Horsing Around

And They're Off!

And They’re Off!

Summers in my heyday included weekend trips to Lake George, sunbathing in Grafton Park, and the much-anticipated Saratoga Racing Season.

Spending the afternoon at the flat track wasn’t just a day at the races; it was an event. Each year, I’d plan what I’d wear, how much money I’d bring, how much I’d be willing to bet, what I’d spend on food and drink, and, no trip to the track was complete without going dancing afterwards, late into the night.

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Let me break it down for you…

First, let’s go over proper attire. Sure, plenty of people show up in cut-offs, sneakers, baseball caps, etcetera, etcetera. Schlemiels. Well, not this girl. No, sir! For my companions and me, half the fun of going to Saratoga was in the dressing up: sundresses, big hats, heels, Jackie-O sunglasses, leather clutch, pearls…you get the picture.

Now, let’s talk about the after-party:

Before heading out to the track, my friends and I would each pack bags of evening clothes and throw them into the trunk of my car. After the last race of the day, we’d go into town for dinner. Then, at about nine o’clock, we’d get into the backseat of the car, change into our “disco clothes” and head to a club called “The Rafters.”

The Rafters was located in the middle of Kaydeross Park, on Saratoga Lake. Every time I pulled into the parking lot, I was amazed that I found my way there. “Remote” doesn’t begin to describe it.

It was a favorite hangout for all the jockeys and trainers.

At the risk of sounding “braggy,” let me just say I was a most sought-after girl at The Rafters. Why? Well it could have been because I was…

  1. …young and beautiful
  2. … an accomplished and enthusiastic dancer partner, or
  3. … the shortest woman in the room

If you guessed D (all of the above), you would be wrong.

The answer is C. At 4’11” and 92 lbs, I made every jockey feel like a colossus. I won’t name drop, but I danced with all the greats {Did somebody say Angel Cordero?}

I’d hit the dance floor and stay there until the lights came up and it was time to go home. These were some of the happiest times of my college years.

 

So, imagine my excitement when my friend Harris moved to Baltimore and invited a group of us to come down for the Preakness.

My first order of business was to buy the right outfit for such a swanky occasion. After a period of careful discernment, I settled on a pastel linen skirt –the fabric of which looked like a Monet watercolor. The blouse was a gauzy trapeze top, sheer (with the exception of two strategically placed pockets – if you know what I mean). It was sexy, but tasteful and sophisticated at the same time. For footwear, I selected a pair of gray kitten heels. At the track, there’s a lot of walking on grass and gravel, so a low heel is essential. To round out the ensemble, I chose a straw cloche hat al a Mia Farrow al a Daisy Buchanan al a The Great Gatsby.

Feathered Saratoga Hat

Fast forward to racing day. About 12 of us were camped out at Harris’s condo. I emerged from the guest room, looking like I was being presented at Buckingham Palace.

Harris asked, “Where are you going?”

“Pimlico, baby!” I cheered.

“Not like that, you’re not,” he said.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

He shook his head, “You’re gonna ruin that outfit. We’re sitting in the infield.

“Who’s gonna what now?” I asked.

“The infield,” he repeated. “That’s where we’re sitting.”

Let me put this in perspective for you: At Saratoga, we’d sit in the Clubhouse, at linen-covered tables, soaking up air-conditioning and cool Saratoga Sunrise cocktails. The Saratoga infield was a manicured oasis – lush emerald grass accented with vibrant flowers and neatly trimmed shrubbery.

Through his chuckling, Harris advised, “Go put on some shorts and sneakers. Then you can help us pack the cooler.”

“Cooler?” Really?

I retreated back to the guest room and changed into the aforementioned schlemiel costume (sans backward baseball cap), then reported to the kitchen to help make ham sandwiches for our picnic lunch.

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

When we arrived at Pimlico, we were directed to a tunnel that ran under the track. It was relatively short, but no less hot, humid or fragrant as the finest New York City subway station.

 

The mob scene on the other side was something like “Woodstock meets Honey Boo Boo.”

The ground was thick with mud, the kind that sucks your shoes off when you walk through it. Drunken revelers staggered all over the place and the smell of pot wafted from every direction.

To give you an idea of the infield dress code: there was a woman in a string bikini made of four seashells and leather straps. We started referring to her as “Shelley.” Some people had pitched tents and dug out privies, I swear to god! (I wondered how long they’d been there and how long they planned on staying).

I didn’t see much horseracing that day, because I was mesmerized by my surroundings. Afraid I’d get lost and end up in someone hillbilly’s encampment, I never left the infield to place a bet. While sitting on a soggy blanket, I drank lukewarm beer from a can and ate sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper.

And truth be told, I never had that much fun at a horserace before or since.

Dadgumit! Where’d Shelley git to?

 

 

 

The Lady Of The House

postcard-westchester-county-new-york

We have arrived!

By the time our daughter was born, it was obvious that our little garden apartment could no longer contain us. We’d shoved her crib into her big brother’s room, and wedged her changing table in a corner next the closet (the door of which could no longer enjoyed its full range of motion).  Her dresser was in the kitchen. We were bursting at the seams.

So, after scraping together every nickel and cashing out our paltry investments (like our 75-cents worth of Disney stock), we managed to buy our first house in the suburbs. In Westchester County, no less (the Shangri-La of suburban New York State).

Oh, we had arrived!

There were, however, some weird moments during those early days.

Before we moved in,  we had the whole place painted and the hardwood floors resurfaced. Once, when I showed up to check on the progress, the painter greeted me with, “You must be the lady of the house.” It seems absurd, but I really didn’t understand the question. I stood there, mouth agape. He tried again, “Are you the homeowner?”

“Who me?” Then, as if a hypnotist snapped his fingers in front of my face, I woke up. “Why, yes. Yes! I am the homeowner!”

Homeowner. Such a glorious word! It stirred up such a sense of security, such pride. But it was still so new, it hadn’t fully sunk in.

Finally, it was move-in day and I began unpacking.

Some of our toiletries were too tall to fit in the medicine cabinet, so I set them aside and considered buying a bathroom storage piece of some sort. Two days later (two!), it occurred to me that I was allowed to adjust the medicine cabinet shelves because I owned that medicine cabinet and the wall it was attached to, and every other wall surrounding it.

But the weirdness didn’t stop there. My voice was changing. I caught myself speaking from the back of my throat through clenched teeth, “Kids! We’re going to Bed Bath & Beyond for home décor!” Here in Westchester, we call this affectation “Larchmont Lockjaw,” (think: Lovey and Thurston Howell, III, from Gilligan’s Island)

What the hell was happening to me? “Stop it, stop it, stop it!” said my inner voice. “You haven’t been coronated! All you did was buy a house, ya crazy bee-otch!”

But it was hard to resist. I was feeling so high, so grand! I’d always dreamt of owning; I watched all those “interior design on a dime” shows, I read Martha Stewart Living magazine, and I kept a scrapbook of paint colors and garden layouts… Oh, we hadn’t just bought a house. We bought a dream. And we were the perfect American family: Mommy, Daddy, Son and Daughter. Now all we needed was a dog and a second car. A minivan! But those things would have to wait, since we’d sunk our last sou into our new abode.

At some point, I pulled myself together and came to my senses. It might have been on that third day after moving in when my husband took a bedtime bath.

In the morning, we discovered that the tub leaked. Water poured through a light fixture in the kitchen, collapsing part of the freshly painted ceiling onto the newly refinished floor.

Or maybe it was around Christmas when a chimney sweep called, claiming to have worked for the previous owner. Since this was my first rodeo, I let him come and he scammed me out of $1200.

Or it could have been the time the skylights sprung a leak turning my family room into a tropical rainforest, soaking our brand new furniture.

Ah yes, homeownership is a dream many of us aspire to. But only the strong survive when the shizzle gets real.

All in all, that house was very good to us. We stayed there for six years and, through all of it, I was so happy. Some nights I’d stand out front gazing at it; its forest green shutters and bright white cedar shakes, the house number plaque I’d custom ordered from LL Bean, light streaming through the gauzy curtains of our dining room… On those nights, I wished my arms were long enough to wrap around and hug it, for it wasn’t just our house. It was our home.

 CLICK HERE for the podcast.

 

It’s Not A Floater

Every year since we got married, it’s been the same thing: my husband forgets Valentine’s Day.

In past years, this has made me mad, sad and exasperated – especially during those early years. He was working long hours, building his company and I was working hard as a stay-at-home mother. It was exhausting. What little time we had together was “family time” and our focus would be on our children. Mommy and daddy became two shipwrecks passing through a sticky playroom. So, on just that one day every year, I wanted him to fuss over me. His forgetfulness of Valentine’s Day felt personal, like he was forgetting me. Ouch!

valentines-day-restaurants-melbourne-flA day or two later, something would trigger his memory (like me throwing his gift on the table saying, “You missed Valentine’s Day, AGAIN!), and he’d go out and buy a huge bouquet of half-price roses. It was a great way to save a few bucks, but not for scoring points. In fact, his peace-offerings usually made me even angrier.

For whatever reason, he simply could not get it into his head that Valentine’s Day is on the same date every year. It’s not a floater, like Thanksgiving, Easter or Passover. It is always February 14th. Always. Maybe it’s genetic. Once, when I invited his mother for Christmas dinner, she asked, “When is it?”

To be fair, there were some years when he knocked it out of the park to make up for the year before. On one of those occasions, he arranged for a neighbor to take our then-toddler son overnight. He booked a supper cruise around Manhattan, followed by a night at the über-posh Peninsula Hotel. The magnificent suite was larger than our apartment. It was glorious. Then there was the time he surprised me by showering our bedroom with rose petals. I will not lie. My very first thought was, “Great. Who is going to clean this up?” Very romantic, I know.

Am I the only one who sees this as an accident waiting to happen?

As the years rolled by, I took it upon myself to start reminding him. I realized that waiting to see if he’d remember was the same as setting a trap (which is childish and unfair, yet inexplicably tempting). I’d tell him two weeks in advance because the closer it came to the date, the likelier that all the good restaurants would be booked up. However, he’d still wait until the last minute to try to make a reservation, or he’d take me someplace without one and we wouldn’t be able to get a table.

Ok, let’s be honest here for a minute: You and I both know that the worst night to go out for dinner is on Valentine’s Day. The “special” menus are always limited, the food is only marginally good, and the wait staff hustles you in and out because they’ve booked extra seatings to squeeze every last dime out of the busiest night of the year. And it’s February! Do you know how cold it is in New York in February? Who wants to put on a slinky dress and heels to slip and slide down the icy sidewalks of Manhattan? I’d rather be home in my jammies. (Author’s note: do not tell my husband I said that!)

Anyway, now that our son and daughter are older and away at school, we have a lot more time to focus on each other. Every Thursday night is date night, come hell or high water. Rather than making a special effort for each other once a year, we set aside time every week. It’s better that way, wouldn’t you agree?

Are you wondering what we’re doing together for Valentine’s Day this year? Nothing. I’m going dancing with my sister and my niece. My husband and brother-in-law are in Cuba with their father to celebrate his 80th birthday. When my husband booked the trip six months ago, he forgot that February 14th is Valentine’s Day.

Thanks for another great year!

Well, SNORKers, as we bid farewell to 2014, I’d like to take this time to thank you for subscribing to SNORK. Your support and comments are always welcomed and appreciated.  Each year, the helper monkeys at WordPress.com prepare an annual report for SNORK and I want to share some of those statistics with you now.

Between WordPress.com, Twitter and Facebook, SNORK  has a following of nearly 8500 people!  A special shout-out goes to SNORK’s Facebook followers, who’s sharing drove the most traffic to this blog (followed by readers at Twitter and Pinterest).

With subscribers in 75 countries around the world, SNORK’s second highest readership is in Brazil (the United States is 1st and Canada is 3rd).  I don’t even know what that could mean, but Gracias Brazil!!!

The most popular post of 2014 was She.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can find it by clicking here.

I look forward to writing for you in 2015, and I have a few surprises up my sleeve – so, stay tuned!  

Until then, I wish you a very Happy New Year filled with health, peace, prosperity and, of course, plenty of laughter!

Cheers!

Tidings

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SNORK wishes you the sort of holiday that makes you blow eggnog through both your nostrils (in a good way!).

Merry Christmas!

Give Them Love

For many, the holidays are a time of rejoicing, of abundance, and of feasting. But it can be the most difficult time of the year for many others. This SNORK is a public service announcement, dedicated to shining a light on a group of people who are often mocked, marginalized, and misunderstood. I am, of course, referring to vegans.

Oh, I can just hear you: “Who me? Why, some of my best friends are vegans!”

Please don’t try to defend yourself. I’ve seen it first-hand; the way people roll their eyes when someone announces their veganism. I’ve heard, “Well, I’d invite so-and-so to the dinner party, but have you ever tried cooking for a vegan? It’s a pain in the ass!”

I can tell you what it’s like from both perspectives because I, too, was once one of them.

It all happened very suddenly. I was working out at the gym one day, when my trainer handed me a copy Skinny Bitch. His message, while as subtle as a blood-curdling scream, was not lost on me. By the time I finished reading it, I was so repulsed by the thought of food, any food, that I ate nothing but organic strawberries for the next three days. I won’t go into details here, but if you’ve read it, you know what I mean.

So, just like that, without forethought, I made a drastic and life-changing decision. This was not a bright idea, by the way. It’s probably better to put a little planning into something that dramatic, but no – not me! I jumped right in. Hindsight might suggest that I was actually pushed into it by an over-enthusiastic 19-year-old trainer with less than 4% body fat, but I bear no ill will against him (and may he blow up like a balloon when he hits the age of 40). Anyway…

The first step toward my new lifestyle was to drive to Whole Foods and purchase about a trillion dollars worth of groceries marked “vegan.” Whole Foods makes it all so easy by clearly tagging vegan-friendly products. No pesky label reading for this girl. Thank you Whole Foods.

The next step was to eat the food identified as “vegan.” This was a little trickier than purchasing it. For example, there is a phenomenon known as “vegan cheese.” Now, if you have had a lifelong love affair with all things dairy, this rubbery impostor will make you cry real tears. I searched the web for the most recommended brands, bought them all, tested them in a variety of recipes and decided I’d rather go without than try to fool myself into believing this crap was cheese (or even food, for that matter).

After a few weeks, two things became obvious:

  1. The vegan foods from the supermarket are so highly processed, you may as well eat a Big Mac (no offense Mickey D), and
  2. Whenever mealtime rolled around, I wanted to curl into the fetal position. You see, preparing food was becoming a much bigger chore since my carnivorous days…so much so, in fact, that I hated eating.

Now this should alarm you. Here I was, a healthy American-Italian-Armenian (translation: unabashed food lover) and I did not want to eat. My meals became repetitive and uninspired. Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and almond milk. Lunch: peanut butter on apples or bananas. Dinner: sautéed vegetables with rice and beans, and a salad. Zzzzzzz…

I should mention that during this time, I did not force my family to get on board. Hubby and the kids were still enjoying omnivore cuisine. I would cook for them without ever feeling the least bit resentful as I listened to sunny-side-up eggs popping and squeaking in the frying pan. I did not once growl or grimace as I coated precious, tender lamb chops with my own concoction of mint, garlic, onions and lemon and then smelled their heavenly aroma as they sizzled upon the grill. Oh, no! I was more than happy to do it, while my rice was boiling on the stove.

You had me at ‘mallow.

I should also mention that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t so much fun to be around during my vegan adventure. As a result, my kids went from being normal teenagers to becoming food pushers: “Hey mom, you gotta try this provolone!” Or, “Tonight would be a great night for s’mores! Whaddya say?” They were desperate because I was becoming a real drag, a chronic cranky pants, to be exact. But I remained steadfast (against my own instincts). Oh, and are you surprised that vegans can’t have s’mores? Well, chocolate has milk in it and marshmallows (my kryptonite) are made with gelatin, which comes from pigs. So cross those off the list, along with every other delicious thing you can possibly think of.

Something else that I longed for was dining out. So hubby took me to a local Mexican restaurant and assured me there must be something on the menu that I could eat. Of course, I asked all the pertinent vegan questions to make sure there was not a hint of the verboten in my meal. After I sufficiently interrogated the waiter, I ordered a vegetable burrito (which was not on the menu, so I explained how to make one). When my dinner arrived, it was essentially under-cooked broccoli, with a few carrot slivers, wrapped in a tortilla. I just looked at it, sighed and drank my meat-free water. Misery.

And then, the moment I dreaded the most…we were invited to a Christmas party – a Christmas dinner party. I gave my husband strict instructions not to tell anyone I was a vegan. I did not want to be one of those preachy, demanding people with “dietary issues.” Surely I could navigate the meal by eating side dishes, after nonchalantly asking about their ingredients: “Wow, those Brussels sprouts look super tasty! What’s in them? Oh, bacon? Like real bacon or those soy bacon bits? Oh, real bacon. Ohhh.” Curse you, real bacon! And of course I could always fall back on the salad, and perhaps have some salad and maybe take a little salad. God help me if the hostess got creative by adding cheese to it.

That first party went off without a hitch. No one was the wiser. But the second soiree took a nasty turn. While performing my new skill of undercover food detective, I was able to ascertain which items on the table were OK and which were off-limits. But something must have had a hidden criminal element in it, such as chicken broth or perhaps butter. How do I know? Because when I got home, I was sicker than sick. It was the kind of sick that makes you fear you might die, and then fear that you might not. I had passed up the gorgeous beef Wellington, skipped the creamy mashed potatoes, and ignored the luscious cheesecake only to be taken down by the wild rice or some frigging yams! Unbeknownst to me, when you give up animal product for any length of time and then eat it again, your body holds a clearance sale: Everything Must Go!

Yet I still wasn’t willing to give up. Why? Truth be told, I never felt physically better in my life (with the exception of the aforementioned “incident”). Gone was the arthritis pain in my knee. No more belly bloat. No more general malaise. Psychologically, however, I was feeling pretty damn sorry for myself. But, life is full of trade-offs. Right? Certainly I would get used to this new way of eating. Right? People, I do not have what it takes to make a successful martyr. Sorry. No can do.

But here’s what finally tipped the scales and put me back on the meat wagon…my old pal, Whole Foods.

Each November, Whole Foods publishes a holiday menu full of catering fare. I always have at least 30 people for holiday dinners and, handy though I may be in the kitchen, I am not equipped to run a banquet hall. So I’ve always turned to Whole Foods for an assist. Basically I order the same things every year: one shrimp cocktail platter that serves 12 (if you show up late, you’re out of luck, my friend), an assorted crudité platter that serves 24, one Brie en croute that serves up to 10, and a double order of their turkey dinner for 8 (which consists of two turkeys and various sides). While flipping through the menu in search of additional dishes to round out the meal, I saw it. There it was, on page 10…the saddest thing you can imagine, especially during the holidays. Among the sumptuous offerings of “Rib Roast Dinner for 8” and “Roasted Pork Loin for 4” was “Vegan Dinner…for 1.”

One is the loneliest number.

One is the loneliest number.

In that moment, it all came into focus. I was alone. I was dinner for one. And, bloat be damned, I was hungry for cheese. Glorious, glorious cheese! And marshmallows. Real marshmallows made from Porky Pig! And wild salmon! And beef! I broke down is a puddle of my own wanton desire. It was not pretty, but it was bound to happen.

Therefore, when I say to you, “vegans need love,” I know what I’m talking about. So, the next time you meet one, or have to cook for one, or have to eat with one, keep an open mind. Do not judge. Do not mock. Instead, open your arms and give that skinny bitch a hug.

 

5 Steps To Being The Perfect Houseguest

The holidays are just around the corner, and for many of us, they involve traveling. Will you be bunking at someone’s home? Are you wondering if you need a refresher course on houseguest etiquette? Well, today’s your lucky day! Not only do I travel quite a bit, I’m also an innkeeper of sorts, since my house happens to be a popular lodging spot for out-of-town family and friends. With the benefit of all this knowledge, I’ve put together a room-by-room, 5-step guide on how to be the perfect houseguest. No need to thank me. I consider it a public service. Now, pack your bags and let’s begin our journey…

#5. The Front Door (Don’t be cheap)

We all know you should never show up empty-handed to a dinner party. But did you know that when you’re a houseguest, your arms should be so loaded that you have to ring the doorbell with your nose? Its true!

What should you bring? Well, if your hosts don’t have small children, then it’s appropriate to bring something for the house such as a bottle of wine, fine chocolates, a gourmet food basket, a Vitamix Professional Series 750… Sometimes people bring a more personal gift, strictly for the hostess, something like a bath set consisting of expensive shower gel, body scrub, body lotion, perfume and body oil in the Bobbi Brown Beach fragrance, or anything from the Fresh brand of products (available at Sephora), or jewels. You know…stuff like that will surely be appreciated. And no, I am not hinting here at all. I swear!

If your hosts have children, you must, must, must bring something for them! It’s important to be on the children’s good side if you have any hopes of enjoying your stay. For children in the baby/toddler stages, you can bring a cute outfit. If they’re older, nothing but toys will do. A five-year-old welcomes a sensible sweater only slightly more than a poke in the eye. And choose that toy wisely, or you might end up with mashed potatoes in your shoes or “short sheets” on the bed. Which brings us to…

#4. The Bedroom (Don’t be a slob)

Whether your hosts give you a spacious annex with a king-size bed (a/k/a The Presidential Bungalow) or stick you on an air mattress in the basement next to the washing machine (a/k/a The Bob Cratchit Suite), know that:
a. it’s the best they have to offer
b. they’re saving you a bundle on hotels
c. beggars can’t be choosers

Regardless of where you end up, you will coo, “This is perfect! Thank you so much!”

While occupying that space, you should make the bed every morning. Yup, you heard me. Show some respect for your host by keeping your room tidy. And put your clothes away. If you don’t have a closet or dresser in which to put your garments, then contain everything to your suitcase. You wouldn’t want your host tripping over your stuff if she needs to go into your room for some totally innocent reason…not for snooping, naturally.

And for god’s sake do not put your wet towels on the furniture!!!! Moisture and wood go together like pancakes and nail polish remover, while wet towels and mattresses make for musty bedfellows. Hang them in the bathroom.

At the end of your stay, ask for clean sheets so you can strip and remake the bed. You should then deposit your used linens and towels in the laundry room. Make your mother proud by taking this added work off your hosts’ shoulders. Assuming they are hospitable, they’ve probably done enough for you already. And if you’ve been under their roof for more than three days, you might already be pushing your luck. So this small gesture will be warmly welcomed.

#3. The Bathroom (Don’t be disgusting)

The potential for grossness resides no place more intensely than in the bathroom. If you have the luxury of a private bath, you have a little more latitude, but don’t get carried away. This is not carte blanche to leave globs of hair gel all over the floor or neglect to flush (I’ve seen it all.). At some point, someone will have to clean that bathroom. Don’t make them hate you. I’m serious!

If you have to share the bathroom with your host’s family or other guests, you must be even more diligent. Vanities and countertops should not be littered with your junk. Pack a toiletries kit and take it with you when you enter and exit. Capice?

If something has “happened” and the “situation” requires you to scrub the toilet, please do so – including under the rim and seat. Not kidding. I see no need to plunge any deeper into this subject. I’m sure you get the picture, and I will spare you by not posting one as an example. You’re welcome.

The best way to be sure you’re doing the bathroom thing correctly is to make a game out of it. Think of it as a crime scene and you are the perp. Before making your getaway, remove any DNA evidence that could place you in that room – rinse your toothpaste out of the sink, wipe off the counters, look for stray hairs…

And while we’re on the subject of hair, let’s get something straight: unless a hair is attached to a human body, it is gag-worthy. Following your daily ablutions, look around. Ladies, are your lush locks adorning the shower walls? Gents, did you leave the bar of soap looking like a Chia Pet? Are your follicles in the sink or on the floor? They are? Excuse me for a moment while I retch.

If you’ve used a water glass while brushing your teeth, please return it to…

#2. The Kitchen (Get out and stay out)

The kitchen is the heart of a house, and while it may be the place where everyone gathers, remember that it is also sacrosanct to the person who owns it. I don’t know any serious cook (male or female) who is not possessive and controlling when it comes to his or her kitchen. So don’t insinuate yourself there.

If you’d like to repay your hosts by treating them to a meal, take them out to dinner or pick up some take-out. If you’re unwilling to do either, I’m wondering how you got invited in the first place. But if you are that kind of houseguest, there are other ways to repay someone for their hospitality without opening your moth-infested wallet: offer to help make the salad, set the table, fill the water glasses or take out the garbage. If you are incapable of performing any of those tasks, please lose my number.

But let’s say you’re pretty handy in the kitchen and think that your hosts will be overjoyed if you surprise them by whipping up a meal without their permission – you envision their wide-eyed gratitude when they wake up to the smell of a gruyere frittata in the oven, bacon crackling in a pan on the stove, coffee perking away…

STOP! This scenario only plays out successfully in the movies. Why? Because on a movie set, a trained chef is baking that frittata in something other than the host’s prized $300 professional-grade skillet that no one is allowed to touch (or even gaze upon), and an entire crew is busy wiping grease from the stovetop, sweeping crumbs off the floor, polishing surfaces, etc. In the movies, when the hosts glide into the kitchen (looking artfully tousled and rosy-cheeked), the table is laid with fresh-squeezed juice, a gentle curl of steam wafts off a basket of hot fluffy muffins, the pinkest of pink grapefruits gleam in the sunlight and, most importantly, there is not a dirty dish, or a crumb, nor a smear anywhere in sight.

Here's what you envisioned.

Here’s what you envisioned.

Now, here’s what happens in real life: Your hosts stumble into the kitchen, hung-over from the night before. They are visibly annoyed that someone has roused them at an ungodly hour by slamming cabinets and clanging cookware. And as they peer through their half-opened, puffy eyes, they see is that you have violated their space. You’ve used the sacred skillet. You’ve cut the grapefruit directly on their $11,000 limestone countertop (the acid of which has left an indelible scar – not to mention the deep gash from the once perfectly-honed knife that you have forever ruined), everything is covered in a layer of sticky, and to top it all off, they don’t even like frittata. Grateful? That won’t be the first word that pops into their heads.

Here's what you delivered.

Here’s what you delivered.

Think I’m exaggerating? Let me tell you a little story…

There once was a woman, from New Jersey, who had her kitchen completely remodeled (let’s call her Martha). To show it off, she decided to throw a bridal shower for her niece. During the party, one of the guests (who we’ll call Nimrod) took a metal meat mallet to a bag of ice, smashing it on the brand new granite countertops (granite which Martha personally and lovingly selected on a road trip to a quaint little quarry deep in the heart of Vermont). We all suspected something was wrong with Nimrod, as she kept announcing having “to pee” about every 10 minutes. Turns out, she was neither pregnant nor diabetic. Instead, Nimrod was sneaking off to shove cocaine up her nose – giving new meaning to “visiting the powder room.” While that might explain her moronic and potentially calamitous maneuver, it certainly does not excuse it. And that bring us to…

#1. All Remaining Rooms of the House (Don’t be a hot mess)

If you cannot control your liquor, then by all means, lay off the sauce while you’re a guest in someone else’s house. And I think it goes without saying that you should leave all your bongs, ghanja, ruffles, etc. at home as well.

5/20/2007 4:55 PM

If you keep your head on straight, chances are excellent that you will not break anything, throw up on the heirloom Oriental, cause a lot of commotion by getting arrested, or spoil everyone’s good time by requiring CPR during your stay. After all, you want to be invited back, don’t you?

That’s all there is to it, friends. Follow my 5 simple rules and you’ll be the kind of guest that everyone will be fighting over (No, I want her to stay with me!), rather than the one everyone will be fighting over (She still has not reimbursed me for that bail money!)

As Gandhi probably should have said, but didn’t, “Be the guest you want to see in your own house.” And…um…don’t forget that Vitamix.

Related article: Giving & Thanking, A Modern Guide To Thanksgiving Etiquette

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

SNORK is devoted to humor but amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is certainly no laughing matter. ALS (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) is a progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Its effects are devastating and there is no known cure.

So, how did such a serious subject wind up here on SNORK?

Well, unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past two weeks, you’ve heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It is a phenomenon that is sweeping social media. Here’s how it works: People are nominated to video tape themselves dumping ice water over their heads, as a way of bringing attention to ALS. They have 24 hours, from the time of nomination, to respond to the challenge. If they don’t want to get wet, they can opt to make a donation to http://www.ALSA.org instead. Once a person has responded to the challenge, they can nominate others to do the same.

Now, if you know anything about me, you know that I’d never run from an opportunity to have a little fun while raising money for a good cause. So, I made a donation AND took the challenge!  And I’m not alone.  As of this writing, the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised over $9.5 million toward finding a cure for ALS as well as funding care for those living with the disease.  So, don’t be a party pooper…take the challenge and keep it going by nominating your friends, family, co-workers, and anyone you can think of who is up for it.

If you like my video, please share it and give as generously as you can to ASLA.org.

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Fluffy Got A Brazilian

Throughout history, hair has gotten a lot of attention. Entire books have been devoted to the subject, it is the stuff of legends and lore (Lady Godiva or Samson, anyone?) and pretty much every American parent has made a big deal of their child’s first haircut.Norman Rockwell's First Trip To The Beauty Shop

My own daughter’s first trim was at the hands of a five-year-old boy who lived across the street. I still have the curls and the story (which I might tell you some other time).

Certain religions and cultures have extremely strict rules about whether locks can be shown or shorn. In fact, fringe groups have used hair as a means to commit hate crimes on others – such as the scandalous and bizarre Amish haircutting attacks in Ohio.

There are some pretty weird old wives’ tales about hair, too: Never cut your hair when you’re pregnant. Eating bread crust will make your hair curly. Redheads are a handful! (Full disclosure: I think that one might have some merit, although you can’t believe everything you read about Lindsay Lohan or Prince Harry.)

So with all this import placed on hair, it stands to reason that, when we find good hairdressers, we stick with them. My own stylist, Frederic, was fresh from Paris when I met him. In fact, he could barely speak English and I was one of his very first clients in the United States. I remained faithful to him for over 14 years, even though I knew he was regularly running his fingers through other women’s hair. We no longer see each other because, somewhere along the line, he became a huge success. His haircuts, which I thought were steep at $65 back in the 1990’s, gradually escalated to cost many hundreds of dollars. I do love my hair, and Frederic, but a girl’s gotta draw the line somewhere. So I bravely put my head in others’ hands until I found love again (thank you Amy & Barbara!).

I feel the same way about my dog’s groomer. Donna loves Fluffy and is wonderful with her. Fluffy adores Donna, too and her dog Santos. Her romantic attachment to Santos is an added perk to being primped. So, when Fluffy needs sprucing, Donna is our go-to gal.

However, once while on vacation, Fluffy had a grooming emergency. I won’t embarrass her by giving away the details, but let’s just say there was an “incident” that may, or may not, have involved another dog…a much, much taller dog…with either the very best or the very worst aim imaginable (depending on your perspective). Anyway, we had to take care of our girl and time was of the essence. So we took her to a pet store chain that offers salon services.

When we arrived, they provided us with a list of options. We sprung for the “full-service,” which included bath, cut, blow-dry, nail trimming, and ear cleaning. Nowhere, nowhere on that list did the words Bikini Wax appear! And why should they? In the first place, dogs don’t wear bikinis.

In the second place, I can’t imagine, for the life of me, how one would execute such a treatment on a canine. Yet when we retrieved her, her poor little hoo-hah was completely bare-nekked. And I mean completely. Having never been so denuded before, she was unaccustomed to the feeling of air whooshing around her private puppy parts. It was traumatizing for her. As a result, she did not want to walk, stand, or assume any position that allowed her nethers to be exposed to the elements.

Until things got back to normal, we had to take her for “carries” rather than walks. Thank goodness her hair grows fast.

That misadventure taught us a few lessons that I will share with you now:

  1. Buyer beware! Always ask specifically what you’re getting when visiting a groomer.
  1. When you find a groomer whom both you and your pup are comfortable with, do not go exploring for greener grass — which brings us to…
  1. That grass over there by that Great Dane may seem greener, but don’t go anywhere near there. Trust me.

Does this haircut make my head look big?

 

Three Little Words

In a recent burst of culinary enthusiasm, I decided to unleash my inner Latina by whipping up a Mexican fiesta, complete with fresh guacamole, salsa, fish tacos, refried beans and a sweet, slippery flan. (Ancestral Disclaimer: I possess not a drop of Hispanic blood, but I believe there is a sexy Chicana residing deep within my soul. Her name is Velvita Montecombo).

Compiling the selected recipes from Epicurious, I added all the ingredients to my weekly shopping list. There were some exotic components that I’d never heard of before so, while I’m familiar with almost everything in the produce department, I wouldn’t know a tomatillo from a Tommy Mattola.  It was clear I’d need some professional help on this expedition. With list in hand, I drove to the supermarket.

While perusing the peppers, I recognized bells, jalapeños, and pepperoncini…but beyond that, I was out of my depth. It was then that I sought out the produce manager.

“Excuse me,” I said, “Can you tell me where the habaneros and tomatillos are?”

He pointed, in a vague way, toward the bulk vegetable section. Now, right off the bat, I could tell we were going to have a rocky relationship. You see, unless I’m asking an Irish Setter where the ducks are, I expect words in response to my queries, not pointing.

“Over there?” I asked, giving him another opportunity to articulate.

He nodded his head in the affirmative, still remaining silent (although he may have grunted – I’m not sure).

Walking to where he gestured, I discovered a small cardboard box filled with a hodgepodge of peppers. There were round red ones, long green ones, short green ones, long red ones, round green ones…you get the picture.

 

Peter Piper Picked A Peck Of These

Peter Piper Picked A Peck Of These

“These?” I called to him. He ignored me, which got me (and Velvita) feeling caliente – and not in a good way. I sashayed up to him (Velvita sashays) and asked, “Can you come over here for a minute, please?”

He looked put out, but followed me nonetheless.

“Are any of these tomatillos?” I asked again.

“The green ones.” It speaks!

There were no fewer than three completely distinctive varieties of green vegetables in there.

“Which green ones?” I pressed. “They’re all different.”

“The green ones,” he repeated.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, our uncooperative produce manager was finding it impossible to utter those three little words: I. Don’t. Know.

Funny thing about the phrase I don’t know…it’s like a multi-purpose magic wand. Not only is it a free pass for getting out of answering questions (lawyers hate it, because where can you go from “I don’t know”?); but it’s also a valuable time-saver for the person on the receiving end (unless you enjoy a spirited wild goose chase now and again).

Rather than tango any further with Mr. Nohelpatall, I turned to my trusty iPhone and searched Google images for “habanero and tomatillo.” Voila! Not only did it immediately solve my problem, it taught me two things: 1) Habaneros are the same things as Scotch bonnets and 2) one day it will be necessary for computers to replace humans. Otherwise, salsa will become extinct.

I showed him my phone and said, “In case you’re interested, these are what they look like!” Velvita can be a little bitchy.

I bagged my peppers, shot him a derisive glare and huffed off.  He couldn’t have cared less.

Next stop, the aisle dedicated to garbage bags, plastic wrap, and cleaning supplies. I had recycling bags on my list, but couldn’t find any. Since I’m a glutton for punishment, but also an eternal optimist, I enlisted the help of another store employee.

“Excuse me, do you sell recycling bags? I don’t see them.”

“Yes,” he said. Words! I was hopeful. “They’re over there.” He pointed to an enclosed section at the front of the store. The sign above the door read, “Recycling Center.” It’s where people redeem their bottles and cans.  Hmm…

“Are you telling me that’s where you stock recycling bags for purchase?”

A blank stare on his part. A heavy sigh on mine. Here we go again, I thought.

“Um, yeah?” Haltingly answering my question with a question did not come across as certainty.

Even though I knew better, I went to the recycling center. Of course, there is nothing for purchase in the recycling center, ever.  Google couldn’t help me out with that one, so it was Amazon Prime to the rescue.

It’s so refreshing to know that I can go to Google, Epicurious or Amazon, with complete confidence. I’ve never searched for a brisket recipe and had Epicurious answer me with one for quiche. If Google doesn’t have what I’ve typed, it will help out by asking, “Do you mean gobbledygook?” And Amazon will help me narrow down my search by suggesting “gobbledygook in All Departments? In Music? In Books? Etc.” And if I ask for something they can’t find, they will tell me in no uncertain terms.

Why don’t (won’t) humans do that?

I don’t know.

Not A Clue

Not A Clue