Tuesday, December 12, 2006



For the past 200 years (water from the tap here in LA keeps us young and unwrinkled, just ask any plastic surgeon at Cedars), my husband and I have hosted Christmas Eve supper for friends and family and their families. Richard cooks. I decorate.

Prior to our 200 years here in Tinseltown, we lived in Manhattan and every year we traveled to Connecticut to celebrate Christmas with Vi (my mom) and a variety of cousins. This was before Richard cooked, though I did decorate our apartment.

One year we invited friends and their two bearded collies to join us for Christmas in Connecticut. The basement of my mother’s house was semi-finished and had a couple of beds – perfect for the two guys and their dogs. So we rented a car and drove up I-95 to the town of Danielson, just a teaspoon full of nutmeg away from the Massachusetts- Rhode Island border.

When we pulled into my mom’s driveway, snow was falling and baking smells were wafting from her kitchen. Vi was overjoyed to see us – even the dogs. We sipped hot cider and ate comfort food in front of the fireplace and marveled that the dogs didn’t attack the ornaments on the tree.

While we were sipping, eating and marveling, I decided to take advantage of her ‘free’ washing machine. If you’ve ever lived in an apartment and had to schlep your laundry down to a basement and stuff the washer and dryer with quarters you horde somewhere in your lingerie drawer just so you can have clean underwear, sheets and towels, you know what it means to find a ‘free’ washing machine, but I digress… I turned on the water, added some of mom’s Tide and stuffed my grimy, but beautiful white down coat imported all the way from Paris, into the machine.

Did I mention that Danielson is a tad rural and most homes, even cozy, tiny one’s close to town like Vi’s, had cesspools? Well, everything backed up… and I mean everything.

Did I mention that Vi had only one bathroom? Well, okay, now, none.

Calmly, Vi called whoever it is you call when you have a backed up cesspool, though it was past business hours and was told that someone would be out to the house first thing… first thing the next day.

Did I mention Vi had very nice neighbors? Well, she did. So before we went to bed, we all ‘dropped by’ to use the ‘facilities.’ Vi brought a basket of her homemade cookies.

I was sort of a tomboy as a kid and had what some shrinks might call penis envy. I envied the facility that boys have when using the facilities. I hadn’t had penis envy in years, but I did that Christmas. Vi had a very big back yard that ended in an incline down to the Connecticut river. There was also a back door in the basement which led to that yard and incline and river… During the night and next day, the dogs and the boys availed themselves of that back door that led to the yard… that led to the incline… that led down to the river. Vi and I ran back and forth to her lovely neighbors, each time having to make conversation we really didn’t want to make, but neither of us wanted to be squatting in the snow - if you get my drift.

Did I mention that the temperature went well below freezing that night? Well, it did. So when we all were ready to leave for my aunt’s who lived nearby to shower, the car was frozen. Wouldn’t start. At all. After Vi checked in to confirm her appointment with whomever you check in with when you have a backed up cesspool, Richard called Triple A. He had to wait to call because cell phones weren’t invented yet (we really are over 200 years old).

Triple A arrived at the same time as “cesspool cleaner guy.” The car was soon fixed, but not the cesspool, so off to auntie’s we went.

Did I mention that auntie lived in a retirement village in a tiny, tiny apartment with one tiny, tiny shower? Well, she did. But my aunt’s a hoot and loved me, Richard, and our friends, even the dogs, so we all sipped tea and chatted with her while we took turns in the bathroom. By the time we’d all finished, it was hours later because we kept running out of hot water and had to wait for it to heat up again.

When we arrived back at Vi’s, the bathroom had been restored to its former useable glory. The water was running in the kitchen and normal holiday life was merrily rolling along. We had a glorious Christmas day and as guests arrived no one could stop laughing as we told about our cesspool saga.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Major birthdays that catapult you unwillingly into a new decade are not for the faint of heart, especially mine, so I decided to face this emotional milestone head on and asked my husband, Richard, (in lieu of important jewelry) for a weekend in Tuscany to work through the pain. Showing great restraint, he only laughed for five minutes. We’re both freelance writers (translation: we’re out of work a lot)… important jewelry, not to mention jet-setting to Italy, are just not in the (birthday) cards. But, he did have an alternative-- a trip to America’s Tuscany. Napa! So, we jumped into our car and headed north to wine country.

The day we hit town was perfect. Sun shining. Temperature warm, but not hot. We arrived at noon and decided to have lunch before checking into the inn my husband had found on the internet. Brix wasn’t far and within minutes we were sitting on the restaurant’s lovely veranda overlooking the mountains, beautiful vineyard and vegetable garden. I had the Panko crusted calamari, nappa cabbage salad with sambal aioli. I had no clue what “Panko” or “sambal aioli” meant, nor the difference between nappa cabbage and the cabbage I buy at Safeway, but the slightly spicy flavoring worked beautifully with the calamari coupled with a glass of cool “crisp” pinot grigio. Richard had a grilled wild King salmon, sweet corn and bacon salad with a bleu cheese vinaigrette (ingredients I understood). Happily sated, we paid the bill and drove to the Milliken Creek Inn.

What can I say? The minute we pulled up to the rambling gray clapboard building, I announced to everyone within earshot: “I could live here.” Entering the small lobby only confirmed that feeling… this was no Motel 6. Dark wood plank floors, chocolate brown leather club chairs and mahogany tables filled the room. Vintage suitcases and trunks were displayed on the floor and wonderful black and white photographs hung on light taupe-y gray walls surrounded by white high-gloss woodwork. There were sisal rugs and rattan accents, not to mention a beautiful dark wood piano --- all very British Colonial, very “plantation.” OK, so it wasn’t a Tuscan farmhouse, but as a former on-air design consultant for HGTV, I wouldn’t have changed a knick knack, a flower or a chair angle.

As we waited to meet the inn’s owners, a hip “rock ‘n’ roll” couple, the young woman at the check-in desk brought us a glass of perfectly chilled pinot grigio (my second of the day, but who’s counting?). We sat in the rich leather chairs sipping our wine, as she told us that the wife, the daughter of a diplomat, had been a hotel interior designer in far-off, exotic places such as Jakarta and had decorated the entire inn herself. Her husband, a jazz musician, often played for guests at the nightly wine tastings. While she talked, I kept looking at my wrinkled linen trousers, travel-worn polo shirt and Keds and wished I was wearing a satin slip dress, little Jimmy Choo strappy sandals and a wonderful wide-brimmed straw hat. I visualized my husband in a linen suit and Panama hat and wondered if the rest of the inn would continue to feed my fantasy. It did.

After meeting our hosts, we toured the grounds. We strolled in a stunning circular garden surrounded by huge glazed pots filled with vibrant plants then onto green lawns rolling down to the creek sprinkled here and there with white Adirondack chairs under white umbrellas the sight of which filled me with a burning desire to play croquet. It passed, and we went to our room to freshen up.

Have you ever entered a room and immediately wanted to redecorate your home? Well, I did the minute I saw it. The king-size bed was covered with fine white Frette linen. Of course, I didn’t know what Frette linen was, but I do now… a “million” thread count making them so soft silk feels like burlap in comparison.

Like the lobby, the room’s wood furniture was a deep brown, the artwork black and white photographs. In the bath, a long mahogany table stood behind the high-gloss chocolate brown wall that divided the mini-suite. Two white porcelain bowls sat on top like pieces of sculpture. The contrast was dramatic. Between these sinks stood a tall, white orchid. Plush white towels were rolled in baskets and thick cream and white robes hung on the closet door waiting for us to wrap ourselves in them after using the air-jet spa tub imported from Europe. With all those spotless white linens and towels, I could only imagine how much the inn spent on Clorox.

Perched proudly atop one of the mahogany tables in the sitting area was a freshly baked chocolate torte from the world famous French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, a nearby town. Though I could already taste it, I decided to save it for “later.”

At 6:00 we went back to the lobby for the evening wine tasting. A small vineyard was featured and as we sipped the wines and sampled the many selections of cheese and fruit, we met some of the other guests… a couple from Cincinnati, another from New York, a businessman from Oregon. We all sounded like characters from “Sideways” as we discussed the “character” of the wines while our host serenaded us on the piano. It was the perfect way to start the evening.

After the tasting we drove the short distance to Celadon, a restaurant with a decidedly “Pacific rim” flare. Hip, trendy, arty. Inside, a long shelf held a collection of celadon pottery. Large celadon urns filled with plants stood like sentinels on the patio. We decided to eat outside at a table for two abutting one side of a fireplace surrounded by glass. We ordered a bottle of pinot noir and shared an endive and pear salad with bleu cheese, candied walnuts with a honey-mustard vinaigrette. One of the evening’s specials was a seared marlin with a kaffir lime sauce (“kaffir?” I was afraid to ask). Neither Richard nor I have ever had marlin, but he decided to try it. I stayed with the grilled chicken breast over garlic-mashed potatoes with an artichoke, green olive and tomato ragout. Delicious… but chicken is chicken. The marlin, however, was a wonderful surprise. It looks like tuna, but is milder and more buttery. The kaffir lime sauce I discovered was a heavenly blend of citrus and cream.

Back in our room it was now “later,” so we ate the chocolate torte filled with caramelized bananas, along with cookies left on our pillow then strolled back to the lobby for a nightcap. Sipping port on the deck beneath the stars was the perfect ending to a perfect birthday.

In the morning we bathed in the spa tub, wrapped ourselves in our plush robes and sat down on our private patio to eat quiches and a selection of fresh baked rolls (again from the French Laundry), served with sliced fruit. We read the paper as we sipped rich coffee and thought of moving in permanently.

All in all, a sleepover in Napa is not a bad way to enter a new decade. It might not be Tuscany, but I can’t speak Italian anyway.