Things on Cowboy’s Head No.125



Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 125: Clove of garlic. 

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day five years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War – Mary Roach (2016)


If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a serious writing crush on Mary Roach, who, in my opinion, rules the roost on narrative non-fiction. (See reviews of Gulp, Packing for Mars et al.). Naturally, when I saw that her newest book was on the New Releases shelf, I snatched that puppy up.

As always, it was a joy to read. (Honestly, Mary and I would be best friends [in a non-stalker-y way] if we ever moved in next door to each other.)

This volume (as evidenced by the title) covers numerous aspects of the science behind the military’s equipment and people, and whether you have military experience or not, I think you’d really enjoy this read. (Well, I did.)

[Full Disclosure: I was an officer is the U.S. Navy Reserves for 8 years. Very proud of that.] Moving  on…

It’s difficult to do an overall review since I’m just going to fangirl the whole thing, so I thought I’d give you some of the notes that I made as I was having the read:

The U. S. Army’s Natick Labs do loads of important research, but one of their projects has resulted in a sandwich which is supposed to be edible for three years. (I wonder if it has Marmite in it…)


It’s important to understand how humans endure stress of all kinds, so there has been a lot of study in the field of the human startle response (i.e. when you jump at something unexpected that makes you scared initially). I had thought that this would already have been researched to death by now, but there’s always something new to learn.

In the U.S. Marines for example, the instructors have a reputation for being very tough on the recruits, and the reason is that the young recruits need to reduce their startle fight/flight response so that when something critical is happening in a tough situation, their training will kick in, over-ride the natural responses, and they’ll stay alive. A sort of “emotional inoculation” from stressful situations (e.g. noise, blood/guts, being attacked etc.)

For example, the lab studies how humans get sweaty hands when they are stressed out. At first, you might think: big deal. Sweaty hands. You wipe them on your trousers and move on. But it’s more important than that because if you are a USMC corpsman (medical guy) and you have sweaty hands, you’re more likely to drop the stretcher that you’re carrying holding a critical injured person. So there’s research on how the human body can train its startle response to reduce the sweating reaction. (There’s also research, I imagine, on the different materials that can be used to cover the handles of the stretchers to make them less slippery and so on.)

One of the reasons that uniformity within the unit is enforced (i.e. same haircuts, same clothing etc.) is that it trains people to think as a group instead of as an individual. If you look like everyone else (and vice versa), it’s easier for your first response in a stressful situation to be for the good of the group, not just you.

maryroachWho would know this tidbit: Stink bombs play an important role in warfare. One of the goals during WWII was to design a stink bomb that would stick to one’s clothing and lead to “derision or contempt” from others. If the smell in your shirt and trousers, it moves with you so you can’t get away from it. If it’s a bad enough smell, others will be able to smell it and as it’s in your clothing, they’ll associate with you. There’s no getting away from it, and so an effective stink bomb can break up critical meetings, important conversations, or empty rooms. The goal at the time was to make a stink bomb that smells like human poo, one of the most repellant smells to humans (according to Roach). If you make the smell also foul and unidentifiable, people will be more likely to scatter as their first reaction is, typically and from an evolution perspective, not knowing if the smell is dangerous or not. (It also smells really bad so that’s another reason!)

Researchers are also studying the smell of stress. If there are sensors that could be embedded into the actual fabric of uniforms, then the “smart uniforms” could detect when the soldier/sailor was stressed and help people manage their stress levels in dangerous situations.

And then, curiously enough, Roach forays into the world of stomach problems (notably diarrhea) as they are the most common medical issue that arises when soldiers are stationed overseas. Diarrhea not only increases the risk of dehydration (especially important in dry arid places), but also means that the sick soldier in question is thinking more about the possibility of pooing in his/her pants than aiming the trigger or looking for bad guys. (It’s hard to concentrate when you’re sick like that so it’s important that this issue is addressed for both the soldier and to succeed in a military situation. This is something that had not occurred to me before. Thank you, Mary.)

As you can probably surmise, this was an excellent read covering everything from how uniforms have evolved to how war can affect your hearing, make your hands slippery (difficult for the fine motor tasks such as steady hand on trigger situations), getting a genital implant from surviving an IED explosion (impact comes foot-first for the most part as soldiers are probably driving over the placement of the IED…) to the best way to fight off sharks if you get tossed overboard.

Oh, and I can’t forget the fascinating chapter on submarine life.

I loved it.


Carol – Patricia Highsmith (1952)


I was pondering what to read next when I remembered that I had seen the movie, “Carol”, when it was released earlier in the year and loved that so therefore was interested in reading the book itself. I wasn’t disappointed as it was a very good read.

It’s the story of a young shop girl in 1950’s New York City who meets an older richer woman and how their relationship develops. It’s pegged as an early lesbian book, but after reading it, I would argue that the story covers human relationships more than a lesbian one. However, as it was written in 1952 when same-sex issues were extremely undercover (out of necessity) and seen as morally wrong, there’s no denying that the two women have to have a more complicated relationship than would otherwise be seen in those times. (Ahhh. Those judgy 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s….)

Anyhow, the two women are attracted to each other, but is it authentic? Or is one more authentic than the other? And then who’s to say, anyway?

patricia highsmithThere are other issues involved as well: One of the women is older, more experienced, and very rich (the other the opposite in those ways). One of the women is married with a child (and the other is not), and so there is a lot at stake here if the relationship went public (e.g. probable loss of parental rights, loss of money/support etc.) It’s the 1950’s when women still were seen as property (culturally speaking) – women didn’t tend to work (so no $$), property was probably in husband’s name (so women had few assets) and all that jazz. Divorce is frowned upon and if you add in a same-sex relationship, you end up with an explosive mix.

Plus – who is in love with whom? Is the relationship equal in terms of how one feels for the other or there other reasons involved? And there’s the power issues…

It’s a complex novel (as you can tell), but it reads very quickly. It’s one of those books where you read it and then do most of your thinking about it after you’ve finished it. I loved it.

It’s interesting that I think the novel’s complexity also reflects the author’s own complexity as, according to several people, she could be a rude and misanthropic person who preferred animals (particularly snails*) to people. There were also addiction issues, and her personal life was a bit rocky, relationship-wise. (She had an unsettling childhood life as well which probably played a role.) Add to this the fact that she refused to let people put her into any categories of any kind (at a time when *everyone* was put into a category of one sort or another), and you have one very interesting person.

Regardless of how you pin this novel genre-wise, it’s well regarded and Highsmith described it as one of the first same-sex relationship novels where the protagonist and the lover had not killed themselves by the end due to being gay in a homophobic culture. (The two women in this novel are not happy per se in this story, but at least they are alive and breathing at the end. Baby steps, people.)

Anyway, this was a fascinating read for both the narrative and the cultural meaning that surrounded it at the time so I do recommend it. It’s a passionate love story but then it’s also so much more. I really enjoyed it (especially in combination with the film of the same name) and I think you’d like it.

(Highsmith is well known for her other novels including The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on the Train (neither of which I’ve read yet). Has anyone else read anything by her? What did you think?)

Extra for you: An interesting article from The Guardian (05/13/15) about more background behind the book and film.

* Highsmith once took a handbag full of 100 snails and some lettuce to a dinner party. I’m not sure what to say about that, apart from perhaps it reflects her view of being true to herself. Go her. If you want to bring a  bag o’ snails to a dinner party, then you bring them. More power to you.

Hi. Here’s My Weekend Update.

This summer may actually mark a record in terms of how few books I have read (for a variety of reasons). I read twelve books in July 2013, then 5 (2014), then 4 (2015) and then a very paltry 2 for July. Reasons range from general lassitude from summer heat to getting sucked into TV to work pressures to stupid eye problems so all over the place.

Now, I think the summer temps are slowly going down (we had a frigid 85 yesterday :-)), my eye is half-getting better and half-me getting used to it, I saw Halloween candy in the shops, and we’re finished up with our TV series for now. (Looking for new ones though. Any recommendations?)

Of the two books that I read and complete, one was really good and one umm…. wasn’t. (Review of the good one to come.)

The Really Bad Book:


The Five Dysfunctions of the Team – Patrick Lencioni (2002). This is a leadership book widely touted as a great tool for teams and managers, but when I read it, I found it to be really problem-focused instead of solution-focused which led me to having rather a stressful and negative read. However, I may be the outlier here as a lot of people found it to be very useful and relevant. It wasn’t my best book read this summer by a long shot, but you might have a differing opinion. Overall grade was yuck.

I also picked up and rapidly put down the new book of essays written by Jessie Klein, head producer for Inside Amy Schumer. (I missed the big clue about her writing for Amy Schumer of whom I’m not a fan. I found the book to be less than pleasing and regret the hour I spent trying to read it. (Sorry if you’re a fan! Nothing personal.))

But – let’s not dwell on the negative. I had a good weekend…

I spent eight hours at graduation which was actually a lot more fun that I had anticipated. I met a lot of new people, schmoozed around a bit, and it wasn’t as terribly boring as people have reported beforehand. However, I’ve been telling people this, and now they’re saying “Well, wait until May and the BIG graduation.”

Sigh. I’m still holding out hope that it will be better than people report. You just can’t discount how important this ceremony is for the majority of the grads and their families, so I’m doing it for them really.

That was fun but ate up rather a lot of Saturday. The remainder was spent recovering (!), reading and watching the movie Spotlight. (Excellent film about the exposure of the Catholic Priest/child abuse scandal in Boston and elsewhere.)

Sunday was a catch-up day. (One notable event was that I did manage to go to Office Depot and get some of the Post-It tab sticky things so that I can organize my notebook. Pics to come as I’m sure you’re all on tenterhooks watching how this plays out.) Dinner with friends and then early bed.

It was a good weekend. How about you?


Pen News

I know you’ve been dying to know about the pen purchase the other day, and I finally remembered to take a pic to show off my new proudly acquired little writing friend. Here she is:


Ahhh. Hello, my little sweetness.

This is a Pilot Metropolitan with a fine nib in gold brush finish. It’s the same model as my previous ink pen purchase last year, a pen that I have fallen head over heels in love with and that I adore. Another plus: I even use it for most of my notes at work meetings and similar so it’s not something that just sits around being neglected.

It’s perfectly balanced for my hand, a joy to write with, and might even improve my handwriting a bit, all of which to say is a miracle if you ask me. I also ordered the little cubist pen case (or as it was called in England in my youth a pencil case) in a color which just makes me smile when I see it at meetings. The ink is pink. Perhaps not the most professional color ink to use, but as it’s my pen and my writing, I am planning on using this when my current cartridge runs out. I’m wondering how pink is pink…

The fine nib makes a difference as well. I like the medium nib, it’s true, but sometimes only a fine nib will do the trick. (You know you’re OCD* about pens and ink when this is a concern to you in your daily life!) This combined w my Moleskin notebooks makes me a very happy person…

Does anyone else have a thing about ink pens? Or any pens? Or office stationary? Please say yes.🙂

P.S. Completely unrelated to the topic of post, but dying to know anyway: Has anyone see the AbsFab movie? I keep hoping it’s going to come to my city, but the odds are going down week by week.😦

  • Not to make light of a serious condition. My sister and I both have some tendencies and we call it “Overly Caring” instead of the slightly judgy tone of “Obsessive Compulsive.” It works for us.🙂

Monday Check-In.


Wow. Another week goes by and only one post up. Life is still keeping busy, my eye is still messing around (making reading tricky), and work continues on its crazy pace. I hope this slows down soon as I miss my reading, writing, and blogging. And you, of course.


Limpets (of which I speak in this post.)

Of course, another part of all that no-blogging thing has been, naturally, the Olympics from Rio. The Olympics (or Limpets as my family would call them) have rather taken over my world since, as a former collegiate swimmer, I’m addicted to watching just how incredibly fast these new generations are. It’s amazing how the technology and techniques have evolved over the past *cough* thirty years, and it’s even more spectacular how fast the times have become. It’s also pretty darn cool to see the Great British team of swimmers doing great. (Naturally, I’m proud of the USA swimmers as well, but GBR has a lot of my heart.)



Actually, I love watching all the aquatic events so am thinking that when coverage moves on to a different sport, my Limpet viewing will go down. So Limpet viewing along with really HOT temperatures outside has led to us being house hermits the past few days. (Got loads of stuff done IN the house though as there is a lot of fluff that goes along with TV coverage. It’s good fluff, but it’s fluff nonetheless.🙂 )

(It’s also really convenient when we’re all in the same time zone for watching the coverage. Australia was a bit trickier (for us in US) but probably worked much better for some of you out in the global community!)

As I now hold an elected office on campus (go me!), I will be spending next Saturday in graduation ceremonies so preparing myself for that. It’s the first time I’ve been in the Stage Party (i.e. out in the open with the bigwigs up on stage) and since you are in view of the thousands of graduates and families, there’s no phone-playing allowed. Also no naps. There may be some undercover day-dreaming if it’s conducive to that but I think that, for most of the time, I will be looking proudly at each of the graduates who traipse across the stage. It’s a HUGE deal to have a graduating student for the majority of families who will be watching the ceremony, and I want and need to respect that. We have a lot of First-Generation students so the experience means an awful lot to an awful lot of people so I’m looking forward to seeing an awful lot of happy faces.🙂

(Holding any elected office at all, even it’s dog-catcher, is totally outside my experience and comfort zone, but thought I’d try this time around. I won (weird) and it’s keeping me really busy, but it’s also really fun so far.)

I did actually finish up a book. (Woah. I know.) It was Mary Roach’s latest book and was, as usual, a witty and fascinating read. Review to come with that.


And then saw the movie “Straight Outta Compton” about the early hip-hop movement. I don’t really have any/much knowledge of this music genre so it was fascinating learning about the early beginnings of this music and NWA. (Not a big fan of their lyrics, but in terms of music, their story is remarkable and led to much googling down various rabbit holes over the weekend.)

So – with the hot outside temperatures, we don’t really want to go outside much (we’ve had enough of the endless heat at this point of the summer), so there’s lots of indoor time. You won’t believe how clean my bathtub is now.🙂

How’s your summer or winter coming along? Are you as sucked into the Olympics as we are in our household?


Meet one of Cowboy’s Housemates…


(Things on Cowboy’s Head project is on vacation at the moment. In the meantime, here’s Diablo (DB when she’s being good), and her full name is fairly self-explanatory for her younger days as a wild ‘un outside. She’s come a long way.

Cowboy is Diablo’s best friend and she is the only one who understands Diablo’s rather complicated big personality.🙂





Monday Check-In…



It’s been really H-O-T in Texas lately (which is fairly par for the course around here in August), so when it’s this hot, I’m either at the lazy river (doing exactly what it implies) or indoors doing something (like working out or reading etc.)

I’ve been really sucked into Mary Roach’s new book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. Mary Roach, as you may or may not know, is one of the great non-fiction science writers around and whatever the topic, she ends up asking the experts questions which are exactly the type of questions you (or maybe just I) would ask.


This volume covers the science behind the world of the military (primarily the US Army so far but I think Navy come in at some point). As the book jackets states, “Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries – panic, exhaustion, heat, noise – and introduces us to the scientists who conquer them.” And regardless of how you feel about the ethics of war, one still has to consider the equipment and reactions of the young soldiers who are put into that position. To me, it’s fascinating.

(If you haven’t read or heard of Mary Roach, get thee to the library right now. She’s funny, inquisitive, delightful, clever, and if we knew each other, I just know that we’d be best friends (in a non-creepy fashion).🙂 ) Her books include Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the After-Life, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, and Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, and they’re all at least a 7/10 in my book (usually higher for the most part).

I know that I’m usually reading more than one book, but my right eye is *still* bothering me from that surgery I had in April and due to the nerve damage, it feels like fireworks going off in my eyeball and face a lot of the time. A bit distracting at the best of the times, so that’s slowed me down a bit. That, combined with the lassitude of late summer, means lots of lying around á la Victorian heroine and not actually being very productive.

However, over the weekend, I actually did some of those things that were in the “Some Day…” category in the To-Do List. I ordered a new ink pen (this time with a fine nib) along with some cool new ink in a new color, and, of course, a very modish pencil case to go along with this. If you’re curious about the pen, it’s a new Pilot Metropolitan in gold and I’m strangely super-excited to see how this writes. (No doubt there will be updates on here once it’s come in and I’ve tried it. Hold your hats on as I know you’re excited as well.)

As I work on an academic calendar, it was time to get a new planner for the year (and I don’t know about you but I adore office and school supplies) so spent a pleasant hour choosing the right one. And then another pleasant hour filling it in with appointments and meetings with the result that I feel super-organized and hot-to-trot. Bliss.

My twin came out to say hi which was really fun, and then hubby and I are planning our trip to England in Oct/November time to say hello to family and then see some of England itself. I grew up there, but I seemed to spend a lot of time dreaming about coming to America or in a swimming pool training so missed a lot of the sights. (Isn’t that usually the case when you live somewhere cool? You’re busy living life so you don’t do the stuff that tourists do.)


And BIG NEWS (for us – maybe not for you): We have signed up for Blue Apron, the meal delivery service where you order the ingredients for a meal, they deliver them to you and then you cook it. No shopping! No finding a recipe! No finding out halfway through that you don’t have something vital and now you’re going to have to go to the shop… etc. It’s a pretty foodie thing, but so far the recipes have been doable (with some prep time) and I am learning my way around the kitchen as a sous chef. (Superhero is the [bossy] chef.) The end result is that we’re out of the “Food is Boring” trap and now eating stuff you’d never think to try. Yummy. We’ve had both vegetarian and non-veg options and they’ve all great. (And I’m a picky eater.) So recommend this if you’re interested. Worth it.


Oh, and Nova Dog is coming along. She has a few issues but then don’t we all? Here is an example of her latest craft project (above): whittling the wires that come out of my reading lamp but now fixed by Superhero. (Skillsz!) (And yes, the lamp was unplugged so she and her tongue are ok.)

And who, in god’s name, needs SparkNotes for Harry Potter? ….