Saturday, February 10, 2018

Therapy Pets

In case you missed it, a peacock named Dexter was not allowed to board a United Airlines flight with his owner, who claimed he was her emotional-support companion. Over the past few years, passengers have discovered this fine print as a way to avoid paying to have their pets travel with them. Businesses have popped up on-line where for just $30 you can purchase a psychological diagnosis. Present this at check-in and save the $100-plus fee ($200-plus RT) for your Dexter. Or Fido or Fluffy.

The idea of using pets for emotional support is not new and recent studies have confirmed that owning a cat can reduce your risk of heart failure. Earlier studies found the same for dogs, though in that case, the frequent dog walking was a contributing factor. This is no surprise to me; I’ve found that the more cats I have, the more relaxed I feel (except when it comes time to change the litter pans).

Unfortunately for animal lovers, many landlords and condo associations limit the number of pets to two per household. But Dexter has inspired a way around this restriction. Have a “psychiatrist” prescribe emotional-support animals for each of your psychological issues. Normally, you’d get a diagnosis and choose a companion to match it. For this purpose, you first decide what type of pet you want. Then you search out a diagnosis to support that. Let’s look at examples of how some of these would match up.

If you claim to be bipolar, you’ll need a companion to lift you out of your depression. Kittens are particularly useful for this. Who can stay sad while watching a little, fluffy creature chasing a laser light, batting at a bird that's dancing on a wand, or mauling a fuzzy catnip mouse? Want a kitten? Get diagnosed as bipolar.

Being bipolar will also help you justify a different feline to bring you down from your manic high. If you love a lap cat, this diagnosis is for you. It’s important to “test drive” a cat to make sure that it fits on your lap and that your cushioning syncs up with their preferred lap positioning. Ideally, look for one with a loud purr, a bonus in helping you calm down. This second one will also serve as a companion to the first when it runs out of steam.

Chances are you also suffer from ADHD. It seems like everyone does these days. So you’ll need a third pet to keep you focused. Cats are generally better at distracting their owners than in helping them focus. A dog, on the other hand, will often sit patiently, leash in mouth, waiting for you to pay attention, thus teaching you by example. If you’re a dog person, ADHD is the disorder you’ll want.

Speaking of dogs, what better reason why you’d “need” a French Poodle than being neurotic? Your (hypothetical) neurosis will pale in comparison to that of your fluffy companion. It’s why I stand next to folks who are heavier than I am so I’ll look thinner in photos.

Are you paranoid? (If your landlord or association “police” are snooping around your home, you should be.) This definitely justifies adding a very large (and loud) dog to your brood. Your “doctor” can point out how having such a guard animal in the household will mitigate your “illness.”

Once you’ve adopted several therapy animals, you’ll need yet an additional one to deal with the legitimate PTSD caused by the others. No matter how careful you are in your adoption process, having multiple four-legged creatures in one household will certainly result in some dust ups. You’ll want to add a senior addition to the pack to keep the rest of them in line. Or you might consider a different species altogether for this. A militaristic parrot perhaps?

The crazier you claim to be, the more pets you can justify. Those who know me will not be surprised that I could qualify for an entire cat colony. Please visit your local shelter to find your emotional-support pets. They should have one for each of your psychological needs and it will be a win-win situation.

Be assured that this essay is social satire. It is in no way meant to demean those who suffer from actual psychological problems. However, I do seriously suggest trying at least one therapy cat or dog. They really can work wonders. Just look at what they’ve done for me. Or maybe don’t…

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Memories of Sisters Past and Future

Because my sister, Barbara, and I have a seven-plus year age difference (we were eight grades apart), we didn’t have many sisterly adventures in our youth. Ones that included our entire family, to be certain, but not a lot with just the two of us. Our sisterly memories are more recent and also ahead of us, I hope.

Barb had two knee replacement surgeries in 2016. I spent two weeks in Vermont with her each time, helping her through the initial rehab. One of my roles was to help in putting on and taking off the compression stocking, a workout for both of us. It took at least ten minutes to put it on. We had to position the toes just right and make sure the heel piece would wind up in the back and not on the side or in front. We joked that it was a bonding experience. I said I was glad she didn't have a third knee.

Barb and I made our first vacation trip together, just the two of us, this past September. We went to Puglia, Italy, one of the few areas that she had never visited. I’d been to the larger cities, but that was it, so I was willing to go anywhere. Barb did all the research and planning. She’d been studying Italian for a few years and it proved to be more useful than she anticipated.

We visited a wide variety of churches and ate many excellent meals. The towns on our planned itinerary were closer than we expected, so we tacked on some smaller ones. They proved to be delightful additions. We took turns driving, alternating days. The weather wasn’t fabulous, but the heaviest rains seemed to come overnight or while we were in museums or having a lengthy meal. We rarely opened our umbrellas.

The photos I took show me that we made some great memories to look back on in future years. They also tell me I need to practice taking selfies. Or get my arms stretched, or else buy a selfie stick.

The notion of future memories took on new meaning for me recently as I looked at Facebook posts of some of my female friends. A college classmate posted a photo of a wedding party she was in a week after we graduated (fifty years ago). She’s a native of Hawaii and that’s where the ceremony took place. One of her other FB friends commented on how beautiful my friend’s sister looked in the photo. It brought tears to my eyes because I knew that her sister, with whom she was very close, died fourteen years ago.

Another friend posted some photos this fall of a trip to her family’s lake cottage in Michigan, where she’d spent summers with her twin sister. The property was being sold, which meant all the childhood treasures—birds’ nests and such—had to be disposed of. It was a bittersweet task, especially because her twin died unexpectedly ten years ago. She was discarding not just her own memories, but her sister’s as well. The two were as close as sisters could possibly be, even though they lived on opposite sides of the country. The nests may be gone, but many wonderful  experiences remain to be cherished and shared on Facebook.

These Facebook posts from my friends merged in my mind and I had a realization. It’s true that when we lose someone we love, especially a sister, we still have our memories to sustain us. But what we lose is not just the person who helped us make those memories and could have shared them with us. We’re also being deprived of the chance to make future ones. That’s a loss that cannot be measured. As much as we cherish the past, we’ll never know what we might have done together in the future.

I’m fortunate to still have my sister in my life and to be able to look forward to making more trips with her to reminisce about in the years to come. I plan to take advantage of this as much as she’ll allow me to. I just hope that none of the new adventures involve compression stockings.

Copyright 2018 Elaine M. Decker

Monday, January 1, 2018

Banned Words and Phrases for 2018

As we round the bend into 2018, it’s time for my annual list of banned words and phrases. I had hoped that, in a departure from last year, they would not be inspired by the presidential election or political mayhem. Fat chance. That influence is inescapable. However, unlike the CDC in Trump’s administration, I’m not forbidding the use of science-based, evidence-based, transgender or diversity. I also chose to take a pass on killing ‘covfefe.’ That’s so over already anyway.

The first word on my 2018 list is ‘sad,’ especially ‘so sad,’ and (worse yet) ‘sad, so sad.’ This word has become so overused that it’s at risk of losing all meaning. We need to save what’s left of it for things that are real tear-jerkers, like six-hankie movies. Or the Syrian and Rohingyan refugees. Consider those uses exempt from the injunction.

Fie on any compilers of 2018’s banned words who don’t include ‘fake news.’ Our president sees two types of news: sympathetic articles that agree with him, and fake news. Certain media outlets are never in his favor and hence are always assumed to be purveyors of fake. So there’s no need for him to call them out on that.

Another phrase that Trump uses ad nauseam that I’m tossing onto the ash heap of lexicography is: ‘That I can tell you.’ In 2017, I dispossessed folks of ‘believe me.’ ‘That I can tell you’ became its replacement, often followed up by ‘I have proof,’ but that professed proof is never presented. You might as well give up ‘I have proof,’ too. That will save me having to ban it in 2019.

Last year I took ‘rigged’ away from everyone. This year I’m following up that prohibition with one against ‘crooked.’ Consider this as punishment for those who continued to use ‘rigged’ against code. I dare you to find another similar word for me to go after in 2019.

I refuse to let anyone say ‘collusion’ in 2018. I put this word on my banned list even before the president used it 16 times in his end of December interview with the NY Times. I don’t care which side of the political aisle you’re on; you need another way to describe it. I’m not naïve enough to think we can live without the concept of collusion. How about using ‘secret cooperation’ instead? I can always outlaw that next year.

It may come as a surprise that I’m also forbidding ‘#metoo.’ While I support the movement, the generic hashtag has become a cliché. It’s been applied to such a broad spectrum of offenses that it’s lost it’s meaning. Harassment is a serious problem. We need to focus on the most egregious examples if we expect to create change. If folks want to hashtag a personal experience, let them be more specific, as in #mepinched or #mebuttslapped.

I’m also done with ‘tipping point.’ Too many bad behaviors reached tipping points last year—fraternity hazing, sexual predation. Likewise for climate change—the California fires, hurricane flooding, polar ice melt. The idea that we don’t pay attention to these issues until they reach a tipping point is unacceptable. If I ban ‘tipping point,’ there’s a chance we’ll address such problems as soon as they arise and not wait for them to tip out of control.

By now we should all have had our fill of the meme inspired by the Bud Light medieval-themed commercials. I’m referring to ‘dilly dilly.’ I’ve always enjoy the refrain when sung in “Lavender Blue,” the 1959 hit by Sammy Turner But the meme has gotten out of hand. Ben Roethlisberger even used it as a snap count in a November NFL game. Really? Admit it. Dilly dilly has become silly silly.

Here’s a phrase that I can do without, and you have CNN correspondent Dana Bash to thank for this one. In 2018, you will no longer be able to ‘put a button on it.’ Find another way to say that you’re summing up the conversation or debate. By the way, ‘put a button on it’ just barely edged out ‘put a pin in it’ for this year’s list.

Finally, say goodbye to ‘pleasure’ when it’s used as a verb, as in “to pleasure oneself.” The images this conjures up make me gag, especially if it’s Harvey Weinstein doing it. It also ruins the word 'pleasure' when it’s used as a noun, and that’s a perfectly good word.

With mid-term elections taking place in 2018, I expect to collect some treasures to ban in 2019. But for now, let’s just put a pin in this.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Perverted Pleasuring

There’s one aspect of sexual harassment that has me scratching my head. It’s all these reports about men getting their rocks off by forcing their victims to watch them get their rocks off. Surely these men don’t think women are turned on watching men “pleasure themselves.” Or if they did think this on their first outing, wouldn’t they eventually have figured out that the ladies’ facial contortions did not reflect the throes of ecstasy? After all, based on the reports, these aren’t one-off occurrences.

Obviously it’s the men who are turned on, and the logical explanation is that it’s about control; it’s a power trip. I let this notion percolate a bit. Then I asked myself: If I were a predator and wanted to force a male to watch me do something he’d find repulsive, what might that be? It didn’t take me long to come up with a list. Needless to say, none of the items involve me “pleasuring myself” sexually. That would no doubt be a turn-on for these offenders. My pleasures lie in things sufficiently abhorrent to qualify as payback.

First, I’d make him sit with me to look at chick flicks on the Hallmark romcom channel. If I were in in a really spiteful mood, I’d then turn to COZI TV and subject him to four back-to-back episodes of the original Will & Grace sitcom. In my area, that show runs from 10 pm to midnight. This seems like an ideal window for a predator to stalk prey, which means a double whammy of two hours of gay humor combined with missing out on prime opportunities for his own predation. I get a tingle just thinking about this torture.

Next, he’d have to look at me eating a huge helping of Breyers vanilla bean ice cream with dark amber maple syrup drizzled all over it. If this sounds like a turn on to some of you, you’ve never seen me dive into a container of ice cream. I don’t have the patience to wait for it to get soft. I attack it with a metal scoop. It’s not pretty. And I don’t share.

If I were feeling particularly perverse, I’d log onto my computer and force him to watch me enter data into the Excel spreadsheet I’ve set up to track what I spend each month. I get excited just thinking about spreadsheets. My columns run all the way to AF and I have close to 1000 rows already. I’d provide a running commentary while formatting breakouts within categories that can be tax deductible (at least until the Republicans pass their new tax plan) and insert subtotals. If your eyes are glazing over right now, just imagine having to sit through it.

At this point, I’d move on to a yoga session. Seeing me wrestle my yoga pants onto my rolls and love handles may not be as revolting as the sight of me excavate myself into a pair of Spanx, but what would come next would be a surefire turn off. My go-to exercise would be the Pawanmuktasana, or as I like to call it: the Breaking Wind Pose. It helps get rid of excess stomach gas. You lie on your back, arms and legs extended; draw your right knee tightly to your chest and clasp your hands around it until you break wind; straighten leg. Reverse and repeat. And repeat and repeat… You get the idea.

Finally, I’d tie him up and practice my saxophone for at least an hour. Ten minutes of this would be observing me wet my reed. While this might get him aroused at first, the next ten minutes while I try to affix that reed to the mouthpiece just so would leave him softer than the reed would be after all that sucking. The remainder of the time—when I would actually be playing—would do him in completely.

Oh, yes. I’m prepared to subject any sexual predator who crosses my path to repulsive pleasuring of my own. I guarantee it will be a long time before he can give himself a happy ending again.

Copyright 2017 Elaine M. Decker

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sexual Harassment: Shades of Gray in #metoo

The recent spate of accusations of sexual harassment has me assessing where I fit into this conversation. I can’t claim to have been sexually harassed. Discriminated against because of my sex, certainly. But harassed? I don’t think so. A few cases in the media seem like an over-reaction to me, with the indignation out of proportion to the offenses. I’m sorry if that doesn’t sound very feminist. I deplore sexual harassment, but I also see some gray areas in the #metoo campaign.

Truth be told, I may have contributed to language and behavior that some women are now calling harassment. I enjoyed—and shared—raunchy jokes as much as my male colleagues did. I worked in marketing for a Fortune 500 corporation and frequently traveled with the field sales force. Raunchy came with the territory, but I didn’t feel forced into listening. I thought of myself as “one of the guys.”

In my twenties and thirties, I was what could have been described as hot. I began my career during the sexual revolution. Even though I worked in “sophisticated” Manhattan, I was partial to miniskirts. At just shy of five-feet-two, I didn’t have length to work with when it came to my legs, but their shape more than made up for it.

I remember one lunchtime when I was walking past a construction crew in midtown. As I passed their work site, one of them called out: “I think I’m gonna come in my pants.” Since I wasn’t 100% certain there wasn’t someone hotter behind me (with a shorter skirt, if that had been possible), I kept walking and said nothing. What I wanted to do was to answer back: “Better in yours than in mine.” We would have all laughed and I would have won that exchange. I didn’t feel harassed; I was flattered. I suspect most #metooers would take issue with my feelings about cat calls.

I’m now in my seventies and definitely more fat than phat (look it up). Which is probably why I look back fondly on the attention I received in my salad days, especially compared to today. You could graph my receptivity as an inverse bell curve. The attention itself, however, is a steeply declining straight line. Does the fact that I could feel flattered while others might be offended make me complicit?

That sexual revolution I mentioned had us all feeling our way in the business world. I was young and naïve, as were many of my sisters, all of us plodding along in professions that were often men’s domains. I was probably a tad too flirtatious, but I deflected unwanted advances deftly. I didn’t slap someone after an unsolicited kiss (received more than once, but never from the same man). I stated simply and firmly that it was not to happen again. And it didn’t.

If I found myself on the receiving end of an ambiguous touch, I moved away and let my body language and facial expression convey my displeasure. That worked for me. I’m not sure why. Perhaps being “one of the guys” earned me special consideration. Once I moved into a position of power myself, this type of behavior stopped.

What does all of this say about my role in the culture that produced #metoo? In today’s work environment, it seems that nothing sexual is permissible in language or behavior. I don’t know where the line should have been drawn between harmless flirtation and predatory behavior in the sixties and seventies. A young man who worked for me once gave me a box of condoms to take on my vacation to a Club Med. He handed it to me in a brown paper bag and my entire team thought it was hilarious. Would that make him a harasser today? Or me one, for accepting the gift? (Never used, by the way.)

I think we should save our outrage (and media coverage) for the truly dangerous predators. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of those. Here are my clear signs it’s harassment. You keep saying “stop it” and he keeps doing it. His position of power makes you afraid to say “stop it.” You start comparing notes in the ladies room and discover you’ve all had similar encounters. Persistence. Power. A pattern of behavior. These can all be indications that there’s a predator in your midst.

But if he stops when you tell him to, can’t we just move on instead of texting #one-strike-you’re-out? And if he’s ninety and in a wheelchair when he pats you on your fanny? How about instead of telling the media about it, you pat him back (gently) and sidle out of reach. When you get to be my age, it might be one of your fonder memories.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What I Learned on My Italy Trip

Coming soon, photos and a mini travelogue of my recent trip to Italy with my sister. In the meantime, here are some things I learned on the trip.

1.     If, on your flight to India two years ago, you thought you had quite a bit of time left on your passport, “quite a bit” will turn out to have been less than two years.
2.     Yes, you can get a passport renewed within 24 hours in the metro New York area, but only if you have an extraordinary nephew and wonderful good friend who live in Westport and Stamford, CT, respectively.
3.     Yes, your sister will still be speaking to you when she has to go on ahead without you for a day and drive back to the airport to pick you up when she is still jet lagged from her own flight. (You need to co-sign the car rental papers in person.)
4.     Those who said you don’t need an International Driver’s Permit, just a U.S. driver’s license for a car rental were 100% correct. Which is too bad, because that photo they took at AAA was awesome. (The one taken at the CVS in Stamford at 11:30 pm for the emergency passport renewal, on the other hand, looks exactly like how you felt at that point.)
5.     Those who told you not to get Amex Travelers Checks because no one accepts them anymore were also 100% correct. (And, yes, they are the same people who nixed the idea of an International Driver’s Permit.)
6.     If there is a seat on a regional flight that is below the cubby with the equipment for the flight attendant’s emergency demo and opposite the cubby with two oxygen tanks, it will be assigned to you. Since you boarded early, you were able to find an empty overhead for your carryon that was still in the same aircraft. But that inch you shrank over the past two years was enough to make you struggle to reach those bins.
7.     If there is a seat on the transatlantic flight that has a broken footrest, it will be yours. Ditto for the hinky electronics that won’t let you easily drag a playing card where you want while playing solitaire.
8.     If you ask five people in Puglia (Tabacchi shop owners, hotel concierge, postal clerk) how much it costs to send a postcard to the U.S., you’ll get five different answers.
9.     If you bring postcards home to mail them after you get back, you’ll need to trim them to get the postcard rate. It turns out most Italian postcards are slightly larger than the USPS template allows. Or at least the ones you bought.
10. You can still have a fabulous trip even if it started out with a fiasco of your own making. But that’s only because your sister has been studying Italian and was willing to be your travel agent, trip planner, banker, accountant and translator.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Holidays for Foodies

A recent ad in an insert in a local paper announced that September 20 is National String Cheese Day. String Cheese? Seriously? I could believe National Cheese Day (June 4). Or even National Cream Cheese Day (none, not even for Bagels and Cream Cheese, although Cream Cheese Brownies Day is February 10). But String Cheese? I don’t think so.

Contrived holidays used to be made up by greeting card manufacturers, so they were mostly sentimental ones. When did the food industries hop on this bandwagon? And why? What are we supposed to do on National String Cheese Day, other than eat more of it? Will there be contests to see who can stretch the longest string? Will there be String Cheese Festivals, full of clowns with sticks up their noses or in their ears? Will we have String Cheese eating contests, like the hot dog ones, but without the buns?

I did some quick research and was amazed at the number of food-related holidays in the United States alone. They went on for pages. Here are just some that involve cheese. For a complete list, go to
We have Cheese Fondue, Grilled Cheese Sandwich, and even Cheeseball Days. Those are all in April. Then there’s Cheesecake Day, and of course Mac & Cheese Day (July 14), and even a Cheese Pizza Day (September 5). National Double Cheeseburger and Cheese Toast Days are both on my birthday, making for a cholesterol-laden double whammy.

I’m marking my calendar for the foodie days that will tickle my taste buds. On the first Saturday of February next year, I’ll be celebrating National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. On March 5, I’ll surround myself with several bags of Cheez Doodles. I’ll mark National Schlumpia Day on May 24, if I can find out what Schlumpias are by then; they certainly sound like fun.

I considered putting National Tapioca Day on my list (June 28), since my husband would certainly join in that celebration. But then I saw that Tapioca Pudding has its own day on July 15. Too confusing. Besides, I’d prefer National Rice Pudding Day. Or Crème Brûlée or Flan. None of those made the list I was using, but Rice Balls did. Go figure. (What is a Rice Ball, anyway?)

Another surprising omission from the list is National Peeps Day. I’d put that on my calendar in a heartbeat. Maybe it was left off because Peeps is a brand. But then, so is Cheez Doodles, and it's on the list. I searched for Peeps Day separately and found several possibilities. One is the day after Easter, which sounds right. That would make it a floating holiday. True Peeps lovers know that any day you can find a box of those chicks after Easter is a Peeps Day.

I noticed that November 15 is earmarked Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. But it’s not until November 29 that we get Throw Out Your Leftovers. That sounds like poor planning to me. I wouldn’t want the stuff I cleaned out of the fridge stinking up our kitchen for two weeks. Besides, November 29 is also National Chocolates Day. It’s a no brainer which one will go on my calendar.

The last three holidays listed for December are quite predictable. The 27th is National Fruitcake Day. My mother made wonderful fruitcakes, by the way. The 30th is National Bicarbonate of Soda Day. (That might have been better for the day after Thanksgiving.) And December 31st is National Champagne Day. Or night, more likely.

Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I think holidays should be reserved for the things in our lives that deserve to be celebrated. It’s great that we have not just Mothers Day and Fathers Day, but also Grandparents Day. (Great Aunts Day would be a nice addition.) The major holidays that match various liturgical calendars are fine by me. But—no disrespect to Druids and Wiccans, we don’t need to promote a Summer Solstice Day. And we certainly didn’t need a National String Cheese Day.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Are You Racist and Don’t Know It?

Some friends recently posted comments on Facebook that they don’t hate Black people (or words to that effect). My first thought was: “The political positions that offend you and the memes you share tell a different story.” Upon reflection, I realized that these people honestly believe that they aren’t racist. I’m beginning to understand that for many of them, their feelings may be based on white resentment—a resentment they may not even be aware they harbor.

Carol Anderson’s recent opinion piece in The New York Times: “The Policies of White Resentment,” explains much of this mindset. She wrote:
 “If there is one consistent thread through Mr. Trump’s political career, it is his overt connection to white resentment and white nationalism. Mr. Trump’s fixation on Barack Obama’s birth certificate gave him the white nationalist street cred that… has sustained him in office — no amount of scandal or evidence of incompetence will undermine his followers’ belief that he, and he alone, could Make America White Again.”
Ms. Anderson went on:
“The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rageWhite resentment has long thrived on the fantasy of being under siege and having to fight back…” and “…to justify the policies that thwart the upward mobility and success of people of color.”

Demonstrations of white nationalism in Charlottesville, VA and the resulting protests provide evidence of what can happen when this previously-contained white rage erupts in America’s cities.

Consumer products giant Proctor & Gamble has a new TV commercial that addresses the issue of bias in people’s lives. In it, Black moms have “The Talk” with their children about recognizing that they may experience bias—especially unconscious bias—in their lives. They discuss the need to be prepared to deal with it safely. P&G is hoping to start a dialogue on this important but sensitive topic.

I’ve always been a supporter of diversity in the broadest sense of the word. Not because it makes me feel noble, but because it adds layers of color (no pun intended) to my existence. My life is so much richer because of my gay friends, my friends of color and of a variety of ethnicities and religions. You can get a measure of this by scrolling through the faces and names of my Facebook connections (but please don’t).

Out of curiosity, I did a count of how many of my FB human connections are people of color. It’s about 14 percent. Based on the latest census information, that figure should be 25 percent. This tells me that even with my appreciation of diversity, I have room to grow my circle of friends to be more reflective of the rest of our country. I’m certainly not going to set racial quotas for my Facebook friends. But I will pay more attention to how enthusiastically I reach out to people of color as I meet them in my daily activities.

I challenge anyone reading this to similarly take account of the diversity of his or her own connections. You may be surprised to uncover a hidden racial bias in your life. How you react to that knowledge is up to you. But if you choose not to take account of your own biases, don’t act so surprised when you’re called out as a racist.

The truth is: we all can do better. And if we don’t want more Charlottesvilles, we should.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

You Won’t Believe What Makes Us Fat

Like many women my age, I have difficulty losing weight. Let me be honest here. It’s a struggle for me to keep from putting on the pounds, never mind losing them. As a result, I tune in to news items that provide any clues as to what makes us fat. The past several weeks brought a bonanza of new information. Unfortunately, most of it will prove useless for me.

The first surprise is that a dirty home can make you fat. According to the July 12 NY Daily News, researchers at Duke University discovered a link between dust particles and weight gain. In laymen’s terms, the chemicals in dirt can change our body’s metabolism, resulting in more fat cells. Actually, it was mice’s metabolism, not human’s, but what starts with mice eventually finds its way up the food chain.

My friends know I’m not exactly a model homemaker. I’ve often said that I clean the house twice a year or when we’re expecting company, whichever comes first. We don’t socialize much. I’m not sure if that’s a cause or an effect of my cleaning schedule. Either way, it explains a lot about my expanding waistline.

A few days after the dirty home tidbit I read that decluttering your home can help you lose weight. The June/July AARP magazine ran the article: “To Lose Weight, Put Your Home on a Diet.” In it they reported: “Studies suggest that the same genes that cause people to hoard stuff can lead to obesity.” They surmised that this harks back to primitive times when supplies of food and rocks (for protection) were amassed to ensure survival.

When we put our Providence house on the market, my real estate agent was brutal about having me get rid of the clutter. Sure enough, I shed some poundage, and not just the weight of the items I was donating or throwing out. My body trimmed down a bit, too. I assumed my weight loss was because I was carrying so many boxes of books from our third floor to the first. Apparently the loss was also due to the decluttering process itself.

Although I know that I should continue to shed belongings, I’ve reached the point where there’s not a lot of stuff here that’s just… well, stuff. Most of my clutter has a lot of history and emotional baggage tangled up in it. So there’s not much hope of a new decluttering phase helping me to lose weight. Besides, not much of it is food or rocks, so there’s obviously something else involved besides primitive survival genes.

The third news item on this topic was an article from Cell Metabolism that I found in and it was the unkindest cut of all. It seems that researchers at UC-Berkeley conducted a study that suggests that smelling your food before you eat it could cause you to gain weight. It has something to do with the body’s sense of smell being tied into storing fat instead of burning it off. I’ll bet anything it’s those damn survival genes again. This is a distressing finding.

How many times have you said: “Just let me have a quick whiff of that Death by Chocolate cake before you eat it”? OK. Maybe it was more like: “Just let me have a teensy forkful of that cake,” but still. Now we can’t even sniff something decadent without risking ballooning up? It’s bad enough I have to sleep with earplugs (to drown out my husband’s snoring and my cat’s nighttime “hunting”). Now I’m going to have to eat with a clothespin on my nose. Life is so unfair.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Confusing Terms Explained

You’ve probably noticed that Republicans and Democrats are constantly disagreeing on items in the news and on what might or might not be a legal issue. Sometimes it seems as though they don’t even speak the same language.

In a way, this is actually the case. Many times, the conflict occurs because of subtleties of meaning. There are a lot of confusing terms being kicked around. One side hears A when the other side thinks it actually said B. Today I’m explaining the nuances of some terms we frequently hear.

Let’s begin with a trio of confusing ones: matter, inquiry and investigation. Apparently, the FBI prefers to refer to an activity as a matter when they’ve just decided to look into something potentially fishy. They don’t want to say they’re conducting an investigation if they might have to back peddle. Clinton defenders claim that’s why Loretta Lynch told James Comey to refer to the emails fiasco as a matter.

Once there’s a whiff of smoke, agents will likely launch an inquiry to look for the fire. An inquiry is a gathering of more extensive information to decide who should be grilled like a rib-eye on your Weber. Most inquiries lead to a full-fledged investigation. In my opinion, if someone comes to your door to ask a few questions, it’s an inquiry. If they bring you down to their office and suggest you might want to have an attorney with you, we’re talking investigation.

Another way of putting this trio in perspective is that agents look into a matter, conduct an inquiry and pursue an investigation. The IRS will look into your tax return as a matter of course, conduct an audit if they find serious irregularities and pursue legal action against you if they think the money they recover will earn them a promotion.

This means that the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the recent presidential election and attempts to influence the outcome is serious business. Earlier inquiries into alleged hacks of Hillary Clinton’s private server—not so much.

Which brings us to another group that’s in the news a lot: allegedly, assumedly, supposedly and ostensibly. “When should I use which one?” you may be wondering.

Allegedly means something has been claimed by someone, usually without proof. It’s used mostly for legal cover. When in doubt, allege something happened or is true, as in “Donald Trump’s allegedly small hands.” (Unless you’ve actually measured them…)

Assumedly is what you believe to be true, based on available information. “Assumedly, Donald Trump should cut down on that chocolate cake.” Supposedly is what someone else claims to be true. “Supposedly, Melania feeds Donald too many Slovenian desserts.” These two are matters of opinion, not facts.

Ostensibly means it was demonstrated through someone’s actions or words. They want you to think something is true, but that’s often a cover for a different reality. “Trump refuses to release his tax returns, ostensibly because he’s being audited by the IRS.” Or “Ostensibly, Melania remained in Manhattan through June so that her son could finish his school term there.”

Our final grouping is wiggle, waffle, vacillate and clarify. These all have to do with how someone explains his changes in position on an issue. Or tries to.

Wiggling is done rapidly, with minimal sense of direction. A person wiggles when he just doesn’t want to get pinned down. Listen to any of Sean Spicer’s press conferences for some excellent examples of wiggling.

Waffling, on the other hand, is done more slowly than wiggling, and usually eventually results in a single switch in someone’s opinion, though it can take awhile to get there. Mitch McConnell waffled on calling for a vote on the Senate’s health care bill before the Fourth of July recess. He definitely would, he probably would and then he didn’t.

Vacillating is a back and forth motion, first to the left, then to the right, on a fairly regular tempo, like Trump’s position on certain aspects of health care insurance. It won’t be heartless. But even if the Senate version is as mean as the House one, pass it anyway. It won’t be repealed without immediately replacing it. But if they can’t pass a replacement, just repeal it. Someone who is vacillating my never reach a final decision on the issue at hand.

Clarify is an archaic term that means to carefully explain what you mean so there is absolutely no confusion about your position. No one in politics does that anymore so you might as well purge clarification from your lexicon.

I hope you’ve found these explanations edifying and elucidating. As you can see, it’s often difficult to be certain which term to use Just pick your favorite. No one else seems to care anymore anyway.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Camelot—The Stolen Promise

When President Kennedy was assassinated, I was a college freshman. My classmates and I can all tell you exactly where we were when we heard the news of his death. We were stunned; we struggled to process what had happened. But we were on the cusp of profound societal change, including the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. We weren’t afforded much time to grieve. We weren’t given the chance to reflect fully on what we had lost. We had too many other weighty issues to address.

Some of today’s political analysts would insist that, had Kennedy finished his term, he would have made his share of mistakes and would not be so revered by my generation. While that may be true, we can never know for certain. This year would have been Kennedy’s 100th birthday. To honor that, PBS aired for the first time the 1961 film “JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala.”

Washington, DC had been paralyzed by a freak snowstorm the day of the gala, on the eve of JFK’s inauguration. The narration included entertaining anecdotes about the complications that caused for both the performers and the technicians. As I expected from a PBS special, this was well produced and beautifully narrated. What I did not expect was the emotional impact that program had on me. I’m not sure exactly where during the special I became aware that I desperately needed a box of tissues.

My first thought was that the cause of my waterworks was seeing all the entertainers that are no longer with us, Frank Sinatra in particular. But Jimmy Durante’s soulful and prophetic rendition of September Song (It’s a long, long time from May to December) toward the end of the program made me realize it was something more profound. His song and the companion narration elicited a long-overdue catharsis. I was finally fully grieving the loss of the promise of Camelot.

As so many others had before us, my generation entered college with the hope of a new and bright future. But unlike the others, we began our journey to adulthood, to our own social responsibility, with a young and vibrant leader at the helm of our government. We hadn’t even finalized our fields of concentration when that hope was taken away from us. Not just taken—wrenched away.

What hit me while watching “The Lost Inaugural Gala” was the realization that the promise of Camelot had been stolen from us. Who knows what glorious things our generation and our country could have accomplished in those “shining moments” that would have been? It’s one thing to celebrate one’s fiftieth college reunion and ponder “the road not taken” when the choice was one’s own. To look back and realize that someone erased that path from the map just as you were approaching the fork is something else altogether.

Most of us would admit that we have experienced some bright and wonderful accomplishments, both personal and societal, over the past fifty years. But one truth remains for my generation, made all the more poignant with the drama and the controversy of the current administration. We did not choose to bypass Camelot. Its promise was stolen from us.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Keeping On Not Doing What I Should Not Be Doing

About a month ago I decided to make yet another effort to peel off a few pounds toward a goal of improving my overall health. Each time I go through this process, I’m less successful than on the previous attempt. This round led me to one of those “aha!” moments as to what seems to be happening. That in turn revealed a truism about my broader behavior.

My fitness attempts consist of two behavioral categories—things I should do, and ones I should not do. For example, I should exercise, and I should not eat sweets or a lot of cheese. I’ve discovered that I’m much better at the “not doing” than I am at the “doing.”

Other than my morning sit-ups and stretching on the floor, I’ve had very little exercise over the past months. (I use the term sit-ups loosely.) Oh sure, I walked a mile or two about once a week. Maybe twice somewhere along the way. But if I want to get fit, I need to be walking about three miles at least three times a week. What’s worse, I’ve missed those daily stretches a few times. I used to do them religiously.

On the other hand, I’ve been quite good at avoiding sweets and cutting down on cheese. I simply don’t bring it into the house in the first place, or I bring very little. I no longer eat ice cream right out of the container.

What about other things I’m not doing that I should be doing? Practicing my saxophone for one. Jazz band practice has been canceled three weeks in a row, giving me a good excuse to skip my own preparation. And you may have noticed that what used to be my weekly blogging schedule shifted to bi-weekly some months back. I posted only once in the entire month of April. Then there’s the pile of mending waiting for me to tackle it.

To be fair, there’s a psychological impediment to the mending. Last September, I went to fetch another sock whose toe had a hole. By the time I walked to the bedroom and back, my cat Kallie got at the needle and thread and swallowed it. When I couldn’t find the needle and saw her making funny movements with her mouth, I knew what had happened. (She tried this once when I was still in the middle of darning.) A rushed visit to two vets and $2,100 of endoscopy later, Kallie was fine but I remained traumatized.

As you can see, I’m not highly accomplished at performing any number of tasks on my to-do list. On the other hand, I perform better at avoiding the interdictions I’ve put upon myself. At least I used to be. I’ve already mentioned the sweets and the cheese, but there have been non-gastronomical no-noes as well.

In particular, I’m thinking of my decision to avoid baiting Trump lovers with my blog and Facebook posts. I took the high road sometime last summer. Not long after, I switched to the bi-weekly posting schedule. It seems once I couldn’t post political satire, the well began to run dry. I stayed high for many months, unrewarding though it was, thus proving that I’m quite good at not doing what I should not be doing.

I have absolutely no idea what these proclivities say about me. Perhaps they reveal a tendency toward laziness, something buried for many decades that has been released via the freedom of being retired. More likely, they’re just random connections without even a metaphysical explanation. After all, I came down off the high road in February with barely a second thought.

I decided I was missing out on altogether too much fun by not jumping on the political satire humor train. That’s when I wrote the post: “Post-Election Mental Disorders” and submitted it to Reader Supported News. They picked it up, the first of six in a row that I’ve sent to them that they’ve accepted.

I guess that means I’m actually doing something, rather than not doing it. I’m staying off the high road. I’ll drink to that. Actually, no I won’t. Cutting back on wine was another item on my “not do” fitness list. Darn! Oops. Not darn. Too dangerous around Kallie. On that note, I’m going to stop writing this now.