Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For the Weekend

August 21, 2009

This Friday I direct you to some interesting reading around the blogosphere.

Before I do that, I also want to tell you that I’ll be on vacation for the next two weeks without much access to the internet. If you’re new to RealDelia, feel free to poke around some of my archives and most popular posts (listed on the right hand sidebar). If you’re an old timer, kick back and have a beer…I’ll be back before you know it.

Hope everyone’s having a great summer. Here are some things that I hope will make you enjoy it even more:

1. I liked this thoughtful, big think piece on “Whither the Left?” in The Guardian earlier this week. It basically asks the question: Why aren’t Left-leaning political parties having greater impact during a historical moment that’s been handed to them on a silver platter? Read on for some ideas on that…

2. As a new and avid user of Twitter, I was quite taken with this first-person account in Salon by Laurel Snyder of what it’s like to be addicted to Twitter.

3. Here’s a clever idea. The National Post’s contributors weighed in on the best books to read at 4, at 14, at 40 and late in life. Really great suggestions!

4. And speaking of clever ideas, I really liked this sample of video book trailers over at Madam Mayo. If, as and when I ever get my book published, I’d love to design one of these.

5. Finally, and in the category “Hey, why not?” have a look at Awkward Family Photos. You will not be disappointed.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Strategies For Dealing With Rodents

August 19, 2009

OK, so I think we’ve all been there.

Sooner or later, whether while living in near-squatter conditions when fresh out of university or just when you think you’ve finally settled into the semi-hygienic status of middle age, they invade. If you’re lucky, it’s just a few mice. If you’re unlucky – as I’ve been over the past week or so – it’s the other white meat. Either way, it sucks.

I remember once in graduate school when my roommates and I came home to find a dead squirrel on our kitchen floor. One of my roommates – a gentle, ecologically-minded Finn – burst into tears. She was terribly upset about the unfortunate fate of “the animal” and had to shield her eyes.  My other roommate – a more pragmatic young woman from Peru – grabbed the thing buy its tail and tossed it into the garbage. “Hey man, I’m from Peru,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “We eat this sh$% for dinner.”

Boy, do I wish I had her with me now…

About the only positive thing that’s come out of this harrowing experience is that it’s united me with numerous friends on Facebook suffering from similar infestations. At this point, I think we could form some kind of Pest Control support group and set up a Facebook page of our own. Lord knows the rats have already done something similar. (“Hey guys, c’mon over to the Mews tonight…great crumbs!”)

And so, for this week’s tips list, here are five ways to deal with rodents, born of experience together with a little help from my friends:

1. Traps. There are two options here. The first is the old-fashioned snap trap where a giant spring snaps down on their head. I must admit a certain partiality to this rather Draconian technique for catching – and killing – a mouse or rat. Or, if you’re a kinder, gentler soul, you can go for a humane trap that enables you to set these darlings free once they’re caught. Gotta admit, that last one lost me with its photo banner.

2. Pets. Some say cats are best because mice (at least) can’t stand the smell of them. Others say only a dog can deal with rats. Me? I hate pets. But I can see getting a hold of one of these babies – a rat-eating plant. Now that’s a pet I could live with.

3. Sirens. Who knew? Apparently, mice and rats can be repelled by powerful, ultra-sonic waves. No fuss. No muss. We just bought a few of these to give them a test-drive.

4. Poison. OK, I know it’s evil. But it works.  And I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed watching those tiny pellets go from green to white after they’d been nibbled.

5. Alcohol. As with so many things, alcohol is often your best strategy. I’d recommend taking a good, healthy swig of whatever suits you before you dive into that coat closet to look for bodies.

I was delighted that yesterday’s post in about the U.S. postal service was picked up by this blog of transportation professionals. I’m learning more about this issue by the moment!

Image: Rats by Yaatra via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Feeling Nostalgic for Snail Mail

August 18, 2009

As a relative newcomer to the world of Twitter and Facebook, I will own up to being a complete addict (this, despite being informed today that 40% of Twitter is “pointless babble.” ) And I’ve always been a huge fan of email.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t pine for the days when the old fashioned letter was the communication du jour.

Today, I’m over at talking about the bankruptcy crisis threatening the US Postal Service . I talk about what it means both economically –  in terms of jobs – and personally, for those of us who feel nostalgic for the post.

Have a look

Image: Mail Day! by Warm n’ Fuzzy via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Sibling Relationships: Are They Still Crucial in Adulthood?

August 17, 2009

I was in a bookstore the other day and told my kids that they could each purchase a small book. My eight year-old son came back with a book containing a 1000-question quiz about J.R.R. Tolkien. My five year-old daughter came back with a book about sea creatures.

“It’s a non-fiction book, Mama,” she said proudly, “non-fiction” being a term recently incorporated into her vernacular.

“Great! Why did you choose it?” I asked.

“Because I want to learn lots of facts,” she answered. “So I can be like Isaac when I grow up.”

Her comment went through me like a knife. It was one more sign – like her cross-dressing – of just how much she idolizes her big brother. Whereas he could quite happily live without her.

My husband and I keep hoping that this will change as they grow older. We often tell our son how we both fought a lot with our siblings when we were young, but are now good friends with them. But inside I’m not so certain.

Much of the literature on sibling relationships seems to focus on childhood. Things like birth order get championed as crucial determinants of personality type, and there are loads of books and advice out there for managing sibling rivalry.

But what about sibling relationships in adulthood? Do those matter, too?

The evidence would suggest that they do. A recent study of Harvard grads found that being close to one’s siblings at college age was a crucial determinant of emotional well-being at 65.

Which isn’t surprising, of course. For many people, sibling relationships are the longest ones they’ll have over the course of a lifetime. And in America, at least, 96% of all people have at least one sibling.

Anecdotally, we all also know that sibling relationships continue to matter in adulthood. I was quite taken with this article by Emmet Rosenfeld in the Washington Post last month. It tells the story of twin brothers, one of whom (the author) is struggling to make ends meet as an educator (married to an educator) living outside Washington DC, while his brother (a lawyer married to a psychiatrist) lives a rather high-pressured, high-priced lifestyle in New York City.

It’s a very frank account of how the brothers – who grew up in the same family and had very similar undergraduate educations – diverged so markedly once they hit adulthood. And in it, you feel all that familiar mix of jealousy, competition, regret and admiration that so often characterizes adult sibling relationships. (Truth in advertising: I know the brothers in question, though only in passing).

Twins, of course, present a very special case of everything. I’ll never forget one twin friend – a successful businessman, whose brother was a doorman. When asked whether they ever competed as children he answered, “Of course.” Then he paused and added: “And I won.” Ouch.

But if these sentiments sound harsh, it’s because they’re also very real.

And so when I look at my daughter painstakingly copying down the names of all the sea creatures in her little book so that she can one day recite them from memory – as her brother now does with the characters who populate the Lord of the Rings trilogy – I do feel a pang. And I wonder if she, too, will one day feel the need to write a personal essay dissecting the early competitive/imitative dynamic with her brother and how it’s shaped her as a grown-up.

Undoubtedly, she will. I can only hope that they’ll be best friends by then.


If you’re interested in the whole head scarf/women’s rights debate in France, have a look at my piece in PoliticsDaily today.

Image: Sibling Rivalry by Ucumari via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

August 14, 2009

This Friday I direct you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I got a huge kick out of this Q and A with an economist at the Financial Times – Tim Harford – weighing in on topics like why people aren’t having more sex. Check it out! And while you’re at it, check out Joshua Gans’ (another economist!) blog about parenting, Game Theorist: Blog. Fun stuff!

2. As a writer, I love stories of perseverance and second acts. Here’s a compelling story about novelist Erica Eisdorfer finally getting noticed when she joins a novel competition and (nearly) wins. (Hat Tip: Practicing Writing.) And here’s another one about essayist Kerry Herlihy who landed a big scoop in last week’s NYT Modern Love column, where she wrote about her birth mother. (Hat Tip: Lisa Romeo Writes). Bravo, ladies!

3. If you want to catch up on British politics, here are my contributions to this week on torture, health care and…health care again! The Brits are really P.O.’d that the Americans are slamming the NHS in their health care debates and have begun to fight back…do have a look!

4. Finally, and just for fun, here’s the Guardian’s slide show of art hotels from around the world. Kinda makes you want to take a holiday…


I’m on Twitter!

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Stay Monogamous

August 12, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. This week’s topic is Five Ways To Stay Monogamous.

I think we all know that this hasn’t exactly been the summer of matrimonial bliss. From Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to author/radio personality Sandra Tsing Loh to our about-to-possibly-be-impeached Senator Mark Sanford, marriage has taken a real kick to the groin. In all of these cases, infidelity was the alleged culprit.

Not everyone’s bothered by infidelity, of course. Newsweek recently ran a story about poly-amorous couples and how people make it work when there’s more than one partner involved.

And some people are more bothered by it than they arguably should be. In this month’s in Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan rants against the cultural trends leading to the likes of John Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter. (See also Amy Benfer’s deliciously scathing review in Salon.)

But assuming you count among those who are interested in sticking it out with one person, here are some tips for keeping it real – as opposed to Rielle (sorry, couldn’t resist):

1. Acknowledge That Monogamy is Totally Unnatural. Face it, it is. Which is probably why so many people have affairs. Polls show that although 90% of married people disapprove of extramarital relationships, 15% of wives and 25% of husbands have experienced extramarital intercourse. This doesn’t mean monogamy isn’t noble, enviable, worthwhile, efficient, healthy, and any other adjectival “good” you wish to throw at it. But it is not a natural state of affairs. So begin by acknowledging that with your partner and you’ll be way ahead of the game.

2. Choose a Partner With Whom You Share Many Interests. In my humble opinion, one of the main reasons people wander is that they don’t have enough in common with their partners/spouses to begin with. While you don’t need to have completely overlapping interests (see below), with so many things clamoring for your attention – work, children, aging parents – you do need to enjoy doing the same things in your free time.

3. Keep a Private Space. At the same time, don’t suffocate one another. It’s healthy to have your own space and to enjoy the freedom to pursue interests that your partner doesn’t share. My husband likes watching concert videos. He also enjoys eating sushi. I like pop-tarts and going to musical theatre (though not at the same time). We don’t try to do those things together. Thank God.

4. Develop an Adult Crush. This is perhaps the best recipe for staying faithful. Just as you had crushes in junior high, it’s OK to have them in adulthood as well. It’s a safe way to feel like you’re still alive outside of your main relationship. I used to have a crush on my son’s first pediatrician. These days, it’s a staffer at one of the local book stores. I only see him once every other month or so, but there’s always a small frisson when we exchange pleasantries (most recently, over his hatred – and my love – for The Sound Of Music.) And because I only see him every so often, and don’t even know his name, it’s no big deal. Plus, my husband knows all about him.

5. Avoid Situations That Allow for Infidelity. If you really don’t want to have an affair, don’t put yourself in a situation that allows one to occur. I have a good friend who developed a crush on a bartender. She found (per #4) that she was frequenting his bar more and more on her own to chat with him. Then one day she actually brought her laptop to the bar and started working there. And at that point she realized “What am I doing? I’m working in a bar!” She fled the scene never to return. Good for her.

Image: Rings/Yüzük by Caucus via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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The Houseguest From Hell: What I Learned From The Stranger on My Couch

August 10, 2009

One of the more subtle markers that you’ve transitioned to adulthood is that you move from being the one who’s always crashing at other people’s places to the one who’s hosting house guests of your own. Usually, you’re hosting a friend or relative. Occasionally – as happened to me not so long ago – you end up playing hostess to a near stranger. And you discover – in examining someone else’s life up close and personal – that you actually end up learning more about yourself.

This weekend, I was delighted to have an essay I wrote entitled “Attack of the Sofa Surfer” (translated: couch potato) appear in the Financial Times House and Home section. It recounts my own near-death experience with an unexpected visitor and the lessons – for adulthood – acquired therein. Here’s how it starts…

We’ve all heard the story of the house guest from hell who shows up on the doorstep and completely invades your space. I had a friend whose mother-in-law came for a week and reorganised the spice rack alphabetically. Another friend’s nephew decided that the living room could double nicely as his own personal yoga studio. Then there was the neighbour’s bulimic au pair who liked to store extra pizza … under her bed.

I sympathised with these tales of domestic disturbance. But our experience was worse…

Read the whole story here.

Image: Couch Potato by Yo_Unroe via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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