Saturday, October 26, 2013

I Hate Tropical Fish

Anybody want some molly fish?
OK, so I’ve written about my daughter’s fish tank before.

But it fascinates me that this little ecosystem that she carefully set up – with water prepared and filtered and heated and regularly changed, with thoughtfully chosen plants and hidey holes – is its own miniature circle of hell.

Fish lead horrible lives.

When gourami fish get old, they tend to get dropsy, which is when they swell up so much, their scales stick out, making them look like pinecones, before they finally die.

And molly fish continually have babies. Mollies give birth to live young. Like 100 to 150 of them at a time. And they will, if given any chance, eat those babies in a horrible feeding frenzy. (So will the other fish.)

The first few turns of this “circle of life,” my daughter attempted to save the babies. But clearly, mollies are one of those animal species that have many, many young because only a few of them survive. Therefore, if you intercede and save them, you end up with a hundred or so baby fish and no idea what to do with them. Which leads to an interesting philosophical conundrum: should you save them since, in the grand scheme of things, they really weren’t meant, most of them, to survive?

And when my daughter did save them and put them in a little separate container that clips onto the side of the main tank, made for just this purpose, she had to leave the aquarium light/cover a little askew – which led to two of the other fish leaping out of the tank in the middle of the night, landing on the floor and dying what I am sure were agonizing deaths. (Stupid fish.)

Then, my daughter found them in the morning by stepping on them barefoot.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

None Shall Pass: Why I Hate Passwords

My cell phone has a password.

My laptop has a password, as does the computer of every member of the family.

The family iPad has a password.

When my son plays a game on his computer (which, remember, already required a password), he needs another password for the game, even though the CD for that game is in the computer’s drive.

I need a password to order books from the library online.

I need a password to see my kids’ homework assignments (and my kids have their own, different passwords for that same website).

Want to download a free app on my phone? Better have the Apple Store password.

Want to watch something on Netflix or read an online newspaper? Better have the damn passwords.

And according to experts, these passwords need to be different from each other and changed frequently and they need to contain both letters and numbers – oh, and they should make no sense whatsoever or somebody might guess what they are, and even though you purposely just made them impossible to remember, don’t you dare write them down anywhere. Got that?

At least one expert recommends lying on those security questions sites have, like “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” and “Where did you first meet your significant other?” I have a hard enough time inputting the real answers correctly. When I typed in a city, did I put the city and the state? Did I capitalize every word in the title of my favorite book?

My husband recently started using Dashlane, an online password manager. That’s great, except this service, which requires its own password, doesn’t always work (particularly with newer operating systems).

In fact, I’m pretty sure the only person Dashlane has kept out of our accounts is me.

Yup, I hate passwords.

Monday, October 21, 2013

More Things That Don’t Work But That We All Seem To Think Do

Dishwashers: I mean, really, what’s the failure rate with your dishwasher? Around our house, at least 25% of the time, a dish or pot or fork or glass has to be rewashed by hand because it didn’t come clean. (Of course, my husband says that’s because of how I load our dishwasher and what I am willing to put in it. My theory of dishwasher loading is, “If it fits, it ships.”)

Plastic Shopping Baskets: I get shopping carts, but those little baskets stacked by them, meant for people, who aren’t getting a whole lot, to carry? These plastic baskets are heavy, in and of themselves, and are also cumbersome. They definitely don’t make grabbing a few items in the supermarket easier … particularly when you could just use a cart.

Pop-Up Internet Ads: OK, I don’t actually know anyone personally who thinks pop-up ads work, but someone must because companies continue to buy them. Here’s the thing: when an ad pops up and blocks my view of what I actually want to see, the thought that automatically pops up in my head is, “Don’t buy anything from this company, ever,” particularly when I have to search for the little “x” to get rid of it or when it starts talking to me or otherwise makes noise.

Spam: Like pop-up internet ads, I don’t know anyone who thinks spam works but there must be people out there who do. I realize they don’t cost a lot of money but they do cost some effort, if only to type the message. Honestly, is there anyone out there who would buy “herbal Viagra” from an anonymous email and then actually ingest it? Makes me despair for the future of the human race.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

There’s a Word for That

Image courtesy of
photostock /
We’ve all heard of the German word schadenfreude, meaning “feeling pleasure because of someone
else’s misfortune.”

That’s cool.

But there are many other equally cool words (found on Google here and here and here and here and here). For example, there’s cafuné, Brazilian Portuguese for the act of running your fingers tenderly through someone’s hair, and there’s kaelling, the Danish word for a mother who curses and screams at her children in public.

Drachenfutter, a German word (The Germans do seem to have a knack for cool words) which translates to “dragon fodder,” means the gifts a husband brings his wife when he knows he’s misbehaved.

Have you ever eaten an entire bag of potato chips without realizing till the bag is empty? The word for that, in Georgian, is shemomedjamo, meaning, “Oops, I ate the whole thing.”

L’espirit de l’escalier, a French phrase which translates as “wit on the stairs,” refers to coming up with a great comeback – too late.

Sanpaku means “crazy eyes” in Japanese. If you can see the whites of someone’s eyes on three sides of their irises, they are, judging from that facial expression, probably crazy.

Schlemiel and schlimazel (Remember from the “Laverne & Shirley theme song?) both mean “klutz” in Yiddish, but the schlemiel is the guy who trips and the schlimazel is the guy he falls on.

You know when you’ve had a nice dinner and everyone’s having a nice conversation – until someone jumps up and insists on clearing the dishes? That person has just ruined the sobremesa, the Spanish word for that nice after-meal interlude.

Tartle in Scotland is when you pause as you’re making introductions because you’ve forgotten someone’s name and jayus in Indonesia is a joke so bad and so badly told that it’s funny.

These words make me happy.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Gone to the Dogs

Gourmet dog cupcakes and cookies at local pet store.

I once asked, on Yahoo Answers, “What should I feed my dog?”

“Dog food, stupid,” someone replied.

Apparently, that shithead hasn’t been to the pet stores I’ve been to.

Or the dog parks. I was standing with a woman when a conversation about what people feed their dogs broke out. One of the participants fed her dogs only raw foods, giving them an entire raw chicken or a whole raw fish out in the yard. Another swore by organic food. (There are at least two organic dog-food stores in Houston.) Another man said he fed his dogs only kibble and was shunned.

“Wow,” marveled my companion, “talking about what you feed your dog here is like talking about politics or religion with normal people.”

And you go into the pet store and there are aisle and aisles of choices, not to mention freezers for kinds that need to be kept cold, including special ice cream for your dog. There’s organic. There’s gluten-free and wheat-free. You can get dog food that is beef-free. (Full disclosure: my dog Lola actually does have a sensitivity to beef. “Sensitivity to beef” is the polite way to say Lola gets the squirts if she eats any.)

But just as children’s books are marketed to the adults who will buy them for children, dog foods are marketed to the people who will buy them for dogs. Which is why you will see dog treats marketed as made with blueberries or pumpkin when I guarantee you that Lola the dog does not consider blueberries or pumpkin food.

Though, I admit, one of Lola’s favorite chew treats is, according to the label, made with yak milk, using an “ancient recipe of the people of the Himalayas and Nepal.”

So, yup, I’ve been sucked in.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Just The Facts

My teen-aged daughter knows more than one girl who says that, when she got her first period, she had no idea what was happening, was terrified and thought she was dying … because no one told her.

I would like to give the parents of these girls the benefit of the doubt, maybe they didn’t realize puberty would happen as early as it did – and not suspect this was a plan on their part to instill in their girls a terror and loathing of their own bodies.

But I can’t.

They call them “the facts of life” for a reason, people. How can you just not tell your kid?

Besides, my kids’ pediatricians began formally reminding me at check-ups around age 7.

And, really, I had started much earlier. Kids ask questions about everything, including the pregnant lady they see in the playground and the thongs they see in Victoria’s Secret (“People wear those?!”).

That’s not to say I told everything all at once. I applied some advice I had once heard about the IRS – “If they ask a question, answer only that question” – to this situation. When my sisters were small, a neighborhood boy asked his mother about blood he had seen in the bathroom. She freaked and told this 6-year-old everything about sex – which he then kept trying to test out on my sisters.

My daughter had been content with “Babies develop in their mommies’ bodies” for years before she thought to ask, “So, how does the baby get in there?” (And visibly shaken by the answer, she responded, “Oh, man, I wish I hadn’t asked.”)

But here’s the kicker: telling your kids “the facts of life” is the easy part.

Explaining all the complexities of relationships, that’s far more involved.

Monday, October 7, 2013

How Bad is the Word BITCH?

I taught my kids that swear words are no big deal, but that ugly insults are.

So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when my 14-year-old son, who is totally cool with the F-bomb, finds it shocking to hear someone called a bitch.

I find myself wondering if I have misled him. Have things changed?

For some reason, my phone plays my 18-year-old daughter’s songs whenever I’m in my car.

So, I have been pondering songs like “I Love It,” by Icona Pop, which contains the lyrics,“You’re from the Seventies, but I’m a Nineties bitch” and the bouncy little party tune “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, with its line, “You’re the hottest bitch in the place.”

I realize people have been trying to reclaim the word “bitch.”

But when this post from the blog, “Sassy Notions,” tells me that Linguistic sensitivity is self-defeating” and “So now, women can hold their heads high when called a bitch because they should be proud to be called an outspoken woman,” it strikes me as wishful thinking. Also, as blaming me for taking offense when offense is clearly meant.

A repairman once came to our apartment. When this physically huge man saw that my last name was different than my husband’s, he became enraged, calling me, among other things, a bitch. I nodded and soothed till I could get him out of my apartment.

So now, I watch the video for “Blurred Lines,” where fully clothed men dance with woman dressed only in nude-colored g-strings. Robin Thicke claimed in GQ, “We tried to do everything that was taboo . . . everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We're the perfect guys to make fun of this.’”

No. Not buying it.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bad Attitudes about Goody Bags

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
Some people despise goody bags.

Yup, those little sacks of favors and candy that parents give out at the end of birthday parties.

On a post, “Goody Bags Leave a Bad Taste in Some People’s Mouths” on the New York Times Motherlode blog, commenters wrote:

“I can't stand them. I assembled 8 yesterday for the official party and 24 for the school party, full of loathing the entire time . . . .”


"I absolutely detest goody bags, and I really detest the idea of teaching little children that little Billy's party is actually, really about them . . . .”

But I can’t help but notice that the people who are most against goody bags display the very attitudes -- competitiveness, self-centeredness -- they decry in others.

Many anti-goody-bag comments, for instance, are written by competitive parents, like this sancti-mommy, from a recent article in BrainChild magazine:

I dislike party favors as much as I dislike the toys in fast food meals (which were never a common occurrence for my kids, anyway) . . . .”

There was a comment on the New York Times article from a parent boasting that her party featured games that were “math-based.”

Many will write how much they hate goody bags and, in the same comment, boast about their own, like this, from BrainChild:

“I truly hate pointless party favors, but also felt swept away by peer pressure to give out favors . . . My rebellious solutions were always the hit of the neighborhood. I have given CD’s with my child’s picture on the cover and a bunch of their favorite copyright free songs . . . picture frames with my child in them . . . .”

For the record, I like goody bags. Why? Because kids like them.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Should Teenagers Be Drug-Tested?

I just wrote an article about this for the Buzz Magazines here in Houston. My kids go to a school that does random drug tests of its students and I can see both sides.

What do you think?