Cheers to a New Year!

Photo by photostock,

Photo by photostock,

Whether you’re spending New Year’s Eve dressed to the MILF-a-luscious nines with Prince Charming sipping champagne from your glass slipper-or whatever the male equivalent to that scenario might be, perhaps eating caviar off of Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker’s naked belly?-or you’re at a house party yawning as you watch the East Coast ball drop, chances are good that somebody in the room will make a toast.

Why not make a bagel or a baguette you might ask? I did and it turns out that no one is quite sure where exactly the term came from.

Some speculate that “toasting” comes from an old Roman practice of dropping a piece of toasted bread into wine to temper the taste of bad wine by reducing its acidity.

According to some legends, the custom of touching glasses evolved from concerns about poisoning. If you clinked your glasses hard enough it would cause each person’s drink to spill over into the others, thus ensuring it was safe to drink (or you’d both die together).

Webster’s says that the word originally referred to the lady in whose honor the drink was proposed, her name being seen as figuratively flavoring the drink. Other stories associate the custom with a 17th century practice of flavoring drinks with spiced toast.

The International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture (the authors should certainly know all about this stuff, whether or not they can stay sober enough to remember it is another story) says toasting “is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words ‘long life!’ or ‘to your health!'”

Regardless of where they came from, toasting opportunities will no doubt be coming your way this holiday season. Here are some of my personal favorites:

“May you have warmth in your igloo, oil in your lamp, and peace in your heart.”

– Inuit proverb

“If you can’t be merry at Christmas, (or on New Year’s Eve) then you can drive the rest of us home when we are!”

– Mark Bromberg

“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.”

– Joey Adams

“Here’s to holly and ivy hanging up, and to something wet in every cup.”

– Ogden Nash

“May all your joys be true joys, and all your pain Champagne.”

– Anonymous

“Here’s to us that are here, to you that are there, and the rest of us everywhere.”

– Rudyard Kipling

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

-Oprah Winfrey

“Here’s wishing you more happiness Than all my words can tell, Not just alone for New Years Eve?But for all the year as well.”

– Anonymous

“In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, and never in want.”

– Irish toast

“(A toast to my) New Year’s Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.”

– James Agate

“As you slide down the banisters of life, may the splinters never point the wrong way.”

– Anonymous

Cheers to a New Year! As T.S. Eliot wrote, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

And one final thought from Ellen Goodman, who should probably always have the last word: “We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives, not looking for flaws, but for potential.”

Share your favorite toasts with For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 23, 2011.

Black and Blue Friday

Photo by stockimages

Photo by stockimages

My mom, my sister and I have a longstanding Black Friday shopping tradition- which doesn’t include getting up at the crack of dawn with all the crazy doorbusters armed with ad circulars, shin guards and Purell. The 6 a.m. bargains may be great but we’ll still be sleeping off our turkey hangovers till at least 10 a.m., and will make our way over to the mall at the more civilized hour of 11 a.m.-ish. By then, the early morning bargain hunters will have exhausted themselves and be clearing out of the prime parking spots just in time for our Black Friday festivities.

While Hurricane Consumer wafts its way through downtown Santa Barbara, we’ll be sipping our lattes and people watching. Sure, the promise of $5 Fleeces at Old Navy and $19.99 DVD Players at Macy’s might lure us into the stores for a minute or two, but mostly we’ll be there to marvel at the frenzied shoppers and chat with old friends who have come to town for the holidays.

Black Friday-which, for those of you miraculously untouched by the incessant newspaper, television, radio and Internet ads, is the Friday after Thanksgiving and the beginning of the traditional Christmas shopping season-will be looking a little bruised this year, if my unscientific survey of my friends’ shopping plans is any indication.

When I asked if they planned to head for the stores or head for the hills this Friday, an overwhelming majority said they’d avoid the shops like the plague. “There is no way that anyone is dragging me into the throngs of crazed shoppers,” said Tammy. Angie said her family has strict rules not to leave the house the day after Thanksgiving. “Stay home and enjoy your family, not the malls…. they are there all year round,” she advised.

While some just hate the crowds, others have a more philosophical objection to shopping on Black Friday. “I can’t think of a better way to wipe out any feelings of gratitude than to go to the mall,” said Carly.

Dave said his parents flavored his lack of enthusiasm for the shopping tradition. “I was raised by ‘I don’t even want to THINK about the traffic!’ on one side and ‘You shouldn’t have to wait in line for someone to take money from you,’ on the other,” he said.

So who are these people frothing at the mouth to bargain shop on Black Friday? The National Retail Federation said it expects as many as 152 million people to be out shopping between Friday and Sunday, up 10% from last year and the biggest expected turnout ever.

A report by the International Council of Shopping Centers even showed that Black Friday is fast becoming Black Thursday, with an unprecedented number of stores and entire shopping centers opening at midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving night.

I’ll be thinking of them when I hit the snooze button on the $2.99 doorbuster sale- priced bright yellow happy faced alarm clock I bought late in the afternoon on Black Friday last year.

Then again, there might be something better to dream of this holiday season. At midnight on Thanksgiving night, Abercrombie & Fitch reportedly will place its famed, shirtless male greeters at every U.S. Abercrombie and Hollister store. “They are iconic symbols of our brand,” says spokesman Eric Cerny. “They generate buzz whenever they’re out.”

And I don’t think it’s the buzz of my alarm clock that he’s talking about.

When Leslie’s not hunting lazily for bargains, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 25, 2011.

Counting my blessings, gobble by gobble

Friends ThanksgivingOther than the day the clocks “fall back” and I get an extra hour of sleep, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving is always reliably stuffed with good will, relatively little religious baggage, and predictably tasty food-except for that one year at my ex-Uncle’s house, where there were no mashed potatoes. NO mashed potatoes. The lack of mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving wasn’t the only factor leading to his “ex-Uncle” status, but that would have been more than enough for me.

Thanksgiving is also the national celebration of a guilt-free day without dieting. Sure, I sat in the Weight Watchers meeting and nodded my head with false enthusiasm when they talked about fat free pumpkin pie and guiltless gravy, but come Thursday those horrors will be completely erased from memory. Thanksgiving is a great time to take stock of your life, and be honest about your priorities. One of mine is real gravy. So I’ve got a lot to be grateful for, not the least of which is that I won’t be the one cooking on Thursday-and there will be mashed potatoes.

When I count my blessings, living near my family-and actually wanting to spend time with them-tops the list. Not only will I have to travel a mere seven minutes to attend our annual Thanksgiving gathering, but my husband, son, parents, mother-in-law, sister, various sisters- and brothers-in-laws, aunts, uncles, nieces and assorted friends who invariably show up to dinner are almost guaranteed to do something that will make writing my next column a snap.

Who says you have to survive a tragedy to find your writerly inspiration? I’ve been truly blessed with a wealth of comedic material in the form of my family and friends. And I’m thankful that, through trial and error, they’ve still found a way to love me, despite my shameless exploitation of their foibles for my own personal amusement and slight financial gain.

Though my friends may occasionally (okay often) inspire “bank account envy” and “real estate envy,” they never inspire “job envy,” thanks to my wonderful employers, they allow me to write for a living in a way that’s fun, intellectually stimulating, creative, and flexible enough to allow me to hang out with my son every day after school.

Speaking of school, I’m very grateful for the patience of my son’s teachers. Sure, I find his fascination with fake accents and made-up figures charming, but there’s a genetic payoff for me. That his teachers keep nodding their heads and smiling, day after day, fills me with wonder and gratitude.

Along with the big things-love, family, friends, health, work, and a wonderful support system-I’ve got a lot of little things to be grateful for this year. Unlimited long distance minutes, so I can talk to my best friend Jacqueline; my laptop computer and free wireless Internet at Cafe Zoma, so I can work during soccer practice; the treadclimber machines at my gym; those gracious 8 a.m. drivers who let me merge with traffic (you ungracious drivers know who you are); and of course, I’m especially thankful that it’s chocolate catalog season. Though I’ve never actually ordered anything from Hickory Farms, their food porn catalog has kept me company through many a long winter’s night.

The other advantage of daylight savings time is that I am getting to sleep a little bit earlier these days, which I’m grateful for. This brings me to my most favorite thing about my most favorite holiday-it’s the only day of the year that nobody asks if you’re sick or pregnant when you go to take a nap.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Share your blessings with Leslie at email. For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 18, 2011.

F is for Frenemy

Photo by Stuart Miles,

Photo by Stuart Miles,

A friendship, too, is a kind of romance-complete with possessiveness, jealousy and mistrust. -Nick Laird

While sifting your friends from your foes should be straightforward, it’s not always obvious who’s got your back, and who’s getting ready to stab a knife in it.

Friends are supposed to bring out the best in you, even when you’re at your worst, which is why it’s so disturbing when someone you thought was your friend turns out to be a frenemy. Whether you’re dramatically dumped, or you simply discover that she’s just not that into you, you never forget your first frenemy.

“Sometimes people bring out the worst in each other,” I tried to explain to my young friend, who had recently been excluded from the cool kids group at lunch. The poor girl was in tears, and I certainly couldn’t blame her. All summer long she had played with Queen Bee, a neighbor, and returned to fifth grade thinking they were the best of buds. But as soon as school started, poor Wannabe was ostracized in favor of Queen Bee’s more popular minions.

“It’s like all of our summer fun never happened,” Wannabe wailed. “We hung out at the water park, the beach, went to the movies, had tons of sleepovers. I can’t believe she doesn’t want to sit with me at lunch!”

Hearing this sad story brought me right back to my own fourth grade summer and the back-to-school diss from my own generation’s Queen Bee. Quite frankly, I’m still devastated and I want my yellow ski jacket and my puka shell necklace back.

“Will it be any comfort for you to know that she’s going to end up divorced, raising three kids from three different fathers?” I offered.

Wannabe looked at me blankly. “She was mean to me yesterday at school, but then after school she came over to play like nothing had happened.”

Oh dear.

“Then today, she spread out her lunch box and said there was no room for me at their table,” sobbed Wannabe. “I can’t believe it.”

Unfortunately, I can. You just found yourself your first frenemy.

It’s hard enough for an adult to understand the wicked combination of arrogance and insecurity that creates cliques, let alone explain them to a child who has just had her heart broken.

Times may change but mean girls are eternal.

I took a deep breath.

How could I explain to Wannabe that even the best of friendships can be odd, complicated and messy? Every relationship has an ever-shifting balance of power. There are some people, like Queen Bee, who thrive on other people’s neediness or weaknesses. She bosses her little bees around and they’re too spineless to stand up to her.

Wannabe might have been sad, but she wasn’t spineless.

How could I help her understand that there’s this whole social convention when a romantic relationship breaks up, but there’s no parallel convention for friendships, even though the breakup of a friendship can be more shocking and more devastating?

“Does any of this make sense?” I asked, and again I got a blank stare from under her tears.

I took another stab. “If someone doesn’t treat you like a friend, all the time, no matter who else is around or who else is watching, then they’re probably not really your friend,” I explained.

Finally a flicker of recognition in her sad, sweet eyes.

“They are what we call a frenemy, someone who is both a friend and an enemy, which is no way to be a friend.”

“Like a bad friend,” said Wannabe. “A bend. Or a frad.”

I almost yelled at her that the word was frenemy, not bend, and that she should grow up already because my word was better than hers-seriously, bend? Frad? What are you, a ten-year-old?-but then that might not have been the friendliest thing to do.

“Exactly. Someone who will continue to bring you down and make you sad until you stick up for yourself, at which point you’ll probably have a fight and won’t be friends anymore anyway.”

“That doesn’t sound like someone I want to be friends with in the first place,” she said.

“That’s right,” I said. “It’ll get better, I promise. That’s your first lesson of the school year. You’ll have lots of good and true friends. Now give me your lunch money.”

When Leslie’s not offering sage advice to anyone who will listen, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 11, 2011.

Halloween Scares up Money and Merriment

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Image courtesy of samattiw/

You can buy a lot of wax lips, slutty pumpkin costumes and glow-in-the-dark plastic maggots for $6.9 billion. The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual survey, conducted by BigResearch, says that seven in 10 Americans plan to celebrate Halloween this year. That’s up from 64% last year, and is the most celebrants in the National Retail Federation survey’s 10-year history.

More than 30% of adults aged 18 and above plan to attend a party this year, according to a report from Morpace Omnibus. The most active partygoers are adults aged 18-34 (54%) Of course, these are the most active partygoers for Groundhog Day parties and Superbowl parties and Punctuation Day parties too.

Only 29% of people between the ages of 35-54 are attending a Halloween party this year, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with the slutty costume selections and our out-of-shape drinking muscles and everything to do with the fact that Halloween is on a Monday this year and some of us oldsters still really like Dancing With the Stars.

While the holiday has always been an opportunity to let loose and have a bit of fun, there’s a lot more to acquire on Halloween than adorable bite-sized candy bars. That $6.9 billion in spending is up from $5.8 billion a year ago, which is scary good news for retailers.

The BigResearch survey found that the average person plans to spend $72.31 on the holiday, with spending on costumes alone expected to exceed $2.5 billion, spending on candy to reach $2 billion, and $1.88 billion for decorations.


Why are we so enamored with inflatable skeletons, candy corn, and fake cobwebs? I’ve got a few theories:

Halloween is the naughty little sister of Christmas.

There are parties and candy associated with both, but little sis (Halloween) is a lot looser than big sis (Christmas). She doesn’t feel that same sense of tradition and responsibility. She just wants to have fun. Instead of mistletoe, which must be grown or purchased, little sis (Halloween) has cobwebs, which you can find for free at my house. Big sis (Christmas) takes herself so seriously, with all that ritual stuff about keeping traditions alive, not to mention the cooking, the tipping, the shopping, the wrapping, the cards. … No wonder she gets migraines.

Halloween is the new Christmas.

It comes earlier, lasts longer, and gets more expensive every year. While the boatloads of mini Snickers and paper pumpkin decorations that adorn store aisles just minutes after the Valentine’s Day conversation hearts and cupids are put on clearance pale in comparison to the plethora of dancing Santas, candy canes and fake snow, that’s only because my Christmas shopping theory of “one for you, one for me” is finally catching on. Otherwise, Halloween would be winning the consumer consumption race by now since the only “green” thing about it is the glow-in-the- dark goblins. Just think about how many of your Halloween purchases are edible (Reese’s peanut butter cups must be consumed within a week or they will haunt you), potentially delinquent (pumpkins will either end up as roadkill or as a landscape accoutrement to toilet paper), or non-repeatable (like that Sarah Palin costume from 2008).

The Grinch stole Christmas, but the adults stole Halloween.

Increasingly, adults have been elbowing children out of the way to claim Halloween as their own. After all, what’s not to like about a holiday where you can dress up in an esoteric costume and pat yourself on the back for being smarter than other people when you continually have to explain what you are. Or a holiday where you can knock on someone’s door while wearing a mask and don’t have to worry about them calling the cops, or better yet you can eat mini candy bars and fantasize that you’ve become a giant.

Halloween is the baggage-less Christmas.

The very best thing about Halloween is that it’s the only holiday no one can claim you’re “forgetting the true meaning of.” Halloween is all about the two “C’s”: costumes and candy. Think about it. You get to wear slutty or scary (or slutty and scary) costumes and no one gives you a hard time, and then you get to demand chocolate from other people because you did so.

Now that’s my kind of holiday.

Leslie’s favorite Halloween joke is: “What did one ghost say to the other ghost? Do you believe in people?” Send yours to For more columns visit

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 28, 2011.

Do Kids Make You Fat?

Photo by artur84

Photo by artur84

Only if you add sugar.

I have no doubt that having kids makes your heart fuller and your wallet slimmer, but what about your waistline? According to a study by the University of Iowa College of Medicine and the University of Michigan, living with the little darlings also makes your belly bulge. And I’m not talking about pregnancy pudge here. Nor am I referring to all of that “drinking for two” that most fathers-to-be indulge in.

Nope, an examination of the nutritional cost of parenting found that simply living with children boosts your fat intake by almost five grams a day.

Could this mean that those last few bites of macaroni and cheese, pizza crusts and Girl Scout cookie crumbs actually count as calories? Even if you eat them standing up? What if you don’t want to carry the rest of the soccer snacks all the way back to the car? Or what if you bought the extra box of candy for a good cause? Those calories couldn’t possibly make you fat.

As caring and health-conscious parents, my husband and I do our best to intervene with the Halloween candy, Christmas cookies, gingerbread houses, Hanukah gelt, chocolate Easter bunnies and infinite supply of birthday goodie bags. Was it possible that this conscientious parenting was making us fat?

Before I got too stressed out about all this (and began foraging through the leftover birthday goodie bags for chocolate), I went to the most reliable and accurate source of health information available, Google. What do you know, not only does having kids make you fat, so do a lot of other things.

The International Journal of Obesity asked a group of scientists to weigh in on some of the causes of obesity. Number one was subscribing to The International Journal of Obesity.

Their remaining top ten list: 1. Inadequate sleep (there is definitely a connection to having children there). 2. Endocrine disruptors — substances in some foods that may alter fats in the body (I knew all that celery would end up biting me in the butt). 3. Pleasant temperatures — air conditioning and heating limit calories burned from sweating and shivering. 4. Fewer smokers — less appetite suppression. Also, dying makes you very skinny. 5. Medicines that cause weight gain. 6. Population changes — more middle-aged people in the population, who have higher obesity rates. 7. Older mothers — they tend to have heavier children (because they can’t hear Junior when he asks for that fourth cookie). 8. Genetic influences during pregnancy. 9. Darwinian natural selection — fat people living longer. 10. “Assortative” mating — overweight people procreating with others of the same body type, gradually skewing the population toward the heavy end (and providing a boon for the wedding registry business by providing the “supersize” option for china, bedding, towels and lingerie).

Architecture can make you fat too. That’s right, now they are saying that buildings and the way they are designed can make you fat.

“Take out all the elevators in buildings and people would be more fit,” urges a British architect. Even making stairways easier to find will help encourage fitness. And putting houses closer to shops, restaurants and workplaces will encourage people to walk or ride bikes. That’s right, that suburban ranch house that you bought once you had kids…it’s making you fat.

To counteract this phenomenon, I hear that an aerobics tycoon in Dallas is developing a 51-acre community that will be geared around a comprehensive wellness program.

Homeowners will pay a premium to build their own homes alongside a personal trainer, in 300 hour-long sessions. Only a limited number of cars will be allowed in the complex because guess what–you know what else makes you fat–cars. According to a study of Atlanta residents, there is a correlation between driving and weight gain. Each additional hour spent in a car per day is associated with a 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity. You know where moms spend most of their lives? Cars.

All of which leads me to the obvious conclusion that the witch in Hansel and Gretel must be thin because she built her own house, drives a broom, and eats kids instead of living with them. Hmmm…could this be the new Atkins Diet?

Do kids make you fat? Sound off at by emailing For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 7, 2011.

Apps I Would Like to See

IphoneYou can do just about anything on an iPhone these days. Just last Tuesday I was checking my email, while listening to a book on tape and translating last week’s column into 37 different languages. That thing is so amazing. Every time my son plays with my phone I find another screen full of new applications, some of which are even more useful than iFart.

I know it’s hard to believe.

But still, there are a few apps I’ve been searching for that haven’t been developed-yet. For example, I love Shazam, that nifty little program that identifies songs. You hold the phone to your speakers and “Shazam” it, instantly getting the name of the artist and the song, as well as the lyrics, biography and discography of the artist, and YouTube videos and links to buy it on iTunes.

Pretty cool, right?

What I really need these days is the people version of Shazam. Wouldn’t it be great if the next time you were walking down the street and someone looked familiar, you could “Shazam” them and instantly have all of the pertinent data you need? Have you met them before, and if so where? What’s their name is and what did you talk about in your last seven conversations? Then it could give you their biographic and geographic data, such as if they live down the street from you and you’ve never seen them out of a bathrobe before. Or if you usually only see them at the gym without makeup and they look completely different when they’re showered.

Think how much embarrassment that would save you?

You would never have to say, “Hey, you old son of a gun,” or “How are you doing, sweetie” to complete strangers again. Okay, I don’t really call anyone a “son of a gun,” but if I had this app, then I’d never be forced to.

You would also avoid embarrassing encounters like the one I once had with Helen Hunt at my gynecologist’s office, where I was sure she was someone I went to college with, a fact we stood chatting about for several, bare-bottomed, excruciating minutes (thanks to those lovely examination gowns) before she politely excused herself.

I would pay a lot for that Shazam people app. I’ve always been terrible with names, but the older I get the worse it gets. I can recite entire episodes of “The Brady Bunch” verbatim, and still remember every insult from 8th grade, but that leaves me little brain space left for remembering, say, whether or not I locked the front door, let alone the name of my mail carrier.

I could also use an iMute app, where the next time someone whose name I can’t remember corners me and chatters incessantly about how much money they lost in the stock market, and how they’re going to cut back on their personal trainers, trim their international travel down to only three European trips this year and reduce their housekeeper’s hours, I can just smile, nod and think about last night’s “Grey’s Anatomy” episode, rather than strangling them.

Or an iNstaWit app. How many times have you found yourself stuck at an event talking to someone and you have absolutely nothing interesting to say? The iNstaWit app would eliminate awkward silences by acting like a conversation starter in the palm of your hand. With a brush on the touch screen, you could become a scintillating conversationalist on every subject from sports and politics to history, local lore and pop culture.

When all else fails, there is always the Conversation Fast Forward App. Rather than suffering through yet another anecdote about the “adorable antics” of Chester the Cat or the gory details of Uncle Harry’s open heart surgery, the Conversation Fast Forward App can just breeze you through all that and onto a topic of mutual interest, which you’ll already have from Shazam.

Now let me just turn off my iColumnist… I mean, thank you for reading, as always.

Sent from my iPhone.

When Leslie’s not fantasizing about inventions that she lacks the technical skill to even begin to create, she can be reached at email . Read Leslie’s columns every Friday in the the Santa Barbara Daily Sound. For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 16, 2011.


Photo by imagerymajestic

Photo by imagerymajestic

Kid Goes to Junior High. Mom Gets Fired. Film at 11.

When I walked my son to school on his first day of junior high I had a rather unexpected revelation: I had just been fired.

Sure, I was still his mom and I would never be completely pink-slipped from that role. But I had definitely been laid off from the unpaid part-time job I’d been doing for the past seven years at his elementary school.

In junior high it’s not just the kids that don’t want you around, the teachers don’t really want you there either-at least not the way they did in elementary school.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty of other things to do with my time-some of which even yield an actual paycheck-but that steady list of volunteer tasks, which included everything from attending school board meetings, driving on field trips and planning assemblies to cleaning paint brushes, running reading groups and popping popcorn, has now dwindled to zero.

All of those cliches you read about children growing up in the blink of an eye are true. It seems like one minute I was registering him for kindergarten and the next I was buying him gym shorts for junior high.

Like most jobs that have ended in my life, I miss my colleagues even more than the work itself. Those simple, insubstantial morning and afternoon exchanges with other parents and teachers of “How was your weekend?” “Is Johnny playing soccer this season?” or “Can you believe what happened on Grey’s Anatomy last night?” formed a happy framework for my day.

Every day.

Now I just get up, grumble hellos to my family if they’re still around, and get ready and go to work.

So far the strangest thing about my son being in junior high is that he walks to and from school by himself.

While I like not driving him to school every day, I miss my daily check-ins with my peeps. It’s not like I ever found a best friend at the PTA Meetings, but we did a lot of bonding at bake sales and budget meetings and it’s weird to not have those people in my life on a regular basis.

Like I said, I miss my peeps.

It’s not that I’ll never see any of these people again, but as we cut the umbilical cord on our day-to-day involvement in our children’s lives it takes a bit more effort to stay tethered to the other adults in their community.

Tracy Jackson, who wrote a great book about aging called “Between a Rock and a Hot Place, ” put it very well. “When our children march off to college and into their future as adults, our daily caretaking, mothering and child-rearing duties are suddenly over. We have essentially been fired from the job we have been in training for, recruited to, and served in active duty for much of our lives. We are pink- slipped. No golden parachute to soften the blow. Many of us are truly devastated.”

My son isn’t even out the door yet and I’m feeling that loss.

At the same time I’m reveling in his new independence (who knew a 12-year-old child could actually operate an alarm clock and make his own lunch) and the additional time I’ve got now that I’m out of the carpool lane for a couple of years. I actually read the entire LA Times before work yesterday.

Of course, I’m not completely off the clock. My son came home with a list of school supplies we needed to go buy “right now” and my lunch cart duty at the junior high started this week, so maybe I’m not quite fired … yet. Maybe I’m just downsized.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s not such a bad thing after all.


When Leslie’s not writing she’s usually on email at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 2, 2011.

The guilt gene

Image by Stuart Miles,

Image by Stuart Miles,

G-U-I-L-T should really be a four-letter word.

Years ago, when I was in full-blown rebellious teenage daughter mode, I jotted this quote down from Katherine Lee: “If there’s anything that can match the heights of mother-love, it’s the depths of mother-guilt.”

Boy is that ever true.

I was raised on a diet of guilt. Sure, it was well seasoned with humor (which I must add, so I won’t feel too guilty when my mom reads this), but guilt is so deeply embedded into my DNA that I feel guilty not having mastered guilt yet.

I’ve spent most of my life making important decisions based on the avoidance of future guilt. If I don’t finish the laundry tonight then my son will have to wear dingy underwear tomorrow. What if he gets in a car accident because he has dingy underwear? Does the dentist really know if I skip one night of flossing? If I watch “The Next Food Network Star” tonight instead of “Desperate Housewives” will I be personally responsible for the end of scripted television? What if I skip that one school board meeting and they vote to cut out recess? It never seems to end.

Some days it feels like my whole life has been one, big, guilty, mental dress rehearsal for all of the bad things that might happen if I don’t do all the good things I’m supposed to.

Yet, despite so many years of good girl-dom, good wife-dom and good daughter-dom tangled with all the woulda coulda shoulda catastrophes in my head, I am still surprised by how entwined guilt is with being a mom.

It’s not even noon yet and already the ugly wheels of self- recrimination are grinding against each other in my head. When I dropped off Koss at school, I felt guilty for driving my big fat carbon footprint car (but I can’t afford a Leaf or a Volt, so I feel guilty for not working more to make more money). Then I felt guilty paying $4 for a latte when I had perfectly good coffee at home. But I hadn’t gotten up early enough to make the coffee, another thing that made me feel guilty.

Plus it was Beach Day so I made sure Koss had sunscreen, a towel and his own sandwich in case he didn’t like the ones the other mothers made, but I wasn’t driving on the field trip and wasn’t even going to come to the beach until after lunch because I had to finish writing a story first, which of course, I felt guilty about. Then there’s the fact that I didn’t sign up in time to bring the sandwiches he likes, not to mention all the baking I haven’t done for all the parties and events in these last four years of school.

It’s enough to make you drown in guilt.

Erma Bombeck once called guilt “the gift that keeps on giving.” She was so right. I used to blame it all on my mom, who has an amazing ability to shoot guilt darts with the slightest change in the tone of her voice. Of course I feel guilty about blaming her, especially now that I realize that she couldn’t help it.

I’d blame my husband, but he doesn’t care. Whoever said, “men feel guilty about nothing and women feel guilty about everything” clearly spent some time with him.

I finished the story but left dishes in the sink and beds unmade in order make it to the beach before the party was over.

The minute my son saw me he gave me a huge grin and a hug. All that rushing and hustling was worth it after all.

Then he hit me with the stinger: “Finally you’re here, mom. What took you so long?”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t respond to But you should at least go read more columns at  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 26, 2011.

What’s in a name?

Photo by sixninepixels,

Photo by sixninepixels,

“Manroot” and “Roadkill” were my husband’s favorite baby names when I was pregnant. I could never quite tell if he was serious- especially when he would wax rhapsodic about all the umlauts we could crow “root” with. I just laughed, as I blew off those suggestions as best I could, and continued looking at naming books.

Then he pushed for “Anastasia,” which I thought was pretty, until Zak admitted that he liked the name because of its potential nickname- “Nasty.” Talk about asking for trouble. That’s even worse than “Roadkill.”

“Tumbleweed” had some traction during the second trimester. We also discussed the possibility of a combination of our fathers’ names-“Jim Bob.” I was joking, but again, I’m not so sure about my husband.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed when we both agreed on “Koss” for our son’s name. It’s my grandmother’s maiden name, so it had sentimental significance; it’s unusual, so he wouldn’t have to deal with the whole “Koss K.” and “Koss A.” in school; and it’s easy to pronounce-or so I thought.

In the 12 years and two weeks and two days that my son has been around, I have never once said his name to another adult and then continued on with our conversation.

Kids are fine with “Koss” as a name. I think it’s because all words are relatively new to them, so Koss/Kylie/Klamato, it makes no difference. However, to the Mike/ Jeff/John/Linda/Lisa/Karen generation (i.e. adults), “Koss” inspires all kinds of confusion, and that’s even before he starts telling you about mythical creatures or giving you multiple- choice questions about all the books he read this summer.

An introduction to my son is frequently greeted with: “How do you spell that?” “What language is that?” “Oh, like the headphones?” or most often, “Huh?”

I had no idea that picking an unusual-yet-easy-to-spell-and- pronounce moniker for my son would produce so much additional conversation. I had to feed 75 extra cents into my parking meter the other day, just to explain Koss’s name to a particularly dim receptionist.

I can only imagine the kind of namer’s remorse that “Superman 4Real’s” parents must be feeling right now. Did you hear about those zany New Zealanders? They wanted to name their son simply “4Real,” which is perfectly understandable, but ran into an obscure Kiwi law prohibiting names beginning with numbers. That’s right, there’s actually a law in New Zealand against naming your child “100Proof” and apparently some discretionary power in that country, unlike ours, where they recently took stands against “Satan” and “Adolf Hitler” (the names, not the actual entities).

This whole naming business can be awfully stressful. The Wall Street Journal reports an unprecedented level of angst among parents trying to choose names for their children.

While you can expect to see a lot of Jacob’s and Isabella’s running around playgrounds in the next few years (those were the most popular names in 2010), original names-or at least more original names-are now in. The 1980 Social Security Administration data show that the 10 most popular baby names were given to 41% of boys and 23% of girls. But last year, just 8.4% of boys and 8% of girls were given one of the year’s 10 most popular names.

Not only are popular names getting less popular, apparently the ten zillion baby naming books and websites are no longer adequate tools to select a baby name. The name game is so stressful that people are starting to turn to strangers for help. Mommies- and daddies-to-be can now hire baby-naming consultants, to the tune of $250 an hour.

I could do that job. Flynn Stone, bad idea. Richard Tester, oh please. Harold Butts, are you kidding me?

So, I’ve finally found the answer to Juliet’s oft-quoted question, “What’s in a name?” If I play my cards right, about $250 an hour.

For a special reader’s rate on baby naming consultation, email For more of Leslie’s columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on August 12, 2011.