Saturday, December 10, 2016

Do You Need A Little Cuteness and Sweetness in Your Life?

We found this little girl running down the middle of a busy street here in Houston on Wednesday.

We've been looking for her owner -- flyers in the area, at nearby veterinary clinics, online lost pet sites. She had no collar and is not chipped. It's not looking good. We haven't heard a peep.

So, on to Plan B: finding her a home. (We can't keep her. We already have two.)

Here's what I know about her, courtesy of our vet: She is in good health. She is 6-8 months old and is fully grown. She weighs 22 pounds and might, he thinks, get to 30 as she fills out. (He gave her her first round of vaccinations.)

She is as sweet as pie. She is not house-broken. However, she doesn't mess in the crate, including overnight, and seems very smart, attentive and eager to please. I don't think she'd be hard to train. She is affectionate and playful.

Were you thinking of getting a puppy? Know someone who is? Looking for a Christmas gift for that special someone? :o) Want to provide a Christmas miracle for a sweet puppy? Let me know. :o)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Home Tours

I am a nosy person.

I especially love looking at people’s houses. They are such a reflection of the people who live there.

And now that I’ve discovered home tours, I realize that I am not alone in being nosy. I’ve been to three so far – and all have been jam-packed with attendees.

Each tour is different.

There’s the annual Azalea Trail home tour, sponsored by the River Oaks Garden Club. These are super-posh houses. Gargantuan. Unbelievably fancy. Honestly, though, they tend to look a lot like each other. These houses belong to a certain demographic who share the same taste.

Then, there are the twice-yearly home tours in my neighborhood. Some are old bungalows renovated by young designers and architects. Some are filled, every available inch of wall and surface space, with the owner’s art collection. (Many of the people in my neighborhood are artists and/or gallery owners.)

And then there was the first annual Weird Homes Tour of Houston, which I just went on. Wow. One home, billed as a 5,000 square foot one-bedroom, belonged to an artist who incorporates the cremated remains of multiple people into his paintings. (Who knew? People’s ashes vary in color.) Then, there was one, which was left dark and was filled, to its loftlike ceilings, with carefully built piles of, well, junk, that made my husband turn to me and say, “You know, if you were ever on a first date and the person invited you back here, you’d be certain you were about to be murdered.”

Hats off to the people who volunteer their houses. They do inspire me (fleetingly) to set up my own house. (Five years in and I am, right now, sitting in sight of some unpacked boxes.) But then I lay down till the feeling passes. :o(

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Hygiene Lectures

It’s when a professional of some sort gives you very basic advice about how you should do something that you should have, if you weren’t faulty as a human being, been doing all along.

Actually, “hygiene lecture” is short for “dental hygiene lecture,” which is the very first one of these I ever had. As a kid, I had a lot of cavities. I’ve since been told that it was probably because of the shape of my teeth.

But for years, I dreaded, even worse than when she did her “Marathon Man” thing on my gums with her little picky tools, when the dental hygienist would finish, hand me a mirror and proceed to “teach” me how I should be brushing and flossing my teeth.

Of course, I clean my teeth, I wanted to shout. But I didn’t. Just had to sit there and listen.

Hygiene lectures take many forms. Why haven’t you been changing those filters or these batteries? Don’t you know you are supposed to clear out all those cookies on your computer every so many months? And you are supposed to flush out your hot-water heaters every year? When was the last time you changed the oil in your car? Don’t you check your bills every month and call the cable company, the cell phone company, the electric company to see if you can get a better deal?

The A/C company recently came to do its 6-month maintenance on our system. Now, I could have just left everything as is and the guy would have changed all the filters. But right before he arrived, I took out the ladder and changed them all myself.

Because I didn’t want to hear it.

So, I guess hygiene lectures work. :o(

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Throwback Thursday

Oop, found this blast from the past while googling myself.

Wrote it a billion years ago and had thought it was lost to the mists of time. Was afraid to read it, frankly, but I guess it looks OK. :)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pokemon Go

When Pokemon Go came out this summer, so much media coverage was about how bad it must be.

Really, USA Today?

But, really, it's just a fun game.

I wrote about it for The Buzz Magazines.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Willpower Isn’t So Simple (And That’s A Good Thing)

The phrase “nose to the grindstone” makes no sense. How is pressing your nose to a grindstone a good idea?

When I was in college, I didn’t sit at the desks in front of the library’s floor-to-ceiling windows. I sat in enclosed cubbies: surrounded by blank walls, I thought I would concentrate better. How awful.

Sometimes I think civilizations advance, and individuals mature, when they figure out not everything is black and white.

And willpower is an example. It’s not so simple. It, or its lack, is not a matter of character.

You know the famous marshmallow test? Researchers told preschoolers they could have one marshmallow now or, if they waited a bit, they could have two. Then, the marshmallow in front of the child, the researchers left to see what the child would do.

Decades later, the kids who waited had better life outcomes: did better in school, had higher SAT scores, were in better health, were less likely to have gotten in trouble with the law and made more money than those who didn’t.

The news coverage of this was basically, “See? Willpower is good. And some people have it and others don’t.”

But that wasn’t it. The lead researcher has written a book and has been giving interviews, such as the ones here, here and here.

The real story is the kids who could wait knew how to wait. They played mental tricks on themselves. They turned their backs on the marshmallow. They sang to themselves.

Another researcher, with equally charming studies (one of his involving radishes and fresh-baked cookies) has shown that willpower is like muscle strength: it can be developed and wisely used.

It can (and should) be a happy thing – sitting in front of a pretty view or singing – not a grind. Yay.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Bad Superstitions

I never thought of myself as superstitious.

Friday the 13th?

Throw salt over your shoulder?

Black cats?

Nah, I don’t believe any of those. They’re silly.

But I’ve recently come to realize that my thinking is rife with superstitions – buried so deep, I didn’t even know I had them.

As this article points out, some superstitions can be positive, can even have a kind of placebo effect.

But mine tend to be negative.

For instance,

Under the theory that it’s the unexpected that will get you, I believe that if you think of all the bad things that can happen, then they won’t happen. My whole family operates under this belief. Does it keep bad things from happening? No. But it does make you miserable and afraid and exhausted. It’s the very definition of “hypervigiliance,” a symptom of anxiety that Pamela Cytrynbaum wrote about so devastatingly at Psychology Today.

If you are waiting for news that might be bad, don’t make plans for the future beyond that because you are tempting fate and it will slap you down. The problem with this one, besides that it is illogical, is that there is always potentially bad news around the corner, so you never make plans.

Related: Never be hopeful, don’t dare to talk about how things might go right, because, again, you are tempting fate. This is the “don’t jinx yourself” and “knock on wood” superstition.

Even writing this, saying that I see that these beliefs aren’t logical, is making me uneasy, to tell you the truth.

But’s it's crazy-making, this focus on the negative.

Are you really supposed to live your life on tenterhooks?

I don’t believe it. (Well, I’m working on that.)

How about you and your superstitions? Are they good or bad?

Friday, July 8, 2016


I always thought those funny turns of phrase people unwittingly say were malapropisms. But malapropisms are when someone, instead of using the word they meant, use another that sounds similar. Sometimes it can be funny but only because it doesn’t make sense. It’s like their spoken auto-correct went wrong.

What I’m thinking of are eggcorns. That’s when somebody uses a word or adjusts the word they use, not just because it sounds similar, but because it does make sense. The name “eggcorn” comes from a woman who thought that the word “acorn” was “eggcorn.” It made sense to her.

As Jan Freeman, who blogs about language, wrote six years ago when “eggcorn” was officially recognized as a word by the Oxford English Dictionary, “Because they make sense, eggcorns are interesting in a way that mere disfluencies and malapropisms are not: They show our minds at work on the language, reshaping an opaque phrase into something more plausible. They’re tiny linguistic treasures, pearls of imagination created by clothing an unfamiliar usage in a more recognizable costume.” She points out that eggcorns often go on to become an accepted part of our language. In other words, they help language evolve.

When Merriam Webster added eggcorn to its dictionary more recently, NPR and Time  published more examples and pointed out another nifty word: mondegreen, which is when people mishear song lyrics in ways that make goofy sense.

My favorite eggcorn was when my young daughter, referring to the kind of doctor women go to, called them “vaginacologists.”

She also came home from school one day excited to tell me all about the “Heimlich remover.”

My father, years ago, was talking about someone who had gone into a mental-health facility called Star Haven. He heard it as “Stark Raving.”

I love these.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Life is Good

You know how it sometimes seems like the person who can tell you exactly what you need to hear at that moment in your life suddenly shows up?

Yeah, that recently happened to me.

Robert Flatt is a wonderful photographer and an amazing person.

And I wrote about him for The Buzz Magazines.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How to Complain

Complain only when you have to.

Some people love to complain. On a Facebook page for parents run by my daughter’s college, one woman complained her daughter had a roommate who was never there. What?! My kid would give her eye teeth to have what is, essentially, a private room for the cost of a double.

When my kids were small, we sometimes went out with other families. There were some parents who would invariably complain in restaurants. They always wanted a different table. Or they’d let their kid order something, and then when it came and the kid said he didn’t want it, order the waiter, with a wave of their hand, to take it back. Of course, they didn’t want to pay for it. All the while, I was praying, “Please don’t spit in my food.”

People who like to complain do it because they want to take their frustrations out on a safe target (like the poor sap working the ticket counter at the airport) or to feel like “big wheels.”

Call me crazy, but I think lodging a complaint should be entirely goal-oriented: you’re trying to fix a situation that’s not right.

Consider what your approach is likely to trigger.

Is it getting you what you want?

The stupidest complainers ever were people in our apartment building who were consistently ugly to the super, the man who decided when, and if, your clogged toilet got fixed. I baked him cookies and paid his teenage son to water our plants when we were on vacation. Guess whose stuff got fixed first?

Be nice, reasonable, sane.

A hissy fit only gives them a reason to not help you.

You can always escalate later if you need to … and you don’t usually need to.

Really, it’s not hard.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Farty, An Adjective

What does “farty” mean to you?

Because I searched “farty define” and the correct definition is not on the internet!

All the definitions on Urban Dictionary are wrong.

Free Dictionary thinks when you call a person a fart, you are saying they are contemptible, annoying or irritating. No.

It is hard to put into words what “farty” means. But it isn’t a generic insult. It’s not even necessarily an insult. “Farty” is related to “old fart,” arty farty” and “farting around.” It’s when someone moves slowly and deliberately doing something they don’t have to do at all.

I saw a post by someone who kept track of the books in their Little Free Library. Little Free Libraries are cool but you do not have to keep records of them.  Nevertheless, this person wrote, “I tracked in the very beginning, but then became overwhelmed by the amount of time that I was spending and stressing over it.” He or she bought software to do it.


The other day, my husband watched, fascinated, this man – the poster child of fartiness –  use an old-fashioned scythe rather than a lawn mower to cut his grass. (I suspect he made the video because people in his real life had heard quite enough about scything.)


And incidentally, yes, I’m being farty right now.

However, I leave you with a few fun facts I learned:  The word “fart” is ancient; people have always had a word for it. In fact, we used to have two words, “farting” for farts that make noise and “fisting,” for silent farts. “Fisting” even had some onomatopoeia going on. So much better than the ungainly “silent but deadly.” Unfortunately, the word now brings to mind the thing you make of your hand or the sex act. Oh, well.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What’s Your Superpower?

He's lucky he's cute.
Tony hasn’t messed in the house for a long time.* 

Even so, his superpower remains: Given all the possible options, he will always pick the place I least want him to. If I put him out, he might pee right there on the welcome mat. (His oh-so-tragic facial expression says, “Oh, but it’s drizzling. I might get wet.”) Though he’s got the whole yard, his mission is to poop in the garage.

Some people can suck every bit of fun out of anything, through their worry, their rigid thinking, their control-freakiness, their incessant complaining. Alternatively, some people are crazy-making risk takers. (Have you noticed? They rarely get hurt. It’s the people who are with them, like you or me, who do.) Some people are just mean. Some people, God bless ‘em, just breathe loud or snap their gum or say “Ya know what I mean?” after every phrase.

But as my sister always says, perhaps pointedly, “It’s easy to see other people’s stuff but not your own.”

So, what’s my superpower?

Ach, I see myself in almost all the ones I’ve listed … except I’m not a risk-taker and haven’t ever peed on the welcome mat or pooped in the garage.

What’s your superpower?

*Yay! … Knock on wood … I doubt I will ever bet any money on Tony not peeing or pooping in the house, though I am, at this point, about 80% sure of him … If I do ever succeed at this, is there any way I could put “Housetraining willful little dog” on my resume? ‘Cuz it’s one of the harder things I’ve ever undertaken.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Gift of Gab

I don’t have it.

I wish I did.

I am fascinated by people who do.

Generally speaking, Texans are much better at it than people from the Northeast. Sorry.

But even here, people often don’t introduce themselves. Why is everybody so scared and/or clueless about doing that?  Because when we don’t, situations end up being so damned awkward.

So now, I introduce myself to everyone.

I learned a trick from my husband for parties. Look for someone standing there alone pretending that they want to be staring into the middle distance, stick out your hand and say, “Hi, I’m XXX. How do you know the host?”

Of course, I then promptly forget their names. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

However, I am currently sitting in a supermarket Starbucks. I haven’t been here, literally, for months. But whenever I am, a woman who works the counter (whose name I can’t remember) will say, as she did this morning, “Well, hello Miss Cheryl. How have you been?”

I told her that her ability to remember everyone’s name is amazing. “It is?” she said and shrugged.

How the hell does she do it?

One thing I have figured out is it’s not so much not remembering people’s names as it is not knowing them clearly in the first place.

So now, I’m really trying to do that: ask them to repeat it, say it myself, use it a lot, etc.

I was recently at a dinner party, though, where most of the guests were from India. One person introduced himself. OK. Another. OK. Then a group of eight came in together. Everyone’s name was a long string of unfamiliar sounds.

Nope, lost everybody’s.

I’ll keep trying.

Any tips?

Monday, May 23, 2016

When Directions Don’t Follow

The other day, my dishwasher didn’t drain all the way.

I got out the instructions that came with it. (Felt pretty proud of myself that I still had them.) It contained directions on how to change the filter, complete with a diagram.

After suctioning out the gross water with a turkey baster (yuck), I took a look.

The bottom of my dishwasher looked nothing like the diagram. Was I crazy? Stupid?


(Well, not because of this.)

That diagram, in the instruction booklet for my specific dishwasher, was not of my dishwasher.

And those directions about a filter? Turns out my dishwasher doesn’t even have a filter.

There is a special place in hell for the person who threw those directions together.

Today, I had to figure out how to transfer recordings of an interview from an app on my phone to my computer. The instructions from the app mentioned email (files too big), Dropbox (after setting that all up, files too big) and using iTunes (that didn’t work at all, was stymied at the first damn step).

As I, with increasing despondency, dutifully went through the trouble-shooting directions for iTunes, I saw a bit of software I had originally downloaded onto my computer when I got the app a couple years ago. (I don’t use it much.)

It synced the app to my computer beautifully.

But now, when I needed it, why was there no mention, not one, in the app itself or on the company’s website, of this software?

Because that omission wasted a couple hours for me.

For people who write the directions for things: Yes, we all say we don’t read them, but for those times when we are forced to, please take care when composing them.

You are toying with people’s sanity here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Are You What You Wear?

Yup, particularly when, like me, you more often than not wear clothes that have slogans actually written right on them.

My mom got me this t-shirt, which declares, “Dogs (Because People Suck).”
It came from; the purchase was a donation that fed seven shelter dogs. My mom chose “Ursin purple” as the color, of course. And, yes, I totally wear it.

My sister-in-law got me these socks, on which a little girl whispers with wonder to her pet horse, “I hate everyone too.”

Let’s just say: My mom and sister-in-law know me.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Foods That Aren’t Really Food

See? People trying to make
pomegranates edible.
There are some things we all say are food that really aren’t. 

Take, for example, pomegranates. By the time you get through cutting it open, careful not to get any on yourself, it stains, and digging out the seeds, just so that you can get that tiny bit of edibleness around them … No, not food.

Grapefruit: absolutely not a food, more of a torture.

Lots of diet food – rice cakes, melba toast – fall less into the “food” category and more into the “cardboard” category.

Popcorn, in my opinion, is similar to rice cakes and melba toast, except you can drench it in butter.

In fact, there are a lot of foods that are inedible except as vehicles, excuses, really, for eating melted butter: steamed clams (breading and frying those also works), escargot, lobster.

Fondant, that weird clay-like icing bakers use when they are building something that looks cool out of cake ingredients, is not food.

Neither are marshmallows and cotton candy.

Legally, restaurants are not supposed to put anything on your plate that is not edible, in case you are too dumb to tell that that flower blossom isn’t really meant to be eaten. But it isn’t. Ditto: those sprigs of parsley and cilantro and those dried red peppers in your General Tso’s chicken. Not food.

Likewise, spicy ingredients – hot chiles, horse radish, wasabi – while fine as an accent to the actual food on your plate, are not, in my opinion, food themselves. Just picture yourself trying to eat a bowl of any of them.

Anise, the flavoring for black licorice. My grandmother was so proud of her anisette cookies. Blech. When she gave me, ordinarily a cookie fiend, one, I would sneak it back onto the plate when she wasn’t looking.

Did I miss any?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pay Attention!!!

Image courtesy of Sixninepixels at

Is there an adult in America today who doesn’t wonder, if they haven’t already been diagnosed, that they might have attention-deficit disorder? (And if there is, can they tell me their secret?)

That’s all?

That sounds about right.

As I’ve sat here, my daughter, away at college, texted me. So did several other people, including a spammer. Even if I don’t respond, I look: Who is it? Is it an emergency?

Then, the stupid thing beeps a second time several seconds later.

I supposed I could figure out how to reset that.

But meanwhile, since I looked, I see my mom responded to my email.

Oh, and I have some notifications from Facebook.

Facebook is its own particular distraction vortex. Oh, awful: A childhood classmate died. Oh, sweet: Another is getting married. Oh, a sponsored ad is looking for women who suffer from ovarian cancer who used talcum powder. Is that something to worry about? Oh, I feel sick: A video automatically plays of an abused dog so skinny, he can’t stand. Oh, but there are some sweet horses or goats or kittens or babies who are obviously doted on … My brain struggles to process all of this.

Where was I? Oh, yes, distraction.

But who am I kidding? I can remember the pre-Internet days. And I distinctly remember veering away from tasks I didn’t want to do.

Attention, at least for me, is this fleeting, fluttering, easily damaged thing.

It’s like herding butterflies.

And I still don’t have the hang of it.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My Life is Shit

These two produce an inordinate amount of poop.
When we decided to get our second dog, Tony, I did not think of how I was going to have double the dog shit in our tiny yard, nor did I think house-training him would be a big deal.

Where we are with the house training: I am inordinately proud of myself for teaching Tony to ring the bells I hung on the doors when he wants to go out.

Honestly, though, that was easy, took about a day for him to get it.

The hard part: convincing Tony that, yes, it is important to never pee or poop in the house.

Also, he abuses those bells, sometimes ringing them every few minutes, and for a wide variety of reasons, such as he’d like to lay out in the sun.

Which is fine, except we have discovered that it is impossible to make our driveway gate “Tony-proof.” He can get under it when it’s closed. However, we can’t make that gap any smaller or it won’t open.

(Contemplating an “invisible fence,” if you’ve got any advice about that.)

So, for weeks, I have been at the other end of the leash, poop bag in hand, every time Tony (and Lola, who always comes along) has pooped or peed.

There are times in life when biology is much more front and center than usual. 

I told this to my husband, a gastroenterologist. “Yeah, tell me about it,” he said.

I am reminded of bringing home new babies with all that entails, from spitting up (etc.) for the baby to let-down (etc.) for the mom.

Working on getting Tony's and Lola's biology back to humming along without quite so much of my involvement.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Be Glad You’re Not A Honey Bee

Image courtesy of anankkml

Even being the queen bee is no prize. The queen bee doesn’t issue orders; she doesn’t control
anything in the hive. Her one role is to lay eggs, which she does all day long, in 30-second intervals. She’ll lay up to 2,000 per day, which is more than her body weight. She only leaves the hive once or twice in her life. Oh, and she gets to be queen by assassinating all the other baby queen bees.

Drone bees famously exist just to have sex. Sounds like that might be OK, right? Except the “lucky” drone bees who get to get it on with the queen die because they explode during sex, which happens in the air, with their genitals tearing off to remain lodged in the queen while the rest of their body falls to the ground.

And the ones who don’t have sex with her get driven out of the hive to starve to death.

If you’re a bee, keeping a low profile and just being a worker doesn’t make things much better. Worker bees make honey by transferring the nectar from the tongue of the bee who collected it to another bee who holds it on her tongue until the liquid evaporates, turning the substance into honey. (Changes how you think of honey, doesn’t it?)

And the wax they make? It oozes through pores on their bodies and they chew it off, to make it soft enough to use.

And you know what keeps honey-bee hives warm – 93 degrees Fahrenheit in the center – in cold weather?

The worker bees’ shivering.

Yeah, be glad you’re not a honey bee.

Why Are DMV People So Rude?

My son got his driver’s license this week. (Watch out, world!)

I was once again struck by how rude the people at our DPS (Texan for DMV) are. I am not the only one to wonder why: look here and here and here, for starters.

It’s almost comical. The first woman we encountered, who just had to hand my son a form, was absolutely stone-faced and clearly was trying to speak without moving her mouth, like that would be too much effort. The second, to whom my son handed a certificate from his driving school, barked, “It’s not signed!” And indeed, there was a blank line, marked “Instructor Signature.” “Oh, no, did they forget to sign it?” I asked. “How do I know?!” she said. “Did he have 10 hours of nighttime instruction?!”

My son and I looked at each other. Of course, he hadn’t been at the driving school at night. It isn’t even open at night.

Yes, we both answered.

Turns out I, the parent, was supposed to sign that he had driven at night with me (which he had), something she could have just said, the jerk.

After we caught on and she had had her little thrill, I signed it.

I have been around long enough to realize if everybody in a certain group acts a certain way, they probably have some sort of reason. Like when we arrived in Houston and wondered why everybody drove those big, piggy, gas-guzzling SUVs. (The streets flood.)

And I found this about a fascinating study. Turns out the “petty tyrant” theory we all have is correct. When someone is in a “high power” but “low status” position – like DMV clerk, they have a tendency to use that power to behave like jerks.

Explains a lot, about a lot of people.

Monday, March 14, 2016

To Neuter or Not to Neuter

My husband and daughter were discussing who could be fiercer, him or me. 

My husband’s clincher: “Your mother’s bringing Tony to have his balls cut off – and she likes Tony.”

It’s true: Last week, I brought our new dog Tony to be neutered

Originally, I was going to write about how men do seem to feel some … ummm … resistance to the idea.

I’ve been surprised by the number of men I’ve met who don’t get their male dogs altered. Some owners will neuter but then have false balls implanted so the dog doesn’t look neutered. (Some wives will do that without telling their husbands.)

But in preparation for writing this blog post (after getting Tony fixed), I started Googling – and I fell into a wormhole.

All my life, I’ve heard that responsible pet owners neuter and spay their animals. Millions of unwanted animals are killed every year. Indeed, shelter euthanasia is the #1 cause of death for American companion animals.

But there are people against it. According to my Google surfing, these people tend to take their animals to holistic vets, feed them only raw food (which, and I’ve seen this myself, is a raging controversy), and are concerned about vaccinating.

The arguments rage. Some pro-neutering articles (like this one and this one) point out that the risk of certain cancers, which they say are deadly, are greatly reduced or eliminated by neutering. Anti-neuter people (including this vet and this vet) say those diseases aren’t deadly, but there are other deadly ones for which the risk goes up. Pro-neuter people point out that most dog bites are from unaltered animals; some anti-neuter people argue the opposite might be true.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Directing Traffic

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

After Hurricane Ike, my father-in-law suggested that regular people should get out into intersections without working traffic lights and start directing traffic. 

I said that’s the worst idea I’d ever heard.

He thought (thinks?) I was an idiot.

But haven’t you seen people, even those who should know what they’re doing, like the flagmen at construction sites, just suck at it?

Like the kid, who looks 12, in an oversized reflective vest, his hard hat falling over his eyes, his sign swinging around (Is he trying to say something or just fiddling with it?) who might be making some sort of gesture, but it’s unclear and he’s not looking at any of us. Drivers hesitate, stop, inch forward, have no idea what they’re supposed to do.

And you know those police officers who dance and play tunes on their whistles and put on a show, the ones who are covered by the local paper or news station (like this one and this and this)?

Bah, humbug: Just clearly and decisively direct traffic, please.

Actually, police officers are usually better than flagmen, maybe because they are used to having what my husband calls “the voice of command.”

According to people who have been on the other side, directing traffic is no picnic. This police chief says, if you want to see your officers fall over themselves volunteering for any other duty, just mention directing traffic. According to this retired police officer/professor, “It's fun for about three minutes. It's a little like conducting an orchestra, except all of the musicians have lethal instruments and a random number of them will try to kill you.” Directing traffic is one of the most dangerous things police officers do.

So, we might all want to thank our lucky stars, we’re not out there, directing traffic.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Remember: Failure Is An Option

One Sunday, I was driving my son to his test-prep tutor when we got detoured because of the Houston Marathon. Oh no, oh no, oh no. After much fretful and fruitless driving around in circles, it became apparent even to me (policeman directing traffic that way) that the only way left open to get where we were going was the freeway. And then it became horrifyingly clear that the only way out of the little loop of marathon I had blundered into was the freeway.

We ended up finding a restaurant (thank God), calling the tutor to explain my ridiculous predicament and having a leisurely breakfast till the marathon was over.

Well, last weekend, we were driving to his tutor again, when we got detoured because of the Houston Rodeo.

Part of the rodeo is people doing old-fashioned trail rides, coming into the center of Houston on horseback and in wagons.

Oh, yeah, well, great.

My palms were already sweaty as the GPS recalculated to an unknown, and therefore scary, route.

And that’s when my son, seeing that I was barely keeping it together  – and OK, maybe thinking breakfast is more fun than doing ACT math problems – said:

“Remember, Mom, failure is an option here.”

I have been thinking about this ever since.

Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t about not trying. In fact, this is all about being able to try, because it’s OK to fail. Nothing bad is going to happen. You can just pick yourself up, maybe have a nice laugh about it with the tutor, who confides her own imperfections, and keep going.

By the way, there was a non-freeway route to the tutor this last time. So, yay.

Monday, February 29, 2016

A Two-Dog Day

Travelling in the car is a bit
more of a production, too.
I’m just getting used to having two dogs, but here’s what I’ve discovered so far. 

I’m trying to house-train our newest, Tony, so he is either in his crate or I am on him like white on rice, going on frequent bathroom trips in addition to being ever-ready to scoop him up and run for the door, trailing pee and yelling “No, no, no! No pee in the house!”

The vet, who I am beginning to realize was being a wee bit disingenuous, said, “It’s easy. As soon as he’s gone without an accident in the house for a week, you’re done.”

Well, let’s just say, we’ve had to reset that clock a few times. (It’s like “Groundhog Day” around here but with pee and poop involved.)

Technically, Tony and I should be connected by a short leash at all times. When my husband asked me why we were not, I pointed out that my sanity is worth something too.

I amuse myself on our frequent outings by pretending to be the grandfather from “Moonstruck,” muttering, “Ciao, bella! Andiamo! Bella luna!” The dogs don’t seem to mind, though the neighbors are probably wondering.

And those neighbors also probably hear my heartfelt cheers several times a day – “Good boy! Yay! So smart!” – when Tony does his business outside. I’ve even started to cheer 9-year-old Lola since she seems to think it’s unfair – those sad eyes – when I cheer for Tony but not for her.

I’ve discovered we’ve got a bit of work to do on walks outside our yard. Lola pulls on her leash like she’s running the Iditarod and likes to argue with me on street corners about which way we should go. Tony, meanwhile, loses his mind every time he sees another dog.

We are a work in progress.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Dog Stars, Or What Have I Done?

Lola and Tony
Tony was left in a motel lobby, by someone hoping some suckers nice people would take him in. 

I thought, no big deal. After all, we already have a dog.

Is Lola, our 9-year-old standard poodle, perfectly behaved? No. She jumps on visitors, particularly ones that don’t want to be jumped on. She dumps over the garbage.

But she is now the reasonable one, next to Tony.

That’s not really true. He is a cute, sweet boy.

But he is so different from Lola.

Lola was a distinct choice. We read up on poodles. They are famous for being smart and high-energy. (Actually, after Lola outsmarted me a few times, I began to wonder whether a dumb, low-energy dog might not have its own advantages.) Poodles are very social; they make eye contact with people. They walk with a spring in their step that’s called “the poodle prance.” I read that I shouldn’t be surprised if my poodle does not ever want to be out in the yard by herself. Meet Lola. Lola (“poodle” comes from the German for “puddle”) strides through every puddle she comes across.

I’ve now been reading about Tony, who appears to be mostly dachshund

Ut oh.

Dachshunds are notoriously difficult to housebreak. Bred to go after badgers, they are brave to the point of foolhardiness. Tony has appointed himself guard dog already. As hounds, dachshunds are obsessed with food. Tony’s strategy is “eat first, decide if it’s food later.” He eats leaves, twigs, dirt, wood chips. And they hate getting their feet wet. The first rainy day, Tony peeked out the door, then turned tail to run back inside. Forced to come out, he ran to the dry ground under our eaves – and refused to pee.

Wish me luck.

P.S. Here’s what EB White had to say about his dachshund, Fred: “Being the owner of dachshunds, to me a book on dog discipline becomes a volume of inspired humor. Every sentence is a riot … I would rather train a striped zebra to balance an Indian club than induce a dachshund to heed my slightest command … Of all the dogs whom I have served I’ve never known one who understood so much of what I say or held it in such deep contempt. When I address Fred I never have to raise either my voice or my hopes. He even disobeys me when I instruct him in something that he wants to do.” 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Still Working on The Negative Talk

I totally get this.
One time, when my daughter was learning to drive, she got into the driver’s seat in a Dairy Queen parking lot.

As she adjusted her mirrors, she saw a car passing behind us.

“Move it, asshole,” she said.

She got this from me.

I am a terrible, albeit cowardly, road-rager. (I only rage inside the car. I actually tend not to call other drivers “asshole” because “asshole” is very lip-readable. Try it.)

Why the road rage? It’s not really rage; it’s nervousness. I don’t like to drive. Driving scares me. Certain parts of it (true asshole drivers, speeding, tailgating, weaving, for instance) make my palms sweat.

I am very verbal, which is a nice way to say I am a chatterbox. So, when something bothers me, out pour all my thoughts.

This is not a good thing.

When my daughter was in middle school, her math teacher mentioned she was working on my daughter’s “negative self-talk.” It was the first time I had heard the term. And my son is even more like me. He can go on, at length, quite eloquently, about all the reasons his homework, and the teacher who assigned it, are stupid.

But all that talk doesn’t get the job done. And more importantly, it cements, in both the mind of the talker as well as everybody within earshot, such negativity.

I’m trying to stop.

But it’s not easy.

Now, my son is learning to drive. When we get into the car, I promise to be just like a sack of potatoes in the front seat. (He’s required to have someone with him.) But as I grab the Jesus handle and yelp in terror, my son points out that I am quite a talkative sack of potatoes.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

What’s Your Attitude Toward Children?

I know  – with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach – that there are religious nuts out there who think the Bible tells them to hit their children. For example, according to Focus on the Family, “your child is a sinner with a predisposition to disobedience, which he inherited from you and every other generation all the way back to the first parents in the Garden.” This site goes on to advise “use a wooden spoon or some other appropriately sized paddle” on a child who is leaning over his bed. It goes on to say, “It ought to hurt – an especially difficult goal for mothers to accept” and that you want to be “focused as you firmly spank your child, being very careful to respect his body.”

Are you kidding me? How is striking someone’s ass with a paddle after making them “assume the position” in any way respectful? And the idea that, as the website tries to claim, “Your children will feel a lot more loved, and they'll have the privilege and blessing of being in a home that's at peace” because you hit them makes zero sense.

This flies in the face of advice from institutions including the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which, in turn, base their stances on multiple studies showing the negative effects of spanking.

This seems simple to me: It’s not right to hit anyone. Especially the small and vulnerable.

Isn't that what we want to teach our kids?

That instinct mothers have, to not hurt children? It's there for a reason.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Losing Weight

Yay! I lost weight!

Needing to watch my weight is a relatively new development for me. When I was young, I was a skinny-skinny-skinny eating machine.

Well … things have changed.

Several years ago, my husband lost 60 pounds. People, he reports, kept asking him how he did it, but when he told them he watched what he ate and exercised, which is what I’ve just done, they’d say, “Yeah, I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.”

I’m no expert, but, yeah, it does … which doesn’t mean it’s easy or quick.

Things I found helpful:

Get a calorie-counting app on your phone, one that tracks calories expended on exercise as well as calories consumed.

You will need to exercise every day to keep within the calorie count. If you don’t, you will be hungry and being hungry makes you want to start killing people. And turn on the “track my activity” feature, which will minus out calories for the walking it senses you are doing.

Find exercise you will do. VERY important.

Do not let yourself get hungry. Seems counter-intuitive, but if you grit your teeth and try to use willpower to not eat, you will lose control and eat anything (and everything) within reach. Eat frequently and choose things that will keep you full, containing, in particular, protein, even though these foods aren’t the lowest in calories. Do not try to survive on lettuce.

Choose whole grains. Things like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta take your body longer to digest, leaving you feeling full longer.

Don’t make any food forbidden.  Sure, you can eat it. Just fit it into your calorie count. I drink lattes (skim milk, no sugar: an easy adjustment) and, at dinner, wine.

Be realistic: Slow and (relatively, imperfectly) steady is how this works.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Time Flies

But its flight path can be complicated.

I clearly remember being a newly minted college freshman in 1983 and thinking that 1987 was SO far off, it didn’t seem possible that it would ever happen.

Well … Ha!

These days, I see business signs that say “Established 1990” and think, “That looks dumb. That’s not so long ago” … oh, wait.

I vividly remember being a little kid and remembering every Christmas I had thus far experienced, each separately and in great detail.

Now, I have to consult a calendar: “What did we do last Christmas?”

My own high-school and college careers seemed to last forever; my kids’ are going by in a flash … at least to me. When it comes to my children’s childhoods, the saying is true: The days are long but the years are short.

(Like many quotes, this one has been said, in various ways, more than once, by Anna Quindlen, Gretchen Rubin and the indie rock group Modest Mouse.)

There are many explanations for this change in how time feels. One reason: when you’re five, a memory takes up much more of your total life and so feels bigger; that’s called proportional theory. Also, memories of being a teenager and young adult are more vivid because they are a lot of firsts; that’s called “the reminiscence bump.” Meanwhile, time really does fly when you’re having fun; also when you are not having a lot of vivid and novel experiences. And it feels like it’s going faster when you’re busy – and adults are busier than children.

I like that. I’ll go with that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What I Say Versus What I Do

I might like you to think that my reading material of choice is The Economist and Nature, but really, it’s The National Enquirer.

I’m not alone in this. When we used to subscribe to The Enquirer (that bears repeating: we used to subscribe to The National Enquirer), of all the people we knew, only one did not immediately grab it from our coffee table and tear through it, oblivious to what was going on around them. And she’s the most uptight person I’ve ever met.

I’d like you to think I always read literary fiction and poetry but, in reality, I am a huge sucker for self-help books.

I might allow you to think that salads and steamed vegetables are my foods of choice. No. I might grit my teeth and go with them, but it’s the potato chips that I really want. Candy, too. In fact, a friend just freaked me out when she mentioned she still had some Christmas candy left over. Are you kidding me? Honestly, when people say, “I don’t like sweets,” I assume they are lying.

I might tell you, “Oh, I don’t watch TV,” and that would be true, but only because I can’t figure out how to work all our remotes. When I can get a kid to turn on the television for me, however, I am happy to watch marathons of “Cops,” “Hoarders” and “My 600-Pound Life.”

When I have my phone out in public, I’d like you to think that I am a busy, connected person, doing a lot of important stuff. No. I am most likely looking at slide shows of stupid tattoos or plastic surgery gone wrong or videos of what happens when squirrels steal Go Pro cameras.

That’s how I really roll.

There: I said it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

In Praise of Pediatric Dentists

Growing up, I had the world’s worst dentist. He wasn’t just a bad dentist, he was a bad person.

I had lots of cavities as a kid, which he filled without any pain relief. Maybe he couldn’t be bothered. Maybe he enjoyed torturing children. I remember him yelling at me when I moved while he was drilling. I was about 5. And no, I hadn’t bitten him. I should have.

But when my kids were small and I, with trepidation, would mention an upcoming dentist appointment, they would say, “Yay!”

Because they went to pediatric dentists.

Indeed, even though they’re older, they still go to their pediatric dentist.

If I could, I’d go to her too.

Everybody in the office is nice. If there’s any possibility of pain, which there usually isn’t, kids don’t get cavities like I did anymore, great care is taken to alleviate it.

And you’re not shamed for the state of your teeth. When I was a kid, basically I was told I was dirty and that’s why I had so many cavities. But it just happens that my teeth, thanks to genetics, are shaped with deep grooves which are difficult, maybe impossible, to keep clean. (Sealants help immensely with this problem.) My son has the same – and that’s what he’s told. Not his fault (no shame), even though it is his problem (here’s what you need to do).

Really, is that so hard?

Have to say: not everyone is cut out to be a pediatric dentist. I brought my kids to one that tried to sell my 12-year-old daughter on cosmetic treatments for her teeth, which entailed telling her there was something wrong with how they looked and doesn’t she want them to be pretty?

So, yes, some assholes still become dentists.

Choose your dentist with care.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Who Said That?

I am a sucker for a good quote.

Which I use all the time.

But quotes can be tricky.

Take “Done is better than perfect.” When I first heard it, it was attributed to Mark Zuckerberg, but it has also been attributed to Sheryl Sandburg.

Does it matter? Well, sort of.

Here’s another favorite: "If someone’s nice to you but rude to the waiter, they’re not nice." I first heard it when a CEO named William Swanson wrote a book of advice for fellow managers. Turns out, however, that he had plagiarized the whole book. He stole this particular quote from Dave Barry.

And sometimes a quote isn’t real at all.

OK, so I’d like to know that it has actually been said, but maybe who said it doesn’t matter.

Another I saw on Facebook, “If you have more than you need, it's better to build a longer table than a taller fence,” comes from someone’s friend, who is trying to become a life coach.

I came up with my own once: “A little every day gets the job done.” I use it to remind myself to do something, anything, no matter how small, every day on a project.

It works, like when you decide to keep a blog.

Just saying.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I’m Going To Be OK With That

We’ve all heard, and used, that old saying, “Nothing’s perfect.”

So, why do I have such a hard time convincing myself not to run my life as if there is such a thing?

What do we even mean by “perfect”? What, for example, is the definition of a perfect movie or book or house or meal? Aren’t those answers all subjective?

I looked up “perfection” on Wikipedia, where there was an explanation of how people have contemplated perfection through the centuries. To me, it sounds like Plato, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke et al had way too time on their hands. A great deal of thought, for example, went into answering the questions, “What is the perfect number?” and “What is the perfect shape?”

The Wikipedia entry also pointed out that the root of the word “perfect” comes from the Latin “perfectio,” meaning “complete.”

Which reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: “Done is better than perfect.”

In other places, I’ve read the advice not to confuse “excellence” with “perfection.”

Ah, now I feel like I am getting somewhere.

“Perfect” is this weirdly fraught term, describing something that doesn’t exist, that many people, including me, use to drive themselves crazy. Or as sofilee on Urban Dictionary put it, “perfect” is “fiercely overrated and non-existent.”

Deciding that your goal is to be or to create something “perfect” strikes me as the same as labeling yourself or someone else “stupid” or “lazy,” words I hate.  Like “stupid” and “lazy,” it’s just this ill-defined, judgy word; it doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of what you are doing and how to make it better -- or if you even need to.

It’s just a way to beat yourself up.

I’m going to listen to Salvador Dali, who said, “Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.”