The Keeper of the Calendar

Image by digitalart,

Image by digitalart,

For as long as I can remember, my girlfriends have been an important part of my life. We’ve graduated from Kool-Aid and cookies to brie and Cabernet and have gone from dissecting Barbie’s hairstyles to debating whether “Blonded by the Light” or “Brazen Raisin” will better cover up our grays, but one thing remains true after all these years: without my girlfriends I’d probably never have made it this far.

My girlfriends are the ones that keep me (relatively) sane. They’re the only ones who really understand my drink order at Starbucks, or my irritation with the ten-items-or-less-line, or my love-hate relationship with Christmas.

This is why girls’ nights out are so important. They’re therapeutic, actually medicinal, and I’m not just talking about the vodka in our martinis. Men are great for a lot of things, and not just killing spiders (which my husband refuses to do) and reaching things on the highest shelves. But you can’t really talk to men about the importance of chocolate, the beauty of a new lipstick, or the ability of the perfect pair of black boots to update your whole wardrobe.

They just don’t get it.

My husband doesn’t really get it at all, but he doesn’t really complain about it either. I tell him I’m going out with my friends, and he looks up from the crossword puzzle, nods, grunts, and maybe, if I’m lucky, tells me to have a good time.

We’ve been together for 19 years and in all that time, he’s made social plans seven times, not including Mother’s Day and my birthday, where I have to remind him about what I want to do at least three times a day for a month beforehand, so I don’t think that really counts.

I’m the keeper of the social calendar and that’s okay, it’s worked for us all these years. At least until recently, when I told him I was leaving the house to meet my girlfriends. He looked up from the crossword puzzle, nodded, grunted, and said, “OK. I’m having boys’ night out on Thursday.”

Excuse me? Did I put that on the calendar? Since when are you scheduling your own “play dates,” honey?

I was sure I had misheard him. But no, come Thursday night he put on a jacket and actually left the house, all by himself. This has got to be a fluke, I thought.

Then it happened again the next week. Uh oh. Was my husband finally realizing how much fun it was to escape his family for a night on the town? This could be big trouble for me.

I thought I could nip the problem in the bud the night we both had plans. After all, a PTA meeting (followed by cocktails, but still, “It’s for the kids”) trumps an action movie, so he would just have to reschedule. I told him this, quite reasonably, I thought. But he just smiled, devilishly, and said, “It’s okay honey, your mom’s going to watch Koss so we can both go out.”

Oh dear. Couldn’t he at last have called his own mom?

The next thing I know he’ll be planning mancations and taking up fly fishing and snow boarding and how will I ever get away to the spa with MY friends if that happens?

I definitely need to stop this train wreck before it’s too late. He needs to tone his social life way down if I’m ever going to be able to keep up with mine.

“Honey,” I begin, in my sweetest most devious voice, “We need to talk.”

“Yeah, I’ve been forgetting to tell you something,” he says.

All right. I bet he’s going to tell me that he’s been spending too much time with his friends and realizes he would much rather be home spending time with his family, while I’m out with the girls.

I smile in anticipation.

“The guys and I are talking about a boy’s weekend. Let’s check the calendar.”

Uh oh, you mean my calendar?

Oh no. I’m doomed.

Share your tips for keeping your man at home with Leslie at email. For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 27, 2012.

What’s cooking? As little as possible.

Photo by imagerymajestic,

Photo by imagerymajestic,

Culinary talent comes naturally for some people. They take a few ingredients, a plastic fork, a stove on its last legs and a flour sifter, then miraculously transform into MacGyver, tossing and throwing and shaping and forming ordinary things like milk, pepper and eggs into delicious concoctions.

My mom is kind of like that. I’ll look in her cupboards and find nothing worth eating, yet somehow, 10 minutes later, she’s created a feast out of thin air.

I didn’t exactly inherit that domestic goddess gene. It’s not that I don’t try. But my kitchen has seen more than a few fires in its day, and the most used “recipe card” from my wedding shower has the phone numbers of all the local takeout places.

But it’s not my fault. I think the cooking gene skips a generation.

My Grandma Sylvia was such a bad cook that she would often throw away an entire dinner she had made when my Grandpa came home from work and didn’t like the looks of it and suggested they go out to eat.

Consequently, my mom is a great cook. I’m sure she learned this as a defense against her own mother’s scorched casseroles and burnt briskets.

Try as I may, despite the scorch marks on my ceiling, I just can’t get all that fired up about cooking. What’s the point of spending hours chopping and grating something that will be gone in minutes? I suppose it would be nice, every once in a while, to take something to a potluck that wasn’t directly from Trader Joe’s, but frankly, I’ve got a lot more important things on my “to do” list.

Grandma Sylvia’s the one I take after. She would have loved Trader Joe’s. Back in her day there were no microwaves, and Ragu was the cutting edge in convenience foods. Grandma’s favorite cookbook (aside from the yellow pages, to make dinner reservations) was Peg Bracken’s “I Hate to Cook Book.”

I remember the dog-eared copy of the “I Hate to Cook Book” sitting on her counter between the flour and the sugar canisters, and the cookie jar filled with her favorite Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies. Who says you have to actually bake cookies to have your larder stocked?

“Some women, it is said, like to cook,” the book began. “This book is not for them.”

An advertising copywriter by day, Peg’s recipes always made good reading, even for someone like me, who had no intention of actually turning on the oven. Her recipes were for things like “Aggression Cookies,” which called for vigorous kneading, mashing, squeezing and beating, offering an opportunity for “channeling some energies away from throwing bricks.”

Another favorite was “Skid Road Stroganoff,” which called for you to add flour, paprika and mushrooms to the beef and noodles while you “light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.” There was also “Stay Abed Stew,” where you mixed a bunch of stuff together and put it in the oven where it would “cook happily all by itself and be done in five hours” while you went back to bed.

Now that’s my kind of cooking.

Peg wrote for reluctant cooks like my Grandma and I, who knew that some activities-such as childbirth, paying taxes and cooking- “become no less painful through repetition.” Her book, she wrote, was “for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry martini instead of a wet flounder.”

Many of her instructions called for alcohol, often suggesting that it bypass the cooking process entirely and proceed straight down the cook’s throat.

That’s the point in the meal preparation process where I used to pull out my handy dandy recipe card and call for pizza delivery. I don’t do that anymore-I’ve got the number memorized. But, just like Grandma, I’m still game if my husband decides he wants to go out to dinner instead.

Her family would be eternally grateful if you can explain the joy of cooking to Leslie by emailing For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 20, 2012.

Dirty little secrets

Dirty Little Secrets bookI have a confession to make. I spent most of last week delving into other people’s secrets and now I’ve got a dirty little secret of my own: right now my son is playing computer games and eating Doritos so I can finish this column.

There, I said it-I admit that I am far from a perfect mother. It feels good to say it out loud.

That’s just the cathartic effect that Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile were going for when they wrote-or should I say compiled the confessions for-their book, Dirty Little Secrets From Otherwise Perfect Moms. It took me all of a half an hour to read through such ditties as:

-“I lied and told my son’s preschool he was potty-trained so he could get in. I acted surprised when he had an ‘accident’ every day.”

-“I bit my daughter’s finger trying to steal a bite of her cookie.”

-“I let my two toddlers eat Milk Bones right out of the box. I figure, if they’re not barking, they’re fine.”

It took about three minutes for me to come to the conclusion that my friends’ dirty little secrets had to be a whole lot dirtier than these.

Boy was I right! Here are a few favorites, with names withheld to protect the not so innocent:

-“At least once a week I tell my husband we’re out of milk, then stop off for a martini on my way to the grocery store.”

-“Sometimes I tell everyone that I’m really angry and I give myself a timeout. Since at our house you get a minute for each year of age, this is my way to get some time to myself.”

-“On an exceptionally bad day with my three kids, I gave each of them a teaspoonful of leftover codeine cough syrup so I could have a couple of hours of peace and quiet to regroup, breath deep and possibly even take a shower by myself. I did this about three times. It was a sad day when that bottle ran out.”

– “When my daughter was little I told her that if she swallowed gum it would stick to the inside of her stomach and then all the food would stick and she would eventually explode. She accidentally swallowed her gum about a month ago and she thought she was going to die so I had to fess up that it wasn’t true.”

-“Our son walked in on us having sex and we told him we were wrestling. Of course it backfired when he tried to join in!”

-“When my kids were little they loved standing up in the shopping carts at the grocery store. I told them that if they fell out they might break a tile on the floor and then the store would take everything we owned to pay for it.”

-“My dirty little secret is pot. So long as you don’t get so wasted that you completely ignore your kids, pot is great. It’s a stress reliever and even makes those stupid Nickelodeon cartoons kind of fun.”

-“Most days my favorite member of my family is the cat.”

-“When my daughter was little and she had a tantrum and didn’t want to go to preschool, I told her the police were going to come and take her to jail if she didn’t shape up.”

-“I have wine every night at dinner and wake every day with coffee and will scratch your eyes out if you deny me either one.”

So there you have it. The cold, hard truth is that being a parent, more often than not, is just a daily game of Survivor and often we moms (especially but not exclusively) feel like we should be voted off the island. But doesn’t it feel better to come clean about those dirty little secrets?


Share your dirty little secrets with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 13, 2012.

Tiptoeing into a minefield

Photo by Leslie Dinaberg

Photo by Leslie Dinaberg

Tipping may not be a city in China, but it sure feels like I’m in foreign territory when I get out my wallet. I understand restaurants, but everything else feels a little like…well, China.

Hairdressers and hotel maids are confusing enough, but those ubiquitous countertop jars really get on my nerves. Especially the ones with passive- aggressive little sayings like “Support Counter Intelligence” or “Fear Change? Leave it Here.”

In some cases, like when I order my latte, I’m giving a tip with no guarantee of even getting my coffee, let alone having it served in an efficient and friendly manner. It’s a pre-tip.

I feel guilty not leaving anything, but I feel violated leaving a dollar pre-tip on an already overpriced $5 cup of coffee.

Especially if it’s cold.

If I do decide to leave a pre-tip, it’s more of a reflection on whether or not I’m having a good hair day, a happy bank account day or a right amount of caffeine day, than it is a reflection on the actually quality of service rendered.

But what am I going to do if the service is bad? Fish my dollar out of the jar? Heaven forbid the barista, or the people in line that I don’t know and will probably never see again, might think I was crazy, or worse yet – cheap!

My discomfort with tipping goes back to my Grandpa Jules, who, upon being seated at a restaurant, used to put an enormous pile of bills on the table and tell the server, “I will guarantee you this tip if the service is perfect, but every time you make a mistake I’m going to take some money away.”

Nothing like having a guarantee that your food will arrive to your table swimming in spit. Yum. It’s no wonder that my sister and I feigned illness before going out to dinner with him, and afterward actually became ill from the combination of embarrassment and server saliva.

Mind-boggling revenge fantasies are being played out in restaurant kitchens every day. If you don’t believe me, check out the war stories on or There is even something I’ve long-feared, but never had proof of until now: the “Sh*tty Tipper Database.”

I knew it!

I remember being taught as a kid (by my other Grandpa, Alex) that tip stood for “to insure promptness,” and 15 percent was what you tipped for good service, while 20 percent was what you gave for excellence.

If the “18 percent gratuity added” line on the bill from a recent dinner with “a party of six or more” is any indication, my Grandfather’s relatively simple calculations have now gone the way of the 4.0 straight A grade-point- average.

In case you need to know what to tip the cabin steward on your next transatlantic cruise, or the Keno runner on your next tip to Vegas, there are tipping guides galore-including a bunch of apps–but is there anyone who isn’t confused about tips when you’re picking up takeout? Especially when you’re paying by credit card in a place that normally has table service?

The cashier is staring at you, and so is that empty tip line, just waiting to be totaled. You’d feel like a real jerk if you zero it out, but it seems ridiculous to give more than a dollar or two to someone who took a bag and walked it from the kitchen. Yet a dollar feels like an awfully small tip on a $27 meal. Yet if you figure out how many words you had to write just to earn that dollar, and then you think about the poor cashier, who probably gets paid minimum wage and is sending money home to her family in China … well, it’s enough to make you want to move to China.

I hear that real estate is cheap in the city of Tipping, which according to my Atlas is perched on the riverbank of Denial.

Share your tips-or additions to the Sh*tty Tipper Database-with email. For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 6, 2012.