I Do the Stupidest Things

Oh, don’t look at me like that — I’m not the only person who does dumb things. Unfortunately, the dumb things I do seem to have a potential for being life-threatening. And it’s happening again right now.

(Spoiler alert: Since you’re reading this, you know I survived.)

This morning was lovely. After two days of screaming winds that tore up Las Vegas, uprooting huge trees, blowing patio furniture into swimming pools and stirring sand from the desert into huge clouds that coated everything with fine grit, it has finally died down. As I sipped my coffee and read the paper, I opened the sliding glass door so I could enjoy the fresh air. After awhile I left the dining room and came in to my office at the other end of the house and was on the computer for most of the morning and making phone calls. I just went back to fix some lunch when I heard a sound that made my blood run cold. The sound of death on shiny yellow wings. Bees. Lots of them. Close by.

Being allergic to bees, I reacted the way most people would to the rattle of a snake. I froze. I did not move. They were inside the house, buzzing against the windows beside the sliding glass door, which was (still!) open. Dummkopf! MORON! IDIOT!!  Yes, I had walked away and left the door to my house wide open to bees, stray cats and any other miscreant in the area.

I ventured closer, slowly, quietly, and slid the door closed because although there were a dozen bees inside, there were ten times more outside swirling around on the patio.

I concentrated on breathing slowly and not making any sudden moves, and something floated to mind: I remembered hearing that spraying flying insects with hairspray makes their wings stiff, they can no longer fly, and they drop to the ground and die. Good. That’s good. Die, bees!

Now I don’t dislike bees. They are very useful creatures. They pollinate fruit trees and flowers. Without bees, the world would be a dreary place. But this was an entirely different scenario than watching them buzz happily around my apricot tree and flit around the honeysuckle. These were not happy bees and they didn’t look at all friendly, either. African bees maybe? In my house? YIKES!

Then I remembered something else — bees do not like dark colors. Dark colors remind them of bears. Bears rob their hives and steal their honey. I was wearing black pants and a dark gray sweatshirt. I was dressed like a bear. Fortunately, these bees were too busy trying to find a way through the glass to critique my ensemble, so I quietly backed away and went for the hairspray. But before that, I got out the Benadryl — I had providentially bought some a week ago — and peeled a handful out of their wrappers. A doctor had once told me that if I were stung, gulping a handful of Benadryl would ward off anaphylaxis until the paramedics could arrive. Believe me, if I got stung, I wanted to be able to gulp those things down in a heart beat– while my heart was still beating!

So back to the dining room and gently pull back the curtain which they were hiding behind. Before I tried the death-in-a-can, I had another thought — and this has worked with trapped flies. I gently moved the curtain toward the door gathering up the bees on it as I went. Then, I slid the door open, holding the curtain there so they could smell the fresh air. The bees, of course, once they realized they were in the clear would gratefully fly out. Wouldn’t they? No, they wouldn’t. And didn’t. They flew right back to the glass and resumed buzzing. You mean to tell me that bees aren’t even as smart as flies? Well, that’s sad. So now I had no choice.

I aimed the spray and figured I better get it right the first time because if not, I was going to make them mad. I sprayed, they dropped to the bottom of the window and then … shook themselves off and went back to buzzing. Damn!  (Not only are the bees not dead, but I’m going to have to wash hairspray off the window. If I live long enough.)

So I gingerly pulled the drapes closed so they are at least trapped (I hope) against the window. I’ve retreated to the office and am wondering how long it will take them to actually die. How long do bees live? And what do I do about the ones on the patio? And OH DRAT!! I just remember the gardeners are coming today — they’ll be here at any time. I will definitely have to warn them — last thing I need is for them to go out with their mowers and blowers and get stung to death.

Later …

The bees are gone. Mostly. The ones inside the house are not there anymore but now there’s a mystery — where are their corpses? I saw two in the sink (down the garbage disposal with them) and one in the kitchen window sill (I’ll get out the vacuum), but there should be a little pile of bee bodies at the bottom of the dining room window. There aren’t. But there isn’t any buzzing, either.

If I go out and find a hive on my patio or hanging from the fig tree, I’ll let you know, but in the meantime I hope the rest of the guys made their way safely somewhere else and got back to the business of making honey.

Go, bees, go!!

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Easter Monday !!

Today (as I write this) is Easter Monday. Just saying those words gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and brings a smile to my face. Easter Monday.

It's Easter!

It’s Easter!

When I was in the Foreign Service working at the American Embassy in London, Easter Monday was a holiday, as was Good Friday. The Brits know how to celebrate something important! Four whole days off. My co-worker Marlene and I went to Brussels for a magical long weekend. We stayed in The Metropole, a magnificent old hotel, dined in French restaurants, and did all the tourist things we could manage.

I woke up that particular Easter morning to some kind of indescribable racket — sounded like someone had emptied the entire silverware drawer at the top of the stairs and the knives, forks and spoons were clattering all the way down. It took me a few moments to realize it was church bells! Church bells on Easter morning ringing out the victory of the resurrection. Totally awesome.

But that was Easter Sunday. Easter Monday was my family’s special day. It all began many years — decades — ago.

In our little town of North Hollywood, there was a bakery named Ahren’s. Although mother bought our groceries at the market, sometimes she’d send dad to Ahren’s for bread. I don’t know what kind — I was probably 6 or 7 and bread to me was something to slather peanut butter on. I couldn’t care less what kind it was or where it came from.

Ahren's Bakery - the site of our delicious Easter Monday for many years.

Ahren’s Bakery – the site of our delicious Easter Monday for many years.

Once in long while, dad would let me go with him to the bakery. It was a great treat to go anywhere with my dad, but the bakery was especially exciting. Walking into that enveloping aroma of hot bread, chocolate, cinnamon and a host of other spices was too wonderful for words.

I remember gazing into the glass cases at the beautifully decorated cakes with shining white icing and trailing pink and green roses, the trays of cream puffs, the piles of strudels, the stacks of brownies and display of eclairs. It was like looking through the window of paradise. On one of these occasions, my dad looked down at me and said, “How would you like to come here and eat anything you want, as much as you want?”

Of course my dad would never on this earth say what I thought I’d just heard him say. But on the other hand, my dad would never lie to me, either. I just stood there and stared at him.

I do clearly remember what my mother said when we got home: “Donald, have you taken leave of your senses?”

There are many reasons for my mother’s reaction, not the least of which was money didn’t grow on trees and another — and probably more important — was that in our house sweets were frowned upon. There was no soda pop, no cookies, no candy of any sort. Dessert, when we had it, might be canned peaches (in syrup!), or ice cream. Once in a great while there would be pie or cake, but that was rare. So this was certainly a mad-cap, totally out-of-character idea. However, they apparently agreed because the next day Dad announced that in another two weeks, on Easter Monday — the day after Easter — we would do just what he had said.

Of course, to a child, two weeks might as well have been a year. The anticipation was exquisite torture. My brother and I planned and discussed what we might get.

Oooh, just one of the many delicious treats in store!

Oooh, just one of the many delicious treats in store!

After school on the appointed day, we went to Ahren’s bakery for what was going to become a Skone-Palmer family tradition. Dad gave us each a dollar to begin. I followed my big brother’s choice and started with a chocolate eclair and a cream puff and took them carefully back to the little table where Mother and Dad were sipping coffee. The only rule was that you had to eat whatever you had bought before you could go back for more. Not a problem, I assure you!

I can’t remember what else we ordered, but I do remember that toward the end — before we declared ourselves too full to eat anything more — mother did graciously help out by finishing the ill-chosen petit-four or taking a bite of the brownie that turned out to be much larger than it had looked.

As a child, of course, I didn’t notice, but in later years my parents told me that they got many disapproving glances from customers although the bakery staff thought it was funny.

We did this every year until my brother grew up and left home. Toward the end, when he was in college and I in high-school, we changed from the bakery to the Farmer’s Market in downtown Los Angeles. There the routine changed and I remember wandering through the stalls checking out the various offerings. Now that we were nearly “grown-ups,” we started with French dip sandwiches (again, following my brother’s lead) and then moved onto cheese blintzes and hand-dipped chocolates. I remember watching the cake decorating booth where the man was using pink icing to make inebrieted elephants all over a cake built around a champagne bottle. Funny — and sweet. I remember watching the lady hand-dipping chocolates and my dad miming licking his fingers — she laughed.

I hope every family has some special tradition that is singularly theirs — that makes them smile and brings back a flood of warm and happy memories.

Give me a minute, will you, to wipe my face which for some reason suddenly feels damp, then I’ll raise a cup of coffee to the sweet memories from a lifetime ago. Easter Monday.

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Oh no — Don’t tell me I did it again!

A couple of weeks ago while lunching with my friend Susie, I lamented that the last two pair of slacks I’d bought both were going into the Goodwill bag. (I don’t really give to the Goodwill — I give to Big Brothers/Big Sisters or the local charity, Opportunity Village, but in my mind it’s still the Goodwill bag.)

Nice black pants, but there's a problem ...

Nice black pants, but there’s a problem …

Anyway, the nice black slacks I’d bought seemed like lint magnets. And not just lint, but cat hair stuck to them like it had been glued on. No amount of brushing could remove it. Even washing them only helped a little — they came out of the washing machine still sporting remnants of cat hair. With four cats, this was a major problem. I’d already gone through two lint rollers, and the Norwex Lint Mitt I keep in the car had worked overtime. (I sit at red lights working the lint mitt over my legs and then wadding up the resultant cache of cat hair and dropping it out the window. I tell myself that birds would be happy to line their nests with the soft fur. At least that’s what I’m going to tell the cop when he pulls me over for littering.)

The other pair had a different problem. I had not noticed — and wouldn’t have realized the significance if I had — that they contained 2% Spandex. Not a bad thing, surely. They fit well — snug, but not tight — and they were a nice khaki color that would go with almost anything. What I quickly found out is that while they had a slight “give” to them when I sat down or bent over, the “give” didn’t have a corresponding “take,” so that when it stretched a bit, it didn’t un-stretch and soon the waist was no longer at my waist but inching down toward my stomach. When I first put them in, they’d be fine, but before long, they were sagging. It was sort of like when you first put your jeans on after you’ve washed them. You know how snug they are? But after a few minutes they’ve relaxed and feel fine. The difference is, they don’t keep stretching; they actually stay put.

Yeah, something that will fit right and stay put! AND not collect lint. Is that asking too much?

Yeah, something that will look cool, fit right and stay put. OH — and not collect lint. Is that too much to ask?

So, I told Susie, I am going to reluctantly toss both of these and buy myself some new slacks before I go on the weekend trip I had planned. I was particularly sad about the black lint-collecting slacks because I had also bought the jacket and although it also collected cat hair, cats sit in my lap a lot more often than they sit on my shoulder, so it wasn’t that much of a problem.

So into the thrift store bag they both went and off I went to the department store. Gonna get it right this time!

I snagged a bunch of slacks and trotted into the dressing room. Amazingly, two of them actually fit the way I liked. Wow! One dark pair and the second, lighter that would certainly work well for summer. I was happy — usually it takes forever to find something I like. I had a gift card from Christmas that covered the cost and I was good to go!

On Sunday I put on my new slacks which turned out to not be black, but dark, dark blue — Navy. Well, okay, I can do dark blue. I don’t have any blue shoes, but black will work. I think. So I got in the car, and as the sunlight came through the windshield, I nearly croaked. This can’t be happening! My new pants were covered with cat hair! Drat those lap-sitting cats! I quickly grabbed the lint-mitt and went to work. With four red lights between me and church, I managed to de-furr a lot, but was beyond discouraged. I had just traded one pair of lint-magnets for another.

At least I had the other, lighter slacks. I was happy with them when I put them on, but it wasn’t long before I realized they seemed to be stretching out. I quickly unfastened them and sure enough, 1% Spandex! Don’t you think I would have looked?? No, this can’t be happening.

Will I ever learn? I just gave away two perfectly good pair of slacks and replaced them with ones that were nearly identical — and had the same problem. I should probably just get jeans and wear them everywhere. Even if they do get cat fur, it won’t show. I mean, nobody expects jeans to look pristine, right?

And as I write this, here is Paddy O’Cat poised to jump into my lap. I guess it’s a question of which is more important to me: clean slacks or happy cats. And the answer, in case you haven’t guessed, is: Bring your own lint roller when you come to visit me. I’ve used up all of mine.


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The 99 cent store isn’t anymore …

No, that’s not quite right. The store is still there, but it’s now the [nearly everything is] “99 cents” store. A few months ago they raised their price from 99 cents to 99.9 cents so they charged $1 for everything. Fair enough. Actually, more than fair. Still an incredible bargain!

bottles with glasses and grapes

Wait — we’re talking the 99 Cent store, right? Why are we looking at a picture of grapes and wine?

(And a note about the picture above. Since I took my computer to Best Buy to correct a minor problem — which cost major bucks! — I haven’t been able to download things I could get before, like the pictures of the 99 cent store. So you’ll have to be content with a picture of wine and I am going there — just be patient.)

My favorite is the raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. 99.9 cents is 1/3 what I pay at the market, and it’s the same brand! I don’t know how it works, but I’m happy it does. Their produce is an amazing bargain. For a ten dollar bill, I can walk out of there with fruit and veggies for a week, even though they’ve started charging for some things by the pound. Well, okay, still cheaper than the market.

And now get this … they are selling WINE!

Moldava Pinot Grigio

The bottle is beautiful with butterflies and flowers.



Yes, I swear!

The wine is $2.99. They have several different labels like “Feeding Frenzy” (such an an attractive name, don’t you think? At least they don’t have a picture of a shark tearing into a fish on the label),  “Swirls and Whirls” (maybe how you feel after drinking some?) and chocolate wine!

I have had chocolate wine before — I’m not sure how they do it, though. Has someone found out how to grow chocolate grapes?  There are some things you don’t want from the 99 cent store, and wine is one of them. I mean, what do they make it out of? Do they just pick up the grapes that fall by the side of the road or what> But as I was staring somewhat in awe at this huge display of wine, I saw it: a lovely, tall bottle which has raised designs of flowers and butterflies. The front says Pinot Grigio. The back says “product of MOLDAVA.”

If you’re thinking “that should be Moldavia,” that’s what I thought, too, but the country changed its name after the break away from the USSR. Still, Moldava, Moldavia … six to one half-dozen to the other. I’m thinking of the wine Paula and I bought for $1.99 one time. It was from Romania — or perhaps Bulgaria — one of those countries that ends in IA. We said to each other “how bad can it be?” Well, there’s a stupid question if there ever was one. There went $1.99 down the drain — literally.

So I had no hope for this wine from Moldava until I Googled it and — would you believe — the country of Moldava is a wine-producing country and it has the biggest wine cellar in the world! Even though we both know that quantity is no indication of quality, I have to say I’m intrigued. Why would you have a big wine cellar if you don’t have something good to put in it? I mean, you don’t put a safe in your house to stow your jewelry from Target, do you?

So I could stand it no longer — I chilled the bottle and opened it. A cork — that’s a good sign. I poured a couple of inches in a wine glass and stood by the sink just in case I had to spit it out immediately, but no. It was not bad at all. It had a slight hint of apricot and then something else. Guava, maybe. Something light and pleasant.

So now I’m thinking this would make a nice summer wine. Trouble is, when I went back, the 99 Cent store had sold out of it. I guess it’s no great loss — I’m not that crazy about white wine anyway. The best part was the pretty bottle. It’ll make a nice candle holder.



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the $40,000 bottle of wine

… and no, I wasn’t the one drinking it!

A short time ago a few friends and I got together for a special dinner of home-made mushroom and wild rice soup that was to die for. We brought our favorite Zinfandels from 2007,  2008 and  2009. They were delicious. Some more fruity and some more spicy. Some drier and some smoother, but all rich and well-balanced, at the perfect age to be enjoyed. With each sip, someone was saying, “this is so GOOD!”

Now THIS is good stuff.

Now THIS is good stuff.

A few days after that I saw a society bit in the paper talking about celebrity friends who had indulged in a $300,000 (yeah, that’s five zeroes) dinner. Alcohol had to be in there somewhere, ya think? Sure enough: “six bottles of Romanee-Conti France’s Burgundy region were purchased at $40,000 per bottle.” I’m told this retails for $13,000 a bottle, but of course you’ve got your 200% mark-up and your gratuity. But even at $13,000 a bottle, I’ve got to wonder:

PEOPLE! Are you crazy?? Do you mean to tell me that you have palates sophisticated enough to appreciate a wine that costs as much as a new car? REALLY?

Okay, there are people on this earth who can truly appreciate an out-of-this-world wine, and maybe some of them were even at this dinner, but I doubt it because …

The article mentioned that this was a 2006 vintage. I know very little about French wines, But I do know that they need to age. 2006 is pretty young, so I looked it up and sure enough, the great DRCs (that’s shorthand for Domaine Romanee-Conti, you peasant), need to age for several decades, the ones from the 1940s being spectacular — or so I’m told.

I’ve read that the 2006s are “tight and astringent.” They need years to develop (or sleep, as some put it) for the tannins to mellow and the sharpness to fall away. I’m guessing the ones who were fortunate enough to be able to guzzle $40,000 bottles of wine had little clue that they were drinking a baby wine that would have been better had it been allowed to grow up.

In the meantime, those of us who are content — not content, but thrilled! — to be drinking $40 wines from Paso Robles probably would have recoiled at the sharpness and acidity of the much-vaunted DRC.

Most wine drinkers know that part of enjoying good wine is the friends you’re drinking it with. Perhaps the people at the $300,000 dinner were just happy to be with each and enjoy the pleasure of a well prepared meal and good friends. And hey, maybe the next time someone is opening a $40,000 bottle of wine, they’ll invite me. Ya think?





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“… the righteous man … “

Yesterday as I was preparing more nectar for the hummingbird feeders, a Bible verse popped into mind: Proverbs 12:10: “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.”

These little guys sure go through their nectar in a hurry!

These little guys sure go through their nectar in a hurry!

I was wondering — could you classify a hummingbird as a “beast”? and even if you could, it isn’t MY beast. But the little guys have been coming into my yard since the honeysuckle opened up a couple of weeks ago, so I dug out the hummingbird feeder and cooked up a batch of nectar. (And I don’t understand why people BUY this — It is simply 1/4 C. sugar dissolved in one cup  of boiling water. Can’t get much simpler or cheaper than that!)

Anyway, it got me to thinking about taking care of the animals. Two weeks ago, for instance, Lop Ear started to limp. What on earth?? It was just slight at first but after a few days became pronounced. I tried to feel his back leg to see if there was anything obvious like a lump or a bite mark, but he pulled away and I agreed to just let him be. By Friday, I decided he needed to go to the vet. And, of course, it was Friday before the 3-day weekend. Isn’t that always the way? I called and found they would be open Monday so I made an appointment.

Monday morning after breakfast, acting really casual, I pulled out the cat carrier and set it on a dining room chair. Then I went out and picked up Lop Ear, explaining to him in a very soothing voice that we were going to see the doctor who would make him all better.

what I said:  "We're going to the vet." What he heard: "Have you had breakfast yet?"

what I said:
“We’re going to the vet.”
What he heard:
“Have you had breakfast yet?”

Once he saw the carrier, Lop Ear had other ideas — it took some manhandling, but I finally managed to stuff him in and secure the door. He did that howl that cats do — a most unnerving sound. I continued making soothing noises to no avail as I lugged the carrier out to the car. (He weighs 20 pounds). Just as I was ready to set it on the seat, he made a valiant lunge and managed to snap the door open — and he was gone! G-O-N-E, gone. Through the hedge and over the wall into the neighbor’s yard.

I cajoled and cooed, but as soon as I got anywhere near, he took off. He sure could move fast for a cat with a bum leg. I watched in dismay as he darted into the (thank heaven car-less) street and slithered through the fence into another yard — no mean feat for a cat shaped like a bowling ball.

Bottom line — he got better all by himself. No vet needed. When I related this all to my friend Suzy in Houston, she said that sometimes cats will limp to get attention. Well, maybe so but that cat gets plenty of attention. Let me tell you, when a 20 pound fur bowling ball lands in your lap, it gets your attention mighty fast!

So I figure I saved $75 on that little proposition which made me happy and Lop Ear is just fine, thank-you-very-much.

But that brings me back to the beasts who evidently don’t have a person to look after them. Like the twin black kitties who have been showing up here at dinner time, looking for a hand-out. As I pulled out of the driveway last night on the way to a party, I saw them slowly sidling up to the water bowl that I now keep out front and where I occasionally put a handful of kibble. No kibble tonight, kitties, I thought with a slight pang of guilt. They’re not my kitties — nor is the larger black cat who shows up occasionally.

Who is caring for those beasts? Is there a righteous person out there giving them food and water and a warm place to sleep at night? And please, don’t look at me — I already have four cats and an assortment of hummingbirds. That is more than enough for anyone, righteous or not.


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You want me to swallow WHAT??

Sometime back around the 50s an advertising agency got the brilliant idea of marketing directly to children. So instead of “Hey, mom and dad, wouldn’t little Nancy love a Betsy Wetsy Doll for Christmas?,” the ads changed to “Hey, kids! Tell Mom and Dad you want a Hopalong Cassidy six shooter for Christmas!” (And if you remember either of these products, I’m guessing you’re ready for Medicare.)

You think this is enough pills?

Come on — try our pills!

I am reminded of this because the pharmaceutical companies have decided to bypass the doctor and speak directly to us. Now obviously if you simply have a headache, you don’t need to see the doctor, but they now are essentially saying, “Doctor? Doctor? You don’t need no stinkin’ doctor! Trust us!”

Acid Reflux? Incontinence? Erectile Dysfunction (which we insiders know as “ED”)? No problem. Yes, you might need a prescription but all you need to do is “ask your doctor if [our product] is right for you.” I saw a cartoon of a woman sitting in the doctor’s office with a long piece of paper trailing onto the floor and she was saying: “Is AAB right for me? Is ABC right for me? Is ACC right for me…”

But what intrigues me most is the weasel words as in: “Damnitol [a product aimed to soothe the nerves] may (or may not — we’re really not sure, but the monkeys we tested it on seemed pretty darn happy) help (won’t actually cure the problem but perhaps, if you’re lucky may somewhat alleviate the symptoms) restore your equilibrium after a trying day.”

In other words, we’re not really sure of anything except that it’s making us money, so why not give it a whirl? What have you got to lose?

Oh, that reminds us, let us clue you in about the possible side-effects. Not that we want to, but are mandated by law to let you know … Damnitol may cause rash, hives, swelling of the lips, throat and tongue, and problems breathing. If this happens, stop taking Damnitol and call your doctor (if you are still able to gasp out any words). Do not take if you are allergic to Damnitol or any of its ingredients. (We have to say this because we’re not sure you’re smart enough to figure it out on your own.) It also may cause dizziness, loss of appetite, constipation (or diarrhea — we’re not sure which) high blood pressure, asthma and in rare cases heart attacks or even death.

So, if you’re dead or in a coma, don’t say we didn’t warn you. At least you won’t have to worry about things like stress or incontinence or (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) ED.

Just take our pills and you, too, can be relaxing at this beautiful spa!

And, one more thing — have you noticed that all the ads for these products show happy, smiling people at the lake or the seashore, or perhaps sitting in a lovely park? Never in a crowded office or school room full of screaming kids. You never see someone sitting at the kitchen table with a whole sink full of dirty dishes stacked in the background. That’s who needs the help, not the happy, laughing couple on the tennis court!

And whether you take any medications or not, I’m betting that right now, right where you’re sitting, you can probably name 3 or 4 products without even thinking about it. Geez, talk about saturation. I think we need some product to protect us from the advertisers. Maybe someone will invent something that will render them mute — at least for a few days. Wouldn’t that be nice?





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