fierce attachments

a mother-daughter blog about the fierce attachments in our lives… title inspired by Vivian Gornick's wonderful memoir

Category: odds and sods

jew-ish: the life and times of a one-sixteenth jew

by caitlin meredith



I am one-sixteenth Jewish. It’s funny to say it like that, but that’s what it comes down to on the family tree. And, I guess that’s how much Jewish I feel. One-sixteenth.

How exactly does that translate?

Most of the time I don’t feel Jewish, but I don’t feel not Jewish either. I feel Jewish-ish. Since my Jewish blood comes through my mom’s mom’s mom (otherwise known as my maternal grandmother), it would be enough for Israeli citizenship should I want it, and, as my mom pointed out, it would’ve been good enough for Hitler. Blood is what I’ve got to go on since all the women in my family coupled with gentiles and it’s an atheist line.

My mom once told me that the closest she could get to defining her Jewishness was that she gets a family feeling when she was around Jews. I feel the same, but I wonder if that counts. Doesn’t everyone get a family feeling around Jews? Sort of like the Italian mama in the neighborhood is everyone’s mama. Read the rest of this entry »

pooches and pot

by nikki meredith

Alice and LeftyEvery week brings news of yet another way dogs help humans. We’ve know for a while they can be excellent detectives –  diagnosing melanoma with their noses, sensing dangerous blood sugar fluctuations in diabetics and discerning imminent seizures in epileptics. People with dogs are generally healthier – after acquiring a pooch they exercise more, their blood pressure goes down, their sense of well being goes up. And the list goes on. But when I read these studies, I often wonder if anyone has measured the negative effects of dog ownership.

What happens to one’s vocal cords when one yells “shut the fuck up ” 50 times a day to a dog who barks at all manner of threats such as the wind in the willows or her own reflection in the window pane at night?  And what about the effect on one’s lower back of bending over to scoop up dog poop twice a day to say nothing of the cumulative stress of worrying about the accumulation of millions of plastic bags filled with said poop? (And why isn’t there a law mandating that those bags be biodegradable?)  And for all the new friends you make because of the dog, how many do you lose because you’ve become a bore who talks too much about dogs and not enough about movies, books, politics – in short, a dog nut who is more likely to express astonishment at the number of breeds being bred with poodles (Did you know there are now poogles, woodles, schnnodles, scoodles, and Saint Berdoodles? And that’s only a fraction of the number of poodle hybrids.) than she is an opinion about whether Hillary should run or on the pros and cons of housing density along the Highway 101 corridor? Read the rest of this entry »

six weeks in the desert: green valley, arizona

by nikki meredith

desert museum landscape

At home above my desk I have posted this poem by Mary Oliver:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

Oliver calls the poem “instructions for living a life” and it’s advice I try implementing every day of the year — every day except for the six weeks between Memorial Day and the 4th of July.   I don’t have to work on it then because I spend that time in the southern part of the Sonoran Desert and paying attention is a matter of survival. If I don’t I might find myself with the fangs of a rattlesnake sunk into my foot, swarmed by Africanized bees, or charged by a Javelina – to name but a few of the perils I have encountered. One night when I wasn’t paying attention my husband and I, after dinner at a local restaurant, took a walk under a full moon and an ink black sky. I was wearing sandals and stepped on a hive of harvester ants.  Man, were they pissed-off! I spent the better part of that night dabbing toothpaste on multiple stings to relieve the pain. (It helped!)

Most people who can, leave the area in June because of  triple digit temperatures — many days it’s 110 and above — but initially I came because of the heat. If you’re looking for a place to write, the conditions are ideal. There is nothing else to do for most of the day but stay planted in front of a computer in an air-conditioned house.  If I’m not on the trail, by 7 a.m., my morning walk feels more like a death march. Read the rest of this entry »

this old house: my life in a highly permeable membrane

by caitlin meredith

the sad little house on the day I moved in

My house breathes. That’s not the technical term for it, of course – the technical term is that it has “excessive air infiltration.” I had an energy efficiency audit last week that confirmed it. Jim from the energy utility here in Austin hooked up a blower door to my entryway and let it rip. The blower door has a red piece of canvas with a big fan in the center that covers your front doorway. It looks like it would be used to inflate a circus tent but it’s the opposite. It sucks all the air out of your house and then tests the pressure. Well, at least it tries to – my house gave it a good run for its money.

Jim told me the appropriate level of seal for an energy efficient house in this climate would have to be less than 5 air changes per hour, or ACH, for those trying to quantify energy hogs like me. (He also told me that’s measured at 50 pascals of pressure, which I’m passing on to you, dear reader, because it means nothing to me.) The little computer attached to the blower reported that my house had 35 ACH. Was this the worst he’d ever seen? No, but he did later make a casual comparison between my house and a tobacco drying barn, a structure purposely built for open ventilation. Read the rest of this entry »

the last on my list of the most amazing and possibly even true scientific phonomena that blow my mind, continued: Lucy

by nikki meredith

beach woman holding monkeyLucy was an unabashedly uninhibited girl of the ‘60’s for whom the sexual revolution was beside the point. She was able to tap into her erotic resources with no help from Masters and Johnson and she instinctively took responsibility for her own orgasms without so much as a glance at Our Bodies, Ourselves.   Lucy’s story made an impression on me. A big impression.  After reading about her,  I never felt quite the same about a lot of things – sex, the female anatomy, couches, naked men, images of naked men, vacuum cleaners.

Lucy was a chimp who was raised from infancy by Dr. Maurice Temerlin, a University of Oklahoma psychology professor, and his wife Jane.  The couple treated Lucy as a daughter and, as such, tried to socialize her the way they would a human daughter. They arranged for her to learn rudimentary American sign language, they taught her to sit with them at the dinner table, eat with utensils, dress herself and, to some extent, maintain personal hygiene. They had some success in each area, though they made more progress with table manners than with toilet use. And I first read Temerlin’s account of life with Lucy in the late 1960’s in an article in Psychology Today. All of it was interesting but the following was, well, mind blowing. Read the rest of this entry »

my top ten list of the most amazing and possibly even true scientific phenomena that blow my mind, continued: the coolidge effect

by nikki meredith

rooster and his henI wonder if anyone will take offense if I propose that when it comes to sex, males have an appetite for novelty.  I’m not sure appetite is the right word when you’re talking about non-human animals but scientists refer to the male predilection for variety as the Coolidge Effect.  A bull, worn out from copulation, shows no interest in the cow he just had his way with.  But bring on a new cow, and he’ll be rarin’ to go. I remember interviewing one researcher who said that, in his experience, the Coolidge Effect in rams is nearly infinite. “As long as you keep supplying the male with new ewes, he’ll keep going until his body wears out.”

I came across the Coolidge effect when I was writing an article for Psychology Today about the differences between the sex lives of gay men and straight men.  At the time, gay men, on average, had vastly more sexual partners so seemed more predisposed to the phenomenon. Heterosexual men were barely holding their own and the theory was that in order to be in relationships with women, men had to tamp down their natural appetite for variety. There’s been a cultural sea change since then and in any case, one needs to be cautious when applying biological principles across species.  The term, however, does have its origins with humans. Some people say the following story is apocryphal.  I prefer to think that it’s not because I love it. Read the rest of this entry »

murderers are more reliable

by caitlin meredith

caution signThe other day I stopped by the criminal defense attorney’s office that I’ve been doing some work for. His paralegal and I got talking about a particularly unsympathetic client. A young guy with three DWI’s and of course it was always someone else’s fault. I admitted I’d had an easier time working on a recent pedophile’s case – at least he admitted he had a problem and wanted treatment.

I always thought that the hierarchy of criminal awfulness went from murderer on down to shoplifter. In this imagined matrix pedophile placed way, way higher on the disdain grid than drunk driver. Granted, the child sex offender was pretty mild as those cases go, but still – I was shocked by my inversion of sympathies. She wasn’t. “After working as a parole officer for twenty years I can tell you who the best people to work with are: murderers.” Read the rest of this entry »

my top ten list of the most amazing and possibly even true scientific phenomena that blow my mind, continued: body identity integrity disorder

by nikki meredith

amputeeIt’s spring on I-5, my favorite time to be driving to Los Angeles. Miles of apricot, peach and almond trees are in bloom. The experience is so inspiring, that I reach to turn-off NPR – I’m too happy to listen to the world’s problems. But my finger pauses half-way to the radio: a reporter from Australian Public Radio is describing a man who tried to find a surgeon to amputate his healthy left leg. When he couldn’t find a doctor to do it, he bought some dry ice and attempted to freeze off the leg.  By the time he was taken to the hospital, the leg could not be saved and a doctor had to amputate it.  What the hell?

I get off I-5 and stop my car at a truck stop so I can listen to the whole story.

From the time the man was a very little boy, he had the feeling that his left leg didn’t belong and having to live with it made him miserable. He was afflicted with a syndrome called  “body identity integrity disorder.” Read the rest of this entry »

my top ten list of the most amazing and possibly even true scientific phenomena that blow my mind, continued

by nikki meredith

woman yawning

As I wrote last week, the criteria for this top ten  “best” list is a little mysterious even to me. From the raging river of data that flows through my brain daily, some bits and pieces stick. Sometimes they hang on because they reveal something startling or offer a little piece of a larger puzzle. Some because they are bizarre or funny. A considerable  number, as in today’s offering, have to do with sex. Again, as I indicated last week, I want new material. So, dear reader, send me something “amazing and possibly even true” from your list.

Yawning Orgasms

A number of years ago I started noticing that some of my friends who were taking anti-depressants were behaving a little off. Two behaviors come to mind: blurting that was short of Tourette’s but nonetheless a tad on the inappropriate side and a tendency to encroach on other people’s personal space. One night at a party I was talking to a friend when I noticed that she kept inching closer until we were practically nose-to-nose. She was so close that my eyes got wobbly. I started backing away so that I could keep her in focus. As I retreated, she advanced until our little pas-de-duex had me up against the wall with nowhere to go. I decided to write an article. The working title was Out of Whack on Prosac. I loved that title. My editor, however, was not enamored. She rejected it. I grumbled and secretly suspected that Eli Lilly was a potential advertiser. Read the rest of this entry »

ten of the most amazing and possibly even true scientific phenomena that blow my mind

by nikki meredith

twin babies

When I was a little girl, my family camped in Yosemite Valley every summer.  My favorite memory from those trips was a night we slept outside on cots.  I assume the moon was a sliver because the sky was inky and I remember saying to my father that the stars looked like diamonds.  I must have been pretty young because when my father pointed out the Milky Way, I remember wondering it they named it after the candy bar. But the memory that stayed with me the most indelibly was when my father told me that some of the stars we were looking at had died. He explained that they were so far away that their light, or, rather, their lack of light, hadn’t yet reached us. That seemed unbelievable.   I remember trying to make out his face in the dark to see if he was kidding. When I was satisfied that he wasn’t, I looked back to the sky in awe.  I couldn’t quite grasp that I was looking at something that wasn’t there. It seemed like magic.

Last month when various news outlets were coming out with their 10 “best” lists for the year – best movies, books, t.v. shows — I thought about bests in my life and for some reason I remembered that night with my family.  Learning about unfathomable distances scored as a kind of best in my life and I wondered how of the many things I learned in 2012 stood out.  I couldn’t come up with ten for 2012.  Off the top of my head, I couldn’t even come up with one for the year. So I changed it to a lifetime and was able to list quite a few more than ten. Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: