My Holiday Calendar

Image courtesy of [image creator name] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of  / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was a kid Halloween was by far the wackiest holiday we had. Adults were actually giving us candy for starters, not to mention letting us stay up late, wear makeup and run screaming down the street. How could you not love a holiday like that?

Halloween is still one of my favorites.

It’s unpredictable. How else would you ever know that your staid insurance agent had a slutty nurse fantasy or that your rowdy next door neighbor has secretly always wanted to be a nun?

If you’re lucky you get to do the Monster Mash at a party where dastardly drinks, murderous martinis, and creepy cocktails are served. Plus there’s no cooking involved and plenty of chocolate. What’s not to like?

While Halloween once undoubtedly wore the holiday crown with pride, a bunch of new holidays have since cropped up. Rather than try to keep up with all of them-there are hundreds and it’s so hard to know what Hallmark and the rest of the cool kids will be celebrating by 2020-I’ve decided to do you a favor and provide you with my very own hand-selected list of favorites.

For example, I bet you don’t know that November 1, the day after Halloween, is not just Why They Call That Hangover Cocktail a Bloody Mary Day but also the Third Annual Give Up Your “Shoulds” Day. According to founder Damon L. Jacobs, for this one day we are invited to “give up a certain ‘should’ that leads to stress, guilt, misery, or any sort of sadness.” Last year people gave up “shoulds” like “I should clean the house,” “I should go to the gym,” “I should be making more money” and “I should stop eating all of the leftover Halloween candy.”

I’m not too sure about celebrating “Give Up Your Shoulds” Day, first because I would never give up candy on principle, and second, because if I gave up “shoulds” I fear it “would” leave me with nothing to talk about.

I would, however, definitely like to celebrate Cookie Monster Day on November 2, which I hope is brought to you by the letter “C” for chocolate chips. We’ll be celebrating at our house, in case anyone wants to stop with by with a batch of the white chocolate macadamia nut kind.

Stay Home Because You’re Well Day (November 30) also has potential-not that I would ever do that, boss-as do National Chocolate Covered Anything Day (December 16), No Interruptions Day (December 31) and National Compliment Day (January 24).

Of course I can’t leave out my favorite Seinfeld holiday Festivus, “for the rest of us,” featuring an undecorated aluminum pole in place of a Christmas tree and an “Airing of Grievances,” where everyone gets to air out their grudges and bitterness toward each other. Don’t you just love family traditions?

I’d certainly like to make Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (January 31) one of our traditions; especially if the bubble wrap is wrapped around that new Mac Laptop I’ve had my eye on.

For February we’ll be celebrating Spunky Old Broads Day (February 1), which kicks off Spunky Old Broads Month. There’s also Laugh and Get Rich Day on February 8th and Read in the Bathtub Day on February 9th, both worthy activities for this spunky old broad.

I’m also looking forward to Barbie Day on March 9th, Potato Chip Day on March 14th and National She’s Funny That Way Day on March 31st.

In April there’s Tangible Karma Day on the 2nd, National Deep Dish Pizza Day on the 5th and Talk Like Shakespeare Day on the 23rd. In May we’ve got National Two Different Colored Shoes Day on the 3rd, Respect for Chickens Day on the 4th, National Day of Reason on the 5th (where I reason I’ll have a couple of margaritas out of respect for Cinco De Mayo), Tuba Day on the 6th and Free Comic Book Day on the 7th. So much to celebrate. Thank goodness I get that week off for the holidays.

Next it’s time to do Do-Dah Day (June 4), Upsy Daisy Day (June 8), Please Take My Children to Work Day (June 27) and National Columnists Day (June 28) one I’m sure you’ll all be celebrating by sending me chocolate samples so I can write about my favorites for National Chocolate Day (July 7). July also brings SCUD (Savor the Comic, Unplug the Drama) Day on the 8th, Embrace Your Geekiness Day on the 13th and National Talk in an Elevator Day on July 29th.

Crackers Over the Keyboard Day is August 28th and the 30th is National Toasted Marshmallow Day. September is my birthday month, so of course we’ll all be celebrating all month long and through the first couple of weeks of October. Then we’ve got National Chocolate Cupcake Day on the 18th, iPod Day on the 23rd, World Psoriasis Day on the 29th and before we know it, Halloween will be here again.

I’d better go get my costume ready.

When Leslie’s not plotting her holiday celebrations, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 29, 2010.

The Upside of Arguments

Photo by David Castillo Dominici, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo by David Castillo Dominici, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Though it pains me to admit it, I’ve got a mean streak when it comes to arguments. Whether I’m right or wrong, or even arguing about something I don’t really care about—I like to win.

So does my husband.

This can lead to some heated discussions, most of which are amusing and some of which are actually our busy parent version of foreplay.

So you can imagine how hot I got when-in yet another scientific example of something I knew instinctually must be true—I came across a University of Michigan study that found that expressing your complaints and frustrations can actually help you live longer.

Did you hear that, honey? Told you so.

According to the study, married women who squelched their anger when they felt wronged by their husbands died earlier than wives who expressed their anger.

Good thing I pride myself on keeping a squelch-free house. I am going to live forever.

Of course the Michigan researchers and a whole arsenal of psychologists agree that fighting a “good” fight can be healthy, but that fighting dirty might be just as bad as letting your hostility simmer. Was I so dead set on winning my arguments that I was crossing the line between healthy discourse and downright nastiness?

I wasn’t sure, so like any logical yet lazy 21st century lady in search of information, I decided to take a quiz on the Internet at http://discoveryhealth.queendom.com/arguing_style.html.

OK.

“The results of the test you just took indicate that you are not a bad fighter, but you still have a lot to learn when it comes to your fighting style.”

I can live with that.

Then I read on.

“A lack of focus is the cause of many overly long, exhausting fights. Do you carry grudges about old conflicts and bring them up time and time again?” Of course I do! It’s called nostalgia. That’s a big part of how we keep the love alive. Without all of those misty water-colored memories of long lost battles we’d have so much less to argue about.

And yet, the quiz still advised me to, “Do your best not to bring them up all at once! When you’re in the heat of the moment, try not to let your judgment be clouded by old hurts and buried issues it’s certainly not easy when you’re seeing red, but it’s for the best. Keep focused on the issue at hand, and learn to recognize when enough is enough.”

That sounds familiar. In fact that logic is a lot like my husband’s frequent plea, “Can we just fight about one thing at a time?”

Aurgh. There’s even data to back that one up. I hate losing. Now I’ll have to bring up something from 1993 to torment him with.

According to research from the Gottman Institute in Chicago, to argue in a healthy fashion couples should “edit their arguments.” I should be able to handle that, right? I’m a professional editor. But seriously, “refrain from saying out loud every single angry thought during an argument. Sometimes, talking about sensitive topics can turn really ugly if everything is let out. Couples who edit their arguments are consistently much happier than those who don’t.”

You mean I shouldn’t explain every one of my husband’s faults to him in excruciating detail and if he doesn’t agree with me the first time, then I shouldn’t say it over and over again in an ever more shrill tone of voice? You mean I shouldn’t constantly nag him with my well-intentioned and ever-so-helpful suggestions about how to fix his shortcomings?

Nope. The health quiz experts advised me to “avoid irony all together. Ideally use even-handed logic to settle your arguments.”

Excuse me. No irony, no sarcasm, no satire, no mockery, no way! Where will I sharpen my wit if not in the soft underbelly of my beloved hubby? And even more importantly, if I have to use logic to win my arguments, how can I possibly win?

When Leslie’s not strategizing to win her next battle of the blurbs, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 22, 2010.

My Kind of Playground

Viva ELVIS - Courtesy Julie Aucoin, Aria Resort

Viva ELVIS – Courtesy Julie Aucoin, Aria Resort

Once you have children, those moments when you feel completely relaxed are few and far between. I think I had one once in the early 90s and then another time in 2002 when I was zonked out on cold medicine, but until recently, that’s about it. And it occurs to me that I didn’t even have a kid in the 90s, so that must have just been anticipation. It’s not that being a mom isn’t absolutely wonderful, precious and fulfilling at least 77 percent of the time, but it’s almost never relaxing.

But once in a harvest moon the stars align just right and someone offers you and your husband a free trip to Las Vegas on the exact same weekend that someone else offers to take your son camping and, miracle of miracles, your kid’s soccer team has a bye that weekend.

Talk about timing.

I’ve heard rumors that younger, childless people stay out late and drink cocktails with fancy names on a regular basis, and I have a vague foggy memory of doing something like that myself once upon another lifetime. I’ve also heard alien mumblings about sleeping in, massages, long baths and spa treatments, but again, it had been a long, long while since I had indulged in anything that luscious.

I shooed away any guilty thoughts about lazy Saturdays as I lay soaking in a vanilla-scented spa tub at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, which is surely one of the least Vegas-like hotels on the strip. For some reason everything in this hotel smells like vanilla – although I’m guessing the reason is that they pump in the scent of vanilla. And, dare I say it; the opulent decor is tasteful by Vegas standards. From the curved 250-feet-long by 24-feet-high water wall that greets you along with the valet, to the stunning-but understated-for-Vegas-anyway, Maya Lin silver sculpture of the Colorado River that flows above the registration desk-this is hardly a typical hotel.

The Aria is the largest hotel in the world to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, but it also features the most technologically advanced guest rooms in the country, as my husband discovered when he put new grey hairs onto my head by accidentally pushing the “sleep” button, where one click closes the curtains, shuts down all of the electronics and turns off all the lights.

Luckily I was out of the tub at that point.

Even the casino has eco-friendly features like slot machine bases that serve as floor air-conditioning and specialized air curtains that help minimize the impact of tobacco smoke and perhaps pump the vanilla scent in. Of course neither of those things stopped us from losing what could have been a very nice pair of shoes at the Craps tables, but it was fun anyway.

We were wined and dined through a global variety of cuisines at the Town Square Center, with yummy nibbles and cocktails from Cana Latin Kitchen & Bar (South American), Texas de Brazil (Brazilian by way of Texas), Tommy Bahama’s Restaurant & Bar (Island-inspired), BRIO Tuscan Grille (Northern Italian) and Blue Martini (all-American alcohol). Then in a lovely coincidence, we were able to meet up with some of our best friends from Santa Barbara who happened to be spending their anniversary in Vegas.

Meeting for late night drinks (yes, more drinks) at the Aria’s View Bar, where my husband and our male friend were more drawn to the view of our sexy waitress’ accoutrements than the (also excellent) view of the strip, we couldn’t help but giggle at how much fun it was to be out late and not worrying about babysitters’ curfews.

The next morning it was spa time. Spa just happens to be one of my favorite words in the English language. My Vita Boost Facial was wonderfully relaxing and my skin looked great afterward, unlike some of the facials I’ve had where “bringing all of the impurities to the surface” actually makes your skin look worse. Not only that, the lovely Gina gave me paraffin treatments as well, leaving my hands and feet ever so soft and happy.

Then it was on to more gourmet cuisine (don’t miss the stuffed piquillo peppers, pintxo de chorizos and the churros with chili chocolate sauce at Julian Serrano), and my discovery of what a pleasant daytime beverage white sangria can be.

After a tour of Crystals, an impressive 500,000-square-foot retail/dining area at CityCenter featuring gorgeous galleries and stores like Prada, Christian Dior, Bulgari, Carolina Herrera, Hermes, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels, it was time to tour the shopping areas of Town Square Center, where the more along the lines of my budget retailers like Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret, Borders, Lucky Brand Jeans and Bebe reside.

Spa treatments, gourmet food and shopping all in the same day! This is my kind of playtime. But it got even better. After returning to BRIO for yummy crab cakes and Mezza Chicken Limone, they treated us to Cirque Du Soleil’s newest offering, Viva ELVIS, an energetic fusion of dance, acrobatics and live music that had us bopping our heads and singing along with the King. Watching the show was actually one of the few times in this decidedly adult weekend that I wished my son had been with us, as it was definitely an entertaining event that kids of all ages would appreciate.

As for the rest, well, sometimes it’s good to get away from it all and play like a grownup.

When Leslie’s not fantasizing about her return to the Aria spa, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 15, 2010.

Dear Blank, Please Blank

Image by phanlop88, freedigitalphotos.net

Image by phanlop88, freedigitalphotos.net

Dear Dear Blank, Please Blank,

You have just surpassed stretching, making sure my DVR is programmed and Facebook as my favorite way to procrastinate.

Keep up the good work, Leslie

I stumbled across a very funny website the other day, www.DearBlankPleaseBlank.com. It’s a site where people write in and fill in the blanks.

You know how sometimes you get really pissed off or frustrated about something and you don’t want to write an entire column about it? Or you would love to write an entire column about it, but you know your editor would never publish it? Or if you did write about it, then you would have to spend the rest of your life worrying that a certain so-and-so who shall not be named might come sneaking in your door at night and strangle you while you were sleeping?

Before now you couldn’t just vent your frustrations, amusement or plain old annoyance any old place. Now you can. This is the perfect site to share all of that pent-up wickedness you dare not say (or write) out loud.

The site was created by Jared Wunsch and Hans Johnson, two Seattle guys in their 20’s with enough sarcastic wit to program animated cartoon villain mustaches onto their pictures when you roll your mouse over their faces. Hans opens his “about me” bio with, “In 1984 my father bought our first computer, it was the original Apple Macintosh. I poured apple juice into the floppy-drive, for which he never forgave me.”

Clearly these are funny guys, but their readers are even funnier, populating the site with “Dear Blank, Please Blank” gems like:

Dear Middle School Boys,

A can of Axe is meant to last you more than one day.

Sincerely, Gagging Middle School Girls

or

Dear World,

My last name is not Dammit.

Sincerely, God

or

Dear Anti-Fans,

I can tolerate Justin Bieber. I can tolerate Twilight. I can tolerate Miley and Demi and Selena and the Jonas Brothers. I can no longer tolerate you. When you’re more annoying than the fans you claim are obnoxious, you’re doing something wrong.

Sincerely, a person who’ll take the actual fans any day.

And one of my favorites,

“Dear The Most Interesting Man in the world,

Join us, and together we can rule the universe.

Sincerely, Chuck Norris and Old Spice Man.

Incidentally, my niece, who got straight A’s last semester, did a rather brilliant (at least according to her parents) college presentation on “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” so clearly these contributors are onto something.

Readers monitor the submissions and vote on which sections the submissions get categorized in. The options include: “How Dare They” (Dear Ex-Boyfriend, Changing your relationship status to “single” on Facebook is not a good way to break up with someone. Sincerely, All you had to do was tell me; “You’re a Douche” (Dear jf;ldsfa/kvsmmklnn, Please lknvfdmv.xvn. Sincerely, Stevie Wonder); “Hilarious” (Dear gangsters, I would pants you, but it looks like someone beat me to it. Sincerely, Anonymous); “I Like This” (Dear People of the World, I don’t mean to sound slutty, but please use me whenever you want. Sincerely, Grammar); “Random” (Dear Romeo, I’m gonna fake my own death tonight. Don’t freak out or do anything stupid. Sincerely, Juliet); and “Umm WTF?!” (Dear optimists and pessimists, I don’t care whether it’s half full or half empty, is anyone gonna drink that? Sincerely, an opportunist).

Then there’s my personal favorite, which defies categorization:

Dear person reading this,

You’re here because you’re actively procrastinating or avoiding real work, aren’t you? It’s OK…me too.

Sincerely, I’ll work tomorrow.

When Leslie’s not amused by www.DearBlankPleaseBlank.com, she’s usually amusing herself at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.

The Write Stuff

Rebecca McClanahan "Word Painting"A Conversation With Rebecca McClanahan

When we’re not gobbling up the written word with a gusto that bewilders non-readers as much as whatever it is they do for pleasure baffles us, one of the things we writers like to do most is talk to other writers.

This week I had the pleasure of chatting with Rebecca McClanahan, the 2010 winner of Santa Barbara City College’s Raab Award in Creative Nonfiction, who will give a reading from her work from 7-8 p.m. on Friday, October 8, in the Fe Bland Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Leslie Dinaberg: You’ve published in many different genres. How do you decide that this idea will be an essay rather than a poem or fiction or creative nonfiction?

Rebecca McClanahan: I don’t think particularly about that, though I’m sure you could find little vestigial tails of experience in poems that I have written. … I think I’ve always written about home and loss of home and homesickness. … There are certain things, themes and characters and places that I revisit whether in fiction, poetry or nonfiction. … Certain things that continue to float up, that you revisit in some ways, you gnawed on it, you buried it and then it came up in another shape another form. … At some point you do begin to notice patterns.

LD: You often write about your personal experiences and your own life. When things are happening are you writing about them or do you wait a while?

RM: I think I maybe do a little of both. I have a writer’s notebook and sometimes I’ll jot down things as they are happening to me, events or specific details that I want to retain. But I think especially as an essayist, and that’s sort of the main hat I’ll be wearing in Santa Barbara because of the Raab Award, I really think that nonfiction and the essay is a reflective stance, that’s the genre. With a good essay, I think you really want the sense that you are discovering the meaning, the why of the experience, you’re not just writing down what happened.

… The best essays require reflective distance, especially if you’re a character in them. You’ve got to be the person on the other end of the experience trying to understand it because being in the middle of it, it’s a muddle. … I think there’s a place certainly for blogs and for instant writing and all of that but I don’t want to lose the power of reflection and time. You know that old saying; “we serve no wine before its time.” I tell my young graduate students “we serve no memoir before its time.” Wait a little bit.

LD: I read an interview where you were talking about how much more difficult it is to write sincerely about happy feelings as opposed to darker material. Can you talk a little bit about that?

RM: I hosted a panel called “Joy: The Last Taboo” a couple of years ago. It really is very difficult to not be Hallmarky about it … It’s very, very hard in our culture. I think especially because we really want to go to that sordid troubled dark memoir. I’m just so tired of them I can’t tell you.

LD: My husband and I have a running joke that our childhoods were too happy for us to really be successful writers because we didn’t have enough drama-no alcoholic parents or poverty or any of that great material.

RM: (Laughs) There are so many sad things out there. But here’s a quote by the poet John Ciardi: “You don’t have to suffer to be a poet. Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone.”

I definitely have written about a lot of dark things, personal and otherwise, but that’s not a whole life and that doesn’t make it interesting just because your father raped you or something. Even that has to be shaped into a text that is beautiful and meaningful to others. … What I look for in writers is someone who has really, really worked hard and allowed the truth to come through them in a way that’s going to change my life. That’s why I read. I can read the newspaper for the other stuff.

LD: As a writer, how do you know when you’re done?

RM: With briefer pieces, poems and brief lyric essays, I think I have a very firm sense when they’re done. The longer book length essays, it’s much harder to know because it’s such a complicated weaving. … I try to explain to my students, it’s like all the plates are spinning, and you’ve spun one and you’ve spun another and before the first one drops you have to run back to spin it again and finally when all of the plates of the world of the poem or the essay or the novel are in the air spinning as beautifully and blissfully as they can, they’re all alive at the same time, then you know it’s done and you get out right then-before you fall on your head.

Rebecca McClanahan will be reading from her work at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 8, in the Fe Bland Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. For information about her writing visit www.mcclanmuse.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.