Saturday, July 25, 2015

Whose Personal Space?

So, how weird am I?

I like to sit out on our front porch.

The thing is, we live in a neighborhood of close-together houses with teeny-tiny front yards.

And no one else uses their front porches.

They might put out some rocking chairs or a porch swing or a wrought-iron bench, but those are meant to be purely decorative.

But our porch is roomy enough for some seriously comfortable chairs, hassocks, a side table. There’s an overhead fan and lights.

It’s nice out there.

I like to sit there, in the mornings. In my pajamas and (my husband’s) robe.

People walk by, with their dogs. Lola has to greet everyone, so she barks.

Here’s how close we are to our neighbors: We planted a stand of bamboo along one side of our porch, to block the sun. Our neighbor on the other side of that bamboo set out his lawn sprinkler the other morning. You could hear the patter of the water hitting the bamboo leaves. “I’m not hitting you over there, am I?” he said (said, not shouted, no need to shout).

So, how weird am I for wanting to sit out on my porch?

I fear I am often weird like this.  I just want to do my own thing and not have anyone notice, even if I am within ear- and eye-shot.

Ear-shot: our family is the loud family. I realized this, yet again, when I was out on the porch on a recent evening (with wine glass and book, this time). My son came home, and as he was entering the front door, he shouted to my husband and daughter, “Hello, Turds!” (“Turd” is a term of endearment in our family, but that might be another post.)

Are we too much? Hope not.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Scoop on Picking Up Poop

© Diana Thomson
OK, so most of us know, even if we don’t like and even if we don’t do it, that dog owners are supposed to pick up after their animals.

And for those who don’t, some places are looking into ways to catch them, like by testing the DNA of poops and tracing them back to the dogs’owners.

However simple the concept of cleaning up after your dog seems, some people don’t get it. Take, for instance, one of my mother’s neighbors. He carries bags, brightly colored ones, no less, he deposits his dog’s poops in them, but then he ties up the bag and leaves it on whoever’s lawn the dog pooped on. See? That misses the whole point. You’d think this didn’t have to be spelled out, but apparently it does: No one else should have to deal with your dog’s poops.

In my own neighborhood, via Nextdoor, which I think of as the “Nosy Neighbor Network,” even as I use it myself, there was a long-running debate about whether it was OK to toss your dog’s poop in your neighbor’s garbage can while you are out walking. The majority opinion was no, though I enjoyed one opposition post: “Oh, the horror, to have your garbage can smell like … garbage!”

My husband and I differ in how we handle the poop bag once it is, err, filled. I wrap the bag up into a small package and hold it, hidden, in my hand. One drawback: yup, your hand might smell more like poop if you do it this way. My husband, in contrast, holds the bag by the handles and even swings it as he walks and talks to people. I think, no one wants to see that.

And that’s all the scoop I have on that.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Controlling the Impulse to Control

Since he was small, my son has been a rule-follower. And if there are no rules to follow, he will make some up.

Recent case in point: when he applied for his driver’s permit, the lady gave him a temporary paper copy, telling him grumpily not to rip it.

I said, “Let’s make some copies of that bad boy in case you lose it.”

“No, Ma, she said not to make copies.”

“No, she said not to rip it.”

“Well, maybe that means not to copy it too ….”


I know. He doesn’t want to mess up. And that’s good.
(If you wonder why I thought to make copies of his permit, it’s because he has a special gift for losing things.)

Control, though, is a funny concept. It can be good, like when you do have things “under control,” but it can be bad, like when you are “controlling.” (Ever notice: anytime anyone is called “controlling,” it’s a bad thing?)

Trying to be in control can quickly go off the rails. I’m convinced that all superstitions spring from the desire, the need, to feel, at least somewhat, in control. Our minds search for logic in what happens around us so we can harness that logic and stay safe – like this superstition of my family.

But such superstitions can also drive you crazy, because, you know what? We’re not in control, not really. Yeah, we can weigh risks and benefits, we can take precautions, but ultimately, things are not in our control.

The dangers of trying to be in control are, I think, why people going through AA are told to put their faith in a Higher Power. What that Higher Power is matters far less than that you don’t feel you have to control everything youself.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Name That Tune

Been wondering about band names …

Lynyrd Skynyrd,, named themselves after Leonard Skinner, a coach who punished two band members in high school for their long hair. The band explained y’s were substituted for the vowels “to protect the guilty.”

Pink Floyd,, was named after two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. More logical than you might have guessed, right?

Nine Inch Nails: Trent Reznor says he chose the name because it “abbreviated easily” to NIN and not for any meaning. This article quotes Reznor: “I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to think of band names, but usually you think you have a great one and you look at it the next day and it’s stupid … It’s a curse trying to come up with band names.”

Cage The Elephant: . Awww, I thought this band got its name from Horton Hears A Who. Nope, it got its name from a connect-the-dots drawing on a cereal box.

The Arctic Monkeys,, don’t even like their name, reporting that they are embarrassed to say it when asked. One member had the name picked, at age 15, before they ever started the band.

Modest Mouse,, got its name from Virginia Woolf who wrote of  modest, mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises.”

Gorillaz,,  the virtual/cartoon band, got its name when its musical creator, Damon Albarn, also of the band Blur, was dissed by Liam Gallagher of Oasis. An interviewer compared the competition between Blur and Oasis in the ‘90s as like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the ‘60s, to which Gallagher replied that Albarn was more like “the fucking Monkees.” 

Wow, someone beat me to all this. For more, look here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Successful Dressing?

Macy's carries about a bazillion women's belts,
every one of which I hate.
It’s official: I can’t clothes-shop.

I am in the midst of a 3-week stint of bringing my son to driver’s ed classes. He is taking them at a Sears store in a mall. I am in said mall every day for two hours.

I have wandered into every store in the place – expensive, cheap, department, designer, athletic, formal-wear, teeny-bopper and old-lady – and I can tell you with confidence that I don’t want 99+ percent of the crap they have for sale.

Did I miss a secret class or something?

Because I know there are women who dress just right for every occasion – the cute sundress for a cookout, the flattering cocktail dress with the little shawl for when it, invariably, is too cold for the cocktail dress. Where are they getting these?! And the shoes for them, too?

Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in Texas. Texan women know how to dress. They embrace it, as a thing. I remember one real-estate agent telling me that, of course, our daughter would need a bigger bedroom than our son because “Girls just need so much gear.”

What gear?! I wanted to shout.

There is a book, titled How to Get Dressed that I could read.

In fact, there are a lot of books on the subject, like this one, this one and this one. But it occurs to me that reading about dressing is like reading about color theory for art. If you have to consult a written theory to know if something looks good, maybe you are doing it wrong?

My current quest: a belt – leather, with a non-cheap, non-trendy-looking buckle – for a dress I bought a while back. The store that sold the dress didn’t sell belts. Of course.

Think I’ll be able to find one?


Friday, July 10, 2015

My Spot

I feel very proud of myself.

Every weekday morning, I have been getting up at 5 am, the ass-crack of dawn, to bring my son to a 6-8 am swim practice.

And because it’s so far, I have been bringing my laptop with me, ensconcing myself in my favorite hidey spot and writing blog posts, while I wait to pick him up.

My spot has seats and Starbucks and wi-fi, but it is not Starbucks.

I do not like sitting in a Starbucks with my laptop. It feels pretentious and crowded and rushed.

The business that has my spot may not be as thrilled with it as I am. It hasn’t worked out the way they want it to. It is not particularly a profit center.

The business is a supermarket not far from the pool. It has a loft seating area. Originally, it had put its Starbucks counter up there, but no one knew it was there (yay), so they moved the Starbucks back downstairs to the sales floor.

But the loft area remains. All I have to do is bring my latte there. Seats – with no waiting and no one waiting for them, once you get your butt in one. A TV, tuned to the news, which I could take or leave. It’s clean.

There are some fellow discoverers up there. Good thing: being up there all by myself might feel a little creepy. Sometimes, a supermarket employee taking their break. An occasional homeless person quietly eating and watching TV. But often, people dressed in business clothes with laptops, I think they are salespeople between calls. A couple have begun to nod hello when they see me.

I can even pick up a few things in the supermarket on my way out.

How efficient I am. Yay, me.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Aloud and Proud

Whenever anyone asks for read-aloud book recommendations, I get carried away.

Here’s why: reading aloud to my kids is one of the best things I ever did – and there’s something about reading to kids that a lot of people don’t know:

You can – and should – keep reading to them, even when they’re older.

I would have thought the same thing too, that reading aloud stops when kids can read themselves, except one of my kids was diagnosed with dyslexia at 4.

You know the saying among teachers that, “They learn to read till 3rd grade and then they read to learn”? Well, as my daughter painstakingly learned to read, with her awesome teachers who patiently went over the nuts and bolts of reading, I saw my role as making sure her general knowledge didn’t fall behind.

When all her little friends were talking about Harry Potter, she could too. I lost count of how many times I read those books aloud to her and her non-dyslexic brother. Each time a new one came out, we would reread the previous ones in anticipation. And by the way, Harry Potter is awesome to read aloud. When you get to dialogue from Hagrid, just read what’s in front of you and a cool accent will come out.

The Narnia Chronicles, His Dark Materials, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the Percy Jackson books, the Peter and the Star Catchers series, Sherlock Holmes stories (a surprise hit): our family loved nothing better than to settle into a good long read.

And we haven’t stopped. Last summer, my kids (ages 15 and 18) took turns reading Jane Eyre aloud.

In that novel, incidentally, characters spend their evenings reading aloud to each other. For fun.

Which it is.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Beyond Me

I have reached a peculiar point in the whole parenting thing. A good point. A great point, the one you aim for.

But still, it feels strange.

My kids can now do things, or do things better, than I can.

I am terrified of highways and haven’t driven on one for decades. My daughter, who learned to drive here in Houston (learn to drive here, you can drive anywhere), can and does. She can also produce, on demand, a project based entirely on her own creativity, for her classes at art school.

I know, thanks to his recent lifeguard certification, that my son can lift a 200-pound unconscious person off the bottom of a pool. And just by dint of his growth, he can, when he sees me struggling, shoulder his way in: “Scoot over, Ma. I’ll move that refrigerator for you.”

Currently, he can do math that I am sure I must have learned at some point but which I have entirely forgotten. (A whole different topic. Why do we teach kids esoteric math, such as calculus, that, face it, most of us will never use, but neglect to teach them how to make change?)

So, my kids have capabilities that I don’t have. They will do things and go places that I never will.


But weird and kinda sad too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Negative Talk

I will always remember the time my daughter’s math teacher told me she was making progress working on my daughter’s habit of “negative self-talk.”

I not only negative self-talk; I negative everybody-talk. You could say I am an equal-opportunity negative talker.

When I don’t like something, when something doesn’t agree with me, it feels very natural to open my mouth and say so. But then I was bemused to see my other child, my son, complain about his homework the year he started high school. It took him longer to complain about it than it did to do it, which, of course, as his mother, I pointed out to him. (Part of my job.)

And I have come to realize that it’s a real bummer to listen to someone’s negative talk about everything.

What you take in from around you does affect how you feel. Just spend a few hours watching “My 600-Pound Life” and gory true-crime shows and Fox News to prove that.

So, in the interests of making the world a happier place for myself and those around me, I’ve decided to break my negative-talk habit.

However, this is how it’s been going:

Me, in car: “Move it, you stupid piece of shit … Oh, damn! I did it again!”

My son points out that I am now doing double negative talk.

This isn’t going to be easy.

Oh! That’s negative talk again, isn’t it?


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Keeper of the Calendar

Image courtesy of
Stuart Miles at
It was major for me, when I figured out how to sync my computer calendar with my phone calendar.

How sad is that?

I know when my husband is on call, when our daughter goes back to college, when our son’s driver’s ed class starts, when everyone’s dental check-ups should be.

You know when military leaders in a war movie pore over a map spread out on a table? That’s me, figuring out our summer with printed-out, color-coded, cross-referenced calendars, except I’m the only one at the table, with a cell phone to my ear and a laptop open to Google maps and school calendars.

It’s still a bit tricky because one kid doesn’t yet drive and the other is sharing my car with me. I distinctly remember the shock, upon moving from New York City to Houston, of having to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to have not one, but two (and three+ seems beyond ridiculous) 3,000-pound machines out in the yard, just to function.

I supposedly am the one who knows when the AC filters have to be changed and when Lola the dog needs her heartworm pill and when our car insurance needs to be paid. (It’s tomorrow: I just paid it online today. Whew.)

Travel plans, wisdom-teeth extraction, the quarterly visit from the Terminix man, birthday cards and Christmas gifts: it all goes through me.

I know, I know.  I should turn some of it over to my kids, who are old enough to deal.

But, guess what?

I didn’t raise fools: They’re not exactly keen to take it on.