Sandra Tsing Loh Dishes on Menopause, Marriage and “The Madwoman in the Volvo”

Sandra Tsing Loh will appear on Thursday, May 8 at UCSB Campbell Hall

Sandra Tsing Loh will appear on Thursday, May 8 at UCSB Campbell Hall (courtesy photo)

Humorist/memoirist will appear at UCSB Campbell on Thursday, May 8

By Leslie Dinaberg

Chatting with Sandra Tsing Loh—whose new book, The Madwoman in the Volvo, focuses on what she calls Generation Triple M  (Middle-Aged Moms in Menopause)—is a lot like reading one of her essays. Her level of frankness is engaging, enlightening and charming, kind of like catching up with long-lost friend. It’s also a little bit disarming, like looking in one of those magnifying mirrors and seeing your pores for the first time.

She calls it like she sees it, and her countless fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Count me among them. Here’s a brief snippet of our conversation last week.

Leslie Dinaberg: I’m excited about your new book, The Madwoman in the Volvo. Will your discussion at UCSB be a reading from the book or the one-woman show that’s themed around the book?

Sandra Tsing Loh: The show is still being developed, so it will be a bit of a combo. It will be a bit of a reading from it and then discussion, so reading, chat, conversation, that sort of thing. The one-woman show I’m still developing it, and I’m going to be workshopping it in New York later in May. That’s still in development, but there’s going to be some overlap.

Did writing about menopause and researching it and sort of immersing yourself in it make you feel better or worse about actually going through menopause?

Well, at first it made me feel worse and that’s partly why I wrote the book. … For me it was the huge depression spikes, just out of proportion to anything I’d ever felt. It kind of felt like my chemistry was changing and somebody said, “Have you been counting your periods? You could be in this.”

So, of course, it was a huge relief to go maybe I’m not just going nuts but something is happening to me that is biological and label-able. But then when I started getting into the menopause books, I found most of them were totally unhelpful! All of the advice was like, “just cut out alcohol, sugar and caffeine, drink eight glasses of water day, eat more kale, have walks, do yoga stretches before bed and you’ll be fine. Don’t take any Ambien or antidepressants.”

So all the advice is just to lead a more healthy life and eat many smaller meals—which a meal is like two unsalted almonds. (Laughs). So at a time when things are really crazy, the advice is like kale and water will solve it. It was just really unhelpful. I think that’s kind of like the health advice for women … calm down, listen to soothing music, clean out your sock drawer. I mean the advice is just really not helpful at all.

…As I was writing the book I sort of thought I knew where it started and ended, but during the process of writing it [menopause] was still continuing. So there was new material that came into the book—me just really hitting rock bottom.

Sandra Tsing Loh's latest book, "The Madwoman in the Volvo," takes on menopause.

Sandra Tsing Loh’s latest book, “The Madwoman in the Volvo,” takes on menopause.

It was one Sunday morning waking up and I’ve been trying to exercise and eat healthy and do all of these things that are keeping me balanced and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was just at my wits end, really depressed with my girls at home. It’s also a moment described in the article where you go, “how can I raise these children, I can’t even like look at them anymore and their voices just are too high-pitched. I can’t even face going down and making breakfast for them. I just feel too old to be doing any of this and I just want to be alone and just stay in bed.”

You obviously came out of that. Your doctor helped.

I finally got to the gynecologist … she gave this great speech … where she says,  “there are the Chinet girls and paper plate girls. Chinet girls can put a lot on them and they won’t break, and paper plate girls, you just put one carrot on and they shatter.”

And she says, “I think you’re at heart a Chinet girl but right now you’re having a psychological reaction to physiological phenomenon, so take a break. If you want to take antidepressants you can, if you want to take some hormones you can, if you don’t want to take anything just be aware of when these huge waves of depression and emotion and hot flashes wash over you that it’s temporary, you can do that. And it’s up to you.”

It was great speech. It was actually very helpful. Because usually the advice is God forbid you tell your husband or a man about it, who will try to solve it immediately, rather than just saying either you’re going through a lot but you’re also pretty strong and you can have all of these options are fine. That was just really useful.

Do you feel like you’re still immersed in menopause because you’ve written the book and now you’re almost reliving it because you’re starting to talk about it again?

No I think I’m actually over the worst of it. Probably tomorrow something else will happen, but I think I am. And I have heard a lot of women have said, “You know what it will get better. I remember that time, but it will get better.”

I know that it will. Also, I remember my sister described turning 50 and then everything suddenly evening out, like you’d gone through all of this turbulence and then you’re in the smooth air and it’s oh so much better and I think I feel that way now at 52. I can get up and the sun is shining and the birds are singing and I’m having a normal response, which is to say, oh the sun feels good. This is a nice day. As opposed to a time where I everything seemed too hard to do and too terrifying. Like when you go oh my God, there’s the laundry basket, it’s unsorted, I have to go back to bed. (Laughs.) Where you can’t cope with stuff that’s on your plate.

… I ended up in that book actually going back to the gynecologist speech and she says, “now there are two things we are going to do. One is to take stuff off your plate and the second is to strengthen the plate.”

I think with women it’s a pretty good metaphor in terms of all the stuff we’re trying to juggle right now, especially at this age. This used to be an age where in tribes the women would go to a cave to be a crone and now we have these kids. We have like my father who is 93 and just keeps living on and on. We have tons of stuff on our plates right now, on top of working and writing and making money and paying bills and then also we are supposed to do Pilates and really be slim now too. It’s just a little bit beyond my abilities. (Laughs.) We have to do ten roles while doing this that are somewhat incompatible.

That’s a very honest and reassuring message. 

It’s a lot. I certainly like Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO and author of Lean In), I respect her and am totally happy with all these books coming out but it’s like oh my God! I must also look fantastic in a suit and be a best selling author and have really good work ethics!

I think there are some super human role models that are out there and that’s fine, but it’s hard to compare ourselves to that too. I mean I know I’m going off, but I love that Oprah can be really successful and still her weight goes up and down and she can wear these awesome pantsuits—that sounds good to me! Maybe I’m just on this today because I feel so bloated, but go ahead.

You may not be superwoman but you are certainly a busy lady. I had no idea about your science essays [Loh hosts the Loh Down on Science, a daily radio show] until I started doing some research. Let’s talk a little bit about the arts and sciences.  I would guess that not a lot of people who go to Caltech [she has a degree in physics] end up going into the arts. Have you ever felt like you needed to fight getting pigeonholed?

I’m the daughter of an Asian father, a Chinese father, so given my family background there was huge pressure to go into science because that was the only place where you could get a job was his real belief. And to a certain extent I still think about with my kids, like study computer engineering, don’t go into the arts. So I started that way, but since I went to Caltech, which is a very intense experience, the beauty of that was that it showed me that I was really not geared for a life in science in the long term. So I think of that as a blessing. But over the years it’s come back because I did finish my degree and it’s not that I’m uninterested in science. I think sort of a left brain and right brain combination is really useful to have.

I think, for instance, when you’re writing books sort of a left brain approach to art can really help you, because you structure things and sort of taking care of business and looking at things objectively. And the right brain is the free associative roaming thing.

Just this semester I started teaching two courses at UC Irvine: one was communicating science, which is kind of like the right brain side, and one was art and aesthetics to undergraduates, so that’s kind of left brain approach to art. It was a really fun combination. I’m really into combining the two wherever possible. Instead of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) they have these STEAM programs (science, technology, engineering, art and math) or art and design in the middle, and I think that’s a really useful way. I’m happy to combine both hemispheres. … The science show is sort of a perfect combination of the two. We try to make science really understandable in 90 seconds and that itself is quite an art. I work with a really good staff to do it.

Given that much of what you write about comes from your own life and your own personal experiences, do you feel like that part of your mind that writes stories is always turned on?  Do you ever feel like you’re not working or this is not going to be something I write about?

I’m lucky, at the Atlantic I have an editor, Ben Schwartz, who really kept a firm hand on the tiller in that he would assign things and he would encourage one to go off on riffs for long periods of time. He was great on the phone you could call him up and … he would help you frame it … Even though my job is to kind of speak from my own life, it’s really kind of structured and molded a certain way so that it has a context.

I think with this particular book, because I rewrote it like five times … if anything she had me put more stuff in which was personal. The core of what happened in this section of my life was that I had an extra-marital affair and blew up my marriage and my boyfriend’s marriage and it was a really cataclysmic time. That’s sort of the core of the story that triggers all of this stuff, which I think is very much part of the journey I was going through in my forties.

The first time I wrote the book, I think I don’t even mention—and I’m living with my partner—I don’t even mention how I got there until like the last paragraph (Laughs). Because I wanted to write about it from the point of view of I’m just your average next-door neighbor, suburban mom, this is totally relatable. We all have menopausal symptoms, high five here are a few jokes. This is fun.  But then if you really start admitting some of the things that you did and your failings, your mistakes, you open yourself up to a lot of criticism.

But in the end, the book didn’t make sense unless I actually said what happened and my choices and the damage that it caused.

If you’re a humorist like I am, there’s very much an urge to just stay on the surface and just have it be funny. I had a lot of jokes that she cut. … But really my urge as a writer is to entertain and be funny and be likeable. That’s my urge as a writer. It is not to just spill everything, it really isn’t. But in this book I sort of had to because it didn’t make sense otherwise. And in my one-woman show that I’m developing at the Sundance Theater Lab, it’s even more personal.

How do your kids feel when you write about personal stuff?

My daughters are now 12 and 13 and … they’re pretty durable, but they’ve gone through a lot of changes ever since they were babies and that’s also a little bit described in the book. … They were being carried around in baby car seats through airports because both their dad who is a musician, would be on tour, and I would be doing theatre and often my sister was the glue that would watch them. … Then when they were about one and three my brother, his wife, collapsed of a cardiac arrest at 38, it was very traumatic. So the girls and I moved in with him for about two years when they were little.

They’re sort of used to a transient life and not just two families but a big tribe of people that are there, so they’ve adjusted. I would say they’ve adjusted pretty well … Of course the mother is the last to know, not until they write their own memoir, but it seems like it is a fairly stable situation at this point.

Not a lot of moms with daughters that age would say that, no matter what the external circumstances.

Yeah and I could go off on theories about that. That’s a whole other thing about when kids go back and forth; as long as there isn’t rancor between the parents there are sort of some pluses when they get two houses. Especially in this age going to one parent with a secret that the other doesn’t know—even though we all know.

What’s something most people would be surprised to learn about you? Since we feel like we know a lot. Is there anything that people would be surprised to hear?

I would say I make a really excellent quesadilla (Laughs). My cooking is pretty bad but I’m praised for that … I just got a Prius, used, my Volvo died. … I guess maybe the surprise would be that I write about my own life and pretty much it seems fairly hysterical most of the time, but I think I’m a good and sensible friend and I think I’m actually a very good listener. … People seek me out because I’m happy to listen for two or three hours.  And that’s probably where I get some of my material.

Now you’ve done the book tour circuit a few times, is it fun? Is it work or is it a little bit of both?

I think it’s both. It’s fantastic for writers who sort of live alone in their cave to go out, and it’s always amazing to see if anyone has ever read any of your stuff at all. And when they show up it’s amazing to meet anyone who has read your book or will read it! That’s really always a shock every time. … Typically when you have a book it’s a little bit fraught because you’re going out, your publisher is saying … how many people came to your reading or something like that. But overall I think it’s a happy time and I feel really privileged anytime I get to be out there and connect with people. It’s a pretty great thing to do and one is lucky to be in this position and the older I get the more I really appreciate it.

… As soon as you hear anybody else’s story it sort of validates why you wrote it in the beginning.  And usually that’s what happens. All the people start telling me what they’ve been going through and I love that part.

 I would imagine with what you write people, tell you all kinds of stuff.

Oh God, yes, totally. Yeah. I’ve had people on the plane … one time I was traveling and a lady was going to celebrate her 40th birthday and I said I was finishing a book. … I told her the core of it, and suddenly she turns to me and said, “I have never told anyone this before.”

And she had been telling me about her great husband and her perfect children and they were giving her a weekend off and how awesome and amazing her life was. And then as soon as I told her [about me] she said, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but I had an affair last month and I don’t know what to do. I’m thinking about this guy all the time.”

Suddenly the mask flew off. People do start to tell you, there are some messy lives that people lead and they have desires or thoughts and emotions that don’t really fit into what their life looks like from the outside. And that’s interesting.

Indeed it is.

Sandra Tsing Loh will be in Santa Barbara on Thursday, May 8 at 8 p.m. at Campbell Hall in a UCSB Arts & Lectures presentation. For more information and tickets click here.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on May 6, 2014.



“The Bachelor” Wedding Comes to The Biltmore Santa Barbara

"The Bachelor" Sean Lowe proposes to Catherine Giudici (courtesy "The Bachelor" Sean Lowe proposes to Catherine Giudici (courtesy

“The Bachelor” Sean Lowe proposes to Catherine Giudici (courtesy

Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara will be live in primetime on January 26, when “THE BACHELOR: SEAN AND CATHERINE’S WEDDING,” airs, featuring former Bachelor Sean Lowe and fiancée Catherine Giudici in a live telecast of their nuptials.

The program airs live on Sunday, January 26 at 8 p.m. on ABC. This will mark the first time ever that a “Bachelor” wedding has been telecast live.

The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara has been a dream setting for weddings since 1927. This legendary property practically bursts with romance and classic elegance, not to mention 20 acres of lush botanical gardens, and an incomparable ocean view.

“It’s a truly special place that has served as inspiration and fairytale wedding destination for thousands of brides and grooms over the decades,” says Karen Earp, general manager. “We are so happy to be the location for Sean and Catherine’s wedding celebration and honored to forever be a part of their love story.”

Lowe and  Giudici became engaged in beautiful, exotic Thailand at the finish of filming Lowe ’s edition (Season 17) of “The Bachelor” in November 2012. Hosted by Chris Harrison, the show will let viewers in on all the exciting festivities, from planning the big day to the next stage of their romantic journey with a beautiful wedding ceremony in the perfect location.

—Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on January 16, 2014.

Doing the math on divorce

“Divorce is contagious, be careful,” warned my friend Emily, who recently split from her husband, following the no-longer-rose-petal-strewn paths of three of her bridesmaids. Where weddings–and vodka shots–once encouraged romance and marriages, divorces can also ripple through groups of friends faster than a case of head lice in a classroom of kindergarteners.

Fortunately for me, the vast majority of my friends’ marriages are still intact. Though I may be playing with fire by writing this column as my husband and I prepare to move out of the place we’ve lived for the past eight years, when this wacky invention called “The Divorce Calculator” ( showed up in my inbox, I couldn’t resist the temptation to do the math.

Not just my own math–I calculated the odds for all of my friends as well. It’s not that I’m nosy, but Emily’s words were still ringing in my head. Did I dare to find out the odds of our beating the odds? Fortified by a triple latte, I took the test.

Given that 43 percent of first marriages in the United States end within 15 years, and Zak and I will hit that 15-year mark in March, my results were actually better than I expected.

The Divorce Calculator found that 14 percent of people with similar backgrounds to mine are already divorced and that three percent of people with similar backgrounds who will be divorced over the next five years.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right?

According to the site, for the five-year divorce prediction rates, those with less than three percent are at lower risk, three to seven percent are of average risk and more than seven percent are at higher risk.

So my results were average. They were on the low side of average, practically less than average. Average-ish. I was sure that if I ran my friends’ calculations they would help to bring our score down.

I scored my sister, my best friend from college and my best friend from high school. Then I tried my three best friends in town. Astonishingly, they all had the same results as I did: the chances that people with similar backgrounds will be divorced over the next five years are three percent.

Could it be that I hang out with a bunch of statistical clones? Or it is just my 97 percent happy marriage is contagious?

Three percent chance of divorce isn’t so bad, right? I can live with three percent. Those are pretty good odds. Plus, at least three percent of my friends are already divorced, a few more than once. But if that doesn’t count, then for a three percent bump in my stats I would be willing to make a few new friends and let them get divorced.

I could even throw them a party, like the divorce party I read about in Las Vegas, where each woman invited the most attractive single man she knew to come meet their girlfriend–and none of the other women were allowed to wear makeup or cute outfits, so the honoree would feel great about herself. Or if they’re not quite up for dating yet, I could throw them a party like the one in New Jersey, where they gave the marriage a eulogy, bought a wedding ring coffin, and feasted on a beautiful three-tiered divorce cake, which had the original wedding cake’s bride and groom perched on top–minus the groom’s head.

Not that I would wish a divorce–or a divorce party–on any of my friends, even my fictional new ones.

I remember rejoicing the summer that oversized wedding and wedding-related party invitations stopped clogging my mailbox.

Not that all the weddings weren’t fun–but doing the Hora and the Hokey Pokey can get old when it’s every single weekend.

Not that it wasn’t fun to drive around State Street in stretch limos and sipping cosmos from veiny, plastic, glow-in-the-dark, disembodied penis straws–but bachelorette parties can get old too.

Not that it wasn’t fun to ooh and aw over china patterns and linens at bridal showers–although, come to think about, those were never that much fun.

But I am 97 percent sure I would happily sit through hours of bridal bingo, creating wedding gown couture out of toilet paper and giggling at lists of “things the bride will say on her honeymoon” if I never have to go a divorce party–especially one where I can’t wear makeup.

When Leslie’s not obsessing about divorce statistics, she’s reading email at email. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 9, 2009.

Eat, Drink and Be Married

Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee,

Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee,

Chatting with Author Rebecca Bloom

“What is it about wedding preparations that makes the ordinary tasks usually taking a woman from bed to bath, to bra, to base, to bagel, to bag, to butt-on-the-seat-of- the-car in 28 minutes flat, suddenly expand, exhale and evolve into hours upon hours of careful mirror observations and highly scrutinized tinkering?” writes Rebecca Bloom in her new novel, “Eat, Drink, and Be Married.”

I’m giggling as I read these words (So very true!) and laughing even more as I speak to their author, who is sneaking in our phone call during the precious naptime of her two-year-old son. Along with some of the laugh-out-loud-in-recognition scenes in her book, this is yet another thing about Rebecca Bloom that I can relate to.

Expecting her second child in the fall, Rebecca chats easily about writing, kids, tequila and the birth of “Eat, Drink, and Be Married,” her third novel. Here are some highlights:

Leslie Dinaberg: I really enjoyed the book. What was your inspiration?

Rebecca Bloom: I had been going to a lot of weddings and I was noticing that there is so much else that goes on around the wedding. There’s such a heightened sense of emotions for everybody. I wanted to write something that explored not just what the bride and groom were going through but what the guests themselves were going through. Weddings bring out a lot of different kinds of things for people and I wanted to explore those things.

LD: I was really struck by the coming together of the college friends who got back into their old dynamic so quickly and reverted to their old selves. Was that your experience?

RB: With my girlfriends from college, we have this shorthand that it doesn’t matter how long it has been since we’ve talked or how much has happened, the minute we’re together there’s not a lag, we don’t really have to catch up. There’s an instant repartee and there’s an instant sort of comfort and camaraderie. I wanted to put that in the book because I do think that in college you form such intense bonds because you’re with people 24/7 and you don’t really have time past college to ever really do that. … I wanted to capture that because I think it’s the case for a lot of people that the old friends sometimes are the ones that know you the best.

LD: A while back my husband and I were in that wedding a weekend phase and we sort of became the wedding critics. What do you think makes a really good wedding or a really not so good wedding?

RB: It is funny, when you write a wedding book everyone thinks you’re an expert on weddings but it’s sort of just your own opinion.

I think the best weddings are the weddings that really represent the bride and groom and you can tell that they really planned it for themselves and not for their moms and their friends. It’s really all about them. And those are often the most fun.

Our wedding had a lot of tequila and that really made it fun (Laughs). … I think the ones that are the best are the most relaxed and represent the couple-not just the bride.

LD: Were you married when you wrote this book?

RB: Actually I wrote this book, the first draft of it, when I was single. I wrote this wedding book and then I met my husband. So we’re sort of like that movie “Field of Dreams,” where the whole thing is like if you build it he will come. (Laughs)

LD: And now you have a husband, a young son and another on the way. How do you write and juggle all of that?

RB: Not as well as I would like. I am trying to start writing something new and it’s just hard. It’s hard to find the balance. … You just do the best you can. I can’t do everything all the time. And I can’t do it very well. My kids right now are the most important and that’s okay for me for right now.

LD: Not only are weddings fraught with drama, they’re also a huge business. Was that sort of marketing angle in your mind when you developed the story?

RB: I definitely knew … that there might be more avenues open maybe for publicity or marketing but I didn’t really think about that when I was writing it.

As I’ve gotten older though and as I end up starting my next book I’m thinking about that more because I want to make a living and I want it to sell and so I’m letting that come in a little bit. I have a bunch of ideas, so I am thinking which one is the most marketable and I’ll go with that.

But I’m not writing about zombies or anything (Laughs).

LD: I don’t know, a vampire, shades of grey, zombie wedding book with a historical twist could be huge.

For more information about Rebecca Bloom, visit For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on June 8, 2012.

Sex and Housework

Photo artur84,

Photo artur84,

Men are astounded by how long women can go without thinking about sex, and women are astounded by how long men can go without thinking about housecleaning.

This explains why my husband can turn on the TV and happily surf skin-e-max while laying on top of a gargantuan pile of unfolded laundry … then still is surprised when I’m not “in the mood.”

Unlocking the mysteries of the male mind is, of course, a topic that has launched a million magazine articles, and the career of Dr. Phil, but he almost never talks about housework.

According to Neil Chetnik’s book about American husbands (VoiceMale-What Husbands Really Think About Their Marriages, Their Wives, Sex, Housework and Commitment), almost every level of happiness and positive feelings in relationships is related to housework.

I wonder if that’s why I’m so attracted to my cleaning lady?

Chetnik, who surveyed almost 300 husbands and did in-depth interviews with 70 others, agrees, it really is about the housework.

“In writing the book, I kept seeing the parallel between housework and sex in the interviews. Men said the happier their wives were in the division of housework, the happier the men were with their sex lives. We even looked at the numbers and found that there’s more sex in the relationship if the wife is happy with the division of housework. It doesn’t have to be exactly equal, the wife just has to think it’s fair.”

That’s what I keep trying to explain to my husband. I’ve got really dry skin on my hands, so doing the dishes and scrubbing the toilets are out. My mother is an exceptional cook, so I never had to learn how to – I can whip up a scrumptious reservation, though. Basically my domestic specialty is doing the laundry. Since that’s really all I can do, then I think it’s only fair that my husband does half of it.

Chetnik says, “When a woman comes in she notices if it’s a mess, it’s often socialized in [her] that [she is] more responsible for the look of the home so if he can recognize that by doing a fair share, then he is often rewarded with sex. She’s not as angry, or burdened and she’s not as tired.”

Got that, honey? All it takes is a few loads of whites. Smoochy smoochy.

It’s not just the actual act of cleaning the house that strikes a nerve with women. As Chetnik says, “It wasn’t till I did this book that I recognized that it’s not just the doing of the housework that’s a burden to women, it’s the worrying about the housecleaning that is a burden.”

It’s not exactly a quid pro quo kind of arrangement.

Chetnik’s research found that there were more men who reported that the sequence was, he does housework, then she has sex — as opposed to, she has sex with him and then he does housework.

He quotes one husband who says, “My wife told me that she’s never more turned on to me then when I’m doing housework, and she’s proven it again and again.” At first he thought she was kind of holding out on him. His initial reaction was to resist that because it did feel like a quid pro quo. But then he realized that it was more about her feeling appreciated. It seems that women who feel their partners are paying attention to them, and to the household, are more appreciative and less tired.

Solely in the interest of scientific inquiry, I think this is worth pursuing, honey. No starch in my collars, please.

What do you think? Is there really a connection between sex and housework? Let us know at Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on March 2. 2012.

The Keeper of the Calendar

Image by digitalart,

Image by digitalart,

For as long as I can remember, my girlfriends have been an important part of my life. We’ve graduated from Kool-Aid and cookies to brie and Cabernet and have gone from dissecting Barbie’s hairstyles to debating whether “Blonded by the Light” or “Brazen Raisin” will better cover up our grays, but one thing remains true after all these years: without my girlfriends I’d probably never have made it this far.

My girlfriends are the ones that keep me (relatively) sane. They’re the only ones who really understand my drink order at Starbucks, or my irritation with the ten-items-or-less-line, or my love-hate relationship with Christmas.

This is why girls’ nights out are so important. They’re therapeutic, actually medicinal, and I’m not just talking about the vodka in our martinis. Men are great for a lot of things, and not just killing spiders (which my husband refuses to do) and reaching things on the highest shelves. But you can’t really talk to men about the importance of chocolate, the beauty of a new lipstick, or the ability of the perfect pair of black boots to update your whole wardrobe.

They just don’t get it.

My husband doesn’t really get it at all, but he doesn’t really complain about it either. I tell him I’m going out with my friends, and he looks up from the crossword puzzle, nods, grunts, and maybe, if I’m lucky, tells me to have a good time.

We’ve been together for 19 years and in all that time, he’s made social plans seven times, not including Mother’s Day and my birthday, where I have to remind him about what I want to do at least three times a day for a month beforehand, so I don’t think that really counts.

I’m the keeper of the social calendar and that’s okay, it’s worked for us all these years. At least until recently, when I told him I was leaving the house to meet my girlfriends. He looked up from the crossword puzzle, nodded, grunted, and said, “OK. I’m having boys’ night out on Thursday.”

Excuse me? Did I put that on the calendar? Since when are you scheduling your own “play dates,” honey?

I was sure I had misheard him. But no, come Thursday night he put on a jacket and actually left the house, all by himself. This has got to be a fluke, I thought.

Then it happened again the next week. Uh oh. Was my husband finally realizing how much fun it was to escape his family for a night on the town? This could be big trouble for me.

I thought I could nip the problem in the bud the night we both had plans. After all, a PTA meeting (followed by cocktails, but still, “It’s for the kids”) trumps an action movie, so he would just have to reschedule. I told him this, quite reasonably, I thought. But he just smiled, devilishly, and said, “It’s okay honey, your mom’s going to watch Koss so we can both go out.”

Oh dear. Couldn’t he at last have called his own mom?

The next thing I know he’ll be planning mancations and taking up fly fishing and snow boarding and how will I ever get away to the spa with MY friends if that happens?

I definitely need to stop this train wreck before it’s too late. He needs to tone his social life way down if I’m ever going to be able to keep up with mine.

“Honey,” I begin, in my sweetest most devious voice, “We need to talk.”

“Yeah, I’ve been forgetting to tell you something,” he says.

All right. I bet he’s going to tell me that he’s been spending too much time with his friends and realizes he would much rather be home spending time with his family, while I’m out with the girls.

I smile in anticipation.

“The guys and I are talking about a boy’s weekend. Let’s check the calendar.”

Uh oh, you mean my calendar?

Oh no. I’m doomed.

Share your tips for keeping your man at home with Leslie at email. For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 27, 2012.

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.

Adult BoyCare

Teenagers Playing Computer Game by Ambro,

Teenagers Playing Computer Game by Ambro,

Does the prospect of going to a mall this time of year make the men in your life resemble cranky, whiney, exhausted kindergarteners who are clearly in need of a snack and a nap?

Me too.

I don’t know what it is about the holiday season. The rest of the year my husband hardly puts up a fuss when we need to “go grab a few things at the mall,” but come the end of November he develops a severe case of Shopophobia. He stomps his feet like a wild man and shakes his head like a whirly bird at the mere mention of the words “Nordstrom,” “free gift wrap” or, heaven forbid the dreaded “parking lot.”

To tell you the truth this behavior reminds me a lot of my son-when he was five.

Which is why I was so very amused to read in the Los Angeles Times this week about a shopping center in Germany with a play area for men. BoyCare for men. Brilliant. It’s called “Maennergarten,” as in kindergarten for men. Truly brilliant.

While savvy shopping areas have bars where men get blitzed and women browse boutiques, this program is modeled after kindergarten. According to the travel website, when couples arrive at the mall, the woman drops off her presumably-potty-trained male significant other at the ” Maennergarten.” She pays about $14 to leave him there and goes off to shop till she drops.

And, just like the first day of summer camp, visitors to the “Maennergarten” are given nametags and the women are issued receipts for the men they drop off. “Nurses” serve the men hot meals and cold beers and offer them televised football, power tools and remote control cars to play with.

“Maennergarten” manager Alexander Stein told BBC News “the idea came from a female customer who thought it would be a good way of getting rid of her husband so she could shop in peace. She found it all too stressful and thought this might be the solution. Both were very happy with the way it turned out.”

When I quizzed my husband and some male friends about the idea of a man cave in the mall they were predictably-and scarily stereotypically-enthusiastic.

While several suggested they should have bikini clad dancing girls, some guys had very specific visions for their versions of what would make a “Maennergarten” nirvana.

J thought “topless massages would be a big hit.” K said “it should have a ‘champagne room,” like they have in strip clubs. But the wives pay their husbands’ entry fee.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I suspect that laps and dancing are involved.

“Bacon,” said M.

“It should basically be a BEST BUY with wall-to-wall 3-D televisions (one per patron), buttery soft Barcaloungers, video games, every movie ever made on-demand, bikini clad dancers/masseuses/bartenders/therapists serving unlimited all-you-can-eat sushi, tacos, pizza and beer,” said A, who is shockingly still single. “Oh, and it should be sacred ground: No wives, girlfriends or significant others allowed. The only way they can collect their man is to call ahead on their cell phone when they’re done shopping.”

Clearly he’s given this some thought.

But my favorite response of all came from B, who said, “I believe that Habitat for Humanity should set up near every mall, so we could spend several hours helping out our fellow man by building homes for the disadvantaged, while our significant others join in the commercial feeding frenzy: give a little yin to their yang, to insure cosmic balance in the universe, or… bikini clad dancing girls and big screens.”

Mall man cave investors can contact For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 26, 2010.

The Upside of Arguments

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

Photo by David Castillo Dominici,

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


“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 For more columns visit  Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on October 22, 2010.

I Second That Emotion



I’m not quite sure why I felt like doing a victory lap when I read about the latest round of “Mars versus Venus” differences between men and women research, but I couldn’t help myself. It may have something to do with the fact that when I told my husband about it, he pretended not to hear me.

A recent academic study found that, contrary to popular belief, men are actually more affected by rocky relationships than women are. That’s right, no matter how many stupid movies and TV shows there are that portray women as banshees in the boardroom and dandelions in the bedroom who blow caution to the wind at the mere whiff of romance, thorny relationships actually take a far greater toll on men than they do on women.

“Men are more sensitive than we often think they are,” said Robin Simon of Wake Forest University, in an interview with Courtney Hutchison for ABC News. She then snickered, “Wusses” under her breath. I might have made up that last comment.

I’ve been saying men are sensitive for years, and insensitive as it may sound, I couldn’t help but yell out “gotcha” for every single time I’ve heard a guy tell me to “stop being so sensitive.”

That’s a lot of “gotcha’s.”

I’ve always been sure that somewhere deep inside my husband was a super sensitive side, and that I just needed to chip away at that jokey exterior for a few more decades and that treasure of emotion would be mine, all mine!

Besides, I know that women aren’t the only ones getting all weepy at that Folger’s coffee commercial where Peter comes home for Christmas. And you’d have to have a heart made of stone not get emotional at weddings, graduations and when your kid finally scores a soccer goal, right?

Sure, some of the stereotypes still ring true. When women get together we tend to drink poetically named cocktails and chat about designer footwear and our children’s wisdom beyond their years with the same level of passion and precision in which we dissect our romantic relationships. Guys tend to drink beer, play poker and watch or play sports-which is likely one of the reasons that women fare better when things go sour in the romance department. We have more opportunities to express our emotions because we can discuss our problems with friends.

Guys, at least the ones I’m around, tend to joke and needle each other when the conversations get serious. It takes a while for them to be comfortable enough to express their own emotions, let alone show empathy for each other. Guys are much more likely to identify their wives or girlfriends as their “best friend,” which may also be a factor in making breakups more emotionally difficult.

Of course the study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior by Simon and co-author Anne Barrett, associate professor of sociology at Florida State University, drew on mental health and relationship data among college students, and most of my experience, at least recent experience, is with full grown adult men.

But even among “Men of a Certain Age,” there is a large body of research that shows that they are actually more affected by relationships than women-they just don’t like to admit it. For example, married men live longer. And women fare much better on their own than men do, both physically and emotionally, although maybe not so much financially,

I guess the one thing we can count on is that interest in the “Mars versus Venus” differences between men and women conundrum will continue to compel lots of research and cocktail party conversations-where the men will only pretend not to listen.

When Leslie’s not pondering the mysteries of the opposite sex, she can be reached at For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.comOriginally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on September 17, 2010.