3/20/2015

Stayin' Alive

As I hunker down in the bliss of middle age, there is one thing that has become extremely clear to me: I am very lucky to be alive. I have been babysitting my grandkids fairly regularly lately and though I figured that I was pretty good at mothering, it's a lot different now. I grew up in dangerous times and didn't even realize it until I became a grandmother. I raised my own children like I was raised. I thought my parents did a pretty good job with me, so I carried on their work with a few upgrades.

As I was strapping my 2 1/2 year old granddaughter into her car seat the other day, it all hit me as to how lucky I was to be walking this earth. I am pretty sure I didn't have a car seat or even seat belts when I was young. Oh, I take that back. I did have a seat belt. It was called Mom. When she had to hit the brakes suddenly, she would throw her extended arm across me to keep me from being hurled into the air. I don't think that kind of protection would prove effective in today's crash tests, but I am still here to tell the story.

When my grandson rides his bike or his scooter, he wears knee pads and a helmet. When I look back, I rode a bike and roller skated on the city streets without any kind of head gear or padding, I am astonished that I made it to this age. My younger sister skated too and she wasn't as good as I was and was prone to falling down pretty often. Obviously, Mom was ahead of her time in the field of childhood safety, because even though she never thought about protecting my sister's head, she started belting a bed pillow to sister's back side when we went outside to skate down the sidewalks. The pillow trick worked really well because my sister's butt was unharmed and is flourishing to this day.

Come to think about it, I am closer to being a senior citizen than a debutante, so how did I escape death when I grew up on white bread? I even ate Velveeta and Spam and I am here to talk about it. I don't eat it anymore, but I can assure you that in my youth I had my fill of gluten and trans fat. I am pretty sure that an Omega 3 oil never crossed my tongue as a kid unless it was found in fish sticks. Growing up, the closest I ever came to eating organic was when I decided to taste one of the mud pies I had created in the yard.

Thank goodness my brain was never corrupted from watching television in my early years. Although there was no such thing as Parental Control to block me from watching unfit things, there weren't actually a lot of unfit things on TV back then. How much trouble could Gilligan really get into to that I would need to be shielded from?

It's a miracle that I lived to be this old because I was spanked within an inch of my life for misbehaving. Kids today are not spanked or slapped anymore. Even if they try to touch something dangerous or run into the street, corporal punishment is considered wrong. Now parents discuss the wrong-doing with the child and make contractual agreements with 5 year olds about the consequences if the infraction should ever occur again. I was slapped on occasion, spanked from time to time and otherwise punished in addition to being put in solitary confinement to think about what I'd done. How did I ever escape childhood relatively unscathed?

And to think I played with cap guns, and pogo sticks and jump ropes. I could have been burned or impaled or strangled for goodness sake! I faced so much danger and yet... I made it.

I had mumps and measles and chicken pox and, except for the permanent little hole in my forehead from that spot I couldn't stop scratching, I came through all of it.

I feel very fortunate to have lived through so much despite the fact that I didn't have anything to keep me safe and healthy. I am one lucky lady.

Miss Fifi has yet another gift to be thankful for in this life... The privilege of getting older.

3/13/2015

Senti-MENTAL Journey

I am writing this from this from Indialantic, Florida, which is right below Orlando. It is 6 o′clock in the morning and I am trying to put my thoughts down on this iPad from my guest bedroom without the benefit of coffee. I am here to help my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Micky and Alana, through a somewhat bittersweet process: selling their home by the sea and moving back to California, where most of the family resides. Their house is going on the market in 2 weeks or so, but before that, a giant estate sale had to take place so I came here to help, both physically and mentally. Just to clarify, I am divorced, but my ex-husband’s family is still MY family. Basically, they kept me and he got to have his girlfriend. I am the big winner in this deal.

“Estate sales are a very emotionally draining experience and it was up to me to be the voice of reason every step of the way.”

Getting ready for a move across country and downsizing considerably is very physically demanding even if you are 35, which we are not. Just setting up to sell a house full of stuff is a huge effort. I conducted estate sales as a sideline for many years, so I know the ropes as to how to get things sold. There is more to it than just the day of the sale. Before anything else can happen, you have to separate what is to be sold from the items that are keepers. This is where the real fun begins and why they really needed me. This is a very emotionally draining experience and it was up to me to be the voice of reason every step of the way. Parting with things you love can be so traumatic and can really mess with your head and heart.

I know from experience how hard this process can be. After my divorce, the family home was sold and I ran my own estate sale. I had lived in the house for 25 years and raised my babies there. I was moving into a place not even half the square footage of my house, so I knew I had to whittle down my belongings. Easier said than done. My poor sister had to be much more than "the voice of reason" with me. She had to perform an intervention on me every time she viewed what I was planning on keeping.

I couldn't imagine myself as a single woman living alone. I couldn't fathom not needing every mixing bowl, vase, platter and tablecloth that I owned. And what about the things that belonged to my loved ones who were no longer on this earth? And all the sweet gifts people had given me through the years? And my collections, for goodness sakes! I had been working on those for decades. My poor sister had to talk me down from the roof on every "treasure" that I insisted on keeping. She was an angel and was very patient with me. I know what Alana was going through and I was determined to get her through this sale with a feeling of relief from being out from under all her stuff and not regretting her choices.

I am the most sentimental fool I know of and my sister-in-law is not far behind me. I had to be gently persuasive when trying to get her to part with things and put them in the sale. She hadn't come to grips with the fact that many of the items she felt she couldn't live without were things she hadn't used in years. My dear brother-in-law, Micky, was no problem at all. He was in charge of getting rid of the endless tools, widgets, electronics, yard equipment and other "testosterone-ish" items that filled the garage and shed. He had way less attachment to his man stuff and was excited to turn them into cash. He kept out of our way and only appeared when he was needed to move something. Micky is a dream man. He made my job easier. Alana is another story.

She really loves and trusts me and listened to my reasoning. She let go of things she really wanted to keep and I was proud of her. I didn't even say anything when I noticed that some items had mysteriously made their way from the "sale" area to the "keep" room. When they go to pack it up, there will be another edit when everything doesn't fit in the moving van and yet another one when they find a place in California and discover they still own too much. It's the natural progression of things and it doesn't seem to end, at least not for me. I have lived in my place for nearly 7 years and I STILL have an ass-load of belongings to get rid of. So who am I to judge?

We held the sale for 3 straight days. We made a nice amount of cash and got rid of tons. Clean up was a breeze. Alana and I hauled an SUV filled with the leftovers to the Goodwill on the last day and she never looked back. Good girl!

This experience was a good one for all of us. I got to visit my beloved beach oasis one more time and be with people I adore. We proved that even old people can "Git 'er done!" with determination, love and a good amount of red wine.

I had such a good time, despite the long hours and hard work. And as a bonus, I get to have their fantastic curio cabinet that I have admired for ages. I kept all my little collections of Murano glass birds, my grandmother's tea cups, my mother's thimbles and so on and I will have a perfect place to display them. Boy, will my sister be surprised to see them again! Wink, wink.

2/20/2015

Party On!

They say that postal carriers will brave rain, sleet, snow, and dark of night to deliver the mail. I just did that and more to deliver myself to a surprise party in Virginia last Sunday. One of the people dearest to me turned 80 years old. His beautiful wife gave him a fabulous surprise Sunday brunch at his favorite restaurant. It was an event that dozens of friends and family kept secret for many months despite the fact that many of us are over 50 and can't remember what we had for breakfast, much less remember to lie. You have to be really smart to be a good liar and sadly many of us tripped over our tongues a few times in recent weeks and had to think fast to cover up. Luckily, we made it through and he was speechless when he saw the smiling faces of the sixty people who traveled in the biggest snow of the year to be there. It was an amazing experience and I was honored to attend.

As so often happens with my crazy brain, I started thinking about birthdays. I think they are very exciting but a lot of people don't. I hate it when someone says that their birthday is "just another day". Are you kidding me? That's like saying that the Taj Mahal is just another building. Getting to be another year older should be one of the biggest days of a person's year. The alternative is being dead. I am not planning on doing dead for a long time.

I personally have my black belt in the art of the BIRTHDAY. You know how some people celebrate their birthday for a whole week? I celebrate for an entire month with courteous reminders to my near and dear weeks beforehand as to how many shopping days are left. I was born under the sign of Leo, so the minute the Zodiac goes into my sign on July 23rd, it is officially my birthday until we go into Virgo on August 22nd. My birthday is a big deal to me and so are the birthdays of the people that I care about.

Did you know that more people are born in August than any other month? And more birthdays fall on 0ctober 5th than any other day. February is the slowest month for birthdays. If your birthday is on May 22, then you have the distinction of coming into this world on the slowest day for births.

Do you know why we put candles on a birthday cake? You will know in a minute and if you are ever on Jeopardy! you will be ready if this comes up. The Greeks started the tradition of putting candles on a cake to honor the goddess of the moon, Artemis. The glow of the candles replicated the lunar glow. Pretty cool, huh?

I am especially fond of milestone birthdays which are 13, 16, 21,30,40,50 and 60. After sixty, the milestones come every 5 years—65,70, 75,80 and so on—according to the greeting card people. It makes sense since life becomes more of a craps shoot when you get up there in age. I'm all for it! Birthdays should be fabulous and if yours aren't, you need to make them so.

This article is dedicated to my darling Robert Kamel (yes, you say it just like the animal). You are such a star and you have proven that being kind, helping others, having integrity and a big heart, being a good father, husband and friend plus eating right and going to the gym 3-4 times a week pays off. Did I mention that you are also ridiculously handsome?

Damn, you are too young to be 80!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

2/05/2015

American Hair-itage

I was looking through some photos of myself the other day and marveled at the how I have evolved over the years. Of course my clothes made me laugh and I truly had some of those "what was I thinking" moments as I went through the pictures. Even though my outfits were a sign of the times and my weight varied from decade to decade, the one thing that remained basically the same was my long hair. I have only had short hair 3 times in my life. Once, when I was born and my nearly white hair was almost invisible. My mother used tape to affix a bow to my head on my first birthday, I am told. When I was about 6, my mom decided that the thing to do with my hair was to cut it short and give me a home permanent. The pictures of me in my poodle-do are probably the reason that I insisted on letting my hair grow after that.

As a young adult in the '70s and '80s, I ran the gamut from long straight locks parted down the middle to my Farrah coiffure to my long layered curly gypsy hair. But it was always long. I entertained the idea of a short hairstyle when Dorothy Hamill made news with her famous "wedge" haircut. She was really cute and I considered going that route for a short minute until I realized that what the world had fallen in love with is the fantastic way her hair fanned out when she was twirling around on the ice. I knew this "do" was not for me because unless I was planning on doing a sit spin in the middle of the conference room, this style would do me no good in the business world.

The third and final time that I had short hair was in the early '90s when my career was on fire and an image consultant told me that I needed to have a more business-like hairstyle, which translated into "shorter hair". I resisted, but when I looked around, all the really successful women had sleek, upscale haircuts that were perfect for their jet set lives. The only one that broke this rule was Hillary Clinton. If you remember, she had shoulder length hair and wore hair bands. And boy, did the press give her a lot of crap for it. Before long, one of those image consultant jerks must have taken her to the side as well, because in no time she, too, had joined the ranks of the short-haired "blow and go" professional women's club.

Even though I had considered chopping off my hair for a more executive image, I always hesitated and then chickened out. Then one day, I thought, maybe I come across too soft. Maybe a chiseled bob is what I need to look more powerful. It was a difficult decision for me as I was approaching my 40s and if I cut my hair now, would that be it for me? Would I then be one of the middle aged crowd with their look-a-like hair? As I grew even older would I end up as one of the blue-haired ladies with a teased-to-death Jiffy Pop hairdo? I remember being at a luncheon for women in business. I looked around the room and there were only 2 other women with long hair. Whether they were 35 or 75, they each had a short hair-do.

It was about 1993 and I decided to cut my hair. I went to one of those snooty patootie high-end salons where everything and everybody was too hip for words. I remember so vividly the conversation I had with Jean-Claude, my tres chic stylist. I told him I wanted something that was sophisticated but that would suit my bubbly personality. I wanted it to be easy to care for and have attitude. He suggested a very short close to the head style. He showed me a photo of a very angular rail thin model with the hair he was suggesting. I tried to be respectful, because he was the professional, but I have a face that's on the roundish cherub side and I could not imagine me pulling off a "pixie". It was a good call on my part because as the years have gone by, I have come to realize that only someone as beautiful as Halle Berry can pull of drastically short hair. Certainly not this girl with the Scooter Pie face. So monsieur decided that a "sassy bob" was what I needed. I liked the idea of being "sassy". It's kind of like sexy with a business vibe. I let him do it.

The third time for short hair was definitely not the charm. I left that salon un-sassy and fighting back tears. I had hoped to reinvent my image and look like a mover and a shaker in the man-dominated business world. Instead I looked like the mom on the Wonder Years. I hated it. I didn't feel powerful. I felt stupid. I have not had short hair since.

When I was raising my girls and even now, I have a mantra about hair. It's only hair and it will grow. When my kids did crazy things with their hair, I never said much. Even when my youngest surprised me with her royal blue Mohawk, I just let it pass. My kids have had purple hair and crazy haircuts and I just smile and tell them I love them. If I wanted to stop them from doing freaky things with their hair, all I would have to do is dye mine some unnatural Crayola color and it would all stop. I just might do it, but I'm not cutting it!

See below... what do you think?

1/30/2015

Tweet Inspiration

I am so into tweeting. What a wonderful world this is, and I have discovered a fascinating part of, that has eluded me for too long. Before you start looking up my Twitter account, let me remind you that I am about a decade behind in social media, so it's not those "tweets" that I am referring too. If it wasn't for my Social Media Goddess, Miss Nora, LoveFifi.com would be up the creek without a paddle when it comes to the all the social media hoop-di-doo that is needed to be in business today. Thank you Nora. I would post my appreciation on Facebook and thank you publicly if I knew how.

What I am talking about are the real tweets. The ones that come from birds. Since I moved up into the hills, I have embraced my woodsy environment with great enthusiasm. Seeing a mother deer and her baby only feet away from me is a common occurrence. I have had to learn the hard way about the beautiful Bambi creatures that roam around my home. I was foolish enough to plant roses against my 4 foot back fence when I first moved in. Little did I know that roses were a deer delicacy. I was lucky to see any blooms at all because the next time I looked, I was the proud owner of stick bushes with not a rose in sight. I plant differently now but still leave something for my deer to munch on so I can have the pleasure of seeing them up close.

I have had to also learn how to coexist in harmony with the squirrels, possums, white-tailed bunnies, chipmunks, coyotes, and mountain lions (yes, mountain lions). But it is my relationship with birds that gives me joy every day. Even though I am a hopeless city girl, I always liked birds. My grandmother had a lovely yellow canary named "Beauty". I remember how ceremoniously she would cover him over at night and how he would sing when we uncovered him in the morning. She had him for as long as I could remember. It wasn't until recently that I realized that canaries don't live for 30 years, so she probably switched him out for a new one a few times. But "Beauty" always sang and it was a fond memory.

When I moved to the hills, I started a love affair with birds that is still going strong. I treasure my time on my back deck each morning. There are trees of every description all around me. The robins, doves and blue jays come to visit and dine on the special mix birdseed that I buy for them. The little finches use my fountain as a birdbath and don't seem to mind me watching them do their morning toilette. It is amazing that my presence doesn't scare the birdies away. They don't seem to fear the lady who just got out of bed who's hair is sticking straight up and who's eyes resemble a raccoon's from yesterdays mascara. I think the fact that I serve a virtual bird buffet keeps them coming back. And the hummingbirds... be still my heart. I have several feeders and I get herds of hummingbirds. Do they come in herds? Let me check. OK, I'm back and now I am really excited! A whole lot of hummingbirds is called "a charm". How cute is that? And while I was reading the online bird dictionary, I learned that a bunch of blue jays is "a band" and my finches in a group are "a trembling". The more I read the more I wanted to coax even more types of birds to my yard. I learned early on that if you give them what they like, they will find you. I guess word spreads fast and furiously in the bird world.

I started fantasizing about how I could make the back of my house a sanctuary and lure even more fantastic winged creatures to my yard. I will need some kind of a small pond so I can entice "a ballet" of swans to migrate to my property. I hear there are larks in my area and I need to find out what they like to eat so I can get "an exaltation" of larks to move my way. "A conspiracy" of ravens might be a little scary, but "a bouquet" of pheasants sounds like a divine addition to my bird community. At night I hear the owls but I don't see them. I know that they are out there and when they hang out in a group they are called "a parliament". I have to face the fact that although my personal space is pretty rural, I still live in L.A., so I guess I will never have "a flamboyance" of flamingos in my patio, but I really want one.

My neighbor next door always admonishes me for putting food out for the birds because it encourages squirrels. I think of it more as going with the flow of the balance of nature. Encouraging squirrels? Really, now. It's not like I am trying to get them to go to college and make something of themselves. Yes, they are precocious and they are piggish when it comes to stealing the bird food. They are fun to watch when they do their "Cirque du Soleil" acrobatics off the bird feeders. I have the squirrel-proof kind but the squirrels just laugh and steal the seed. They are very entertaining and I would never shoo them away. In fact, I am thinking of buying the t-shirt below. It makes me smile and it will drive my neighbor lady crazy.

1/23/2015

Tipping

Those of you who regularly read my columns know that my brain is very special. The craziest thoughts get stuck in my blonde head and the longer that thought is running around in my brain, the more likely it is to go haywire in a variety of directions before I am done with it. These thoughts eventually turn into words and get sent to you to read over the weekend with morning coffee. This weekend will be no different, my dear readers, because I totally got hung up on practice of tipping and what it all means and how it got started.

Tipping

The practice of tipping the waitstaff in an eating establishment started in England and made its way to Colonial America. The term "tip" is thought to have originally been an acronym meaning "To Insure Promptness". Tipping servers in restaurants has long been customary in the United States, but how much to tip seems to confound some people. I recently went away for a few days with a group of friends. We ate in restaurants at every meal and it was very relaxing and quite fun to spend that time dining together. When the check came, we divided up the total by the number of people at the table. That's the easy part. My friends would never start taking inventory of who ate what because they simply are not like that. They also know that my head would explode. They wouldn't be my fiends if they were worried about who had what. The check was divided by six and that was it. Then came the discussion about the TIP and what the percentage should be, what kind of job the server did, and so on. Do we add on 15%, 20% or more because we were a party of 6? Was the fact that we had to ask for more butter twice a reason to subtract percentage points from what we leave our waiter? I listened carefully to what everyone was saying and kept quiet. I can't expect the rest of the world to embrace my philosophy on tipping in restaurants, so I just join in with what everyone else decides and if I don't think it's enough I add to it when nobody notices or slip extra to my server on the way out. I am a big tipper because I am so damn grateful that I never had to be a waitress and I appreciate what they do. I even tip well when they suck because I figure that they may not have a job for long. It's kind of my own little personal charity.

So, now I was curious about tipping in general. There's been a lot written about it so I looked it up. We tip in the U.S., but there are lots of places in the world where they don't. If you are not a fan of tipping, then a move a move to Austrialia, Croatia or Greece might be an option. They don't expect it in those places. Countries like France and Italy add it to your bill before you get it. There are also countries that find a gratuity to be an insult.

The fact that we tip our waiters and waitresses in America is a necessary custom. Did you know that waitstaff in this country depend heavily on gratuities to survive? The Wall Street Journal reported that 15% of waitstaff in this country live below the poverty level as compared to other hourly workers where only 7% fall into that category. When reading up on this subject I also learned that waitresses who are pretty earn more tips and strangely enough studies show that female servers who wear a barrette or flower in their hair make better tips. I was delighted to learn that a 20% tip is closer to the standard in restaurants these days, so people are paying up to be served. I read that tipping cab drivers 20% is considered the going rate, but here's where I get tough. If they don't willingly handle my luggage, or if they smoke in the car or talk on the cell phone instead of paying attention to the road, their tip dwindles with every infraction. I can deal with a disgruntled cab driver, but the people who handle my food and my dining experience are well taken care of.

Tip of the Iceberg

The words "tip" and "tipping" just wouldn't leave my head. Maybe because they are both pretty cute words. Whatever it is, my brain skipped around and landed on "tip of the iceberg". This refers to a small, noticeable part of a problem, the total size of which is really much greater.

How about tipping your hat? Where did that come from? When men wore hats as part of everyday dress, lifting the brim of the hat from the head for a moment was considered a polite, non-verbal way to show recognition, gratitude, or a simple greeting to another person. How adorable is that? My brain was still going and I thought about something being on the tip of my tongue or how mischievous it felt to be tip-toeing for some reason. Yep, I got hung up on tip/tipping and I dragged you along with me! I know I have to stop this madness, but not just yet. Stick with me through just one more!




Cow Tipping

Is it a real thing or just legend? Before I get off my journey on The Tipping Express, I have to know.

ow tipping is purportedly the activity of sneaking up on an unsuspecting upright sleeping cow and pushing it over for entertainment. I was relieved to find out that it's just an urban legend and does not really exist. Good to know. I like cows.

Well, I'm done for now and my mind is now empty for the time being. Whew! That was exhausting...

Talk to you next week. Love you. Mean it.

1/08/2015

Bank Deposits

Do you know someone who doesn't ever cook because they don't like to clean up afterwards? I know people who never have parties because they don't want to deal with putting their house back in order when the guests have left. I even have a casual friend who only visits her kids and grand kids at their houses because it's "too much work and mess" to have them at her house.

Nobody really minds packing for a dreamy vacation. You put every item in your suitcase with thoughts of the good times you're going to have. Then you come home, what do you have? A heap of dirty clothes to be sorted, laundered and put away.

You can look at life this way or you can look at it MY way. I never mind for a minute the dirty dishes or pots and pans that come with cooking a great meal for my loved ones. I give parties and have get-togethers at the drop of a hat and quite enjoy cleaning up when it's over. When my grandchildren come and stay it takes me weeks to get back to normal after their visit. I find cheesy Goldfish crackers in between sofa cushions and stepped-on Crayons in rooms where no coloring went on, as far as I know. Finding these treasures brings me back to the days when my own babies were running around the house, and I always smile.

Here's how I differ from how most people operate. Whenever I am undoing "the doings" and cleaning up, I am as content as a pussycat basking in the sun. Why, you ask? Because when the fun was going on, I made a huge deposit to my memory bank. So when I'm scrubbing and sweeping or marching the beer bottles to the recycle bin, I am thinking about all that went on, who I got to be with and the memories that I now own and can revisit forever. It makes the work that goes along with having a full life absolutely painless. Enjoying cleaning up the aftermath only takes a good healthy deposit to your memory bank account when you are in the moment of all the fun. When it comes to getting down to business after the good times are over, you can make a withdrawal from your memory bank and clean up is a joy. I always enjoy putting my world back together as a good part of the whole experience because I get to relive and reflect on every bit of fun I had.

This weekend I am facing the Granddaddy of all clean up jobs when the good times are over. It's time to take down the Christmas decorations. I refuse to let it get me down, because taking all the twinkling lights out of my life for another year could be depressing, if I let it. But each time I take an ornament down from the tree I will think about where it came from or who gave it to me before I wrap it and put it away. Every one of my decorations has a history or a special meaning and I get to channel all those wonderful feelings as I put everything away. Throughout the Christmas season, my deposits to my bank of memories are big ones. I get to enjoy most of the people I love in person, follow our family's traditions and spend wondrous amounts of time taking in the joys of the season. My memories are rich and beautiful and I get to visit them again and again as I pack up my decorations until next year. I honestly don't mind the full day it takes to get it all put away.

Your memories are one of the most important things you own. Keep them safe and pure. Bank them and pull them out when you need them. My memories have gotten me through some rough times and always remind me how lucky I am.

Have a happy and healthy New Year to all my beloved readers.

P.S. Before I put it away, take a look at what Fifi's house looks like at Christmas. I can't wait until I am old enough (and crazy enough) to keep it looking like this all year long.