Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy 2015 from our Brood

The newest members of our brood wanted to say Happy New Year!

The striped one is called "Pilgrim" and the solid goes by the name of "Honey". They are so curious and sweet although when they get close they do have a dinosaur-ish look.

We're all wishing you a fabulous new year; with lots of organic eggs!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Blackjack Chicken

“Do you prefer Peach or Strawberry?” I said sliding two paint cards side by side on the table.
“Are there any other choices?” Mr. Wonderful said sipping a cafe au lait.
“There’s also Punch or Ballet Slipper.”
“Other options?”
“Bubblegum or… I got it! Hot Pink!”
“… Uh, anything else?”

When my spouse said all he wanted for Christmas was live, egg-laying chickens to live in our backyard, I agreed on three firm conditions: 1) He would feed them; 2) He would clean up after them; and 3) I would paint their coop—pink!—to look like Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse to recapture my lost youth. But somewhere between me saying “Yes” to the chickens and me showing him the Hot Pink paint card, he had changed his mind. 

“We’re not painting the coop pink,” he said brushing all the pinkish paint cards aside. 
I spread out the pink cards again like a Las Vegas Blackjack dealer. “But having chickens who live in a coop that looks like Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse, won’t that be funny?” I smiled and nodded.
“Funny for whom?”

He did have a a point. The chickens wouldn’t get the joke. Nor would anyone who didn’t know Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse, which is most men and all feminists. Mr. Wonderful rationally understood the joke but his hesitancy told me it did not tickle his funny bone. Therefore only I would laugh when I saw the coop. As any good comedian knows, if you tell a joke and the audience doesn’t laugh, dump the joke. Therefore as much as I wanted a Bubblebum-Taffy-Hot Pink coop for his hens, I dumped the color cards—and joke—in the recycle bin.

But if magenta was out, what color for the coop would be in? Mr. Wonderful had an opinion. 
“What if we paint it red like a Midwestern barn?” he smiled and nodded. Hmmm, first we adopted a persnickety cat, then a rascally squirrel moved in, then we got chickens. Our property was turning into a regular farm that I didn’t the color combination on the coop to remind me of that fact. We lived in the suburbs not the great Midwest. After all we were us, not the Beverly Hillbillies. I vetoed the barn color scheme.

Pink was out, Red was out, but what could be in? I thought rationally about this, which is saying a lot since saying “Yes” to chickens but losing out on the coop paint color was irrational of me and I never should have accepted it. But that was then, we had to move on to now and what we had. Yes! That’s it! The coop should reflect what we had, who we were. 

“We should paint it to look like a mini version of our House!” I smiled, nodded and waved my arms toward The House’s exterior paint job.
“That’s promising,” Mr. Wonderful followed my gaze. He nodded but didn’t smile. 
“It’ll look like a mini version of our House.”
“But we don’t like our exterior color scheme.”

He did have another point. We had bought The House liking the exterior paint colors but not loving them. We knew that we wanted to repaint the exterior but we just couldn’t decide what colors. We fluctuated between what the neighbors had, what the neighbors didn’t have and the color scheme of a house in Beverly Hills that I loved. Or I should say, I liked the house but I loved its paint job. Anyway you looked at it, the two-man jury of us was still out on what to paint The House and therefore, chicken coop.

Ah, ha! Maybe we could paint the coop in the colors of what we wanted the exterior of The House to look like? Yes! This would solve the problem of the coop’s coloring and maybe help us decide what to paint our own abode. I pushed all my chips onto the gambling table. 
“What do you think of a brown varnish?” I smiled, nodded and slid a russet color card toward him. He seized the card and looked at it closely. Then he smiled and nodded. 


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Wonderful Gift

“Christmas is coming,” Mr Wonderful’s voice came over the phone.
“Actually it’s tomorrow,” I said rolling another toy in tissue paper and sinking it into a gift bag.  
“I’ve decided that I do want a Christmas gift.”
“Finally!” I stopping my wrapping marathon to grab my gift list. “What do you want?”
“… Excuse me?” 
“Chickens. Cluck cluck.”

In early December Mr. Wonderful announced that he didn’t want a Christmas gift this year. So I’d spent weeks thinking of holiday gifts for other people. And my suggestions worked. Case in point: a dear cousin took my advice and bought the pink tool set… for herself! Because when a gal sees a complete tool set in pink, how can she not buy it… for herself?!

But none of this moved Mr. Wonderful. He had announced he was abstaining from gifts this year and he was sticking to that because he was “too old” for Christmas. 

“No one is too old for Christmas,” I said hanging Christmas lights in the living room.
“When you pass your 20th birthday, Christmas is over,” he said stirring a mug of hot chocolate.
Au contraire. At 20, the joy of Christmas is just beginning!” 

Now I’m not saying that before I was 20 that my childhood Christmases were subpar because they weren’t. Au contraire! They were magical, family-oriented and fun-filled. I loved shaking the presents to guess their contents, ripping paper from the packages and playing with my Peter Rabbit toys with my siblings in the glow of the popcorn and cranberry-strung, decorated tree. I have fond memories of my childhood Christmases.

But when I was a child sometimes Santa Claus did not read my letter carefully, the letter that said I wanted the pink Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse. Maybe Santa was too busy with all the other children in the world that he couldn’t fit the pink Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse in his sleigh for me; or maybe my letter addressed to him got lost in the mail; or just maybe my parents didn’t like the pink Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse, and they let him know so he didn’t bring it for me.

Anyway you look at it, I never got the pink Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse. But I have been fascinated with houses ever since. So when I was older than 20 I started learning about houses, attending designer showcase homes and watching This Old House on PBS. The roots of my DIY began with not getting the pink Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse!

“So the point of your story is that I am too old for Christmas,” Mr. Wonderful said sipping a hot chocolate. 
Au contraire,” I grabbed my wine glass. “Christmas is about joy. And if you are joyful you will spread that joy to others.”
“… Okay... ?”
“When you’re under 20, you often get exactly what you want for Christmas. And if you don’t, you just have to accept the disappointment. But when you are older than 20, you have the where with all to buy yourself what makes you joyful and spread the Christmas cheer! Like my cousin and her pink tool set.” 
“Hey, you’re right,” he said clinking his mug to my wine glass.

That was the other day and now his voice in my ear was telling me he wanted chickens for Christmas.
“You want a chicken dinner?” I said thinking I’d misunderstood him.
“No, I want live chickens who can lay eggs for us.”
“… I don’t think that is such a good idea.”
“We can put them in our backyard.”
“This sounds like a bad idea.”
“They’ll have their own little coop-house to live in.”
“This is a bad idea.”
“Their coop is the size of Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse,” he said.
“... Can I paint it pink?”
I heard him smile over the phone. What joy! He was getting chickens and I was getting my pink Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse! Finally!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holiday Book Gift

“I read your wine book,” my friend said over a bottle of Italian Amarone.
“Thank you,” I said toasting to her with a full glass.
“I loved it.”
“Thank you.”
“I’m giving it to my friends for the holidays!”
“Aww, thank you!”

The fact that a friend enjoyed my wine book, Evolution of a Wine Drinker, was my gift this holiday season. It sure feels good making others feel good. And with wine and laughter how could one feel anything but good? Mission accomplished!

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Gift Ideas—Part II

“I’ve got so many ideas for Christmas presents,” I said blending berry smoothies in the kitchen.
“Oh,” Mr. Wonderful said setting two glasses on the counter. 
“And more ideas for Chanukah presents.”
“And even more for Kwanzaa presents.”
“What is Kwanzaa?” 
“Another reason to give gifts!”

Actually Kwanzaa is an African Harvest festival that was created in California in the 1960s by an African Studies professor to celebrate African and African-American culture. It begins December 26 and lasts for seven days culminating on January 1 with a day of gift giving. 

So whether you’re celebrating the seven days of Kwanzaa, the eight days of Chanukah or the 12 days of Christmas, here are more gift ideas from the New House Girl. If you missed the first six ideas click here. The ideas below still follow the theme of DIY-Fixing-up-a-Fixer-Upper-House. Enjoy!  

7) Pétanque Set.

Give your loved one hours of enjoyment—or frustration—with a Pétanque Set. This set comes in a handy carrying case for two players (three balls each) so the game can be played in the backyard, front garden, at the park or on the beach. If you give a set to a loved one, be prepared: the next time you see her she’ll challenge you to a match over a bottle of Pastis. Or maybe that was just me? $25.

8) Tree.

A tree is the gift that keeps on giving for years to come. Especially if the tree is a fruit (orange, lemon, lime) or nut (almond, pecan, chestnut) varietal. A friend of mine adores drinking margaritas—on the rocks or frozen—so several years ago her husband bought her a lime tree that she plunked down in the backyard. Now she squeezes wedges of home-grown limes into her margaritas whenever she likes. Regardless of their produce bounty, trees will also give you shade and beauty for years to come. Local plant nursery $50-$150 

9) Drip Hose Kit.

Sprinkler systems are so 20th century. Whether you live in California right now while we are experiencing a drought, or not, in the future water will continue to be a desirable commodity worldwide. So why not join the 21st century and buy a Drip Hose kit for pots and containers or whole gardens and yards. $12-$30

10) Sunset Magazine. 

If you live in the Western United States you’ve probably drooled over Sunset Magazine. It covers home design, cooking, gardening, restaurants and travel in western North America. They don’t have much of a funny bone but those pictures are gorgeous. Give a subscription gift your friend will enjoy all year long. $16.

11) Chestnut Roaster. 

It’s the holidays, which means it’s time for “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…” I grew up singing this song but it was only when Mr. Wonderful and I moved into The House that I actually roasted chestnuts over an open fire… and ate them. And they were delicious! Nothing gets you into the cozy holiday season more than building a fire and roasting chestnuts over it. Or maybe that’s just me? P.S. If you get the model with a lid, it can also be used to pop popcorn like this one from $26.

And now for the most important gift: 
12) Wine! 

Wine is fabulous all year long. But it’s especially good when someone gifts it to you. Lot 18 is a mail order wine company that allows you to purchase and ship wines to a loved one for a singular gift or repeatedly, say: once a month for a year. But what wines does one give? If you’re afraid of choosing wines your loved ones won’t like, Lot 18 also offers a unique wine sampling gift. It includes six tiny bottles—containing enough wine to provide a taste for two wine drinkers. The Sampler also includes rating information so the wine drinkers can record which flavors they preferred from the wines sampled. This information is then shared with Lot 18, at which point Lot 18 can send only the bottles your friends liked because they chose them. Lot 18 also offers the Sampler with a $25 gift card, which can be applied to any vinos the wine drinker would like to purchase from Lot 18. This is a super present for the wine drinkers on your gift list. $25-$100+ Or maybe it’s just great for me?

Anyway you look at it, make someone happy this holiday season with gifts or just the present of your presence.

Happy Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Happy Kwanzaa!    

Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Gift Ideas—Part I

“What do you want for Christmas?” I said loading the dishwasher with dinner plates.
“Nothing,” Mr. Wonderful said emptying his glass of red wine.
“Everybody wants something for Christmas.”
“Not me.”
“… Okay then… What are you getting me for Christmas?”

I’m not a greedy, give-me-tons-of-gifts kind of person. Most of the time. Actually I prefer giving gifts over receiving them. Most of the time. Finding great gifts for those hard-to-buy-for friends and family members is a challenge I relish. All of the time.

Now that we are in the thick of Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa season and Mr. Wonderful doesn’t want anything, I’ve channeled my gift sense towards others, which means I’ve got plenty of gift ideas that I’m sharing with you. Of course coming from the New House Girl, they all follow a theme of DIY-Fixing-Up-A-Fixer-Upper-House-and-Garden. Here are six ideas to get you going. Enjoy!

1) Tool Set for Ladies. 

If she doesn’t have a Mr. Wonderful or the guy in her life has two thumbs, then help a girlfriend fix up her own house, apartment or office space with this starter Tool Set (with 135 pieces including hammer, wire cutters and screwdrivers, because every gal needs screwdrivers). Bonus? It comes in Pink! I said it was for the ladies. $40.

2) If she’s already got the tools, then show her how to use them on her next DIY project or just how to fix the toilet with this classic book:

3) Gift Card to Home Improvement Store. 

Gift cards are money that’s been dressed up. Cost? As much, or as little, as you wish to give.

4) Garden Gloves. 

Home improvement doesn’t stop at the front door but extends to the garden and the great outdoors. If someone you know has a green thumb or wants to hide a green thumb, garden gloves are always welcome. I like the canvas/leather combination ones or the pure suede ones. $6. Inspire them to beautify more than their hands by also gifting them a hand trowel. $10.

5) Designing California Native Gardens by Glenn Keator, Alrie Middlebrook, Phyllis M. Faber. 

This book introduces and highlights the best native California plants to use in the home garden. $29. It will open your mind and eyes to so many more options of plants that grow well naturally in California and with little water. If you don’t live in California, another terrific gift is The New Sunset Western Garden Book, which is the finest resource of what plants to grow where anywhere in Western North America. I have used the paperback version of this book so often there is more soil between its pages than in my garden. Available as a traditional paperback ($26) or as an eBook ($15). 

6) Sun Hat. 

If someone you love will be working out in the garden, guard them from the sun with the lid that Oprah and I both love. Sun hats from the San Diego Hat Company have wide brims, provide excellent sun protection (50 UPF) and often can be rolled up and packed in a luggage. After all, just because it’s bought to be worn in the garden doesn’t mean you can’t wear it to the Derby at Santa Anita with a glass of white wine! $25-$50.

These are just six ideas but there will be six more in the next blog post. Because there are 12 days of Christmas.

To Be Continued!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Naked Turkey Doors

“I’m doing the Thanksgiving shopping today,” I said stuffing a grocery list in my purse.
“You’ve got weeks to do that,” Mr. Wonderful said looking up from the morning newspaper.
“Thanksgiving is this Thursday.”
“This Thursday?”
“We’ll have 15 people for dinner.”
“Fifteen people?”
“You need to rehang the doors.”
“Rehang the doors?”
“Why are you repeating everything I say?”
“Don’t answer that!”

Thanksgiving sort of snuck up on me this year, which is crazy because everyone knows Thanksgiving is the sixth Thursday of November. “Everyone” that is, except Mr. Wonderful. But then dates aren’t his forte. He’d forget his own birthday if it weren’t written on his driver’s license. Basically when it comes to dates, my intelligent brunet spouse becomes a total blond bubblehead. In The House whenever a date needed remembering, it was like Gilligan’s Island: my normally smart, Mary Ann Summers man morphed into the bimbo Ginger Grant goofball. For him, remembering dates was like using one’s palms to transport ocean water across the beach. It just didn’t work.

The fact that he never knew when Thanksgiving was and had let it slip up on him—and me—again this year also explained why he hadn’t painted the doors or rehung them.

Ahh, the doors! Earlier in November I was adamant about removing one door from its hinges and stripping it of paint. The paint remover must have corroded Mr. Wonderful’s brain because soon he removed every other door in The House and stripped each one of seven coats of paint. Then just as suddenly, he stopped with the doors, I stopped with the doors and Jackson stopped too. To be fair, the cat only stripped paint with his claws, which was a slow but effective process in… driving me crazy. Although this time even Jackson was too lazy to scratch the doors free of paint.

“Thanksgiving’s this Thursday?” Mr. Wonderful said leaping from his chair “Before I rehang the doors I have to paint them!”
“The paint won’t dry in time,” I said grabbing my cloth shopping bags. “We’ll just have unpainted doors for Thanksgiving.” 
“But you like Thanksgiving.”
“I love Thanksgiving.” 
“You always want things perfect for Thanksgiving.”
“This year there isn’t time,” I said grabbing my car keys. “Besides with all the Thanksgiving food and festivities, no one will notice our unpainted brown doors.”

“Brown” doesn’t actually describe the color of the stripped doors since they were more of a mottled brown with white splotches, sort of like the paint drips of a Jackson Pollack painting—not the painting itself but the drop cloth under the painting. You know, the thing you throw away. If my doors had looked like Jackson Pollack paintings, I would have sold them to a New York City gallery ASAP! 

With time ticking and my favorite holiday of the year fast approaching—I love Thanksgiving!—Mr. Wonderful knew I was right. When you work Monday through Wednesday of Thanksgiving Week, you can’t paint six doors and rehang them straight. Instead I went food shopping every day and Mr. Wonderful rehung each door well.

I love Thanksgiving! The day before T-Day I made the Leek Soup starter and for dessert Creme Brulé. The day of I dressed the turkey so our guests would arrive with the smell of cooked turkey wafting through The House, which was perfect since the smell of the cooked bird is one of the reasons I love Thanksgiving! 

“What happened there?” my friend said pausing in the hallway and pointing to the brown splotches on our doors.
“Doesn’t the bird smell delicious?” I said trying to redirect her attention to the star of the day. 
“Auntie, why are your doors looking like that?” my friend’s nine-year-old said pointing to the offending doors.
“Do you want some pumpkin pie after dinner?” I said bending down to her level.
“I’d fire your handyman if I were you,” an older guest said staring at the doors. “They’re not even painted!”  
“Please sit down! Dinner’s ready,” I said pulling our guests from the door-dominated hallway to the dinner table.

But no one came for they were mesmerized by who would choose to put those doors in their house? And boom! I hated Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday was being robbed of its power because of some naked doors. Argh!

Finally steering everyone to the table like a cat herder, we raised our glasses in the air. I gave a Thanksgiving Toast to which our littlest six year-old guest added a special request: that we get our doors painted soon.

Hmmm. Maybe we will, Virginia, for Christmas.