The List

It is once again time for my annual Top 10 List of most annoying things of the departing year. I really do hope that next year number 1 will finally be replaced by something else.

Top 10 Annoyances of 2013

10. "Being inspired"

9. Juicing

8. Gold iPhone 5S

7. Helicopter Parents

6. Twerking

5. Toms Shoes

4. Gluten-free

3. Selfies

2. Justin Bieber

1. The Kardashians

Twas the night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring (the fish was asleep), not even a mouse (all dead).

The stockings were hung by the fireplace with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The child was nestled all snug in his bed,

While visions of Ritz crackers danced in his head.

And daddy in his Guinness pjs, and I in my VS nightie,

Had just settled our tired brains for a short winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the curtains and opened the blinds.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to my neighbor's broken playhouse below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a red Mercedes-Benz sleigh, and eight very well fed reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in Fendi fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were not tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of Toys and Electronics he had flung on his back,

And he didn’t look like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath (I had to open the window after).

He had a broad face and a huge round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I smiled when I saw him, in spite of myself!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all three stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Mind Your Manners! A Quick Guide to Table Manners

The bird is cooked, the hostess took her apron off, and you're finally allowed near the perfectly set dinner table. There are flowers, and candles, and tablescapes, and cloth napkins. And more than one fork... Let's refresh our table manners:

1. Find your designated seat and sit down. If there are placecards, do not rearrange – your location has been carefully thought out. Unfold the napkin and put it on your lap. Keep your hands off the table and don't touch anything until everyone else is seated.

Lost and not found

I have these tiny little Tweezerman tweezers that are the best in the world. They're black, sharpened to a razor edge, and very small. That razor edge is very important: bad-quality tweezers can make or break an eyebrow and my brows are my signature. Three days ago, the little tweezers went completely, and suddenly, MIA.

I turned the house upside down. I even cleaned out all the drawers in my bathroom cabinets, still no tweezers. I searched with a flashlight. I tried the random search approach: suddenly start looking for the item while doing something else in order to have a fresh perspective. I decided to buy a replacement, this time in red, in attempt to make the lost pair appear. The replacement has been sitting in their blue glass cup for two days, yet the old ones have not made a comeback. I checked under the bed tonight. Nothing.

I'm thinking that perhaps I need a new strategy. Maybe if I offer a reward, a lunch at Stake-n-Shake, my in-house detective will find it. Those eyes don't usually miss anything. I'll try that tomorrow. We have a whole day to hunt. A small prayer to St. Anthony wouldn't hurt either at this point... Where on Earth could a pair of tweezers go?

12 Movies of Christmas

There are certain movies that always put me in a holiday spirit. Oh, reflect how I feel about the holidays at that particular moment. Below is my list of 12 go-to holiday movies to help you survive the season.

12 Movies of Christmas
(and when to watch)

1. The Holiday
start your season with love and hope

2. Bridget Jones Diary

3. Love Actually
skip the Laura Linney parts

4. Christmas with the Cranks
 a Black Friday must, especially if you work retail

5. Home Alone

6. Die Hard
while wrapping presents
quote John McClane every time you manage to wrap a toy without setting it off

7. Lethal Weapon
for another round of present wrapping

8. The Polar Express
for the kids to watch while you hide yourself 
in the basement watching #7-8  and wrapping presents

9. Christmas Vacation
watch on Christmas Eve after the family party  

10. Christmas Story
catch on Christmas Day on TBS, they play it on a loop

11. Keeping up Appearances Christmas Special, The QEII
watch when you get tired of #10

12. When Harry Met Sally
for New Year's Eve

Of Mice and Women


            “Hey, can you come downstairs for a sec? I think I heard something in the kitchen and it’s that season again,” Terry whispered to me in the hallway when I came out of Danny’s room.
            “Really? Where?” I asked.
            “By the sink.”
            “But everything stuffed with steel wool and they can’t eat through steel wool.” We quietly crept downstairs and then stopped in the dimly-lit kitchen listening. Nothing. “Did you check?”
            “Well, flip the lights on at least,” I said before tapping my fingers on the sink cabinet door. Still nothing. Terry held back, this was my territory. I waited a bit then flung the cabinet open and peeked inside. “I don’t see anything.”
            “Well, I heard something.”
            “I don’t see any evidence, and there is usually evidence.” I pulled out the garbage can and stuck my head inside for a closer look. “They’d have to be nuts to try and eat their way in here.”
            “Maybe it was nothing then.”
            “Do you want me to set the trap? I can set the trap.”
I didn’t. We have no peanut butter and I couldn’t find my mouse traps. Plus, I’m pretty sure that at this point the neighborhood mice are genetically preprogrammed not to enter our house.

The magic of fall.

There is an explosion of color in our back yard right now. And inside, the whole house is glowing orange because of the trees reflecting color through the windows. This is the magic of fall. 

I have a love and hate relationship with these trees. In the spring, they produce so many seeds (helicopters) that I spend the rest of the summer pulling clumps of baby maples from every crevice. At some point we had a maple forest growing in our gutters. I curse the trees every May as I get bombarded in the face by flying seeds every time the wind blows ever so gently. When it gusts, you have to run and hide inside to avoid being attacked by thousands of tiny little maple missiles. 

In the summer they provide much needed shade in the back yard and, after spending an hour to pry the tiny sprouted maples from the floorboards of our deck, quite soothing with the gentle rustle of their leaves. Although the branches are so low that Terry can't even mow under them. But that's not a problem since maple leaves leach a chemical that kills pretty much everything under the crown. So there isn't that much grass under there anyway.

I once read that the rootball of a maple tree is twice the width of the crown. I got two, really close together. I guess digging for an inground pool is out of the question. 

In winter, they're at their best covered in snow. The bark turns black when wet and is rather striking against the white sparkly snow. In winter, we check for unwanted nests (of the buzzing stinging variety), but we have been lucky so far, no residents. I am sure that my Orkin man is really happy that we haven't found anything as well, because I doubt he wants to climb up a tree to remove the pests. 

In the fall, the trees explode with color. After all, these are Autumn Blaze maples. They start at the top, turning deep burgundy. I gotten into the habit of checking the trees late August for first signs of fall. The burgundy slowly creeps down as the temperatures drop until one morning you come downstairs, open the kitchen window blinds, and get hit in the face by the explosion of every shade from yellow to deep red. This fiery display lasts for about a week. Then the leaves drop practically overnight, and our (and our neighbors) property is covered in leaves ankle deep. Since the trees are three stories tall, the leaves are the size of my hand. When we bought the house the trees were 2/3 of their current size. The leaves make their way to the front of the house and pile heavily under the fountain grass and the rose bushes. By the time I get to cleaning them out of the spring, they're compost. 

Every year I hope that the color show will last until Danny's birthday party. And every year they drop completely bare the week before. This year they turned late, so maybe there is still hope. Although I am starting to see nakedness at the top. 

Vampire moment

I. Smell. Garlic. This morning I woke up to the overwhelming smell of garlic. Yet, we didn't eat any. Nor did I cook with any. And we were nowhere near an Olive Garden. So either I watched too many vampire shows over the weekend or I am about to get a huge migraine. Usually smells that don't exist and no one else can detect signal a migraine. In the past I smelled cigarette smoke, even though no one around me smokes. Could an image of a head stuffed with garlic from the brand new Dracula show made such an imprint on my subconscious that it now manifests itself in a phantom garlic smell? Maybe if I scrub the kitchen I'll find the smell. I'm not in a mood for a migraine. A friend commented last night that there is an unpleasant moon phase, making all the crazies some out. Perhaps it's making me smell garlic as well. I even administered my sinus spray meds that are scented with lavender but all I got in the end was a runny nose and a scent of lavender with a hint of garlic.

Just returned from scrubbing the kitchen and found no rogue garlic laying around. So this is definitely a migraine rolling in. Now, if I could just survive past Danny's dental visit then I can turn into a zombie as soon as we get home and Danny could play lazy monster. Perhaps if I close my eyes for a moment... Aha... And there is that head in a box stuffed with garlic... I'm blaming Jonathan Rhys Meyers for this one.

To Bridget Jones, Thanks for Everything, KB

7:35 am. Moving back the alarm clock might be actually working because I am slightly ahead of schedule. Go to drag Danny out of bed. Literally. As he is still asleep when I pick him up and his feet are dragging along the edge of the bed. If he gains one more pound my back will go.

7:40 am. Bzzzzzzzzzzz! Is that Danny's electric toothbrush? Is he brushing his teeth before breakfast like I asked him to yesterday morning? I am the perfect mother, my kid listened to me! Brilliant!

7:42 am. Attempt at perfect mother morning ruined as Danny accidentally drops his plate on the floor and is now crying over spilled breakfast.
"Oh, Honey, it's OK. I'll make you another one. We don't cry over spilled food, it's OK!" I console him, while attempting to bite back my tears over now ruined carpet that I just had shampooed.
Make him new breakfast and try to clean the carpet while finishing breakfast yogurt.

8:15 am. Finally in the shower and no one is busting in with meaningless problems. Am at peace.

8:30 am. Decide to skip blow drying hair and look for a hat instead. Realize that we might actually leave the house with time to spare because Danny finished his breakfast and is completely dressed. Am the perfect mother again.

8:59 am. A minute before the bell rings, I remind Danny that when he goes out for recess he has to have his hat and scarf and coat on.
"Yeah, like I did yesterday!" he replies. Am I starting to repeat myself?

9:00 am. I watch the class line file into school and I bolt for the car. In the 3 minutes it takes me to drive home decide that I have plenty of time to make gravy* before I have to go back to pick Danny up. I check the recipe and total time is 3 hours. I calculate in my head: time for breakfast tea, then off to TJs to get everything I need, skip the drycleaners since everyone has new clothes they can wear... Plenty of time!

11:00 am. Right. Cart is full of large cans of tomatoes, the imported kind not domestic, and olive oil among other bits. I now know why my Italian friends' pantries are full of enormous cans of whole plum tomatoes – it's all for gravy. As the cashier scans the numerous cans of tomatoes, complementing me on the right choice of brand, she asks if I am going to use a food mill or a boat motor to process these. F**k! Have none, don't have time to buy any, and the only person that has both is at work. "Oh, food mill is the only way to go!" I reply after a slight pause. Drive home and get out my food processor. This might be my first and last time making gravy.

11:30 am. Oh bugger! Just sprayed myself right in the face with tomato juice! Bugger, bugger!

12:36 pm. Kitchen and myself are completely covered in tomatoes. But my French pot is full of delicious-looking and slowly bubbling gravy. Didn't have enough time to razor slice the garlic, next time when I am not on a clock. Quickly do the math and the gravy will be done before I have to leave for pick-up. Start scrubbing.

3:45 pm. Back home from pick-up and attempting to defrost my bottom after standing in the wind for 10 minutes waiting for the kids to come out. Looks like there is no lice or pink eye letters sent home and there is also homework tonight, which is a relief because we have CCD in 45 minutes. Am a perfect mother once again because I talk Danny into squeezing his piano practice before CCD and he totally agrees. Peek at the resting gravy, deliciously deep red and smells like tomatoes.

6:15 pm. Why does CCD have to be an hour and 15 minutes long? Kids poop out after 45 minutes. And I am starving. Danny complained that his knees hurt after kneeling for a rosary. Stopped myself from telling him that Catholicism is not a religion for wussies. As we are about to pull into the garage, Avicii comes on the radio and Danny asks if we could sit in the car and listen. I tell him I have it at home and will put it on as soon as we get in. He asks me to loop it.

6:16 pm. Oh bloody hell, how does one loop on this bloody iPod?

7:04 pm. Just realized I made enough gravy to last us a year. Right.

7:10 pm. Kid is fed, and is jamming upstairs to my iPod while drawing. 50 minutes away from Modern Family.

7:14 pm. Times repeated "socks or slippers" today so far 7. Make it 8.

7:19 pm. Post blog and then return self to the new Bridget Jones book. Tell self not to forget divide out the gravy to freeze. Find a bottle of wine.

*Gravy – aka pasta sauce to those who is not Italian or does not hang out in Italian kitchens. 

Morning Adventure

This morning, feeling very awake despite the hour, I decided to surprise my husband and hang some pictures in The Lounge (aka the basement) after my workout. As I treadmilled along, and with eyes on dashing Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, I planned out where things would go. Once my workout was wrapped up, I bounced over to the utility room in search of a hammer. I opened the bifold doors and got hit in the nose with a wrenching smell of some sort of gas. I stood next tom my water heater and started smelling every single pipe. I couldn't find the source but what I got was an instant headache. I relocated my precious self upstairs and pondered who to call. Non-emergency fire department sounded like a good plan. As soon as words: "I smell something and I think it's gas" left my lips I was ordered to vacate and wait for the fire department. I figured they'd send out an engine and won't even bother to suit up. But as I paced up and down the sidewalk I heard sirens wailing in the distance. And they were getting close. "Oh, no!" I thought, "they're all coming!"

Batavia fire department response time was five minutes, which I think it pretty awesome. I got a fire engine, an ambulance, and a captain that showed up in a separate car and parked in my neighbor's driveway. Two very large guys, one very young and one in mid-50s, climbed out of the truck in full gear, carrying a bright red device which I decided was a gas detecting thingy. I told them what I thought it was ("I was working out, then I went to the utility room which is enclosed to get a hammer..." which got me a raised eyebrow in response and I'm sure it was the word hammer that arose suspicion) and where to go and they disappeared inside my house. After a couple of minutes there was commotion on the radio and the ambulance took off. I stood on the sidewalk waiting for the firemen to emerge. They were gone for quite a while, I was starting to think that perhaps they pulled up a chair to the bar and had a pint while they were at it. Wouldn't blame them.

They finally emerged and the bigger older guy told me that they checked everything out but didn't find anything and their finely-tuned noses didn't smell any gas. I asked if it could be sewage since there is an ejector pump in the same area. "Let's go down there and check it out! We're not leaving until we know you feel comfortable and OK." The fireman then asked permission to put his helmet on the kitchen table and took off his huge coat before going back down the basement with me. I've never seen their gear up close, it's a lot larger than one would imagine and I am now convinced that on TV they wear slimmed down versions to make them look less bulky.

On the way down the stairs I got a complement: "I like your basement, all my favorite movies on the walls and Ireland." (Godfather, Oceans 11 and 12, Bond... huge vintage map of Ireland and an Irish flag). I told him that my husband was South Side Irish with lot of cops and firemen in the family, which scored even more points because this fireman was also from the South Side and his father was a cop. He barely squeezed into the utility room (note to self: clean utility room so firemen can get in and out without getting stuck) and we sniffed around some more. After explaining the ins and outs of my house's plumbing, we settled on the non-threatening sewer gas possibly escaping from the ejector pit. I was advised to seal around the pipe and the fireman squeezed himself back out. On the way up the stairs, a poster for The Producers play caught his attention (they don't miss anything, do they?). He shared that he recently saw the movie and I shared how we've seen the play and laughed so hard that I fell off my chair, and that when we had out pre-theater dinner we dined at a table next to Mell Brooks and Anne Bancroft).

I was left with an advice to always call 911 if I felt that something wasn't right, that they rather come out to tell me its nothing. I went back into the house and wrapped a rag around the sewer pipe to "seal" it until I figure something else out. I have a feeling a call to the plumber might be coming next. The pictures will have to wait though, I'm not in the mood to be looking for the hammer again.

Although I bet the hammer is in the laundry room on the first floor.

A Jewel of an Experience

I stood in line for cabbage this morning. Yes, cabbage. I was number 1 in line. I waited for almost 10 minutes for them to find one lousy box of cabbage and bring it out. And for some strange reason they slice off the a piece of the stem before it's put out so I had to wait for that to be done too. I waited cabbage after I had to ask for beets and then waited over five minutes for them to appear. The guy brought two bunches, holding them up for inspection like rabbits fresh from the hunt. I took the bunch with the biggest beets and the longest leaves.

I was kept company by two women. One was wearing head-to-toe Sons of Anarchy Illinois gear and was talking very loudly into her headset about the lack of cabbage. She didn't buy anything else. I bet there is 50 Shades next to her bed. Another woman, who was very tall and had on a very bright flowery top, was snatching up everything that was leafy and green. The size and leafiness of our cabbage choices matched our physical sizes. We went from small to medium to large and leafy. Both of them eyes my beets very curiously. I didn't offer an explanation.

I went to Jewel this morning. I needed borsch ingredients and several cleaning supplies and if I would've gone to my regular stores it would have been three stops instead of one and I didn't feel like driving around all morning. Plus I didn't have my morning tea yet. I thought I was so clever, going to Jewel. My list wasn't even that big: beets, cabbage, beef, coffee, fennel, rosemary, and Windex wipes. I got into three cart traffic jams with other customers (at some point I heard someone yell "Hey, look out! Women shoppers!"), had to stand on my toes to reach the Windex wipes, couldn't find any suitable coffee (the T-discs must be in the same isle as crème fraîche) got coffee creamer only to discover upon return home that I already own the exact same creamer and it has not been even opened yet, and filled my cart with freshly baked chocolate cookies which were not on the list of course. All this before I arrived to the produce department. If I would have started at the produce I would have run like hell and went to the other three stores I usually shop at. There was no produce in produce. Something ate everything: either a swarm of locusts or everyone decided to juice while watching the Bears yesterday.

They were in the process of restocking, but it was going very slowly because it took two people to decide that the compressor hidden under the trays of salad was malfunctioning. There was a lot of staring at the compressor involved while holding trays of peppers, which meant that none of us were getting the peppers at that moment. I was the brave one that interrupted that little conference not once but twice, first for beets, second for cabbage. I was very polite and even gave them a smile. As I rolled toward checkout I commented to myself that even in Russia no one stands in line for cabbage anymore. iPhones – yes, cabbage – no.

Silly me, I brought my reusable bags with me (once again, in the wrong store). The packing guy looked like he knew what to do with them, until the cashier told him not to put bananas on the bottom of the bag and he had to start all over. My brain was now replaying a scene from Innerspace where the checkout girl crushed a gallon jug of apple juice on top of a carton of eggs while chewing gum with her mouth open. My carton of eggs went in sideways. I rolled out a cart full of shopping bags, but on the way to the car I realized that the two that I brought were half-empty and I had four extra plastic bags containing my stuff. I had to repack everything in the parking lot. Sure enough, all my purchases – including the overly-leafy beets, the super tiny head of cabbage, and the weirdly-shaped fennel – fit into the two bags that I supplied. When I got home I discovered that one of my eggs was cracked on the bottom. Maybe the guy needed some gum to chew.

I still need to make a coffee run tomorrow. Unless I can ply my borsch-making visitor with a cappuccino instead. That I have plenty of.

Still no crème fraîche in the dairy isle...

How to avoid Halloween and fail miserably.

"Mom, I think on Friday after school we should decorate for Halloween!" Danny said with a smile and hid behind the couch.
"Perhaps we should wait, it's still September," I replied. He popped back up, looked at my unexcited face, rolled his eyes, and then slowly fell backward on the carpet in a dramatic display of desperation. A Method actor, all the way. I waited.
"But pleeeeaasseeee!"
"Possibly, if you do your homework and practice piano first." I was trying to postpone Halloween decorating for as long as possible.
"Ok... But can me and Daddy go to that Halloween store next to Trader Joe's so Daddy can see it?" meaning: so I can check it all out and buy a splattered witch I want and you don't have to take me because I know you hate it.
"Maybe on the weekend."
"Ok!" and he happily ran off. I started to hope that perhaps he would forget his decorating plan come Friday, but deep down I knew it was an exercise in futility. Danny does not forget anything when it comes to something he wants. And he wants a Halloween-decorated house.

I don't like Halloween. I hate the black and orange color combination, I hate all the horror movies that fill the channels for the entire month of October, I hate the tasteless and obnoxious Party City costume commercials, I hate the odd chemical smells emanating from the so-called decor isles in stores, I hate the mountain of candy that's involved. Until recently, I successfully managed to avoid Halloween for years thanks to spending the evening in the company of Serbian friends that were celebrating a completely different holiday on the same day. That celebration involved cases of wine, table full of food, and a clear home "brew" that disinfected you from the inside out on the intake.

I even managed to be Halloween-free while Danny was little. I didn't buy him a costume or went trick-or-treating and avoided the whole topic in general. But then grandparents took over and supplied costumes and a trick-or-treating experience. I voiced my resistance but failed. Danny was getting into it. And then he went to school.

They do parades and parties and everyone dresses up. He had to wear a costume to school and parade in one long loop for all the parents to see and capture the entire event with their paparazzi length camera lenses. One year, he paraded outside in the cold in just his flimsy Superman shirt and no coat. The next year I ordered him a costume of his choice (spider) that was made out of fleece and stuffed with batting in case there is another outdoor parade. It even came with a hat which was of course too small for his head, but he put it on anyway. Thank God he decided to wear the same thing this year, a small victory for me because I didn't have to buy another costume. Pottery Barn Kids doesn't vary their choices from year to year, the only other option he would go for is a shark, but after that I will have to talk him into being and art student (old jeans, dirty sweatshirt, and bags under eyes from sleeping much less than any other major).

For a long time my decorations consisted of only a large ceramic pumpkin which was actually a soup tureen. I was extremely happy with my pumpkin, it was all the decor I needed. Then Master of the house unleashed his plan. "I wish we had some Halloween decorations," a little voice would say with a sigh passing through the kitchen. "Maybe we can get a pumpkin," I would reply after several rounds of deep sighing, just to make him stop. "Ok! And one more decoration!" He was doing math before he was doing math. I started looking for artful pumpkins that I could explain to myself as fall decor that would last me till Christmas, rather than Halloween decorations. The couple of times we got a live pumpkin and carved it I almost cut my hand, got sick to my stomach from all the squishy pumpkin guts, and the entire thing rotted in less than a week. The stinking moldy mess would end up in my garden as a hopeful fertilizer only to seed itself and overtake the entire space the next summer. The strawberry patch turned into a pumpkin patch and I had more orange balls than I could handle. And the one thing my backyard tenants would not eat is a pumpkin, they can't bite through it! What kind of rodent are you if you can't bite into a pumpkin?

I've attempted several times to avoid a costume party only to fail yet again. Once I was invited to a "dress as your favorite witch" bridal shower. After stating that the only thing I'm willing to wear is my tiara, a friend suggested that I should be Glinda and even provided me with a sparkly pink gown that her daughter wore to prom. I was very sparkly and very princessy, but could not get my skirt through the front door. Any door opening for that matter. And it took me 10 minutes to get in and out of the car and I needed lots of help. I think the fact that I am much shorter than the original owner of the dress might have had something to do it – I bustled the front which created extra volume and a large train. And I almost set myself on fire when I attempted to ascend our hostess's front porch stairs that she creatively lined with burning tea lights. I ended up squeezing myself into the side kitchen entrance to avoid the flames. Danny got to see me in my costume and was very confused. The next day he told everyone that I was so big I couldn't fit through the door.

I think a year after that Terry talked me into attending a Halloween party. He really built it up and we planned our couple costume. He went as Bob Ross (large curly hair including) and I was his Happy Cloud. Well, one can not buy a cloud costume. I had to make it. I roped another friend (thank God for wiling participants) into helping me and we spent the evening sawing clumps of pillow stuffing onto a white nightgown. We even made a rainbow headhand to top if off (which really looked like a rainbow tiara because let's face it: if I'm dressing up there better be a crown involved). The puffs started falling off as the night went on and when I got home I was a very deflated cloud. Danny scored a victory that year, he got to go to one of those pop-up Halloween stores with his dad in search of a curly hair wig. Also that year some very distinct Halloween items of orange and black color combination appeared in my house. I was slowly losing the battle. I attempted to lose some of those items after the "holiday" was over, but my packing was carefully supervised by Danny. I think he knew what I was up to.

This year I pinned Halloween decor to my Holidays board. I even found a Martha Stewart craft that Danny and I could do. As I was pinning it, I told myself that it was really to use those dead branches that are all over my yard from the neighbor's dying tree. And while I was downloading the template I was telling myself that it was to finally use all that black paper I had under my bed that I ordered for a project years ago and never used. Today I spent almost an hour contemplating a ceramic spooky tree decoration while browsing at Home Goods. What I really should have gotten was that horse head that caught my eye. I even bought Halloween kitchen towels to include in my package for my Russian friends. The spooky tree is now sitting in our family room. It's hand painted. I have a new pillow in the living room that says "Boo".

As I drove Danny home from school, he told me about the splattered witch that we could hang on our door because we don't have a wreath and witch's legs that one can stick into the ground. And I actually said yes to both.

Mystery solved

Last night I finally solved a 20 year old mystery. I finally found the title of the movie I was searching for all this time.

One summer, when I was little I saw a movie. I must've liked it so much that some bits of it stuck in my memory. But I never remembered the title (not to mention it would have been useless anyway since it was a foreign film dubbed in Russian). Terry and I love talking film, we watch a lot of movies and can pretty much have a meaningful conversation comprised solely out of movie lines. One day I asked him about an old movie that was really funny and the only reference I gave him (the only part I remembered) was that it had a car that had cocaine in the tires and diamonds inside the battery. He didn't know, which totally surprised me. That was before the time when one could plug in random words into a browser and get a meaningful hit.

At some point Terry brought me The Man with One Red Shoe, hoping it was what I was talking about. It wasn't. But it was funny and it did have a car with cocaine in the tires. The Man with One Red Shoe was added to our ever growing DVD collection and I kept on searching.

Last night I mentioned it again. Dosing off, Terry suggested that perhaps it's the original French film that The Man with One Red Shoe was based on. I asked, what French film? He told me that if I go to Wikipedia, I should be able to track that down. I bolted out of bed and slowly crept into my office. There, in the dark, with my fish for company, I once again started my quest.

First there was a Wiki search, which did not yield the right results. Then I tried Google, which was completely pointless. It gave me hits for tires, not a movie. By this point I remembered that there was also a large diamond in the steering wheel of the car in the movie. I decided that perhaps I should switch gears and give Bing a try. I typed in "caper movie with cocaine in tires, diamond in steering wheel." Bingo! Bing solved in the first hit. My mystery movie was Le Corniaud, a french film from 1965. I even found a YouTube trailer, and all of a sudden I remembered most of the movie. I ran to the bedroom to inform Terry. "I found it!" But he was out cold. I fell asleep smiling ear to ear, finally at peace.

Now, how do I get my hands on the DVD?

Remembering: Krylatskoye

Krylatskoye was my home for six years. Moscow is divided into districts – rayon in Russian – Krylatskoye is one of the districts. It was new construction, with high-rise apartment buildings. All residential, I remember only one grocery store (which was completely empty) and we didn’t even get a Metro station at the beginning – that came years later. We moved to Krylatskoye when I was 10. We moved from Perovo, a rayon on the East side of the city, to the West side. Moving East to West – seems to be a story of my life. Perovo to Krylatskoye, Moscow to Chicago, North Shore to Western suburbs…

Remembering: September 1

Moscow, 1st grade
When Danny started 1st grade on August 20, I posted his "lining up to go to school" pictures on Facebook. The first response I got was from my childhood friend: "What, school starts before 1 September in America?" Yes, it does.*

As I stood next to Danny, gently patting his head from time to time, I looked around. The sight  of students lining up was familiar to me, almost nostalgic. But, there was something missing... And then it hit me – flowers. There were no flowers for the teachers on the first day of school.

First day of school in Russia was celebrated with flowers. Every kid brought a bouquet of flowers for their teacher. Mostly gladiolas, I don't know why. I always brought something else instead, one of my parents (and we're still debating which one) was not a fan of gladiolus. Teachers kept vases in classrooms to store the flowers, and at the end of the day carried the huge heaps home. Often they asked their spouse to come and help them carry the flowers, there were too many for just one person to manage. The flowers were a sign of celebration and appreciation of the teacher's work in the upcoming year.

The sight of students lining up in front of school, everyone holding flowers, was a strange one. We had uniforms, designed by Lenin's wife, and basically looked like the maids from the Ritz about to go and clean the rooms. Boys wore blue "suits" with white shirt, and girls had a brown dress with white aprons. Everything was made out of polyester. (White aprons were for "special occasions", during normal school days we wore black aprons, which made us look like maids even more.)** It was the flowers that provided color, and some indication that this was an important day (and not a sign of apocalypse). And it was the sight of the sea of flowers that was missing from Danny's first day of school, and I found that strangely odd.

It was so odd to me, and I was so bothered by the lack of flowers that I rushed to the store and got a nice bouquet for Danny's teacher. I gave it to her when I picked him up. She was surprised and flattered at the same time. Right then and there I decided that, from now on, I would uphold the Russian tradition of bringing teacher flowers on the first day of school. I might not end up liking the teacher toward the end of the year, but on the first day she'll get flowers. Might have to provide a small vase as well, because I doubt the teacher will be prepared for a bouquet.

* Russian academic year starts September 1 and ends May 31. There are only 1-10 grades, there is no pre-K or K. The group of kids that are in your class in 1st grade is the same group that will be with you all the way through 10th. You become a close bunch and classes don't interact with one another. 

** When communism fell, so did the uniforms. Students now wear regular clothes. Thank God!

The September Issue 2013

I have a new doorstop. I get a new one every year. It's heavy and hard to carry around. It will end up sitting in my car for a over a month as I thoroughly flip through it and rip to pieces filing everything into various folders that I use for inspiration. The name "doorstop" has been given to it by my husband in 2007, when I dragged it home and dropped it on the dining table with a very dull thud. Everyone else calls it Vogue, The September Issue.

2013 Vogue has 902 pages. It is not the thickest, last year's issue was 916. The 2007 issue, made famous by the documentary The September Issue, was 820. Last night, I decided to do  some counting as I flipped through this year's issue:

2013 September Issue by the Numbers
It is 1 1/16'' thick
Weighs 3.5 lbs
107 pages of ads before First page of Contents
53 pages till Second page of Contents
49 pages till Third page
Only 9 pages till you finally reach Fourth page
761 pages before you reach the first fashion editorial
507 pages of ads, not counting the four page cover
141 pages  (in the back 3/16'' of the magazine) of editorial
254 of stuff no one ever reads
3 fold-out ads
1 tip-in ad (by Target of all places: another designer collaboration that will end up either on eBay or in a clearance bin)
Mine came with 5 bingo cards (those annoying little cards that beg you to subscribe)
12 page long editorial featuring Google glass
My favorite model Karlie Kloss appears only twice (a sad moment for me, she's fabulous)
7 articles about men (Benedict Cumberbatch looks stunning, I'll be reading that for sure)
Weddings featured: 1, written of course by Plum Sykes
Fall fashion trends on Jennifer Lawrence: 4

I'm trying to figure out the best position to read it, no matter which way I tried so far I ended up with some body part either numb or in pain. I think the best way to do it is to use my steering wheel as a magazine holder, again. But we all know that, in the end, it'll end up in the reading materials basket in the throne room.

Urban Idiots™ Do Sunday

Wake in the late morning (after sleeping in, of course, since it is a rare work-free Sunday) and decide that you’re going to brave IKEA today because you just have to have that new chandelier. Share your idea with your Urban Idiot partner. By some miracle, he doesn’t freak out nor suggest that you’re on crack.

Decide that a stop at Lowes for new blinds and some shoe shopping should also be accomplished in one drive. Plan your attack. Urban Idiot Kid suggests a lunch at McDonalds. Add that do the list.

Do fish water maintenance which takes now a whole hour, measure windows (top and bottom because they’re not at a 90º angle and you, thank God, learned a previous lesson), make IKEA list, forget the list, get into the car. Realize that the only thing you ate so far was a Greek yogurt and that you forgot your cup of tea as usual. Rest of your Urban Idiots are well fed, the little one even has the foresight of bringing a bag of goldfish for the car ride. Which he consumes on the way to Lowes and spreads powered cheddar cheese all over the back seat. Vow to never allow flavor-blasted cheddar goldfish in car again (yeah, right!).

Split up at Lowes with one going to get blinds, two going to investigate tile. Fall in love with everything glass, Italian, and expensive; lay out tile patterns on the floor and discuss. UIKid lays out a classic brick subway tile pattern, you attempt to talk him into a modern horizontal stack. Mentally figure out tile cost in your head, but keep that to yourself. Pick up some lawn waste bags because in your mind you’re a super woman that will be trimming the seven foot tall rose bushes tonight as well. Attempt to load the car. The blind boxes are too long so you lower the seats and prop them up with a sofa parasite (aka a square pillow) that now permanently lives in your car just for that purpose. Drive toward home very slowly, or at least at the speed limit.

Do some very successful shoe shopping on the way. You’re now starving.

After popping back home to unload, you arrive at McDonalds. It’s a remodeled one with digital menus that keep changing and you can’t find what you want. What you end with is not what you ordered and you’re missing another order of fries, but you’re starving and  don’t care that much to go complain because you want to get to IKEA. Discretely watch a couple sitting outside, who are covered head to toe in expensive biking attire but are consuming an enormous high-calorie McDonalds fried lunch. Wonder what’s the point of spending money on biking equipment if you’re going to clog your arteries anyway…

Finally head over to IKEA. You choose Bolingbrook because A: it’s closer, and B: it’s smaller so there should be less screaming children. Run into construction on the way, of course. Find the parking lot only 2/3 full, park in the family parking area because your kid is with you.

You need Lighting, but you start at the top and walk the entire two floors because you have no clue where Lighting is. Pick up a couple of small items on the way. At some point realize that your neck is all stiff again and no longer working, so instead of cornering like a Mercedes around people you now corner like a Mac truck by taking extremely wide turns. Finally locate Lighting (which is on the bottom floor, closer to the entrance) only to discover that your chandelier is nowhere to be found. Find a sales person hiding in a corner and ask for help. You’re told that your light sold out in one day and they’re not getting any more any time soon, but Schaumburg has 15. Tell the other Urban Idiot that the light is sold out. Both start having a déjà vu, because last time you needed something at IKEA, you ended up going to both in one day to get what you wanted. You look at each other, then you ask what time it is.

On the way out of the parking lot, about 500 feet from the IKEA front door, you encounter Urban Idiots in Training, who are attempting to shove a large chair back into the small trunk opening of an old sedan. There are four of them, all male, attempting the task. They're blocking a turning lane. You mentally wish them good luck, as your UIHusband lays course toward IKEA #2.

In exactly one hour you drive to Schaumburg IKEA, find the chandelier (this time asking where the Lighting section is first), get the couple of items you picked out in Bolingbrook but didn’t get because standing in a check-out line would have wasted your traveling time, buy the meatballs, check out and leave. You now have a migraine. Your UIHusband pours himself a nice smooth golden beverage in a crystal glass when you finally come home. Your UIKid tells you: “Thank God we’re home, now I can relax!” You check out gas prices because all this driving ate more than a quarter tank and you will need gas to take your kid to school this week.

At some point, before Slurpie takes his usual dinner spot on the chimney, the blinds will go up. The chandelier is left in the box on the dining room table. It’s in a million pieces and you’re leaving that task to the Ukrainian contractors who, at some point, will have the unfortunate task of hanging it up 20 feet in the air. 

Urban Idiots™: Prequel

Crème fraîche (pronunciation : /ˌkrɛmˈfrɛʃ/, lit. "fresh cream") is a soured cream containing 30–45%. It is soured with bacterial culture, but is less sour than U.S.-style sour cream, and has a lower viscosity and a higher fat content. Wikipedia

Truffles. Homemade chocolate truffles. It was 2005, we were about to host over 40 people at our house for our Absolut Thirty birthdays bash and my chocolate truffles were on the top of a very long menu. I find truffle making relaxing and theraputic, and I always look forward making them. On a Saturday morning, we headed out to find the ingredients.

The recipe called for semi-sweet, bittersweet chocolate, and crème fraîche. I found the chocolate at Williams Sonoma. All we had to do was pop into a grocery store on the way home and get the crème fraîche. I figured that in less than half an hour I would be elbow deep in chocolate, completely relaxed. I was wrong.

We stood in front of  Jewel’s dairy isle in disbelief – there was no crème fraîche. Could they be all out? Maybe it was in a different section, only I couldn’t fathom where it could possibly be other than next to sour creams. I finally found a stock boy and asked for help. But he looked at me as if I was an alien and directed me to customer service.
            “I was wondering if you could help me find crème fraîche, please?” I said in the nicest possible way to a short rotund woman with large teased 80's hairstyle behind the customer service desk.
            “What, honey? What are you looking for?” the woman replied.
            “Crème fraîche,” I repeated slowly.
            “I don’t know what that is, honey,” the woman said. I almost choked.
            “It’s a dairy. It’s kind of like a sour cream,” I said in disbelief.
            “Oh… Let me call the dairy manager then.” She paged the dairy manager and had a small hushed discussion over the phone before turning back to me. I was slowly starting to steam: no one calls me ‘honey’.
            “He said that we don’t carry that. He doesn’t even know what that is. It must be a specialty item, you might want to try a gourmet foods store.” I could not believe this, as far as I could remember I could get crème fraîche anywhere when we lived on the North Shore. But then we moved to the Western Suburbs.
            “Thanks,” said I through clenched teeth and left the store. Our half an hour was wasted and I was nowhere close to my truffles. We got into our car and the only gourmet foods store Terry could think of in the vicinity was Whole Foods in Wheaton, 30 minutes away.

There they were: little containers with hot pink lids. Crème fraîche. It was next to sour creams, as it was supposed to be, and I bought more than I needed. Whole Foods was nowhere near our house, I wasn’t planning on returning. With my bounty safe and secure in our basket, we proceeded to check out all the isles and grab everything else that might be considered “gourmet” in this part of the world. ‘We moved to the freaking boonies…’ I thought as I raided the isles, ‘how could you be a dairy manager and not know what crème fraîche is?’ I still had a look of disgust on my face when we finally pulled into our garage.

A couple of years later, Trader Joes opened a block away from me. In their dairy isle, next to sour cream, stood a little tower crème fraîche containers. Finally, I could call Batavia home.

Recently, Terry was out picking up a couple of items from Jewel. I was cooking and realized I needed champagne vinegar. I texted him, figuring that, by now, Jewel would have something like this. After a long while, Terry texted me back: "It must be in the same isle as crème fraîche". 

Get Ready to Unleash Your Leopard: a Quick Guide to Fall 2013 Fashion Trends

With school supplies finally sorted and labeled, my attention turned a more pressing matter – fall fashion.

Armed with Pantone® fall color guide and a list of trends compiled after browsing too many fashion and retail sites in the middle of the night (thank you very much insomnia), I’m preparing my assault on my closet come Labor Day. Boy am I glad I kept those leopard shoes! 
PANTONE® Fall 2013 Color Guide.
Top Fall 2013 Trends for Women
Houndstooth – the classic is back. Big or small, the pattern works for everyone and goes with everything.
Catchy outwear – time to update that coat! This is an opportunity to step out of the box and buy something other than black.
Hats – the it hat of the season is a knit beanie. However, it’s not for every head shape or age group, so find a hat that works for you and rock it. I would stay away from a cowboy hat though.
Leopard! It’s baaaack! A little leopard can go a long way. You can also kill two birds with one stone by splurging on a leopard coat: leopard and catchy outwear trends in one. The reason a leopard coat is a splurge and not an investment is because you will not want to wear it for more than one season, unless you live in New Jersey (but then you would already have a leopard coat).
Emerald green – The Pantone® color of 2013. It pairs well with other jewel tones, or an emerald shoe or a structured bag can be the perfect “cherry on top” to finish off your outfit. If you’re lucky to own real emeralds, wear them every day. Even to the grocery store.
Winter white – Labor Day is no longer then end of the white season. But put the summer light fabrics away and instead do white in a chunky knit, or skinny jeans or a textured structured jacket.
Peplum – first appearing this spring, is still trending hot. So don’t put it away. If you don’t have one yet, peplum is very flattering: it makes waists appear smaller, or adds a bit a hip if you really really need some.
Military-inspired – khaki green (or Deep Lichen Green®) is sticking around. Do it in a soft girly way: a slim pant or mix it up with some lace or a fur for a luxe look. Or, if you’re brave enough: military green with a leopard print in a skinny jean (I actually saw a pair a couple of nights ago. Blocked the store name out of my mind on purpose).
Leather – not head to toe, unless you’re riding a Harley, but do mix it into your regular wardrobe. Colored leather’s works too.
Turtleneck – shown layered under jackets and coats. Now this is a trend I’ll be skipping because I am not about to die from heat, even if it will get cold.
Over-the-knee boots – if you have them from a couple of years ago, dust them off. Or try a leather legging with an ankle bootie for a similar look.

Top Fall 2013 Trends for Men
Camel topcoat – enjoy a bit of color before the going back to black winter coats. An investment piece if you don’t already own one, camel is a classic.
Plaid suiting – this season’s plaid is bigger and bolder than the previous seasons. Pair with a solid shirt and a tie.
Slim pants – pants (and suits) are getting slimmer and slimmer. If you didn’t have a reason to work out before, you do now. Pair a slim pant with a chunky sole shoe to visually even things out. A gray wool slim trouser works great for the office.
Tweed suit – a fall staple, updated in a slim tailored way.
Motorcycle jacket – the classic is back. Just don’t do the whole white t-shirt and ripped jeans thing, that’s out.
Turtleneck – a quick and easy update to your suit. If James Bond can do it, so can you.

Return of the Umbrella

Today was the day! Umbrella pick up day! I patiently waited to hear form Crate&Barrel and within minutes of getting an email that my item was ready for pick up I got a call from Fran, the woman that sorted out my umbrella mess. We got into the car and headed over there. Of course Danny wanted to check out the furniture on the second floor as soon as we got there. I think he was shopping for a couch and a bed. I found some plates that will be joining my kitchen very soon.

After Danny picked out a plum couch "there is enough room here for you and Daddy and I will not be squished," tested out a canopy bed "sit, it's quite soft", we finally went to get our umbrella cover. At last I met Fran. She is exactly what one would expect from a woman named Fran: petite, cute, dark curly hair, blue eyes, soft a bit raspy voice, and a hot pick cardigan set. I picked up my package (it was small enough to fit into a tote, which makes me wonder why exactly would they charge over $20 for shipping), hugged Fran, told her manager how great she was, and vowed to always have the store place my orders from now on.

I decided to assemble the umbrella as soon as we got home. The frame is 8.5 feet tall, I needed a small step ladder. But since I'm short, even on a step ladder I couldn't reach the top. I unwrapped most of the frame, including the arms that hold the fabric. Big mistake as I discovered later. Then I opened the cover. It was bigger than me, like a giant skirt, and most of the fabric fell to the floor of the garage and immediately picked up all the dirt off it.

Frame and cover. If you buy them together, do they come already assembled?
The plan was to climb on the step ladder, lean the frame toward me, throw the cover over it and then pull it into place. Yeah, right, in theory! I climbed, I held the cover in my left hand, I leaned the enormous – top heavy – frame toward me... and teetered dangerously back and forth on the ladder. Did I mention that I'm afraid of heights? I carefully regained my balance, got off the ladder, and thanked God for not crashing me onto the concrete floor. I needed a new plan – one where I stayed safely with both feet on the ground. So I decided to lean the frame on the step ladder.

And that is when I discovered that removing the wrappings that held the arms together was a bad idea. The arms just flailed about as I lowered the frame on the ladder and almost made it roll off and smash into pieces. I carefully balanced the frame on the ladder, put on the cover, secured it with the finial, and started to match the corners to the arms. There is a little pocket which the arm goes into, but the pocket is really small and the cover starts to pull taut so it starts to get harder after the first one.  Basically, it's like putting on eight condoms, same principal. And I had to be careful not to roll the entire thing off the ladder. Finally, success was mine! I tied the red ties and carefully lifted the now assembled umbrella back upright. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a whole and fully assembled outdoor umbrella! If only the weather would cooperate and I might actually get to use it this summer.
Waiting for sunshine.
Now, about that purple couch...

The Trouble with Curry

We ran to Trader Joe's for potatoes and juice boxes yesterday. And as we get further into the store I realize that it reeks of some pungent cooking. They do samples so I walk by and see yellow. Curry! Uh no! The only time I ate curry was when I was invited to a friend's house who is Indian and she not only prepared all the dishes from scratch but knew how to tame it down for the Western palette. The curry chicken was delicious and I took some home and my house never smelled when I reheated. The smell at the store was of a different caliber. But then the sauce came in a bottle.

We're by the cheese isle and all of a sudden Danny stops dead in his tracks and says: "What is that smell? Where is it?" I tell him that it's curry. He goes: "I like it! Where is it?" So we walk back to the sample table and they're doing a shrimp and rice slathered in curry sauce. I give him a shrimp to taste (he loves shrimp) which he swallows in one gulp, grins with satisfaction, and makes yummy sounds. He wants me to buy the whole dish including "the yellow tasty stuff". I then have to spend 5 minutes talking him OUT of buying the curry sauce! I buy the shrimp (it's fully cooked and frozen) and the rice (in microwavable packets with baby corn, lemon grass, and ginger) and promise that it'll taste the same minus the stink. The sales person who is present during the debate is not saying anything, so she knows that their bottled sauce is super pungent. Go home and carefully defrost the shrimp. No ammonia smell so we're golden.

Make him his TJ dinner. The entire one package of rice and half a bag of shrimp. He eats all the shrimp and just a little rice. Asks from more shrimp. OK. Comes back and only about 1/3 of rice left. Which Terry saves because we still have shrimp left over (it has zero flavor since it was frozen). As I put him to bed I realize that his breath reeks. And I didn't give him any curry! I get out of his bedroom and into the fresh air as soon as I can, hoping it'll all dissipate by the morning. He comes in at around 7 am. Climbs in and as I hug him he breathes on me and I keel over. He still smells! I push him toward the other side of the bed and he passes out for another couple of hours. When he finally wakes up, I tell him that his breath still smells and he's all shocked: "but I flossed last night!" Then he asks for the leftovers for lunch.

He won't eat a hot dog, but he's likes curry! And what is exactly making him smell? The lemon grass? Ginger is supposed to be good and calming for the digestive system. Hoping that the chlorine in the pool tomorrow morning will finally kill it all. 

Outdoor umbrella saga continues

I was looking forward to today. I was planning on picking up my Chili Pepper Red umbrella cover from Crate&Barrel and actually, finally, sitting under the umbrella outdoors. And since fall decided to come early to Chicago I would've had nice cool weather to tinker around with the cover and frame without being completely drenched in sweat (I'm sure another Urban Idiot moment will be coming). But, unfortunately no umbrella cover for me today.

They lost my order. Between the online customer service (who couldn't ship me a backordered cover because I used my rewards to pay for part of it) and the store, the order vanished. Thank God for a very persistent, and helpful, associate at Geneva Commons Crate&Barrel. It took her almost two hours but she found it. She was just as confused as to where it went I was because the warehouse was full of Chili Pepper Red umbrella covers. We spent so much time on the phone this afternoon that I ended up telling her our umbrella saga. Perhaps that fueled her efforts, because the next time she called, she found the order and had the cover put on their delivery truck.

I decided that from now on I should have the store make a furniture order, which my retail friend confirmed was the only way to do it. As she texted: "You support local business and have someone to advocate for you if anything goes wrong." Lesson learned.

I am now waiting till Wednesday. Hoping by dinnertime I will finally have an assembled umbrella. Wish me luck!

Saving Nemo

I blame Sesame Street. Elmo has a goldfish named Dorothy so of course every three year old wants a Dorothy. What I didn't notice right away, since I would leave the room when Elmo came on to preserve my sanity, is that it is a different goldfish in every episode. I found that out after we gifted a goldfish to Danny on his third birthday. He named it Dorothy. It lasted less than a month.

Did you know that dead fish don't float right away? It takes about 12 hours for them to balloon and go belly up. What really happens is that they go to the bottom, hide in the corner, and then die. And that is precisely how we found Dorothy one morning. I told Danny it was sleeping. Then I texted my husband and asked to pick up new fish on the way home that evening from work. As the day went on we devised a plan of getting a new tank and extra goldfish, setting it up in the playroom, and selling it as Dorothy got moved to a new home and got new friends. It worked. We got a five gallon tank kit with a filter and a lamp built into the hood. The lamp worked for less than six months. The fish quickly filled the upstairs with rotten stench of ammonia and I found out the hard way that goldfish are the dirtiest fish to own. Ever. I decided they needed to go. But they were stubborn and lasted for over a year.

As soon as the last goldfish met the toilet bowl, Danny asked for new fish. No goldfish, he couldn't tolerate the smell either. I scrubbed the entire tank, changed gravel, and he brought home four neon tetras. George, Mango, Knife, and Spoon. I suggested Paul, John, George and Ringo, but only George stuck. They were happy little fish with Mango getting rather fat. But neither the filter nor I were able to keep up with the algae growth and pretty soon all four sides of the tank were covered with a thick coat of green slime. I sent the boys out for an algae eater one evening. They brought back a black plecostomus* that was about two inches long. Pretty big compared to the tetras. In the morning I discovered that he worked through the night and licked the entire tank clean. Not a single algae in sight. Off to buy algae wafers for the busy little guy. He gained an inch in a month. One day we went to the library and I saw an enormous pleco in their 100 gallon fish tank who looked exactly like ours. After some research I discovered, to my horror, that what we had was a common pleco that have a tendency to grow to at least a foot in length.

Last year we moved the tank from the playroom to the office, mainly because my mom who sometimes came to visit didn't want to "sleep with the fishies" (the filter gurgles and the pleco, being nocturnal, is very busy moving around gravel at night looking for food). Now a five gallon tank made of glass and full of water weighs more than five gallons. 1 gallon of water weighs over 8 lbs. It was like moving a dead body. So we had to very carefully slide the tank onto a side table on wheels (thank you IKEA) and then gently roll it from one room to the other. The fish didn't seem to mind. I wonder If they even noticed. The pleco was slowly getting larger and larger.

My cousins from New York came to visit and after seeing our tank asked how come there is no Fork. Fork, the yellow guppy appeared soon after they left.

This May, I figured that we need a bigger tank. The five gallon was starting to look kind of crowded. So Danny saved and saved (since technically these are his fish and his tank) and bought a 10 gallon. It took me two hours to set it up and move the fish over. The water turned cloudy and green in less than 24 hours and after another 24 hours the foul stench emanated  from the tank. Then we lost George. The pleco hid inside an alien skull ornament and wouldn't come out.

Danny immediately needed a replacement fish. George The Second was purchased along with a red guppy, Wiggly, and a cleaner shrimp, Sushi. Unfortunately, we walked away while a Petco employee was fishing the shrimp out and what we got was not what I wanted. I wanted a busy and happy one that was cleaning everyone, we got the loner from the corner. He molted two days after arriving to our house and then died 24 hours later. The water was still smelly and getting worse and my pleco was not eating.

I started Googling like crazy and discovered that since the tank was new, it had to cycle in order to establish good bacteria level that kept all the levels in check. And that awful smell was high levels of ammonia. I found myself buying over $50 worth of test kits to test the water levels and then spent every day doing partial water changes using my kitchen Pyrex measuring cup and the largest mixing bowl I had. Then three of the tetras: Mango, Knife, and Spoon got sick. They had fish rot. From water stress! I yanked them out into a small bowl which I called the hospital. We lost Spoon the next day. Tank was still not recovering and we were getting close to leaving for a vacation. I was getting worried that I was leaving all this nightmare to my friend who kindly agreed to fish sit. A week before we were about to leave I found a post on a fish forum that if you do a daily water and filter change and skip a feeding the water will finally return to normal levels. I starved the fish overnight and in the morning everything finally tested in the safe zone. The pleco emerged from his abode and asked for food. My friend was left in charge of a healthy tank and a fish hospital. Everyone survived on her watch, even the patients. The pleco was now too big for the skull, but somehow he still managed to coil himself into it. Sometimes he'd stick out a body part.

A week after we returned, Danny begged out two more fish. Wiggly and Fork were duking it out for the tank dominance completely forgetting that it was the, now enormous at seven inches, pleco who was king of the tank and George the Second was feeling lonely. The boys went to a different Petco in hopes of getting healthy fish. They returned with a glow fish, Glowie (it glows fluorescent yellow under a black light which I refused to buy of course) and a zebra tetra, Stripe. The glow fish cost $9! They inhabited the tank for a while until two and a half weeks ago when all hell broke loose.

Every morning, the first thing I do after getting out of bed is go and check on the pleco. I admit, I've grown attached to the guy since I fed him into quite a large size. Plus, he's pretty entertaining. So I wake up, go check on the fish, and discover that the pleco is covered in ich. I check the other fish and realize that the entire tank is infested. Ich is a parasite that eats the fish. It looks like salt has been sprinkled all over the fish's body and ich lifecycles in the gravel. By the time you can see them, the damage's been done. I freak out and google in panic then run to Petco. Of course they don't have any of the medications that I had on my list. I buy something that is "organic" with no listed active ingredients. No one in the store knows what exactly to do with it, all I get is: "ohh, you have ich?" The fact that their own fish infected my tank is not registering. Run home, change water, yank the filter and dose the fish. Stripe dies the next day. Medicate again. We lose George the Second. Fork gets sick, hides behind the skull barely breathing, and for two days we watch hopelessly as it slowly dies. Wiggly's fins droop from sadness at a loss of his friend (he would swim down to him and coax him to come up for air) and he follows Fork. We're now down to Glowie and my big guy who's not eating and who stuck his head out of the water for air (plecos can survive out of the water in a crisis, which this was). All of a sudden I discover PetSmart and we go there with high hopes of finding the right medication.

PetSmart is a whole different story than Petco. Their GM is an aquatics expert, an older nerdy soft-spoken guy who carefully listened to my predicament and explained what to do step by step. I came home with top rated ich treatment, a gravel syphon and a thermometer. I syphoned the gravel, changed the water, removed the carbon pellets from the filter but still used the felt part, dropped a heater in the tank because I had to heat the water to a precise 82F to kill the parasites, attached my new thermometer, and dumped in the treatment. It was a bright green powder that turned the water dark bluish green. Then I read that the stuff causes cancer in the state of California. Great! I forgot to use gloves! So I made a large sign on the tank's lid that said: "WARNING! Cancer causing meds in tank, use gloves!" The next morning I discovered that our only remaining residents have fin rot from stress of being sick. By the time we ran to the store and returned, Glowie's tale fell off.

Fin rot is treated with tetracycline. Yep, the antibiotic that humans get. I was now dealing with two separate diseases. Even the PetSmart guy felt pity for me, he kept shaking his head and repeating "two diseases..." He explained how to juggle two completely separate meds schedules. I came home and drugged the fish. The water turned red and foamed. I spent the next four days dosing the fish with antibiotics and ich treatment and changing water on a precise schedule. By the last dose the water was deep brown and we were barely able to see the fish. Last night was the first time when I was able to put the carbon filter back in. Water's still funky, but we're able to see through it a little more. Looks like they're doing better. I put an indefinite freeze on any new fish purchases. I think I'm going to try and treat my big guy to a zucchini, plecos are herbivores.

I have a feeling that one day I have to upgrade to a 50 gallon tank to hold one large zucchini eating fish. By that point he'd better walk over there on his own, and change his own filters. I think I'm done fishing after this adventure.

*To keep with pleco owner's tradition the name of the fish is withheld from online publishing.