It’s a Dog’s Life

 

Bow-wow!

You’ve heard the expression sometimes you’re the dog, sometimes you’re the hydrant.  I have spent the past three weeks trying to housebreak a puppy. Meet Casey the newest addition to our clan. The housebreaking is going relatively well because I got her from a breeder who began to train her with a bell. But I’d be as “crooked as a dog’s hind leg” if I didn’t admit that I’m finding having an energetic puppy tough.  I  had more pep in my step when I got my first dog back in 1996.  She was a Scottie named Belle who died of cancer after 13 years.  I loved her like a child and needed time to grieve.  I bought that dog on an impulse in a pet store and wanted to plan ahead better this time.  I found this new dog after spending months researching breeds. I even read a book by dog expert Cesar Millan on How To Raise The Perfect Dog. I found his advice on how to be a “pack leader” helpful.  You can watch videos of him on National Geographic’s Dog Whisperer reality series.  I think picking the right breed is key.  The American Kennel Club publishes a  list of the most popular dog breeds in America.  The family-friendly Labrador Retriever has just topped the list for the 26th year in a row.

I personally like small dogs.  I picked the mini Goldendoodle – a hybrid of  two purebred breeds –  Golden Retriever and Poodle.  Goldendoodles are  known to be good with kids and hardly shed.  The popularity of this dog is obvious on my cul-de-sac where four homes have one. Casey even has a mini pupper playmate the same age one door down who is a Goldendoodle.  My only bone to pick is that Casey is a digger.

When I unexpectedly bought my first dog  I was looking in a pet shop during a school vacation with my kids. I highly advise against looking  in a pet store with your kids unless you want to come home with a pet.  The kids begged me saying, “Pretty please,” and I buckled.  It’s also how I ended up with two hamsters and a fish.  The pet store was eventually cited for serious violations.  After the store closed, a pet rescue told me that the owner bought dogs from puppy mills and that they were left in cages.  It took me over a year to get the dog housebroken and calm.   My vet says rescue dogs can be hard to train too.  
He says to only take a stray from rescues that foster first so that you know the dog can get along in a family.  Even with a breeder, the puppies are young and take work. I’m completely exhausted getting up before the crack of dawn. So if you’re dreaming of getting a dog, get some rest now.  It’s amazing how good six hours of sleep look when you’re only getting three taking the pupper out for potty breaks. They say doggos are the new cats and run the internet now, so maybe it’s time to buy a litter box and call it a night.

Heads or Tails: Picking the Right Family Dog

Any mother knows that having a puppy is like caring for a newborn baby.

 You’re lucky if you get in the shower by noon. Dogs are a lot of work.  You need the “patience of Job.”  They get into everything.

But having a dog is good for kids.  It teaches them responsibility and experts say it has health benefits too.  Before adopting a furry friend you need to make an informed decision.  No matter what the kids say, it’s your dog so you better make sure of two things – that you actually want a dog and  like the  breed the kids want.  If you don’t, dogs have incredible senses and will know if you don’t like them.  I’ve been in the process of searching for a puppy myself over the past few months and found a website that I think is very helpful.  At PetBreeds by Graphiq  you can compare breeds, read reviews, learn about ownership costs and see which breeds are good with kids and are growing in popularity.  I have also been picking the brain of several veterinarians, pet owners, and members of kennel clubs. The veterinarians I talked to all suggested the same family favorite breeds:Labrador Retriever or Golden Retriever for people who want big dogs, and Poodle, Goldendoodle, or a Maltese for people who like smaller dogs. They say all of these dogs  are great with kids, tend to be gentle and are easy to train.  They also mentioned Pomeranians but did say they yelp and do need a lot of grooming.  The whole key is to find the right dog for you. In my next post I’ll show you which dog I picked and let you know how it’s going.  It’s a big commitment. The dog is going to be with you for a long time. Did you know that small dogs tend to live longer than big ones? According to the American Kennel Club the average lifespan of a small dog is 10-15 years.  Chew on that if you’re on the fence about getting a dog.  Or better yet get a fence first so your life will be easier from the start.

 

Kneading Slime: Are You Raising Slugs?

Making a goo called slime is the biggest middle school craze sweeping across North America. Green slime has been synonymous with Nickelodeon since its introduction on the game show You Can’t Do That On Television. It was usually dumped on a person’s head as a gag called being slimed.  Slime is now a staple of the networks Kids’ Choice Awards.

Now kids want to make this glutinous goo themselves to knead, fold and pop- at school, at home, at friends’ houses.  They make it in different colors with lotion, borax, soap, food dye and glue.  Young entrepreneurs are cashing in by turning their kitchens into workshops and selling it at school or online. Many moms think it’s just an innocent pastime.

“There are a lot worse things they could be doing,” a mom said to me after a slime making party this week.

I guess she was alluding to underage  vaping, another fad where middle school kids inhale and exhale the vapor produced by a battery-operated electronic cigarette. Most e-cigs have nicotine and other chemicals.

But there is concern on the part of some medical professionals that one of the ingredients in slime could be toxic.  They say using a laundry soap like borax as a toy isn’t a good idea. The Canadian government’s health department has even issued a warning. But opinion is mixed. Other experts say handling the detergent is fine if it’s used in small amounts and not rubbed in the eyes or ingested. If you’re worried, Today’s Parent magazine offers a cornstarch slime recipe.

Whether it’s harmful or not, the whole thing seems a little too much like nursery school to me.  Slime requires a lot of cleanup.  After years of getting Legos, Play Dough, and Silly Putty off the floor now it’s slime stain out of the carpet.  I went to a parenting seminar last night at my church.  Parents were concerned that teenagers aren’t helping out around the house.  Is this new fad good, clean, “slimy” fun or are we raising a group of self-indulgent children who are taking their cues from social media?  It seems that kids spend too much time watching  YouTube videos on anything from how to French Braid to making another gooey concoction called Gak.  Our kids worry more about posting a four-second photo on Snapchat than learning an old family recipe that they could serve to their kids someday.   If middle school kids want to whip things up in the kitchen, how about learning how to cook and helping with the dishes.

Or better yet, if  an adolescent wants to use borax, I’ve got a load of dirty laundry with their name on it.  By the way, if your child is acting like a lazy slug leaving a trail of slime wherever they go, you might want to hide the salt shakers.

 

 

Are Repairs Throwing a Wrench in Your Plans?

 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But what if everything is broken.  I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of calling repairmen to fix my appliances.  Repairs are throwing a wrench in my plans.

They don’t make appliances the way they used to.  I haven’t had a working washing machine for two weeks.  All I do is go to the laundromat.

I bought the washing machine about a year ago and it’s already leaking.  I took the extended service plan. Look where it got me. The appliance store sent a repairman from the company that made the machine.

The repairman broke the machine.  He blamed me for making him break it.  “If you didn’t insist that I fix it,” he said, “it wouldn’t have broken.”  He also scolded me for overloading the machine when he found a sock stuck in the pump.  He broke the entire inside drum of the machine and here’s what the box  looked like when the new part came.

The repairman conceded that they don’t make appliances the way that they used to.  He said appliances don’t last because they make them out of  plastic.   “You wouldn’t want to pay three times the price for steel parts would you?” he asked.   What is your time worth? I feel like a desperate housewife who needs an extended warranty that would cover patience for repairs.   It’s taken two weeks to schedule  appointments to have the machine fixed.  According to the most recent  Consumer Reports customer survey on electronics buying,  people who have a service plan are more likely to have repairs done wrong the first time and to wait at least two weeks for the repair.  I think mothers  bear the brunt of waiting for repairmen.  It’s always these four-hour service call windows. Can you imagine a mom trying to get away with that.  “Mom, when will dinner be ready?” your starving child pleads.  “Oh, sometime between 6:00-10:00p.m. depending on whether I have to make dinner for a child ahead of you?”

This year the fan broke in a bathroom, a kitchen faucet exploded, and an entire upstairs shower leaked through the living room ceiling for the second year in a row.  I had to have my floors redone this past summer because the dishwasher flooded the same kitchen floor that was just ruined by the leaking washing machine.  Now the front lawn was torn up by a snow plow that knocked over my mailbox.  My car engine died.  I had it fixed but the check engine light kept coming on.  I bought a new car this week.  It looks like I purchased a lemon. Before I  drove it off the lot, the service department had to squeeze me in for repairs. I’m driving a loaner.  No matter how you slice it, all of this is  leaving  a bitter taste in my mouth.  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade but be sure to substitute vodka for water.

You Need a Light Touch:Hitting the High Notes with Thomas Edison

I’ve told you how I’m battling the winter blues trying to finish a book.  I’m hoping that a light bulb will go on in my head.

American Inventor Thomas Alva Edison in 1922

My grandfather New York composer Joseph Ferraro on his wedding day in NYC in 1925.  He was 29 years old. He lost the love of his life Ermelinda to brain cancer when she was 50.

Program from Carnegie Hall May 25, 1947. My grandfather’s Neapolitan Rhapsody, a 100-piece orchestral work, was played at Carnegie “Pops” Concert.

Some of my grandfather’s compositions for piano

My grandfather in NYC at his West 46th Street office in the 1930s. He was conductor and musical arranger in charge of live orchestra programming for WOR-WOV radio stations. This was the Golden Era of live classical music programming.

My grandfather in NYC at his West 46th Street office in the 1930s. He was conductor and musical arranger in charge of live orchestra programming for WOR-WOV radio stations. This was the Golden Era of live classical music programming.

Inventor Thomas Alva Edison in 1878

American inventor Thomas  Edison said:”Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Maybe I need to use more deodorant to finish my book.  My late grandfather Maestro Joseph Ferraro, a composer who in his early career was recruited from Italy to work as the First Viola player at the Metropolitan Opera, met Edison when the inventor made recordings of his music.  In the 1920s and 1930s when classical music was in it’s heyday, my grandfather’s music topped the American musical charts. As a child he took me to musical soirees with the opera stars and conductors he knew in New York City.  He would play the piano and tell me about the Golden Era of classical music. I think parents really need to encourage their children to listen to the stories grandparents have to tell. It’s such a link to the past.  My grandfather said Edison was a pleasant, lovely man who personally came to record him and did everything himself. Grandpa said he thanked Edison for giving the world light remembering how as a young man growing up at The Royal Conservatory of Naples, Italy he struggled to compose at night holding a candle close to his ink and paper. He told me how exciting it was the night he saw the city of Naples light up as the street lamps suddenly illuminated.  One night when my grandfather was performing at the Metropolitan Opera,  the manager stopped the performance and announced that Edison had died.  My grandfather said he was very touched when the manager shut off the chandeliers.   My grandfather said a hush fell over the audience as people sat in the dark, as if no one was even breathing. My grandfather quoting the manager said: “This is the darkness that Edison moved us away from.”  Ironically, this friend to the music community, would put most live orchestras out of business with his invention of the phonograph and records people  listened to at home. Progress has a price.

Perhaps it’s time for me to follow Edison’s advice and sweat out writing my book.  I’ve rewritten it dozens of times.  I would hope that I am nearing a conclusion  but “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” I have no idea who the fat lady was or what she was singing.

Some people think she was singing “America the Beautiful” at a baseball game.  Others think she was an opera singer my grandfather might have coached.  I’m thinking  that she was singing the blues.

 

Brain Freeze:How to Battle the Winter Blues and Writer’s Block

As the holiday decorations come down, the winter doldrums set in.  If your mood is falling faster than the cold temperatures outside, an article written by  Brigitt Hauck for the monthly women’s magazine Real Simple has some good ideas to beat the winter blues. I actually hate “winter.”  My hands always rip open and crack in the cold.  I think the short days and lack of sunlight really get me down.  Just call me Debbie Downer.  It’s hard to do anything well when you’re feeling this way.  It’a a slow time.

I keep trying to finish a holiday book for children but just keep monkeying around.   There are a lot of well meaning people in my life who distract me, like my husband, who always wants me to watch a TV show or see a movie when I should be writing.  Right now he’s cupping his hand and calling up the steps saying, “Lady Gaga’s halftime Super Bowl show is starting and it’s great.” Who can resist.

With a husband, three kids, a broadcast career and now this blog, the book always winds up on the back-burner.  I’ve probably rewritten the story 500 times.   I talked about the frustration of  feeling like this unfinished work is a monkey on my back  over a steaming cup of coffee with an old friend this week at our favorite cozy cafe.

“Maybe you have it this time,” she said trying to be optimistic.

I’ve had so many false starts.  I know I don’t.  One thing as a writer I never do is lie to myself. I’ve very consciously put my family first as a mother, but I want this book to be the one thing I’ve done just for me.  I want it to be a mark I leave on the world.  Another friend who joined us who has a job as a manager encouraged me to set aside two morning a week to write.

“Just sit there until it’s done,” she said, “schedule it like you’re going to the office.”

Okay then.  Suuuure…that’s it.  As the pathological liar, created by comedian Jon Lovitz, on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s would say:


I’ll just sit at my desk and schedule the time to write two mornings a week. I’ll schedule in three hours for each session. I’ll listen to the birds outside the window, sharpen my pencil a few times and stare at a blank notebook.  Then I’ll  meet my friends for coffee to talk about how I can’t write the book.

Hidden Figures:Legendary Astronaut and Unsung Hero Mothers Rock Space Race

The new movie Hidden Figures follows the path of three unsung heroes who were part of one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit. The three mathematicians, all African-American mothers  — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — work at NASA in the early 1960s in Virginia when America was segregated.  It was a time when women and minorities had an uphill battle.  This powerfully enlightening movie is based on the true stories of all three mathematicians who faced discrimination at work.  These highly ambitious mothers also struggled to find a work-life balance.  Glenn, who later served as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, was the first American to orbit the earth.

In the movie, he is depicted as a witty, upbeat and incredibly nice guy who is able to look beyond the segregated society he lived in to show respect for the African-American women at NASA known as “human computers.” They calculated and verified the travel trajectories that took the first Americans to space. Before the launch of his Friendship 7 vessel, even after NASA began using new electronic computers, Glenn personally requested that one of the women recheck the calculations.  In the film Glenn says, “Let’s get the girl to check the numbers.” When asked, “Which one?” by a NASA manager Glenn says: “The smart one.” He’s referring to mathematician Katherine Johnson, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 at the age of 97.  A building is named for her at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

As a lowly student at Northwestern’s Medill graduate school of Journalism, I landed an internship as a Washington, D.C. correspondent for WTOL-TV in Toledo, Ohio, during my final semester in 1983. I worked out of the college’s Washington bureau.  It was my mission to get an interview with Senator Glenn.  Rumors were swirling that he would seek the Democratic nomination for President.  I couldn’t believe it when I got the thumbs-up.  I remember feeling as anxious as an astronaut during shuttle launch countdown sitting in his waiting room at the Capitol thinking how I would be “over the moon” if I got this interview on my resume tape.  But prior to liftoff, the mission was aborted. The students taped each other’s interviews and the two who were supposed to record this one got into a car accident and the camera was smashed to smithereens.  I can remember the horror I felt when they gave me the bad news.  To my shock,  Senator Glenn himself came out to comfort me.  He was worried about the students and wanted to make sure they were okay.  I remember him telling me that he couldn’t hold this against me saying, “You’ve done nothing wrong.” He rescheduled the interview for the very next day even though he was heavily booked.  In the interview, he confirmed that he was considering a run for President.  He was an American icon and owed me nothing.  Being cynical, one would say that he wanted the media attention for his constituents back home.  I don’t think he needed it.  Every major media outlet in the country wanted an interview.   I felt he simply wanted to give a young woman a break.   Only two students from my class had job offers before they graduated.  I was one of them.  Glenn failed in his 1984 bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination.  I watched later as he became the oldest man to fly in space as a crew member of the Discovery space shuttle at the age of 77.   He died this past December at the age of 95.  While many remember him for his groundbreaking space missions and work on Capitol Hill, I think of the “nice guy” who launched my resume reel into orbit.

Managing Marriage With a Meddling Mother-in-Law is no Slam Dunk

They come in all shapes and sizes.

But they share one thing in common.  A meddling mother-in-law thinks she rules the roost.  If you have an interfering hen-pecker she can be a nuisance.

My mother-in-law was a bit meddlesome. “Your  marriage will never last unless you learn to love basketball,” she’d say trying to explain the game and forcing me to watch it.  My husband is a basketball fanatic.  He was captain of  the number one ranked basketball team in his state his senior year in high school.  My husband loves to joke that when he took me to watch our first Duke basketball game together at the Meadowlands, rain was forecast and I asked if it was an indoor or outdoor game to know whether to bring an umbrella.   Sports was never my thing.  My family is very artsy.  I thought opposites attract. Managing marriage with a meddling mother-in-law is no slam dunk.  You just have to try and give it your best shot.

I was thinking of my mother-in-law today as I packed up the ornaments she left me.  From trying to teach me to cook Southern meals, to arm-twisting me to move down South, she was always a nudge.  She passed a decade ago, but when she was alive I found relief laughing at the TV sitcom Everyone Loves Raymond. In the show a daughter-in-law with my name “Debra”  was always trying to fend off the unwanted advice of her mother-in-law who lived next door.

Like the actress Doris Roberts  who plays comic Ray Romano’s mother Marie on the show,  my mother-in-law was well-meaning but intrusive.  The constant meddling got to a point where I decided I needed marriage counseling.  It was affecting my family.

I resented the fact that my husband never put his foot down.  Research shows that women who feel supported by their spouses in their in-law conflicts have better marriages.  I told the therapist that every time his mother crossed the line and pushed me to a  meltdown I feared I’d release more radioactive steam than the reactor at Chernobyl.  The therapist told me that I couldn’t change the people around me.  He said that I could only change how I reacted to them.   He had some sage advice. He said that “going nuclear” is never the way. “Don’t ever go to bed angry,” he told me, ” just stay up and argue until you win.”

Do Only Weenies Wear Turtlenecks?

“You have no style Mom,” my youngest remarked teasing as we stepped out of  an elevator in the mall, “only weenies where turtlenecks.” christmas-234105_640-3 I stopped and stared in the nearest mirror.  I was wearing an oversized gray sweater, bland, white cotton turtleneck, stretchy pants, and sneakers.   My hair was pulled back in a ponytail. No makeup.  As I studied myself in the mirror I said, “I’ve become a frumpy housewife.”

shopping-mall-1316787__340My attire was in stark contrast to the trim mannequins in the store windows.  They were decked out in skimpy dresses and pants that I probably only would have fit into in second grade.

My problem isn’t that I don’t know what to wear.  It’s that nothing fits.  I discussed this distressing situation with my son who is about to fly home for the holidays.  “Mom you started wearing stretchy pants in your 30s,” he told me.  “Whatever happened to jeans?” Jeans just don’t seem to fit me well with my middle-age belly bulge. “You gave up too early,” my son said, suggesting a vegetarian diet.

An older woman who overheard my daughter sassing me in the elevator tried to console me.  “It’s a phase she’ll outgrow,” the woman said thinking she was talking to a novice. People always assume that my youngest is my first and only child because I had her in my forties.   I actually don’t mind when my daughter pokes fun.  christmas-cookies-1042541_640Children are innocent and tell us the truth that no one else will except maybe our mothers.

I hate having to watch my weight. I’ve had to do it my entire adult life.   I find that I gain the most at the holidays.  I’m cold, cooped up, and temptation is everywhere.  Every Christmas cookie, piece of cake, or glass of wine has my name on it.  My husband certainly doesn’t help matters.  He has his own small business and clients always bring him sweets that he takes home. “Oh go ahead,” he says encouraging me to eat, “it’s the holidays.” Just for the record, he considers National Potato Chip Day, National Elephant Appreciation Day,  and Festivus holidays.

I also get very anxious at the Christmas holidays and I overeat.  biscuit-83807__340The stress comes from all of the errands and worry.  I fret over whether I’ve  sent enough cards, bought enough gifts, prepared enough meals.   I worry that even though my reverend tells us to pray for peace, parishioners are praying for presents. I worry that the Elf on the Shelf told Santa that I regifted the waffle iron my mother-in-law gave me. broken-216728_640I’m worried that when my mother-in-law visits she’ll ask for a waffle.

Mother Who Can Name All Nine Reindeer Prefers Sugar Plums Over Shopping

In a few short weeks Christmas 2016 will pass into holiday history leaving you with more bills to pay than there are days in December.  You might as well be a contestant on the old Shop ’til You Drop show.  The Christmas countdown is here.  Millions of  bargain-hungry shoppers jumped up from the Thanksgiving table to tackle each other in the stores rather than watch football players do it on the field.  The shoppers racking up more yards and touchdowns than the Steelers on fire in Indy.christmas-1100723_640

I look forward to shopping as much as I do bagging dog poop, having a drunk teenager barf in my car, or getting a Tetanus shot. I’ve decided that I won’t take the clickbait this year or wait in long lines at stores searching for gifts when I have no clue what anyone wants.  At least Santa has a list.  This whole holiday shopping is crazy. Who can deny that the frenzy was concocted by Madison Avenue. It’s all so a hard-drinking, chain-smoking ad man like Don Draper from the Mad Men show can afford a hotel room to cheat on his wife.

 

christmas-314377_640We are spoiling an entire generation of kids who think  life is over if they don’t find a Nerf N-Strike  Remote Control Drone Blaster under the tree.

We need to focus on family and holiday traditions.  Why doesn’t everyone carol in the neighborhood and sing  Fa-La-La-La,  or how about reading books to the kids?  My mom read me so many holiday stories that I can name all nine reindeer.  I have fond memories  listening to my mom read  The Night Before Christmas.  It speaks to the wonder of childhood with children “nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.”  In this magical story Santa’s strange fleet of reindeer are called:Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.

christmas-eve-1846481_640 “I thought there were nine reindeer?” I asked my mom when she first read me the story.

“You mean poor Rudolph?” she said, “he came later.”

It was a copywriter named Robert May who worked for the Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago who came up with the idea of  Rudolph in 1939 for a Christmas book the store gave out. Leave it to an ad man to come up with a reindeer with a glowing nose so Santa can deliver toys even when it’s foggy.  Maybe May should have had Santa wear a London Fog trench coat.  I think it’s time I wrote a story about Santa growing weary of packing his sleigh.  He sets his reindeer free and hobbles along with a little knapsack filled with nothing but a few stocking stuffers.

So next time Don Draper saunters over to his bar and pours a Rye Whiskey as he works on his next holiday pitch, you can tell him to put a stock in it.