Anatomy of a Birthday Weekend

Or, What We Did On Our Birthday Vacation

Thursday (our birthday weekends start early, by necessity)

  • Tour a school that we might want Baguette to attend next year.
  • Decide that we do not want Baguette to attend that school (it seems like a very good school–just not what we want for her).
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the patio and back yard.
  • Go to speech therapy and music therapy.
  • Go to Costco and buy food and birthday cake.
  • Clean the house.
  • Make items for party games.


  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the back yard.
  • Do some work that needs to be done even if I am on vacation.
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the back yard.
  • Clean the patio.
  • Welcome grandparents and great-aunt, who are visiting from out of town.
  • Go out to dinner.
  • Clean the house.
  • Make party favors.


  • Make party favors.
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the patio.
  • Make signs for food.
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the patio.
  • Locate the Happy Birthday banner we bought two years ago.
  • Put up the Happy Birthday banner.
  • Locate more tape for the Happy Birthday banner.
  • Make the salad.
  • Put the Happy Birthday banner back up.
  • Welcome guests. Realize again that we have invited a really large number of people.
  • Abandon hope of keeping the Happy Birthday banner up.
  • Make sure parents and children are enjoying themselves.
  • Call the pizza parlor and confirm that the pizza is actually going to be delivered.
  • Make sure that Baguette has the chance to find some quiet time.
  • Put out the pizza, salad, and signs for the food.
  • Realize that I have left another parent supervising Baguette in the front yard for far longer than is reasonable.
  • Ask Baguette if she wants pizza. (“No thank you.”)
  • Ask Baguette if she wants macaroni and cheese. (“Yes.”)
  • Bring a chair we took outside for the party back inside, because Baguette wants to eat at the table in the breakfast nook like she always does, not at the table on the patio where her friends are.
  • Make sure everyone gets food.
  • Eat one slice of pizza and some salad.
  • Realize that, in spite of all the cleaning, the living room still contains a case of baby wipes and a 3-pack of contact lens solution.
  • Decide not to care.
  • Bring out the cake and put candles on it.
  • Try to light the candles.
  • Try to light the candles.
  • Try to light the candles.
  • Try to light one candle, which is the most that we may be able to keep lit with the breeze.
  • Abandon hope of lighting the candles.
  • Serve the cake.
  • Encourage Baguette to say “thank you for coming to my party” to as many children as possible.
  • Say goodbye to everyone.
  • Try to get Baguette to nap.
  • Abandon hope of getting Baguette to nap.
  • Regroup with grandparents and great-aunt when they come back from their hotels for dinner.
  • Order Chinese food.
  • Eat Chinese food (adults) and macaroni and cheese (Baguette).
  • Open presents from grandparents and great-aunt.
  • Accept that the most enticing part of presents is the paper, which tears interestingly and can be draped as a fetching hat.
  • Say goodnight to grandparents and great-aunt.


  • Have morning meltdown (Baguette, with collateral damage to Mr. Sandwich’s hearing).
  • Regroup with grandparents and great-aunt.
  • Caravan to 7-11 for coffee.
  • Caravan to L.A. Zoo, because it is the weekend and therefore we go to the L.A. Zoo.
  • Look at zoo animals.
  • Get in line for lunch.
  • Take Baguette for a walk, because the line is too long. (Mr. Sandwich)
  • Realize that Baguette is screaming, and Mr. Sandwich is waving energetically from outside the cafeteria.
  • Take Baguette and try to comfort her.
  • Realize that 5 feet away, a zoo docent is holding a small constrictor.
  • Consider one’s pathological fear of snakes.
  • Ask Baguette if she wants to touch a snake.
  • Confirm with Baguette that she wants to touch a snake.
  • Hold Baguette while she touches the snake.
  • Wash Baguette’s hands.
  • Eat lunch.
  • Leave zoo.
  • After Baguette falls asleep in the car, take advantage of the situation to trim her fingernails while Mr. Sandwich runs into the hardware store.
  • Go home and let Baguette unwind.
  • Make brownies for Baguette to take to day care the next day for her actual birthday.
  • Watch Baguette start to spool up again when grandparents and great-aunt rejoin us for dinner.
  • Try to prevent meltdown.
  • Fail.
  • Take Baguette into her room, comfort her, and tell her that she can take time to calm down, but that we will be in the living room so she doesn’t feel abandoned.
  • Give Baguette iPad when she asks for it. (Mr. Sandwich)
  • Be grateful that, this time, the iPad helps her come out of the meltdown instead of exacerbating it, because there is no predicting.
  • Send grandparents out for In-N-Out.
  • Welcome Baguette when she comes back to the living room, feeling better.
  • Feed Baguette one of her favorite noodle dishes.
  • Tell Baguette that we will be on patio, and that she can come out when she wants to.
  • Eat In-N-Out while Baguette plays with party games on back lawn.
  • Say goodbye to grandparents and great-aunt, who are returning to respective homes on Monday.
  • Give Baguette a bath.
  • Open a few gifts for Baguette and talk to her about what they are and which of her friends gave them to her.
  • Write thank-you notes to those friends.
  • Wrangle Baguette into bed.
  • Sleep fitfully.


  • Put brownies in car.
  • Take thank-you notes to day care, along with party favor for one guest who didn’t get one.
  • Give brownies to teacher.
  • Realize that Baguette would still really prefer to have some quiet time.
  • Recognize that at this point there is nothing to be done about that.
  • Drop off thank-you notes.
  • Wonder how ABA will go tonight.
  • Wonder how birthday phone call with aunt and uncle will go tonight.
  • Wonder if Baguette will catch stomach bug that is running rampant through her school.
  • Think about how, at this rate, it will take several days to open Baguette’s presents.
  • Go to work.
  • Really, really intend to write the rest of the thank-you notes.

Little girl in chair, covering face with "Happy Birthday" balloon

Fine Dining at Bargain Prices

You know that thing? The one where the people you love make your eyes roll extra hard?

Yesterday afternoon, my father-in-law calls to ask if we want to join them for dinner. “It’s too hot to eat here,” he says, “So we can go out.”

To Burger King.

Because they have coupons.

Mr. Sandwich’s family is made up entirely of fitness nuts. His dad will comment on someone’s BMI and speculate on their resultant health at the drop of a hat. He once told me that he likes to offer ice cream bars as dessert, because a guest is less likely to ask for seconds.

At the same time, a coupon is a coupon. As Mr. Sandwich says, “My father has always had an appetite for a deal.”

Since we in fact have nothing planned for dinner, we take Baguette to the pool and then head across town (Again, we have been invited across town. To Burger King.) I call to let them know we’re en route, and Mr. Sandwich’s mother is delighted. She calls to Mr. Sandwich’s father to get out from under the car, which he is fixing.

Also, she hangs up just as I say, “We’ll meet you there.” So I call her back a few minutes later, and that turns out to be a good move, because she is startled that we are not coming by the house and then all driving over together.

I do not want to get Baguette in and out of the car an additional time. We say we will meet them at Burger King, and she tells me the intersection and says, “It’s next to the Subway and across from the McDonald’s.”

She also instructs me, “Don’t order until we get there. We have the coupons.”

McDonald’s is about two miles from their house, and is where they get “Senior Coffee” after their morning run. (My in-laws are in their late 70s and win their age divisions in races, so of course they run to McDonald’s).

McDonald’s is also home to the Big ‘n’ Tasty, which, as my father-in-law is fond of saying, is “just as good as In-n-Out.”


We pull into the parking lot, and agree that while we may be waiting to order, we are not waiting to order for Baguette, who is the most likely of us to start screaming when she gets hungry. She screams, “Fash! Faaaaaash!” This means “hungry,” except for when it means something else, and I don’t know why either of those things is the case.

So we order chicken nuggets, fries, and milk for Baguette, who in short order bumps her milk and spills it on her fries, but thankfully is not upset by this turn of events, possibly because there are chicken nuggets to be had.

The woman at the counter says, “Is that all?” I answer, “We’re waiting for my in-laws” and think better of adding, “They have coupons!” because the woman at the counter seems very nice, and it’s not her fault that my in-laws are, um, extra quirky. So while I probably had a completely insane expression on my face, at least I didn’t say anything that went along with that.

I feel even better about it when my in-laws arrive, and it turns out that they are regulars at this Burger King. Apparently there is more than one place to go for Senior Coffee, and they come here so often that the staff gives them gifts.

Fortunately my father-in-law realizes that he cannot reasonably require us to confine our choices to the remaining unused coupons in his coupon book, and we order food that we suppose we’ll be okay with, because neither of us particularly likes Burger King, with or without coupons.

And it was, just as we anticipated, totally mediocre. It wasn’t bad–although I didn’t feel good afterward–it was just meh.

But it did remind me that I never wrote the final post about my Cheeseburger Challenge. So let me just skip to the end: Burger King has an edible small cheeseburger. Del Taco, a late entrant, turns out to do reasonably well (although theirs is priced a little higher). The winner, such as it is–and just as I thought it would be–is Wendy’s.

Based on how icky I felt after last night’s meal, though (and not just last night’s, but the last several fast-food meals), I think my next fast-food adventures will focus on a Salad Challenge.

I just need to come up with a better name for it.

That Smells Wonderful

This week’s Monday Listicles is “10 Fantastic Smells.” At first, I thought that the topic wasn’t really grabbing me. But then Baguette spent the night throwing up, and I realized that what really smells bad is vomit on your couch. So to distract myself from cleaning, here we go:

  • Doughnuts. When we were first married, we lived around the corner from a doughnut shop. The scents that wafted from that block to ours were amazing.
  • Vanilla. I once walked into one of my favorite stores and said, “It smells amazing in here–what is that?” The salesperson said, “Vanilla. Apparently it’s supposed to make people buy more.”
  • Shalimar. This was my mother’s perfume, and something about it makes me feel like Christmas.


  • Oranges. Fresh and clean. I still remember the year that my office got so many chocolate holiday gifts from vendors that all I ate (aside from chocolate holiday gifts) was navel oranges.
  • Spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and more. Again with the Christmas, but also very cozy.
  • In-n-Out. Meaty, oniony, saucy, cheesy, yum.
  • Newborn baby. That milky sweetness.
  • Coconut. Hardly a surprise, considering how much I love Kauai.
  • Lavender. Not only does it smell clean and calming, it’s sometimes the only thing that keeps my hands from stinging. Thank you, Avalon Organics!
  • Chocolate chip cookies. Oh, my, yes. And they taste good.

So those are the first 10 that come to mind. Clearly food matters to me. What are your favorite scents?

Photo by Sheila in Moonducks, via Flickr. Creative Commons.

Cheeseburger Challenge: Round 1

Let the cheeseburger-eating commence! Actually, it already has, because I ate a lot of cheeseburgers on our Thanksgiving trip to visit family. Here are the contenders so far:

Automatically excluded. It’s just not fair to the other cheeseburgers.

In-n-Out cheeseburger with grilled onions
See what I mean?

Carl’s Jr.
Do they even have small burgers? The best I could do based on the displayed menu was the Famous Star, which is nearly twice as big as what I’m looking for. Turns out–if you go to their website–that they do have a “Kid’s Cheeseburger,” but I didn’t even see kids’ options available when I was in the restaurant. So I guess I need to go back to Carl’s, which frankly is annoying.

Jack in the Box
I had to go to the kids’ menu here, too, but at least I could find it while I was standing at the counter. Unlike McDonald’s, the onions on this were sliced instead of chopped. This seems to come only as a combo, with french fries or apple slices* and a choice of milk, water, or fountain drink. The cheeseburger was okay, but I felt sneaky ordering a kids’ meal for myself. Is there a rule, or something? It feels like there is.

I’m not sure I would have put this into the mix, but there was one right next door to our hotel, so what the heck? They have a cheeseburger that seems about the right size. It was fine, but I felt like it had the worst presentation–it seemed kind of mashed. Oh, this one had chopped onions.

So far, we haven’t tried Wendy’s or Burger King or anything else that comes to mind, so there will have to be a Round 2.

But I may have to wait a bit. To be honest, I’m a little sick of cheeseburgers right now.

*McDonald’s offers apple slices as a fry alternative, but they don’t come with caramel sauce, which I think more than undoes the good here. Point to McDonald’s in the kids’ meal arena.

Eat Sweets Pastry

A friend introduced me to a tiny bakery that just opened up in Westwood Village: Eat Sweets Pastry.

They have a carefully selected array of baked goods; I enjoyed the shortbread cookie with strawberry filling, and want to go back for the dark-peanut-butter-whatever-that-was that I sampled.

So if you’re looking for something sweet for after your Double-Double or your falafel, stop by Eat Sweets Pastry (keep your eyes peeled–it’s so small that it’s easy to miss) and see what tickles your fancy.

See? It’s right there.

I know. I should have taken a picture. But I didn’t, so you’ll have to settle for a map.

Five Guys Named Meh

So in the Burger Wars, Five Guys has mounted an assault on In-n-Out. In our part of town, that means that they opened a store on the opposite side of the Costco driveway from In-n-Out.

Five Guys is new to the area, but I know people are passionate about their burgers. And Mr. Sandwich and I are fond of a good burger, so last night we headed over to sample the offerings.

When we walked in the door, we noticed that the floor was covered in peanut shells. We have an appreciation for the peanut-shells-on-the-floor motif, but this didn’t work. There weren’t enough peanut shells. And the floor was tile, which is the wrong surface for peanut shells (better: concrete or wood). What each of us thought was, “It looks like a dirty In-n-Out.” Mind you, there was nothing about the restaurant that seemed dirty. It actually seemed quite clean. Except the peanut shells made it look like they just hadn’t bothered to sweep for, say, three days.

So we got in line to order our food. Each of us got a bacon cheeseburger–mine with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and grilled onion, and Mr. Sandwich’s with lettuce and BBQ sauce. Mr. Sandwich also ordered the bacon cheese dog, and we split an order of fries.

The food was served fairly quickly, but unfortunately that’s where the positives stop. Now, I like a well-done burger. I am opposed to E. coli. (Call me crazy.) But even for me, this burger went beyond “well done” and bordered on “hockey puck.” Two hockey pucks, actually; apparently Five Guys sells doubles by default. And it turned out that the counterperson heard “tomatoes” and typed in “pickles.” But even with pickles, nothing had much flavor–not the burger, not the bacon, not the fries.

And the fries are cooked in peanut oil. That means we can’t let Baguette have them, because she’s not supposed to eat peanuts for another couple of years, or something like that. Fortunately she slept through most of the visit (which was a little surprising, considering that they were blasting classic rock).

So our verdict? We don’t see what the big deal is. Where Five Guys is like In-n-Out, they’re not as good. Where they’re like The Habit, they’re not as good. If they’re trying to split the difference between those two, they haven’t done so in a way that is distinctive or particularly successful. And unlike either of those competitors, they don’t offer shakes.

It wasn’t bad. We just don’t see what the big deal is. Now, maybe if a Shake Shack comes to town…

A Whole Lot of Food in One Post

It’s been a long time between posts. So let’s go to the highlight reel, shall we?

Recently we were introduced to Fabrocini’s Italian Restaurant in Tarzana. Best chicken piccata I can remember.

Little Toni’s in North Hollywood has great pizza–we had Canadian bacon, meatballs, and garlic on ours. It makes me wonder why we haven’t been adding garlic as a topping all along.

Tacos Michoacan serves some awesome carne asada, and the price cannot be beat.

But the real news is that my dear friend Madame Scandal (of Tea & Scandal) came for a long weekend. As she, like the Sandwiches, loves food, I figured that a tour of Los Angeles food institutions was in order. No, we did not enroll in L.A. Trade-Tech, although I hear their cafeteria–run and staffed by the culinary arts students–is excellent.

So what did we do?

First, we had lunch at Salsa and Beer. This may not be an institution, but it’s mighty fine Mexican food, which is tough to find in Madame Scandal’s home state. Dinner, naturally, was In-n-Out. You just can’t beat a good double-double.

The next day, we packed up Baguette and headed to Hollywood. Our destination? Pink’s. Verdict? A hit. That evening we invited a few other friends over for a cookout over the wood-fired grill that Mr. Sandwich has installed in our back yard.

Saturday started off slow, but wrapped up nicely with the second L.A. Street Food Festival at the Rose Bowl. Yes, I know that’s not in L.A. But the field was the site of dozens of tables stocked by local food trucks, which have become a Twitter sensation. We ate so much, and enough time has passed, that I don’t remember all of the details. But I loved the banana pudding at Nana Queen’s, and I’ve never been a fan of banana pudding. I’d go back for more of Nana Queen’s, though. Manila Machine had good adobo, although unfortunately they had run out of lumpia. And although I didn’t spot The Grilled Cheese Truck until I was too full for anything but dessert (the concourse or mezzanine or whatever it’s called midway up the stands still seems like an odd spot), I did finally get to try Coolhaus‘s ice cream sandwiches. While I had never before imagined ice cream that includes candied bacon, I can tell you that it? Is delicious.

One suggestion to the organizers: although there is a cool factor to being on the field, the need for vendors to run food down from the trucks added to the slowness of quite a few lines–even for those of us who spent the extra $$ for VIP tickets (totally worthwhile, I might add). Why not have the event in the parking lot, like the monthly swap meet held there? You can still control access (the swap meet does), and it seems like there would be fewer delays.

On Sunday we made a trip to the Encino Farmers’ Market (who doesn’t love farmers’ markets?) in the morning, and made our way to Philippe’s in Chinatown for French dip sandwiches.

And then, sadly, on Monday Madame Scandal had to go home. Frowny face. We live too far apart.

But the eat goes on.


I came home with a headache and didn’t feel like cooking, so we went to In-n-Out. There’s a lot of discussion about what In-n-Out does well, and generally I agree. However, there is one thing that–mystifyingly–they do badly.

The fries.

They’re so strange. Mushy and bland, and undercooked. You can order them well-done, but then they’re overcooked.

Plenty of people like them, so it’s entirely possible that it’s just me. And mind you, my dislike for them does not keep me from eating some of J’s when he orders them. But in general, I’ll stick to their burgers. Our sandwiches of choice? J likes the double-double with lettuce only, and I like the cheeseburger with grilled onions.

Since neither a nap nor the burger seemed to fix my headache, I’ve now resorted to Tylenol. In the meantime, we’re watching The Conversation. That will move one of the Netflix movies from the shelf. And it only took two months!