Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sublime Scenery Chewing

This would be my nomination for the most gloriously over-the-top movie speech in history:

"You cursed brat! Look what you've done! I'm melting! melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness? Oooooh, look out! I'm going! Oooooh! Ooooooh! " 

What's yours?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

An Ode to All The Things That Are Disappearing So Quickly

So much goes by the wayside so quickly these days.

I am reminded of that every time I pass an empty Blockbuster storefront.

Or the very sad man sitting in the entrance of my local grocery store trying to give away free paper copies of Houston’s last daily newspaper, the Chronicle. (Dudes, you have to make everything available online and offer an online-only subscription. I don’t want to deal with all that paper. Plus, the online version has comments and links.)

When was the last time you saw a phone with a cord?

The last time I sent an email to an AOL address, it was to a 90-year-old man, an amazing 90-year-old man, but, still, 90.

What else is disappearing?

Answering machines, of course. And beepers. And landlines.

DVDs and CDs. The last time I was in an actual music store, everyone in the place had gray hair.

Car radios: May still be in the car but who uses it?

All these hard copies: books, magazines, newspapers. My kids don’t even know what a phone book is – or an encyclopedia. They use online dictionaries. They think their mother is a weirdo because she goes to the library. They never remember how to address an envelope since they do it so rarely.

Well, the good thing about all this is, we’re not using so many trees.

Also disappearing: checks and checkbooks and paper bills and statements.

Actual photo albums. Paper holiday cards and paper invitations. Postcards.

Maps, since there’s GPS. But not a separate GPS device. Now, it’s on my phone.

For the same reason: no more cameras or separate music players or game players.

Remember Palm Pilots? Ha!

Everything’s on my phone.

Did I miss anything?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hair of the Dog


Lola the dog gets the most expensive haircuts in the family.

I am not even going to say how expensive, since my husband and mother read this blog.

And it’s involved. Lola is at the groomer’s all day. Bath, blowdry, clipped all over, face and belly shaved, nails cut, teeth brushed. And worst: her ears are plucked (ow) and her anal glands expressed (ew).

With those last two, I even said to both groomer and vet that they weren’t necessary. After all, how many billions of dogs in the world do just fine, never having their anal glands expressed?

Oh, said the vet, but they do have problems, which is why they scoot their itchy rear ends along the floor.

Okay, then.

And if Lola doesn’t get her ears plucked, she gets ear infections, which are worse than having ear hair yanked out. Poor Lola. Our groomer does apply a numbing powder in her ears before yanking, though.

Which is why I chose the grooming place we use. It calls itself a “pet salon and retreat”  and is fancy. But the whole reason I picked it is that other “dog people” told me their dogs actually like going there.

Does Lola? It’s hard to tell. She loves to say hi, but once that’s done, she would very much like to leave with me.

How does she feel about being groomed at all? Some people tell me their poodles, after being groomed, know they look good. Lola doesn’t care. She even forgets the ribbons in her ears. What she does like, however, is all the attention she gets. 

So, after she’s groomed, my athletic, bouncy dog immediately goes into the mud and dirt, to wrestle with her dog pals.

It’s like watching a Tibetan sand painting getting swept away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

These Explain A Lot

Full disclosure: I am not a psychologist or a sociologist or an economist – at all, by any stretch.

Over the years, however, I have picked up concepts from all those fields that have just stuck.

They stuck because they give a name to things that are constantly popping up in everyday life:

Conspicuous Consumption: This is the one that had me going, “Oh, yeah” in freshman-year Econ 101, the idea that people buy things to show off.

Folie A Deux: You can find this one on a wine-bottle label. The term in French means “two people sharing madness.” It’s when mentally ill people reinforce each other’s delusions. Psychologists say it’s rare, but that’s because they are looking for people with severe mental illness doing it. Yet, don’t you see it all the time, in less extreme versions, with, say, people who have been married for a long time?

The Bystander Effect: This is the tendency for individuals in a group not to respond in an emergency because they are waiting for others in the crowd to respond first. Remember this one in case you are ever in an emergency.

The Spotlight Effect: The tendency to believe that people are paying a lot more attention to us, and our faults, than they really are. Wish I knew about this one in high school.

Inferiority Complex: Oh, yeah, this one is EVERYWHERE ….

The Feel-Good, Do-Good Phenomenon: You are more likely to help someone when you’re happy yourself.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: If you believe something is true, even if it’s not, you will change your behavior in ways that will make it be true.

Ut oh, this last one means I should be careful with nifty concepts like the ones I just listed, doesn’t it?

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I brought a literary novel on my last trip. I didn’t touch it.

Instead, I picked up a thriller at the airport, One Shot by Lee Child. There wasn’t much to choose from and I had seen this one being talked about online because it had just been made into a Tom Cruise movie.

I tore through this book … then several others like it. I read Restless by William Boyd (pretty good) and Ghost Writer by Robert Harris (OK).

Perhaps most interesting was Dead Zero by Stephen Hunter, given to my husband by someone who apparently is super far right politically.

I can’t say I recommend it. Some of my reasons might seem political. But really, could you make a more one-dimensional villain than an El Qaeda member who isn’t just a terrorist but also likes little boys and wears silk underwear? Oh, and he’s mean to his employees. And the true villain, I kid you not, turns out to be a liberal American college professor who is a secret convert to radical Islam and a terrorist sympathizer. (Oops, should I have said “spoiler alert?”)

But it was more than that. This book was just BAD. One example, of many: suddenly, with no warning or foreshadowing, one character realizes another character is his long-lost son.

But, God help me, I continued reading.

Because thrillers have something that will keep you reading: suspense. No matter how stupid the plot, I will keep turning the pages until the end. In fact, I read faster and faster, not stopping for anything. Don’t quite remember who a character is? A detail doesn't seem right? Doesn’t matter. I just need to see how it ALL TURNS OUT.

Weird and embarrassing, but there it is.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Trying Not To Be A Tropical Fish

© V-strelok |Stock Free Images&Dreamstime
Stock Photos

I sometimes stop to see what the fish in my daughter’s new fish tank are doing.

They are always doing the same thing.

Darting around like they have somewhere to go. Looking alarmed. One slightly bigger one chases his brethren. The others dart away, panicked. Why? It’s not like he has any teeth. And then, a few seconds later, they wander back and he chases them again.

My daughter got one of another type. According to the lady at the pet store, this kind lives alone. He occupies himself by eating whatever he’s finding off the bottom or just drifting in the unvarying current made by the filter.

This pet-store lady, who reminded me strongly of our bully fish, informed us, when we wanted to get a black-and-white spotted fish that another lady from the same pet store said would be fine, that we couldn't have that one. She asked us if the other lady was “the blonde” (yes) and sniffed, “She doesn’t know her fish.”

The cashier carefully explained the store’s fish return policy. If one of these fish dies within two weeks, we could freeze the body in a baggie and bring it back with the receipt – very important to have the receipt – to get our money back.

Yeah, right. We're going to do that, for a fish that cost less than $2.

For these fish, you’d think the trip to our house in plastic bags was a life-altering event, something that would have them questioning their assumptions about reality. Is there something beyond the water I swim in? But no. Dart, drift, nibble, bully, cower, over and over: that’s it.

Reminds me of some people I've met, if I think about it too hard. So, I'll go nibble something instead.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

When Your Little Girl Plays Rugby

The bumper sticker my daughter made
for her high-school team.
My daughter loves playing rugby.

It’s a rough sport, sometimes described as “football without helmets,” but unlike football, a rugby game doesn’t stop when someone’s been tackled. If a player is tackled before she can toss the ball to a teammate, she is supposed to place the ball on her team’s side of the field, then cover her head. Why? Because both teams are going to rush over and fight for the ball, over her prone body, using their feet, in something called a ruck.

It looks horrible.

But I’m not so sure it is. Rugby prides itself on being rough, but it’s not like my daughter is driving a race car at 100 mph or riding a race horse at 40, or even crashing into other players, protected by helmet, face guard and extensive pads, like football players are. The protective gear in rugby is minimal, generally just a mouthguard. The kids are trying to pull each other down, using their bare hands. Aggressive, but on a human scale.

Sports in general are rough. This came as news to me because I never played. I am bemused when my daughter, after a game (of soccer or rugby), happily catalogues her bruises and scrapes. “Badges of honor,” she calls them.

Something else slithers across my mind. Are people going to be mean to her about her “unfeminine” sport? She spends her days surrounded by high-school girls, many of whom are deeply insecure and deeply competitive, always watching each other for the slightest deviation from a standard they don’t understand is impossible for any of them to live up to, always looking to take each other down. Not physically, but with words. Seems far worse than getting tackled.

Maybe all girls should play rugby.

(This, by the way, is a nice personal essay by a woman about why she loves to play rugby.)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tempered by Genes

Don’t think personality is, at least in part, genetic? Come to the dog park.

Poodles, like mine, are extroverts, bouncing over to dogs and people, making eye contact with everyone, looking for interaction. Border Collies don’t want to interact; they see the dogs and people in the park as things to be herded. Some Labs will focus solely on their ball, retrieving it again and again. I’ve even seen a Lab being humped by another dog and ignoring that completely, eyes fixed on the ball in its owner’s hand. Great Danes will, with a great calmness, come over and simply lean on you.

Bernese Mountain Dog

English Mastiff

Dogs, of course, have been bred, not only for physical traits, but for personality. King Charles Spaniels, for instance, were bred down from hunting dogs to be, literally, lap dogs. According to Wikipedia, they were called “comforters” in the 16th century because ladies would cuddle them to keep warm. And guess what? In 2013, as soon as one of them sees you sit down, it will be in your lap. 

Jack Russell Terrier
Border Collie

On the other hand, Jack Russell Terriers, similar in size to King Charles Spaniels, were originally bred to go after foxes in their dens and are such feisty dogs that, in my dog park, at least, they are regularly booted from the small-dog side (under 25 pounds) to the big-dog side (over 25 pounds), for being too rowdy. And they can more than hold their own with the big dogs.

Humans don’t breed themselves for personality, of course – at least on purpose, though our inclinations, what we find attractive, how aggressive we are, do seem to push us as a species in certain directions.

Interesting to think about what our genetic inclinations might be and how to work with rather than against them.

Yellow Lab

Photo Credits: 
Border Collie: © Creatista | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos
Jack Russell: © Icyrock | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
English Mastiff: © Phakimata | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos
Bernese: © Pyewackett | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Each year, my son’s and my daughter’s classes go on an overnight retreat.

And for both of my kids, there was, or will be, a multi-day trip to Washington, DC for their eighth grade class.

The teachers who organize and go on these retreats and trips seem really enthusiastic and happy about them.

Are they out of their minds?

There isn’t enough money in the world to get me to ride herd on a bunch of over-excited teenagers, particularly on some kind of multi-day, low-budget, whirlwind trip, which more often than not involves riding on a school bus and sleeping in sleeping bags.

When the teachers give their presentations to the parents about how GREAT the trip is going to be, I’m thinking, “You poor bastards.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love my own teens. I like their friends.

But the pent-up energy. The complaints. The tears. (Someone will cry.) The kid – and generally there’s more than one – who’s determined to be a pain in the ass and break the rules. (A principal once told me the advice she gives to her new teachers: “There’s going to be a leader in that classroom. Make sure it’s you.”) Generally, those are the kids who will intimate that they’ll be complaining to their parents, whom you can’t help but suspect are the ones who taught the kid to be such a pain in the ass in the first place.

Oh, hell no.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Article on Successful Adults with Learning Differences

I wrote this article, for a group of local magazines here in Houston, call the Buzz:

Learning Differences, All Grown Up

The people I interviewed were awesome for being willing to talk about their struggles in school.