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just seventeen

I Saw Her Standing There by the Beatles. That’s what was playing on that June day 45 years ago — at the mailboxes at Cornell — when B. and I met as high-school kids. And for all these years, whenever he hears that song on the car radio, he never turns it off until it’s done. Or if it plays while we’re out and about (in the grocery store, on line at the movies, at the airport) he’ll always grab my hand for a few dance steps. “She was just seventeen …” So was I.

Everyone’s got their life music, of course. I just thought I’d play a few bars of ours here:

Feels Like Home — Linda Rondstadt  This is the song B. introduced me to when I first visited him in Santa Barbara, when we reconnected after lots of years. We knew I’d be moving there from New York to be with him, and there was no more perfect way to welcome me into our life together. “All the way back where I belong,” indeed.

In the Mood — Glenn Miller  A bit of a non-traditional “first dance” song for our wedding, but then again, our wedding (just us, a judge, and two friends) was way beyond traditional. We learned to swing dance for the video. Sort of. If you don’t look too closely. Let’s just say that a dress with a bit more of a full skirt would have helped. And only 22 years from the day we met: “Don’t keep me waitin’ when I’m in the mood.”

If I Should Fall Behind — Bruce Springsteen  Just a beautiful, poignant, tender song about moving through life together. And for two Springsteen fans like us, it couldn’t be more perfect or telling about how we view ourselves and each other. “I’ll wait for you / And if I should fall behind / Wait for me.” Gets me every time.

You’ve Got a Friend — Carole King  Because we’re each other’s best friends, pure and simple, with all the comfort that holds. And also because if that’s what’s playing in B.’s ear when he comes home from walking, he’ll put one of the buds in my ear so we can share it. (I know — I’m very lucky to have found him. I also know that we’re annoyingly adorable, sorry.) “You know wherever I am / I’ll come running / To see you again.” Lacing up the Nikes right now.

What did I think when I saw B. standing there all those years ago? “My heart went boom.”

Still does.

 

©2020 Claudia Grossman

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weeping purple and gold

I was never a basketball fan until I moved from New York to LA — a move that coincided with Kobe Bryant joining the LA Lakers. And then nothing was ever the same.

Kobe was much more than a legend, much more than an icon, much more than “not human” in his capabilities and the magic he spun each night on the basketball court. His was the heart of a champion, the heart of this city. And our hearts are broken.

His being human became only too real yesterday when we heard the devastating news of his death, made even more tragic by the fact that his daughter died with him. And the loss to his wife and three other daughters is something I cannot even begin to fathom or to imagine getting through. The loss to this city is merely a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the holes left in their hearts. And to them we can only extend our deepest condolences and the hope that they find the light they need in the memories of their love.

To this city, Kobe was more than the favorite Laker of all time, the most brilliant Laker of all time (and the pool to choose from runs incredibly deep), or even the most driven Laker of all time. In a city that bleeds purple and gold (sorry Clippers), Kobe was ours. Our brother, our son, our guy. He was always there, always invincible (even in defeat), always a fearless leader. His spirit was indomitable, his competitive instinct pure black mamba, his eye to win unblinking. Kobe was LA and LA was Kobe’s.

To think of him as no longer here is not yet possible; he was just too much a part of our lives. And while his loss reverberates around the globe, it is particularly devastating for Angelenos. The city’s favorite son is gone and we are left reeling.

Godspeed, Kobe.

MVP.

 

©2020 Claudia Grossman

 

 

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role call

Awards season is here in full swing and, I’ll confess, I do love it. While New York has Times Square on New Year’s Eve and Chicago has its green river on St. Patty’s Day, awards season belongs to LA (spoken like  someone who has called this place home for nearly 24 years). Because the season is so much about acting, I’ve got actors on my brain. And because my brain loves to play name games (I’ve spent 20 years naming nail lacquer colors), today’s name is Brad.

Ready? Let’s play.

Bradley Whitford  Among his multiple Emmy wins and his chilling turn as Dean Armitage in the film Get Out, it is Whitford’s role as Josh Lyman in West Wing that stands out. As the brilliant, cocky, quick-witted, charming, and, yes, vulnerable, Josh, Whitford created a character who proves the point that smart can be sexy. And Josh was very, very smart.

Bradley Cooper  With four Oscar acting nominations alone, Bradley Cooper is amazing to watch onscreen. His range is extraordinary and his audience connection is powerful — never more so than as Jackson Maine in A Star Is Born. If you caught him in that movie (please say you did), he won your heart and then shattered it into a million pieces. All while proving that two-day scruff, long hair, and a raspy voice are why we’ve always loved our rock stars. And the man certainly is that.

Brad Pitt  There’s a good reason that Pitt has won both the Golden Globe and the SAG award for his role as Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — and I’d bet on his taking home an Oscar as well. The man is an absolute natural in front of the camera (as proven by so much of his work), making it all seem effortless. There’s a confidence that comes right  through the camera and lands with a “wow.” One of Hollywood’s golden boys (he’s in good company — ever hear of Robert Redford or Paul Newman?), Pitt is a movie star in the full sense of the word. Being rakishly handsome (ever hear of Robert Redford or Paul Newman?) only adds to the charm.

Full disclosure — I might have once named a nail lacquer I’m with Brad. As for its namesake, I’m not talking.

LA confidential.

 

© 2020 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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time after time

When it comes to movies and books, there is one genre that I love to hate. And that would be time travel. While its intention, I believe, is a good one, and its creation comes from a good place, no other genre can make me quite as unsure, unsettled, and unwaveringly uninterested.

First of all, the idea that someone can, in a blink, be transported back (or worse, ahead) to a strange time and place just flat out terrifies me. You mean one minute I’m walking along, minding my own business, and dropping in for a hot chocolate at the place down the street, and the next I’m in ancient Egypt, being told to walk across an enormous sea to some mysterious new land with neither hot chocolate nor whipped cream even a twinkle on the horizon? No thanks.

Or how about this — I’m sitting courtside at a Lakers game (of course I haven’t done that, but play along here) one moment only to find myself at the court of Henry the Eighth the next. Suddenly, instead of cheering at a pick and roll, I’m hoping I don’t get picked for the role of wife number seven.

Aside from the whole being displaced thing, there’s the chance that you could change the course of history in a bad way if you inadvertently alter some detail. What if I get transported to 18th century Boston and I accidentally step out in front of Paul Revere’s horse on that fateful night? One if by land, two if by sea all of a sudden turns into never mind, it’s too late. And there goes the American Revolution. What, you think it couldn’t happen?

And finally, there’s the whole confusion of it.

Take The Time Travelers Wife, for example. B. read it, I declined. But given that we talk to each other about every single thing every single day, he ended up telling me the story as he read it. By the end, I was crying hysterically. The idea that Clare spent her whole life up until she was an old woman waiting for Henry to return as a young man just left me in a pool of tears on the floor. But that wasn’t the worst part — having B. try to explain to me that Henry and Clare first met when she was a little girl and he was middle aged, but they married when she was older and he was a younger version of the man she had originally met — aghhh!

Or the original Back to the Future. Even though B. and I saw it on a very romantic date, these days it can make me run screaming from the room. Marty McFly going back in time to the 1950s was fun — until he met his future parents. Turns out his mother had a crush on him (ugh!) and Marty had to make sure that his parents met and fell in love so that he would be born in the future. Whaaat? I was one mixed-up, messed-up chick trying to figure that one out.

B. would love it if we could time travel. And while I would go anywhere with him, I really would prefer to stay in this dimension. The chances of finding ourselves in the Twilight Zone are just too great.

Good times.

 

© 2020 Claudia Grossman

 

 

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’twas the plight before christmas redux

Hi everyone and happy holidays! This post made its debut last year and I still find it so funny that I wanted to share it again. (After all, who couldn’t use some more funny right about now?) So I hope you’ll indulge me — and indulge yourselves in all that is joyful, peaceful, yummy, and bright this season!

‘Twas the plight before Christmas …

…. and all through the house there was panic because someone had sent out online invitations with the wrong info. “Join us for cocktails and dinner on New Year’s Eve,” the invites  should have read. But no. Whoever sent them out (you know who you are) made one teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy error. Instead of New Year’s Eve (for which we would have been totally prepared), the invitations mistakenly read, “Christmas Eve.” Worse, the mistake wasn’t realized until one of our friends asked, a couple of days before the party, if he could dress up as Santa (don’t ask, it’s a thing with him).

Pulling all the details together for a party for 40 adults 48 hours before Christmas Eve would be a miracle — nothing short of an immaculate reception, if you will. Here’s how it all went down.

The tastefully sophisticated jazz trio I had originally booked to play softly in the background was, of course, not available. The good news? The musicians I did find came at a pretty good rate. The bad news? Having 12 drummers drumming along with 11 pipers piping their hearts out does not a jazz trio make. What it does make is too much noise to hear Santa’s reindeer hoofing it up on the roof.

The professional ballroom dancers I had hired were, of course, now scheduled elsewhere. But for the rate I would have paid them, I got the deal of the century — or so I thought. Ten lords a-leaping and nine ladies dancing fill up a dance floor quite well. But when there’s no partner for one of the lords, he might choose to ask one of the guests to dance. Which is fine. Except when it’s 90-year old Great-aunt Shirley whose leaping days are far behind her (if she ever leapt at all) and whose jeté over the buffet landed her in the ER.

Speaking of food, the caterers I had reserved for New Year’s only laughed at me when I asked about their availability for Christmas Eve. What to do? Even though my menu of filet mignon, lobster tails, and chocolate mousse was no longer possible, the evening was saved by a — uh, unique — last-minute catering company. They brought eight maids a-milking their cows (yay! ice cream for everyone except the lactose-intolerant). The caterer’s seven swans a-swimming distracted everyone long enough for the six geese a-laying to lay their eggs (perfect for the omelette station). And, because I paid fully in cash, they gave me five golden rings of coffee cake for free (something to put the ice cream on).

Instead of New Year’s Eve noisemakers, I went with the vocal stylings of four calling birds. The only problem was that no one could hear over the bird calls to make calls on their cell phones, resulting in lots of shouting and some cursing, leading to the calling birds getting upset and, well, leaving their “calling cards” all over the dance floor.

The problem of replacing the white-gloved, French-serving-style waiters I had signed for our elegant New Year’s Eve gala was solved, I thought, by a suspiciously not-busy party planner. Unfortunately, while I requested three French-style-trained men in black tie with white gloves to serve, what showed up instead were three French hens and a pair of white turtle doves. I’ve got to tell you, getting the little white gloves on those hens was no walk in the park. And, FYI, French hens and white turtle doves do not like sharing the spotlight.

Lastly, the gift bags. The gorgeous, gift-filled, New-Year’s-Eve-themed bags I had ordered wouldn’t be ready for several days, so I had to punt. Scouring our home, I found one pear left from a gift basket someone had sent to us (regifting, anyone?), plus a brand-new, unopened, four-color printer cartridge. Am I resourceful or what? Everyone got a raffle ticket, and we held a prize drawing at the end of the evening. One lucky guest won the Grand (and only) prize.

“Wow!” she said, “A cartridge and a pear. Gee.”

Fa-la-la-la-rim shot.

 

 

 

 

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

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rein it in

I have fond memories of walking into the Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street in New York just after Thanksgiving to find that it had been transformed into a winter wonderland overnight. No more. Now that transformation happens everywhere the second that Halloween is over. Candy corn is replaced by candy canes at a speed to rival that of Santa’s global-circling reindeer. And suddenly it’s Christmastime.

Is this rush really necessary? To add to the clamor, our too-early-holiday hysteria is set to a deluge of seasonal music played everywhere — radio stations, malls, restaurants, theaters, elevators — starting the first day of November and going all the way up until New Year’s Day. All holiday sounds. All. The. Time.

Sure, lots of holiday songs are charming, fun, spirited, spiritual — but none of them warrants that kind of over-and-over play. Even Irving Berlin’s White Christmas can go from dream to nightmare in a matter of days. To wit:

Deck the Halls First time I hear it: Fa-la-la-la-la to you too! Fifth time: Holly jolly! Tenth time: Leave me alone before I deck you.

Jingle Bells First time: Everybody into the sleigh! Fifth time: Sing it, ring it! Tenth time: Jingle no more. And what the hell is a bobtail anyway?

Dreidel, Dreidel First time: Aww, look how cute — it’s made out of clay! Fifth time: Spin it, baby! Tenth time: Shut up — I’d rather have a Christmas tree.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus First time: Ooh, a little naughty there! Fifth time: How fun — she’s tickling him too! Tenth time: Stop the music — this little kid is going to need therapy. Either Mommy is cheating on Daddy or Daddy is really Santa and Santa (gulp!) doesn’t exist!

All I Want for Christmas Is You First time: I’m yours forever. Fifth time: What a sweet lyric! Tenth time: Sounding a little needy. Go away. 

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town First time: Such a cute little song! Fifth time: Okay, I won’t pout! Tenth time: He’s making a list? He knows if I’ve been naughty? What is he — a stalker?

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town / Bruce Springsteen Version First time: It rocks! Fifth time: It really rocks! Tenth time: Turn the volume way up!

So, to all the music-programming gods out there: Can we mix in some other songs among those unending holiday tunes? Or can we at least hold off on the barrage until December? Or can you put noise-cancelling headphones in my stocking?

Time for a little elf control.

 

 

© 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

 

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oy of cooking

I don’t love to cook; in fact, I don’t even like it all that much. Sure, I make a mean brisket, a respectable eggplant parmigiana, a well-reviewed ziti with meat sauce, and an assortment of other “not bad, pretty good” entrées. But, if I’m really honest with myself, when it comes to cooking, I’d rather be doing something else. Like eating leftovers (I realize, of course, that in order to have leftovers, you have to have cooked previously — unless they’re leftovers from yesterday’s restaurant dinner); ordering in a pizza; or busting open a bag of tortilla chips and calling it dinner.

But, while cooking is not a joy for me, reading about it is. I love to read cookbooks the way some people read novels. I love to read cooking magazines the way some people read Vogue. And I love to read the food section of the paper the way some people read — I don’t know, the comics? Sports? Arts & Leisure? Anyone?

I think that the joy of cooking skipped a generation in my family. My mom was a wonderful cook, so I never felt the need to learn how. In fact, when B. and I moved in together 23 years ago, his kitchen skills far outshone mine. (To this day, he thinks his recipes for tarragon chicken and amaretto sweet potatoes seduced me and won my heart — don’t tell him, but I was a sure thing.)

To help me learn how to cook all those years ago, I purchased the 1997 edition of Joy of Cooking, the legendary bible written by Irma S. Rombauer in 1931 and updated several times since. I tried, I really did, but I found that rather than mincing garlic, I’d rather find a way to mince words in a too-long headline I was working on. Rather than blending together oil and balsamic vinegar to make the perfect vinaigrette, I’d rather be blending together the perfect cast of characters in a story I was writing. And rather than skimming fat off the top of turkey gravy, I’d rather be skimming the New York Times Sunday Book Review to find my next great read.

What I did enjoy, though, was reading Joy of Cooking. From bruschetta to brioche, from paprikash to polenta, from filet mignon to fondant — reading these recipes satisfied my soul in a way that only the best fiction can. What it didn’t do was make me want to dash into the kitchen and whip up any of them.

So our dinners are more simple, our once-in-a-while desserts no more elaborate than really good brownies (or Ina Garten’s mind-blowing chocolate ganache cupcakes, which I make for B.’s birthday). It seems that I’m more likely to take the time to bake something special than to sauté, flambé, roast, or toast.

The 2019 edition of Joy of Cooking was just released this week — touting 600 new recipes and 4000 favorites. Will I, an admitted non-lover of cooking, buy it?

Of course. Every delicious word.

Joy to the girl.

 

©2019 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

 

 

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counter point

As a single working woman in New York for many years — many years ago — one of my favorite lunch-hour pursuits was to browse those big, beautiful department stores, some of which no longer exist. Stores like B. Altman, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s (the last two are still there) offered something that you don’t see very much these days — salespeople waiting behind glass counters or cases to help you with your purchases.

Not merely cashiers, these employees actually handed you the items you requested from inside the case (purses and scarves and gloves, oh my), offered their advice if asked (and sometimes even if not), and then rang up and wrapped your purchases beautifully (in store tissue paper and gorgeous shopping bags).

Ahh. Sorry, I needed a moment there.

Much has changed in the past 20+ years. Shopping online — with its progeny, the ever-growing demand for instant gratification — has been the loudest tolling bell for those once-great department stores. Buy-online pick-up areas have replaced flesh-and-blood salespeople in brick-and-mortar retailers. Something is lacking.

Fortunately, as in so many areas of our changing cultural landscape, we can find what we’re missing in the movies. Even department-store counters and the sales personnel who used to man them can be found — delightfully alive and well — on film. To wit:

Eugene Levy in Serendipity. Playing a hilarious, strictly-by-the-rules salesman at a counter in the men’s department at Bloomingdale’s, Levy’s character is key in the romance of Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale), who meet cute at his counter. The two share nothing but first names, deciding to leave it up to kismet to bring them together again if they are meant to be. (While I personally like this sweet rom-com, I’ve got to admit that I think the premise presented this way is just crazy — I mean, who does that? Share your names and numbers already! Sheesh.) At any rate, Levy’s performance is brilliantly delivered and all-out funny. Sold.

Rowan Atkinson in Love Actually. This performance brings me to tears of laughter. Every time I see it. Atkinson plays a jewelry-counter salesperson, waiting on Alan Rickman’s character — a married man trying to purchase a Christmas present, for the secretary who lusts after him, while his wife is shopping in another part of the store. Speed is of the essence here, and Atkinson’s bumbling sales clerk in the midst of a ridiculously exorbitant gift-wrapping process — including adding candies, lavender, a cinnamon stick, and holly berries (after donning gloves to protect against the sharp-edged leaves) — is absolutely hysterical. Sold, actually.

John McGiver in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. McGiver plays a Tiffany & Co. salesman who waits on Paul Varjak (George Peppard) and Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn, of course). When it appears that Paul cannot afford to buy anything romantic for Holly at her favorite store, McGiver’s character agrees to have the store engrave the ring Paul found in a CrackerJack box. If you’re saying “awww” right now, you’re in very good company — all of us Huckleberry friends out here. Sold — in a little blue box.

Today’s culture argues that we make it quick, quick, quick; as these scenes remind us, though, there is much charm to be savored when we take it slow, slow, slow. Counter to texts, counter to insta, counter to the clock.

Counter culture.

 

© 2019 Claudia Grossman

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who’s on first

Ah, the things we do for love. Bringing home a bunch of flowers. Cooking — and cleaning up — a special dinner. Getting our partner’s car washed. Going to a concert we could never have imagined wanting tickets to — much less sitting through.

For those of you who are regular readers, you might remember my post from a few weeks ago, talking about how B. actually bought tickets — and went with me! — to a Barry Manilow concert (for better or for verse). Something he would never, ever have considered going to, wanting to go to, or even talking about if not for me, the admitted Fanilow in the family, whom he loves dearly.

So, in the spirit of turnabout being fair play, love being a two-way street, and what’s right being what’s right, it appears that we are going to a Who concert later this week at the Hollywood Bowl.

If you were betting that The Who is B.’s choice, you’re right — not one of my friends, past or present, would ever take me for a Who fan. Let’s just say that when it came to our high-school and college years, mine were a lot less adventurous (probably because I always had my nose in a book); a lot more sheltered (thanks, Mom and Dad); and a lot less fun (as a result of the other two) than B.’s. Also a lot less rock and roll (hence the Fanilow status), although, thankfully, Springsteen made the cut.

Not to say that I know nothing about The Who’s music. I know a good deal from Tommy and I can sing along  — somewhat — to Who anthems like Behind Blue Eyes, My Generation, and Who Are You (I particularly like the expletive-laden line in that last one — how much of a bad girl am I?). I’ve even been listening to B.’s song suggestions for the past two weeks (concerts are always better when you actually know the music, duh) and am now ready to go. To quote John Fogerty, “Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play.”

Times like this remind me that the person I was all those years ago has been changed — in a good way — by what I’ve done, where my life has taken me, when it was that I realized my possibilities, why I’ve made the choices I have, and how I’ve managed to get from there to here. Who I am is a work that has progressed quite a bit.

So bring on Daltrey with those killer blue eyes (even if they are behind blue spectacles these days).

Who needs Mandy?

 

© 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

 

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out on a limb

So there’s a bunch of things that apartment-dwelling city people don’t take to naturally — driving a mini van for one; clearing snow from a driveway that we don’t have for another; and trimming trees for a third. And it’s this last one that came into play just this weekend, as the overgrown (read three-story) shrubs outside our bedroom windows had to be snipped.

Yes, it’s usually something the building’s landscapers would handle but no, that didn’t look like it was going to happen, so B. and I decided to take the matter (the branches, really) into our own hands. But not without some expert advice, and for that I turned to a dear friend who is a former professional tree trimmer extraordinaire and all-around terrific guy. (When he heard my account of what is known as my Woody Woodpecker sighting a few years ago (wood-a, coulda, shoulda), he fell on the floor laughing and then set me straight on how not all woodpeckers resemble Woody).

The advice he gave me was clear. After approving a photo of the cutting tool we already owned (neither B. nor I have any idea of how or why we even own it), our friend explained that B. should hold the cutting tool with the blade facing the direction in which he would be cutting. My role in this little drama was crucial. “Put your hands in B.’s waistband and hold on to him. You don’t want him to fall out the window.” And then, in a more ominous tone, “Believe me. I’ve seen it happen.” Okay then.

Other advice included attaching the tool to B.’s belt loop with a shoelace so that if he dropped it, it wouldn’t fly down three stories and hit anything in the tiny locked alley below. And to be sure that the aforementioned shoelace extended past the window of the apartment below ours so that if B. dropped the cutter, it wouldn’t swing into the glass. Oy.

All this you say, for a few branches? Well, yes. While we love the greenery — and there is plenty of it remaining outside our windows — this group of branches totally obscured our view of the Hollywood hills (to say nothing of it feeling like my workspace was being smothered behind a wall of leaves).

So, instructions in mind, our adventure began. And then hit a snag immediately. B.’s weekend workload of paper- and exam-grading is heavy, so I had been surprised when he suggested, in the midst of it, that then would be a good time to trim the trees. When he did, I jumped at the chance, albeit forgetting for a moment that I had been right in the middle of something else. “Oh no! The meatballs!” came to me, Lucy-style, at the exact moment that B. was already leaning out the window, branches in one hand, cutter in the other, my hands in his waistband (I giggle every time I write that part).

As if on cue, the oven timer began to ring, reminding me to turn the temperature of the baking meatballs up to “broil” to make them brown and crispy on the outside. What to do? What to do? “Hold it!” I said after the first snip, after the first bunch of branches had been pulled inside and into a trash bag, and after B. was safely and 100% back within the window frame.

I dashed to the kitchen, took the meatballs from the oven, and stood there, my mind in “what would Lucy do and how can I avoid that?” overdrive. I knew that I couldn’t set the oven to “broil” and then walk away (you have to watch those meatballs every minute or else the little suckers can burn). But I also knew that I didn’t want to keep B. from getting back to grading for any longer than necessary. So, in the spirit of some of history’s most solemn choices — Thick crust or thin? What’s behind door #1 or what’s behind door #2? Ginger or Mary Ann? —  I chose trees over meatballs and headed back to my hero husband who awaited my return.

We did great with the branches that were close enough to reach; however, there were a couple that were just a bit too far. Until I had an idea — a wire hanger straightened out with its hook still in place. It worked — those couple of stubborn branches were ours! But then yet another bunch loomed, even farther away. And, like that piece of pound cake that you just have to slice away to even out the rest of the loaf, we absolutely had to have it.

I am proud to say that I then MacGyvered the s**t out of the situation. I got my handy roll of duct tape (a girl’s best friend for situations just like this), a second straightened-out wire hanger, and voilà! After I taped the two hangers together, B. reached out with the contraption, and, like magic, we owned that final annoying cluster of branches.

About one half-hour, two full trashbags, and three major hugs of self-congratulation later (and a quick vacuuming of the bedroom carpet), we emerged victorious. (The meatballs, having been returned to the oven for broiling, emerged delicious).

Bough-worthy, indeed.

 

 

© 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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