4/16/2015

Elephantastic

I am preparing to leave on what I feel is a well deserved vacation. My sister, two of my best friends in life and I are all going on a one week cruise together. We have been paying for it for a year, so when we step on board it will feel good to know that the trip itself is completely paid for.

I pulled out my luggage to prepare for the tedious job of packing. It's so much fun to pack to go on a ship because most everything you wear is comfortable but there is also a serious fashion show that goes on among the women passengers. It starts for me weeks before we leave. I have to get myself ready, but I am also my sister's "stylist". Before she retired and came to work with me at Lovefifi.com, she wore a dark blue police uniform for a couple of decades. Now that she is free to channel her inner fashionista, she worries constantly about what she is going to wear for everything. It took me years to get her to loosen up and wear color. She has progressed to letting her hair down considerably and even has a bit of a funky streak now and then. I am very proud. The trouble is that she has no faith in her own taste and makes me yay or nay every item she plans to wear on the trip. Our vacation is only a few days away and sister is now in the packing stage. Thank goodness!

I have done so much business traveling that I am a whiz at packing. Packing for cruise is easy because there is no limit to how many suitcases you can take. The only challenge comes with trying to put everything away in a tiny little room, with an even teenier closet. Then you have to multiply that amount by 2 for sister's stuff. Thankfully the suitcases fit under the beds, but space is limited.

I won't lie to you, I am a heavy packer. I bring the absolute most I can and still manage to have places to put it away. I am not one of those people who brings exactly the same number of outfits as there are days with a few additions for night time. I don't know what mood I will be in when I wake up. I need to go to my part of the closet and have choices. I always bring home lots of clothes that I never wore. That's OK with me. I'm happy the whole time knowing I could go with most any fashion whim and change several times a day if I cared to. Unfortunately, my sister has learned this from me and usually we have enough clothes to stay for a month.

So, I don't pack light. Shoot me. I am not changing. I am, however, very smart about luggage. I don't believe that people put any thought into luggage when they buy it. Just look at the carousel at baggage claim the next time you fly. You will see a preponderance of black suitcases going around interspersed with about a dozen Louis Vuitton bags. The rest are often gray, brown or navy with only a handful of distinctive bags that are easy to identify. This is so stupid to me. As prestigious and expensive as the Vuitton bags may be, they still look alike. If you're intent on having a brown suitcase with initials, why not stencil your own damn initials on it? OK, your name is not French and probably won't impress anyone, but you will probably be able to find your luggage without a hitch. They don't check you at the door anymore to see if you have the right bag. What do you think is the most stolen item off of luggage carousels? Louis Vuitton.

It is a mystery to me why people buy black luggage, or even gray or navy. Some of it is very expensive and high end. What is the point in spending a fortune for luxury luggage when you have to hang homemade yarn pom pom from it show that it is yours?

I have been in the lost luggage booth at the airport many times. They always show you pictures of different shaped bags and ask you to point to the one that is most like yours. They ask you the color and if there are any distinguishing features of the luggage to make it easier for them to find it. Knowing full well that what I see at the baggage claim pretty much all looks the same, I set out years ago to make my life as stress free as possible when I travel.

I buy new suitcases every 5 or 6 years. When I shop I always imagine what it will look like going around in circles in the sea of plain dark suitcases. I like to shop online and find the most attractive set I can that will stand out in the crowd. My current set is very handsome, but I don't think there are a lot of people who truly understood it's unique beauty like I did. It's navy blue with a snazzy contrasting trim and it has Indian Elephants printed on every square inch of it. When I wave down a porter to help me with my baggage and he asks how many bags and what my bags look like, all I have to say is that they are 2 and that they are navy blue with elephants. The minute they come out of the shoot, my elephant print bags are rock stars among the rest and I am out of there in a flash. If, heaven forbid, my luggage never comes to the carousel, my time with the lost luggage people is short and sweet. Navy blue elephant print. My cases are never lost for long because they are easy to spot even if they went to Cleveland instead of Chicago.

Now, imagine instead of 250 people on a flight with luggage waiting at baggage claim, you are on a ship with a couple of thousand over-packers at the terminal baggage claim. My luggage is never where it is supposed to be but it never takes long to find it. Those sweet elephants never fail to find me, one way or the other.

So, the next time you are in the market for a set of luggage, consider buying something that stands out. They still sell my set on wayfair.com. It's called Budapest, by American Flyer and I won't mind if you have a set a too. I always get super excited when I pull out the elephant bags and get ready for a trip. My pretty little pachyderms give me style and flair and let me know that we are going on an adventure. And the best part about it all? No yarn pom poms required.

4/04/2015

In Good Taste

I have a good friend who is absolutely brilliant at wine. He dearly loves fine wines and has introduced me to some beautiful vintages through the years. Drinking wines that he has chosen is always a learning experience because he challenges you to identify the flavors with your eyes closed and your taste buds wide awake. I have actually gotten quite good at nailing some very exotic flavors that are subtle even to the wine aficionado, though I am not one.

I do know what tastes good and what is a lot of hype. For example, I love champagne dearly and a lot of the very expensive ones cannot compare to some that I have had from unknown makers. Magnificent taste does not always come with a high price. There are very affordable wines that are really good. All you need is a sophisticated palate, which is learned, and appreciative and discerning taste buds, which it helps to be born with.

This same friend took me to a Les Amis du Vin (The Friends of Wine) event in our city. This is kind of a fancy group of people who get together and drink and discuss great wine. OK, they don't just drink wine, they have an intimate affair with it. They swirl it, hold it up to the light, stick most of their face in the glass and inhale and then finally let it flow gently over their tongues and then down their hoity-toity throats. It's kind of fun to wait for the expressions that follow. Whether these tastes of the grape bring pleasure or disappointment, it is discussed. The members have their own lingo, so I just listened politely and smiled. I prayed that no one asked me my opinion. By the time I had sat through about three tastings, I was not only clueless as to what they were looking for, but I was a bit tipsy. Anyway, the evening was pleasant, if a little too snooty for me. It got me thinking... are you surprised?

There ought to be discussion groups for tasty pleasures that a lot of people enjoy. And then it came to me in a flash. I could easily lead regular group discussions on a subject that I dare say I am both an expert and a connoisseur. I thought about how much I could add to this world with my vast knowledge, teaching so many so much. I could start my own group and it might grow into international chapters. If people can gather to discuss wine, cheese, cigars and the like, wouldn't it be wonderful to get together and discuss CANDY? That's what I'm talkin' about.

I have loved candy for nearly as long as I have been on this earth. One of the best things about being a kid was when I earned money doing chores and could then ride my bike to the corner store and buy candy. It was always a special treat and it still is. I don't think anyone appreciates candy more than I do. I have had a lifetime to explore all the delicious varieties of candy confections. I can describe the taste, the aroma and the subtle nuances of every one of my favorite candies. Before we go any further, I am not only talking about exquisite Belgian chocolates or Italian nougat or German marzipan which I adore, but the candy every American child grew up on. The kind that is lined up on 3-tiered shelving on a solid aisle of yumminess in every drug store, supermarket and 7-11.

Of course, you can't simply trust the opinion of one person, although I am very qualified in this area. I set out to do research to find out what we all like to eat when it comes to candy. Fortunately I didn't have to dig too hard. USA TODAY did a fabulous job of coming up with the Top 50 Candies of All Time. When I read through the list, I agreed with many, disagreed with some and was downright shocked at others. I am convinced that there needs to be group tastings and discussions to sort this all out. My guess is that many candy lovers never venture outside their comfort zone and end up buying the same thing every time they indulge. Case in point: Werther's caramels came in number 50 while candy corn landed at the top. Number 13! Really? How in the hell did that happen? The Candy Corn Council obviously does a better job than the folks at Werther's. One of my personal faves, Necco Wafers, only made it to number 44. These delicious little discs of flavor that disintegrate into paper thin yumminess give pleasure to the taste buds and the tongue. Yet, Peeps made it to 23rd. place. Very confounding, indeed. Peeps are cute and they sell zillion of them at Easter, but I wonder how many of these fluffy sugar encrusted critters actually get eaten.

Below are the Top 10 candies that sell the most. I agree wholeheartedly with most of them, but if there was a Candy Society to assess the virtues and failures of big sellers, I think the list would change. People just don't know...

10. Hershey Bar. You will get no argument from me. Perfect. And without them there could be no S'mores. Unthinkable.

9. Twix. Not a big deal to me but I appreciate their fan base. Those who love them, love them. Good enough.

8. Butterfinger. Yes, baby! Messy to eat but heavenly.

7. Gummy Bears/Gummy Worms. OK, we have to have to let the kids have a say. I also know that dieters like these because they are low in sugar and a serving is a lot of pieces, I would much rather have a delicious Tootsie Roll Pop (# 15) that satisfies a sweet tooth, lasts a long time and is only 50 calories. If there was a group, you would know that already.

6. Kit Kat. Again, not my thing. More of a cookie than a candy and I am a purist. I know lots of people love them, so I cave to this confection's undeniable popularity.

5. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. A superstar in the candy world. Fabulous!

4. Twizzler's. Oh, come on! I will pit waxy tasteless Twizzler's against soft, chewy and flavorful Red Vines any day. No comparison. Red Vines are way better. This is what happens when there is no group that brings these details to forefront.

3. Snickers. Who doesn't like a Snickers? One of the greatest candy concoctions ever created.

2. Hershey's Kisses. Perfect name, perfect amount of chocolate to make your mouth happy.

1. M & M's. Created in 1941, these scrumptious little candy-coated milk chocolate morsels are at the top of my list, as well. I would rather have a bag of plain M & M's over of a truck load of Godiva Chocolates. That's just how good I think they are. The fact that they melt in your mouth, not in your hands has never mattered much to me. They are never in my hand long enough to get squishy. The DO, however, melt in my jeans pocket in the clothes dryer. Long story.

So, whenever you out there are ready to form a Candy Connoisseurs Club, I am ready, too. There is an imbalance in people's taste levels when it comes to candy and we can change all that. It is up to you and I to set the world straight. Milk Duds only made it to number 32. Very disturbing.

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.