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Hot Flashes: Musings on Middle-Aged Motherhood and Life with Arlene Lassin

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Feathers as a Fashion Accessory Are NEVER a Good Idea

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 9/13/2010 6:00 AM CDT

So Joan Rivers has a new show on cable (without the requisite gravy-training daughter Melissa, hallelujah!) where she reviews fashion faux pas and disasters with a panel of others. It's called Fashion Police and I agree that some people should be arrested based on their fashion choices.


This is not just for an award ceremony as she used to do, but now has a regularly televised show. And though I think that Joan Rivers is past her prime and ridiculous looking thanks to overdoing plastic surgery, she often says things I am thinking but don't express. And she says them in a way that can't help but make me laugh.


Oddly enough, we have similar taste in fashion. The things that bug her, also make me go crazy. As a fan of pop culture and fashion, I often eye the outfits and size them up with the snide comments merely muttered under my breath or in my head .I find that some celebrities have great taste naturally, and others could use a better stylist who will make better choices for them.


For example, I cannot stand the use of feathers as a fashion accessory. I think they are best left on birds as a piece of fashion - the feathers look great on them. 

Now, say someone is a Native American, and dressed in their traditional garb, then I would agree that it is okay to use feathers. 

But as a piece of fashion as earrings, or in the hair, around the neck, or elsewhere, NEVER!!! In fact, it drives me a little crazy. I keep thinking of the bird that is missing that part. No matter how it is worn, it never looks appropriate.


I also do this with photos of others I see on my favorite pastime, Facebook


A peeve of mine is the use of teenage fashion by over-aged women. I recently saw an overly tight, punk rock dress on a 200+ pound woman, complete with ripped leggings and gladiator sandals. The overall effect=utterly ridiculous. I think it is fine to dress funky through the 30's and 40's but when you are rocking the fifties, something's gotta give. Like a group of women my age all sporting teeny bikinis, some with belly-button rings. 

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Their bodies were riddled with varicose veins, wrinkles, lines, and age spots, making it kind of a strange look. There were so many wrinkles on their bellies it detracted from their little item of bling on their navel. In fact, many of these photos I see are of women trying far too hard to look like they are still in their young twenties or teens and failing miserably. TACKY is the new TWENTIES. YUK!

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I often wonder to myself if these fashion victims have the use of a mirror. Because if they do, they are either delusional or not using it at all.

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Not that I never make a fashion mistake. I have made plenty and have photos to prove it. But as I age, I hope to do so with grace and that means dressing in a more classic style. My basic credo is, "Would Diane Sawyer wear this?" That means wearing a nice one-piece bathing suit if my body doesn't look like I did here when I was in my actual twenties.

Chelsea 70's


As much as I think these terrible thoughts, I won't post them. I try to only post positive thoughts for others to see. And truly, I am a nice person so after I think these thoughts, I feel truly bad. And really it is a free country. Tacky to one may be another's treasure.


That's why I try to leave my thoughts to professionals like Joan Rivers. Because I can't be that nasty person that she has built a career on. But I can laugh and laugh along with her.


What is your pet fashion peeve? And what do you think of wrinkly bikini bods?



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Why Labor Day Comes a Few Days Early For Me

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 8/30/2010 8:36 PM CDT

My personal Labor Day commemoration - the birth of my daughter Elissa, comes a few days before the American holiday of Labor Day. In fact, it is today.


It is a remembrance of a labor of love. This is what I got for my very hard work.

A true reward, I must say!

(Elissa at age four)


It seems surreal that 23 years ago, my baby daughter was born. For those still parenting little ones, enjoy the days of their youth because I can personally testify to how swiftly they pass.


I am someone who always made a huge deal of birthdays - and particularly that of my children. 

There were two very good reasons for this.

My birthday was barely acknowledged growing up. My parents had a lot on their plate, and if you have ever seen the movie, 16 Candles, perpetually, I was  that girl whose birthday was lost in the shuffle of life. Never one to have birthday parties, I asserted my tiny self in third grade and had my first birthday party because everyone else was having them. I gave myself a pizza and Beatles party when I was 10 years old. That's about it until I was a teen with a boyfriend who knew how to properly celebrate birthdays with loads of special treatment. 


The other reason is that I had torturous labors for both of my kids and I wanted to celebrate both me surviving their births along with making their special days memorable! 


My body shape is strange in that the broadest part of me are my shoulders, and then I narrow drastically as my body continues downward. My Ob-Gyn commented on both of my children's births that I was "this close to a C-section because I had one of the narrowest pelvic areas of anyone " he had ever seen on a girl of my height and weight.


WARNING: MOTHERS-TO-BE - stop reading here!


I endured 20 plus hour hard labors, forceps, and vacuums with both of my children finally emerging with cone heads. (My narrow pelvic area just squished their little heads.) Good news: they seem to have turned out more than okay despite the head crushing start - according to the doctor their little heads are made to endure this.


As you can see, no ill effects a bit later on.

Lissy age two

Elissa at age 3


So pardon me if I go overboard in celebrating my personal Labor Day each year. And may I say, (MOTHERS-TO-BE CAN RESUME READING HERE) both of my kids (in my mind the two best kids in the world)  were well worth the excruciating labor. And that is an understatement. 


Except now, my daughter had to move away for grad school, so it is a bit hard to celebrate long distance. I wish she was here so I could throw her a big party and let her know how very special and loved she is. (I think her friends in Dallas below are taking care of that for me, but I still want to do it myself)

Liz and Alysa

So Happy Labor Day to me, Happy 23rd Birthday to my beautiful, wonderful daughter Elissa who makes me proud to be her mom every single day, and Happy Labor Day to the rest of you out there who celebrate it on the normal day!

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Adult Son Comes Home to Live: Should Be Interesting

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 8/22/2010 3:17 PM CDT

I admit I was an initially miserable empty nester. When my son Brett, and then my daughter, Elissa went off to college, I counted the days for their brief homecomings during the holidays. That was just until I adjusted to my independence: no more nightly meals to cook, no worrying if they came home late, and no one else dictating my schedule. (less cleaning, shopping and laundry to do too)


Once I began enjoying my liberation, I adjusted very nicely to my new status as an empty nester.  I was fine with my empty house.

Then the kids began staying away for longer periods of time - traveling over holidays and summer and I began to miss them again, happy for any little visit at all. 


So was I prepared when my grown son, who has a great career that he will embark on after seven years of education away from home, announced that he would be moving back home for a while?


Um, no.


The house is mine, the rules are mine, and I don't know how well that will sit for a guy who is used to an attentive, doting, COOKING mother.


The reason he wants to live at home for a bit has to do with his little medical mishap right before his law school graduation. 

Brett learned the high cost of medical care the hard way. He has thousands of dollars of medical and therapy bills to pay. He thought by living at home for the first six months or so, he could pay off all of his bills, get a head start on his student loans and reduce a bit of his debt before getting his own place.


After his last travels were over, he was on his way home for good last Sunday evening. I received a text:


"Be home in time for dinner, what's for dinner?"


I texted back: "We are at a party in Kingwood!"


Another text: "So no dinner?"


I cheerfully texted back: "Not unless you want to come up to Kingwood to join us!"


Brett has a lot to learn about his new, liberated mom. He's going to have his agenda, and I have my agenda. Will the twain meet?


I had to set some ground rules quickly:


1. Don't expect meals every night


2. Clean your rooms (his stuff from moves takes up multiple rooms in the house)


3. Sell your apartment furniture that is now cluttering my house that was waiting for your return and imminent move into an apartment


4. Help out around the house, keep your spaces clean etc


Brett had to break all the ground rules immediately.


So far his pile of opened mail is sitting in a huge pile on my coffee table. His furniture is still there and three rooms are still occupied with his stuff all over them.

How are we doing so far?


In all fairness, he has been home less than a week. I will give him another week or so before the ultimatums start.

I have to admit though, I enjoy having him around again so far. He is funny, smart and great company.


When I told some recent empty nester moms that my son was moving back home for a while, they told me how lucky I am.
Wait, better ask me if I feel lucky in a few weeks.

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What's Your Comfort Food? Mine: Everything from Hometown

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 8/18/2010 10:17 PM CDT

Food memories tied to happy times are just one of the reasons I go back and gorge on local foods whenever I visit the beach town of my youth: Margate, New Jersey. It is outside of Philadelphia, so it has all of the delicacies of Philly, with seaside additional fare.


This year I was privileged to go back with both of my kids, and also spend quality time with high school friends.


But I also spent major quality time with some comfort food.


The first stop of the food tour: Bagels and Lox and Whitefish at a luncheonette that is often voted "The Best of" for the area. 

They claim it is for three people but it could feed approximately ten with a few extra bagels. Of course the salt air brings out the big appetite, so maybe not.



The next stop is a snack: ice cream. This is no ordinary ice cream and so we visit no ordinary ice cream place. This is a water ice and soft-serve custard ice cream place. They sell combinations of sugar laden dessert treats that are wonderful when enjoyed, but produce a lot of sugar remorse afterward.

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Here are my kids enjoying a "gelati" which is water ice (soft Italian Ice for those uninformed) and soft serve ice cream together. This serving is a small, (believe it or not) and is a cherry water ice, and vanilla custard with chocolate sprinkles. We also noted you could get three of these monstrous concoctions for less than ten bucks!


Isn't that a cute name for the place? By the way, they call sprinkles "jimmies" there, so don't bother ordering "sprinkles."

Brett Lis shore

I also gorged on cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, sticky buns, tastykakes, and loads of seafood.


The finale to the food tour was this:

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Yes, HOAGIES at a favorite spot. You will note that these East Coast hoagies bear no resemblance to a sub or po'boy in Houston. They are chock full of salad material, meats, sweet peppers and hot peppers that you don't find much around here. And the roll - don't get me started. There is something about the salt water air or the different water there, but the bread is beyond compare.


I think if I lived there, I might weigh approximately 800 pounds, although I usually don't gain much weight during these vacations due to walking around ten miles or more a day on this, the famous Boardwalk (Monopoly, anyone?)

From Margate

At any rate, I am home again, and wondering what is your favorite comfort food? I like these interactive blogs, so go for it! Let's hear!

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Smelly Car: My True Life Story and Not a Seinfeld Episode

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 8/8/2010 10:27 AM CDT

I have this adorable, funny, long term friend who I call Lucy (not her real name) because she is a lot like Lucy Ricardo from the "I Love Lucy" sitcom.
I am her unwitting Ethel (called Eth for short) who has spent years going along with her exploits. These generally result in her opening her eyes wide, and forming a perfect "O" with her mouth, as she realizes another hair-brained scheme has gone awry.

Now don't get me wrong - life is certainly more interesting with a friend like this, even though I have been on the unfortunate receiving end of many a scenario gone bad. (This is where I do my best Ethel Mertz frown)

Just one example is the time we decided to go in together and purchase a big amount of pasta from a local restaurant (with tons of garlic I might add) to help a friend who had to serve a bunch of people after a death in her family.

Since I am always somehow the "getaway" driver in her situations, instead of just picking up the pasta and then picking up Lucy, I allowed Lucy to pick it up. Since this required an extra trip out of the way to the restaurant on her part, I have a sneaking suspicion - and this comes from knowing her well for years and years - that she did this to skim some off the top for her later use. (And I say that in the most nice but knowing way possible.)


At any rate, when she prepared it to put it in the back of my brand new Volvo station wagon, it had loose foil securing the top. 


Little did I know she put it down completely unsecured, so every turn could mean overturned pasta in my car. Having a lot on my mind and being in a rush, I didn't notice any of this.


Only three minutes later, as I was driving, we both noticed the strong scent of garlic suddenly wafting to the front of the car. 
"Sure smells delicious," Lucy commented.

When we got there and opened the back, one quarter of the contents had shifted up and out of the container onto the carpet at the rear of the station wagon. 

"You put that in here unsecured, just like that?" I yelled at her. "Lucy's" big round eyes and mouth forming an “O” followed.  "I didn't realize it would shift that way on such a short drive," said Lucy.

We quickly, in our dresses, dumped out the bad stuff on the street, shifted the contents back into the container that could be salvaged, and headed into our friend's house - dumping the dish down on the kitchen counter and rushing into the bathroom to clean our hands. Then we had to greet everyone as if nothing happened. 


As far as the saucy mess on the car's rear carpet, well, that had to wait several hours to be cleaned up later. (In 90 degree broiling heat, that sauce just kept cooking)


I cleaned the mess later at home with Pine Sol and other strong cleaning ingredients.

Long story short, that garlic odor that smelled so delicious that day became embedded into the carpet and took its permanent place as this strange, stale odor of garlic that no amount of carpet shampooing, fumigating, deodorizing, air-freshening, or airing out could get rid of. For two years until we sold that car, every time a new kid entered the wagon for one carpool or another, the inevitable question was asked," What is that funny smell?"

There was a complete Seinfeld episode on a smelly car, but I, my friends, have actually lived that story, thanks to Lucy. (Actual event, not made up for sitcom material)


When people ask why I kept driving the car for so long, it was a matter of finances. The minute you drive a car off the lot, you lose money. I couldn't have recouped hardly any money for that car had I tried to sell it right away with that smell. I needed a large, safe reliable station wagon (before I broke down when the kids were bigger and purchased the requisite mommy van)


Fortunately kids are pretty resilient, and no one ever refused a ride in the famous smelly car.


When I traded it in to a dealer a couple years later, I don't know whether they realized it had a perma-odor. You and I both know you don't get much for trade-ins, so I didn't feel so bad.

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Who Is More Patience Challenging: Kooky Parents or Habitually Late Husband

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 6/21/2010 7:30 AM CDT

So I went back to my hometown to visit my aging parents, and as I wrote another blog, they are a bit "kooky." It is 2010 and they are still entrenched firmly in the 1970's, stuck there like in a time warp much like the character in the TV show "Life on Mars." (Except that was a TV show, and this is my real life and they are my real parents) They could be cast members in "That 70's Show" with the clothes they wear, their home decor, and their lack of appliances post 70's. (no microwave or answering machine and THEY STILL HAVE A ROTARY PHONE)


SIDE NOTE: If there are any movie makers out there who need a house for a movie set in the 1970's, this is the place for you. Maybe they could actually make money for having a museum-worthy step back to 1973.


Their aging has been interesting to watch. My father, married to a very controlling and demanding woman, learned to tune much of life out, save for sports and music. Now that he is an octogenarian, he can either be very "with it" or very "tuned out." 


My mom, who had piles of neuroses in the best of her days, has become a slave to them now. She has her routines, insistence on the way to do things, and seeks to avoid any change at all in her life. (One of the reasons the house decor has not changed one iota)


She's also slipping a bit mentally - nothing frightening yet, but small signs point to the way she is going. It isn't Alzheimers, but a very slow, plodding march into senility. I give her 5-7 more years before she is truly addled. My dad covers for her, tracking her steps, making sure her world is secure and important things are remembered. He is her back-up mind at this point, yet she remains mostly high functioning.


Physically, they are pretty darn healthy, and able to live on their own quite well so I guess I am lucky.


We arranged to meet for breakfast at 10:00 in the morning. They eat all meals out, which is a good thing that my mother is not using the stove which could be dangerous. My parents arrived at the appointed spot at 9:40.


My husband, who NEVER arrives anywhere early or on time, gave the driving distance his best estimate, and we left *kind of* on schedule. We immediately encountered major traffic jams on the freeways. My husband thought he would outsmart the other drivers in the bumper to bumper traffic and take back roads to the restaurant. It was the forever trip, weaving in and out of roads and dead ends, getting nowhere at a crawl.


At 10:05, just five minutes after our scheduled meeting time, we were still at least a half hour away and the cell phone rang.


"Where are you?," my dad asked. I told him we were still 20 minutes away and would probably arrive a half hour late."Do you mind if we order and eat?" he asked. My mother grabbed the phone. "We're hungry, we are going to start eating. Hope you don't mind."


They are sharp enough to know that their breakfast was about to be WAY off schedule, and smart enough to know my husband is NEVER on time. Along with the firm routine of the hours breakfast must be consumed, and there was no chance we would be eating together that day.


We arrived an hour and a half late thanks to my husband's brilliant maneuvering. Had we sat in traffic, we might have been 30 minutes late instead of an hour and a half late.


My parents were still there, breakfast finished, and bill paid. It was so late, they were contemplating having lunch.


So after apologies, we ate though I was still doing a slow burn, and they sat and watched us eat. I know it is difficult for them to accept how whenever we meet them, we are always either a bit late or a lot late. 


Think of the contrasts. They arrive places 20-30 minutes early, and my husband arrives at least that amount late. Airport arrivals for my parents are in the three hour range before flight time, my husband - ten minutes is a lot and YES he has missed flights.


I am more of a happy medium. I arrive fairly promptly, never early. And I have learned to be very good at apologizing for our tardy arrivals, not just for my parents but with others as well.


I was sitting there, thinking what a fine group we are: my husband in his own time zone and thinking he could outsmart traffic patterns, my parents with their set-in-concrete ways, and me without any tolerance for any of their quirks which I totally blame on the whole menopause thing. 

Financial Planning for Our Over-Indulged Kids

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 6/1/2010 7:30 AM CDT

What will some of our kids have to do to maintain the lifestyle they grew up in? Here's a rough sketch of how to do this kind of financial planning:


Kids: Go off to college, where you will continue living the good life. You will be set up in nice digs, go on plenty of fun Spring Break trips and maybe even do a semester or summer or two abroad.  Enjoy these moments of your youth with all the vigor and intensity you can muster. 

Warning though, forget majoring in wasting time and space, or something like say Anthropology or Ancient Languages.

Study something that leads to finding a lucrative career. 

May I suggest majoring in economics, finance, investment banking, pre-law, or medicine?


Okay, the four years are over, and some of you will extend through graduate school, but then I promise the buck stops there. 

You must find a lucrative career after finishing said education and make enough money to live the lifestyle you have been accustomed to.


After graduation, good luck as you wean off mommy and daddy's credit cards and allowances.


You are on your own, and now that you are used to travel and great vacations, luxurious living conditions, lots of fine meals out, and unlimited speading, you will have to support that lifestyle. All. By. Yourself.

Again: Good Luck!


This awareness came to me after a discussion with friends, and after reading a blog by one of my favorite young people, Blake. In her blog, as in the discussion with friends, Blake talked about her generation, which she explains are referred to as Millennials because they are coming of age after the year 2000. 


Many of these Millennials, especially the ones who were brought up in homes of professionals and affluent business owners, are going to struggle with supporting themselves in the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to while growing up including through the college years.


For that reason, many are kind of extending their tour of duty through college - the term used is "victory lap" for those who take an extra semester, or extra year so they can somewhat delay being in the real world.


Because, don't you know, the real world means waking up at the same time each and every day to an alarm clock, getting spit polished with just minutes of time, going to work, staying there and conducting whatever routine of the workplace is, and then the same the next day and the next. Most jobs will offer two weeks of vacation time.


Wait, that doesn't sound like much fun!


Many would rather wait for those days to come. Or they would rather pursue a passion, because then the routine won't be drudgery. Except that pursuing that passion or even figuring out what it is may take years and years.


Millennials, according to Blake and others, don't want to "settle" and they sure don't want to struggle. As long as they can hang on to Daddy or Mommy's credit card, they really don't have to.


My own children were certainly not able to be indulged like many peers but still maintained a nice lifestyle all the way through college, and then went on to graduate school where they remained on the payroll.

Most of my son's good friends went on to law school or medical school - it was an extremely bright group of kids his year. So they are able to delay the routine of actually working and supporting themselves, but at least they are doing something constructive and hopefully will be able to maintain their wonderful lifestyle when they finish.

In fact, here is a group of the graduates of UT Law, with my son second from the right with crutches, (Story on that here)  and they all have jobs to go to.

UT Law gentlemen


Many however, just flounder and struggle for years. Nothing is as good as life when they were growing up or in college. I know of one over-indulged woman who had an ivy-league education and then just stayed on her mom's credit card for 7 years after because nothing really interested her. She finally had to break down and get a part time job. Another one I know "volunteers" and occasionally substitute teaches. 


I worked full time and part time while studying for my master's degree. The full time job supported me and the part time job paid for my continuing education. It's a whole different world now, though my daughter is working almost full time and going to graduate school full time. She's a chip off the old block. My stepson Adam who is about to graduate veterinary school, worked two part time jobs while an undergrad, and even played in the marching band. 


Many of the young generation will have the Peter Pan syndrome for years to come and they will struggle with leaving mom and dad's financial support.

Each generation strives to make it better for their families than the previous one. The affluence some of the children in this generation are exposed to is at an all-time high. We give them a great lifestyle, but are we equally successful at weaning them off that? If there is no family business or throne to inherit, are they prepared to work for a living?

Are we crippling our children? Weigh in with your thoughts.


Phew! The Graduation That Almost DIDN'T Happen with Gory Photos

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 5/24/2010 7:30 AM CDT

After seven long years on the payroll as a very diligent student, my son Brett was finishing his graduate degree and I could see the finish line getting closer and closer. Even better, Brett actually had a very good job offer, that he gladly accepted.


Just weeks from the finish, I get a call that Brett was in the emergency room. At a recreational softball game, as his last round of law school finals were to begin, he blew out his knee on a stretch at first base, and a funny landing.


At first we thought it was the ACL, and Brett was put in a brace, all set to continue onward through finals to graduation, and then he would have easy micro-surgery to repair it.


But of course, because I was THIS CLOSE to the finish line, and so was he, it was much more complicated than that.


Major surgery was required, and the surgeon said he needed emergency surgery right away. 


Except there was the little problem of finals, and graduation that the surgery would interfere with.


As Brett's leg swelled beyond recognition, the damage was spreading. I was having a long distance heart attack and Brett was disappointed at the news. He was looking at a major incision, and six months of recuperation. That certainly put a dent in his plans.


With his eye on the prize though, Brett talked the surgeon into delaying the surgery until his last final was completed, assuring his graduation and job. Through the pain, discomfort, and immobility, Brett soldiered through his finals and finished law school. PHEW!


I went to be with him for surgery and even slept at the hospital with him. For someone adverse to pain and discomfort, other than the first few hours, Brett was a prize patient.


As the few days post surgery progressed, there was just a little matter of graduation to consider. As I blogged here, I was initially upset that the University of Texas Law School's tradition called for their graduates to eschew the formal cap and gown for a white suit and a sunflower. 
(Don't ask)

Now I was at a whole other level of distress thinking we would not be able to see Brett get his diploma at all. Darn that he bought a brand new seersucker suit for the occasion, and that I paid for a "photos only" regalia set. We cancelled all of the family flying in to be with us on the special occasion, thinking it was not going to happen.


Post surgery, this is what Brett's leg looked like. (Sorry for those who are squeamish about these things)

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But wait! A mother who needs some pomp and circumstance, and didn't know if she would get any this go-round, can't be denied. I picked up Brett's regalia package, and he posed for this photo - his last upright photo before surgery.

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When I returned the regalia on the way to surgery, the rental people looked at me as if I was crazy. "But graduation day isn't until this weekend," they tried to protest. I smiled and handed them the goods. "My son is going into surgery and won't be needing it."

Can you believe they didn't even offer a refund? Just kidding.


By Saturday, the day of his law school ceremony, Brett was feeling spiffy enough to go to it via wheelchair, which I had conveniently rented earlier. He showered for the first time post surgery, put his new suit on, and posed for this photo.

(Looking pretty good for just a few days post major surgery, eh?)


Here he is with his proud mom, even though at that point it was tough to continuing standing on one leg. Did I mention what a trooper he was?

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And WE MADE IT. We wheeled him in, and his friend Mike took the reins of the wheelchair and before we knew it, there was the moment we had been waiting for: Even though his commencement walk was a "roll," here he is having his moment of congratulations by the law school dean.

Brett on Wheels


So the graduation that almost didn't happen, went off perfectly. As a mom, I couldn't have asked for more. I am still glowing with pride for my son, his accomplishment, and bearing down and getting the final job done despite pain and lots of bad news. (Not to mention the disappointment of having to cancel all of his own celebration and party plans, which went on merrily without him!)


My son's roommates and good friends were so sweet and loving and helpful too post surgery, so I have to give them a shout-out. Thanks Josh, Mike, and Eliot. I couldn't ask for my son to surround himself with more exceptional people than them. (and others too, but couldn't name them all here) Here's a photo of

Eliot and Mike giving me the business post regalia photo shoot.

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It's Not Pretty In Denying A Mother Her Moment of Graduation Euphoria

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 5/10/2010 7:30 AM CDT

So my son Brett is FINALLY graduating from Law School. After four years of college, and then three more consecutive years of education, he is FINALLY off the payroll. Well, almost finally off the payroll. There were a few graduation expenses to be taken care of first.


When young men and women graduate law school, they get a "Juris Doctor" or J.D. degree. It is equivalent to any other kind of doctoral degree, except they don't get to call themselves doctor, and their moms can't say "My son the doctor." 


Most importantly to me who just happens to be the financially and emotionally, and unconditionally supportive mother in this scenario; my son gets to parade in the commencement in one of those ornate gowns that include a doctoral "hood" and special tam instead of mortarboard hat. I had imagined that day for so long.

Sort of like this:

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I was just picturing all of those great photos I was going to take of my son in that handsome ensemble, along with several of him and his proud, proud mother.


Except wait. 


The University of Texas has a "special" ceremony for it's law school called the "sunflower ceremony."


The instructions for this graduation event are published on their website as such:


"Many ask what dress code participants must follow. Traditional Law School academic regalia are business attire, i.e. what you would wear to the courtroom: a suit, dress, or pantsuit for women, and a suit with tie for men. Traditionally, students wear white, but business attire of any hue is acceptable. For more information on this topic and others, see the SAO's list of Questions and Answers for the Sunflower Ceremony."


Me again:

My son also responded with the fact that he would not rent the cap and gown because it was not needed. He will wear a business suit. A. Regular. Business. Suit.

I had to peel my chin off the ground upon realizing that there would be no cap and gown on my son for his law school ceremony. Still, there was the main commencement for all those photo opps, and I pointed this out. 

To which my son responded another quote from the law school's website:

"The university-wide ceremony is also in front of the UT Tower at 8 p.m. Graduates are recognized by college/school. The traditional academic (cap and gown) or law school regalia (business attire, a suit, what you would wear in the courtroom) must be worn. A processional ticket for the graduate is needed for this ceremony."


Me again:

Let me get this straight. Pre-schools have cap and gown graduations. So do some kindergarten programs. Are you telling this mother that after three long years of graduate school, there will be no cap and gown on her son?




After my internal temper tantrum, I had to think fast. A compromise was in order. That iPhone brag book that I carry around was just waiting for a new set of graduation photos with that impressive ensemble on my son. A mother needs the pomp and circumstance, heavy emphasis on the pomp dammit.


One more begrudging KA-CHING later, my credit card purchase was completed at the University book store for the Juris Doctor cap and gown rental of $290 (but you do get to keep the tam and special law school pin afterwards) spent.


My son will wear that expensive ensemble for five minutes of picture taking in his apartment before the actual ceremonies.


Ah, momentary graduation euphoria, albeit at a costly, wasteful, and ridiculous expense, is restored for this crazy mama.


As a footnote, my son had to go and land funny on his leg in a softball game right at finals and right before graduation, tearing his ACL, and needing surgery. SO as an added bonus, he will be hobbling on crutches, in a business suit for his commencement walk. Sigh..


What Genius Decided Mother's Day Should Fall During College Finals?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 5/5/2010 7:30 AM CDT

I used to so look forward to Mother's Day when my children were growing up. The homemade cards, the extra hugs and kisses, the best behavior for the day and lots of other bonuses were always in store. My son once wrote on my Mother’s Day card that I was “the Mommiest of Moms.” Who needs a gift after that?

Here's one of my daughter's early homemade cards. It is still cherished after all these years.

Lis Art
Now, when Mother's Day approaches, do I feel excited in anticipation? Not so much.

For the last SEVEN years, yes, SEVEN, my son has been in college and law school, away from home.

Mother's Day is usually smack in the middle of finals – even though there are no exams on Sundays, the studying and study group meetings, as well as actual traveling time made it impossible for my son to even consider a quick visit home.

Similarly, for the past five years, my daughter has been gone too. Same scenario – away at college in the middle of finals for the second Sunday in May.

What I want to know: what genius decided it should be the second Sunday in May? Oh sure, I could Google that and find out rather quickly why the date was chosen, but that doesn't cut it for me and the other moms of college kids. It is a pain in the neck to have a day designated for you when your kids can't be around.

School work, of course, always comes first. Darn it. We taught them too well I suppose.

Lots of moms I know with adult kids living far away are traveling to them for a Mother's Day visit, or they are getting a visit. That's the difference with having college age kids. That is not quite possible with finals interfering. Mothers do NOT travel to college kids in the middle of finals, nor vice-versa.

Still I know other moms will be missing their far-away kids like I have missed mine the past five years. How does, or should a mom,especially one who is unattached, celebrate without kids around? I suppose they look forward to a phone call or two, some cards and otherwise keep themselves busy.

There have been Mother's Days in the past several years where all I had were photos like this one to place me with my kids on this special day.

blog post photo

And for some more whining, I must say I grew up resenting Mother's Day just a bit because sometimes my birthday fell on that day, and during celebrating with mom and grandmothers, sometimes the fact that it was my special day too was a bit overlooked. I didn't fully understand the concept back then- I only knew I had to share a bunch of my birthdays. (Come on, admit it all those who have to share their birthday with a major holiday – it’s a bit tainted) My children grew up knowing that even if my birthday falls on the holiday – they are two distinct and separate occasions!

Now that I can absolutely appreciate the concept, sometimes it is the loneliest day of all.

This year for me though, surprise of surprises, my daughter is going to travel from her city where she is attending graduate school to come to Houston for the weekend – despite the fact that she will have to study and work most of the weekend for the next week of finals.  It just so happened she had a ride both ways and could study during the four hour car rides. Lucky me!

It's the best gift she could possibly give me.

Let me hear from the rest of the Moms who won’t be with their kids this year – how will you celebrate?


In Honor of The Pill's Anniversary: My Own Mother Was Way Ahead of the Curve

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 5/3/2010 7:30 AM CDT

It's the Birth Control Pill's 50th Anniversary in May. For a moment, I will put aside my thoughts of Mother's Day, my birthday, and a special graduation this wonderful month as I reminisce on my first experience with the good old "Pill."

I remember the day as vividly as if it was yesterday. It was the mid 1970's and my parents were driving me up to college – a four to five hour trek. The car was loaded with my stuff, all labeled as if I was going off to camp instead of college. I endured quite a bit of ribbing for that for months to come, but my mom had insisted that my stuff get labeled so it would not get lost in the laundromat. Even the towels and sheets were labeled - sheer humiliation, but the boy scouts had nothing on preparation over my mother.

During that long ride, we didn't talk much. The radio was on, and we were all lost in our own thoughts. I was thinking that the five hour ride with stops was taking forever in my anticipation for my adventure to begin.

I was raised in a strict household with curfews, and loads of punishment – mostly in the form of grounding- for the slightest infraction. Though I had a steady boyfriend since my junior year of high school, I was kept on a short leash on what was allowed in my dating life. And good news for my parents, my boyfriend went off to a different college the year prior to me – he was a year older. So with the both of us at separate faraway colleges, they didn't have to worry there would be any hanky-panky for the two of us. (I am THAT old, where I remember when the term hanky-panky was used.)

Just as we were almost there, my mom turned to me and gave me the following instructions:

“When you register, find out where the health clinic is, and make an appointment with the doctor there, and request birth control pills. The college physician will be able to prescribe that for you.”

The utter shock of hearing my mother say these words to me when nothing was ever discussed before about sex or sexual activity had the effect of the words not registering for a few minutes. So, after a long pause, still stricken and almost immobilized, I mumbled that I would comply.

“Just to be safe,” she said.

Within a few minutes I was silently fuming, thinking that she didn't trust me, and that she obviously didn't know me at all. I prided myself in having one respectful boyfriend and I was determined that I would never be the kind of person that needed to sow my wild oats – thinking instead of pre-engagement and future marriage plans to that same boyfriend. All of that 60's and 70's sexuality she was reading about in Time Magazine after the “Summer of Love” eluded me as I was deep down a very good, very monogamous girl. 

I didn't express any of my angry thoughts at that time though. Getting ready to say goodbye didn't seem the right time for an argument that I would never win. When her mind was made up, there was no wavering anyway.

It was the wisdom of later years that I thought back on it and figured out it was my mother's way of being protective while I was far away. Maybe she knew more about the drunken parties and opportunities at my college (that had a reputation for major partying) than I gave her credit for. Maybe she knew I would get sleepover visits from my boyfriend, or I would later drop him in favor of someone more geographically desirable. Maybe she knew that the good girl would have to eventually let her guard down and become a grown up college girl.

Later that same day, when my new roommates were razzing me about all the labels on my stuff and what a nerd I must be, I told them the story of the discussion of the pill as the last conversation with my mom before she dropped me off.

They all looked at me admiringly, and forgetting about the geeky labeling on my stuff for a moment, they sighed.

“Wow, do you have a cool mom.”


How Gullible Do These Email Scammers Think We Are?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/26/2010 7:30 AM CDT

I have several email accounts as do most people. One I use for online purchases, because then your name and address gets sent out to other lists and it is easier to filter all of the junk. Another I use for writing work and I am reluctant to give out this address for any other reason. Still a third I use for friends. They're free, so what the heck.

I check the online purchase email sporadically, and lately it has been inundated with lottery winning offers, pleading letters from various nobility in African countries, and I sometimes open these to read them to have a good laugh and shake my head thinking anyone is dumb enough to fall for their pitch. If I offended anyone elderly who has been the target of one of these scams, I apologize in advance, but I have always let my suspicious nature rule over my bleeding heart.

Most recently I have received emails titled ACCOUNT ALERT from the "account team." The subject line looks authentic enough, and for some reason, these go to my regular mail rather than junk mail. I open them like the others to get a good laugh. The true return addressee is listed when you open it up, rather than the email server, and in all cases it is someone's name - which makes it fairly obvious that it is a scam and not really the account team. The email requests my date of birth, social security number, account number, password, and possibly relinquishing my first born to "keep my account active."

Dear Account Owner

This email is from Windows Live Hotmail® and we are sending it to you account users for your safety. Due to the anonymous registrations of our account which is causing congestion to our service, so we are shutting down some account and your account was among those to be deleted,so the purpose of this email is for you to verify that you are the owner of this account and you are still using it by filling the information below after clicking on the reply button:

* Username:
* Password:
* Date of Birth:
* Country Or Territory:

After following the instructions in the sheet, your account will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. Thanks for your attention to this request. We apologize for any inconveniences.

Back to me: Pardon me while I pause to chuckle some more.

Seriously. As if.

Most of these “notifications have atrocious writing and horrendous grammar  If it wasn't noticed by someone opening it up and seeing a real name as the sender, then the poor English should be a dead giveaway.

All of these scammers must exchange the texts for each other, because they copy and paste the same poorly written texts. Even someone with a low threshold for suspicion and even a high level of cluelessness should take pause.

I've noticed on the most recent ones I have received  that the text was cleaned up of grammatical and spelling errors. These scammers are really becoming professionals, using spell check and actually getting help on constructing the  English language.

I shake my head thinking that anyone would just email back this kind of personal information, but since WC Fields told me that a sucker is born every minute, I sadly suppose that they have gotten people caught in their traps who then had their identities stolen.

I heard once from a colleague at another publication that a certain vendor they used sold their customer list names, and then their business identity was stolen and the thieves were attempting to cash checks in the name of their modest publication business. So there are plenty of shrewd criminals out there as well. 

But once, just once I would like to reply to these scammers with a reply of HA HA HA in very large type. I think that might encourage them so I haven't tried this. So I am interested, has anyone been caught up in any of these things, or even responded to these scammers? 

Let me hear from you.


Ladies: Thin Thighs or Thin Mints?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/19/2010 7:30 AM CDT

The question of the era: Thin Thighs or Thin Mints?

That is exactly where I am right now: at a complete crossroads with weight  - and sometimes I wonder whether I am just lacking willpower, or whether I just don't want to sacrifice to be thin anymore.

It's not like I am a spring chicken, and this weight gain has been steadily creeping up on me. Plus I read that the average weight gain during menopause years is 6 to 8 pounds. Well, since I have NEVER settled for average in my life on anything, of course I had to go and exceed that average.

In the meantime, here is a photo of Barbie (the doll) in the prime of her 50's. Hey, if it happened to me, why shouldn't it happen to Barbie? I was once as slender as her.


The worst part of the extra weight, is that it is centered around the middle section. I have never had a belly before, except when I was pregnant my couple of times. There is a medical reason for this too – the lower estrogen levels cause fat stores in places like the belly. But reason be damned, I have a beer belly and I don't even drink beer. (I'm a wine, margarita, and mojito type of gal) I have a spare tire, or two, and I am not talking about my car.

After the age of forty, it has been my pattern to put on weight every winter as my winter padding, only to lose it during swimming season in the summer. Except last summer, I did not lose the extra padding, and this winter, I gained even more padding. What's going on here?

It's not like I am overweight or obese. It is just that people are used to me being slim, or on the thinner side, as that is how I spent the majority of my adult life, and so my weight gain is always noticeable. Some of my clothing isn't comfortable and I don't seem to find the right blend of exercise lately, that will target the areas I need to lose.

With the warmer weather, it is definitely more noticeable – us hibernating bears have to take off those layers of black that have been hiding our extra padding, get rid of the excess hair by shaving our legs, and maybe even paint the toes because pretty toes distract from the excess baggage noticeable with briefer clothing. Or at least one hopes.

Part of my own problem is that in my mind's eye, I still think I look like the same slender young woman I had been through most of my adult life. I kind of have the opposite body distortion that an anorexic would have - I bounce around life feeling downright thin - lost deep in denial. When walking my dog and seeing my slender long shadow, with the sun distorting my figure much the way a funhouse mirror would into a long, lean look, the delusion can continue. Then my balloon bursts quickly when I look in a mirror. Hello reality!

Lately I have been thinking I need a kick start like Boot camp or I should hire a personal trainer. But since I invested in having my gym in my home, with a few machines sitting there feeling very lonely and collecting dust, that is not an option right now. But I did order a new machine, thanks to my "As Seen on TV" obsession. Maybe tightening my core on a Pilates type of machine will do the trick. At least it sounded good on TV.

Another problem in the pre-menopausal and menopausal years is increased appetite. I can't remember being this hungry all the time since I was pregnant. Or is it a combination of my time, stress, and opportunity to snack? In discussing this with others in my age realm, the voluminous appetite seems to be standard in this time of life. I even spoke to a thin woman, wearing work-out clothes no less, who said she and a friend are considering lap-band procedures to control their appetites!

Then there are some that make a career of being skinny minnies – with their weight watcher points being counted daily and their appointments with personal trainers as the highlight of their day.

Others try one crazy diet after another – and these are not obese women either, just ones like me with some extra padding. My hairdresser Liz told me about a friend that lost 15 pounds on an egg white diet. You eat egg whites and fruits and veggies, and that's it. For me that would last until my first outing with egg whites not an option– certainly not long enough to lose 15 pounds. And it sounds kind of boring too.

I have half-heartedly tried a few diets with the result - Diet FAIL.

So it always boils down to this lately: Do I want to continue to eat with abandon as I have always been able to do up to middle age, or do I want a life of food sacrifices? (ice cream – I am directing this to you!) Do I want to be thinner through my older years, or do I want to just leave my body alone and enjoy food as I always have. Do I want to worry about calories all the time with a busy social life, and invitations to things where there will invariably be rich food items, or do I want to be able to partake?

That is the question of the era.

How about you? Thin Thighs or Thin Mints?



Do You Have A Favorite Memory Tied To A Certain Song?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/12/2010 7:30 AM CDT

By now you must know how much I love interactive blogs where readers share their memories with me. Today's interactive topic is a memory triggered by a particular song, but we will first have a guest blogger. My daughter Elissa wrote this for a "reflection" for one of her graduate school classes and I thought it would be a great blog.

And now, here's what Elissa had to say below:

I will preface this statement by saying that I am a music fanatic. My parents raised me on classic rock, oldies and 80's hits, while simultaneously taking me to every concert imaginable. I saw the Monkees, Turtles, Beach Boys, Garth Brooks, Billy Joel, Elton John and The Eagles before I turned 10. I was raised on the hits of the Beatles, the Who and Bruce Springsteen. I have home videos as proof that my toy microphones would accompany me as I sang and danced around my house. My parents and I share a love of music trivia, music lyrics and name that tune. We could be on a game show.  

Because of this, I can match music and lyrics to any year of my life. Many songs bring back specific memories for me. Billy Joel reminds me most of my childhood. I used to carry around his tapes and listen to them on my mini recorder. My parents used to sing “Uptown Girl” and “Just The Way You Are” to me in the car and at home. “Just the Way You Are” always stuck with me as one of the more genuine songs I had ever heard. Seeing Billy Joel sing it live, and then again with Elton John a few years later solidified my love for him and the song then and now.  
This song also reminds me of my upbringing and the way my parents treated me. Even at times when my self esteem was down, they would reinforce that I was lovable 'just the way I was'. This stuck with me through adolescence, even when I felt unworthy.  
I also think this song sends an important message about acceptance and support, which I felt in my family and try to use in my relationships today. In my relationships with my friends and significant others, I really value someone who is comfortable in their own skin, and someone who can be themselves.  
This song means a lot to me now as a future counselor. In this song, Billy Joel describes a very Rogerian concept of taking the person for who they are and showing them unconditional acceptance and positive regard. In saying “I took the good times, I'll take the bad times” (Joel, 1977, Side 1), he presents this concept. Regardless of where a person is in their own journey, it is important to treat them as you would in their best times. I think the patterns of acceptance in my childhood have affected me, and have set a precedent to accept others in return. I hope to take the message of this song and use it in my practice and in my life.  
In addition to the honest and beautiful lyrics, the music behind it is beautiful, with a calming tone. It naturally evokes a positive feeling. The song is something that I still listen to often, and it constantly brings me back to car rides with my parents when I was a kid. In sum, this song represents my upbringing, and explains my attitude on relationships as well.

It's me again: So now, it is your turn. I would love to hear your memories that are triggered by a certain song.

Kids Live Far Away - What to Do? A Skyped Video Baby Shower!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/5/2010 7:30 AM CDT

It was those brave pioneers who first heeded the call to "Go West Young Man," as they left their families in search for a better life far away from their cities of birth.


Many years later, my generation was particularly mobile. Many of us, myself included, moved west from our East Coast roots. We didn't think a thing about leaving our families and homes behind. Adventure, excitement and new environs were on our minds as we began college or careers.


Now, darn it, our children are doing the same thing. Is this what they call payback? I guess we can't complain that our children are migrating elsewhere, when many of us, myself included, did that very same thing as young adults.


The only problem with long distance parenting of these young adults is that there are many times and celebrations when you want to share something, but the miles come between that.


That particular problem was posed to Sharon Brier as her only child, her son Samson Brier and his wife Linh are expecting a baby shortly. Sharon being an exited first time grandmother-to-be, wanted to give the couple a baby shower. But the problem is that the couple lives in Portland, Oregon and Linh could not travel to Houston these last months of pregnancy.


Not to worry. Sharon's friends decided to hold a virtual baby shower with the aid of long distance telephone calling device SKYPE. With a webcam, Samson and Linh participated in the shower in Sharon's friend Vicky's home in real time, with their image projected on a big screen television set.


It was great fun for all - each guest having the opportunity to congratulate them, see how big Linh's tummy is, and just as warm as an in-person shower.


The first hour was spent with everyone gathered around the large screen television, interacting with the couple of honor. The usual pregnancy questions were asked, including if the name was picked out for the baby boy, which the couple played around with rather than giving a straight answer, much to the amusement of the guests.


All in all, it was a satisfying day for grandmom-to-be Sharon. She highly recommends this type of flexibility when the kids are far away.


Below is a skype photo of the happy event!

blog post photo


Parent Warning: The Lost Dog Lure and Child Abductions

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/29/2010 7:30 AM CDT

Recently I watched the news and there was a hauntingly familiar story being aired. A young boy was lured towards a white van by a guy who needed help looking for his lost dog.

Fortunately the boy ran off and reported it to the police, and it aired with a composite sketch of the would-be abductor. Hope they catch the lowlife who is preying on innocent children.


While watching the disturbing story my skin turned cold and my heart dropped to the floor.

Not just because I hate to hear about this kind of evil, but also because the same scenario happened to my daughter. It didn't make the news, but it did make me completely crazy for a long period of time. 


This is what happened:


My daughter was 15 - but since she is a late August birthday, all of her friends were 16 and driving. When she hung out with her friends (all screened carefully by her overprotective mom) she would sometimes get a ride home by a friend instead of having me pick her up.


This particular evening, it was still somewhat light out when her good friend Shaun dropped her off at home. Elissa had forgotten her key, and planned to ring the doorbell. For some unknown reason, Shaun forgot all of his manners and didn't stick around to wait for Elissa to get safely in the house. Kids tend to be naive about dangers in our world.


Immediately after Shaun pulled off, Elissa was approached by a man who had a white van nearby. He had a dog with him and asked Elissa to help him with this poor little lost dog. His exact line to her was he didn't have his glasses on and he couldn't read the dog's tag. He asked her to come and help him as he and the dog stood by the side of his van.


Immediately Elissa sensed something weird about the guy, but being an animal lover and  a good Samaritan, she wanted to help. She used common sense, and told the man to wait and she would get me and I would help out. She began to ring the doorbell pretty urgently, but I was at the very back of the house and didn't get to the door quickly. She entered the house and breathlessly told me the story, wanting me to go outside and help.


We poked our heads outside just seconds later and the man, the dog, and the van were gone. We looked up and down the street both ways. Not a trace, just that quick.


That made me alarmed, and I called the police. Before this incident, neither Elissa or I had ever heard of the "lost dog" lure to get kids in a position where they could be abducted in a van.


My husband drove around the neighborhood, looking for that van or a man with the dog. They were nowhere to be found.


When the police arrived, the very experienced policeman took a report, and told us that it was a very common abduction scenario. By the grace of God, my daughter was spared because she hesitated, even though she really wasn't truly aware she could be harmed.


The policeman gave us an "abduction" brochure for young girls with the very first warning at number one, to never go with a stranger who claims to have a lost dog.


We were all floored. There it was in black and white. Proof that my daughter could have been a victim of a crime. It was so chilling, so disturbing, that I wasn't the same for a long, long time. My over-protectiveness went into overdrive. Shaun received a call with a major lecture and he felt truly terrible.


My husband was skeptical. He didn't want to believe it. My daughter took some convincing too as to what "almost" happened. But I KNEW. And the thought made me insane.


This news report brought back all of my nightmares from that awful time where I spent sleepless nights replaying in my mind, what if... What if Elissa had approached the man and the dog, what if my daughter had been abducted, what if she had never come home that day - never got to ring the doorbell? What if my world had ended that day? My heart goes out to every mother who has had their child abducted and I grieve every time I hear terrible news of the sort.


Parents  - TELL your children - teens too- about this very common lure by potential abductors. Many children love animals and would want to help an animal, even if they were warned about strangers. Please, go over this scenario with your children until you are sure they would run very fast and scream for help if confronted by this.


Continue to teach your children to beware in this dangerous world of ours. And hug them very, very tightly. We live in a world of too many criminals who want to harm our children. They have created a society where we must be paranoid, vigilant, and one step ahead of them.


When Mom is No Longer Considered the Laundress

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/22/2010 7:30 AM CDT

I recently enjoyed an overnight visit with my son Brett, a third year law student. He was just back from one of his world travels. (Christopher Columbus had nothing on Brett in his quest to explore the world)


He traveled on his spring break with his sister, visiting his adorable cousins abroad. Since she returned directly to her city, I didn't get to see her. (sad face)


Please note that moms look forward to these brief pass-through visits the way some kids look forward to Christmas. The reverse, however, is not true. It's not like there are any college kids sitting around moping and missing their mommies. In fact, the best you can hope for is that they look forward to getting a home cooked meal, and of course some laundry done. (They are much more eager to reunite with friends that go to different schools that they don't get to see)


So, in eager anticipation, I picked Brett up at the airport, and he brought his bags inside.


In the past, he would make use of me as his personal laundress, and dump all of the laundry from his travel during his passing through on the way back to school.


I was only happy to be of some service: younger moms - beware of your kids' phasing out of needing you to do stuff for them. You'll be grasping at straws - doing laundry, cooking, post office runs, car registrations, whatever is needed just to continue feeling useful as a mom.


He would also pass through to get a few meals, a home-cooked one or freebie meals out. 


But wait. This time, his travel bags sat there, waiting to be loaded up in his car for his trek back to school - with all of his dirty laundry inside. Not even a mention of doing a couple of loads.


As he is forever reminding me, he is all grown up. He can take care of his own laundry now, thank you. And now, finally, I believe him. This is just another sign.


Another sign was that instead of running out to visit with friends, he opted for some quality one-on-one time with his mom. Some deep discussions took place.


The best part: when he looks back on his life, he thinks he had a very happy childhood. That is great to hear, considering there was a divorce in the middle of it.


Maybe it was the fatigue and jet-lag talking, but I think not.


He still had to endure some minor lessons based on my years of life experience (READ:Lectures) on my opinions of things, but he actually listened. A son is never too old to hear a mom's opinions, right?


I can't help but feel so happy for this brief, and meaningful visit, and feel proud of the man he has become. 


My friend had her son visit during his spring break and he seemed all grown up too as he finishes college. Another fine young man. Older moms, isn't it just the best feeling?


Here's a photo of Brett on the right, with his friend Josh on an indoor roller coaster in Japan during other recent travels.

Brett and Josh


Dining with Friends: Aged Wine and Middle Aged Whine

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/15/2010 8:00 AM CDT

What is it about our age group that you start off on a perfectly pleasant evening, enjoying sips of delicious wine before an elegant meal, and before you know it someone brings up the first health complaint of the night?


At various times, in mixed groups, the following list of things has been discussed - almost always while at a nice, relaxing setting such as dinner out:








Heart Disease



Hot Flashes and Menopause




Hearing loss






Vision/Needing Reading Glasses


Earwax - I kid you not






Hip Replacement


Back problems


Knee problems


Keloid scarring








Sleep Apnea/snoring


Leg Cramps




Dry Eyes


Dental Issues


The above is not the list of side effects from some new medication advertised on TV, though it sure looks like one. It is also NOT an exaggeration.


In fact, I am sure I am missing quite a few things - but I generated the list by thinking of people we have been out dining with just recently, so I didn't have to go far into my (aged) memory bank to mine all of those nuggets.


What are we, 100 years old? I thought our generation was in pretty good shape compared to our parents, but hearing these health creaks, discussions, and whines, it may not be the case. 


This is from a group of relatively healthy, youthful and active middle agers, mind you. We just look and dress and act younger than the prior generation, and we go to music concerts, where we rock out to pretend we are still quite youthful.


The list of complaints shouldn't surprise me. After all, middle age means the youthful years are behind us and we are staring straight into the senior citizen realm next. Raise your hand if you have received (and trashed) AARP materials?


I personally can wait for the movie discount, the seniors days discounts and the like. Despite the list of above complaints from me and my social group, I am just not ready to leap from middle aged to senior. No thanks.


In the meantime, it would be nice to get together, sip some wine, and hold the whine.


Who Out There Remembers The Days Before Google and Instant Answers?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/8/2010 8:00 AM CST

I recently saw a very clever cartoon, posted on one of my favorite networking sites, Facebook. Above it was a caption: Life Before Google, A Short Story. It had two animal characters talking to each other. One said: I just thought of something I would like to know more about.

The other answered: That's a damn shame.


Giggle. Do you remember the days before we could instantaeiously get an answer to something we are wondering about by simply Googling or going to Wikipedia? Today, as non-tech as I claim to be, when debating on the date or details of any subject, I have been known to whip out my iPhone, and Google the subject. You don't even need a computer handy to get virtually any information- just a smart phone.


An avid Google user, I have even been known to Google for sport as well as stalk former flames. But after my chuckle over that cartoon, I thought back to the time when I was growing up (Insert "I had to walk five miles to school in the snow" here) when I needed to know something, usually in the form of a school assignment. Now I know we were dinosaurs compared to this modern age of instant info, so keep that in mind when reading.


Received: Assignment to do a report on the Alamo. (I lived in Philadelphia growing up, so up to that time, I had no idea what the Alamo was about - and this is just an example)

We had a local library just up the street from me, but we had a more modern, regional library a bus ride away, so starting in upper elementary school, I used my Saturdays to take a bus to the library, where I would bump into all sorts of other students.


I proceeded to the card catalog trays. These were tiny drawers with cards filed by topic, along with names of reference books on the topic and their Dewey Decimal number. Once I found the topic, I would sort through the titles of reference materials, make notes on the Dewey numbers and proceed to that section of the library. Once there, I would find most of the ones I wanted GONE - seems like my report topic was always a popular one. But early on I figured out there if you lurked in the same numerals, you would soon find a few other titles with the information you needed in them.


Next, depending on how crowded the work tables were, I would either decide to make notes, or xerox information to bring home, again by bus. I had a pocket-full of nickels for the xerox machines - the early ones that produced oily copy that reeked of chemicals. If I wasn't going to spend the entire afternoon reading the materials, I would wait in line to get my shot at the xerox machine after finding the pages I needed in the reference books and bookmarking them.


Everyone in line had a huge assortment of books that were bookmarked like mine. So with one or two machines (one was usually "out of order") it was a long wait for the machine.


Once at the machine, I would usually make anywhere from one to three copies going widthwise when I needed it going lengthwise and vice versa. I never could figure out how to set up the books properly on the glass to get exactly what I needed. Seems this was a common problem because the trashcan nearby was filled to the brim with other's failed attempts.


Then, gathering my notebook and materials (we didn't have backpacks in those days) I placed the reference books (never allowed to be checked out!) on the carts designation and walked to the bus stop. It was usually raining or snowy, but when it wasn't, the job was even more torturous because I had to spend a nice day inside the stuffy library.


Once home, I would review the xerox sheets, and write the report by hand on lined paper in my own words and as neatly and mistake-free as possible. Note that this was before white-out, so if there were too many crossings-out, the report had to be re-written.


And so, I learned about the Alamo, and turned in the report.


Just the other day, I wanted to know exactly how Napalm was made. If it had been the old days, I could have asked a parent, but sometimes they didn't know the answer. In order to get that answer, I would have had to do all of the above, unless it was just a word that I could have looked up in our home dictionary.


Many times, I just shrugged off wanting or needing to know something because it was just too much trouble. One year we purchased a set of used encyclopedias that smelled very musty from being stored in someone's damp basement. But yet, I was thrilled to have the information right there in my home. Much of it though, was outdated by the time it was handed down. 

So next time you Google something, think back to those days when information wasn't just a few clicks away. Technology is really amazing, isn't it?


Lousy Customer Service at Post Office: Let's End This Monopoly!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/1/2010 8:00 AM CST

I have come here not just to share my recent negative experience with the U.S. Postal service, but to hear your gripes as well. 


It's well known that all types of government employees offer the most pathetic customer service, because they CAN.

But the Post Office takes it to a new level.


At my local office, no matter what time of day, what season, what day of the week, there is one or two slow-moving clerks, and a long, snaking line behind the ropes they set up. Count on a half hour at the minimum, 45 minutes to an hour during holiday season. 


I send a lot of packages to my kids and other relatives, so my techie husband bought a postal scale and learned how to weigh and print out postage online. If you do that, you just have to drop it off at their office and you don't have to wait in line.


This year for Valentine's Day, I was disorganized, and forgot to get my husband to do his weighing and printing out labels. With two days of mail before the holiday left, I would have to stand in line to send them via priority mail - where they charge you an extra arm and leg to get it there faster. Or so I thought. 


My daughter's package took five days to get from Houston to Dallas with 10 bucks postage for a flat Priority box. My son's was going to Austin, $5. That's Houston to Austin.

The surly lady clerk snorted contempt when I asked if the packages would make it to their destinations by Saturday. "It should, but we don't guarantee." He received his TWO weeks later. Some Priority, huh? 


So I called the U.S. Postal Service customer service (complaint) line. There I got a surly operator who repeated over and over, "It is only estimated 2-3 days, it is not guaranteed and can take up to 5 days."


So I asked for a supervisor and got another unpleasant person. I read off my receipt the weights of the two packages and asked how much first class would have been.

I learned that one would have been $2 and one $1.50. And how long does it take to get there by first class.

"Two to three days."


"Um, so why are we told that Priority Mail gets priority and pay so much extra?"


Silence on the other end of the line.


In the meantime, I am out the cost of the items I put in the box and the crazy expensive postage. 

Thanks a lot U.S. Post Office. 


They get away with it because they are a monopoly, but just once I would like to see a leader of our country do something about the poor quality of service that we get from them. Just once, I would like to see a leader do some customer service training and base their wage increases or promotions on the type of customer service they provide. Then, maybe we will see an improvement. 


No wonder they term going crazy, "going postal." (Yeah, I know it was coined from a crazed former postal worker who went back and killed his co-workers)

Ok, I am listening, tell me your Postal horror stories


Olympic Medalist and Local Gal Kitty Carruthers and Me

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/22/2010 8:00 AM CST

As I have written about several times before, I am an Olympics fan. I like sports, but I LOVE the Olympics. There is something about watching dedicated, talented athletes in sports you wouldn't necessarily follow otherwise. New faces become heroes and stars on cereal boxes. Who would have heard of Apollo Anton Ono otherwise? Even that Dancing with the Stars gig only came for him after he became an Olympic hero. It takes a hard working athlete who has dedicated his/her life to a goal and puts them on a worldwide stage. But does the average Olympian's fame last? Maybe the occasional gold medal superstar, but for many others, we may be tempted to say, "Who??" when they are referred to only a few years after their victory. Take Kitty Carruthers for example.

One of the winter sports I love the most is Figure Skating. Regular season programming on it: not so much. I have tried to watch things like Battle of World Champions on Ice (made up title but you know what I am talking about) and there is something missing. Sure there is gorgeous skating, but there isn't the tension of the Olympics.

Speaking of tension, is anyone out there as appalled as I am that despite all the reforms in the skating judging to the point where no one (spectators like me) understands scores anymore, there IS STILL BIAS in the judging. For example, the US in pairs skating did a clean, brilliant job in the short program, and a later Canadian pair fell and never quite recouped, yet they scored a MUCH higher score than the previous US pair. Even the announcers were taken aback.

So what's up with continuing to allow such bias? It taints the whole sport.

On the other hand, I could not believe the poor sportsmanship of a certain Russian skater who Evan Lysachek beat for the gold medal recently. If you compared both programs, Evan's was superior in every respect except for ONE higher jump. Evan had MORE and prettier ones.

Back to my original topic, one of my early Olympic heroes were a pair of figure skaters who broke the stronghold of the Soviet block on Pairs Skating way back in 1984. 

Kitty and Peter Carruthers, an adopted brother and sister pair were national champs year after year, but on the international stage of the Olympics, all anyone could talk about were the Soviets. No pair from the US had won a medal at the Olympics since 1960 before them, and only one single bronze medal has been won by a U.S. pair since them. (compare that to our Singles champs!) 

That year Kitty and Peter surprised the world and became Silver medalists by skating the program of their lives and rising to the challenge of the most tension filled stage of all. The entire country was exhiliarated by their genuineness and youthful energy.

In the late 80's, Kitty and Peter were touring with Scott Hamilton's program, Stars on Ice. Kitty moved to the Houston area and our husbands worked together briefly so we met. Despite my being a fan, I was able to act normal enough to become very good friends with her. My family and I got to see her Silver medal up close, and go to lots of her performances with Stars on Ice.

Recently, this all came back because my daughter had to write an essay on a childhood memory for a class in graduate school. Here is a snippet of what she wrote:

"It is coincidental to me that this assignment was given this particular week, because I was simultaneously doing many activities that reminded me of childhood (building a snowman, throwing snowballs). Watching ice skating was one of my favorite things to do as a child.

Because my family was friends with Kitty and Peter Carruthers, the four of us would attend the Stars on Ice shows very often. 

I watched Olympic ice skating this week for 3 hours without moving. I realized that I still experience the same awe watching the skaters that I did then, and could not tear my eyes off the screen. This experience truly brought me back to my childhood. I believe that now I have more appreciation for the talent, skill, and mastery that goes behind a seven minute Olympic level routine."

Back to me again: I am glad my daughter has such happy memories of our time following an Olympic champion.

To follow the sentiment I started with, Kitty goes around Houston virtually unknown except for those Olympics buffs like me who know and appreciate what she was able to accomplish. She leads a regular life. But, check out on You Tube the video of their silver medal winning skate, and then you will understand why to me she is a hero and always will be.


Weird & Torturous Things That Happen To Homeowners Part 2

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/16/2010 8:00 AM CST

I did not have a great couple of weeks on the home front. 


I have blogged before about having an older home and having to patch, patch, patch when one weird thing, or natural disaster blows through, after another.


Aside from record cold this winter (I hate you El Nino and other weather causes) and losing all of my tropical plants (By the way, covering with blankets and sheets does NOT work so why do we all do that?) I have had pool pipes burst from the temps as well. It has been one homeowner nightmare after another nightmare. That pool leak turned into a repair, and then another, and then another, in what I have come to realize is a never ending pool leak. I swear, I felt like filling the pool with dirt after the latest go-round, and if I didn't depend on swimming for exercise, I would have.


So let's do a review: Landscaping, including a tall palm tree, shot to hell. Pool, a mess. Both: Expensive to fix.


The latest weird thing came this weekend - a gas leak. I was on the side of my house and I smelled gas so I called the gas company. A jovial Gas Co. man stuck a wand near the smell, and the wand made lots of exaggerated noise.


"Oh yeah, you've got a big gas leak here," he said.


"Can you fix it?" I asked.


"Oh no, I am just going to shut off your gas and you will have to hire a plumber to replace the corroded pipe. That's what happens to these old pipes - they corrode and have to be replaced," he said with a smile.


"Um, what about the heat? Hot water? How do we get a plumber on the weekend? I asked, suddenly regretting how dependent we were on natural gas.


"Chuckle...., well, first your plumber is going to have to get a permit from the City," the jovial gas man explained. "He can't do anything without getting a permit first."


In other words, nothing happening this weekend. I was then informed we have no "main shut off" for gas, and he proceeded to manually shut down each gas appliance. He also took our gas meter away for good measure.


"You've got 40 gallons of hot water so you can still shower," Gas-Man said.

Well, that was kind of a fib, because once you use up some of that hot water remaining in the tank, the rest of the tank fills up with cold water, and then the hot water becomes merely lukewarm at best. Trust me on this, because my scientific revelation came after my second day shower.


Fortunately the weather hovered near 70 with some sunshine Sunday, so the heat issue was moot. I started speed dialing plumbers and hope to have the repair done Monday. Getting the gas meter back after "an inspection" may be a whole other ordeal though. The in-between time was enough time for another cold front to come through, damage some more landscaping, burst another few pool pipes and have us freezing in our own home.

Looks like we will take my friend Susan up on her offer to shower at her place a few blocks away.


Oh, the joys of home ownership. Pardon me while I scream. ARGHHHHHHHH! 

I know people who have been life-long renters because they did not want the headaches of owning. They seem very very smart all of a sudden.


Rooting for Sports Teams Raises Blood Pressure and Can Cause Heartbreak

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/9/2010 1:29 PM CST

Forget the soaps, mushy tearjerker movies, heart-tugging stories on Extreme Home Makeover and the lot. If you truly want to watch something that will end up breaking your heart, root for a sports team. 


I am sure that in these days just past, all of those Indianapolis fans are still crying into their pillows at their Super Bowl loss. Just like they all say, but don't really mean, at the Oscars: "it was an honor just to be nominated," it is the ultimate honor just to get to the Super Bowl. Yeah, right. Once you get there, the only thing that matters is WINNING. So my heart (and tissue box) goes out to those Indianapolis fans today, even though the team I was rooting for, the Saints, won.


My theory is, the further your team goes, the more potential it has to break your heart.


Case in point, just a month or so ago, I was nearly despondent when my team, the Longhorns, who were *this close* to a national college football championship, lost the Rose Bowl.


Sure, it was a great, undefeated season until then. Not all the wins were pretty, but the team was so solid, they well deserved their shot at that beautiful crystal trophy for the national championship.


Primed and ready, I watched them start with great confidence and get most of the key early plays and score first. That's when sorrow reared its ugly head as their hero quarterback suffered a legal but game quitting injury.


This was not a regular "get your behinds whooped defeat," which made it all the more painful. It was due to an injury of the key offensive player. It was like a high school team playing a college team from then on.


Being a family with many Longhorns, there was plenty of heartbreak about it in my household. Talking to other Longhorn fans, their emotions ranged from tears to depression.


As a mom, I felt so sorry for the guys on the team, especially Colt McCoy, and that poor backup quarterback who had to play in such an intense pressure-cooker and national stage.


Another example is for all of my friends in my former city, Philadelphia. Their baseball team, The Phillies, went to the World Series two times in two years. So why was there heartbreak involved? Well, they didn't win the second World Series. Like I said, the higher your team goes, the bigger the heartbreak.


Isn't it amazing that sports can do that to you? That guys playing a game can have such a powerful effect on our emotions?  So much so that it can affect blood pressure, temperament, emotional stability.


So why do we root for a team and let them make or break our moods? 


I guess my passion for certain sports teams comes from my dad. I was a Daddy's girl and he was a sports fanatic. My son is one too - showing many of the same traits that I had for following sports passionately, (obsessively) and a lot from his own dad too.


I genuinely admire middle-of-the-road sports followers who don't get blood-pressure raises or depression following a loss - I wish I was built that way. But no, sports will continue to cause trauma.


The Olympics are coming up this week - and along with some heady victories we might be able to expect, will come the inevitable heartbreak over losses. I do a lot of crying over the Olympics - tears of pride when I see our athletes on the gold medal stands and hear the National Anthem, and tears of defeat for my favorites when they lose. So pass the tissue box, I am going to need it.


Thanks a lot Sports. You raise my blood pressure, clean my tear ducts, cause me anxiety, pacing, and sometimes sleeplessness. It's a good thing I don't gamble.


Come on now, admit it here, you have let a sports team raise your blood pressure, or break your heart. I am listening, so share.


Power Struggle Over the Thermostat Between Husband and Wife

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/1/2010 8:01 AM CST

We've had colder temps than normal here in Houston this winter, (Note: If you read this blog from outside the Texas area, our winters typically consist of 60's and 70's mixed with the occasional "cold front" where temperatures dip way down - but it is very temporary and before long, we are using the air conditioner again)


With those colder temps, the thermostat power struggle between husband and wife is waging on in many households. Or is power struggle too mild a term? For some, it is all out war.


Normally, the husband adjusts the thermostat to cooler temps, with the wife jockeying for warmer positions on the dial. (or digital pad for those homes in the computer age) 


That's how it always USED to be in my household  - I was always F-R-E-E-Z-I-N-G until a weird recent phenomenon took place.


Middle age. And that other M word too that won't be mentioned. (And by the way the title of this blog is a play on words - it means my Hot Topics as much as it means the other)


Now, with my body running very, very warm (make that hot - burning HOT) I want the coolest temperatures possible in my home. An Alaskan winter is looking very good to me right now because I want my home temperature as cool as the average igloo according to my husband.


My husband on the other hand has a thing with his age and thyroid situation where he has been getting chilly all the time. 


As usual, we are opposites in body temperature but the situation has completely reversed from before.


Before, it was not uncommon for me to be okay with the thermostat on 80 degrees of air conditioning in summer months along the aid of ceiling fans. I was always cold in air conditioning and had to bring my winter woolies to restaurants, malls and other over-air-conditioned places in the dead of summer. The thermostat at 80 was way too warm for my husband and he would creep it downward into the 70's. And I would freeze. Rinse, repeat.


Similarly, I used to put the thermostat up to the 70's in the winter during the few cold fronts where we required heat. He would push it down a bit. In a sneaky way of course, other than the times I would get lectured about energy conservation and costs.

Passive-aggressive behavior, if you ask me. One of us was grumbling all the time about the house temperature.


Now the conversation this winter goes more like this:


Husband, as I am tiptoeing out of bed to the thermostat to push the temp downward: "Don't touch that dial - I already adjusted it to 68 degrees and it is freezing in here!"


Me: "It is burning hot in this house! Put another blanket on!"


Husband: "Put your bedside fan on and leave the thermostat alone!" (as he erects a huge pillowed wall between us on the bed)


I think I mentioned in a previous blog about buying a bunch of tiny fans at a store at the end of last summer when they were 50 percent off. All I can ask now is, am I the only human that is using a small nightstand fan on full blast in the wintertime?


I think that answer would be no. 


Our friend Drew was just visiting the area from the North and kind of laughed about our mild temperatures compared to his winter. He was walking around in a tee shirt even with a cold front and some cooler temperatures in Houston last weekend, explaining that he loves cool air and that it was always a struggle with his wife wanting too much heat in the house until she turned middle age. 


Drew: Oh, I love it now. The house is really cool, and I just put some blankets on while my wife kicks them off.

Geesh, that sounds familiar. 


What really floors me is that everyone seems to marry someone with an opposing internal temperature. 


So wives and husbands out there, I am here to tell you that those thermostat wars waging right now are temporary! Husbands who like their house a bit chilly - Just wait till middle age.


Enablers Unintentionally Cripple Their Children/Significant Others

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/25/2010 8:00 AM CST

Some call over-involved parents "helicopter parents" because they hover over the most minute details of their children's lives. There is a lot of disdain among experts for this type of parenting, but many of us are guilty of it to some degree.

I too, was a bit hovering, a bit over-involved. My children, now adults aged 22 and 25 still complain sometimes that I don't realize their ages when I insert myself in a "helping" mode. That's when I know to back off, because despite my parenting style while they were growing up, I did not keep them bound to me. They are off and running on their own lives, careers, and not centered around me, as it should be at their ages.

Recently though, I have seen some examples of parenting that horrified me. The parents had good intentions of course, but the end result of their continued over-involvement and "help" in the lives of their adult children resulted in absolutely crippling their children from moving on and leading their own productive lives.

In pychological jargon, enablers are people who allow addicts to maintain their addicted behavior by supporting them financially, covering up for their mis-steps, and many other ways of ensuring that the addicted behavior continues.

I had a (former) friend who became a drug addict. She started off as a regular suburban mom, devoted to her children and husband, and community. She had bi-polar disorder and refused to take medication until someone introduced her to cocaine. In one of the saddest spiral downwards that I ever witnessed in my life, she went from being able to (somewhat) maintain her life as wife and mother, to leaving her family to get further and further into the world of an addict. During the five to eight years of maintaining her life while using drugs, her husband acted as the enabler. He gave her endless money, opportunity to use, and a safe environment to stay even as she spiralled downward. He supported her through her half hearted rehab attempts, welcomed her back home when she quit them, and was a true contributor to her getting to the sad state of no return.

When I asked him later why he enabled her to do that, he claimed he did it out of love.
Does that sound like love to you? It sounds more like giving a suicidal person a loaded gun to me. But this is the way of an enabler.

At any rate, getting back to the first topic of enabling parents of adults: these parents I came across recently enabled their adult children to stay dependent on them, thereby, not allowing them to grow up or function as adults.

I also saw a case of this recently on "The Supernanny." I occasionally watch this show to be appalled at the parenting and to come to terms with the fact that the act of parenting (i.e. doing what's best for your child so they can grow up happy and healthy) does not come naturally for many people.

This episode featured an adult single mother of two children who was living at home with her parents, where she (the mother) was able to watch tv all day, chat online on the computer and talk on her cell phone without any responsibilities or income. She didn't work and she was an affected, spoiled, lazy brat.
That's because her mother was the parent for her two small children, waking them up for school, feeding and dressing them, packing their lunches, and doing everything for them.

The kicker was that the adult single mother was ungrateful and did not know how to parent her own children. Her mother, the grandmother, was resentful for having to work so hard at her age with raising additional children.

The grandmother had no idea that she had set herself up for her current life of misery. No idea at all. Amazing, isn't it?

I have seen this in the real world around me many times. Adult children finish high school, some even finish college, and then unsure of wanting to wake up early every day and toil in a real job, they live at home until they discover what they want to do with their lives. Their parents enable this dependent behavior by supporting them financially - I even know some in their own apartments in other cities! - and by doing everything possible for them. Some start out at jobs, but decide the working life is, well, W.O.R.K.

Sure real life and the working life doesn't compare to how good they had it as children where mommy and daddy took care of all their needs, but being a parent means we have to let our children grow up to be productive citizens - not remain child-like and in our control forever.

Most of the time, these are well meaning parents, who think the period of dependency and self-discovery will be temporary. But as it goes on year after year, and as they enable it year after year, the resentment grows, and the crippling effect on their child has been done.

It's really sad to watch this happening as an acquaintance or friend. And always, always, the misguided parents think they are doing the right thing, or the thing that means they love their child.

So if you are still raising little ones, or teens, remember parents - do yourselves and your kids a favor: LET GO.


Am I The Only Snuggie-free "As Seen on TV" Buying Addict?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/19/2010 8:00 AM CST

Am I the only human who doesn't have a Snuggie? You know what I am talking about - those thin fleece things with sleeves that are supposed to warm during cold winter months while glued to the television or reading a book. In the meantime, if I did want a Snuggie type thing, I would probably buy or try to make a thicker one on my sewing machine. My daughter has a Snuggie and it is ridiculously skimpy-thin.

It's surprising that I don't have one because I have a huge assortment of things that are sold on TV. I am such a sucker for those pitches of wonder items.

I have a kitchen full of regrets - things stored away never to be used after the iniital period of post-delivery excitement.

I have a Set it and Forget it Rotisserie, a Magic Bullet, some magical cooking pan called the Turbo Cooker that was supposed to cook five course meals in one pan in 15 minutes, and which sits in a cabinet unused. I admit, I do use the Rotisserie - it makes a great Rotisserie chicken, but seriously, I could save time and money by just picking up one of those store made Rotisserie chickens that every supermarket sells. And so that's what I mostly do.

The cooking pan lasted a week of experimentation. The directions and recipes for those "quick" meals turned out to be much more time and less delicious than what I saw on TV. The "easy" part was perhaps the most deceiving as the directions needed a physicist to decipher. This was a news flash for me - those smiling people demonstrating it and gushing over it were LYING!

I used the Magic Bullet for the first two weeks, making the delicious guacamole which was supposed to be "quick and easy." Except I tired of the extra thirty minutes of finding a huge list of obscure ingredients at the grocery store for that "quick" guacamole. Between the shopping and prep time, I soon figured it was easier to buy the store bought stuff, and not much taste difference. 

I really went wild with exercise equipment on TV. First a slider mat and footies that simulate skating, then an aerobic "glider" followed by yoga tapes, and mat,  an "ab roller" and then an Ab Cruncher, an exercise ball never inflated, etc. They are sitting in my exercise/family room - but hey, it gives me an excuse not to join a gym because I already HAVE a fully stocked gym!

These days if a product comes on the TV, if my husband can't grab the remote fast enough, he will throw his body in front of the TV, shielding it from my view like he was protecting his first born from a searing missile. 

That's okay though, because I can let you in on a secret. (but promise not to tell my husband) Many pharmacy and other store chains now sell these products, in a department that is titled "As seen on TV." Each box carries that logo too, just so suckers like me can remember how wonderful the product looked on TV, and feel compelled to buy it.
That's where I got my glass wizard, that didn't quite work as well as advertised, and now sits in a box on the closet floor. That's also where I got my click-on-lights, that are not as bright as they seemed on TV and burn out much more quickly than you would think, making them completely impractical.

I DO NOT regret my microfiber towels, or my Sham Wows. In fact, I highly recommend them. Those and the furniture sliders. (that slide HEAVY pieces of furniture like they are weightless!)

It's not as if I have absolutely no filter for these products. Take the Gingsu knife for example. I knew instinctively that if the knives cut through a can that easily, a finger would never be safe.

One time, I got a little writing bonus for something, and what did I do with the free money? I spent hundreds of dollars on things from the "As Seen on TV department." I went to the store to buy some necessities, walked by that department, and that is the basis of the problem. If I see it, I definitely want it. 

Ron Popeil and his cronies were brilliant at coming up with this marketing ploy, especially for the weak, like me.

Knowing how dangerous it might be for me, I have stealthily avoided the Home Shopping Networks and their ilk. There's no telling how in debt I would be if I tuned in to those. (And I have a friend whose husband only wishes they had blacked out these networks)

Although I can probably beat any responder on sheer quantity of silly stuff bought on impulse thanks to these TV hawkers, I'd like to know, am I the only one?


A Real Life Blind Side (Adoption) Story Right Here in Houston

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/4/2010 8:00 AM CST

We, like everyone else it seems have seen the movie The Blind Side and have been tremendously moved (to tears) at the generosity of the Tuohy family taking in a homeless child and making him part of their family. 


In fact, after I walked out of the movie, I read everything I could about this remarkable family and found out that much of the movie information is true, with the exception of Big Mike not knowing anything about football.


There are true life stories every day of the week about loving, generous people who take in less fortunate children. Some provide loving foster care, others nurse injured kids back to health, and still others adopt hard to place "special needs" children.


I met an incredible mother and father the other day at a holiday gathering in my home. This family had a birth child, and then decided to adopt two foreign children. They did not adopt babies. They adopted older children who had already been neglected in orphanages for their entire young lives and formative years.


When I interacted with their older child, Masha, a bright, pretty, and very Americanized girl of almost 10 years old who was adopted from an orphanage in Russia, few traces of her years in an institution are visible. These people have loved her, nurtured her, sought specialists to help her adjustment, and have brought her such a long way in only a few short years.


Just last year they decided to add to their family with an 8 year old boy, Victor, from an orphanage in the Ukraine. He is now 9 years old and has been here for one year.


The mom described to me unbearable conditions in the orphanage, including the fact that there was no heat on in the orphanage when they went to adopt him in November. (November in the Ukraine is like Canada or Alaska in November, so you can imagine how cold it must have been) There were no commodes, just holes in the ground, and on and on the bleak description went.


They went there for him as a family and had to wait through five weeks of red tape to get him. They home schooled their other two children and persevered until they got to bring Victor home with them.


But in one year, the only traces I could see in this rescued child was some shyness and hesitancy with his English. What a beautiful, loving child he was, and so eager to please. I had given him a huge box of abandoned Lego toys left over from my children's youth to occupy him during the visit. After an hour of extreme busyness, he came over to his mom and me with his sister, and showed us an incredibly elaborate architectural and engineering masterpiece of a gymnasium and work-out facility that he constructed out of little tiny Legos. 


As we honestly oohed and aahed over his masterpiece and praised his work, his prideful grin just about stole my heart.


It got me thinking about his potential and possibility and talents that can now be properly nurtured in a satisfying and productive life. The kind of life that just wouldn't be possible had he stayed institutionalized in the Ukraine.


This family is financially fortunate and they can make use of specialists who can help Victor with his language, with his institutional-type of odd behaviors his mother described to me, and they can even afford the time and money to give him figure skating lessons - something he wanted to do. They can shower him with the love he had been denied all of those years before, and since he is naturally affectionate, he can love them in return.


His future is limitless thanks to two very special, loving, and generous human beings who are now his parents.


It takes a special type of generosity to reach out and go through the extra effort to take in a child who is in dire need of a family and home.


There are milllions of stories of people helping a defenseless child even though we see the opposite horror in the news most of the time. Maybe these special people won't get the Blind SIde treatment made of their efforts, but they are definitely making the world a better place.


I am thankful that I got to meet just one living example going into this New Year.


My Non-Resolutions Because We Know How Long Resolutions Last

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/31/2009 8:00 AM CST

I am not making my usual list of New Years resolutions this year because despite all earnestness in the past, most resolutions go down the drain before January ends. Isn't that the same for most of us?


Like the one to lose weight. I would venture to say that about 70 percent or more of us make this a New Year's resolution each and every year. And each and every year, most of that 70 percent gains weight instead. That same group that gains weight will then again making losing weight a resolution for the next year. And on and on the cycle goes


Or the one to stop buying impulsively. As mentioned in several blogs, I have a bad habit of impulse buying, and that includes some of those Made for TV products like the Magic Bullet. These impulse buys end up being used enthusiastically for a short period of time and then relegated to the back end of a dusty shelf. So each and every year, I promise myself on January 1 to control my spending and buying impulses. And by January 2, I usually fail that one too.


In fact, we should add a whole category to this comical FAIL website. That would be Resolution FAIL.

So rather than giving that goal of exercising more the kiss of death by making an absolute resolution about it,  I plan to quietly will myself each and every day to do something. That's a start, right?


Most of all this year,  I want to be less judgmental. Sometimes I read or hear about something, and my reaction is like that of Judge Judy. You know what I am talking about - when she gets a woman in her court and she has three babies with some lowlife scum (there I go again judging) and she looks at the woman with contempt and says, "You should have had a clue before you had the first baby with him!"  


This is not an admirable trait, and since I always aim to better myself, this is what I should be working on even if it's not a resolution. People are human, they make mistakes, and then they become famous (like the Gosselins) and hit the news. And then I judge them - I think why the heck did she have EIGHT children with him?? 


In my blog alone, I have judged adulterers such as Mark Sanford, Tiger Woods and David Letterman. I have judged questionable parenting by the Balloon Boy Parents, the Gosselins, Octomom, and Dina Lohan, among others and on occasion, I have been called out by at least one reader for judging, even if most others agreed with me. In fact, someone pointed out that there is only one true judge. That would be Judge Judy, right?


Here's hoping that if you only make one resolution this year, it is to link Hot Flashes blog as a favorite. (You know how long that will last, if not, re-read above!)


Having An Accomplished Kid - Is It a Matter of Luck?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/10/2009 9:30 PM CST

It's my son Brett's 25th birthday today, and I am missing him terribly because he is very far away. He spent his next to last law semester in Australia and now he is traveling to Japan, Fiji and New Zealand before he returns home. (Tough life, no?)


Due to being away at universities now for seven years straight, I haven't been able to celebrate his December 11 birthday with him in person for that many years. Seems he was born on a day that coincides with finals scheduling in institutions of higher education. Poor planning on my part, I suppose.

SIDE NOTE: In another poor planning on the part of some unknown person, Mother's Day falls during finals at most universities every year so I have to defer both my birthday and Mother's Day celebrating with my children.


This one year stings more than usual because I didn't get to see him on the Thanksgiving break as I had in years past. 


Last year, I wrote the sort of tribute in a blog that only a proud mom of an accomplished young man can write. Moms should get bragging rights after all our hard work. (Partly the raison d'etre for Mom blogs?)
Brett fish

Brett on a fishing trip catching a big one


To borrow a quote from Jerry Maguire, this boy had me at "Wah." The minute he was born and let out his first scream I looked at his intense blue eyes (which he still uses to his advantage) and marveled about the intensity of my love for him. Now he is celebrating a quarter of a century. How is it possible?


I recently passed by an old feature of him that was published in the now defunct "Yo" section of the Houston Chronicle. (before I began writing for the paper.) He was selected then because he was a star athlete (leading goal scorer on his soccer team and high scorer on his basketball team) and also president of his school. He was pretty darn accomplished for middle school as I was reminded by this clipping and I probably took all of that for granted while he was growing up.

I recently had an epiphany when I was going to lament once again that my children grew up too fast (because they are no longer little ones). Instead, I realized that I have nothing to lament because I am able to enjoy my children so much as adults. I enjoyed them then, AND now!


I have a dear, wonderful lifelong friend who recently wished me a happy "giving birth" day, as she was there when Brett was born. She told me that Brett is the lucky one to have me as his mom, but then again she is a little biased.


In a moment of reflection when Brett and I were recently discussing his good fortune, he told me there is an element of luck in his success.When I asked why, he replied that he had come to realize that it is largely a matter of luck to be given the type of intelligence that makes success easier.


I was glad to know he didn't take that for granted. And see what I mean? Special, isn't he? 


My now adult son will soon finish law school with a job waiting at a top firm. For that and the man my son has turned out to be so far, color me very grateful, proud, and fortunate.


And if Brett gets to the Internet from his travels around the world and gets to see my blog, Happy Birthday to my incredible son from your loving and proud Mom.

Click here to return to the current Hot Flashes blog

Look Out! I'm Dabbling in Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement Again!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/14/2009 8:00 AM CST

Since I am doing a bit of entertaining over the holiday season, I got into one of those nesting and decorating jags. 


I've gotten a variety of whims throughout the seasons of the years: shopping ones, travel urges, baking or cooking production, and even writing jags. I admit I am a quirky person, with a bit of obsession and mania thrown in, though fortunately not enough to be considered dangerous.


Side note: My guacamole-making jag including an impulse purchase of a Magic Bullet, along with the approximately 15 specialized ingredients needed to make it. (Which brings up my lifelong "As Seen on TV" addiction)

This particular phase was exhausting with an extremely small output of guacamole, which effectively ended it after about five batches. (It was delicious though) 

I could probably list a hundred more of similar schemes, such as the miniature collection, or the unfortunate hook-rug hobby era of the late 70's.


Back to my painting: Since I didn't have the funds to hire a professional, I had some ideas  that I would have to stretch my talents and abilities to pull off.


With lots of areas needing touch up, I became a spackling queen. Just love that stuff!


Not only did I want to touch things up, but I wanted to liven things up. So I decided to do some decorative painting. Specifically, I wanted to paint a column that sits in the middle of my family room, put there due to an expansion of the room before we bought the home. It was a dull brown/bronze which I could never get a color match on to do touch-ups, and it was all beat up from one too many teens bumping chairs into it all these many years. 


I've never done this before, though I have to say that I am pretty creative and I have often brought a far-fetched idea to fruition to the surprise of everyone, including myself.


I had a vision, a plan, and a budget. Off I went to the home improvement store and when I got to the gold metallic paint for the column, the paint guy behind the counter tried to talk me out of it. He implied that metallic finishes were best left to professionals. He got the clue that I had no idea what I was doing when I asked if you could use a roller to paint a column. But bless his heart, he mixed the paint up without another discouraging word, sold me the correct roller to use for metallic paint, and wished me luck. 


Was it my imagination or did I see him chuckling as I left with my 50 bucks of metallic base and top coat, and specialized roller?


After the spackling, sanding and base coat, my husband looked at the results and was still skeptical. It looked rough, very rough.

I was admiring though. I still had the vision, and could see it becoming exactly what I wanted it to be, even if my husband could not at that moment.


(See if you can sing this next part to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas)

Approximately 12 brushes made up of foam and bristles used for corners and small spots; one container of spackle and a new spackling knife later; a few pieces of old silverware used as lid priers and paint mixers damaged, plastic fresh spinach containers used for mixing and rolling paint ruined; a roll of masking tape used up; a plastic cover splattered beyond belief; a beat-up metallic roller; an old sweatshirt and sweat pants now sporting custom golden splatters; other smears and paint splatters here, there and everywhere, I had a beautiful golden column. 

NOTE: No carpet was harmed in the making of the golden column. (slight miracle)

ANOTHER NOTE: Fortunately I already have golden hair so the paint just blended in.


One big old mess later, (Let's not even talk about what my laundry/work room looked like afterward) there was the gold column I envisioned, perfectly executed and accomplished. See below:

And I decided that I was as messy a painter as I am a cook. If you saw my kitchen as I prepare big meals or holiday dinners, you would see assorted butter smears, flour leaving a tell-tale trail, and lots of bowls, utensils and pots dirtied. But the food always turns out great.


So it's the end product that counts. Right? Here is my beautiful decorative column!


Take that, skeptical man at the home improvement store! 


The Fine Art of Bribery to Coax Into Holiday Spirit

Posted by Arlene Lassinat 12/21/2009 7:00 AM CST

Having trouble coaxing your kids into that holiday spirit, whether for a photo with Santa, or for being patient while you shop?

Try Bribery.

It worked for me.


Both my son Brett and daughter Elissa were "baby" models for brief but memorable periods of time. We back-doored our way into it - we knew a professional model who needed a mom shot for her portfolio, and so she used my son who had enormous blue eyes and a thick-as-a-brush head of hair.

Her agent saw the photos and immediately signed my son to the modeling agency, and to be honest, I never expected much to come from it.


Lots came from it, as my son was a natural in front of the camera; and with his thick bowl cut and big blues, he was chosen for many print ads and local commercials. He did it for as long as he enjoyed it, and dropped it when soccer schedules, and birthday parties started interfering. He racked up a healthy bank account though, which was invested for his college years.


My daughter, who is two years younger than my son also had the big blues and from bringing her along to my son's shoots, she was also drafted for modeling by the agency as well. 


Elissa was not a natural. She was impatient, and that did not work well for the tedious and long photo shoots. Her modeling career was short lived for this reason. (Which was fine for her and for me)


Here's where we get to the bribery aspect of coaxing them into the holiday spirit.
Both my children were hired for the same shoot - a first. It was a big, splashy Christmas ad. I was  excited to have them both in the same ad but didn't realize it would require lots of acting on my then two year old daughter and four year old son's part.


It was in late September - warm and not exactly holiday season. Well before I wrote for the Chronicle, this was to be the cover shot for the Chronicle's holiday supplement that came out on Thanksgiving for "Black Friday."


I didn't think this out in advance when I got the assignment for them, but who the heck can get into the holiday spirit three months early? 


We arrived at the location - a borrowed home where they decorated only the staircase. The scene was supposed to be two excited little ones who wake up Christmas morning and are amazed at the tree and big presents under it.


There was no tree, no presents, and nothing for the children to summon up that fake excitement though.


The kids were dressed in Christmas jammies, and positioned on the staircase. All they faced were a bunch of adult strangers, bright lights and assorted photographic equipment. 


On cue they smiled for the nice photographer man from their positions in between the pegs of the staircase.


The art person "producing" the shot didn't want standard smiles however. He wanted "glowing faces of amazement at the sight before them." He stopped the photographer and rushed up to the kids to explain what he wanted.

Keep in mind, there was no scene before them. Only strange people and lots of equipment.


On cue again, they smiled brightly.


It was turning out to be a long day's work between the travel, dressing in costume, and getting the equipment ready for the shot. I was worried about tired children needing naps getting cranky, but even more worried about the already cranky art man and photographer.


My children were truly puzzled. The smiling had always worked before. What did this man want from them?


Several more shots were taken. More bright smiles.


The photo shoot then came to a crashing halt.


"No, no, no!!" exclaimed the art person. "We need happy shock and excitement!"


"Happy shock and excitement" was quite a tall order given the circumstances. These were cute kids, not child actors and I was no stage mother either.


I took both kids aside and proceeded to show them with my own face what the "nice man" wanted from them. I opened my mouth as wide as possible and screamed. Both my kids imitated me and screamed. Not quite right though, as they were not looking pleasantly surprised. They looked terrified.


Neither cared particularly much at that time about making some stranger happy.

I then pulled out the big guns. Bribery. Both kids would get an item on their holiday wish list THAT VERY DAY from a spree at Toy R Us immediately following the shoot if they could make the "nice man happy."


Suddenly both seemed completely motivated. We reviewed the kinds of expressions wanted and they practiced a bit.


Here are the results.

blog post photo


Yes, the holiday came quite a bit early that year. Mom got her ad with both her children in it, (and double payment!) and both kids got their prized wish gift that very day. In fact, due to the incredible amount of acting involved, this is my favorite of all of my photos of the two children - I chuckle every time I see it, no matter how many times.


Mother knows best, which is if all else fails, bribery is the only option. In fact, I highly recommend it for those crying kids in Santa's lap. Promise them a walk to the nearest store for their most wanted toy.


Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holiday Season to all of you! If you have a holiday story to share that involves bribery, would love to hear it in the comments!


So Tiger's Now a Cheatah (Get It?)

Posted by fabmom at 12/4/2009 8:00 AM CST

Get it, Tiger, Cheetah: Tiger Woods=Cheatah?
Sigh, another day, another philanderer. Another man who has it all, who has a young and beautiful family resorts to blatant adultery for his own narcissistic needs.

I know that once again I am opening myself up to the scourge of some of the uglier posters on these blogs because I am coming down on bad behavior by a superstar - an admired athlete.

And still, I am compelled to write about it.

The man can't be that stupid. He is a Stanford educated man. How on earth could he think that he could start texting *one* of his mistresses while home with his wife?

Had he gotten away with so much in the past (rendezvous in Australia for example) that he thought he had it all in control?

Um, Tiger, that leaves a bit of an electronic trail, don't ya think? The way it probably happened has already been electronically simulated in a Taiwanese cartoon recreation of the events of last Saturday evening. This cartoon is going around the Internet, and it kind of exactly illustrates what I imaged the scenerio when I first heard of this incident. The cartoon is unintentionally funny - kind of like the Robert Smigel Funhouse cartoons on Saturday Night Live. (watch it to the end)

That is, that after finding the racy texts, Tiger's wife grabbed a golf club and started swinging, causing Tiger to run and get into his vehicle. She ran after him, striking his car, and when she smashed out his window, he turned around - causing him to crash. 

I don't need the state troopers to investigate to tell me what happened. They can close the case and try to put the hush on one of their largest taxpayers there. I mean, people even as far away as Taiwan even have the whole deal figured out.

What was Elin doing up at 2:30 in the morning? Clubbing. (a joke on the internet)

Why did Tiger run into a fire hydrant AND a tree? He couldn't decide between an iron or a wood. (another joke on the internet)

Phil Mickelson called Elin to get some tips on how to beat Tiger (still another joke making the rounds)

And why are we all bothering to discuss the events? Maybe because when you think someone really "has it all" - their fall from grace is too compelling to ignore.

Men, especially those of you who will berate me in the comments section, can you tell me what would cause a guy who has it all to risk this kind of embarrassment to himself and his family?
Did he really believe he was invincible? I am guessing so. When you have been elevated to that level, I suppose you really think you are immune to "bad things." That's the only logical explanation I can figure as to why Tiger was so blatant and careless with the text and email messaging trail.

Lest any of the readers think I am just disgusted by Tiger's behavior, I am even more disgusted that there is no end to girls who have affairs with married guys. The more rich and famous, the more girls available.

One of the *several* girls involved with Tiger is a serial accomplice to adultery. She has made a whole career of it. And now it looks like Gloria Allred got her a nice fat deal to keep her quiet.  I guess she was at least smart enough to profit from the mess.

Tiger - a man greatly admired before, now reduced to a bunch of jokes and punchlines. 

Why should we even bother to care? Isn't it a private matter, like Tiger seems to think? Um, not exactly private when one by one his mistresses sell their stories to the press. The end of the line for their relationship with him means the end of the line for his privacy. 

The electronic messaging trail appears to be a mile long afterall. So Tiger and his family will be exposed to the ugliness of it all for some time to come - along with all of the rest of us. 

Is adultery really worth all this heartache in the end? I can't figure out how it ever could be.


Proof That Technology is Much Sexier Than Me To My Husband

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/7/2009 8:00 AM CST

Me: Honey, some dude commenting on my blog called me hot today - off topic and out of the blue!

Husband: Yeah? (Not real interested, so goes back to his computer to his own task)

Me: (desperately trying to pursue this conversation) Yeah, he called me "smoking hot."

Husband: (still unfazed) Why? What was your blog about?

Me: Like I just said, this compliment was totally off topic.

Husband: Such weirdos commenting on blogs - they don't even read them

Me: (Thinking but not saying aloud) That's it?? That's it?? No agreement, or anything?

Me: (audibly) SIGH


How I wish the conversation could have gone:


Me: Honey, some dude commenting on my blog called me hot today

Husband: Well, he has good taste

Me: Smoking hot, that's how he put it, and it was off topic

Husband: You ARE smoking hot - now come here you little vixen

Passionate embrace follows.


Sigh again. Maybe in another lifetime.


I am a middle aged woman, so sometimes a compliment is a good thing. Though I admit, I kind of have a simultaneous reaction of being flattered and creeped out when I get complimented, it is still a nice feeling.

It is always surprising in middle age. You don't exactly go around thinking of yourself as a sexual being.


A few months ago, I received a "mash note" in my car's windshield. Some guy saw me walking into a store and left his business card on my car after I exited it, in case I wanted to contact him to "get together." (IMPORTANT NOTE: I blame this on being blond and wearing lipstick and shades - it is a combination that causes things like that to happen regardless of looking middle-aged)


My reaction was to be creeped out and grateful that the guy didn't try to pick me up in person. Ew.  But when I brought the note home and proudly announced to my husband that I received a mash note, he had no clue what a mash note was. When he read it, he seemed to have no reaction except to immediately look up the definition of "mash note" and tell me that lots of people don't know what that term means - all according to the Internet.


How do you make a mash note tech related? Ask my husband - this is his special talent.


In case anyone out there is interested, this is almost exactly what my novel-in-progress is about: a woman in mid-life who is not nearly as sexy as a tech website or gadget to her middle aged tech-nerd husband. Stay tuned.

Click here to return to the current Hot Flashes blog


Some of the Sad Results of the Sexualization of Songs, TV, and Movies

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 11/30/2009 8:00 AM CST

Everyone is buzzing about Adam Lambert's performance on the AMA's last Sunday evening. It is clear the man thinks of himself as a performance artist first, pop singer second. He is not far behind Lady Gaga, and Madonna or Brittney who came before him and focus more on the thrill of the performance than the actual voice quality. Which suprisingly actually works for audiences today - they flock to concerts that are lip-synced in their entirety. (Although it makes Australians angry)


SIDE NOTE: Give me Bruce Springsteen, the Moody Blues or Paul McCartney in performance any day of the week over any of the above.


Shock value is the only way to get tongues to wag about said performance because if you just do a stellar job of just plain singing, it is possible you won't even get noticed. 


Lambert was big on shock value during his AMA performance, using S&M, same sex face devouring, crotches in the face, and other assorted sexual acts. He later claimed that he got a bit carried away during the intensity of his song. Yeah, I'd agree with that.


And sure enough, everyone was talking about him the next day. "Hey it works!" he must have been thinking. One morning program pulled him off, after the same network received hundreds of complaints. Another morning program capitalized on the publicity by booking him instead.


All of this brings me to my rant of the day: There are ramifications to all of this in your face sexualization. Sex, sexual acts, sexual lyrics, sex on teenage soaps like Gossip Girl, sex in singing performances, Miley Cyrus pole dancing. It is everywhere, and even the most diligent, strict parent can't monitor everything.


With sexuality shoved down our throats in pop culture it is no wonder kids are acting out sexually at younger and younger ages. No wonder the rate of teen pregnancy is growing at an alarming rate. 


For those in the "industry" that have blinders on about the effects of sexually explicit television everywhere a teen tunes in, where promiscuity is glorified, I have this to say:


Talk to teachers and social workers and see what they are observing as a result of this highly charged sexualization of every venue in entertainment. 

Like the kindergarten teacher I spoke to recently that told me one of her boys was trying to hump the little girls - repeatedly. KINDERGARTEN! Or the social worker I know that sees younger and younger and younger pregnancies -fifth and sixth graders are not uncommon anymore. Babies having babies.


I have never advocated censorship, or even abstinence because I am smart enough to know neither extreme will work. (Bristol Palin, anyone?) 

I am a middle of the road gal most of the time. 


But when we look around at the reality of middle schoolers (and younger) partaking in increasingly dangerous behaviors even in more sheltered communities such as private schools - we have to accept that even responsible, devoted parents are fighting a losing battle with pop culture. A parent of a middle schooler confided in me that she has witnessed these middle school kids from highly supervised homes acting out what they are seeing on television at their get-togethers and parties. Pop songs about girls kissing girls results in girls trying that out. It's true. Dancing has become more like sex with clothes on, with boys and girls having little respect for their own bodies. This is what they see, so this is what they do. They are imitating what they see all around them.


Good parenting helps but kids would have to be completely isolated not to be exposed to this constant in-your-face sex. All the talks in the world won't change their behavior if everyone else is "doing it" at these parties. Parents have to practically isolate their children from peers in social situations if they want to avoid these acting out behaviors. Is that healthy? Some parents are so distressed, they remain in a state of denial - it is easier than being a mean, strict parent and trying to deal with these behaviors.


Shame on entertainers, producers, and money hungry people in the industry that are creating more and more social ills by sexualizing so much of entertainment. 


So while Adam Lambert may not understand the effect of his performance on his many young fans, perhaps he should sit down with some teachers and social workers. And for the rest of you, is freedom of expression worth the increasingly alarming effects on our children?


Thanksgiving for Moms of Adult Kids: Grateful Homecomings

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 11/24/2009 8:00 AM CST

It's not the turkey, stuffing, or pies we moms of older kids are craving as the holiday of Thanksgiving approaches. (Of course we are mostly the ones preparing all of the former, but that's besides the point)

Rather it's the homecoming of our adult children.
Like me, I have a lot of friends and acquaintances in my realm of life who are parents of adult children who live far away.

For some, children are still in college or graduate school, and for others, they have moved away for career, or marriage and family.

The end result: Mommies missing their kids.


(Side Note: Percentage wise, at least in my circle of friends, more and more of these adult kids seem to be moving far away. Sad, but true.)


In my situation, my children are far away this year and although it may not always be the case, I am having severe withdrawal symptoms for their physical presence and company.


Since I am officially addicted to Facebook, what with all that extra time on my hands to track my children's lives through same,  I noted that a lot of moms are leaving status messages heralding the homecoming of their kids for the Thanksgiving holiday.


Yes, the homecoming is THAT big of an event. Bigger than the turkey. Bigger than the biggest of football games.


Thanksgiving is just a snuggly, cozy, family holiday type of occasion. It is the one holiday that all Americans celebrate, regardless of religion. It's pretty much a given that no matter how far away, adult kids will want to trek home for the holiday. The one exception is my son who is spending the semester in Australia. He thinks it is a bit too far to come in for a long weekend.

So here we are, us older moms, just counting the days till we see our very much missed grown up children. (Dads too!)
And then we have to let them go again unfortunately, and much too soon.



The original idea behind the holiday was to give thanks for our country, but it has evolved into thankfulness for our family, friends, lifestyle, health, and any number of other things.

Add to that the thankfulness we feel as parents for our adult children, and for their presence at this holiday. 

We also reflect with thanks that they have the independence to carve out new lives whereever they have chosen to be, and that they have found happiness in those places, even if it is far away from us.  

We should also be thankful that they have turned into the kind of adults that are a pleasure to be around. 

Most of all, we can be thankful that our children are able to visit, and pause to think of those moms of soldiers who cannot have their adult children home for this holiday.


So for me, it is not truly a Thanksgiving holiday without a turkey, some stuffing, a pie or two, an adult child home, and and a heaping helping of thankfulness.


And a dollop of wishing the leavings would get a bit easier.

Finally, here's a bit of nostalgia, my daughter Elissa at age 4, on right, at the pumpkin patch.

Lis Pumpkin 

Poll: At What Age Are We Finally "Old?"

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 11/17/2009 8:00 AM CST

I don't know about everyone else, but when I stop to ponder my chronological age, I sometimes wonder why I don't feel as old as I am. 
I mean, I am over a half a century, and I know for a fact that used to be considered aged.

When I look back at photos of my grandparents or their peers at that age, they seemed MUCH older. I also know when I was a teen and young adult, their age was considered practically ancient. Did they all wear those same severe black oxford shoes? No, actually sometimes they were two-toned to match their dress outfit. 

Point in fact: Middle aged women were old then. Now we are YOUTHFUL. 

Isn't it funny how your concept of "old" gets pushed back into later chronological ages the older you get? My own current thinking has me putting old age at near 80 or so! Am I just an overgrown teenager?

And it's even funnier that we now come up with phrases such as "50 is the new 30" and "60 is the new 40." Because we all want to stay young. 

By the time I am 80, maybe we will be saying that 80 is the new 50. Or at least one could hope. Because I am feeling pretty good at this stage.

I must add that one must work hard at staying youthful in mind, body and spirit. I try to do all of that - my friends are the same.

I feel most youthful when I am having good old fashioned fun. For example, I still enjoy a good rock concert every now and then. I occasionally enjoy an immature movie, still geting a kick out of wacky, youthful comedy.

Maybe laughing at life has something to do with reversing aging.

A study was done recently and I read with great interest the results. Young people believe that old age begins at 60, while those already in their sixties thought old age began at 74.

If old age begins at 60, I am thinking of some of my friends pushing that envelope and they are definitely not old. Is there any adult that would agree on 60 as old age?

Do you think ours is the first forever young generation?  And what do you think is the age we finally become "old?"


Eating Disorders & Obsessions With Weight Between Mothers & Daughters

Posted by Arlene Lassinat 11/11/2009 8:00 AM CST

When my daughter was in fourth grade, it seemed to me that she and her little munchkin girlfriends were firmly enmeshed in childhood.

So that same year when my daughter announced to me that one of her close friends - a classmate- refused to eat and my daughter referred to this refusal to eat as anorexia, I was shocked. Shocked that she knew that term, shocked that one of her peers could be starving herself at that young an age, and full of grief for the end of my daughter's innocence about weight issues and eating disorders. It was the first inkling I had that eating disorders were cropping up in younger and younger girls.

Knowing girls' vulnerability to comments on weight and disordered eating, I tried to avoid the focus on sizes of people. She had friends of all shapes and she didn't judge friends by how they looked.  I did the best I could to consciously provide my daughter with information and behavior that I thought would steer of clear of a bad relationship with food - with the exception of discussing my own ups and downs and displeasure with weight gain. I now know that I should have avoided that as well.

All along though, the media was also bombarding her and her peers with the stick thin standard of beauty. Any mother would be and still is fighting a losing battle when it comes to that.

Of course eating is tied to many emotions - as all of us who do some comfort eating know too well. 

Granted, severe eating disorders are the result of control and other underlying issues. And anorexia is not the only eating disorder that affects young people. Bingeing, yo-yo dieting, unhealthy preoccupation with ingredients, and many other unhealthy habits in regards to eating are prevalent in teens and young adults. Disordered eating behaviors are becoming more and more common.

My daughter is thin and doesn't necessarily diet, but she watches everything she eats very carefully. She is a label reader, and while she isn't obsessed with her weight, she is concerned when she puts on a few pounds. She is a young woman of 22, and she holds a very tough standard for her own weight. This has caused me some concern.


I wrote a feature recently on a lovely young woman who has had a horrendous battle with a severe eating disorder and her tough - and still ongoing recovery.

Just recently I have noticed that Taylor Swift has gotten bonier and bonier each time I see her on TV. Her face is naturally roundish, but when you look at her neck and shoulder bones jutting out, it makes me think of just a few short years ago when she looked like a regular (albeit thin) girl. 


Similarly, I have watched Kelly Ripa and Madonna taking staying thin and in shape to  the point of obsession. It's no longer attractive on either of them. Kelly looks like a stick figure with ripped arms, Madonna too.


Women in the public eye certainly have a very critical mass studying their every ounce of appearance, and it's true that every day women like me are also scrutinized for weight, as I have written about in several past blogs.

At any rate, here's just a few tips for moms of daughters of what you can do to give their daughters a healthy and non-obsessive view of body image and weight.

Do encourage healthy eating habits for the health of it
Do point out how models/actresses are NOT role models for weight
Don't verbalize your own battles with weight.
Don't constantly diet unless it is for health reasons
Don't criticize overweight people
Don't stress/point out/obsess about your daughter not being svelte
Don't put your daughter on a diet during childhood unless it is advised by a physician
Monitor your weight related comments

Be Honest, How Many Sizes Do You Keep In Your Closet?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 11/2/2009 8:00 AM CST

This is NOT just a question posed for women. Men over 30, I am talking to you too. You know you keep those old jeans around out of nostalgia, in the hopes that the beer belly you gradually have acquired gets tapered down from all those sporting activities you still partake in. (Okay, that last comment was directed specifically at my husband!)


As for women, I am among the legions who hold on to favorite items of clothing even though those cute clothes are a size (or two) down.


After my divorce many years ago, I didn't have any appetite and lost quite a bit of weight. I was beginning to look like Tori Spelling or Lindsey Lohan until I took a good look in the mirror and started forcing food down my gullet. Since this was also the era of dating for me, I bought some really cute small dating type outfits.


And then I met my husband and in my contented state, I gained a bit of weight - back to my normal, before divorce size, and then some.


Lately, as I have dealt with the wonderful side effects of low estrogen amounts due to menopause, I have been fighting weight gain in a targeted area that I never experienced before, necessitating a different pants size. I didn't want to go there, but comfort is more important than a number, right?


So if you take a stroll through my ridiculously sized master closet that I don't even have to share with my husband because he has his own walk-in closet, you will see the various remnants of my assorted sizes. Up, down, and all around.

SIDE NOTE ABOUT MY CLOSET: I bought a home that was custom built by a man who owned a chain of clothing stores, who was obviously obsessed with closet space. So I have more closet space and built-ins than any three normal houses put together. Factoid: my own master closet- square-footage size, is larger than my entire bedroom of the rowhome that I grew up in. (Oh, how far I have come from my humble beginnings, just based on the closet/room size.)


Getting back to sizes and numbers, I have fluctuated between slim and average since I passed the age of 30. (However, if I compare myself to French women, it is more than average.)


So there are several sizes currently languishing in my closet, waiting for that magical time when I will return to my skinnier self and be able to wear them again. Will they still be in style then? Doubtful. So why exactly am I holding on to them?


I probably wouldn't mind wearing all of the higher number, since most of what I bought in it is black. (Sooo slimming, don't you think?)
I almost think I am ready for elastic at the waistband. I mean, is it just for retirees in Florida or can I go for that at my age?

But there's my mother who thinks if you are more than a size zero, you are too fat. 

Picture me at my most emaciated looking due to "divorce-diet"and my mother's comment: "You look great!" Everyone else's comment: "You look emaciated! Eat a sandwich!"


Then picture me as a big-boned girl at 5' 7" height looking quite slim. My mother's comment: "Don't gain any more weight!" (that's an order!)


Finally, picture me most recently. My mother's comment: "You've gotten puffy."


It's not just my mother's comments, (In the past had I been vulnerable for an eating disorder those comments certainly would have put me over the top) 

Everyone seems to comment on weight, as I described in a past blog "Weight! Keep that Compliment to Yourself!"


I recently connected and visited with a childhood friend who lives far away and who just went through a divorce with the resulting weight loss.


Me, as I am stuffing my face with a delicious brie and asparagus omlette: "I am resigning myself to the menopausal weight gain."

My friend as she delicately takes bird-like bites of egg whites: "At our age we have to watch every single morsel that goes into our mouths."

Me (not expressing, but just thinking I just don't want to live that way.) "Sigh."


I blame the media in large part for making women feel like they have to be stick thin. I long for the days of voluptuous women like Marilyn Monroe who were the beauty standard. Look at what Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson go through in a very public way. Neither are anywhere near fat, but each couple of pounds they may gain is scrutinized and they are then called fat. 


In the meantime, with my own fluctuations, I guess it is wise to keep a few of the sizes in my closet. Comfort is key.


So I am curious and I pose this question to both men and women: How many sizes do you have in your closet? Do you fluctuate and really use all those sizes, or do you keep the lower numbers for nostalgia?


Fatal Atrractions: Being Stupid By Trying to Get Some on the Job

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 10/30/2009 8:00 AM CDT

I posted a blog not long ago about my opinion of David Letterman being a sexual predator because he was coming from a position of power in a working environment. I unleashed a bunch of anger for calling him that. But now it looks like I was right. Just read this interview to get a clue.

Some of us understood what Letterman did all those years was more than "two consenting coworkers dating" as many of my commenters suggested. ( a naive blinders-on viewpoint if I ever heard one) It's coming to light, with stories such as this, that Lettman created a very uncomfortable work place for females, preyed on girls, gave favors to girls and encouraged others on his staff to do the same. There will be much more coming out before it is all said and done.

Since I have a background in psychology, I know how young girls fall prey to men in power when they are just starting out in the working world. Most are impressionable, and lack the emotional maturity to date someone much older, who may be bound to a marriage.

So in case you haven't concluded this yet, it's never a good idea to embark in what Steve Phillips of ESPN just got fired for doing. Not only can it create a "Fatal Attraction" crazy person, but you can easily lose your job over these indiscretions. I know of a couple of men who have lost their jobs from harassment accusations after affairs.

It just isn't smart. Underlings in the workplace is not the best dating pool to choose from. 

Now I know it is NOT always men, as some of my readers reminded me. Women do plenty of stupid things in the workplace too. In particular, female teachers seem to be all over the news lately as being the predators towards their young charges. This is criminal behavior that deserves the worst sanctions available.

Remember Mary Kay LeTourneau who "found her soul mate" in a 12 year old male student of hers? There have been dozens of "hot to trot" teachers since then. It is definitely the grossest form of predator behavior in the workplace - yet it continues to happen again and again.


Predators come in both genders. I never said that men are the only ones who do stupid things sexually. 

When predator behavior occurs on the job, it risks livelihood, legal ramifications, and many other ugly things. How can any thrill be worth all that? 

And do the rest of you still believe it was two consenting "equal" adults and that Letterman's girls got no favors or promotions? 
If you do, I have some swamp land to show you.


Dream/Nightmare of Teeth Crumbling and Falling Out Comes True

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 10/26/2009 8:01 AM CDT

I recently read on a website that one of the most common nightmares is the one I have had recurring since I was a small child. It is one where you dream very vividly that your teeth all crumble and fall out, and you wake up thinking you are toothless.

This means, according to dream analysts, one of two things: I am vain about my appearance, or I have anxiety about embarrassing myself. Well, I am a bit vain, thanks to a combination of a mother who made me that way focusing on looks; and spending my important formative years being yucky looking and getting teased. 
So while I do care about my appearance, I am not obsessed with it. As explained in previous blogs, I am plastic surgery-free, and not as slim as I used to be either.

Generally, I am blessed with excellent health with the exception of my mouth. I am doomed by genetics on my father's side (thanks alot Dad!) and those horrid sugary candies of my youth such as Pixie Stix, Lik-a-Maid, and those candy necklaces. (Remember all of those? How is it possible that I even enjoyed them?) 
I have also crunched and ground my teeth in my sleep unknowingly for years before getting a mouth guard. Those unfortunate factors had me getting more root canals than anyone else I know. My dentist swears that I take impeccable care of my teeth and gums, but too late - the dentistry done on me in the 60's and 70's was inferior to what can be done now, and early decay proved to be very destructive later on.

Aside from first time root canals, I have had more RE-TREATS of root canals than anyone I know. This involves going in and removing the crown and doing the root canal all over. Fun times. Sometimes they have to go through the gum to do this. Even more fun. And then you get to replace the crown too.

After thousands and thousands of dollars on dental work - none cosmetic by the way (so I am not THAT vain obviously) many of my root canals - particularly the re-treated ones, are beginning to fail.

When that happens, the tooth has to be extracted. I don't want to be toothless, and don't want to have removable appliances like my dear old Dad (Have I mentioned that he always forgets to put in his appliances including the time when he visited for my son's college graduation?)- so my only choice is implants. If not for those, I would eventually be sporting a set of dentures or perhaps gumming my food.

Implants involve major surgery, including bone grafting, stitches and a lot of pain. The results aren't guaranteed to work either. It has to be done by specialists too. (Read: Very Expensive)

So the point of this blog today as I recuperate from my latest go-round is that I finally figured out that my teeth crumbling dream that I have had for more years than I can count is not symbolic of anything other than a simple premonition of the fate of my own teeth. 


So take that you dream analyzers! I am living my own dental nightmare. 


I guess it could be worse. I know of a woman who had bad gums and she had to do a full mouth of implants. Sometimes I think I should get all of it over with at once and do the same. Except it is an absolute fortune, and you just don't pull out teeth before they are pronounced hopeless.


Middle age means there will be some deterioration of our aging bodies and necessary repairs that will need to be done. So now that I have publicly shared, how are you falling apart?

Click here to return to the current Hot Flashes blog

Another Pet Peeve: Rubbernecking and Other Scary Driving Habits

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 10/22/2009 8:01 AM CDT

The other day I came "this close" to being in an accident. You know the scenario - you slam on the brakes and see that you were, by just inches, mercifully spared from the grief of an accident, but even so your heart is pounding like crazy and your adrenaline is pumping away.


The cause? Some people on the freeway were rubbernecking, causing a major backup on two lanes of the road, and people were swerving right to get on a better lane. So some idiot, probably on his cell phone as well and not paying attention cut me off. As mad as I was at that driver that almost collided with me, I was even more frustrated as I got to the cause of the slowdown and saw it was a single disabled vehicle and about three tow trucks with lights flashing vying for the opportunity to serve. This in turn caused two lanes of the freeway to be at an absolute crawl. (Don't even get me started on the tow trucks)


Adding fifteen minutes to people's commute because others find something to look at on an emergency lane isn't new. It happens just about every day. Are our lives THAT boring that something like a disabled vehicle is worth slowing down to look at? 


Or even an accident - I know the saying that people love watching a train wreck. Similarly, they love to watch an auto accident, causing slowdowns, frustrations, and aggressive driving.


I know most of you are going to write that cell phone yakking is more annoying, but even worse of course is texting. Those hand held smart phones are too much of a distraction in a moving vehicle, and there should be a ban on driving and texting if there is going to be one on talking. Hands-free devices only might be a solution, except there are still those who get so wrapped up in conversation that they don't pay attention to the road. I mean, look what the cell phone conversation did to the flight controller in that tragic and avoidable accident over the Hudson. 

Finally, a guy parked his semi in a skinny emergency lane just today and walked over to the side where freeway cars were just zipping by. You can imagine what might have happened if just one driver was distracted enough by a phone or something on the radio and drove in too close towards that emergency lane. 

I think I am going to take up bicycling again. I don't need to wait until I am in my 80's to wonder if I can safely drive. I am middle aged and wondering if anyone else out there can drive. 
Has the driving world become scarier, or is it my middle aged nervous system imagining it?

Balloon Boy and Gosselins: When Using Kids for Fame Takes a New Low

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 10/18/2009 10:53 AM CDT

I hate to say I called this, but at least I was skeptical from the get-go as the rest of the nation was riveted by the "balloon boy" saga.
Once I read that the family appeared on "Wife Swap" not once - but twice, and that they wanted a reality show of their own, I figured it was a big publicity stunt. It was hard for me to believe a child could get "accidentally" on a balloon that became airborne. This usually only happens in Pixar/Disney movies like "Up." (A-Ha! This is where they got the idea for their stunt!)

Once these wacky parents got a taste of fame, they just couldn't live without it.

Out of the mouth of babes: Sometimes even when kids are forced to lie, they end up telling the truth. Such was the case of Falcon Heene, all of 6 years old. Inadvertently, he was honest when posed a question by his dad, and this was the reason the entire fabrication began unraveling for the family.

That poor 6 year old got violently ill at having to perpetuate a lie in front of cameras.

I got yelled at (nothing uncommon here in the trenches of opinion blogs) last year for calling out another set of parents more interested in getting rich and famous than protecting their kids - the Gosselins. 
I wrote that blog way before they separated and the show started falling apart. I called them "gravy trainers"  - making a buck off their kids, without even considering how being the subject of a reality television show would affect the children. Both Kate (who now appears on the View and signed for another talk show as well as continuing on the new titled show Kate Plus Eight) and Jon have become fame whores. Were their intentions EVER anything else?

Team Kate or Team Jon? How about TEAM KIDS? That's where I am coming from. Isn't anyone adult enough to think of the kids first? 

This whole business with reality television (in every form on every channel) exploits any children involved. Just as Paul Peterson created an organization that assists children actors exploited from early television fame, there needs to be some kind of organization to help children who didn't have a say in becoming subjects of a reality show.

It is difficult enough to grow up in today's world and end up well adjusted without having television cameras in place all over the home. 

Yes, I know that as long as those same reality shows have viewers, they will continue to be produced. Is there really NOTHING better to watch for those of you who do watch this stuff? May I recommend instead some good reading then? Or reruns of sitcoms, or movies on demand, or just about anythingelse? 
Think of how much better a world we would have without stations like TLC?

Yes, Virginia, Random Acts of Kindness Still Happen in this Town

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 10/15/2009 8:00 AM CDT

Two short anecdotes of events that convinced me that there are plenty ofgood people around. (I have to agree that good people are not on TV like Jack Johnson sings if you clicked on that link. But Jack, I have good news for you - the good people have gone to Houston!) 

Another thing -  both happened on the same day!

First, I was in a store doing a quick errand before I needed to be somewhere, and I was wearing an expensive suit that has to be dry cleaned. Not a suit you would want to get soaking wet. It was so sunny when I went into the store, I needed my sunglasses. Not a black cloud to be seen.

Twenty minutes later, I emerged from the store to find a drenching downpour. I was parked all the way across the parking lot and of course had no umbrella on my person. The shopping center looked like a ghost town - not a soul was around - so I decided, even though I was running late, I would have to wait out the storm. The rain just got more torrential, but finally a lovely woman pulled up to the store with one of those teeny tiny umbrellas. Only one person appeared the entire time I was standing there trying to wait it out. But that's all it took. She saw I was stranded so she offered to walk me to my car -- through huge puddles. Since the umbrella was barely big enough for one, half of my body got soaked, half my hair too.

This poor woman got half soaked too, and got her pants and shoes soggy from the puddles. How kind and generous of her was that? If she somehow sees this blog, I thank her from the bottom of my soggy heart.

Then I heard from two young women that they were out to lunch when an old guy came up to them. Thinking the worst, they braced themselves. He quickly told his tale of being old and having cancer, and he said he had more money than God, so he was going around each day finding people to treat to lunch, saying, "I can't take it with me." Their entire lunch tab was paid, and he told them not to bother with a tip because he took care of that too. It made both women practically burst into tears.

If that kind man is reading this blog, I am praying for your return to good health. This country needs more people like you around.

Hope this blog inspires you to do a random act of kindness - you never know when it will come back to you!


Bizarre But True Small World Story

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 10/12/2009 8:00 AM CDT

I can't get that darn It's A Small World After All song out of my head. It's because of a recent discovery and even as I type this, that song is playing like an endless loop in my brain, just like it is on the Disneyland ride of the same name. 

But seriously, if this is not a small world story - WITHOUT the help of Internet, computers, and networking sites to connect people across thousands of miles, then I don't know what is.

My husband, Gary, grew up in a working class section of Philadelphia of young families raising lots of kids. It was a great place for a while, and many of the kids who grew up together stayed good friends.
Since the homes were modest, many upwardly mobile people left after their careers took off. 
Gary's parents stayed for the long haul, so even after the surrounding area got a little tough, he went to local schools and hung out with a wide assortment of neighborhood kids.

Another kid named Howard didn't stick around long. Howard grew up on Gary's block - in fact he lived right across the street, and was very friendly with Gary and the whole gang. They played all kinds of ball games together, and explored the area as young boys do.

When Howard was just 9 years old, he moved away to a suburb. That was the last Gary saw or heard of him. 
Gary left that neighborhood eventually when he was on his own, and then left Philadelphia to move to Houston.

Fast forward to recent history: I was assigned to write a feature on a lovely woman who was being honored. It happened as a matter of coincidence that although I never knew this woman before, she lived just around the corner from me. (literally about 9 houses away)

I told my husband that I discovered a new neighbor by being assigned to write her story. I mentioned her name and said that she had a husband named Howard. 

Gary thought it was a coincidence that they lived so close, but he was more interested in the name of the husband of this woman because he told me he was childhood friends in Philadelphia with someone with the same first and last name. 

Guess what? Our neighbor Howard, who unknowingly lived around the corner from us and who we had never met, is the same Howard who lived on Gary's block until the age of 9 and who was good friends with Gary back in the day.

1300 miles away from their origins,  yet neighbors again! From across the street some forty some odd years later, to nine doors away!

What are the chances?

Do  you have any "small world" stories similar to share? I would love to hear them! Oh, and sorry if you now have that song repeating in your head too.


Why I Am Psychic, and Why Letterman, Clinton, and Polanski are Predators

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 10/6/2009 8:01 AM CDT

UPDATE: I read and accept all comments, even the especially mean spirited ones. I do admit my title was misleading and sensationalistic - the better to grab attention. I still think there are many levels of predators, and I acknowledge that pedophiles and rapists are a million times worse than other types of predators. 
I stand by my opinion that it is the responsibility of the much older person in a position of power NOT to act as a predator would in grooming some young, infatuated girl and then reward her for having sex.

From what I can see in the news, the only way this one Stephanie Birkitt was rewarded in this, according to commentors below, "mutual adult relationship" is that she got some perks on the job - higher pay, screen time, pseudo-celebrity. But what does she have to show for her long relationship with him starting when she was fresh out of college? What if she had dreams of being with him, and all the while he was living with his common-law wife/girlfriend/babymama - who he then married. Now she has to endure humiliation as the whole story unfolds. And Letterman gets unconditional support - "atta boy," "way to go" is what we seem to be saying to him. I don't buy it. But folks, seriously, this is JUST MY OPINION. It's a blog, and I get to give my OPINION, just as you get yours in the comments section. Thank you, and the original post stands as is, below:

My excuse for not posting this earlier - way earlier-- is that I was out of town last week when this news broke. (I haven't figured out how to remotely get my blog going.) I know MeMo, and even Ken Hoffman have weighed in on this and I have seen a 50/50 split in opinion from the Chronicle readers on whether Letterman is a pig/predator, or whether he is just a guy that takes a fancy to (much younger) women who work for him.

But darn it, I am here on the mom pages, and as the mom of a young woman, I have something else to add - and I have to get it off my chest too.

I went through a period of time where Letterman was part of my nighttime ritual - my television was always tuned in. I found him quirky, funny (at times),  immature (at times) and a pretty decent interviewer. 

I also appreciated how he used Clinton as the target of attacks for what Clinton did to his young intern.  I looked at the whole sordid affair both from being a former young woman prone to crushes on famous people; to a mom's perspective, having a teen daughter of my own. I had worked around famous married baseball players who were predatorial and I knew how easily a young girl could get caught up in an infatuation of someone powerful or famous, and use bad judgment. I saw other girls on the receiving end live with shame, broken hearts, or worse, while the powerful predator got another notch in his belt.

I feel strongly that it is the burden on the older, more adult person in a position of fame and power to act appropriately. Whether you agree or not on whether Roman Polanski still should pay for his crime, at the time it happened he took disgusting advantage of a young, impressionable girl.

So there I was watching Letterman each and every night, when regularly during the late 90's, a young girl started appearing in lots of on-air segments. Letterman referred to her as "an intern." Most of the skits he used this intern in were inane, a complete waste of airtime, and only demonstrated that the girl had no acting ability or stage presence whatsoever.

Hmm, I thought at the time as I watched him use this same "intern" week after week, year after year. He seemed so tickled with her, but it wasn't translating to the screen. In other words, Letterman was clearly infatuated, but doubtful anyone else was-with the exception of her family. I was such a regular viewer, I learned her name in one interview Letterman had with her, where he made fun of her real last name, Birkitt - mispronouncing it and having fun with it. He called her pet names such as Monty, Smitty, and Vickie, and she called him Carney. (One regular skit that I had to turn off because it was so annoying was his weekly Monday telephone call to her where he asked her what she did over the weekend. For viewers who never witnessed this: Watching Paint Peel BORING!)

In other words, they had a whole private dialog going -something that the viewers couldn't quite grasp. The two of them  were completely amused by each other, even if the viewing audience didn't get the joke. I felt very sure at the time that he was infatuated with her. She wasn't particularly pretty, but she was very, very young.

Even weirder - he didn't use any other female interns in bits like he did her. Hmmm, I wondered. Why such favoritism?

Well folks, we all have the answer now, don't we? Letterman was tickled with her, infatuated with her, and sleeping with her. In turn for sleeping with the boss, Birkitt got the prime television spots in skits that no one else there got. She, who started as a lowly intern, and then associate producer, was promoted to Letterman's assistant! (the better to have private time together no doubt)

Would a young girl straight out of college normally fall for someone her dad's age, who isn't even good looking, if he wasn't famous or powerful? Probably not. 

The very night that the news broke last week as I listened to a very non-contrite Letterman, like the psychic I am, I immediately thought that one of his affairs must have been with his "intern" Birkitt. I was thinking this before the stories the next day on who was doing the extortion, and how it involved Birkitt. 

Turned out she was the main character, with bits of her diary ready to be used by her boyfriend to blackmail Letterman. I was going around telling everyone how I predicted this. But then, news of another young intern surfaced. 

How many more are there going to be?

For the 50% (or more) of you out there who do not think Letterman was a predator in all this, I ask you these questions: Was he able to take advantage of his position as a rich, famous person and use that to lure a very young, impressionable girl into a sexual relationship? Did he extend favors to her because she had sex with him?

If the answer to those two questions is yes, then he is by definition a predator. He used his power to lure her, and paid her with favors, just like Clinton.

So, we find out that Letterman is a hypocrite, a predator, and a geeky looking man who finds a way to get what he wants from young girls in his charge. They are his personal toys to play with.

Maybe I am the only one NOT surprised by all this because I had an inkling all along. It seems pretty clear that nothing much is going to happen to him. The extortionist is going to be punished, that is pretty certain. The intern got a law school education out of the deal and now it appears she has a pattern of going for older men/sugar daddies. 

Remember that although Letterman wasn't officially married, he had a long-term common-law wife at home and a child. He was living with her at the time this all happened.

Now it remains to be seen how his guests treat him, or how his wife will endure this pain. Will they give him a dose of his own medicine?


How Long Do You Keep Grown Kids' Bedrooms Intact When They Have Moved Out?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 9/29/2009 8:03 AM CDT

I am not one of those moms who waits until the teens go off to college to clear out all of their memorabilia, and turns the room into an exercise room or guest quarters. 

I am actually more the kind of mom who keeps rooms so intact after the college kids leave, that you could call it a shrine. Not a ticket stub, not a scratched CD, not a half-used-sticky lip gloss tube tossed away. 
Brett's Room

My son Brett's shrine.

blog post photo
My daughter Elissa's girly room

Weeks of summer mail and bank statements are folded into neat little piles and put on their desks. Random photos, here, there and everywhere, filed in their "photo drawer." Lotions, keychains, cards, notes, old textbooks are all left in plastic drawers or boxes, exactly as they were left there. Onesie earrings, placed in the jewelry box. That's as far as I go with ordering their stuff after they leave.

The kids are pack rats like their mom and have far too many sentimental tokens, but I know where their neurosis comes from, so far be if from me to start paring down their lives.

It's pretty clear though, that both my son Brett, and my daughter Elissa, are off on their own now. They are not going to be using their rooms for more than brief visits since they are both in graduate school and settled in their own places. Even once they graduate, it is certain that they will be earning enough money to be on their own, and this is their absolute intention as they have made it known.
Lis Dallas

Elissa in her grad school apartment (new bedroom)

So when do I give them the mandate to clear out the stuff, decide what is valid memorabilia, and what is trash, and donate the rest to charity? How long should I keep their shines going? 

Until the grandchildren arrive and I need rooms for babies/toddlers/small children?

And if they aren't motivated to heed that call, do I just box up their stuff and send it up to the attic to collect dust and cobwebs forevermore? Or do I trash and donate it? (Actually, scratch that last one - I don't think I am capable)

Maybe the rooms are there more for me now than them. Perhaps I might need to pop it there to remind myself that I had kids grow up in my home, and they had full and happy lives there, even if they've emptied my nest.

What do you think? When is it time?

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Rudeness is Relative to your Geography, Unless You are a Total Narcissist like Kanye

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 9/22/2009 8:15 AM CDT

I have to say, I was going to resist the urge to respond on my blog to the incidents of utter disrespect and rudeness that have been making the rounds recently. Enough has been written about Kanye at the MTV Awards. (An award show so not on our middle aged radar anymore) Plenty has been written about Serena Williams and Joe Wilson too.


I wasn't surprised by Kanye though. He has a long history of spoiled brat outbursts. I may have written this before, from my vantage point of being a successful parent and former psychologist, some kids are raised with too much self esteem. These are the type of kids who grow up thinking the world revolves around them and them alone. Everyone else is wrong, becausetheirs is the only opinion that matters. They are raised to be a narcissist. Kanye is a perfect example of this.


Serena I was more surprised by - she had never appeared to be ill-tempered, spoiled, or an ego-maniac.


Most surprising was Sen Joe Wilson. Not because he is a politician who should know decorum when a US President is speaking, but because he is from the South. I didn't think anyone in the South was that rude. But wait, he has lived in Washington DC up north for a while, so maybe his behavior is relative to where he lives. 


I can say this, my own threshold for rudeness has been lowered because I have lived in Houston for 28 years. I am originally from Philadelphia. This is the town that booed Santa Claus during a Phila. Eagles football game one time. The fans in that town are called boo-birds. They let their bad manners fly whenever, wherever, and seldom think of whose feelings they are hurting.


I know it isn't right to generalize, and I have many close friends and wonderful relatives who still live in the Philly area who aren't rude, but there are plenty of other folks who are, and their opinion of whether someone is rude is tainted by the area they live in.


This is one of the reasons I fell in love with Houston. Not only was I bombarded with southern hospitality when I first arrived, mostly because I latched on to some natives who showed me how to treat a stranger like family. The friendliness, sincerity, and warmth and utter caring of the people in Houston astounded me. I had lived in the city of Philly just prior and was used to people walking with their heads down so as to avoid contact, and there were seldom smiles, or nods hello, like you would get in Houston.


In other words, I found this little town of ours to be like a breath of fresh air in that regard. It made me want to raise my children here. You know the saying - it takes a village.

In my people features that I write for the Chronicle and other publications, I can't even count the number of times someone from somewhere else said they decided to stay in Houston because of the wonderful people here and the loving, caring, embracing community.
(My friend Alan from Boston just asked a newcomer who is staying in Houston this question: "You planned on staying here only two years, right? And then fell in love with the place so you're staying, right? Yeah, me too.")


There are more transplants up in Philly these days and I am totally game to the possibility that manners have changed, but the following anecdote made me realize early on that I made the right choice in where to raise my children.


My son was about 8 years old, and a very polite little southern gentleman. My daughter at the time was around 5. We were visiting relatives in the Philly area and we went to a food store. My daughter was in the shopping cart, and my son walked beside me. As we rounded a corner, a woman with a cart, and obviously in a big hurry slammed into us, rattling me and my daughter. My first instinct - even though it wasn't our fault-- was to say, "I'm so sorry," apologizing for the bump, even though we both simultaneously caused it. The woman gave us a sneer and a very dirty look in response to the apology, prompting my son to inquire," Mommy, why are people so mean here?" My own children at their young and tender ages had already been observing the differences in culture - gracious versus dog-eat-dog.


Another anecdote much later on further reinforced this. My niece Liza and her mom traveled from Philly to Austin to visit my daughter at college. My niece was observing the behavior of the guys there for an entire weekend. First, she was totally shocked when my daughter's boyfriend pulled up chairs for the women as they tried to find spaces at a crowded venue. Instinctual for Paul and many Southern boys, but not for the boys my niece Liza was used to in the suburbs of Philly. She inquired afterwards of my daughter, "Are all boys here that polite?" Through the weekend, Liza noticed and pointed out to my daughter the differences between Southern boys at Texas and the boys she knew. My daughter decided that weekend that she would need to marry a Southern guy, and Liza decided none of the boys from her neck of the woods would stand a chance with girls in Texas.

At dinner the other night with two other couples - both originally from Philly, with one couple having only recently arrived, and one settled here for a few years - a lively discussion of manners followed.
Jeff, the recent (very vocal) transplant was talking about tapping on his horn when people sat at green lights in front of him. (I am figuring it is more of a blast than a tap) Emily, who has been here a couple of years and now reflects more genteel mannerisms (It doesn't take long to transform!) was very politely telling him that he was being rude. I just smiled knowingly that in a few years Jeff will reflect the manners of those around him here in Houston, rather than the ones he brought from Philadelphia.

Every few months or so I get other examples from a dear friend in New Jersey, who has described numerous instances of rudeness that I insist to her could not possibly happen in Houston.

I am not maligning entire regions of the U.S. here - I am only saying that their "opinion" of rude and polite varies wildly with the average Houstonian "opinion" of rude and polite. There are good, kind souls in every region, every area, and every city. I know that very well. I love my friends and relatives who are still in that area and think they are wonderful people. They laugh when we share these kinds of anecdotes because they know the two areas are a little bit different.


But as for Kanye, well, I don't think there are too many humans in the country or world who would not agree what he did to Taylor Swift, a mere teen, was incredibly rude. It wasn't his drunken, arrogant manner that I objected to most. It was more reflected even in his "apologies" later -- that HIS opinion is more valid than others.(See narcissist)


I get an awful lot of opinions back on my blog comments, especially where people differ with my own opinions, and I understand that I am  writing my opinion, while allowing others to have their own. That's why they get the space to comment. (Even though most don't even bother to read the entire post before commenting - now that's rude!) 


Beyonce, who is from Houston, was the gracious one that evening, making up to Taylor Swift for Kanye's rudeness. Coincidence? I think not.


In Memory of Ike, Just One Year Ago

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 9/13/2009 8:05 AM CDT

Wow, here it is - one year ago since Ike. When I look at the current storm season and lack of panic compared to years past- especially after Katrina and up to Ike, it is like a total non-event and I am grateful for that.

I wrote several blogs about the fear mongering before Ike and then what did I know, a hurricane had a direct hit on Houston.

I learned a lot thanks to the hurricane though.

First, my typical complacency in the face of approaching storms should be replaced with preparedness. 

Second, and I always knew this, but the storm reinforced it, my friends are really my Houston family who can be counted on during a time of crisis. 

Hopefully we will have lots of years between Ike and our next weather event. 

Below is what I reflected on immediately after Ike.

Some random things I learned from my third experience with a natural disaster:


Be thankful for safety. For the millions who were not injured, I have a feeling of overwhelming gratitude that a major weather event could occur in Houston and most of us were safe without evacuating.


Be just as thankful for wonderful friends. Since we have no family in Houston, our close friends are just like family to us. Although we were all without power and all in the same post-Hurricane boat, friends Susan and Stan, and Susan and Michael invited us over numerous times for meals. Aside from the fabulous food we were served (my husband made the comment that he was eating better than normal, post-hurricane) just being with caring friends, sharing stories, and even jokes and laughter, made the experience so much more bearable.

Marry a guy with an engineering background, and a boy scout preparedness mentality. My friend Lucy was not so fortunate and immediately hightailed it outta here to the nearest hotel which happened to be in Victoria, Texas, where I might add she stayed for a week.

(Prompting me to ponder: What does one do for a week in Victoria?) 


I still believe in my stay and hunker down philosophy. 


The proportion of greenery and trees in a neighborhood is directly proportional to the amount of huge brown piles of dead greenery after a storm. I never realized before how surrounded I am by greenery. Note all the big brown piles in the photo below:

On a similar note, nature provided a tree trimming service free of charge. Those huge majestic oaks that provided a canopy from the blazing sun in my backyard are now quite bare. I only hope they can still feed the large squirrel population that my dogs find so entertaining to watch.

Also, the amount of trees in a neighborhood is roughly proportional to how long they will go without power. Just ask my friends in Memorial.


Resist stocking up on frozen goods from Sam's during Hurricane season. It is just more stuff to have to toss in the event of a power outage.


Buy a generator. Sure they are expensive, loud, use gasoline which is impossible to get after a storm, and emit carbon dioxide making them potentially dangerous, but living in pioneer times gets old quickly. I personally am thinking of a bigger, better, more money generator. Power is powerful, people!


The iPhone I knew would be a necessity someday and which I magically was able to get has been my communication lifesaver. From phone calls and emails, paying bills, reading news, using the internet, etc. Our phones are with a provider who connects through the internet so we have no land lines. 

I can't imagine how cut off from communication I would have felt if it were not for this little wonder. I even did my online banking and bill pay with that little bugger. (Note: Tried to blog, but alas, it pushed past the limits of the iPhone)


Get rid of all rooftop attic doors.

Me to Husband at 4 am the night of Ike: Honey, why is it raining inside?

Husband: I'll stick a bucket there and check it out in the morning.

(Note: our attic door, padlocked on, was blown off, letting the wind and the rain inside.)


Find neighbors who are willing to share the cost of fence repairs. I love my wonderful neighbors!

A new appreciation for things like air conditioning, internet, etc. Old timers, tell me - how did you exist in Houston without it?


Homeowners Policy Deductible: INSANE!

Related note: Start a disaster savings fund to deal with unexpected extra expenses.


I love this city and since the last direct hit on us was in 1962 or so, I think I'll take my chances continuing to live here without panicking that another one will blow through.
Feel grateful for minor inconveniences when all in all, your suburban area of Houston was a lucky one.


Mom's Balancing Act After 9-11

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 9/10/2009 5:54 PM CDT

It was a day burned into our collective memories, the kind of day where you always will remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you got the news.

Terrorism went from being a distant faraway concept to an up close and personal thing to many of us, myself included, with the attacks on our own soil on 9-11-01. I think each of us had our own private grief to deal with, compounded if we knew of someone who had lost their life due to those terroristic acts.

I vividly remember my own heartbreak each and every time the vision of the Twin Towers crumbling was shown on television, or each time I heard the voices from the brave passengers in the planes.

As a mother, I had a big job on my hands too, as my children were 14 and 16 and needed to feel safe at a time when the world seemed very scary. I remember talking a lot about it. We were the type of family who had dinner together every night no matter how crazy our schedule, and so we used that time for months afterward to talk about terrorism, vulnerability, and the way the world changed. This was one time where moms could not keep children protected from bad news and evil, and so we talked and talked about it. I balanced a tightrope of keeping them informed through all the horrible news and making them feel safe at the same time.

I do remember one good thing that came out of that frightening time though. My children and I dragged out the old flags we had stored away, and put them around our property. Everywhere we looked in our neighborhood, flags were flying. This form of rampant patriotism was something I was happy to have my children witness. They were gently guided to a whole new appreciation of words like democracy and freedom, and having a deep pride and love for their country.

Each 9-11 since, I pause to remember the innocent victims of terrorism, and at the same time hope this world can somehow form a blanket of humanity where respect for human life is put above all else. That's the kind of world I want for my children's future.


Moms Unite! Labor Day Should Commemorate Hardest Labor of All!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 9/6/2009 5:31 PM CDT

Maybe it is just me, but every time I hear the word labor, I think of it in only one way. Maternal labor. As in giving birth. Though it was 22 years ago most recently for me, both instances of my own labor stay vividly in my memory. I think it must be part of this pact I spoke of that women make with the devil. Yes, it's that bad. It's basically the hardest labor imaginable. So I think there should be a day to commemorate it.

My favorite joke about labor is by Bill Cosby who does a routine where he tries to relate women's experience for men in the audience. "Guys, imagine going to the bathroom, and trying to pass a BOWLING BALL. Yes a bowling ball. That's what it's like."
Ah, so true, so true.
Not to take anything away from Lamaze and other techniques, but there is no amount of breathing and "he he he's" that is going to make passing a bowling ball more bearable.

Raise your hand if you "squeezed" your spouse's hand until it was unrecognizable during labor pains. (My hand is up.)

Or Joan Rivers who once said, "Natural childbirth? No way. Knock me out, and wake me back up when the baby is out and my hair and nails are done."

I have labored long and hard at many things in my life, including my actual jobs, and this darn book that I am trying to write, but nothing comes close to the work I had to do to get my kids ejected from their comfortable berths in my womb.

Not to get too personal here, but my doctor told me I had a condition that involved having an unusually small pelvic area. Any other rational physician would have taken one look at that part of my anatomy and insisted on C-Sections. But no, I had a new age doctor, who believed that natural birth in the birth canal should be achieved unless the mother or baby are in danger.

27 hours later on my first one, I thought I would die of pain and/or strain. When my son Brett crowned but still refused to budge they started working with forceps and a vacuum to pry him out of me. He was just about nine pounds - a big bruiser for someone with my "small pelvic area."
Brett was born with a major conehead and I was sliced from one end to the other. Sorry again for the TMI.

It wasn't pretty. But it was worth it.

What amazes me is that I volunteered to go through this again, just two and a half years later. It's not true that you forget. I didn't. No one could have forgotten the nightmare of getting my son out of me. But being an optimist, I hoped for an easier time for the second round.

My daughter was much smaller - in fact my doctor induced just days after my due date because he didn't want to have the same problem as the first time and didn't want to let her stay in there getting larger and larger. It wasn't a whole lot easier the second time, except I was smart enough to take an epidural right away to block the pain. It was still hours and hours long though, and Elissa also had to be pried out with forceps.

For the above reason, I cannot stand to hear stories of babies just "popping out" of mothers with a few slight cramps. It just doesn't seem fair at all.

And what about the crazy Duggar lady about to pop out her 19th?

So here it is, Labor Day, and with that word in it, I naturally think of it as another day to celebrate being a mom. But wait, I guess I do that every single day.

I actually know the true meaning of Labor Day - and for all of you who labor hard every day at jobs, have a happy one, whatever your definition of the day might be.

Ok moms, here's your chance to share the pain. Let's hear the war stories about your labor and delivery

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My Baby is How Old? How Can This Be?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 8/31/2009 8:00 AM CDT

Once upon a time, there was a baby girl who during her mom's difficult pregnancy, was predicted miscarried by doctors at the end of the first trimester, until an ultra-sound proved them wrong.
"What a strong heartbeat!" the technicians said at the time.

Just the first indication of the feisty girl she would turn out to be.

After she was born, she was sent back to the hospital with jaundice, where they put blinders on her eyes to protect them from the light. This same feisty girl, just days old, ripped those blinders off every time, until the nurses had to bind her hands too.

Once home, this strong-willed baby girl proved her herculean lung power, until the doctors diagnosed colic, which forced her worried mom to find ways to comfort her until she outgrew it.

This same feisty baby jumped out of a baby chair when the seat belt wasn't clicked tight enough by her sleep-deprived mother. One broken collarbone later, she let everyone know she was uncomfortable for quite a while.

Because of her big blue saucer eyes and cherubic face, just a year or so later, she had a wonderful opportunity to model for a department store on a ship with her same name, the Elissa in Galveston. Her mother thought they would have a terrific adventure there.
But this strong-willed girl didn't care for the hat they put on her to wear for the photo, and so she tossed it into the Gulf of Mexico. Because she let her opinion be known, and she was fired before the age of two.

An early talker and an early walker, she charmed everyone from a very early age and could sing the happy birthday song at a year old. 

Her terrible twos weren't really so terrible, because she was so darned cute. 

blog post photo

A natural performer, she sang, danced and entertained everyone in her home. In her dance and acting recitals then and teachers, directors, producers, and others in her audience would comment on her "special sparkle." 

That adorable toddler grew up to be a bright, strong-willed, friendly and loving little girl. The years flew by so quickly as she blossomed into an active and popular pre-teen, and then a performing, cheerleading, very together teen, and then an accomplished young college woman. The kind of young woman a mama could feel proud of each and every day. 

blog post photo

She's on her way to becoming a licensed therapist, because she is compassionate, a natural listener, and the one everyone sought advice from.

The subject of this true story is my daughter Elissa, who I call my Lissy girl, and who is amazingly turning 22 years old today. And no, this is no tall tale. 
Every word is true, though it's hard to believe so many wonderful years have gone by, and how lucky a mom I've been to have this special daughter.

Happy Birthday to my precious Elissa! ... 


A Heart Wrenching First Day of School

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 8/25/2009 8:45 AM CDT

I heard a young mother complaining how heart wrenching it was to drop her children off for their first day of school yesterday - a new kindergarten student and a third grader. And I couldn't help but think, oh wah, wah. Cry me a river.

Because I just dropped my baby off in Dallas for at least 3 years. That's how long her graduate program is.
And my son is in Australia for the semester. Couldn't be further away if he tried.

So it's hard to sympathize with a mommy who can't be without her kids for the 7 hours of the school day. Even though I was one of those types of moms sniffling back tears once upon a time. 

Moms of young ones: just wait. The leavings just get harder and harder.

I know Dallas isn't that far, but a four hour car trip does not make it easy or convenient to count on lots of visits. A flight to the east coast is only three hours for example. So although it is close, relatively speaking, it seems very far away to me.

The problem with parenting in the stage I find myself in is that just when you begin to really really enjoy the adults they have become, they flit and flicker in and out of your life. You get visits that are enough to make you want more of them, and just when you are used to having them around, they leave again.

So I did what any formerly over-involved mom who doesn't have much to do on the every day parenting front any more would do. I helped move my daughter into her new posh digs - decorating, shopping, and helping her with every detail, including unpacking the very last remnant of her huge amount of "stuff." It was great "girl" time together and thoroughly exhausting at the same time. 

My daughter's excitement at her new surroundings and this next adventure contrasted sharply with my own sadness.

For an involved, hands-on parent who has been hung out to dry with not a whole lot to do for them any more, I guess I should feel satisfied that my involvement didn't keep them bound to my side. Unbelievably, I actually gave them wings. 

And they sure are using them. That's good, right??


Women's Secret Pact With the Devil

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 8/18/2009 9:00 AM CDT

Even though I constantly explain that the title of my blog is a play on words meaning my hot topics to rant, reflect, or reminisce about, if you happened upon my blog by Googling Menopausal Hot Flashes, today and just today, you will have come to the right site.

Don't leave though. Because I have made an important - perhaps monumental discovery.

I am willing to admit that hormones affect everyone differently. They are powerful chemicals that are naturally produced and affect body and mind. Some have an easier time with things like the monthly cycle while others are in agony or have horrific PMS each month. Some struggle with postpartum depression and other symptoms after birth, and others, like the crazy Duggar lady spit out babies out with nary a hormonal care. (Others may think she has hormones gone out of control however, much like many men in the news recently, such as John Edwards)

So maybe it is just my luck, but I am having a hard time with menopause. That perma-smile you see by my blog photo? I am a natural smiler, however, it has been wiped off my face as of late due to annoying symptoms. 

It is just recently while struggling with this, that I figured out something.

That is, in order for women to have the parts and hormones to partake in the greatest privilege of all- giving birth, or even to have the opportunity to do so, women have made a pact with the devil.

Devil: (Smiling and rubbing his red wiry hands together) So you want the ability to grow a human in your body?  That miracle can be arranged, but first let’s make a deal. I will allow you to have all the beautiful babies you want, but once you hit your mid forties, your body belongs to me!

Typical mom in childbearing years: Hey look, I have put up with the monthly "curse" for all these years, how could it be any worse? I agree to your deal!

Typical mom in menopausal age: Remind me again when I signed up for this Hell?

I hope to the almighty that I am not still in the pre-menopausal phase, because despite my vigorous vitamin regimen and good health, I am losing the battle against my hormones or lack thereof. This thing is wearing me down, beating me down, taking my chipper, youthful soul and stomping it to extinction.

When women go to doctors with the long list of hideous symptoms, they (in an agreement with the same devil) either give you hormones that may or may not harm your health later, or they give you anti-depressants. It seems that anti-depressants not only make you happier about the state of utter misery your body is in, but they help with other symptoms such as insomnia.(Have I mentioned that I am writing this at 4:30 am?)

Yes, these symptoms are extremely depressing, but I am not ready for an anti-depressant, and like I was determined to go with natural childbirth, I wanted to go natural through menopause too.

I had no idea how hard that would be and am about to wave the white flag.

Hear me: it is impossible – I said impossible- to ignore these symptoms, to bear them with strength, resolve, and good humor. I must have been hallucinating thinking I could breeze through this. Edith Bunker couldn’t and neither can I. No one can even tell you how long it might last. 

In the meantime: Has anyone seen my brain? It seems to be among the missing at various times when I need it most. Description in case you find it: Gray mattered in color, occasionally witty, creative, literary.

And: Some old lady body has hijacked my athletic body and even a summer of swimming isn't getting it back.
Me: Please take this spare tire back. I don't need or want it, even if it was on sale
Man at Firestone: Look lady, for the third time, we don't take returns on belly tires.

Also: Can anyone sell me a new body thermostat? Mine is completely dysfunctional causing me to sweat for the first time in my life, and vary wildly between burning hot and freezing cold.
The other day when fans were on sale at Walgreen's, the lady checking me out with my multiple fan purchase looked at me kind of funny.

I hear the devil laughing his evil laugh right now.


College Move-In Days: Worker Bees (Parents) and Queen Bees (Kids)

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 8/12/2009 9:00 AM CDT

It's that time of year again when parents are hauling their kids to the college destination of their choice. I published this last year, but am reprinting it because it is still true. Although my daughter Elissa graduated this past May, she will be going straight on to graduate school and I will be doing the big move to the new city next week with her. This year however, we are hiring movers to help. Brilliant, huh? Now here's last year's blog:

At one point this past weekend as I was hauling something with my fatigued body towards the house my daughter Elissa is renting, I took a look around. Elissa has picked a hot spot on campus - a desirable place for students to live in proximity to the university, and filled with rental houses and apartments catering to students. 

At every angle that my eyes could see, there were weary parents, tiredness etched on their faces, and sweat pouring off their bodies thanks to the 100 plus degree temps. Some were hauling large things out of U-Hauls, some dragging things from large vehicles, some further along folding boxes out by the trash pile. In fact, if you took the combined total labor of worker bee parents just on this two block stretch, it would equal that of several large bee colonies.

And if you looked for the actual students, well, some were doing some of the work. Others were texting on their cell phone, others talking into cell phones, while some were hugging and catching up with friends not seen all summer, and others were directing parents. These lucky students are, of course, the queen bees in this scenerio. My own little queen bee was missing in action through most of these activities due to sorority rush obligations.

In this era, parents don't just send off kids to college. They personally deliver them. And then make sure they have every available comfort of home, along with a very well stocked pantry and refrigerator. 

Imagine this at each and every college town throughout the country. Not only do parents take care of the heavy lifting, loading, unloading, cleaning, organizing, and arranging -- then there are the rounds of shopping.

Typically, the essential stops include Bed, Bath and Beyond (BBB), Target, the pharmacy, and the food store. We were extra lucky this time in that we also had to squeeze in a visit to Office Max and a hardware store.

Mothers bring their stacks of saved-up BBB coupons, and then stand in line to wait for a cart, since they are all used up on this "high season" day.
Managers of these stores stand in the front, trying to keep everyone calm, while secretly enjoying the commotion; adding up the revenues of this "Christmas in August."

At the food store, carts get so full and heavy, it takes a strong brute of a father to steer it around. Many have two carts per one child.

In the evening, the fanciest restaurants in town are swarming with parents giving their children their last supper - or at least their last fancy supper on mom and dad's tab. But of course, the meal can't be truly appreciated by the parents who are about to drop from sheer exhaustion.

I kind of envy parents who cannot drive to their children's college because "they let their fingers do the walking with the yellow pages," and have become experts at "click it and ship it."  Less lugging, less hauling.

For most of us, this wonderful event occurs at least once a year, and for some twice, as they also assist their kids with "move out." Multiply that times the number of kids a parent has, and that is a large number of these tiring moves.

In fact I have a friend who has quadruplets. Going to different schools. Lucky for her, two of them chose the same school, but still that is THREE different move-ins each year.

Because my son Brett went right on to graduate school, I was blessed withadditional move-in years. Fortunately, he is remaining settled in the same place all three years of law school, so that is a major break for me. That just means replacing some items, and a major food shop or two each year. But trust me, I've served my time with him through undergrad and major U-Haul moves. (I am not going to even bring up the fun times with storage units)

Here's a salute to those moms whose knees are popping today and those dads whose backs are aching today, who come back just a little bit lighter than when they left. (Not from dropping weight from the physical labor, but because of a lighter wallet)


Something Simple You Can Do To Ensure Your Childrens' Success

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 8/5/2009 8:30 AM CDT

As you may know, I am a writer, with a plan to eventually finish my chick-lit type novel and get it published. In the meantime you can read this blog regularly, along with my features in the Chronicle and various magazines. I became a writer in a non-traditional way, discovering after a master's in psychology that I was happier writing.

I was an avid reader as a child, something that I think research turns up as a large factor in how someone acquires the ability to write. 

Both of my children are outstanding writers as well. They are able to capture logical thought, great emotion, or whatever academic idea they need to write about in a way that makes me think genetics are involved too. Their writing actually reminds me of my own.

Why am I surprised? Books were always important from their earliest years on.  I remember how much we read together, and then how I modeled and encouraged their own reading. 

Attendance at book fairs brought great excitement, and their little home libraries were always well stocked. Reading to them was an important ritual before going to bed in the days before they could read. I remember the refrains of "Read it one more time, please!" of their favorite books du jour. Though I groaned internally, I read to them again and again. That was one request that was never denied. They both became very early readers - first memorizing books like "Goodnight Moon" and "Hop on Pop" and then associating the words they knew with the print on the pages.

As they began to read on their own, they were regular, though not obsessive readers, although both had their phases where they had to finish entire series of books, and hunkered down to do that.

We never had video games in our home when my children were growing up. (Yes, I was that mean and strict a mom.) I taught psychology at the college level for a period of time, and saw some alarming research on the link to attention disorders and video game playing at the time my children were first on the scene. I made a pledge to avoid all video game entertainment, and we survived just fine without it. We were able to fill the void with reading and lots of other activities, and my children never seemed to miss it.

I  now notice that even though both of my children are very busy students immersed in study, they usually have a leisure reading book going at all times. 

I ran across a poem recently and it brought tears to my eyes. I often ponder the combination of luck and hard parenting work that went into raising my successful children, but maybe something as simple as encouraging a love of reading had something to do with it. Read this poem --- especially the last four lines, and see if it moves you like it does me. 

And as we head back into those hectic days of school again, remember to take time to read to your children and encourage a love of reading. It's easier to sit them in front of television or video games, but if you do this, I guarantee results.

"The Reading Mother" written by Strickland Gillilan.

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness lent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be --
I had a Mother who read to me.


Bizarro World: The "Other" Arlene Lassin Contacts Me!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 7/28/2009 8:30 AM CDT

As a writer, I use three names for my byline. The name Arlene Nisson (my maiden name) Lassin is a real tongue tripper and weirdly rhymy and not exactly something I would choose for a byline if it was up to me. When I married my husband, I took his last name and so I became known as just plain Arlene Lassin - hold the Nisson. Then I had a decision to make. I had never written under just my maiden name, only my previous married name, so I was planning to continue writing, but using the new Arlene Lassin. I had been writing features for a variety of publications for a long while previous to that, but most were done before the age of the internet anyway, so the name change for writing didn't bother me one bit.


Just to be sure before I used my new name years ago, I Googled my new name and found another Arlene Lassin. She was married to a Marc Lassin as their names showed up together on a variety of sites.


It was comical to me that there was another Arlene Lassin - I don't think it is exactly your garden variety name, but there it was, so at that point I decided to use both my maiden and married name for writing so there wouldn't be any confusion. (And it turned out well, because long lost friends can track me down via my maiden name and my writing and the internet)

With one exception: If you regularly read this Hot Flashes blog, then you know I just use the simple Arlene Lassin as the writer's name. These blogs and blog titles only have so much space so for the sake of separating my "fun" writing with my serious writing, and for space efficiency, it's Hot Flashes by Arlene Lassin. But it's really me and not the other, faraway Arlene Lassin, I promise.


I hadn't thought about the "other" Arlene Lassin in many years, but a funny thing happened the other day. I joined Facebook a while ago as I wrote aboutin this blog, and I have been enjoying the re-connections and networking. And no, I am not spying on my children.

If you know anything about Facebook, people that remember you or know you can request you to be a "Friend." 

The other day I received a "Friend" request from Arlene Lassin.


Yes, the OTHER Arlene Lassin.


She was as amused as I was that someone shared her name and looked me up, knowing as I did, a long time before this connection. We both married distant Lassin cousins so it was great to find long lost family. Seems the Lassins were a large extended family and were fruitful and multiplied. Many branches of the Lassins lost touch. Actually the same thing happened to the Nissons. I find a random cousin, a third or so, every once in a while and we discover we had the same great grandparents.


Ironically the other Arlene Lassin is an editor, so we are both in the writing field, and I wonder if she has dibs on the Arlene Lassin moniker because it was her name first.


When we started talking about family connections and cousins, she mentioned that her father-in-law was Leonard Lassin. My husband's father - a different man- was Leonard Lassin as well. There were three cousins that were named Leonard Lassin, and they went by Big Leonard, Middle Leonard and Little Leonard to differentiate*** More on this below. As the other Arlene Lassin amusingly stated, "At least we married (into the same names.) But three Leonard Lassins... come on. How about Larry, Lee, Lonnie, Logan, Lester etc."


I might add that this Lassin family is very quirky with their names. Her husband is Marc Lassin - my husband has a nephew, Marc Lassin. (Another person completely than Arlene Lassin's husband. Not me, the other Arlene!!) Getting confused? Who wouldn't?

There are two of my husband as well. His name is Gary Lassin, and he has a cousin named Gary Lassin that happens to be president of the Three Stooges Fan Club and so mistaken identity is often a problem. The other Gary Lassin is interviewed a lot due to the comedy trio. There are two cousins named Chad too.


In fact, I cracked up when I first found out that my husband called both sides of grandparents "grandmom and grandpop" as I told about in an earlier blog. To differentiate between the two sets, one was Big Grandmom and big Grandpop, and one set was Little Grandmom and Little Grandpop. I wondered then, with a world of names and titles for grandparents, is that the best they could do? 
With an encyclopedia filled with names, why so many repeats?


Obviously, multiples of the same name do not bother the Lassin family. And I guess it doesn't bother me either because it is the reason I found a new friend with a lovely, if unusual, name.


Sun of a Beach! When Weather Doesn't Cooperate on Hard Earned Vacation...

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 7/21/2009 8:32 AM CDT

I was on vacation a short time ago – I know you didn't miss me or my blogs thanks to the Chronicle technology of being able to set a calendar to future dates for blog publication. If you can somehow read all the way through the end - I want to hear your own vacation/weather horror stories.

So there we were on the beach, the sand beneath our feet; the ocean waves frothy and crashing repeatedly before us. Noisy seagulls swooped in with regularity looking for food matter, and the sound of children playing was off in the distance. Ah, just like we remembered it.

Except that we were bundled up from head to toe because we were on vacationing on an East Coast beach and due to some extreme reverse of Global Warming, the temperatures were more in line with Houston wintertime. For a bonus we had lots of clouds and rain on many of the days, without even a hint of sunshine - hardly the kind of days you'd want to spend on a beach. And exactly the opposite weather of sunny, drought-plagued Houston.

Hold that SPF 60 lotion. Bring out the layers of sweatshirts, jeans, and windbreakers. We have been Texans for a long time and so our blood is thinned, but this is our one and only summer beach vacation, gosh darn it, and we HAD to be on the beach. Excluding of course the days of pouring rain. (notice the plural of day in that sentence to get a hint about the precipitation)

 Despite weeks and weeks of this weather before we arrived, the dreariness continued at this vacation resort during our visit. The coldest, rainiest summer weather in recent history.

No matter what the weather, this vacation served many purposes. My husband and I are always running in 50 directions at once, multi-tasking on our numerous jobs and assignments, with barely a relaxing moment save for regular weekend plans.

So the chance to be unfettered, unplugged, un-hassled, and with schedules as open and vast as the ocean before us, we really relaxed. I read several books. I can't tell you how long it has been since I have been able to knock off several books at once. I didn't write much – not on the novel that preoccupies most evenings after a hard day's work – and not even on blogs. But this was a good thing, because I could feel my creativity being restored from the previous burn out. Winding down from our hyper lives is the only thing we could do on this vacation, and that we did. We were two workaholics in a 12 step program to relax and do nothing.

Some of our highlights then:

We bonded as a couple, especially when closed in together on some nasty days; and snuggled repeatedly while reading or just by being quiet together as we huddled on the beach. We exercised together - something that never happens in Houston, taking long walks on the boardwalk or biking along it every morning - even in rainy mist.

We bonded with a wonderful new family – an old friend of my husband, his wife and children – whose hospitality and generosity made this vacation possible. It was such a pleasure getting to know them.  (Thanks again Ed, Brucie, and family)

We reunited and reconnected with long ago friends- and felt such special, sentimental feelings at that opportunity. Seems all the kids I grew up with who stayed in Philly have summer places on the Jersey shore. I took that opportunity and my networking skills to plan a get-together that was F-U-N! What a walk down memory lane! Everyone looked fabulous! Big hugs and warm fuzzies went around repeatedly. How often can you catch up with friends from long ago all in one place? 

And we even committed to finding our own little getaway place – even though the only affordable ones for us are condos that are smaller than my master bedroom closet at home. I can finally visualize the day when all of my children will be out of school and on their own and I can spend some real quality time in this sleepy beach town of my youth. If we do purchase, it will be the singular most selfish thing I have done since I began raising my children and watching most of my money go to them, but I hope for a time when they are on their own and building families, and we can ALL gather there.

So what that Mother Nature decided to play a trick on us and decide it wasn't summer but late fall? So what that we left piles of bathing and summer wear untouched from our overstuffed suitcases?

This vacation was at turns peaceful, filled with friendship, laughter, fun, and great great (five pounds worth on my frame) food and people.

Let's hear from you now. Did you ever experience a vacation where the weather didn't cooperate? Did it turn out okay despite the weather?

Click here to return to the current Hot Flashes blog

Where Were You In Summer of '69 For Moon Landing?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 7/16/2009 8:30 AM CDT

Here's a blog I ran a few months ago that I have to rerun due to the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Where were you in the summer of '69? Do you remember where you were for this amazing event? What follows is my vivid memory of that special summer and that magical event. 

Growing up in the baby boomer generation there were several signature events that we remember in detail no matter how foggy memories get of other things in the past. The first, which is discussed quite often is how vividly most of us remember the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember being in an assembly for a television science program in my elementary school auditorium when a news report interrupted with the horrifying news. I was in fourth grade and remember wondering why the president had gone to war, because that was my only frame of reference to getting shot and killed.


The second, was the day the Beatles performed on Ed Sullivan. Whether you are a Beatles fan or not, this event was so large in our world at the time that most people remember it down to the finest detail of where they were and who they were with. I was at home watching it with my dad on black and white TV. My dad called them "long-haired weirdos" that night and later became one of their biggest fans.


The third, for me at least, was the miraculous day of the July 1969 moon landing by our astronauts.

Ah, the summer of '69. Bryan Adams had a terrific hit song with that title, and it was fittingly and appropriately about the more innocent days of youth - a coming of age song.


I have a mostly freakish memory for details, although my short term memory is going. So not only do I remember where I was and who I was with when the exciting moon landing event occurred, I remember that entire summer quite vividly -as if it was one of those coming of age movies set in that era such as "Stand By Me." 

Well, it is a movie in my mind, at any rate, even if it's not worthy of a Hollywood type scripting.


My youthful carefree summers were a thing of my past. I began filling up all of my free time with babysitting jobs three summers before to keep up with the Joneses in clothing and accessories -which were very important to the upwardly mobile middle class families in my area. 

In the summer of 1969, I had just graduated junior high in the ninth grade, and was looking forward to my first year in high school. I was not old enough to work in retail or as a waitress, which I found more financially lucrative when I was of age, but I settled on maximizing the money I could earn as a "mother's helper." This involved living with a family as their full time babysitter. (Cue: poor waif)


It was the first time I tried this new role, and when I first arrived at the modest home of an upper-middle class family with three young children, I was very homesick and lonely. Little did I know in those first days as I adapted to my new role, duties, and my babysitting charges, what a utopia of a neighborhood I stumbled into - known as 2nd and C.


All I knew about the neighborhood was that it was three buses away from my own. The homes seemed a bit larger but were row homes just like in my neighborhood, albeit more recently built. This was a young neighborhood, filled to the brim with families with young children of all ages. My own older neighborhood was mixed with many older people as well as young families, so I had never seen anything quite like this. Besides, as I would later learn - the camaraderie, cohesiveness and "it takes a village" mentality of these neighbors was another phenomenon I had never experienced before. Every neighbor was the best of friends with all of the other neighbors, and events like July 4th were a festival of sharing good times.


A few days after homesickness tears stained my pillow at night (on a bed stuck in the baby's room in true Cinderella style)  I was walking down the street towards a playground when a few friendly girls introduced themselves and I made some instant friends.


These two girls my age were an absolute perfect cure for my homesickness, and as the time progressed, whatever free time I had was spent with them. Sometimes, the two younger children I was in charge of accompanied me just to hang out with them. We were all "good girls" and didn't get into any mischief, so it seemed luxurious to be able to combine some social life with my job such as walking to the local luncheonette called Pauline and Eddie's, where we would all get ice cream treats. 

One of the girls had an older brother who was tall and tanned and athletic, and who was the object of my summer crush. He was usually busy playing sports and didn't give me the time of day, but I got to see him a bunch just because I was with his sister so much. (This was an adorable family of kids anyway - there were three or four very handsome friendly children, all with names starting with "J.") 
Do you see the movie plot here - I even have a love interest!


Yes, it was the height of my gawky, awkward, early adolescent growth spurt and though I wasn't very confident, I was extremely social. My summer was rescued by these two wonderful girls. They introduced me to an increasingly larger circle of kids from their neighborhood who hung out by a stone wall. I remember these days as fun rather than filled with the drudgery of my work, and mostly this was because I was in a neighborhood that was rich in terms of quality, friendly people my age.

One boy even developed a little crush on me - not reciprocated of course because I was pining for my friend's older brother.


The magic of a summer of fun surrounded by a whole new crowd of -to use 60's lingo- "groovy" kids- some extremely funny, under the guise of working, was a real coming of age for me as I learned I could juggle responsibility with fun times and lots of laughter. Being welcomed into the warm folds of this special neighborhood was a true gift.


The culminating event of the summer came on July 20, 1969 - near the end of my working there because I was set to go off to overnight camp while my employers were leaving for a long vacation.


Several neighbors crowded into my friend's house to see the moon landing on their color TV with excited anticipation. (This would never have occurred in my own neighborhood) Some of the younger kids were past bedtime and had their PJ's on. All eyes were glued to the grainy video on the TV as we listened to the scratchy but strong voice of Neil Armstrong saying "The Eagle Has Landed,"  and let out cheers. And as we all watched in wide-eyed wonder together,  the first steps on the moon were taken. "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," indeed.

Just as this signature event perfectly signified for us baby boomer kids the limitless possibilities and opportunities for a brighter future, for me personally, it was a fitting culmination of a special, coming of age summer. 

Now, let me hear your memories. Do you remember this event as vividly as I do - if so where were you and how did you feel?


Is Houston Experiencing Ten Plagues? Count With Me.

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 7/13/2009 8:45 AM CDT

Now I am not one to panic at forces beyond my control but I am beginning to wonder if  those crazy doomsday people are on to something with their thinking the end of the world is coming. 

Not really, but after Hurricane Ike blew through Houston and the surrounding areas last fall, I thought we would get at least a short reprieve from natural disasters and other extreme hardships from Mother Nature. 

Have you seen the movie Ten Commandments lately? One by one, a terrible plague fell on Egypt when the evil Pharaoh would not free the Jewish slaves. As the plagues inflicted more and more harm on the land, Pharaoh had enough at ten, and he finally let the slaves go.

Not to get biblical here, but hasn't anyone else noticed Houston is experiencing our own kind of plagues lately? What did we do to earn the wrath of Mother Nature?

If we count from Ike as the first plague of Hurricane Ike, and fast forward to the past few months, with the way I count 'em, we are nearing ten plagues. Of course, I am counting our everyday cockroaches, because they are so numerous, so extra large here; and they are way grosser than locusts, aren't they?

After the hurricane and cockroach plagues, on Monday April 27, we had the darkness plague. If you recall, at 5 pm the sky turned completely black even though daylight should have lasted at least 2 more hours. 
That same day, following that in rapid succession, we had hail, then floods, (causing some schools to close) and then just days later, swine flu came to Houston causing some more of our schools to close down.

I thought that HAD to be the end of wacky things going on. But I was wrong.

Next up was a total lack of precipitation causing a severe drought. It is a sad sight to look around at the parched landscape and see withering shrubs, brown trees, lawns, and everything else dry as a bone. The record setting heat recently made a "heat emergency" declared. So the drought and heat makes it seven and eight plagues by my count.

As hearty Houstonians we are used to dealing with the forces of nature, whatever may come. But I hope this is it for a while.

I am sure I will hear from both doomsday-ists and Global Warming people. It seems odd to me that while we have had a hotter than normal summer and a drought, the East Coast has had much colder than normal temperatures and tons of rain- basically the opposite of us. (Make sure you tune into my next blog for a description of that crazy East Coast "summer" weather.)


Child's Fear of Fourth of July Fireworks, Oh and Car Washes Too

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 7/3/2009 10:34 AM CDT

I am one of those people who looks forward to the Fourth of July fireworks. From the time I was a kid, this free entertainment fascinated me as it lit up the sky with beautiful colors and designs. So I approached motherhood with the idea that both of my children would love fireworks as much as their overgrown child - I mean mother-- did.


For my son Brett, it was an easy one. The loud noises didn't scare him, and he too was mesmerized by the pageantry of glorious color and light for fireworks. There was no avoidance, tears, or fear in him.


When my daughter Elissa came along two and a half years later, it was a completely different experience. When she was old enough to express fears and actively avoid things that were frightening, among these things were fireworks. I think this is a pretty common thing.


I struggled with this - the rest of the family wanted to be part of a fireworks display, but I also wanted to be sensitive to my daughter's fear. I put myself in her place. Those loud noises can seem scary, and it wasn't any fun having her try to meld into my body (back to the womb?)  hiding from the display while holding her ears and crying. So I stayed home with her through the toddler years. What a mother sacrifices for her kids....Fortunately, after a few years, she outgrew those fears.


Who knows how a young child develops certain fears? My daughter was also wimpy about even the most simple, kid-friendly amusements. The carousel was the only thing she would try and even that required convincing.


Neither fireworks or amusements compared to her greatest fear though - drive-through car washes.


Wait, you say, "drive-through car washes?"

Fireworks and amusements are intimidating to many a young child, but when my daughter was her timid toddler self (she's now 21) the most terrifying thing was going to the gas station. In those days, gas stations that had those drive-through car washes gave you a free code to get a car wash if you filled up your tank with gas. (Sigh, cheaper gas AND a free car wash - where did those days go?)


And well, since it was free and we were already there, of course we took advantage of the free car wash.

Until the day we heard the terrified screaming coming from our little munchkin in the back who was captive in her car seat.


At first, I didn't put two and two together - I thought she was crying from hunger, tiredness, or a dirty diaper. But then she cried next time too as I drove up to the drive-through car wash, and I was able to figure it out. A short while later, she was able to express the word NO, and used it for the car wash.


For a long time, we avoided getting the free car washes with Elissa in the car. By the time she was three or so, she could be reasoned with, so her father and I decided to ease her back into going with us by making it a game. We explained that the car wash was to clean the car, and it was FUN to be able to watch the soap and water and brushes work their magic from the INSIDE of the car. What an adventure! We summarized the adventure by titling it "Silly Car Wash."  For weeks we worked on her, laughing about the "Silly Car Wash" and convincing her it was nothing to be frightened of, and one day she announced that she was ready to try it again.


Of course the minute I drove in, assuring her I was there to protect her and it was just a "Silly Car Wash" she started crying and saying loudly, "NO CAR WASH." Too late to back out because there was a car behind me. I started giggling manically while pointing at the water squirting in our direction, and midway through, she stopped crying and started laughing. "Silly Car Wash!," she exclaimed. Before long, she was asking to go through the car wash and laughed the whole time. That was the end of her aversion, but not of the teasing and reminding her of the "Silly Car Wash" days.


The weird thing is, this timid baby that was frightened easily, turned out to be adventurous, bold, and practically fearless. Go figure.


Enjoy your Fourth of July, Fireworks, and most of all --- being with your families at all the festivities!

Note To Customer Tech Support in India: Don't Mess With Hysterical Mom

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 6/15/2009 8:55 AM CDT

Preface: I am truly embracing of all nationalities and cultures and if you Google my writing name, Arlene Nisson Lassin, you will find pages and pages of features on a wide variety of accomplished people of diverse backgrounds, as well as stories on cultural happenings. The following experience is about the mis-communication resulting from telephone customer service reps who are foreign and have trouble understanding my American accent, while I have trouble understanding their accented English. It is not about the country of India or its people - I have similar trouble with the Philippines. (I hurt for those impoverished children in India and all over) I am a lover of all humanity but I draw the line at outsourcing tech support.

I pay big bucks for a backup service for the stuff on my computer hard drive. I have had the bad experience of losing things due to a crashed hard drive and with my novel halfway completed, and much of my other writing work at various stages, I can't take chances.

The other bonus is that they save all of your photo files too. All those digital files that you now use  for the important life events, rather than printing out hard copies are in safe hands in case of a crash when you pay for a backup service.


Last time I had to purchase a big computer for my desk, I bought one with an unstable hard drive. It crashed last year and I had to replace it. Fortunately, we paid big bucks to salvage stuff off the hard drive and then started subscribing to this service. Phew - never have to worry about losing valuables on the computer.


After replacing the hard drive - less than a year later, my new one crashed. The company that put the new one in honored the warranty, and again I had a new hard drive and a computer that was void of any document or photo or video that it ever had on it.

NO PROBLEM! I have a back up service!

My husband spent days downloading all of the saved files sent by this company.

Except that only my most recent photos showed up. The folders from the past and sub-folders were completely empty.

Those prom photos? GONE. The high school and college graduation photos? GONE. The vacations? GONE. Holiday photos? GONE.

Can you tell I am upset by the amount of CAPS I AM USING?

But wait - I will simply call this !@##$$%%^^%$ back up service that I pay dearly for each month to see what the $%^&&%$ deal is. Surely they must have my photos somewhere.


Why on earth is my tech support call being sent all the way to India? Don't they understand that a mother desperate to have her children's life cycle event photos back is a red alert? A hysterical mother who is too panicked to tolerate repeating herself, speaking slowly, and trying to explain using the most elementary English words possible? 

So why is my call is going to India? Did they lose my photos in India?

The guy I got OF COURSE didn't understand me, my name, or anything else I was trying to tell him. After having me look at some stuff on the computer, and after repeatedly stating I had everything in the C drive that WAS SUPPOSEDLY BACKED UP, he asked if my photos were in my C drive. That's when I asked for a supervisor.

After twenty minutes on hold, the supervisor came on. I was hoping they were desperately searching the U.S. for a technician in all that time. But no, he was also in India. He must have been on his tea break and that's why it took so long. 
The supervisor had a long name and tried to be helpful. Simple solution he offered. He can see the files and we just need to re-download all the restored files and they will magically appear! 
Which we did.


Do we call India again?

HELLO INDIA - WHERE THE FRIG ARE MY PHOTO FILES? Did you MISPLACE THEM even though I am paying you an exorbitant fee each month?

My patient husband is not panicked like me. He thinks there is a "glitch" and they have my photos SOMEWHERE.

HELLO INDIA? Lost and Found please! FIND my LOST photos that I pay you handsomely to keep somewhere in cyberspace! Thankyouverymuch.

Let me hear your foreign customer service nighmare.


Am I A Sandwich? Caretaking of Older and Younger Generations.

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 6/4/2009 8:10 AM CDT

When I think of a sandwich, I prefer to think about those gorgeous, generous ones at my favorite sandwich place, Kenny & Ziggy's deli here in Houston.

But after hosting my parents recently, I thought of the term in a whole new way. It is after these visits that I feel terribly guilty that I moved far away from them and wonder what will happen if I am required to care for them at some point. (They have steadfastly declined to move here.)

I am still very tied to Houston and Texas due to my own children and many other obligations here. 
People in the mid life years like me who are caught in between caring for the younger and older generations are referred to as the "sandwich generation."

My parents still live in my birth city 1300 miles away. They are 82 years old and in pretty good health and can still get around fairly well, despite having no children to look after them where they live. As described in a past blog, they live in a house mired in the 1970's, and on their own.

The signs are there, though, that this might not be the case in the near future. Both have aging brain issues; my mother has major short term memory loss and my dad is tuned out most of the time.(The kind where you worry about them turning on a burner and forgetting about it and burning the whole house down.)

I could write paragraph upon paragraph of their exaggerated quirks with aging. It is annoying to deal with when they are around, and then hilarious to recap. Yes, they will definitely appear as characters in my novel.

For example, my mother relies on my father for her short term memory. This includes making him the safekeeper of two items she must have at all times - her cane, and her rain bonnet. If the wind blows, she summons the rain bonnet, because she will not use hair spray or other chemicals to keep her hair in place and if there is even a wisp of a breeze, she summons my father, "Milt, where's my rain bonnet?"  Not only does she summon my dad to produce the bonnet, she starts fretting he has lost it if he doesn't produce it in a nano-second. After witnessing this same scene approximately 80 times over the course of a few days, my husband Gary gave her a suggestion. "Marion, why don't you hold your own bonnet? That way you will have it whenever you need it."

This of course, was too logical. When she protested that she "doesn't have room for it," Gary showed her the 80's era multi-colored jogging jacket she carries with her at all times because she freezes in indoor air-conditioning. "This has two pockets that are empty - keep your bonnet in one of those and you will always know where it is and always have it available." (she also carries a half empty purse.)

But I digress: the above is just one reason why I am glad the miles separate us. All logical suggestions to make life easier, more pleasant, and more in the realm of the 21st century are ignored, met with disdain, or argued. Stubborn is too gentle a word to describe people who are mired in a time warp of thirty years ago when they were young and mentally sharper. Cemented and unyielding might work better.

This may change sometime soon and that is where the worry comes in. What happens when they can't care for themselves? What happens in a health crisis? I am here and they are there. I have jobs, family, obligations keeping me here and they stubbornly stay stuck and alone there.

I know other people in the sandwich generation have it much tougher - those who have parents who live closeby and have every day needs; some battling diseases such as Alzheimer's and juggling young children's schedules around  amidst the whirlwind of youth activities.

In comparison, I have had it very easy all these years, worrying by phone and the occasional visit. To use a sandwich metaphor, I am merely a PB&J on white bread compared to some of you who are those piled high huge corned beef sandwiches, or sub sandwiches. 

Let me hear how you handle it all.


Somebody's Got To Put a Stop to This Text Messaging Craze!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 6/1/2009 8:18 AM CDT

I read with interest a story that ran in the Chronicle on Sunday about teens texting. There was a whole list of problems attached to the bad habit, including injured thumbs, and sleep deprivation. I personally would be curious to see the research on how it is increasing attention difficulties.

It's not just teens either. Young adults are in constant communication mode as well, either by Instant Messages or Texting. I understand that communication is important to people in these age groups but having a full conversation in staccato back-and-forth bursts of abbreviated language might spell doom for real communication skills (rather than tech devices) as these kids get older.

Even back when I was a pre-teen and teen, we communicated constantly, although it was a definite challenge with cord tethered rotary phones with no call waiting that we had back then. (Be sure to read the earlier blog about explaining technology when I was a teen to my own kids)

We wrote notes to each other in class because there was no such thing as cell phones or texting. Any given moment, there was something to say to a peer or friend, and we got the job done despite the primitive methods of communication. We weathered the embarrassment when the passed note got into the wrong hands. (not to mention detention if caught by the teacher)

Long phone conversations with friends led other friends to frustrating (hours of) busy signals  - possibly the most obnoxious sound of my youth. Just when you REALLY had to tell someone something, instead of a voice coming on at the other end of the phone, a loud BUZZ-BUZZ-BUZZ sound would be received.

Now voices are becoming completely obsolete. I even read about people asking for divorce via text message. If the pop culture sites are correct, Britney Spears did it this way.

What's next? Will someone actually receive this message?  


And will the person it's addressed to text the answer? 

"4 sure <3 "

But I do worry that real conversation is replaced with digital conversation-- either IM's, Facebook entries, or text messages. Many have asked before: Is the art of conversation dying in this digital age? What do you think?


Despite Baby of the Family Graduating, Several Kids Still on Parent's Payroll

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 5/27/2009 8:20 AM CDT

The baby of our family, my daughter Elissa,  just graduated from the University of Texas. While there, she made the Dean's list frequently, made new friends of quality people from all over the country, actively participated in community service, and was a leader in her sorority. She graduated with an honors cord for Order of the Omega - a Greek honor society.

With the fact that she has a last of August birthday, she is the youngest of her graduating class- and was the last to drive, the last to turn 21, but she has never used that as an excuse to be immature. As a matter of fact, she is so mature, she is sometimes the parent when I pout about some minor thing, and she points out something very sensible to snap me out of it.

Needless to say, I am quite proud of her. When one of her former employers - a professional in a clinical setting where Elissa worked one summer- gave her an extra copy of a glowing recommendation for graduate school,  I realized that others see the same wonderful qualities in my daughter that I see. Yes, I am lucky, but as I always tell Elissa, this luck was by design. 

I spoke to many of her friends who were graduating and are still up in the air about their next steps. The economy woes came at the worst time for the class of 2009, and many even had jobs rescinded. 

My daughter has never been up in the air about next steps. She has been focused on one career since she was in the fourth grade and was the Dear Abby of her peer group. Everyone wanted Elissa's advice, and she found she was both a good and compassionate listener. So after receiving a bachelor's degree in psychology, she will continue right on to graduate school to obtain a master's degree in counseling and go on to complete an LPC. (licensed professional counselor) That same wonderful woman who wrote the glowing recommendation after watching Elissa interact with clients in a therapeutic setting offered Elissa a standing job offer when she completes her license and degree.

That, however, is 2 1/2 to 3 years away. That's right. Two and a half years still on my payroll. The ATM of the bank of mom is still open for business. Of course she will work part time and contribute towards her expenses, but the program she decided on is not in Houston, necessitating a new apartment away from home.

Sigh. Between my husband and me and our blended family, Elissa is the fifth child to graduate college. Three are still on the payroll. My stepson Adam is completing Veterinary School, my son Brett is completing Law School and Elissa will go to graduate school beginning in the fall.

So, yeah, there are several more years of deferring retirement savings, putting off home repairs, and taking modest vacations rather than extravagant ones. We could have let our children take out a pile of loans and try to do it all on their own, but we made a deal that as long as they did well in a focused course towards a professional career, we would do what we could to assist them. 

NOTE: Parents with younger kids - we ignored our accountants advice to put aside money for their college education. Not smart. Start saving now!

What we will end up with after this massive investment of money is five professionals in our children's chosen career paths.Knowing that they all will someday be able to stand on their own in the career of their choice is a great feeling. But in the meantime, tell that to my bank balance.

Looks like we will have lots of work years ahead of us to catch up on the next financial necessity - retirement planning. We have been as remiss in this realm as we were in the college financial planning.

I am curious to hear from readers -  at what point do you draw the line and make them earn their own way through after college? With the recession, I would imagine that there are quite a few parents helping out children, despite the fact that they are post degree. Fill me in!

No More Fungus Among Us - A New Miracle Cure for Toenail Fungus

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 5/20/2009 8:20 AM CDT

I write people features for the Chronicle, and every once in a while I feel like shouting the information to a larger audience because the story is that important!

Dr. Sherman Nagler, a Houston based podiatrist discovered a laser machine that cures toenail fungus. He brought it to Houston and can now treat this horrible, insidious problem in one easy treatment.

This is not your every day lunch topic. In fact, Dr. Nagler spoke of the shame and embarrassment associated with this problem. I can relate to that because I had one toe with a fungal infection that I self-treated with vinegar and constant clipping back for about one year. But I was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it and I was able to cover it up with toenail polish. I can imagine the countless people who can't wear toenail polish, and can't wear flip flops, which in my personal opinion, is the most comfortable, lazy footwear ever. I feel for them having been in their shoes - um I mean toes.

I am sure you have looked away or winced at those gross commercials for the medicine cure for this, as I have. There are many complications from using this medication including damage to the liver that can result, plus, it takes a long time and is very expensive. Who wants to sacrifice a liver to have non-fungal toenails? Not me.

Dr. Nagler said this problem affects more than 50% of all persons aged 50 and over. That's a lot of people. So I was very glad to write this story and now am linking my blog to it in the hopes more people will see that NOW THERE IS AN EASY CURE! (I told you I felt like shouting this news!)

There you have it - good news and information on this delicate topic without a gross pictorial of a fungal toenail! Here's the direct link to the story.  My community service for the day!

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Can This Marriage Be Saved? Husband Expects Me to Read Dreaded Instruction Manual

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 5/13/2009 11:38 AM CDT

You have probably heard of that book, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus."  In my household, it is likely that my husband and I come from different planets. We have discovered that our brains are wired very differently.

I am one of those creative types.

My creativity is mostly centered around writing, but I dabble in other things like crafts, and I have tapped the same side of my brain for some very clever advertising and PR campaigns, poetry, and many other endeavors.

Unfortunately, the disproportion of creativity flowing through me has made me a right brained type person. Simply put, most technical, mathematical, and sometimes even scientific information does not compute in my brain. My left side which controls all of that math and science is severely lacking - or maybe it just has a bunch of cobwebs from lack of use, or is simply overpowered by the other side.

My engineering type husband - who as you might have guessed from the title, is the polar opposite. With the exception of being good at photography - which if you think about it is actually highly technical, he is what I affectionately refer to as a geek.  When called upon for something creative, he depends on me for helping him get a clever speech written, poems for birthdays, and the like.

In turn, I ask him to take care of all technical related matters - particularly those on the computer or cell phone.  Each time I do this, I get one of two responses - he will do it, but he will try to explain to me what he is doing, so I "learn how to do it for the next time." Or he challenges me to figure it out on my own. 

My husband LOVES to figure out the workings of things, and daily reads things that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole like tech websites, magazines, and even the big daddy of all things technical - the instruction manual. He leaves me articles to read on things he thinks I should know about, and he had the nerve several times to hand me a manual expecting me to not only read it but then comprehend how to work a gadget afterward!  

As if.

I have to admit, lately I have found myself marveling at the miracle of  certain techie things such as You Tube, the iPhone, DVRs, and most recently tiny urls. But here's the thing: I can appreciate it without knowing the intricacies of what makes them tick. In fact I reject learning how they work. It is as if my poor brain will explode trying to understand such things.

In the past I have had some success with playing with things to figure out how they work. My iPhone is one such example and I have to say I am pretty proficient with it.

I can even upload photos and know that downloading is different from uploading but am I interested in HOW they differ? NO.

It's like watching a magician. I have no desire to figure out magic tricks, enjoying the artistry and the wonder of it all, and can even see the same trick over and over and still be enthralled. My husband would probably want to try to figure it out.

In all fairness, my husband spends his leisure time reading technical info found in the magazines he subscribes to or surfing techie websites, but he hasn't read my features in the Chronicle in a long time, or even this blog.  He gravitates towards the complex. I go for the flowery, the emotional, the artistic.

For my most recent discovery of tiny urls  in which somehow, if you stick one of those huge long web addresses into one of these tiny url engines, they spit out an adorable tiny url that is forever attached with your major long web address. It totally confounds me how this is done, but I don't WANT to know. I just think it is kind of cute as it is, without any explanation needed.

When my husband tries to explain any of this to me, my brain automatically tunes out to focus on, say, a lyric to a song that I haven't heard in 20 years. To put it into technical language he can relate to, it is like the radio that is my brain auto-tunes to another channel when faced with technical information. It's like static to my brain.

He can tell when I tune him out too, and he always angrily asks, "Don't you want to become smarter, more knowledgeable in things you don't know anything about?" 
Well, when he puts it that way, trying to make me feel small because my brain is built differently than his, my answer would have to be.....NO.

He probably wouldn't admit it, but he tunes me out too when he is not interested in the topic.(Honey, remember all those times you swore I never told you something that I had? Hmmm, auto-tune out?)

Let's not even go into movie preferences, though I have encouraged him to seek out a "movie buddy." I have to give my husband credit though, when I took him to learn to dance after watching the fun on Dancing with the Stars, I loved it and it was torture for him. We didn't stay with it for very long. 

Now here's the kicker. We are opposites, but it works well for us. We are really happy together. I respect him for his qualities - and boy does he ever come in handy! He is my biggest fan and cheerleader and believes in my talent even if he doesn't read me regularly.

Which brings a scientific type of conclusion that even I can come up with (see I am not hopeless): Opposites do indeed attract.


From Eye Rolling Contempt to Best Mom in the Universe - What a Happy Mother's Day!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 5/8/2009 8:05 AM CDT

Is there anything sadder than a Mother's Day for a mom born near Mother's Day (thus a natural in the nurturing) without any kids around? (insert scene of me feeling sorry for myself)


Well, according to a friend, yes. Though I will bemoan the fact that none of my children can be in the same city as me (curses to you university schedulers of finals) my dear friend is immersed in a houseful of teens. In fact, one of said teens was furious at her husband for cancelling the teen's plans for Sunday due to a family Mother's Day gathering!


It was only a few short years ago that I was in that boat, so I had to console my friend with the phrase, "This too shall pass." But it is actually better than that. Much much better. Once the kids get past this phase, you enter into a blissful motherhood stage again, if you are one of the lucky ones to emerge with children and your own self-esteem intact.

My baby is graduating college in a few short weeks and with that the last hurdle of challenging motherhood, the path is now cleared for a lifelong phase of a healthy and beautiful relationship.

Perhaps I would have been nominated by my kids as the worst mom in the world when they were teens, (although I kind of knew behind their hostility that they really respected my decisions and discipline) or maybe the most old fashioned, out of touch, most clueless mom in the world. At one point, I was so fed up, I wrote an essay called "Smells Like Teen Attitude, This is NOT Nirvana" which you can read at the beginning - it was my very first blog entry.

Now, I have been fully restored to my rightful status -the one I previously peaked at with my children at around ages five to seven - that of best mom in the universe.  (In those days I received hand-made cards with drawings of me and them and hearts surrounding us, with banners proclaiming my greatness) 

blog post photo

The very toughest years of parenting are behind me now, and somehow I have come out smelling like a rose. Who needs real flowers for Mother's Day when you have that accomplishment? In fact I just recently received this. Perhaps not as significant as the handmade card, it still means a lot that my daughter thought to acknowledge me in a beautiful certificate of appreciation for my role in her success as she graduates college.


What hard parenting years those teen years were, where all of my advice was met with eye rolls, and many of my decisions were bitterly challenged. What my kids didn't know at the time was that it hurt me more than them to stand firm on unpopular edicts, and that while they cried in their rooms, I went for a good cry many times in my own bedroom closet.  Since my children were close in age, they often ganged up on me, ridiculing me for not being the laisez faire parent they desired. There were points when my own misery "almost" affected my resolve, but I hung in there, doing what needed to be done.


Fortunately, I have really great kids and under the surface of all of that anger and desire to grow beyond their borders, there was also a lot of love. Compromises were negotiated when called for. And that paved the way to a strong and wonderful relationship with them as they became full-fledged, over 21 adults.


Truthfully my son still tunes me out when I am being  a mom and lecturing him on getting enough fruits and veggies - among many other things, chiding me that "he knows" what I insist on reminding him.

But despite that, we are more friends now than we have ever been. He needs less parenting, and so it's easy to forge a new relationship based on mutual admiration. We are so close, and I so appreciate that.


My daughter not only listens to my advice, she actively seeks it out. She calls me a saint of a mom and her friends love me as their surrogate mom. Both my children not only respect me and my opinions, they have become my biggest fans. (Funny, I have been their biggest fans all along!) 

Gradually, their mentality has shifted from "What can you do for me?" to "What can I do for you, Mom?" What a concept!


Sure they can adore you and think you hung the moon when they are the naive and innocent five year olds, but when they are are educated and grown and have seen a lot in the world and decide that same thing, it is a whole new level of high. 


And though I know having teens is difficult, I can't help think about the heroic mothers with disabled or ill children because I know that my tough times couldn't compare to their best days.  

I am sad that I am separated from my children on Mother's Day but isn't it also a day for moms to reflect how lucky and blessed they are to have their precious (yes, even teens are precious) children in their lives? So that is exactly how I am going to spend my day.

Happy Mother's Day to all moms everywhere - have the best day ever!


Moving True Story for Teacher Appreciation Week

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 5/4/2009 8:44 PM CDT

This is Teacher Appreciation week, and in honor of that, I pulled out a true story I wrote several years back when I worked as a reading specialist. There are teachers in the classrooms having victories every day such as the one I had with Joshua. So hug or thank a teacher today!


Joshua - by Arlene Nisson Lassin (copyrighted)

When Joshua first came to me he wore a snarl on his face, and he shrugged his shoulders to all of my questions; his persona telling me that he had long ago given up on school. It was the beginning of a new school year in an impoverished neighborhood and I was his new remedial reading teacher. As a reading specialist funded by a federal grant, I met with one to four students at a time who were having difficulty learning to read. I was trained in an expensive program that if taught patiently and properly, practically guaranteed any child could learn to read.

Before meeting with Joshua, I reviewed his file. It was easy to see why he had a poor attitude about his education; he was 11 years old and still in the second grade. He had failed every grade twice, including kindergarten. A note from his most recent summer school teacher cried out for help for him.

“Joshua is eleven years old and doesn’t know his letter sounds and cannot read at all,” the note pleaded. “Someone needs to do something to help this child.”

That first day with me, I sat Joshua at a small table to assess his reading level. I pushed a kindergarten primer towards him containing simple words like cat and mat. Joshua looked at it for a few moments, and then faced me and said with resignation, “I can’t read.” Trying to appear like he didn’t care with a disdainful attitude and demeanor, his eyes betrayed him as they reflected his sadness and shame.

At 11 years old, Joshua had never been given the key to unlock the world of words and reading simply because he did not learn as others could in a regular classroom setting. Although he was a math whiz and seemed of normal intelligence, no one had the opportunity before me to find out why Joshua couldn’t read.

During our very next meeting, I learned Joshua could not name the letters of the alphabet; he did not know a “v” was called a “v,” and so on. When asked the sounds that each letter makes, he made an attempt with a grunting type sound with some of the letters, but he just shook his head at most. It was clear that we were starting at the very beginning.

One of the greatest difficulties for me was to not come on too strong with this defeated child, and more importantly not to make him promises we did not know would come true. He had failed for so long over the puzzle of letter sounds and stringing them together to make words; I knew there was no easy fix. There was also tremendous anger within him, as I found out soon enough when he lashed out in frustration. For that reason he could not be pushed too hard, especially during those first tenuous days.

Aside from his inability to read, Joshua also had a severe speech impediment and he slurred most of his words and sounds. After repeating letter sounds incorrectly for several days, I began to suspect he was not hearing me properly, because he could not imitate my sounds.

I met with the school nurse, who tested Joshua’s hearing. In his medical file, she noticed that he had a severe ear infection one time. Sure enough, after testing we found he had a minor hearing impairment. Although it was sad news, I finally had enough information on Joshua to try to help him appropriately.

Fortunately, I was trained in using a simple piece of PVC pipe that when held like a phone, curves from the mouth to the ear and acts as a sound amplifier. Called a “phonics phone,” it became Joshua’s lifesaver. In the phone, I made sounds that went directly to his ear. Then when he copied, he could hear his own sounds in his ear.

With that simple device, Joshua was able to learn his letter sounds.

However, no amount of learning could be taken for granted, because he would quickly forget things since he would not practice. I had asked Joshua to practice his alphabet cards that I gave him to take home. It was quite obvious that he did not do that, because for every step forward he would take, he would come back to me the next day two steps back.

Each time he did this and I showed signs of frustration or disappointment, the anger in Joshua came out, and he tried to play the role of a stubborn tough guy. When I pushed him too hard, he cursed me and I felt unappreciated. There were many days when we engaged in a battle of wills. Never in my life had I been given this kind of challenge with so much at stake. My own self esteem was now at risk, and due in large part to my sheer stubbornness I refused to accept failure as an option.

Even though Joshua wanted others to perceive him as a tough guy who didn’t care about learning, there were hints that he was just as determined in our efforts as I was. There were lessons where Joshua worked so hard with me, he would break out into a sweat. And there were days where he really seemed to enjoy his newfound learning.

Finally, almost two months into our lessons, Joshua retained enough knowledge of letter sounds to begin reading. My next hurdle was getting him to attach letter sounds together to make words.

I began with the shortest word I knew he could sound out and I showed him an “a” and a “t.” I instructed him to hold the first letter sound and then make the second sound. I told him if he did that, he would hear a word as he said it and he would then be able to read that word.

Gently prodding, I asked him, “What word are we reading, Joshua?”

Gripping the phonics phone, suddenly after struggling stringing the sounds together for a few minutes, his eyes opened wide as he first heard the word he was sounding out. He looked at me quizzically, and then asked hopefully, “at?”

“Yes, Joshua, AT,” I said.

A smile crept across his face and illuminated the entire room.

The impossible mystery of reading had become unlocked for Joshua in that powerful moment, and probably for the first time in his life he experienced enough of a victory to believe he was capable of reading.

He looked at the word again, and said “at,” seeing for the very first time the connection of sounds blending together into a word. I next gave him the word “mat.” More determined now, he sounded MMMAATTT, and then again, a hopeful voice emerged with, “Mat?”

“Yes Joshua, Mat.”

Soon he read his first sentence, and then other sentences. I sent him a copy of the primers to take home and practice, but I found out from his classroom teacher that he was leaving them at school each day, unopened. Perhaps he was embarrassed to take these babyish books home because I knew he loved reading them while with me. Still, his lack of practice made his progress very slow.

After a while he was bored with the baby books and sentences. As he read three, four, and five letter words and gained a small sight vocabulary, he was able to read new books. When he did, he grinned eagerly and his chest puffed up with confidence.

Finally one day he read an entirely new primer book to me, haltingly, sometimes tripping up on the sight words that he had forgotten, but he was able to read it successfully. This was quite an accomplishment, reading a whole book he had never seen before.

Proudly, I looked at him and said, “Joshua, do you know that you have become a reader?”

My angry, defiant, and yes, occasionally lazy student felt like an academic champion that day.

Despite those victories, I was still engaged in an uphill battle because outside of our little time together, Joshua would not practice reading. Our progress was always barely plodding along to my great frustration.

In Joshua’s world, I was NOT a hero, just another person in a system he did not trust, who wanted more from him than he was willing to give.

On one particularly rough day, I sent him to the principal’s office for cursing at me during a lesson. Off he marched, still clutching his primer in his hand. The principal knew very well about this pupil and his lack of progress in school.

After leaving them together, I peeked back in a short time later. Instead of the disciplinary scene I had expected, Joshua was smiling with a shiny metallic pencil in his hand, given as a gift by the principal. The assistant principal and principal were sitting there with wet eyes because Joshua had just read his entire ten page book to them.

Later, the principal reminded me how important it was that Joshua was reading. She did not have the heart to discipline him after hearing him read. She told me that I could only control Joshua’s world for the short time I had him, and that any small accomplishment was better than none.

The school year ended quickly, and Joshua, almost 12 years old, could read at middle first grade level by year’s end. I told him how proud I was that he was now a reader. His grin, in response, seemed a mile wide and I could see he was proud too. I told him I couldn’t wait to work with him again the next year, because he was really going to soar in his reading ability.

As I worked in a school with a transient population, it shouldn’t have seemed surprising that Joshua did not return to our school after summer vacation. As I reflected on my disappointment, I felt sure he retained his letter-sound-word connection that was so hard won. Giving up on the notion that I would bring him further along that next school year, I was comforted in the knowledge that no matter where he was, he could never again look a teacher in the eye and truthfully utter those three words that brought him such shame the year before, “I can’t read.”

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Interactive Blog: Where Were You When Astronauts Landed on Moon in '69?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/27/2009 8:16 AM CDT

Growing up in the baby boomer generation there were several signature events that we remember in detail no matter how foggy memories get of other things in the past. The first, which is discussed quite often is how vividly most of us remember the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember being in an assembly for a television science program in my elementary school auditorium when a news report interrupted with the horrifying news. I was in fourth grade and remember wondering why the president had gone to war, because that was my only frame of reference to getting shot and killed.


The second, was the day the Beatles performed on Ed Sullivan. Whether you are a Beatles fan or not, this event was so large in our world at the time that most people remember it down to the finest detail of where they were and who they were with. I was at home watching it with my dad on black and white TV. My dad called them "long-haired weirdos" that night and later became one of their biggest fans.


The third, for me at least, was the miraculous day of the July 1969 moon landing by our astronauts.

Ah, the summer of '69. Bryan Adams had a terrific hit song with that title, and it was fittingly and appropriately about the more innocent days of youth - a coming of age song.


I have a mostly freakish long term memory for details, although my short term memory is going. So not only do I remember where I was and who I was with when the exciting moon landing event occurred, I remember that entire summer quite vividly -as if it was one of those coming of age movies set in that era such as "Stand By Me." 

Well, it is a movie in my mind, at any rate, even if it's not worthy of a Hollywood type scripting.


My youthful carefree summers were a thing of my past. I began filling up all of my free time with babysitting jobs three summers before to keep up with the Joneses in clothing and accessories -which were very important to the upwardly mobile middle class families in my area. 

In the summer of 1969, I had just graduated junior high in the ninth grade, and was looking forward to my first year in high school. I was not old enough to work in retail or as a waitress, which I found more financially lucrative when I was of age, but I settled on maximizing the money I could earn as a "mother's helper." This involved living with a family as their full time babysitter. (Cue: poor waif)


It was the first time I tried this new role, and when I first arrived at the modest home of an upper-middle class family with three young children, I was very homesick and lonely. Little did I know in those first days as I adapted to my new role, duties, and my babysitting charges, what a utopia of a neighborhood I stumbled into - known as 2nd and C.


All I knew about the neighborhood was that it was three buses away from my own. The homes seemed a bit larger but were row homes just like in my neighborhood, albeit more recently built. This was a young neighborhood, filled to the brim with families with young children of all ages. My own older neighborhood was mixed with many older people as well as young families, so I had never seen anything quite like this. Besides, as I would later learn - the camaraderie, cohesiveness and "it takes a village" mentality of these neighbors was another phenomenon I had never experienced before. Every neighbor was the best of friends with all of the other neighbors, and events like July 4th were a festival of sharing good times.


A few days after homesickness tears stained my pillow at night (on a bed stuck in the baby's room in true Cinderella style)  I was walking down the street towards a playground when a few friendly girls introduced themselves and I made some instant friends.


These two girls my age were an absolute perfect cure for my homesickness, and as the time progressed, whatever free time I had was spent with them. Sometimes, the two younger children I was in charge of accompanied me just to hang out with them. We were all "good girls" and didn't get into any mischief, so it seemed luxurious to be able to combine some social life with my job such as walking to the local luncheonette called Pauline and Eddie's, where we would all get ice cream treats. 

One of the girls had an older brother who was tall and tanned and athletic, and who was the object of my summer crush. He was usually busy playing sports and didn't give me the time of day, but I got to see him a bunch just because I was with his sister so much. (This was an adorable family of kids anyway - there were three or four very handsome friendly children, all with names starting with "J.") 
Do you see the movie plot here - I even have a love interest!


Yes, it was the height of my gawky, awkward, early adolescent growth spurt and though I wasn't very confident, I was extremely social. My summer was rescued by these two wonderful girls. They introduced me to an increasingly larger circle of kids from their neighborhood who hung out by a stone wall. I remember these days as fun rather than filled with the drudgery of my work, and mostly this was because I was in a neighborhood that was rich in terms of quality, friendly people my age.

One boy even developed a little crush on me - not reciprocated of course because I was pining for my friend's older brother.


The magic of a summer of fun surrounded by a whole new crowd of -to use 60's lingo- "groovy" kids- some extremely funny, under the guise of working, was a real coming of age for me as I learned I could juggle responsibility with fun times and lots of laughter. Being welcomed into the warm folds of this special neighborhood was a true gift.


The culminating event of the summer came on July 20, 1969 - near the end of my working there because I was set to go off to overnight camp while my employers were leaving for a long vacation.


Several neighbors crowded into my friend's house to see the moon landing on their color TV with excited anticipation. (This would never have occurred in my own neighborhood) Some of the younger kids were past bedtime and had their PJ's on. All eyes were glued to the grainy video on the TV as we listened to the scratchy but strong voice of Neil Armstrong saying "The Eagle Has Landed,"  and let out cheers. And as we all watched in wide-eyed wonder together,  the first steps on the moon were taken. "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," indeed.

Just as this signature event perfectly signified for us baby boomer kids the limitless possibilities and opportunities for a brighter future, for me personally, it was a fitting culmination of a special, coming of age summer. 

Now, let me hear your memories. Do you remember this event as vividly as I do - if so where were you and how did you feel?


Meeting KISS' Gene Simmons Mom on an Airplane - A Holocaust Survivor

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/23/2009 8:20 AM CDT

This week is Holocaust Remembrance Week and the blog just before this one was a true story about my grandfather's war experience in Germany and how it affected him, and later, me. Today's blog is about a woman I met on an airplane one day.

In my writing career I have often written Holocaust survivor stories for newspapers and magazines, and I believe in the importance of sharing as many eyewitness accounts as possible. No two stories are the same, and it always amazes me how people clung to their will to live despite atrocities that the world had never seen before.

Back to the woman I met on an airplane: I was exhausted after a whirlwind trip to the middle east several years ago. I went on the trip with a large group, where I visited places such as Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and I was both physically and mentally drained.

We flew El Al back to New York and I sat in a seat next to an elderly lady who pleasantly introduced herself as Florence, although I was in no mood for small talk. Though I had averaged about 2-3 hours of sleep a night for 10 days, I always have trouble sleeping on planes, so though I closed my eyes for a bit I failed to doze off. When I gave up on that, and opened a magazine, Florence, the elderly lady next to me pounced on this opportunity to converse. She was bubbly, friendly, and wanted to know what I did for a living and what I was doing in Israel. I told her I was a writer, and mentioned that I had written Holocaust survivor stories.

Florence changed the subject right away, and said in a sly way with a thick Yiddish type of accent, "Maybe you know mine son - he is very famous."

She reached into her purse and pulled out a photo of KISS rock group leader Gene Simmons, in full makeup, sticking his tongue out in his trademark pose.

I looked at her as she beamed with pride at her rocker son, and acknowledged, "Wow, Gene Simmons is your son."

"Yes, yes, oh you know him! I told you he was quite famous!"

Even more animated now, she told me how he had just sent her on a lovely vacation to a spa in the Dead Sea, and she thought he was the most wonderful son in the world. 

Story after story, she regaled me with her delight of having a son who made a name for himself and who was quite generous to his mother. Her pride in her only child was touching.

She told me Gene was born in Israel and she came to the U.S. as a single mom. They had a very tough go of it for many years.

Finally, as she was tiring a bit, she whispered to me that she wasn't originally from Israel.

"I was from Hungary, and I too survived the Holocaust," she said, and turned to look in the other direction as if there was shame attached to it. 

Using all the sensitivity I could muster, I asked her if her Holocaust story had been written yet, because I would love to read it or hear about it.

Florence faced me again with a stone face. "My dear, I can never unlock that door and bring up those memories, because if I did, I would go crazy and never come back," she said.

I knew this was a commonplace reaction of survivors. Looking at her, my mind began spinning around so many different horrible scenarios of her life from what I had already read or wrote; either surviving as a Jew on the run, or as a death camp survivor.

Many Holocaust survivors cannot and will not speak of their experiences, though ones that eventually do find it extremely healing and cathartic.

I didn't push her though. I gave her my card and told her to call me if she wanted someone trustworthy to speak to and write about her experience. 

And with that, she drifted off to sleep, and when she awoke the plane was landing in New York. 

I was sorry that her joy in sharing who her son was with me completely left her when she admitted that she was a survivor. I could only imagine the burden of keeping those demon memories far from her conscious mind.  

I also thought how important it could be to tell the story of a survivor whose son was as high profile as Gene Simmons, and wondered how many countless people would never tell their stories or could never tell them.

When we landed, we said our pleasant farewells, and her mood had brightened again. She was soon to see her precious only son, Gene Simmons. No matter if her story had to remain a secret locked away within her; she was a survivor who, despite her devastating losses, has a son to carry on the family line.

The Holocaust Museum Houston has a fine library of books with amazing survivor stories, and for other survivor stories, you can check out Steven Spielberg's video history project too.

For Holocaust Remembrance Day-WWII Soldier's View of a Nazi

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/20/2009 8:01 AM CDT

Today is the day set aside once a year for Holocaust Remembrance Day. As the fine Holocaust Museum Houston teaches, if we do not remember this time in history where 10 million innocent people were murdered (including six million Jews and over one million children) we are destined to repeat it. 

I saw the movie The Reader recently and thought it shocking that the character Kate Winslet played had far more shame for her illiteracy than for her time as a murderous Nazi guard. Nazi - it's a word that means pure evil and should bring shudders to everyone.

I first learned the word Nazi was when I was very very young. I must have been about five or six, but the memory stays with me and will always haunt me.

My maternal grandfather took me out every Saturday for a special day together. He loved to spoil me and many days he took me to a local amusement park to ride the Carousel and the Tilt-a-Whirl. I was afraid of bigger rides like the Ferris Wheel, but my grandfather was patient, doting, and didn't care if I just wanted multiple rounds on the Carousel. On these days, as my grandfather squired me around, his big coarse hand holding tight to my tiny one, he had a smile plastered on his face and nothing could change his mood. It was a cherished time for both of us.

There was a mini roller coaster for really young children that I felt ready to try one week and so my grandfather and I stood in line. When we got up to the ride attendant who was ready to escort us, I saw a tattoo on his arm. This was in the early 60's when tattoos were not at all commonplace so it was a complete novelty to me - and appeared as if the man's arm was painted with a spider-ish sign.
The particular tattoo I saw, and learned more about much later in life, was a Swastika.  That day, as I pointed it out to my grandfather, I was shocked at how his entire persona changed. Instead of the smiling, gentle giant I knew, he filled with explosive rage as his face turned red and contorted with anger. 

"He's a damn Nazi," my grandfather spat out, as he yanked me away from the ride.

At that age, I had no point of reference for the term Nazi, and thought it was just a word you would use for a bad person. Never having seen him rage before and not wishing to further upset him, my usual inquisitiveness was temporarily shut down, and so I didn't ask for an explanation.

In turns out that my grandfather did have a very personal point of reference. He was stationed in Germany as a soldier in World War II. He was older, with a family, but was sent from the reserves because he understood the German language - his parents had been German immigrants.

There was no term such as post traumatic stress disorder for returning soldiers in those days, but I feel sure that with all of the torturous memories he kept locked up inside, only to show them in short rage-filled bursts, that is exactly what he was left with. Having helped liberate concentration camps and witnessing the death and destruction at the hands of the Nazis, my parents told me later that my "grandfather's nerves were never the same again" after he returned from war.

That first contact with the word Nazi stayed with me and I occasionally heard my Grandfather use that word after he watched the news. I never inquired further, wishing not to upset him each time, though now I wish now that I had the courage to do that. 

While going through college as a psychology major, I took a comparative religion class made up of students of every religion and many nationalities. For two weeks of the course, another guest lecturer gave us a mini-course on the Holocaust. The most moving and transforming part of the course, aside from reading the book "Night" by Elie Wiesel, was watching a documentary film called "The Night and the Fog."

That film uses actual footage taken out of Nazi archives to show the worst of the concentration camps and the methodical way the Nazis were working toward their murderous "Final Solution." Many of the students in our class had to leave the room during parts of it, many cried, and many became ill. (It is such an important film in my opinion, I think that it should be viewed by all high schoolers so they can learn about racial and religious intolerance in the extreme.)

I sat riveted through the film though, and that's because I was watching on film with my own eyes what my grandfather must had witnessed in person with his eyes as he arrived at death camps. In the film they showed archival footage of emaciated barely surviving skeletons of humans with hollowed eyes near the piles of dead skeletal bodies that were later steamrolled into a hole. My grandfather had unfortunately passed away a few years earlier before I could hear his experience as a first-hand witness, but I finally had all of my unasked questions answered. I learned what a Nazi was and it made my blood run cold, because it wasn't just a character or a bad guy from a horror film any more, these were real life evil people. This two week mini Holocaust course moved me beyond anything had in my entire life.

During the 90's at the height of Seinfeld's television show popularity, Jerry Seinfeld coined a flippant term about a mean restaurant owner. The term was Soup Nazi. As happens in pop culture, the term was picked up on, and was used in popular lexicon. Suddenly the term Nazi was tagged on and used for every disagreeable, or mean person. With this, the original meaning of the term had been watered down to its most trivial.

As a writer and a bit of a wordsmith, this bothered me more than I could ever say; my experience with my grandfather and the Holocaust course caused me anger beyond reason that the term Nazi could be so trivialized. (I am my grandfather in this sense.) I am sure most Holocaust survivors felt the same way. Words can indeed hurt.

Because I am at heart a psychologist as well as a writer, when I watch films featuring Nazis I try to use psychology to explain their behavior. But no matter how hard I try, I have never been able to come up with a rational explanation of the sort of evil that took over common people who went along with the murderous rampage on innocent citizens.

Though my grandfather wasn't able to give me a personal history lesson from his eyewitness accounts, he at least taught me one very important thing: that the term Nazi should be reserved for the worst kind of human being- the kind who has no value for human life.

On Thursday's blog, I will talk about the importance of telling survivor's stories, and about a unique Holocaust survivor I randomly met on an airplane.

Click here to return to the current Hot Flashes blog

Why Bride Chose a Virtual Stranger To Dance Wedding's First Dance

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/16/2009 1:00 PM CDT

Last week I posted a blog about my experience as a Volunteer Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Courier. This piece below is a true story about my husband's donation of bone marrow to save a stranger's life, and how she thanked him. This is but one reason that we are so committed to this wonderful, lifesaving program. ( a long read, but worth it!)

A Miraculous Wedding Dance by Arlene Nisson Lassin 

The bride-to-be, Sheryl, demurely pulled me aside, and asked if she could borrow my husband, Gary, for a dance at her wedding reception the next day. Though I didn’t know her well, I knew enough about her normally feisty, even pushy, demeanor to be taken aback by the gentleness of her request. Normally she was not the type of person to ask permission to do anything she cared to do. This aspect of her personality served her well while she was battling two life-threatening bouts of leukemia several years earlier.

She carefully explained her special plan for her dance with my husband but before long he came bounding up on us, and we quickly changed the subject into wedding chitchat. Sheryl intended for her plans to be a surprise to Gary, and now we were co-conspirators. We had gone to Detroit for the weekend of her wedding, and a case of bad timing and chaotic situations on the home front made me initially regret the time sacrifice involved in our travel plans. It felt more like a trip of obligation to be at this wedding rather than one to celebrate a joyous occasion. Until Sheryl’s request for the dance with my husband that is, when I was jolted back into understanding the impact of Gary on her life, and in getting her to her wedding day. I realized that I would be witness to a life cycle event of miraculous proportions, made possible by several smaller miracles and a generosity of spirit on the part of Gary that defies description.

In 1995, Gary received a call from the National Marrow Donor Program that he was a preliminary match for a potential bone marrow transplant that was needed to save the life of an unrelated stranger in another part of the country. Signing up years earlier in a drive for a sick child, he had forgotten before that call that he was on the national registry of bone marrow donors. Initially reticent only because he did not understand what he needed to do and how much it would disrupt his own life, once he learned it was a matter of life and death, there was no question in his mind that he would give his marrow. He found out that he had to go through general anesthesia and surgery to remove his marrow, but not only was willing to do that, he wrote a note with his prayers for the health of his unknown patient to be given to his recipient along with the bone marrow. Most of the thousands and thousands of people on the national registry never match an unrelated patient needing marrow. It takes a miracle of matching six out of six blood antigens, something akin to winning a lottery by matching six out of six numbers.

Gary did not know who needed his bone marrow at the time, because the identity of the patient and location is kept confidential for a one-year period. After the one-year period, if the recipient survives, he or she could opt to contact the donor, only if that was mutually acceptable. For Gary, the pain and inconvenience involved in having the surgery meant nothing in comparison to his fervent hope that his marrow could save the life of a person sick with leukemia. He included the patient in his prayers and whenever he was asked about donating marrow, he always turned around his giving of the gift of life by saying it was a gift to him to have the opportunity to save someone’s life. Although his selfless act is something he is proud of, he is very humble about the part he played; saying that the patient, and not the donor, is the real hero. After the one-year waiting period, Gary received notice that his patient had survived thanks to his bone marrow and she wanted to contact him. He readily agreed. That was the beginning of the long distance friendship of my husband Gary, and his bone marrow recipient Sheryl, a young woman who lived in the Detroit area.

After the transplant, Sheryl continued to struggle with various complications of her illness and her long road to recovery, and due to her focus on survival, apparently she felt she could not properly express her gratitude. Perhaps she thought the giving of such a precious gift perhaps warranted a thank you on a grand scale. She would have to find her own time and way to express how she felt.

Just three years later, in 1998, Gary was called that leukemia cells had invaded Sheryl’s bloodstream again, and this time they needed a donation of his white blood cells to tackle her bad cells. Again, without hesitation, Gary donated in a half-day intensive procedure involving intravenous extraction of his white blood cells that would be transplanted in Sheryl.

Sheryl fought this latest battle as all her battles with leukemia like a tiger and emerged victorious. Now, as she was fully recovered and preparing her wedding, she wanted, surrounded by all the people in the world she loved and cared about, and who cared about her in return, to properly thank and honor her generous life saver. As yet another wedding detail that needed intensive planning, she went about finding the perfect tribute for Gary. She found a special poem on angels and had a special frame engraved with Gary’s name to hold the poem. An angel figurine was purchased to accompany the poem.

A perfect and peaceful late summer wedding day arrived, and the ceremony went off without a hitch. Soon after, the reception and celebrating began, and just after the meal was finished at the reception, the lights flickered for a special presentation. The disc jockey, playing the role of master of ceremonies, called up both sides of the bride and groom’s immediate family. Various parents, stepparents, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces took their places on cue in rows before the celebrants, while Sheryl took the microphone in front of them. “I hope I can get through this next part,” Sheryl said to the rapt audience, her voice starting to break up. “I’d like to call up one other member of my family, an honorary member, and someone very special who came with his wife from Houston to be here for my wedding. If it wasn’t for this special person, I wouldn’t be getting married today and in fact I wouldn’t be here at all. Gary please join me up here.”

Surprised, Gary walked to the stage. Sheryl briefly explained Gary’s role in her life to those assembled, and then read him a poem on angels. “You will know when you are touched by an angel,” Sheryl read aloud. “Just know there are Angels in our life, usually taking a human disguise, working and performing their acts of love. They may borrow the face of a stranger; even borrow faces of friends... I know first hand Angels are here with us. You see, Gary, you are my living proof. I love my angel.”

In front of the crowd of celebrants, she presented him with the framed poem and the angel figurine, and they embraced. It was a powerful thank you and the audience, myself included, were humbled for the moment, pondering the difference one person can make in another person’s life.

Then music swelled with Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath my Wings,” which begins with the words, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” As they waltzed around, locked in an embrace, looking at each other lovingly, they seemed to be sharing a bond that few of the rest of us could ever know or understand. Related by shared bone marrow and white blood cells, they danced the wedding’s first special dance together.


The Privilege of Helping To Save A Life

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/6/2009 8:10 AM CDT

I've spent the majority of my adult life volunteering in some capacity because I was one of the fortunate ones for many years who was a stay-at-home mom while doing a bit of writing on the side. (Not the case any longer now that my kids are grown) 

It was my way of returning the favor of having free time back to the universe, while being able to pick and choose where and when I wanted to work.

Make no mistake about it – a lot of volunteer work is every bit as much work as the kind people get paychecks for.

After many years of this, where I was only paid in an occasional nod of appreciation, I was somewhat burnt out. I had done everything I could have done on the PTO, the little league, the school committees, the groups affiliated with my religious persuasion. I had been president, chair, and in those roles either had the pleasure of delegating or doing it all myself if there wasn't the manpower to get it done.

Some of the time, volunteering was both a full time job and fairly thankless, such as the time I chaired the After Prom event for a huge high school that my son was graduating from. I believed in the event – it was a way to keep kids from going off and partying and drinking alcohol elsewhere – keeping them gambling, game playing and dancing until 6 am in the morning. (Another long story - but the event was a great success for the few kids and the large number of parents like me who stayed till the bitter end.)

It was shortly after this major volunteer responsibility that I decided to retire from volunteer life. My children were just about to go off to college, and I had done just about everything in the volunteer universe, so I was content to spend my little bit of free time on me.

That decision didn't last very long because I received a unique opportunity to be a lifeline to a critically ill person. I was offered training in becoming a bone marrow and stem cells transplant courier – where I would be charged with the responsibility of transporting blood products to a far away destination by planes, cabs, and whatever else it took to get the product there safe, secure, and timely. They depend on a group of highly trained volunteers to do this to keep costs down, and train us on how to go through airport security, how to check identifying numbers on the blood product, and how to keep the confidentiality and anonymity of the donor and recipient. Knowing what this delivery means to a critically ill person waiting for it is a heavy responsibility and there is always a huge sense of relief when a delivery is finished.

My husband is a miracle person in that he matched twice to unrelated recipients and donated his bone marrow to save the lives of patients. In fact, my follow up to this piece (on Wednesday)  will be one about attending the wedding of the leukemia patient whose life my husband saved with his bone marrow donation. (Don't miss this one – it is not to be believed.)

Having first hand experience of the miracles that result from this medical procedure, I was happy to do my part to help. If I couldn't match up with anyone and donate myself, at least I could help this way. I get to pick and choose deliveries of the ones offered, and for some reason, this most recent time I chose a particularly inconvenient one.

This past volunteer trip, I spent a grueling 19 1/2 hour day in airplanes, and in airports, in cabs, and killing a bunch of time. Volunteer couriers are thoroughly trained and screened for patience and ability to keep cool under these types of circumstances. (It was most cost effective to do a one day trip rather than incur overnight expenses)

Travel itself is seldom fun – unless of course you get one of those wacky Southwest airlines planes to Vegas, or you are on an aforementioned party bus. Plus, taking time off work is a sacrifice as well.

Being a grumbly type person when I am inconvenienced, I dreaded this past trip because I knew it would be challenging on my patience and even complained about it in advance. But once in motion, with blood products in my possession to save a critically ill person's life on the other end, I kept thinking about the pain, heartache and inconvenience of illness. Surely with my blessings of good health for me and my family, I could put up with this to help someone else whose very existence was a huge struggle.

You know that little devil and angel that appears on your shoulder when you struggle with good and evil - well those two characters were wrestling with each other a lot during that very long day as I struggled with boredom, frustration, loneliness, sleep deprivation (I am one of those people who can't fall asleep sitting up or in a public place) and being stranded in a strange airport. However, just a day later when my perspective was fully back in place, I was once again reflecting on how what I put up with is minor compared to people battling diseases.

I see this kind of selflessness all the time in features I write on heroic people – people caring for sick people, visiting them, making their hospital stays more comfortable and so much more. If I can't do that due to my aversion of hospitals, I can at least do this.

Yes, I lost a day of business as usual, and it was even more grueling than originally promised, but it also gave me the rare opportunity to reflect and count my own blessings.

NOTE: What I do in this program is minor compared to what my husband did for an unrelated stranger - three different times. So be sure to read this coming Wednesday - one of my favorite writing pieces- about his recipient, who lived and is thriving! It is the happiest of endings possible.


Wait, You Mean I'm No Spring Chicken?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 4/2/2009 8:10 AM CDT

Maybe the key to never having felt my chronological age is because I love the outdoors, and physical outdoors activity.

I subscribe to the philosophy that if I continue to do the kinds of activities that brought me joy from my youth - no matter what my true age is - that I will always feel like a kid. This includes going to rock concerts, and physical activities such as dancing, bicycling, jumping on a trampoline, swimming, and rollerblading.

I know for a fact that I won't keep up with exercise programs of any kind if they don't include the above. So I try to keep my own schedule of activities, rotating among things I love to do.

Sometimes when I look in the mirror, dressed in shorts and a tee shirt with my hair in a ponytail ready for sports, I think I look as young as I feel. (But wait - my eyes are kind of deteriorating with age, so it's through a hazy filter that I see that youthful person - you know - the kind they use in magazines)

Other times I look in the mirror and am shocked to see an older lady! "Who is that person," I think, taken aback? Oh, me.

Recently with daylight savings time I've been out and about more than ever. I remember the carefree days when as a kid we got an extra hour of daylight after school and before dinner. In those days, parents just let kids loose on the streets to entertain themselves with the directive to return by dark.

In my neighborhood growing up, we all took that opportunity to ride our bikes longer, or go to the local playground to hang out longer. Those were the days of the bicycles that made a lot of noise thanks to baseball cards stuck on the spokes with clothespins that made them sound like they had motors. (And yes, I know how many men would kill to get back those valuable cards of Sandy Koufax that they ruined that way.)

Even now, when I ride my bike, sometimes I feel those same carefree feelings and I ride with abandon, wind in my ponytail, sun on my face. It is not work, not exercise, even though I use it that way, it is just pure fun.  The bonus is that  the more I do these, the better shape I stay in.

Many people are surprised when I divulge my true age, because my looks, energy level, and personality have always felt much younger than my age as well. (One plus of going through puberty late and looking far younger than my age through many torturous teenage and young adult years)  

When I say this though, I am referencing generations of family before me. When my grandparents were at my age in life, they looked and acted like “older” people – and my parents although seeming younger than my grandparents at my current age, still seemed a lot older than I look or feel now.

(Notice I am skirting around a public declaration of my actual age? But suffice it to say, mid-life is about right if I live life about as long as you possibly can.)

I found the key to my fountain of youth early – laugh a lot, and engage in activities that you enjoy and that make you feel younger.

 It was another activity that I loved as a child that got me into a bit of trouble recently, and caused me to review how I am starting to feel my age sometimes (and even older.)

After years of not regularly rollerblading, I received a brand new pair and took it back up with a passion. This harks back to the days when I was young, when for a small price, I could go to a local roller rink called the Concord and rent skates and zoom around the smooth floor to pop tunes. It was the type of activity that I couldn’t get enough of – I had to be pried from the skating floor time and time again.

In my 30’s when rollerblading was huge, I got a fancy pair, and used my Walkman to conjure up those old skating rink days.

Now I just hook up my MP3 player, strap on a water bottle belt, and hike to the bayou where I can skate till my heart's content. When the oldies come on, it feels nearly like that blissful feeling from the old roller rink days.

But getting back on the horse is sometimes fraught with peril. As I awkwardly readjusted getting my older body back into a skating groove, I took some minor spills. And I always got right back up again with the hopes that I wasn’t skating like the old lady that I am, chronologically speaking.

Then, after I was well adjusted and back on a regular pattern of skating, a took a much uglier spill. With a fierce headwind, I dug into the ground harder for leverage to move against the wind, and hit a crack in the cement. I went flying with my body splaying all over the hard cement.

I had the usual abrasions, scrapes and burns that will turn into nasty looking black and blue marks. But I also twisted and landed hard on my hip. Now when I walk, I can’t rotate my hip properly, so my gait is severely restricted. I now understand why people get hip replacements and how critical the hip is for movement.

And I now look like an old lady when I walk. In fact, I could probably use a cane! I have aches, pains, and soreness that I never thought possible.

Suddenly my filtered lens is gone and I see myself exactly as I am. Which answers the question, what’s an old lady like me going around thinking she is a young spring chicken?

Interactive Blog - What Was Your Most Desired Yet Unaffordable Item as a Kid?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/30/2009 8:10 AM CDT

Recently I was discussing with friends the relativity of feeling poor while growing up, especially when it came to not being able to get things that it seemed "everyone else had." 

So here's an interactive blog: Was there an item from your childhood that was a symbol of the times that you wanted so bad but couldn't afford- a must-have item, that was so desired by all that it divided those who had them and those who didn't into class identification of rich and poor? 

There were several items that fit this description for me while growing up. I already blogged about being denied a Chatty Cathy and an Easy Bake Oven, due to limited finances on the part of my parents in my lower middle class upbringing.
But this blog is about an item that was hundreds of times more important than either of those toys.

The reason this item was so critical to me had everything to do with transitioning into being a junior high schooler, where so many new people were judging me based on looks and attire. As I explained before, I had numerous deficits going into junior high, as I was only barely 11 years old, having skipped a grade. So I was immature in many ways, undeveloped physically, and then to add more to this set of circumstances, I found out that I was more economically disadvantaged than most of our middle class suburban area.

In these middle school years, the pressure to be the same as everyone else gets so intensified, and though schools have smartly gone into uniforms, accessories can't be regulated.

For me, the critical item was a John Romain purse. If you were a girl on the East Coast (or maybe all over the country) in junior high and high school in the late 60's and early 70's- you remember how essential to status these things were. 

Thanks to education and a lot of hard work, I can pretty much buy any shiny new toy that I want, and if I wanted a John Romain or it's equivalent today - I could just buy it.

This is the complete opposite of when I was growing up where my household focused on necessities. I had never classified myself as poor though because we had a place in our neighborhood, of middle to upper middle class homeowners, that we horrifically called "the projects,"  a subsided housing development. They were the poor ones. I distinctly remember feeling more sorry for them than haughty though, especially around the May carnival, when most of us had pocket change to spend on fun stuff, and some of those children did not.

Looking back now, I had no reason to feel superior anyway. We were barely scraping by, unlike my friend and neighbor Joy, whose father was a dentist and who had everything in the world that I desired. In fact most of my neighbors seemed to be doing much better than my family.
If I wanted to play with a Chatty Cathy, Barbie Doll or Easy Bake Oven,  I headed over there. Joy had it all.

My father, bless his heart, moonlighted as a taxi cab driver for extra money in those days. I remember taking some of his pocket change from him when I wanted candy money, or May carnival money, or later, a hot dog lunch at the cool place for pre-teens.

When I got to Junior High School, I became aware of income level differences for the first time and I felt both poor and deprived because the list of things others had that I wanted grew longer each day that I tried to fit in with everyone else.

I started babysitting in the sixth grade for clothes money to fit in with all of the well-dressed girls I went to school with who had all the latest fashions. The preppy Villager style of clothing was the rage then: things like A-lined skirts and matching cardigan sweaters worn with oxford shirts that had a semi-circle Peter Pan collar that was closed with what we called "circle pins." (gold pins with the girls initials on them)
Although there were no uniforms in our public school, this was the definite uniform to be considered cool. (No pants allowed on girls in those days.)
The "have's" also had initial rings and some of the boys had ID bracelets. Those were just a few of the status symbols of the day.

There was a store called "Ladybug" with the cutest Villager fashions, and girls who shopped there received a tiny ladybug pin - a ceramic ladybug on a straight pin that you would wear on your clothes to show that you shopped at the best store. My best friend had tons of these pins and gave me some of her bent ones which I proudly wore on my discount store clothes.

Aside from these beautiful clothes that I couldn't afford, two main accessories tortured my existence in this era. One was a burgundy loafer called a "Weejun," made by the Bass leather company with an adorable buckle and fringe. 

The other was a purse called a "John Romain." These purses were the ultimate preppy statement - made of burgundy colored rich leather, and a "jute" tweedy fabric, they included a metal lion symbol on the buckle that distinguished it from any lookalikes.

As if I didn't have enough deficits in my gawky, awkward, pre-adolescent phase in junior high, I didn't have either of these cool items. They quickly replaced any toy I ever wanted in my ultimate wish list. 

My parents compromised on the Weejuns. Although I had already worn out my real leather Bass penny loafers the previous year - the Weejun style was more than my parents could afford, so they let me purchase an imitation Weejun. The color and thickness were slightly different, but being the clever girl I was, I went to the store and bought "oxblood" colored shoe polish, and the shoes passed pretty close muster after that. (I can't believe how I remember the unusual name of that shoe polish color, but it was THAT important!)

That left the John Romain bag as the last of the elusive "pie in the sky" item I HAD to have.
No matter how much babysitting I did (at 50 cents an hour) the leather and tweed preppy purses were still way out of reach for me. I had such a feeling of longing and aching to have one, and perhaps it was not just for the item itself, but the status and acceptance that I was sure came with it.

In the spring of my seventh grade year, my best friend came to my rescue. Though she had no limit on spending and acquiring wonderful items such as Ladybug clothes, Weejuns and John Romain purses, she didn't lend me, or even give me one of hers. She did one better.

That spring, John Romain came out with a line of straw purses. With less leather on them, and without the trademark tweed, they were lightweight and therefore much more reasonable than the other ones. My friend collected money from our mutual friends and for my birthday that year, they presented me with a purse like this one.

blog post photo
Not as impressive to look at today, huh?

Never before did I cherish an object more than this precious purse. With my imitation Weejuns and my John Romain, briefly, very briefly, I was way cool. I didn't feel deficient or utterly lacking, or, well poor. When I carried that purse around, I felt like a princess.

Now that I can look back more objectively, though things were not easy to come by, compared to much of the world I now know, we were not poor at all - we had ample food, transportation and owned our own home. I guess my feeling of poverty came from comparing myself to the girls I grew up with who had everything of material value handed to them on a silver platter.
(The more read about my past though, the more you will come to understand why I have always had a bit of a shopping obsession.)

I know I am not alone in the feelings I described above, so now I am curious for some more nostalgia - what was your "must have" longed-for, yet unattainable item?


No March Madness Here, Just Mild Neurosis

Posted by Arlene Lassinat 3/23/2009 8:15 AM CDT

I think I have mentioned in several of my other blogs that I am a sports fan, having grown up with a father who was crazy about sports and then having relationships mostly with men who were his equal. It was my love of America's pasttime that drove me to try out to be a Phillies Girl in my youth - I smartly figured that not having to pay to watch a team and a sport that I loved, plus getting PAID to watch was about the best part time job a college girl could hope for.

These days I don't find myself getting passionately involved to the point of obsession in the teams I follow: University of Texas, or the Astros or Rockets, or Philadelphia teams. (which were my original teams even though I have been in Houston for 28 years) I merely enjoy watching or being at a game when I have the occasion. My sports mania only develops when one of the above teams is doing very well - which explained my Longhorn football obsession this past fall as they were the national champion for a few weeks and had a stellar season. (I realize this makes me a bit of a fair weather fan - but seriously, I don't have time to be more!)

In that vein, I was greatly invested in the Phillies romp to the World Series last year. If the Astros couldn't do it, at least the Phillies could - it was the best I could hope for. I had the fever, and I had it bad.

Now there is a national obsession with March Madness. NCAA Basketball has never done it for me and so I am aloof for the NCAA Basketball tournament - otherwise known (for a very good reason obviously) as March Madness. For me it is just March Meh, or March Mild Neurosis - which results in the fingernail biting (metaphorically speaking) I do while my Longhorn team is playing. Once they are out, I am even less invested - until one of the east coast universities I attended goes far - but again, I don't need to watch every game till they make it pretty far and then I root like crazy for them. 

Side Note: Didn't those Longhorns give Duke a run for their money? They were this close to overtaking them, right at the wire.

But I have figured out why it is insanity for so many men and boys and women too. It is the pools of course. That gambling pasttime of picking your March Madness winners and hoping to score some extra cash, and of course have the bragging rights, has millions of people watching with an extra fervor. Is there a workplace on earth that doesn't have such a pool?

As if there weren't enough emotions invested in the outcome of the games themselves, that rush people get from their wagers - small and large, goes beyond rooting for a team or teams. In fact it makes the outcome of each and every game exciting and crucial.

And what is most amusing is that it is completely unrealistic to think there will be money won out of the pool - it is merely the experience of going through the highs and lows of those picks they make that motivates them to want to skip out on most of their regular life to watch every single tournament game. Non-gamblers and gamblers alike are in this pool mania.

As for me, my only gambling is an occasional lotto ticket when the jackpot is high. (yes, a whole dollar wasted on a dream) I don't bother with pools so I am not invested in outcomes.

Don't try to tell me that my husband would be rooting for teams at schools he never even HEARD OF, like Gonzaga if it wasn't for the pool.(with apologies to Gonzaga people but it's true)

I understand that you get to see some good college hoops, but we all know the real reason there is Madness in March.


Smells Like Teen Attitude, This is NOT Nirvana

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/17/2009 9:36 AM CDT

As promised for my blog anniversary, I am running some old favoritie posts. When I read this now, six years after writing it, it might as well be a century ago in terms of changes. Yes, the good news is that the kids have outgrown this stage of "teen attitude" and they are downright pleasant to be with again. So have hope, parents of teens - it does end when the kiddos hit the early 20's. And in the meantime, feel free to relate to what I went through in the thick of it. I called this: Smells Like Teen Attitude, This is NOT Nirvana:

I used to have plenty of self esteem. It was a hard won victory despite parents of the sixties who knew not the art of parenting for self-worth as we do today. As an adult I saw myself through the eye of my numerous accomplishments, and I was doing very well, thank you.

But that was then.

Now I have teenagers. The best advice I can give to anyone who has not done the teenage parenting thing yet is: save up your self esteem – bottle it, lock it up and store it somewhere. Because trust me on this; you won't have any left by the time your darling teenagers are through with you.

To those who are still blissfully raising kiddos in the elementary school years I have some bad news for you: that angel or prince that is so perfect and adorable now will turn into a hormone fueled Jekyll and Hyde shortly, and I am letting you down easy with that description.

Since my own children began their teenage years I am constantly told how unaware, unsophisticated, and utterly clueless I am.

If I don't let the kids go somewhere that "every other parent in the universe" is letting their child attend, I am the ONLY parent living in prehistoric times. Of course, after I make a few calls to parents, I find out there are more than a few other cave dwellers like me.

If I hate their music, I am out of touch and old-fashioned. Liking their music is even worse, such as when I downloaded "Hey Ya" for my cell phone ringtone and got nothing but contempt for doing such a ridiculous thing.

In fact, whenever I try to point out how hip I am, I'm met with eye rolls; along with my son and daughter throwing a knowing glance at one another. As if to say that anyone who has to tell you how cool they are, is really quite pathetically uncool.

And forget about trying to have an intelligent discussion about navel piercing and infection possibilities.

In general, I have been called the equivalent of stupid so many times at this point, like a victim of mental abuse; I am beginning to believe it.

Parents of teens become nothing more than a walking, talking credit card and hand-servant. They don't call us "rents" for nothing.

It kind of makes you want to take a long vacation from parenting. And if you are unfortunate enough to have one of the more rebellious, angry types thrown into the adolescent mix, I recommend a complete sabbatical until they turn 22. Boarding school, anyone?

As someone with psychological training, I know that teens have to assert themselves in this manner to separate from the nest as they become adults. But with my own flesh and blood pointing out my many inadequacies, book knowledge goes out the window.

Fortunately, it is all normal behavior, and the stories of parents who breeze through this era unscathed, are probably highly exaggerated.

So throw me some praise or a compliment or two. With my reserves of self-respect at an all time low; I could really, really use it.


The Things You Can Learn from Watching TV

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/12/2009 8:15 AM CDT

From Dancing With the Stars: I learned that you don't actually have to be a Star to be recruited to dance on their show. Maybe Kathy Griffin can combine her show, Life on the D List, with this show and cast. Also, I am making an early prediction that Melissa, the rejected Bachelor bride, will win based on the sympathy vote - see next entry below.

The Bachelor: The entire viewing audience learned what a sorry loser the guy they picked this past time as The Bachelor. I have this to say to the girl he made out with minutes after dumping his fiance on national television. "Ok Molly, you won. You were the girl he selected when it was ALL said and done.  Now come to your senses girlfriend and refuse to be sloppy seconds. Dump his sorry butt."

The Osbournes are back: In a sign that the Apocalypse is truly coming, hard metal has-been rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his talentless wife and kids are hosting a comedy and variety series. Ed Sullivan is rolling over in his grave.

From American Idol: The judges are biased and have pre-picked their favorites. Imagine that! Watch Simon try to sway us into keeping in his little quirky favorite Megan. And this year - it is not just the voting public that has a say - the judges can save their favorites. Guess Taylor Hicks and Jordin Sparks didn't sell enough records.

From the Amazing Race: The Producers, host and others were embarrassed that few Americans know that Anton Chekhov is a Russian literary genius - or know his name at all. Kind of a sad lesson on how we may be teaching to tests and not to a broad base of knowledge that includes teaching who international greats are.

From the News: I continue to learn that our economy is bad and is only going to get worse. And that they still leave us with a pleasant news item and a smile.

From Sports Coverage: We may be in for a very long season with the Astros.

From Commercials for any prescription medication: I learned that the dangerous side effects including blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks seem far worse than anything you would take the drug for, such as indigestion. Is it worth risking life or limb to take ANY of these drugs? Oh, wait, I forgot, the pleasant voice is reassuring that these side effects aren't very "common." How reassuring.

From Howie Do it: I tried to figure out this guy Howie Mandel's appeal but failed. Didn't Alan Funt do this ten times better and funnier in the 60's and 70's? Why is so much TV programming dedicated to him?

From Dr. Phil: We found out that he thinks he is a hero for rescuing mentally ill Octomom. He is actually  just deluded.

From Survivor: I learned that it might, just might, be worth it to starve for 30 days and go to the bathroom in the great outdoors while getting bitten up alive - not for the chance at the 1 million dollar prize (because what are the chances of that, really?) but to see Jeff Probst and his dimples up close and personal.

From Life on Mars: CANCELLED! One of the few truly good quality shows that illustrated that compared to modern times, living in and doing police work in the 70's was truly like being on a different planet. They use that concept and the title of a 70's David Bowie song for the title of the show. (which might have doomed it if people thought it was a sci-fi show)

Note to self: Time to do more reading and less television viewing.



Even Miley Cyrus Feels Wrath of Mean Girls

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/9/2009 8:15 AM CDT

In her new autobiography, Miley Cyrus (also known as Hannah Montana) goes into detail about how she was the target of Mean Girls. (I am purposely capitalizing those words throughout to give more emphasis to the words and their meaning) Taylor Swift - that teenage singing sensation-- has mentioned quite a bit and wrote in several of her songs that she too was bullied by Mean Girls. Despite Miley's and Taylor's success now, those experiences have obviously left scars for them.

I don't know if the archetypal Mean Girl is getting meaner as the decades go on or if it is a worse kind of bullying now than when I was growing up, but it seems with the technological media available now, there is probably much more opportunity for humiliating dissing. And navigating the shark filled waters of middle school, where this is most prevalent, is tough enough without this kind of behavior.

There is nothing uglier than a middle school Mean Girl.  The Lindsay Lohan movie didn’t quite do the real life Mean Girl justice, in detailing the long term trauma and psychological battering they cause for their victims. They pick on other girls at one of the most vulnerable times in life when puberty and emotional and physical changes are also wreaking havoc on girls' bodies and minds. And that is not even throwing family dynamics into the fray.

I actually hadn’t thought about my own version of the Mean Girl for what seemed like an eternity. I remembered her name and the names of a few in her posse and what she looked like, but the intervening years that provided me a wealth of wonderful and loyal friends, and a terrific life, pretty much obliterated both the wounds and the memories. When someone recently posted photos on Facebook of her I came face to face with her again. 
Seeing someone who was so powerful at one time in my life forced some memories and the feelings associated with them to come back.

A little background - I was a gawky, awkward pre-adolescent, hand-me-down dressed, and a year younger than the rest of my class because I had skipped a grade. I was only 11 years old - and remained that age- for the entire first year of what was then known as junior high which began at the seventh grade. That was way too young to navigate the hormonal driven behavior of most of my peers and besides, I was a very late bloomer anyway. So this put me at an extreme disadvantage.

Despite my dorky looks, immaturity and general awkwardness, I was extremely outgoing, social and friendly. So on my very first day, I met an adorable, beautifully dressed equally friendly girl I will refer to as MG for Mean Girl. She had come from another elementary school, and we happened to sit next to each other at the opening assembly of junior high with matching brand new Twiggy cut hairdos, and then later we were placed in the same homeroom together. Her last name alphabet letter followed mine so we sat close to each other.

Instantly clicking, we became best friends from that first day on, and seventh grade became a dizzying whirlwind of social events from her world. These included boy-girl dance parties, slumber parties at her home, shopping with her and other wealthier more spoiled girls. When I had to baby-sit to earn some spending money to keep up with her, she sometimes even accompanied me. I spent so much time at her home, it was like her doting mother had two daughters. I was her side-kick, and followed her everywhere.

MG lived on a block with tons of kids our age, or around our age, and that was fun for me too, because I didn’t have anyone my age who lived on my street.

That seventh grade year ended as the best of my short life up to that point, but the beginning of eighth grade - at age 12- had my whole world changing once again. MG was put into a different homeroom and shortly after she made some new friends there, she was ordered to drop me like a hot rock.

That’s how it goes in Mean Girl World. The Queen Bee dictates who is cool, and who can be a friend, and of course, who is not. The other Mean Girl bees just follow the Queen in order to be in her powerful circle. I remember the name of the Queen Bee, but by high school she was apologetic when I became socially acceptable, and I realized she didn't know me or my history with MG before she made her banishment edict. MG, on the other hand, had become like a sister to me the year before, yet she was willing to just ditch me and our friendship in a New York minute.

With my lack of experience in life, I couldn’t understand this. There were no books, no Lindsay Lohan movies, no term such as Mean Girl to explain this phenomenon at the time, nor were there parents or even school counselors or social workers to work on the concept of "self-esteem."  Since we were joined at the hip until the day before the banishment, pathetically, I begged MG for a reason why she couldn’t be friends with me, thinking I had done something wrong.

I didn’t realize that my whole dorky persona was wrong.

MG, of course, never looked back. I grieved and grieved, left in a confused state as to why life could be so unfair. The whirl of parties that year left me squarely excluded, and photos from that time are the some of the ones I found on Facebook.

The following year, some other Mean Girl in my class was nice enough to explain the junior high social hierarchy and caste system to me but I still didn’t understand or like it.

If you look up the word resilience in the dictionary, there might as well be a photo of me there to describe the word. Despite rejections, tough luck, and hateful behavior directed my way, each and every time this has happened in my life, I just peel my self esteem off the floor, dust it off, and slip it back on. Don't ask me why or how I am able to do this, but I know I appreciate this self-built system because it has me carrying on with an optimistic view despite failures.

I decided shortly afterward that MG was the real loser - because she lost out on me - a loyal, doting, and true friend. I found a few friends and just continued plodding through life, learning that friendship and popularity are sometimes completely arbitrary.

What happened to me has happened to countless other girls and it is the topic of many books. Later, as the mother of a pre-teen daughter, I had to address these social issues to make sure my daughter would never be, or associate with, Mean Girls. I am proud to say that she has always been friendly to everyone and has not selected friends based on an arbitrary social hierarchy.

In my own case, life became progressively better year after year. I learned to choose friends based on values and important attributes. In fact, I am still close with some of my dear and wonderful high school friends who taught me the meaning of true friendship, and how to be a friend in return.

And with the concept of karma, I figured that some of those Mean Girls would get theirs someday.

My daughter, who is now an adult and as keen an observer of human nature as me, noted that many of the Mean Girls from her era "peaked young" and then went on to live ordinary and undistinguished lives - whereas girls who were late bloomers or those who had a wider selection of friends turned out to be the real winners in life.  That certainly could be said for people like Miley and Taylor as well. Who among their crowd of Mean Girls could compare success with the two of them?

My own MG, whose face is now immortalized on Facebook, might never know how well I am doing and how much I succeeded since the days she made me feel like a worthless person – but that’s okay too. Though she lingers in her eighth grade persona in a litany of photos, she no longer haunts my psyche.

I wish the same for Miley, Taylor, and all those girls who felt the pain of being a target of Mean Girls. It is my hope that this form of bullying ends with this coming generation.


Rodeo Season - The ONLY Time Houston resembles a Texas Cowboy Town

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/5/2009 8:15 AM CST

Yee Haw! It's Rodeo season in Houston - otherwise known as the ONLY time this very cosmopolitan city resembles the Texas cowboy town that most others not from these parts envision. So in tribute to that, and as promised for my blog anniversary, here is a rerun of a blog I ran about what visitors actually find when they come to Houston versus what they were expecting. Enjoy Rodeo season, y'all!

I just finished hosting my umpteenth visitor who came to Houston expecting scenes out of the movie  "Urban Cowboy."

You know and I know that Houston is a very cosmopolitan, multicultural, diverse, hospitable city devoted to medicine, the space industry, technology, fine arts, music, sports, and good food and shopping. What I can't understand is why all of the above is such a well-kept secret.

(This is excepting Rodeo season- in which we all embrace our inner Urban Cowboy and which I love, of course.) 

In my ever fertile mind, I would like a first timer conversation preceding the visit to go something like this:

"Yee Haw, so glad y'all are coming! We'll saddle up my horse, “Honda” and head out west to the part of the country we call the Galleria, where we'll first stop and have some double-whipped mocha lattes at one of three Starbucks in a two block (home-on-the) range. Then we'll roam the vast prairie of the Galleria itself, where we can window-shop fine leathersmith gear such as Fendi and Gucci bags and Ferragamo shoes, as well as the great Western duds from Neiman's and Nordstrom's. (Well they do sell belts, don't they?)
Since exploring the wide-open spaces of the Galleria will be exhausting, we'll hitch back up “Honda” and ride due north to unwind in a saloon called Uptown Sushi where we can enjoy neon martinis in the darkened atmosphere. Oh, and by the way, while sipping, you'll notice standard attire of business suits, silk cami tops and stilettos, rather than cowboy boots, hats and buckles. Yes, unfortunately, the only chaps you will see on men, is perhaps a piece from the Ralph Lauren Chaps line."

My latest visitor left the city a bit let down that nary a cowboy hat, boot, or thick-twanged J.R. Ewing was to be found here during his stay. He wondered where was the Texas he imagined? He wanted to know where Gilley's was and I informed him it has been closed down for years.

Following brunch together at one of my favorite hot spots, The New York Coffee Shop, (rated here as the best breakfast in Houston) this visitor grumbled, "We could be in Cherry Hill, New Jersey right now." ( a suburban area near his hometown) 

Being a transplant myself - not native born, but a happily naturalized Texan, (and lapsed Yankee) I remember my very first visit to my adopted city destroyed all of my preconceived stereotypes. And it seems I have been knocking down those same notions on the part of others ever since.

In my 20 plus years here, I have met exactly two men who regularly wear cowboy hats. Please note that neither are originally from Houston. So the chances any visitors have of meeting one of those cowboys during a short stay outside of Rodeo season, are practically nil.

Despite the movies supposedly based in Houston showing people with exaggerated Texas twangs, my two native Texan children have no drawl at all, like most Houston children. Though I enjoy the delightful accents of ALL KINDS that I regularly encounter, there is no more a definitive Houston accent. (Although come to think of it, I do indulge my visitors with a few "Y'all's.")

I have a problem with the movies and all their exaggerated stereotypes of what the Hollywood producers think Houstonians are. I have been regularly disappointed that they paint us all the same - with big ole drawl, and the implication of lower intelligence for the most part. No wonder people come here expecting "OK At the Old Corral."

I voluntarily hosted teens from youth groups four different times; three times from Great Britain, and once from Australia. The four Australians I hosted eventually pointed out that there are probably more cowboys in their area of Australia than in Houston.(Keith Urban anyone?) And first on their list of places to visit in Houston was Hooters anyway. (Note to those wondering why I would actually volunteer to host groups of four teens at once: Having to feed, entertain, and carpool them was lots of extra work, but fun and rewarding. Plus, how else would I have learned the words "snog" and "pull" as Brit slang for "kiss?")

All of these youths chose to come to Texas with great excitement thinking it was a place somewhat between the Old West and Southfork. Of course we consoled them with visits to the Water Wall, Kemah, NASA, SeaWorld and things like Astros baseball and Toyota Center tours, so they didn't leave too disappointed.

I also hosted an exchange student from France one summer. Other than handling her general disappointment that Houston wasn't the dusty western town she envisioned, I had to dispel some other myths for my lovely French Anne-Katia. She came thinking all American girls and women were fat from eating enormous hamburgers all the time and specifically thought that only one piece bathing suits were worn over here. One of the first places we took her was to the waterfront in Keemah, where she saw boat after boat come in with bikini-clad women sunning themselves on them. Much later in her trip, we broke down and took her to Fuddruckers, where she posed with a placard showing a big fat hamburger, while standing next to some very skinny American teens.

What is truly Texas about Houston though, is the warmth and hospitality of the people here. Of the hundreds of people features I have written on transplants to Houston, most of them fell in love with the city first and foremost due to the friendliness of the people. This is also true for both me and my husband. Texan's hearts are as big as the land here.

And that is no myth.

Click here to return to the current Hot Flashes blog


Spousal Abuse and Brainwashing - A True Story

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 3/2/2009 8:15 AM CST

As a mom of a daughter who is now a young adult, I intentionally raised her to be assertive, strong, and self-confident - feisty if you will. Sure enough, she has proven she can stand up for herself time and time again. As I learned recently though, despite the signs she shows as an independent, secure young woman it is merely the best defense against her being able to be used, or abused, but it is certainly not a guarantee.


How do I know that? Follow this true story:

My friends raised their daughter Heide** (name changed for anonymity) in much the same way. From all signs, Heide was that very strong, assertive, independent woman. She went through dental school, and all through her schooling, if she thought she wasn't given proper credit for something, she went to the teacher and asserted herself. No one could push Heide around through all those years of growing up.

At this point, I need to reference a familiar news story. If anyone remembers Patty Hearst, a heiress to the Hearst fortune, she was kidnapped as a teen by some radical fringe group, and shockingly joined up with them as they robbed banks and terrorized people. Since little was known in psychology circles about crime victims joining their perpetrators, she was found guilty of crimes and eventually given a pardon.

Later as more was known about using defense mechanisms to survive abuse and trauma, her case was referred to as an example of Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological condition where for survival, the mind of the crime victim gets "brainwashed," for lack of a better term. The duress experienced by victims causes a switch to flip in their brain, to where they start bonding with the bad guy.

In cases of domestic abuse - both spousal domestic abuse, and that towards children, a form of this Stockholm Syndrome has been noted on many occasions. It is more technically known in the psychiatric world as Trauma-Bonding or Bonding-to-the-Perpetrator rather than Stockholm Syndrome. It is the reason why mothers allow abusers to hurt their children and won't cooperate in legal action against abusers, and why women stay in abusive relationships themselves. (Note: it is not an excuse for this horrendous behavior on the woman's part - just to make that clear) When stretched, this syndrome can certainly explain cases such as the FDLA women and even Elizabeth Smart, who briefly had more mercy for her captor than was understandable. It can be classified as a mental illness in severe cases, but again, I am not suggesting compassion for women who choose to align themselves with abusive men to the detriment of those in their care.

Although I am not now a practicing psychologist, I have seen real cases of this syndrome in spousal abuse, but none has hit closer to home than the case of that independent young woman named Heide.

To continue with her story, after completing dental school, Heide married a man she met on an internet dating service. Before her marriage, you couldn't find a mother and daughter closer than Heide and her mother, as they were best friends too.She was close with her dad - her brothers and sister - it was a very close, tight-knit family.

She didn't rush into the marriage, and her husband took a lot of time to bond with her family, immersing himself at their family home. There were few warning signs for Heide or her family, except for the background knowledge that her husband was abandoned by his own father, and from a male-dominant, non American culture. Other things were discovered in hindsight, of course, such as the time her husband took Heide on a surprise trip and refused to tell anyone where they were going.

Before Heide's first child was born, Heide's parents both respected the newlyweds in giving them their space, and included them on family events. And after Heide's child was born, her parents were thrilled at the prospect of living close to their grandchild and being actively involved grandparents.

That's when some very strange and severe rules were imposed on them about when they could see Heide and the baby. Slowly, insidiously, they were shut out of Heide's life. Alarmed, they started questioning Heide and her husband's edicts, such as when they could visit and see Heide and her family, and how long they could stay. After her second child was born, the tension became greater, although her parents tried to comply to all of the rules imposed. One day shortly after her second child was born, Heide called her parents and in a robotic voice they barely recognized, told them she longer wanted them in her life at all. Her mother, who had dental work being done at Heide's office was told by her office staff to find another dentist. 

Her parents called and wrote to her often after this, trying to salvage a relationship, eagerly agreeing to any small type of relationship, all unanswered and ignored. They offered to get counseling together to mend any rifts or heal any hurts. That was ignored too. There were few conflicts in their relationship before Heide married, but this is what abusers do - they isolate their victims from their own support system.

That sent them into grieving, and counseling, where they first heard about Stockholm Syndrome and the link to spousal abuse. As Heide and her husband built their family, her husband exerted more and more control and power over her. Loyalty to a more powerful abuser – in spite of the danger that this loyalty puts the victim in – is common among victims of domestic abuse. In more understandable terms, their daughter had been brainwashed against them - a case of emotional abuse.

Having an answer didn't heal their hurt, but they had no choice in accepting their fate.

Then one day in the past several months, Heide's husband called them to tell them that Heide was in the hospital with acute Leukemia. They were invited to visit her. From the first moment they visited her at the hospital, they reconnected lovingly with Heide and their relationship with their daughter seemed for a while just as it had always been- mutually loving and caring. They all re-bonded, and her parents were eager to get to know their two young grandchildren. They worried, prayed, sought out answers and treatments for her medical condition, just like good parents do. Heide told her parents with all sincerity, "Never again." Never would she let anything come between her and her parents.

Still, there were early signs of continuing dysfunction. Heide's husband was always in the room when her parents visited - no matter what time of day or night. The information on her daily status had to be distributed by her husband, and he had a list of people he texted, including her parents. A few weeks into the reconciliation, they were having to make appointments to see Heide in the hospital, again through her husband, and somehow he was able to cancel many of these, saying Heide didn't feel up to visitors.

Then when Heide was released from the hospital, they were not told this news either. Shortly afterward, a much dreaded email arrived in her parents' in-box.
This email message was different than her first robotic decree. The words in this email explained to her parents that she loved them but she was unable to deal with her medical condition and the stress of having a relationship with them. 

Since her parents hadn't caused her any stress whatsoever, never bringing up the past estrangement or making any demands, this email told them exactly what was going on. They weren't the ones causing her stress in having a relationship, but her controlling, power hungry, emotionally abusive husband was making it stressful. In this email, Heide told them that her husband's support was all she needed to get through her illness - as if it was dictated by him.

This of course, sent her parents reeling once again. Having a sick daughter, and a rekindled relationship was all they were focused on for weeks and weeks, like something precious dangled before them, only to be snatched away again. It not only affects them, it affects the rest of their family too - siblings, aunts, uncles and more who are also banished.

I am writing this because I have a public forum, and it is my hope that if someone sees themselves in the true story described above, they can somehow find the strength to break free. These emotional chains are so real,  is almost necessary to do a re-programming as one would do for brainwashing. But sometimes faced with the truth, the mind can start to question the circumstances. And if you are a parent who sees your daughter, or even son in a destructive relationship, perhaps you can intervene before it is too late.

I talk to my own daughter about these kinds of cases so she knows the signs to look for in men she dates while detailing Heide's situation. She is a very strong girl and while she assures me it could never happen, no one can ever be absolutely certain.


Madonna And Other Famous Company Join My Ranks

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/26/2009 8:15 AM CST

I just found out that I have some pretty high profile company in the hot flashes department. It seems Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell are both going through “the change” along with me.


The only difference between me and Madonna is that I don’t have the staff of minions, the best cosmetic surgeons in the world taking out every line and wrinkle, nor do I  have the time to exercise to achieve the body that she has. Since she gives a youthful vibe and an energetic concert performance, it is kind of surprising that she is right up there smack in middle age with me, tousling with pesky hormones.


Side Note to Madonna: "Girlfriend, you might want to lay off that Botox just a bit as you are beginning to look like a middle-aged mannequin. And while you are at it, lay off the power yoga and arm weights just a bit because your veiny arms and hands are downright frightening."


Although I have whined about this subject a lot lately I have been doing so much better on my new vitamin regimen, and kudos and thanks to my friend Linda - a vitamin expert - for that, because I feel almost like a new person. I will be glad to share my cocktail of vitamins with any inquiries to my email by the way.


So the good news is that I am not suffering the horrendous side effects nearly as much, and on better days I feel almost like my younger, more vibrant self. That, by the way, is the worst part of dealing with the raging hormones –  you feel old, you look in the mirror and see old, and it is just shocking. My husband can testify that in the past I was always quite the little spark plug, and since my recent "tune up" the sparks are ready to fly again!


Since I am constantly exploiting my Facebook page to advertise this blog –( thanks Facebook friends for both putting up with that and responding so well) – I have gotten a lot of remarks about the title of my blog. Just about everyone misinterprets the title. You have to think a little beyond the box.


Long after I am finished with the “M” word, I will still be using “Hot Flashes” for my title. That's because it’s a play on words in case you haven’t figured that out. Like the ladies of the View have their “Hot Topics,” I have my "Hot Flashes." And most are NOT of the hormonal variety, thank you very much!


Is the Bachelor Reality Show a Fake? Insider Info Says Yes.

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/23/2009 8:15 AM CST

Warning - Spoilers ahead - but do you really want to watch it unaware of the garbage that goes on and believe this is "love" unfolding? If so, this blog is not for you.


I occasionally have watched the television "reality" series The Bachelor, not to see "true love develop" but to study the personalities and the lack of self esteem that the young women display. It reminds me of what we still need to do as a society so that young women don't view fifteen minutes of fame and some cash as worth embarrassing themselves in front of a national audience.


It also irks me that this is considered Reality TV when production of the show manipulates results. Like Idol producers push who is tops on their agendas, skewing the real results before America can vote, the producers of the Bachelor manipulate the entire season - all in the name of surprises, and drama. The participants sign iron clad contracts so they can't spill the beans afterward, but results are manipulated by producers. And secrets do get out.


Since the latest "drama" surrounds someone out of Dallas, information has leaked. Knowing that participants get a salary or fee of sorts, it is not surprising to learn that these same people do whatever the producers instruct, so that it actually more of an acting job than seeing real life unfold. Hmm, wondering if they can they get their SAG card after doing this?

A week from today, after tonight's (Monday's) Women Tell All episode - the producers are predicting an ending "so shocking," blah blah blah, but the only thing shocking is how blatantly the producers manipulated the characters, the editing, and the ending.


The producers wanted more viewership this year. They weren't so sure about the bland, milquetoast bachelor Jason and whether his appeal could hold up- especially if he couldn't mask his real feelings for the girl he wanted at the end. This was a flagging enterprise, so they needed a twist to the drama. Instead of the fairy tale ending, with the bachelor proposing to someone he has known for just a few dates!, the producers decided to "up" the drama because there wasn't much of that all season.

If rumors are true - and they seem likely to be at this point - there are several scenarios that might be manipulated. As some newspapers have reported, the production company is still scrambling putting together the last two shows - and I wonder if this is being reactionary to the disgruntled "fans" of the show who have taken to blogs to express their disgust at the rumors. Perhaps they are changing direction once again.

For those not in the know, there are two girls left: A 24 year old from Michigan named Molly who seems as ready to marry a 33 year old with a young son as your basic college student, and a 26 year old from Dallas named Melissa - a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and a veteran of another reality show who has made it clear to all that she wants a future in TV work.

The rumor scenarios involve Jason purposely picking Melissa only to have either a "dumping" or a mutual breakup so he can then propose to the other one, Molly. Other rumors have him breaking it off with both to get with a Bachelor producer.

The sad thing if Jason the Bachelor went along with this, is that he becomes a man who will, at the end of this series, propose to no less than THREE women on television in a span of less than a year. And he is the father of a small child. Perhaps he needed the money in this tight economy - a college fund for his little cutie Ty? But how pathetic is that? What kind of value does he place on a marriage proposal? He is already divorced one time.


But wait - he gets to be redeemed at the end with someone who truly loves him, and who he realizes he loves as well. (INSERT MAJOR EYE ROLL) Which of course will last a few months tops. Do people really still believe that love can be found in a trumped up reality show?


At any rate producer Mike Fleiss is laughing all the way to the bank. But I think all this leaked info and re-shooting of the end of the series proves that this is a sham of a reality show.  And maybe we can have the last laugh by not watching. After all, thanks to this blog you already know what probably happens.


Gravy Training Parents of the Year Award - You Vote!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/18/2009 8:15 AM CST

It is awards season! You know that time of year when every guild, academy, and music authority gives a glitzy star -studded presentation of awards to pat their own kind on the back.

So get on your tuxes and best ball gowns, we are now going to celebrate another kind of award. This special award is for those parents who have pimped out their kids so they never have to work again, and instead live in the lap of luxury. They are what I call gravy trainers - living well off the money and fame of their children.

First here is a bit a research: there is a numeric table that helps figure out the cost of raising a single child. 

Now, multiply that figure times however many children you have plus the cost of college education. Being among the working class, that is what you will work your tails off to come up with to raise your kids.

But these parent nominees have figured out a way to beat the system! Not only do they NOT have to pay this kind of money to raise their kids, they are making millions of dollars off them so they never have to get a real job!

Never mind the fact that mostly these same kids end up being a mess - all the better to cash in on even more stories in an exclusive book, TV, or a Star Magazine deal!

So here, without further ado, is this year's annual Gravy Training Parents of the Year Awards. There are  5 nominees this year - but YOU get to select the winner!

5. Jon and Kate Plus Eight's Parents - Yes, you two can afford multiples and a BIG house if you ink a deal with a television station to let them follow you around and document your wild and crazy life with eight children. It is clear to all who have seen this show that NEITHER parent actually works or earns an income of any kind except for the paycheck from the television show. Sweet - now all the crazies are coming out of the woodwork trying to get their own "Life with Multiples" show. Perhaps Nadya Suleman, Octomom, will be the next to cut a deal.

4. The Duggar Family - Who needs multiple births when you can spit out a child every single year and then get famous being on television and get paid handsomely for it? Sure they can afford 18 kids! No problem!

3. Mitch Winehouse - Bet you weren't expecting this one, or perhaps you have never heard of this one. He is the father of Amy Winehouse, a terrific singer who has gone on a path of major self destruction since she had her first huge hit, "Rehab." Since I unfortunately read a bunch of pop culture sites, I know a lot about Amy's relationship with her dad, Mitch. He was a former taxi driver. Now he just goes around getting paid for press interviews and taking a cut of Amy's wealth. If you listen to the line of the song Rehab, it says, "They tried to make me go to Rehab, I said No No No,... I aint got the time, and my daddy thinks I'm fine..."
Sure Mitch thinks she's fine. Because if she's out doing concerts, more cha-ching for him. If she self-destructs more, more paid interviews for him, so even more cha-ching. He is always the most willing to give the goriest details of scoop on his wayward daughter - for a price of course.

2. Lynn Spears - Just when I thought that she could not stoop lower after making a hot mess of her eldest daughter Britney, whose wealth paid for the stately Louisiana mansion Lynn currently lives in, then she starts more of the same with younger daughter Jamie Lynn. We all know how that turned out. She is a sixteen year old unmarried mom who didn't finish high school, living in a closeby mansion to Lynn. But wait! Lynn was the one who cut the deal with Star magazine announcing Jamie Lynn's pregnancy, and she also cut the deal for the baby photos. Then to add to this, she wrote a BOOK that we are supposed to buy, that tells about her parenting skills. Wanna bet they will next pay Lynn for a made-for-television re-enactment of her sorry tale based on the book? That just means more dollar signs for Lynn.

1. Dina Lohan - It's not bad enough to see Lindsay- who had actual talent and potential, skip on past any higher education to work to support Mom and the family, but then to see her free fall in public with her mom not learning ANY lessons from it. Why do I say that? Because now, she has her younger daughter Ali as her newest victim - pimping her out on a reality show and trying to shop her around as a singer. 
Is she really thinking, wow, the first time it worked out so great, let's do it again and ruin another child. Dina, of course doesn't need to work -- other than pushing her daughters to new greedy heights that is.

So cast your ballots. Who wins the award this year?


It's Not Valentine's Day Unless A Singing Animal Is Involved

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/13/2009 8:00 AM CST

Here I am once again sharing on this very public blog another one of my personal quirks. (You say weird, I prefer quirky)
I have already written about my minor obsession with buying all those As Seen on TV products and infomercial products. (By the way, Mend it All is not as great as it looks in the commercial - do not buy it! And the Core Workout to Latin Rhythms is sort of still sitting in the box--- I pledge to dance my way to fitness as soon as I can manage, and I would love to know if a ShamWow really works)

Aside from those silly impulse purchases, I have long been an "enthusiastic shopper."  In fact, there is a movie out now called Confessions of a Shopaholic, and more than one person asked if it was based on me. Note: with this economy, I have really learned to control myself.

Except now it is Valentine's Day, so that means it is time for another silly purchase.

First let me give you a little background.

When I was a young girl, the very first talking doll came out. Her name was Chatty Cathy - and you stuck a miniature record disc into her neck and she would talk to you! As a small child, I watched happy little girls playing with Chatty Cathy in commercials and I longed for one of my own. I begged, I pleaded, I bargained with my parents - offering to receive it as a combo gift for the holidays and my birthday. 

I had the opposite of the spoiling, pushover type parents. They  were hardworking with modest means, and they saw no need for me to have a doll as expensive as Chatty Cathy when I had perfectly functional other dolls to play with. These dolls can still be purchased for an obscene price online. Obviously, I am not the only grown-up who was scarred by not having one as a child. (Other traumas endured: I had to settle for an imitation Barbie doll called the Tammy doll and I never got the Easy Bake Oven either.)

Without a Chatty Cathy doll, I unfortunately never lost my fascination with talking dolls.

SIDE NOTE: If any arm-chair or other psychologists are out there reading this, by now you've totally got the A-HA, of "that's where her shopping obsessions come from - her totally deprived childhood."

Fast forward to my adult life where I started a collection of talking dolls - some are actual pull string dolls, other are talking stuffed animals. 

Somewhere down the line, my husband started purchasing talking and then singing stuffed animals for every single Valentine's day for me. And I do the same for him.

Once the store shelves start filling up for Valentines Day, a large variety of these singing stuffed animals are ripe for the picking. In fact, my husband and I (separately of course) walk past all of those boxes of chocolate, and head straight for the latest singing stuffed animal to give to one another. You know the kind: you squeeze a body part and they go into motion. There is no end to them and the various love songs they sing. And let's face it, one of these goodies cost a lot less than the flowers/chocolate bit.

 I've got a bee that sings "How Sweet it is to be Loved By You," two frogs that warble "I've Got You Babe," another frog that sings "My Girl," and well, you get the picture. 

My husband has his own group of these toys too. He's even got more than one stuffed wild beast that sings "Wild Thing" because yes, he does "make my heart sing."

It's not that my husband is particularly tickled like me when playing them and watching the animals move their mouths and even wiggle or dance. He justs accepts them with a smile, and never plays them again, unless I go over to his shelves that store them and push the buttons. My  very favorite is one I gave my husband: a cute crab with a straw hat and flower lei on with big pink lips that sings,"Hot Hot Hot." (Well, I think my husband happens to be hot.) I always play this one when we are about to leave on a tropical vacation to get us in the mood, and it always cracks us up.  "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Feeling Hot Hot Hot."

My poor children aren't immune to this mania either. Now they receive singing stuffed animals for their Valentine's day gifts too. I wouldn't want to leave them out because Valentine's Day is a great day for remembering all of those who you love and then expressing it, however quirkily expressed it may be.

Have a great Valentine's Day with your loved ones. Oh, and by the way, I love my readers too!


Can We All Boycott Watching Any Show Featuring the Octuplet Mother?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/10/2009 8:10 AM CST

I know we love to watch a train wreck- I see rubberneckers all the time looking at things far less interesting. But I am serious here. We need to band together and boycott any show letting this nutcase new mother of octuplets profit from her mania.

If I have this true life story correct,  a lonely only child with strange, ENABLING parents becomes obsessed with having babies. God is watching and intervenes to render her infertile under normal circumstances.

So she gets injured on the job, collects a hefty payment, uses the money to pay for numerous in-vitro fertizilation procedures under the direction of an equally maniacal fertility specialist. She has twins, then twins again, then twins again, and decides she MUST HAVE MORE BABIES. 

Never mind that there is no father in the picture, she doesn't work, and lives in a small already overcrowded, overwhelmed home, depending on her mother's help. Never mind that she supports her family on her enabling parents handouts plus disability payments for a back condition and depression - even though she is perfectly healthy enough to bear multiples four separate times. (If that isn't a sign of an unbreakable, strong healthy back, I don't know what is - not to mention a bionic womb.)

Never mind that she already had six kids who are being raised by an obsessed, selfish woman. She has already admitted her selfish motives!

Her crazy doctor implants six more embryos in her. They all take, some multiply and she gives birth to the first set of surviving octuplets.

Now she is going to have millions in medical bills plus lots more expenses as her tiny babies face certain health problems from their under-development in the womb. But don't worry!

Because folks, she now has a media specialist! She is now making the rounds of talk shows - being paid for telling us how crazy she really is. It doesn't take someone like me with a psychology degree to see how disturbed this woman is. But Oprah and others will be paying her MILLIONS to tell her story. They all want the scoop. Maybe there is a method to her madness.

And listen here - who wants to bet that TLC - some soul-less channel (called the Learning Channel but should be known as the Lamest Channel) makes her a sweet deal to raise all fourteen kids on TLC - just like that hit show Jon and Kate Plus Eight?

And you know that EVERYONE will be watching her - making ratings soar. If this happens, I personally pledge to boycott any sponsors AND the entire channel. And I hope that every other person does the same. So of course she will be paid handsomely and another dysfunctional family will be raised with our country viewing the whole mess.

Watching her yesterday (for the first and last time, I pledge to this) something else creepy occurred to me. She looks like she is trying to be Angelina Jolie. Check out the hair, the lips, the mannerisms, the nose. She has had plastic surgery so this has to be calculated.
Now she wants to be the "mother of the world" like Angelina. Like Mia Farrow before Angelina, she can never have enough babies! Except, they could afford those babies.

I am ashamed for all of us who will willingly let this woman profit from her craziness. And I pity those poor babies too. So I am seriously asking here, can we all band together on this? Write to NBC and any other station featuring her. Write to sponsors of those shows. Express your boycott of sponsors of those shows. If we all do this maybe she'll just go away. Or maybe Angelina can adopt her and her whole brood.

Old Fogey's Guide to the Grammy Awards

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/7/2009 2:58 PM CST

Am I not the coolest mom and/or middle ager around? Need more clues before you can answer? Not only am watching the Grammy's but I know many of the acts and songs. I keep up by listening to pop stations, just so I can say to my kids that I am NOT one of those old fogeys that writes off the next generations' music. As I wrote in a previous blog my kids have been indoctrinated in my music since birth, so of course I have to keep up with theirs. Besides, don't worry, because there is nothing really new happening - at least as far as these awards nominees go.

Here then is your old fogey's guide to the Grammy nominees:

Leona Lewis - the new Mariah Carey
Duffy - the new Amy Winehouse. Amy won all the grammy's last year because she has a retro 60's Shirley Bassey (she sang Goldfinger) type soulful, smoky voice.
Adele - the new Amy Winehouse
Hmm, I sense a pattern here - anyone British who can sound smoky, 60's and soulful and IS NOT a hot mess is going to be nominated
Jonas Brothers - the new Backstreet Boys, In Sync, or even my beloved teen group: The Monkees
Taylor Swift - the new Debbie Gibson - a child prodigy who writes and sings her own songs.
Robert Plant
 - So this is what has become of the Led Zeppelin lead singer. With Alison Krauss they are the new Mamas and Papas
Bruce Springsteen - wait! He's still the Boss. No explanation needed
Paul McCartney - still gets nominated each year because he was a Beatle you know.
Beyonce - the new Diana Ross
Sugarland - the new Alabama
All Hip/Hop and Rap stuff - ignore these, they all sound the same. (old fogey!)
And last but not least - the biggest buzz is Katy Perry who is the new Jill Sobule.

Katy Perry has a song "I Kissed a Girl."  At first I assumed, like many would, that it was going to be a remake of Jill Sobule's hit of the same name made in the 90's. Jill Sobule's biggest hits were in the mid 90's and she was even a big hit on the Clueless soundtrack even though she was a bit quirky.
So Katy Perry wanted to copy that title and naughtiness. It worked before, so it works again.

For those of you who only listen to oldies and classic rock stations, now you are all caught up. You can watch the Grammy's and feel secure in the knowledge that everything old is new again.


Weighing In on Jessica Simpson, Pun Intended

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/4/2009 11:15 AM CST

Jessica Simpson has been in the pop culture headlines this past week, not because of her new album, another USO tour, or anything doing with her Dallas Cowboy boyfriend, Tony Romo.

She's being talked about on every talk show, sniped about cattily on every pop culture site, and bad angle photos are splashed of her are everywhere you look. A teensy roll above her middle was evident on closeup photos.

All due to her recent (maybe 15 pound) weight gain, the pop culture rags are calling her F-A-T.

WOW, 15 pounds. Shame on her for going from a size 2 to a size 8, because don't you know she makes her living off her looks and her "dumb blond" routine?

It's not that I particularly like Jessica Simpson or even think she has any talent or reason to be famous, but I am fed up with our culture's insistence on the anorexic look as the golden standard. When I have to defend Jessica Simpson, you know things have gotten out of hand.

As a mother to a young adult daughter, this makes me absolutely sick. My 5'6" daughter is constantly fed garbage by the media about the perfect size 0 figure, by flaunting those eating disordered starlets who have accomplished that unhealthy standard. (by subsisting on a diet of cigarettes and the occasional sushi to maintain it)

For older women like myself, the middle years of life are all about fighting the weight battle and, with the exception of just a few I know who have a Lance Armstrong type of lifestyle, or a passion for running, most are ending up on the losing side. Not losing weight mind you, losing the battle.

I, myself have a perfectly good excuse for my winter weight. Yes, the holiday season did me in even after I promised myself I wouldn't overindulge. But mostly it is those pesky hormones that I have blogged about recently which are known to add weight to the middle. (Let's put it this way, rather than going to Sam's Club to buy a spare tire, I got a free spare tire from too many Sam's Club type of portions)

And I will admit it here. Though most of my clothes are a size 6 or a size 8, at my very heaviest right about now, I am about as puffy as Jessica Simpson. I'm blonde too. So am I fat?

As I blogged about a year ago, titled "Weight, Stop that Compliment!" I absolutely HATE when I lose my winter weight, throw on the shorts and get comments in the guise of compliments on the weight I have lost. I don't appreciate those comments at all. Why should people even notice my 15 pound differences? I am not Jessica Simpson, making my career off my looks. (Sigh, don't I wish that was the case instead of toiling the way I do?)

Once I start swimming in the Spring,  and my winter weight falls off, I will start getting comments about my weight again, without fail. When I hear that so many times, it seems that people are focused on my ups and downs and we are not even talking about a huge difference.

And I am thinking if average to smaller sized women like me and Jessica Simpson suffer society's scrutiny about weight, what about women who are heavier but healthy? Do people not notice them, and just write them off because they are heavy? Is it just us average types that get the most scrutiny?

What about all of those brave and wonderful people sharing their struggles with weight loss each week in blogs? How must they feel when we attack the Jessica Simpsons or Jennifer Love Hewitts of the world? Why lose weight at all when they can never be that size 0 or size 2 standard?

Although my daughter eats healthfully most of the time, she sometimes appears to be too skinny to her worried mom as she insists on a size 2 figure on her 5'6" frame - when I was a size 4 at her age. Fortunately, she is smaller boned that me, but she may later in life eventually be a size 6 or 8 and I don't want her thinking that is fat! (like I admit I am sometimes pressured into thinking about myself)

What has resulted is that our notions of beauty have gotten skinnier and skinnier - encouraging more unattainable and unhealthy weights and ways to get to those weights. What I wouldn't give for the obsession with weight and the crazy size zero standard of beauty to be replaced for that of the 1940's and 50's - the zaftig Marilyn Monroes and Jane Russells.


Springsteen Proves Who's The Boss at Super Bowl

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 2/2/2009 8:00 AM CST

I have made no secret about my obsession with music icon Bruce Springsteen. After his last concert in Houston, I defended him against those who went there wanting to hear more of his 80's radio hits. I heard from lots of readers agreeing with me that his older, more rarely played stuff was a treat. Because ANYTHING he plays is brilliant.

My own fanship goes way back into the 70's with the Born to Run album - one of the best of all time and one that landed him on the cover of Time and Newsweek on the same day. He became an icon.

As all icons do, he had his ups and downs with popularity and record (CD) sales but the diehard Springsteen fan like me, the longtime one from the 70's - never waned.

When I got into him, I quickly caught myself up on his older stuff, and loved it too. E Street Shuffle, Rosalita, Because the Night, Blinded by the Light - all brilliant and on a different level than a lot of other music.

Someone at the Super Bowl got smart the past few years by featuring MY favorite musicians - Paul McCartney, John Fogerty, and now the Boss. They all play music every generation can enjoy together - and that's important with a stage as big as the Super Bowl.

And what a job Springsteen did last night. He brought down the house. Which, as someone who has been to high double digits of his concerts since the 70's, is what he does. Regularly, consistently, he proves himself a hard working rocker, intent on pleasing the crowd.

His Super Bowl performance will be remembered for a long time, and I hope will set the standard for how the halftime show is supposed to be. 

Yes, Springsteen once again proves he still lives up to his nickname by diehard fans like me. He is still the Boss.


Better Than a Jolt of Java To Get Out of Bed on a Winter Morn

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/30/2009 8:17 AM CST

Since it is the first anniversary of my having this blog published on the Chronicle site, I am replaying a few of my favorite entries. many of these were published long before I had any readers or promotion on the Chronicle site, so chances are they haven't been read much. Before I give you the first rerun, I wanted to  humbly thank all of my readers for coming to my blog. Whether you always like what I have to say, or even agree with me, your reading and your comments are always appreciated.

Now that it is officially winter in Houston, interspersed of course, with lots of warm and even hot and humid days, some mornings are just plain tough to get out of bed.

Don't beds seem extra warm and cozy in the wintertime? Sometimes we all need a little push (or a lot) to get motivated to get out of bed and begin our day. I can't even imagine what folks in Wisconsin or Buffalo, NY do to motivate themselves through their harsh winters, but I admire them greatly in any event. 

All I have to do is channel some of the energy coming from two wired dogs the minute the alarm clock rings. 

That's because first thing every morning, my bedroom is the daily site for a "Riverdance" performance by eight paws doing a happy-happy-joy dance.

With my eyes still closed, the clickedy-clack commotion my two small poodles make after the alarm goes off sounds perfectly timed and in set precision, much like the Gaelic dance sensation.

(I had always assumed their heritage was French, so they just might be doing the Can-Can, but it seems like they’ve got the spry stepping of the Irish in them too.)

And the reason for their joy? It is another new day to adore their mother, who they have just discovered to be waking up and still in their lives.

After the dance performance, they lavish love and affection on me in an exaggeratedly excited way – pawing at me with licks thrown in and tails ferociously wagging away.

I marvel at their appreciation; this for being ignored much of the time, for receiving some hard, dry pebbles we call dog food in their bowls once a day, and a few trips daily to their backyard outhouse.

All that love just for being their mommy.

And all that happiness to greet even the most cold and miserable day.


Note: If you have been following my blog, you know the dancing leader has sadly departed this world -see earlier blog- so I now get nuzzled instead of a performance. But it was nice remembering all those years of performances.

Do You Remember Your First Crush?

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/27/2009 8:17 AM CST

It seems that whether you have a crackerjack long term memory or not,everyone seems to vividly remember their first crush. 

We all had crushes on famous people or idols of the day, but I am talking about the very first intense crush on a real person in your life.

There is nothing like a crush, and all those mushy, hearts-and-flowers feelings that accompany it. It is equal parts tender and powerful so it is no wonder that we seem to keep a few embers glowing to warm those memories in our hearts.

I started thinking about this recently when my daughter told me about a sweet little crush she once had. As she described this guy, memories of my own deep crushes flooded back.It doesn't take much to get my reminiscing going these days.


Going way back in my memory, (and here let you remind you I might have a freaky intact long term memory but have no memory of things that happened last week, month or year!) my own first experience was actually being the target of a crush. 
In fourth grade my mother came home from Parent Teacher night (where all the parents sat at our desks and looked at our work) and told me that the mother of the boy, Jay, who sat next to me told her that he had a big old crush on me. My mother thought this was so darling but I wasn't so sure.


Since at the time I was nurturing a crush on none other than Paul McCartney, I remember being shocked at the news. This little boy tortured me on a daily basis, either pulling my hair, or pasting pages together in my notebook when I wasn't looking.


I was pleased with the news though, and set about using the most flirtatious manner that a nine year old is capable of, which I think frightened him tremendously. His bad behavior towards me softened though.

The very next school year, I developed my own intense crush on a high profile boy in my class. He had a girlfriend - she was the Doris Day of our elementary school (see photo just below, which I recently scarfed out of a Facebook posting) and he was the Rock Hudson -  but that did not stop me from entertaining fantasies of him being interested in me instead. And this is where the bizarre behavior came in, I am ashamed to say.

Being immature, naive, and a bit of a social dork, but having a lot of sassy attitude and an outgoing personality, I surmised back at the time that all I needed to do was let him know I was interested, and then of course, he would reciprocate my feelings.

Um, life doesn't exactly work that way as I found out the excruciatingly embarrassing way. I waited out the first year or year and a half, and when he still didn't seem to notice me or my undying devotion, I took a bold move. We all carried blue canvas loose leaf binders across our chests in those days, and so I took a black marker and drew a heart on the back of mine and wrote I LOVE BLANK BLANK. Only I wrote his real first and last name in the blanks.
(I think his name can remain a mystery here and hopefully if he ever came across this blog, he would not remember the incident or that this subject was about him - or one can at least hope) I do have one long term friend who remembers his name and many details, unfortunately - she has too good a long term memory. (and Happy Birthday to her if she is reading!)

Yes, that's right, I wrote his first AND last name, advertising to all in my then junior high school. As if he didn't see my personal billboard enough that year, it was the talk of the school. I was a walking humiliation and I didn't even realize it.

I gave it up eventually, and bless his heart, he tried valiantly to remain cordial to me through the rest of our schooling. He always kept me at arms length, because I am sure he thought I was a stalker - and this was long before that term was invented. My girlfriends and I - who also loved him, (but perhaps were a bit more discreet) would play the old phoney phone call game with him quite a lot, where we would call his house hoping he would answer and then hang up when he did. (In the days WAY before caller ID) My girlfriends and I would walk by his house a bunch too, hoping to see him. 

I remember "breaking" my binder after several months of this self-imposed mortification. Perhaps I matured a bit or came to my senses, and I was able to get my parents to buy me a replacement  - one without a billboard advertisement on the back.

I also learned the fine art of being more demure in the presence of crushes and normal flirting as I matured. Later crushes were either unrequited or successful, and I learned too, that is just part of life.

So now, tell me, did anyone else do anything embarrassing with a crush?

How's Bayou? Bike Riding Along Bayou "Bugs" Me.

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/23/2009 8:21 AM CST

It was a sunny and warm January day, (Houstonians can only dream of balmy Christmases) and I was bike riding on the Bayou. I live close to one that has a miles and miles long bike and jogging path. With the moderate weather here, I can bike ride most of the year, excepting the summer months when I find that wearing a helmet causes steam to come out of my head. (Which is conveniently about when I start swimming)

For those who read my blog from afar (hello to all of you and thanks for reading!) and are unfamiliar with the term bayou, it is one step up from a swamp. We live near sea level in Houston, and we need them for water overflow. These bayous have their own entire eco-system going on. (I can fake my science knowledge with the best of them) 

My own first knowledge of a bayou was way back when John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival sang about them and since I was still a Yankee in those days, I had no idea what he was singing about. And besides he was from California, so what did he know? But it sounded mysterious at the time, and I even looked it up in the dictionary. It is bad enough mangling lyrics with incorrect ones, as I detailed in another blog but it is even worse when you are singing words you have no idea existed.

I now have intimate knowledge of bayous, and in fact, my own children were "Born on the Bayou." (the Medical Center could not be any closer to the bayou, no?)
Grateful to have a biking, rollerblading, walking or jogging path near my house, I am also thrilled when it is pouring buckets of rain that the water has somewhere to go.

During my bike riding observations along the bayou, I see some kind of slimy, fat, inedible-to-humans-fish swimming near the surface, egrets who feed on the fish, birds who eat insects that appear there, and even butterflies and mini yellow moths.

I have genuine contempt (I don't like to use the word hatred, but it is more correct here) for insects. Excepting butterflies, bugs drive me into a very neurotic state.

The bayou is a hot spot for insects. There are literally swarms of gnats that hover over the bike trail, mosquitoes of course (who remembers to apply Off in December?) and the supposedly deadliest of all insects, the common fly.

I don't like sharing my bayou trail with these critters, and I know I am not alone as I see people with hats that have nets around the face and people jogging and biking with hospital type masks on. While I haven't gone this route yet, after this last incident, I am very close.

On this particular day recently, as I gulped a breath of air I caught an insect in my mouth which in an instantaneous reflex, I swallowed before I could spit it out. There was a small comedic scene that followed as I manically tried to gargle it out, and when that failed, gulped it on down my esophagus with my remaining water.

While I am not sure it was a fly, it was bigger than a gnat, so it most likely was a fly. There's a song for this you know. I used to sing it at camp.

"There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, I don't know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she'll die."

I was thinking of this song and what manner of disease would strike me from this - but had to finally put my neurosis on hold realizing that the acids in my digestive juices probably decimated the little bugger as soon as it hit my stomach. At least I hope so. (Again relying on my minimalistic science knowledge)

But at least, if you don't hear from me in a while, you'll know why.

Click here to return to the current Hot Flashes blog

Why the American Idol Phenomenon is Saving the American Family

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/15/2009 8:20 AM CST

Okay, maybe that title was a slight exaggeration, but listen to my argument!

In television viewer popularity, there is one powerhouse, one phenomenon, one show that is "must see TV." The ratings, even though they had lowered a bit in the past few years, are untouchable by other programming. This is American Idol. (To be said in your best Ryan Seacrest voice)

Everyone in the family from grandma down to preschoolers can watch American Idol together and enjoy. Or they can watch separately and gab about it later.  Shared passions in families, even if it is just a television show, create bonding. Compelling shows can do just that.


Is it any wonder it pulls in the rating numbers the way it does?


I have talked to numerous moms with busy, typical families and they shared with me that American Idol is the one show the family consistently watches together.


Somehow, the teens quit their text messaging, computer IM's, and video games long enough to watch. Mom quits her multi-tasking, dad gets off his computer. With a TV in just about every room, usually each member can choose what they want to watch - sports for dad, dramas for mom, reality shows for the kids. But for American Idol, everyone gathers around the "big" TV in the main family room. Life as we normally know it stops for this show.


It was just that way in my era of the 60's with everyone sitting down to watch Ed Sullivan - which I talked about in a previous blog. In the circle of pop culture life, everything old is new again. 


Rosie O'Donnell got it all wrong. She thought we missed the variety show genre of Ed Sullivan and it's ilk and wanted a TV forum to bring families together to watch. She was wrong in that we don't want to see a variety of stars performing, necessarily. Your neighbor or any person off the street can entertain us too if they can sing. We like the rags to riches scenario too. That is why her show was a spectacular flop and American Idol is so successful.


American Idol has drawn in even the most skeptical like me. I thought it was a reality show when I first started watching. Sure, it is tacky at the beginning with the bad auditions, but once the real talent show begins it is pureentertainment in the most basic form of the concept.


Having the people help choose the new star is part of the power of this show. We all want a say, a voice. Of course the producers have some power in who we choose, as we see talented people often get sent home before we can even vote. There has to be a teeny- bopper sensation, a rocker, not too many Barbies etc. But once that is all done, we get to choose our own favorites.


Dad likes the rocker best, and mom and one daughter may like the puppy dog teeny- bopper the most. Older sis and grandma are a fan of the soulful diva. It doesn't matter that they don't agree, because they can discuss the merits of all of them, review the highlights of each show, and still share in the experience.


Whether the eventual winner becomes the next Christina Aguilera, or goes the way of a quick flame-out doesn't quite matter either because while we watch them, they are enthralling us and we are rooting for them. 


Thanks, American Idol, for giving families a viewing hour each week.


Humor is the Best Medicine for Crazy Symptoms

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/12/2009 8:20 AM CST

There is something about hearing about someone else's horrific tale that somehow takes your own suffering off your mind.
Thus, my reasoning for a Menopause support group, as described in my previous blog.

And plenty of support I did find. Some people were sweet enough to leave stories and encouraging comments directly on my blog. I heard from many, many other through my Facebook page, where I shamelessly promote the blog, and through my regular email. Some people actually didn't want to talk about their horrific symptoms of menopause, such as incontinence, in a public forum. I just can't imagine why not. 

We are all in this weird sisterhood. I have been bolstered with personal stories, many who concluded with the fact that they started taking hormones and/or anti-depressants or both after they couldn't take it anymore. I support these decisions as it has to be an individual's right to choose the best option for themselves.


I consider myself blessed with being a very strong and determined person, and healthy too.  But there is something about this time in life that wears down all will and resolve, and thoughts revolve around getting a little ease in the numerous alarming symptoms. 


I am reading a lot lately, and I am thinking about blaming all the processed foods I have eaten in my life, as well as all the extra chemicals I threw into my body and brain (No, I am not referring to recreational drugs, just a lot of diet Dr. Pepper, Saccharine etc - all chemicals by the way) as the reason why I am having a particularly extreme case of symptoms. 
That's because I have to blame something, as I also know that others get off practically scott-free. 


And let me just add here - Women who also have a very difficult labor and delivery do not like being regaled of tales of babies just popping out. It is the same thing. We are all made differently, and it is not nice to rub in having an easier time of it. We should just support each other.


Yes, there are good days and good moments when I still feel okay and still have my sense of humor. I will endeavor to use these moments to write more humorous blogs appealing to both genders and all ages like this and this. 
That's right, after today's post, this topic will be put to rest for a while.


Just as I am not losing all humor, other women who wrote me also DID NOT lose their sense of humor either during this phase of life as I worried in my previous blog. 
To prove this, below are some of the humorous comments I rec'd from various women - without their names of course to protect their privacy.


And also, just to show what a great husband I have even though I have teased him a bit in this blog, he published this for all to see on his Facebook page: Good weather, customers, and a beautiful wife to boot!  Great kids too. 


Aww, how can I stay hostile when he says something like that at a time when I am feeling my ugliest. (No, he didn't know I was feeling that way because I didn't verbalize it.)

Here are samplings of some of the best that I heard from other women: (besides all those wonderful comments on the actual blog which you can see on the above link if you need that support)


"I begged the doctor to give me hormone replacement medication and as soon as I she started to mention all the contraindications I explained if she did not write the prescriptions I would come back and shoot her."


"Did I mention irritability?????? Most of the time I wanted to kill most of the patients and I did not want to hear their problems, I just wanted them to let me work, so I could go home and sit in a tub of ice water."


"To  quote my physician when I told her I was losing my mind and was depressed, she said the good news is I no longer had to worry about getting pregnant or buying tampons, I now could look forward to killing someone and having a legitimate out."

"One time last year, I was having a meeting with my employees, all of a sudden I felt a hot flash. My face and neck became red and sweaty and someone asked me what was wrong ? I said i was having a power surge. (sounds better than hot flash )"

"A support group would be great ! We could call it "Sweating to the Oldies" or "Look-out here comes the power surge. "

"My friends and I also laugh about forgetting things, brain fog,and repeating the same stories to each other (over and over)..and what it does to my middle...that's a whole other issue. Mood swings are fun too !"

"Menopause- it certainly is not fun and it's not for the faint of heart. Men could never go through childbirth, and then 30 or so years later, succumb to Menopause."

"Amen! Although I want to cry, I had to laugh when reading about the symptoms because they are all too real."

And finally, to borrow the lyrics from the song "Hot Flash" (yes, there are several songs available on the subject) by Sally Fingerett and Debi Smith

"Hot Flash, then its a total memory crash, from sleep deprivation, hallucination, is that a mustache? Hot Flash, you're crumbling down like smoke and ash."
"Get yourself a bowl of soybeans and a cup of black cohosh. Book yourself a beauty treatment when your brains have turned to mush."
"You've got your history, you've got your inner girl. She's still inside your skin, just a little less estrogen."

Okay everyone, if you have a personal fan on your night table next to your bed, raise your hand. and You Tube this deligtful group.


Help! Because I Need A Support Group Too

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/8/2009 8:30 AM CST

There are loads of support blogs for weight gain, and I have been tempted to join their fray as I expand a little around my middle, but I am not yet overweight and besides I need a whole lot of other kind of support right now at this point in my life.

You see, although I have teased about it, and even laughed about it in the past, I am now officially in the full throes of Menopause and it is not one bit funny. Does anyone else remember how All in the Family and Edith Bunker were the first ones to demonstrate this "hot" topic. I remember Edith as most being very sensitive and cranky. (Wait a sec, I AM sensitive and cranky lately)

Weight gain around the middle is common as the estrogen in the body decreases. (My car is not the only one with a spare tire) 
I know about the middle bulge because I am reading and educating myself so that I am not alarmed by the numerous changes in me. Still, I have to say that despite my self-education, it feels like some alien force, or maybe the devil, has taken possession of my body and mind.


I am a bit on the young side for full menopause, but this is truly and officially what I am dealing with, whether I am ready or not.

Lately when I look in the mirror I don't recognize that old, thin-haired, bloated, stressed looking person staring back at me. I was previously a person who defied age - feeling at least 10 to 15 years younger than my chronological age. Now I feel 20 years older than my actual age.


As I detailed in a previous blog, there are many occasions when I understand how a seared tuna feels. Lists of symptoms are continually checked just to see if I am normal and the various weird things happening to me are common, and I unfortunately check off way too many of these depressing symptoms as my own.

Some of them are quite disturbing and include short term memory lapses, (I hate admitting this one: I actually forgot attending someone's son's funeral) mental confusion, (I almost brushed my teeth with moisturizer the other day) disappearing waistline, thinning hair, bloat, trouble sleeping. 

The good news is that Menopause is preferable to early onset senility, which at times is what I think I am experiencing during the mental confusion part.


And I know that hormones affect everyone differently. Some women get the effects of hormones more powerfully than others. I know this is true to PMS, postpartum hormones, and other hormonal situations.

The unfortunate thing is that people are noticing and I don't want them to. When you are an upbeat, positive, smiley person, any change in behavior is immediately noticeable. Some of my "friends" send me email hormone jokes as a hint. I can't hit delete fast enough. Have I lost my sense of humor?

While doing the rounds of holiday parties, much of the discussion among women in my age group was about this very topic. So, obviously I am not the only one thinking about it.

These discussions with others help me enormously. And I must note here, I do NOT initiate these discussions. They just happen naturally. The commiseration is great for all of us, obviously. 
What I want to know is are there support groups out there for us? Because I could really use it. 

Although I am not there yet, I know I can take hormones to offset these symptoms - but right now while planning to just suffer through un-aided, I need to know if there are others in my boat and I am not crazy.
Feel free to join my Hot Flashes support group by the way - we can start our own if none exist. We all need reassurance.


So far, I am exercising, watching what I eat, and taking vitamins in an effort to be in good health and good shape. But really, there is no stopping these hormones.

I mentioned one of these group discussions to my husband, along with the information that some women opt to take hormone supplements, and others opt to take anti-depressants. 

And do you know what he had the nerve to say? That these hormones can be overcome with a little "positive thinking." To me, he was either implying it is all in our heads, or he is a Scientologist, which I don't think he is.

After schooling him on the fact that hormones are in fact powerful chemicals that create body and mind changes that cannot be controlled with "positive thinking" he defended himself saying he was misconstrued. He now claims that he was just suggesting that positive affirmations are a good thing, and while not going to eliminate symptoms, it could help. Sometimes my techie husband is not the best communicator. ARGHHHH!!!! (Thoughts of doing bodily harm to rude people is another symptom by the way)

An info sheet lists this explanation of a "hot flash." If the below is not a chemical reaction, I don't know what is.

Symptom 1 (flashes) Hot flashes are due to the hypothalamic response to declining ovarian estrogen production. The declining estrogen state induces hypophysiotropic neurons in the arcuate nucleas of the hypothalamus to release gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) in a pulsatile fashion, which in turn stimulates release of luteinizing hormone (LH). Extremely high pulses of LH occur during the period of declining estrogen production. The LH has vasodilatory effects, which leads to flushing. 

Now tell me how a little positive thinking can help that surge of chemicals?
Speaking of which, is it hot in here, or is it just me?


Uh Oh, My "As Seen On TV" Buying Problem Has Returned

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 1/5/2009 8:15 AM CST

Time spent around the TV with my family during the holiday season brought back a most unfortunate habit. Although I had pledged not to go into stores and shop during the frenzy of holiday season in a previous blog, I did do a little shopping via the television.

As I have explained in a past blog -I have a bad habit of impulse purchasing, and it is an especially irrational type of behavior if I see something on TV. You know what I am talking about -  those compelling infomercials or commercials for "As Seen on TV" products.

I hadn't done this in a while, maybe because I had been watching less TV. But all of a sudden there were two products that I just HAD to have.

For the first of the items, I announced very loudly that I was going to dial the number and buy it when I first saw the advertisement. My children and husband, alarmed that my addiction had returned, switched the channel quickly. But I kept talking about finding it on the internet, so my husband sweetly thought he would surprise me by ordering it. (There is a longer story about this involving his inability to surprise me with gifts so that's why he jumped at this chance.) 
The only problem was, I had already beaten him to the punch. So now we have two orders coming, plus the doubles they throw in for these "very special offers, today only." In fact, we will have so much of it, I will gladly share it with anyone who asks. Just think of it, a lifetime supply! And I don't even know if it actually works!

The other thing I wanted was an exercise DVD. It looks like so much fun to get in shape with dancing, that: I. just.couldn't.resist. I did not inform my children about this, but my husband knows and for some odd reason actually encouraged a purchase. Do you think he wants to get laughs seeing me try to Latin dance my way to fitness?

In other shopaholic news, I mostly resisted the stores prior to the holiday as I promised, but immediately afterward walked into a local retail store, where I had heard they were "giving stuff away." Don't you love that phrase? Please let me know, if you hear of any retail outlet actually "giving" stuff away - meaning no green stuff is required. That, I want to be part of.

Anyway, this one store that sells designer name brands had several "$4.95 or less" rounder racks. My friends had been telling me about the steals they got at fancy department stores that were offering hundreds of dollars off designer merchandise -- that they still paid more than a hundred dollars for. Yikes, that doesn't seem like such a deal to me.
I, on the other hand, am not too proud to wear a Michael Kors blouse that I purchased for five bucks.(and of which I am now the proud owner)

I think this particular store was about to make a shipment to a bargain reseller where they get about a penny on the dollar for their stuff, and so it might have made sense to make a last ditch effort to sell this stuff first for a bit more than 1/100th of the price. But let's see, I bought a BCBG item retailing for $120 for $2.95 meaning I paid less than 3/100ths of the price. (math was never my strong point)

And NO, I do not normally "name drop" the designer tags of things I buy. So please, if there are any hostile readers out there that want to call me an "elitist" - I am dropping names only to illustrate my point of how little they are selling these things for. And besides, how can I be an elitist if I don't mind wearing "last season's fashions" to get them at a better price?

Is anyone out there also amazed at discounted prices? What great bargains did you find? And did anyone besides me succumb to those seen on TV gizmos?


A Compliment Proves That Our Home Isn't Broken

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/29/2008 9:54 AM CST

I received the very best holiday gift -or maybe the very best early Mother's Day gift, a mother could receive during my children's visit home. It was in the form of an inadvertent compliment - simple in its expression, but powerful in meaning.

It was just a few years ago that my daughter Elissa and a friend coordinated a beach break for some of her friends from college who were not from Texas. Due to the fact that Houston was halfway there, she arranged for her out-of-town friends to have a pasta dinner at my house (she helped) and then had some of them sleep at our home overnight, and farmed some out to others.

As always, I liked the commotion and the visiting, and I enjoy my children's friends enormously. (It gets lonely for an empty nester mom who used to have the hang-out house)

One of Elissa's friends, Lindsay from Arizona, picked out a photo of a handsome relative on display and announced she needed to someday marry him so she can become a member of our family. (This is a girl with a perfectly wonderful intact family of her own, by the way)

I thought to myself then, that her remark was probably the best compliment I could ever receive.  Lindsay saw something, from the outside looking in, in our family and our home that was appealing.

In case you haven't followed or read my past blogs - I was not the "cool, party-on" type mom, but more the strict type of mom. But there was also a lot of love, warmth, nurturing, and happiness in our home, where we were always welcoming friends and strangers alike.

This just past winter break, Lindsay was in Houston again for a wedding, and met the relative she decided she needed years ago to marry to become a member of our family. She told Elissa that he was "not her type."

I then reminded Elissa of what Lindsay had said a few years ago, about wanting to be a member of our family. Without a beat, Elissa looked in my eyes and responded, "Mom, all of my friends want to be a member of our family." As if this was a fact that I should have known all along.

What was such a high order compliment for me years earlier, became an even greater compliment to me now. 

The reason it was so meaningful is that I always felt somewhat of a failure at our family situation, having divorced, and remarried. (And no, I did not cause the divorce) There were lots of hardships, tears, and outright dysfunction as we all adjusted years back. For me, there is a lingering guilt in the fragmenting of my children's family that comes and goes.

Way back when I was a young girl viewing sitcoms like "Father Knows Best"  "The Donna Reed Show" and others that portrayed "perfect families" I aspired to having one of my own when I grew up.

Situations out of my control temporarily stole that dream from me. The only thing I knew for sure in those days were that I wanted my children to grow up whole and healthy. And so I worked hard at being the best mom I could be while sharing my children with their dad and his larger old and new family. That sharing concept is still somewhat difficult years later, and I admit I sometimes pout at having to share something as precious as my children, even if they are adults. 
I had a "friend" innocently comment years back that she wanted her children to marry partners from non-divorced families because she didn't want them to marry into a "broken home" and that sort of dysfunction. It hurt me at the time, and I winced at the term "broken home."
I worried at the time if my children would forever be stigmatized by that label and be considered "damaged goods."

So it is comments like Lindsay's and my daughter's that have me thinking that our home and family wasn't that broken, if others want to be a part of it. If others, from totally intact families want to be part of my family, then any "broken-ness" was obviously fixed a long time ago. (don't you hate that term?)

And that, my friends, is the best holiday gift I could have ever received.


Re-Gifting Unwanted Gifts - Don't Do It!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/22/2008 8:17 AM CST

It is the season of gift giving.  So let me start this by saying that it is my firm belief that it is much better to give than receive. And this is most especially true in the case of receiving most re-gifts. 

In my opinion, the only kind of re-gifting there should be in the world is the kind where an unwanted gift is graciously accepted and then donated to a favorite charity.

It is always insulting to receive an obvious or inappropriate re-gift, even if your heart is full of the spirit of the season. 

I have one friend who is notorious with re-gifting. I imagine her having a huge closet of tacky gifts that she received in years past that she will be imposing, at some point, on some unwitting victim. (if not me)
Some of the ones that have made her legend in this department are described below:

A tee shirt possibly given to her son, re-gifted to my son. The shirt size was for an average 8 year old. My son was 14 at the time. The saying on it: "I'll be able to score a goal when pigs can fly." At the time, my son was the leading scorer on his middle school's soccer team.

A deep carry-all with a lot of empty space and then a bottom tray of cosmetics in it, given to my daughter. This was most likely gifted to her teenage daughter, and then re-gifted to my own daughter. The only problem: The photo of all of the cosmetics inside the carry-all was on the still attached tag. That means there was illustrative evidence that when it was given to my daughter, the entire top tray was gone - with all of the better stuff on it missing. Not only a re-gift, but a partially misappropriated re-gift!

A purse appropriate for the average 12 year old girl with huge circular sequins, given to me at middle age. This was obviously originally given to and rejected by her teenage daughter.

A re-gifted set of lightweight plastic book-ends in the shape of a question-mark that do not, in fact, hold heavy books making them nearly useless. This was a graduation gift to my son. These were obviously given to her son when he graduated, as he was unsure of his post graduation plans. In order for this re-gift to make sense, she wrote on my son's card, "We don't know what your future will hold...thus the question marks!" This might have made sense, except that my son was already admitted to a prestigious law school.

The above occasions and many more had my children pleading with me for years: Please don't accept any more gifts from "Friend who will remain Nameless," and don't give her kids any more gifts because that will only encourage her. The list goes on and on from her.

Some mutual friends have told me stories of trying to return gifts from her that were in packaging from prestigious department stores, only to be told that item wasn't sold there. One time, a frustrated person called her up on that, and asked where the gift came from so she could "return it for size." "Friend who will remain Nameless" suddenly could not remember where it came from. You know why don't you? It was a re-gift!

Other re-gifting faux pas I have heard of: leaving gift tags and cards in the re-gift, addressed to the original recipient of the gift. If that isn't insulting, nothing is.

I recently received a holiday gift -- not from the notorious re-gifting friend, but a work associate-- that was associated with a holiday she knows I don't celebrate. Um, awkward moment as I faked my best smile of appreciation. It made no sense at all, except that it was probably an unwanted gift to her. Voila, the re-gift! This will be one of many gifts donated to charity.

I know of others who receive promotional gifts with subscriptions who give these items as gifts to people. The only problem with that is that the people who receive it also subscribe and not only already have one, they also know where it came from.

It is true that there might be wonderful re-gifts out there too - say someone receives a duplicate of a very nice gift, and then it goes on to someone who might not have one. Yes, that is a lovely gesture and a great way to make use of re-gifting. 

It is the "white elephant" stuff that should NEVER be re-gifted that is the subject of this particular plea: DON'T DO IT. PLEASE!

I am of the firm belief that a sincere card and even expression of greetings is far better than a tacky re-gift. A dollar store item is a better gift too. Save the weird stuff for those white elephant exchanges, or create one of your own if you find yourself with a closet of useless stuff.

"Friend who will remain Nameless" - are you listening?

Despite this "grinch-like" subject matter, I wish the Merriest Christmas, the Happiest Hanukkah, and a wonderful 2009 to everyone!

As always, this is interactive, so feel free to share your re-gifting horror stories.


The Invasion of the College Kids - They're BAAAACCCKKK!

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/19/2008 8:15 AM CST

You can run, but you can't hide. They're BAAAAAACCCCKKKKK!  It's the invasion of the college kids.

Stock up at Sam's on the munchies and the laundry detergent. Hide anything breakable. Lock the liquor cabinet. My college students have returned, and that means my front door becomes a revolving door, as my home becomes a hotbed of activity and visitors.


Normally these days, my house is as quiet as a library. It's almost creepy quiet. I love the noise, the energy, the youth coming back into my life. Thank goodness for long winter breaks. 

My home hasn't seen this much life, except briefly at Thanksgiving, since the summer months. Too long, if you ask me. 
So what that I can't get much writing done? So what that the laundry is never ending? So what that I have to make multiple trips to the grocery store weekly? The laughter, conversation, and fun make up for all of that.

It's true that I have adjusted well to being an empty nester, and actually quite appreciate it. I don't miss carpools, sports schedules, school stuff, cooking all the time. I paid my dues- did my time for all that, and I am happily retired from it.

But I have to admit, once those kids get past the teen years into young adulthood, they and their friends are very enjoyable company. It's a pleasant gathering of people on a daily basis.

Just like me, probably every empty nester must be feeling the joy of having the kids home right now. That will change around mid-January, when the late nights, the ins and outs, and the revolving door gets a bit old. Moms and dads will breathe a teeny sigh of relief as they pack up and off the kids back to school. Ahh, peace and quiet and order and life restored.

But not now. It's fresh, and terrific fun. No one has worn down any nerves yet. 

So empty nester parents, and even parents who have only sent off part of their brood--- happy holidays to all and enjoy this time with your kiddos!!

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Your Turn To Play Cranky Andy Rooney: Register Your Pet Peeve

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/15/2008 8:10 AM CST

I happened by the end of the program "60 Minutes" (tick, tick, tick) recently and it was the part of the program where Andy Rooney gets to basically whine on some subject or another. I hadn't seen him in a long time, but I remember, even (far) back when I was young and I saw him on this same program, he seemed like an Old Fogey even then. Now he still seems ancient. (I think he is about 90)

He still talks in his pronounced accent, with a nasal quality voice that tends to elongate some words. He has both a voice and face that doesn't seem ideal for television broadcasting. His eyebrows seem to have a life of their own.

But I can certainly understand why he is still doing this same thing, years and years later.

All he has to do is go around and find something that annoys him, and then whine about it for just 3 short minutes at the end of a news program. Cushy assignment if you ask me. No wonder he has never retired. Who would retire from a plum gig like that?

Here you must insert the Andy Rooney voice in your head as you read the next:
"Haven't you ever wondered how a man like Andy Rooney can whine about things like $4 cups of coffee and get paid handsomely for it?" 
"Don't you think your own opinion is at least as valid as his?"

See how easy it is to do what he does? 
Of course I shouldn't talk. Here I am freely imposing my opinion and musing on life in general all the time in this very public blog. But then again, I hope that I don't sound whiney as you're reading. Besides, I much prefer the classier term, lament.

Now here's the fun part: Insert your own rant, pet peeve, or annoyance in the comments section. Try to phrase it like an Andy Rooney whine. You can You Tube any number of clips of him to help you out. 


A Special Day in the Life of a Mom

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/11/2008 8:15 AM CST

Even though my kids are grown, being on the Mom pages for my blog is truly representative that I am first and foremost, still very much a M-O-M. I am feeling particularly sentimental today because it is my son Brett's birthday.  He will forever be my beautiful bouncing baby boy - my favorite son. (Easy when you only have one son!)


It was on this day 24 years ago - and I sometimes can't wake up to the fact that it WAS that long ago, (although he reminds me whenever I try to over-mom him)  that my special son was born.


I remember that day like it was yesterday - who was there with me; what the day's circumstances were before Brett actually appeared. I wish I could say that the day itself was perfect, but it was a bit traumatizing (expectant moms - warning - stop reading here) in that Brett was born a big bruiser, and this was combined with a doctor that did not like to do C-sections and who told me later that I have an unusually small pelvic area. To make a very long 18 hour story short, Brett was finally forcibly yanked from me with forceps and a vacuum device, resulting in his being born a true life conehead. (Sorry for TMI, and no, a mom never forgets)


But what a gift he turned out to be. An adorable blue-saucer-eyed active boy, he was bright from the get-go, affectionate, and very socially outgoing. With a fuller brush thick mop-top head of hair and those big blues, I was constantly stopped and complimented on him. This, and having a friend who modeled, resulted in him being "discovered" for child modeling. Being an obedient, pliable child who loved to "ham it up" for cameras, he had quite a successful very part time career - that ended by his choice (and it was always his choice) as soon as sports got in the way.

Father and son ad


(Note: It's not every child that gets his mug on the box of an internationally sold toy and his claim to fame is that he modeled with Hilary and Hayley Duff) 


In a family known for quirks, Brett quickly established his own at a young age, becoming an obsessive collector of McDonald's toys and lining them all up a certain way each night. When he outgrew that, he collected sports memorabilia with the same passion. He is in fact quite passionate about everything he loves. Sports, people, life, and now law.

He has a funny and engaging personality and is known far and wide for silly trademark antics like stacking creamers in his favorite coffee shop.



In school he established himself as an ultra-competitive, perfectionistic, remarkably gifted student, athlete, and leader. In middle school, Brett was the high scorer of his school's soccer team and the president of the school. 
In high school, he found many students even more motivated than him to his great surprise. (Bellaire High School of course) Although it dampened his drive slightly, he was rewarded when he was named a national merit scholar.


In college, he again excelled,  and not just academically. Brett became a dear friend to many new people, a leader in his fraternity, a small business entrepreneur, and juggled all that with honors coursework.

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His lifelong dream to practice law is becoming more of a reality day by day as he is doing well at a top law school and has been the focus of recruiting efforts by major firms.


It is a fact that his continuing excellence has resulted in many opportunities in his life - but all of them are self-made, and self-financed. Soon he will be going to Australia to do a legal semester abroad.


This is not to say we just breezed through the teen and young adult years bypassing any conflict. With Brett's and my own very stubborn and hard-headed natures, we have on many occasions lashed out in anger at one another, and had many heated disagreements.


Despite that, I always knew that Brett's core values of love and respect for me, as well as his kindness and decency, would shine through - and they always have. I may not always agree with him and his decisions, but he knows how much he is unconditionally loved.

I've packed 24 years of wonderful memories of milestones, events, family time, sporting activities, and so so many others; and I wouldn't trade anything for any one of them.


It's hard to believe where the years have gone, but my beautiful boy is no longer a baby, a child, or a teen. My son is now a man. That's hard for me to realize all the time, but it's true. And what an outstanding young man he has turned out to be.


Happy Birthday Brett from your proud and lucky mama.

Talking Quirky Parents into Getting Rid of Their Rented Rotary Phone

Posted by Arlene Lassin at 12/8/2008 8:30 AM CST

I recently visited my parents' house out of state.  I always stay elsewhere because they have a small and uncomfortable place, but this time I stayed there for a few nights. 

I knew about this next little tidbit I am sharing before, but I never lived it: they live in a complete time warp. If it was 1975, they would still be as up to date as anyone. They have shag carpeting, plastic slipcovers on the furniture, no microwave oven, no cable television, no dishwasher, and no garbage disposal. Forget about a computer or any other tech device of the 80's on. They would still have the same car from that era if it hadn't died.


In fact, they had one of these relics on the wall in the kitchen.

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