Category Archives: Birds

Fear Factor

Not to be a spoil sport, but I’m glad Halloween is over. There’s too much fear in the air as it is, without adding zombies, vampires, and a bunch of homemade Pikachus to the mix. Not to mention the scarier stuff, like the slasher victims, Evil Clowns, and Headless Men. I mean, Jesus. When did Halloween get so dark? And I’m not talking Daylight Savings, either. It’s starting to feel like a low budget horror film out there. With a bunch of overly zealous production designers and waaaaay too many extras.

Or maybe it’s the same as always, and I’m just seeing it through my kid’s eyes. MJ hates scary stuff. She was a Mermaid this year. Mermaids don’t kill anything. Except for maybe fish, and that’s debatable. They’ve got to live on something, I suppose, but seaweed probably suffices, as long as they chew it really well.

Whatever the case, my daughter’s Mermaid was definitely of the non-violent type. She had a beautiful, high crown, shells on her “bra,” and a long, shiny, blue fin. No fangs, no blood, no entrails. When MJ marched in her school’s Halloween parade she looked many things—proud, happy, slightly clumsy—but scary wasn’t one of them. Unless you were kelp.

In other years she’s chosen equally harmless costumes: a horseshoe crab, a puppy, a skunk. (OK, skunks aren’t harmless, per se, but as long as you give them space they’re fine. Not something you can say about Jason or Freddy.) Once she was a Nature Fairy and  looked disturbing, but that was because she painted herself green, like a flu victim.

I wish I’d told MJ’s teacher about her fear-averse nature before Halloween came around. She decided to kick October off with a reading of “age appropriate” ghost stories. One of them, a tale of a girl with a severed head held on by a purple ribbon, sent MJ into paroxysms of fear. She cried for hours after hearing it, and hasn’t been able to sleep well since.

“I keep seeing those pictures in my mind,” she’ll say to me at three in the morning when she calls me from my room.

“What pictures, my love?” I ask, whispering hoarsely.

“Of the ribbon girl.”

I inwardly curse her teacher, like an underslept sailor, and imagine, for one moment, beating her on the head and shoulders with her “age appropriate book.”

Then I take a breath. “There’s no ribbon girl. That story is made up. Those things don’t happen.” I try to sound cheerful, without being unduly perky. It is, after all, three AM.

Myra-Jean clings to me pathetically. She cries some more. And then ends up in our bed.

If only we could afford private school.

Anyway, I’m thrilled to see November come. No more cockroaches, nor falcon parties, no decapitated lasses trussed like chickens…

Except…oh, God. In six days…deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Well, December could be nice.There’s Christmas to look forward to…

We’ll wrap without ribbons, of course.



Fondant Memories

The next time I agree to spend three figures on a birthday cake, someone douse me with ice water.

But that’s what happens when you combine a weird party theme, no time, and a bit of extra money.

Unable to find a professional falconer to give a talk, or a “bird guy” with a folding table and a few parakeets, or even a teenager in a bird costume, I decided to splurge on, well, the pastry. If we couldn’t have a live falcon we’d have the best fondant version you’d ever seen. On a custom made theme cake! From a highly-Yelp-rated bakery! Sure, their quote was astronomical, but they delivered! Plus, the local grocery store didn’t do raptors on their sheet cakes. No one did. I wasn’t in a position to haggle.

A huge price tag. A cake ordered sight unseen. Fifty people in a park. How could it go wrong?

“It’s a little small,” Mike told me on the phone when the cake arrived. It was the day before the party–I was at work, trying to sell yellow diamonds to people who really had money to burn.

“What do you mean, small?” I asked irritably, mouthing “just a minute” to my customers with a forced smile.

“I mean, it’s small. We may need a backup dessert.”

I felt my cortisone levels start to rise. “That makes no sense.”

I hadn’t told Mike how much I’d spent on the cake, and I didn’t intend to. I quickly changed tack. “Is it gorgeous, at least?”

I imagined something ornate and intricate. A skyscape, perhaps, with clouds, a vast mountain range. Stunning falcons soaring majestically over wide savannas. One diving, perhaps, towards a tiny rabbit on the buttercream “ground.” Multiple tiers, some scattered trees. A small village, stonework, haystacks–


I didn’t like his tone, inflected, as it was, with forced positivity.

“It should be amazing.”

There was a long pause. Mike cleared his throat. “Anyway. We might want to bake some cookies for the grownups.”

I took a deep breath. Stay calm. Mike tends to see the glass half empty. It’s probably fine. A work of art. And plenty big. Even if it’s not, kids don’t eat a lot of cake. They just rub their faces with frosting and then run amuck, like dogs with roadkill.

But that night, when I took the cake out of the fridge, I saw that Mike was right. It’s design, such as it was, was minimalist. Two falcons and a mountain. Period. Neither bird was flying—one was perched on a branch and the other was standing with his arms behind him, which is anatomically absurd. MJ had added a playmobile person and a toy hawk to the top to”dress it up” a bit. This irritated me unreasonably. For that much money additional set dressing shouldn’t have been necessary.

And it was tiny! I calculated the price of each slice in my head. Jesus. I may as well have just taken the kids to the Russian Tea Room. Including flights. We were looking at, like, thirty dollars a bite, here. I should trade a slice for a trip to Cabo.

I turned to Mike. “I’ve been had.”

He nodded kindly. “Looks tasty, though.”

“We’ll never know, will we?” I grumbled, stalking to the refrigerator to get butter out. I had cookies to bake.

It turned out the cake was good, and, thanks to the paper-thin slices Mike cut, there was even a tiny bit left for us to try. Everyone liked the decorations. MJ got a slice with mountain on it; it was her special treat.

I kept the cake’s cost to myself, of course, so no one laughed uncontrollably or yelled “suckah!” That was my special treat.

Still, next time I’m going to Vons and getting a plain sheet cake. It turns out MJ has a real talent for decorating, and God knows she has enough plastic birds and Playmobile people to populate an entire continent of pastries.

I’m hoping by next year, though, she’ll have moved on from falcons. They command too high a price tag, both materially and emotionally.

And clearly I can’t be trusted with a credit card when birthday time rolls around.



The Widening Gyre

The roaches appear to be gone. We haven’t seen one in over a week; and have begun using the dishwasher again without mishap. It’s a slow journey back to recovery for some of us–OK, for me. I still jump backwards every time I open a drawer, shriek at the stray  raisin, and squeal at every shadow, but at least I’m in the kitchen. And cooking, even. After a month of eating takeout Whole foods salads and microwaved Trader Joe’s burritos, it’s nice to have home cooked food again. Although I did enjoy the burritos profusely. I could eat one for every meal and be pretty much fine.

I’m a routine eater, like my child. Left to my own devices, I’ll eat the same thing over and over again, happily, for years on end. When Mike and I started dating I had one type of food in my kitchen: an obscure brand of organic turkey chili. Of course, I had enormous quantities of it, but that’s because I ate it for pretty much every meal. I used to clear the shelves of it at Whole Foods. Until Mike and I started dating. At that point I slowed down on my consumption, and soon after discovered that Whole Foods had stopped carrying it. I soon realized that I, and I alone, had been keeping that chili company in business. It was hard to contemplate the jobs lost, the lives disrupted, simply because my love life had taken a turn for the better, but it’s a guilt I’ve learned to live with.

I digress. The point is, I could eat TJ’s burritos for every meal, but because the roaches are gone I don’t have to. It’s luxurious to have the choice. Plus, Mike would rather shoot himself in the hand with a nail gun than eat a frozen burrito for dinner once, let alone ten times; if we’re going to dine together, I have to be willing to expand my menu.

Speaking of expanding menus, I forgot to give Mina her Frontline last month, and now she’s infested. This means that in the last month we’ve had roaches, ants, and now fleas. All of them killed with pesticides. This makes me wonder, first, if we’re going to get cancer, and second, if some new type of bug is going to come into our house to eat all of the insect corpses we’re generating. I really can’t think about this, though, because I’m too busy worrying that MJ is going to get bitten by a flea and come down with the plague.

When I don’t think about that I dwell on Donald trump and become sick with fear.

And when I’m not incapacitating myself thusly? I’m planning MJ’s 7th birthday party.

This is a source of stress, too, as she’s decided she wants to have a “falconing” theme. What this means, in her little, curious, brain, is that she and her friends will hold stuffed birds, wear gloves, and run after “flesh-colored” bags filled with “carrion candy.”

What it means to me is planning hell. Let me tell you, falcon-related party favors are not a thing. There are no falcon plates, cups, or napkins. No falcon toys. No falcon anything. Google falcon party. You’ll see. Get ready for a lot of Angry Birds.

I went to Michael’s today to find flesh colored bags. There I thought for sure I’d at least find some falcon stickers to put in with the candy. After all, Michael’s has stickers in every possible theme: beer, Ireland, dalmatians, snorkeling! But not, it turns out, a single bird sticker of any kind. Except for owls. Since bringing owl stickers to a falconing party is sort of like bringing a kielbasa to a PETA brunch that’s not going to help.

I decided to try my luck in the plastic toys section. There I found packages of dinosaurs, fish, horses, kittens, even vegetables! Vegetables? Surely there would be a falcon set. Or at least a bird of prey collection. Eagles? Birds of any kind? A god damned chicken? Nothing.

So, aside, from the “find the flesh bag” game, plus an amorphous activity called “pin the falcon on the glove,” we’ve got nothing. I did, though, find a bakery that will make me a falcon cake–for an indecent, breathtaking amount of money. The sort of John-Edward’s-Haircut amount that would quickly take down my career if I were a politician.

Other than the cake, though, this party is going to be about as falcony as a DAR potluck. Which is to say, not at all. Hopefully the kids will bring their imaginations, because they’re going to need them.

In the meantime? I am dreaming of “days after.” The day after the party, the day after the election, and maybe—should Trump win—the day after the apocalypse, when the roaches will emerge from their hiding places, nibble on falcon cake, and say “who needs a theme? We own it all!”




Crying Fowl

Sometimes it sucks being a working mom. Like when you say to your incredibly excited daughter, who is dressed in her home-made Condor shirt and ready to leave for the zoo two hours before it opens:

“I wish I could be there today.”

And she says, simply, “Then come.”

It never gets easier.

“I can’t.” My voice is as cheerfully apologetic as I can make it.

“Why not?”

She knows I have to work. I’ve been working Saturdays since I went back to retail three years ago. This is not a practical question. It’s an existential one, and I can’t answer it to her satisfaction. “Because I have to sell diamonds to rich people” won’t do, that’s for sure.

“I just can’t.”

“Why don’t you call work and tell them you’re sick?” She says this like it’s a brilliant, unheard of solution.

“Because I’m not sick. So that would be like stealing from them.”

“No, it’s not.”

We clearly need to do some work on her moral compass.

“Honey, I have to go in. You’ll have a great time with Daddy.”

She’s not happy, and neither am I. But it’ll have to do. I’ll hear about everything tonight, in the half-hour we have together before she goes to sleep.

In the meantime,  I’ll imagine her at the zoo in her handmade shirt, holding Mike’s hand and skipping to the “World of Birds” show.

And I’ll try not to be too grouchy with the people, featherless and bland, who inhabit my world today.




Back to the Vulture

Holy Carrion, Batman!

Tomorrow is International Vulture Awareness Day at the L.A. Zoo, and MJ is beside herself with excitement. She’s designed a tee-shirt for it and everything. She’s also fed all of her stuffed vultures to get them pumped up for an outing, as they’ll all be coming along. Thank goodness we had some extra coils of the rubber stuff we got with our new robotic vacuum cleaner. Normally it demarcates which rooms our Botvac can and cannot enter. But today a bit of it got snipped off and used as rotting flesh.

Me, I’m sorry I’ll be working. The look on MJ’s face when she sees a California Condor eat a dead squirrel will really be worth witnessing. Take lots of pictures, Mike!