Monday, September 29, 2014

This month's best cat + dog videos

I don't know about all of you, but by this time on Monday, I am in dire need of a cute and/or funny cat (or dog) video. So as a public service, I give you the best cat and dog videos you will find online this month. (You're welcome.)

First up, "Ouvrez-Moi," wherein a cat attempts to convince a male human to open the door... in French (with English subtitles). Love this video.

And speaking of strange cats, this cat apparently loves to be vacuumed. (Our cats enjoy a good lint rolling, but vacuuming? Uh, no.)

Next, the reason the spouse and I are not getting a St. Bernard... even though they are very sweet dogs.

Finally, the award for Cutest Beagle Video of the Month goes to KLM, for "Lost & Found Service."

Makes you almost want to leave something on the plane next time you fly KLM.

Friday, September 26, 2014

New book recommendations

For this Book Nook post (click on the Book Nook label at the end of the post to see previous recommendations), I've divided the books I've read (since my last book post) into three categories: Books I Loved, Books I Liked, and Books I Didn't Like.

Feel free to add your thoughts and recommendations in the Comments section. 

Books I Loved

One Hundred Names by Cecilia Ahern. The moving story of a young, disgraced journalist's quest for redemption and her desire to pay tribute to her recently deceased mentor and editor by writing the story she (the editor) had wanted to write but didn't. The story? We don't exactly know (until the end of the book). All the editor left was a list of 100 names. It is up to Kitty Logan, the disgraced journalist, to track down the 100 people on the list and figure out what ties them together and to Constance, her beloved former editor and mentor.

I loved this book, and not just because I started my professional life as a fact checker and writer for a magazine (though it helped me to instantly connect with Kitty, her coworkers, and her subjects). I loved it because of the stories Kitty uncovers in her quest, the great writing, and how uplifted the book left me feeling when I finished reading it.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Another great read -- very funny. Reminded me of The Big Bang Theory, in a good way, as the main character in The Rosie Project, Don, like Sheldon, is a scientist, who is "socially challenged" (i.e., has Asperger Syndrome or similar). Though in this case it is the Sheldon character, who is good looking and into cooking not comic books, who falls for the Penny character, Rosie, who is a sexy bartender (similar to Penny), though also very intelligent. Got it?

Okay, for those who have no idea what I'm talking about, The Rosie Project is a romantic comedy about a health-obsessed Australian geneticist with Asperger's who creates a compatibility test for finding the perfect mate and winds up falling for a sexy bartender who smokes. (Just trust me and pick it up. You won't be sorry.)

Books I Liked (Some More, or Less, Than Others)

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin. Goodwin's subject matter and style harkens back to Edith Wharton and Henry James. So if you are a fan of either writer, or that genre, you will probably enjoy The Fortune Hunter (and Goodwin's previous novel, The American Heiress, which I also read and liked). The story takes place in late nineteenth-century England and involves young, orphaned heiress Charlotte Baird and her love interest, Bay Middleton, a dashing, and philandering, British rider and huntsman who is the pilot (a hunting term) for and we suspect paramour of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, who wants Middleton all to herself. A work of historical fiction, though filled with real characters and events -- well written, but I wished Goodwin had not distorted or changed so many facts.

The White Magic Five and Dime (A Tarot Mystery) by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco. Reminiscent of The Spellman Files mystery series, which I greatly enjoyed. (Main character as well as the tone is very similar.) Cynical thirty-something woman, who works as a telemarketer in Chicago, gets a call that her estranged mother, a con artist, has died and left her her occult shop in a small tourist town in Arizona. She goes to claim her inheritance and winds up investigating her mother's murder and nearly getting killed herself. An often humorous mystery from the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

One Plus One by JoJo Moyes. Hard-working, nearly broke single mum Jess, struggling to take care of her estranged ex's sensitive, artistic, Goth teenage son and come up with the tuition money to send her (and her husband's) daughter, a petite math prodigy to a good private school, winds up falling for a nerdy software developer -- who's been indicted for insider trading and who's life is falling apart, and whose vacation home she cleans -- who agrees to drive the family, along with their big, lazy, farting dog, on a crazy road trip to Northern Scotland so the little girl can participate, and hopefully win, a big math contest. Got it? British chick lit. Not my usual cup of tea. But endearing and charming. (I must be getting soft in my old age.)

Redshirts by John Scalzi. A witty/funny sci-fi/mystery that pays homage to the original Star Trek.

The Four Graces by D. E. Stevenson. Described as "Little Women meets World War II," which sounds about right. Set in 1940s England, The Four Graces introduces readers to the four lovely Grace sisters and their father, the local vicar, who live in a quiet, and quaint, English country parish -- and whose lives are changed by the war and the arrival of two new men and a meddling auntie. Originally published in 1946 and re-issued this summer. Read with a cuppa.

The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup, the author of Slumdog Millionaire. Twenty-something Delhi electronics sales girl Sapna Sinha is approached by a mysterious stranger in a temple who offers to make her the CEO of his billion-dollar company if she passes seven "leadership" tests. While Sapna is tempted by the money, she turns down the offer, repeatedly, yet circumstances force her to change her mind -- and launch Sapna on a series of adventures around Delhi, which lead her to question what it is she truly wants out of life. A fascinating, well-written Indian thriller.

The French House, a memoir by Don Wallace. I kept wanting to really like this book, and I sort of liked it, or the idea of it. I just didn't like or care for most of the people (who almost all came off as self-centered or self-absorbed or un-self aware, especially the narrator) -- and thought it could have used a bit more editing to smooth out the often jarring chronological jumping around. That said, I think anyone who has ever dreamed of buying a fixer-upper in a beautiful foreign country where they don't really speak the language will appreciate, and probably enjoy, Wallace's tale of his and wife's adventures in home ownership on the tiny French island of Belle Île, off the coast of Brittany, especially you Francophiles.

(Coincidentally, this weekend the House Hunting in... column in the The New York Times features a charming manse located in... Brittany -- a steal at only $1.03 million!)

Books I Didn't Like

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. A well-written horror story, couched as a mystery. A definite page turner, but I hated the characters, all of them, and the ending. Wish I'd never read it.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I was completely beside myself with disgust reading this book -- and detested it so much I couldn't finish it. Cannot believe it was short-listed for the Man Booker. (Actually, I can believe it as I rarely have liked the books that make the cut.)

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go. Another well-written book, in terms of the prose style, though overly long and drawn out in parts (i.e., rambling and boring, at least to me) and the ending pissed off not only me but seemingly every person on GoodReads.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The hardest 90 minutes of my life as a parent (to date)?

The hardest 90 minutes of my life as a parent (other than labor, which was the hardest 18 hours of my life)? Waiting to find out if my daughter passed her road test, to obtain her driver's license.

I think I was a bigger wreck than the teenager, who was pretty anxious and nervous. Which is why we had the spouse go with her. (His nickname, back in the day, was "the human Quaalude," for his immediate calming influence.)

The appointment, at her driving school, in a car she had taken lessons in, was for 7:45 a.m. So she and the spouse left the house at 7:20 a.m., to make sure she got there on time, which they did. However, she didn't actually start the test until 8:30. (WTF is that all about?)

Can you say nervous mother?

After pacing around the house, changing light bulbs, doing laundry, cleaning the cat boxes, wiping down ceiling fans, texting the spouse, for what seemed like an eternity, the spouse texted me at 8:50:


"Perfect score."

"THANK YOU JESUS," I texted back (even though we're Jewish -- though so was Jesus).

Now the teenager has to wait 48 hours. Then go to the DMV (again with the spouse) to get her actual license, which will entail waiting on another line, for at least an hour.

Then I will officially hand over the keys to my Mini Cooper and the real worrying will begin.

So, any words of advice from you fellow parents of teenage drivers? This is a whole new world for me, having grown up in Manhattan, where no one drove, at least not teenagers. And I am terrified.

UPDATED 9/26: It's official. The teenager is now licensed to drive. Got her license -- with a really nice photo! -- from the DMV this morning.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Let's do lunch!" and other social lies

I admit it. I can be incredibly gullible, and naive.

For example, for years (and still even now, occasionally, even though I'm supposedly older and wiser) I actually believed that when someone said to me "Let's do lunch!" or "Let's grab a coffee!" or "Let's do dinner!" she (or he) meant it. And I would stupidly try to arrange a coffee, lunch, or dinner date with said person, often repeatedly, only to be blown off or stood up (every time).

What a rube I was (am).

What I didn't get, or understand, until recently, was that when people say "Let's do lunch!" etc. what they almost always mean is "I want to end this conversation -- or get away from you -- NOW, but I don't want to seem rude or impolite, or have you dislike me, so I will say something nice that will make you think I like you, so you will like me, like inviting you to have a coffee or meet for lunch, even though there is no chance in hell that I would spend an hour with you."

It's the same thing when people say "Call me!"

If they really wanted to talk to you, they would pick up a phone and call you, not ask you to call them.

At this point you are probably thinking one of two things (other than "Wow J., have you always been such a cynic?"*):

1. But, J., when I said "Let's have lunch!" I really meant it. At the time. But, you know, I have, like, a zillion things to do, and I spaced. And I didn't mean to blow you off five times. Really!

Uh huh.


2. Really, it took you this long to figure it out?

I know. I am ashamed of myself.

Look, I get people are busy. And I am sure that some of you are totally sincere when you say "Let's  have lunch," etc. But if you don't really want to have lunch, or coffee, or dinner with me, or whomever, why put the invitation out there? Why not just say "Gotta go!" or "Bye"?

Maybe one of you psychologists or students of human behavior can help me out on this one. Maybe we could, you know, grab a coffee, or have lunch, to discuss it.

UPDATE 1: Of course, when I say "let's do lunch [or dinner or coffee]," I totally mean it.

UPDATE 2: "Email me" is just as bad, if not worse, than "Call me," unless the person doesn't have your email and he knows you have his. (Yes, I'm talking to you, guy on Twitter who was too effing lazy to email me his "great small business story idea.") Really bad? When someone emails you the message "call me."


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Finally, some GOOD news!

I love Jimmy Fallon's feel-good segments on The Tonight Show. And I particularly loved this segment he ran last night titled "I've Got Good News and Good News," where he asked local NBC news anchors from around the country to read stories that would make us happy.

Thank you, Jimmy Fallon. I needed that. And I look forward to the next installment, where that guy who said he would call you, does, and we find out that brownies are, in fact, good for us.

If only local news made us happy every night.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Teaching an old broad new tricks

Every year in September, when my daughter goes back to school, I get restless. It's not that I want to go back to school (shudder), but I long to learn new things, to have my brain challenged (though perhaps not too much), and to meet new people who share my interests*. (Writing, especially writing from home, about the same thing, month after month, year after year, is lonely and mind numbing.)

So, for several years now, each fall, I have signed up for some sort of adult education class. One year it was jewelery making; another photography; last year it was drawing and bridge. While I haven't made any new friends (sadly), I have learned new skills and/or unmothballed some old ones -- and felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

Typically, I play it safe, picking classes I feel I will be good at, where I'll learn something but won't put too much strain on my brain. (I seriously underestimated the brain power, or memorization and rapid addition and subtraction skills, necessary to play bridge, however, even on the beginner level. Bridge is hard! Though I would love to find a friendly threesome I could play bridge with, preferably of my generation.)

This year, however, I decided to kick things up a notch -- and signed up for Pilates, advanced drawing, and beginner Italian.

Today I had my first Italian class. I really enjoyed it. The instructor is fabulous. But I was embarrassed and frustrated at how tongue-tied I was trying to speak Italian, even the simplest phrases! I was a straight A student in French and Russian! Then I remembered, Italian isn't French, and I'm not 16. (God, old age sucks.) And it's much harder to learn a new language in your 40s than it is in your teens, or even your 20s.

As for Pilates, which I started earlier this month, it's teaching my body a new language.

While I've been a gym rat most of my life, and have worked out with personal trainers, what I like about Pilates is that it combines strength training and flexibility with proper breathing and alignment and coordination (kind of like yoga) -- no deafening music that is de rigueur with spin and aerobic classes; and no flailing around in a classroom with 20 other sweaty women trying to figure out what the heck you are supposed to be doing.

I also really like working out on all the different Stott Pilates machines, many of which wouldn't look out of place in a torture chamber. (Fifty Shades of J.?) Best of all, not only is my body getting a good work out, my brain is, too.

Who says you can't teach an old broad new tricks?

Finally, to nourish my creative side, I'm taking a drawing class, the follow-up to last year's class. Hopefully, I will learn how to draw people and animals this session, two things I've never been good at. And who knows, maybe I'll make a new friend.

So, what classes are you all taking? Anything you'd recommend? (I'm dying to learn how to build furniture, but I don't have the time or patience at present, nor someone to teach me.)

*I am still looking for females to watch Giants and/or Jets games with me -- and go to Mets games with me in the spring.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Apparently "penis" is Chinese for "Swedish fish"

Did you hear about the cock up at the New Zealand candy company?

So Dutch Rusk, a New Zealand company known for its tasty variety of gummy confections, sold under the Dragon Sweets brand, gets five pallets of gummy candies from a supplier in China.

No big deal. Many companies outsource their manufacturing, even candy companies.

But in this case the Chinese manufacturer added a little something extra to each mixed bag of Dragon Sweets -- several gummy penises, which are considered good luck in China (as a sign of fertility and health).

However, many of Dutch Rusk's Dragon Sweets New Zealand customers, or rather their parents, were appalled at the thought of sucking down a phallic gummy.  (Or should that be a gummy phallus?)

And as soon as the complaints started to come, Dutch Rusk sprang into action, recalling the offending candies, apologizing to its customers, and offering them complimentary Dog Bones, Killer Pythons, Gummy Carrots, and Assorted Creams instead.

[Nothing phallic here! Move along, people.]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

And now for some New Wave '80s dance music

As you all know, I have a penchant for 1980s New Wave music, especially dance music. And it's been ages since I shared some of my favorite '80s tracks. So here goes. (You're welcome.)

Earlier this week I wrote about fashion, which reminded me of the classic David Bowie song "Fashion."

Brings back memories, it does. (David Bowie's Serious Moonlight concert, to promote his album Let's Dance, was one of the best concerts I ever attended. And yes, I know, "Fashion" was on his Scary Monsters album, but he sang it at MSG.)

Next up, "Turning Japanese," sung by The Vapors. Politically incorrect, I know. But it's got a good beat and I can dance to it.

Speaking of not drinking or smoking... I give you Adam Ant's "Goody Two Shoes."

(I cannot get my brain around the fact that Adam Ant will be 60 -- 60! -- in November. Shudder.)

Another great 1980's dance track was (and is) "Don't Go" from Yazoo, or Yaz.

I am equally fond of their song "Situation."

For more great '80s New Wave hits, check out this page -- or click on the 1980s label at the end of this post.

And feel free to share your favorite '80s dance tracks in the Comments.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Leadership is overrated

What is the obsession with leadership?

While being a good leader is important, if you are the head of a company or an organization, or the head of a department or an initiative, not everyone needs to be, or should be, a leader.

But try telling, or selling, that to College Admissions.

Having good grades, good SAT or ACT, and some sort of extracurricular activity (preferably one you are very good at and have been doing consistently for years) is not enough to get into college anymore. No, you need to be a leader, or exhibit leadership qualities. (Don't believe me? Look at just about any college application, or talk to any college guidance counselor or admissions officer.)

Leadership experience is all fine and good if you are applying to be head of a company. But to expect it of a 17-year-old applying to college? Other than helping their sports team win a title, or being elected head of student government (which, we all know, is generally a popularity contest and the winners rarely actually "lead"), how many 17-year-olds, even captains of their sports teams, or debate teams, have experience being leaders, or have even had the chance or opportunity to lead?

Is it even realistic or desirable to have a world filled with only leaders? Don't too many chefs spoil the broth?

What about good followers? Aren't they important, too? After all, without followers, there are no leaders.

Has anyone ever written a college essay about being a good follower? If not, maybe someone should.

And it's not just colleges that put a premium on leadership (though as the mother of a Junior in high school, college is on my mind). It's everywhere.

Yes, being known for being a good leader is great. But what's wrong with being No. 2, or No. 22 -- or just being a good person who contributes meaningfully to something? Why do we give more weight, and more respect, to those with "Captain" or "CEO" or "Head" in their titles, regardless of the job they are doing or have done, than to the hard-working folks who actual do the work or perform acts of kindness without calling attention to themselves?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, particularly regarding how to handle the "leadership" question when applying to colleges.

Monday, September 8, 2014

I don't understand "fashion"

I don't understand fashion, as in clothing trends, or why certain clothing is considered fashionable one season and unfashionable the next -- only to become fashionable a few years later.

Call me uncouth, or unfashionable, but I don't care what VOGUE or ELLE or Harper's Bazaar says. Prints and patterns rarely look good together (if ever). Ditto big, chunky clothes that make you look like an Eskimo (or Inuit) out to harpoon a whale -- or tight-fitting clothes that make you look and feel like a sausage.

Shouldn't clothing just look good and feel good -- or make the wearer look good and feel good, as in, feel comfortable? 

[Somewhere in the offices of Condé Nast and Hearst, people are fainting -- or scoffing. "No mixing patterns?! Clothing that looks good and feels good? Mon dieu!" Yeah, definitely scoffing.]

Let's take a look, for a moment, at some of the trends for this fall that ELLE Magazine has anointed "The Top 14 Trends of Fall 2014."

Such as robe (or belted) coats. These are winter coats with no buttons, or zippers, to help hold in the warmth. Just a belt. Have you ever worn a robe coat or jacket? I have, and let me tell you, they never stay shut -- and don't tend to keep you very warm. And the ones pictured in ELLE (click on the link, above) don't even look good on the models!

ELLE also predicts the 1960s are back in a big way. (Though every year since Mad Men has been on, The '60s seems to be a fashion trend.) While I don't personally have anything against mini skirts and knee-high boots, hasn't this "trend" been done to death -- and done better (like, in the 1960s)?

And I don't care what the fashion doyennes say, bigger isn't necessarily better. (See above reference to Inuits and whales.)

ELLE Magazine - Getty Images

I don't even know what to say about the "straight jacket" trend. Clearly irony is alive and well on Seventh Avenue.

As for wearing a dress over pants -- that's pants, not leggings (which I can sort of, maybe, understand).... I think I speak for many of us when I say, WTF?! Wear a dress -- or wear a pantsuit. But please, don't wear a dress over pants. People (in the real world) will just look at you funny.

Other trends I spied: the military look, the Western look, the urban zombie (I kid you not). Just. Stop.

Give me clothes that are fun, but make them functional and flattering, too. Like a great-fitting pair of jeans, a nice button-down shirt or knit top, and a sweater that doesn't make me look like the Michelin man, or itch. Is that so much to ask?

Bonus David Bowie "Fashion" video:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Time to break out the NFL thongs!

Football season is here, people. And I, for one, even though I don't think either of my football teams -- the New York Giants and the New York Jets (both of New Jersey) -- stands a shot, IMHO, of making the playoffs this year, am very excited.  (Hey, if you were a Mets fan, you'd be pumped for football season, too.)

Actual husband-wife conversation:

The spouse: So when are you going to do Fantasy Football?

Me: What do you mean? I participate every year... by rooting for the Jets.

I've actually thought about entering a Fantasy Football league, but I don't have the energy or patience to follow multiple players from multiple teams in multiple time zones. Following players on the NY Giants and NY Jets is hard enough. And the rate that football players get injured these days, I'd have to constantly fiddle with my roster (which is not a euphemism for something dirty).

Btw, for those of you thinking, "J., how can you root for both the Giants and the Jets? What's up with that? I thought New Yorkers had to pick a team." I was originally a Giants fan. Even watched them when we lived in Chicagoland (where we also rooted for the Green Bay Packers, instead of the Bears, and were really into the Northwestern Wildcats).

But when we moved back to the Tri-State Area, I somehow got into the Jets (during the Chad Pennington era). And I rooted hard for them when they drafted Mark Sanchez. (Not because Mark Sanchez is cute, or because it meant I could include this photo of him from GQ, though...)

But then Jets ownership effed things up by signing Tim Tebow, instead of giving Sanchez the offensive support he desperately needed, and hiring the wrong offensive coach(es)/coordinator(s). And suddenly Ringling Brothers wasn't the only circus in town. And I was less than thrilled when the Jets then drafted Geno Smith. He might become an okay NFL quarterback, but I don't see Geno Smith taking the Jets to the Super Bowl. 

Not that I'm thrilled with the Giants, or Eli Manning, either. Even though, yes, honey, I know: Eli took the Giants to two Super Bowls, and won both, I am not a big Eli fan. Just don't think he's an elite quarterback, though I do think he comes through in the clutch (unlike David Wright) and has made some great plays. But the Giants offense, and defense, and secondary are all question marks this year (at least to me). And everyone, or the various football analysts or pundits, it seems, is picking the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC East this year. (Ugh. Though the spouse would rather have the Eagles win the division over Jerry Jones's Dallas Cowboys.)

Anyway, here's to the New York Jets and New York Giants defying my expectations -- and to Mark Sanchez getting a starting quarterback position somewhere (though please not on the Eagles).

So, who are all of you rooting for this season?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

And now a word about nude photos and Internet privacy

First, let me say that hacking is vile and there is no defense for or of people who illegally obtain information and cause damage with or to it.

Furthermore, people who save or upload files (including photos) to what they have been led to believe or were told was a "secure cloud" (which is really just someone else's bigger, more powerful, more secure computer) have a right to expect that their files and privacy will be protected.

In other words: What the hackers who stole Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and other female celebrities nude photos and posted them on a message board did was not only wrong, it was illegal.

All that said, FOR YEARS NOW we have constantly heard about nude photos and videos and sexy texts "getting leaked." And we have heard about supposedly secure sites (belonging to credit card companies, retailers, hospitals, hotels) constantly getting hacked. So ya gotta wonder why anyone, especially celebrities, would trust or believe that their nude photos would be safe on their iPhones and iPads, especially if they had sent those photos to anyone.

Granted, I'm a news junkie (and, okay, write about technology for a living).

So do celebrities not read the news? Did they somehow miss all the stories over the last five or so years (or longer) about their friends' nude photos and videos and sexy texts getting leaked? Did they not read any of the articles about problems with mobile security, or at least hear about it from a friend? Do they not have grandmothers, or mothers, or friends who constantly told them, don't email (or text or tweet) anything you don't want your grandmother to see?

Btw, I'm not saying that people who take nude selfies or who let their boyfriends take nude photos of them are "asking for it." (Though I am constantly surprised when I hear girls and women say they were surprised and hurt that their boyfriend or friend shared that nude photo of them. Really? In this day and age that surprises you?)

Again, I am not in any way condoning what the hackers did, but...

If you are really really concerned about a nude photograph of you possibly showing up someplace you didn't intend it to, the best way to prevent that happening is... don't take a nude selfie or allow your boyfriend to take nude photos of you with his phone or iPad.

For more information on Nudiegate, read this piece titled "A comprehensive, jargon-free guide to the celebrity nude-photo scandal and the shadowy Web sites behind it" from The Washington Post.