in it. Something about long-dead people being reunited with their families.

So what started out dismally ended up happily. My conclusion, in reflecting upon all of this, is this:


Monday, October 5, 2009


I just returned from accompanying Annie to Chicago for a championship Dressage event. For those of you who don’t know, Dressage is that kind of riding that they do on those Lipizzaner stallions. The horses look like they are dancing, and the riders look like they are doing nothing but sitting there. The truth is the exact opposite.

Annie went on a pony ride at age six. Actually, at this community picnic, the pony rides were free, and so Annie would take a ride, run around to the end of the line, and do it again. And again, and again. After about fifteen rides with Annie and another ten with the other children, the pony became exhausted and had to be retired for the day. Annie, on the other hand, was outraged that the pony had to leave before Annie could have another dozen rides. That was the beginning of a horse career that has lasted for twenty years.

Horses and women go together. Men at horse events are as scarce as hen’s teeth. I guess all the men who like horses go west and become cowboys. Do you know what having a horse and showing it entails? I am going to tell you, and then you, like me, will wonder why MEN don’t do this:

Horses are huge. They can be very dangerous. They have to be wrangled around, bossed, broken, and trained to do exactly what the rider wants them to do. They don’t always want to cooperate, and so they can BUCK, SPOOK, GALLOP AWAY AT BREAKNECK SPEED, THROW PEOPLE UP IN THE AIR, RUN PEOPLE DOWN, AND EVEN KILL FOLKS. And who is it that wants to interact with these thousand-pound animals? LITTLE GIRLS.

Annie was six when she started her love affair with horses. By the time she was twelve, she had her own horse, and we watched, often in horror, as she took control of a beast who could easily kill her, and loved every minute of it. For her, the ultimate experience is the HORSE SHOW.

A horse show gives people from all over the opportunity to compete at various levels of expertise, and then win ribbons. Beautiful women (not men, remember) on beautiful horses executing elegant movements are awe inspiring. It is a thrill to watch. But here is the BACKSTORY:

It takes years of repetitive practice to become show-ready. You and the horse have to work as a team. I have been watching Annie ride for years. She loves every minute. I don’t get it. Here is what it looks like to me:

To practice, you have to tack up your horse, ride him for an hour, untack, rinse him (or whatever they call that), get the yucky stuff out of his feet, clean your saddle and other leather equipment, give the horse some food, and then go home. This is after you have worked a full-time job in order to AFFORD the horse, the saddle, the food, the stall, etc. To be effective as a rider, you have to practice just about every day.

If your horse gets sick, or lame, you have to know how to evaluate whether or not it requires veterinary action. This means you have to know an awful lot of medical stuff, and how to give horse pills, horse shots, and take a horse’s temperature. You have to know how to analyze his poop, and you have to know what a hoof abscess looks and SMELLS like.

If you are really dedicated and good at all of this activity, then you get to go to a HORSE SHOW. At the show, I would estimate that for every five minutes spent competing, there are about seven hours of work leading up to the event. There are equipment stalls and feeding regimens. There is also training, hauling manure, cleaning tack, washing the horse, braiding his mane, and shining him up like a new penny. After showing for five minutes, the horse has to be rewashed, unbraided, and fed. After that, there is all of the cleaning of the saddle, the bridle, the boots, etc. Did I mention that dressage riders always wear WHITE PANTS?

We just got back from a show in Chicago where the wind blew, it rained cats and dogs, you could see your breath, and the arenas looked like swamps. I wanted to go home the minute we got there. But Annie and all of the other horsewomen there LOVED IT. I still don’t get it. Don’t BOYS like playing in the mud? Isn’t it guys that love to stomp in puddles? I thought large farm animals were the m├ętier of the masculine gender!

As I sat there in the rain, watching, I did an informal count. There were approximately two hundred people competing in the show, and four of them were men. The people wrangling, pushing, finessing and mastering these magnificent animals were women. Women!

And according to Annie, a lot of her girlfriends ride in RODEOS. So here is my question: Isn’t the term COWBOY inaccurate and just perhaps a little too self congratulatory?

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