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April 2007

Prom

Prom_2 A few weeks ago, my son grudgingly told me that he had invited someone to his high school prom. Any efforts on my part to get further information about this event have been stonewalled. I got the name of his date and that was about it, other than his usual, "Mom, don't worry about it."

I'm glad I followed his advice. Today I got an email from the mother of one of hisLimo_3 classmates. I was bowled over by this epistle. This woman and her daughter have organized everything. They have chosen a limo company (after researching price and safety records), found a host for a pre-prom party, and put a deposit down on a house for an after-prom weekend. The email included a link to the rental house and an Excel spreadsheet with all the contact information for the kids and their parents in this group. The email also told us that further information was coming - a list of supplies to bring and an agreement for the kids to sign about expectations and behavior. She also asked if we wanted to plan a parent meeting so we could discuss all this further.

I couldn't help but think back to my own prom. Now I'll date myself, but let's just say that the seventies was not a great time to be in high school. The excitement of the sixties were over, the excess of the eighties had not yet arrived, and we were in general, a kind of sour, badly dressed bunch. Organized events were decidedly uncool. I did have a date to the prom, but to say it was no big deal understates the point. When my date arrived, my parents weren't even home. My date did not bother to rent a tux and didn't own a jacket. He was wearing a t-shirt, and we rummaged through my older brother's closet looking for something he could wear.

We got as far as the door of the club where the prom was being held, and my date said, "this looks like a drag." I agreed. We left. The rest of the evening does not bear blogging. Most friends my age had similar experiences. My husband's senior class pooled the money they had been saving for prom, canceled the event, and split the cash. Parents, of course, were nowhere to be found in this mix; they simply weren't involved, let alone running things with the aplomb of CEOs.

In the long run, I'm not sure which approach is healthier.


Veal Chops with Tomato-y rice

Vealchop_2 The veal chops were an impulse buy - they were shoulder chops and they looked good. I wasn't sure how to prepare them but took a flyer and it worked out well. On each chop, I ground some pepper, then spread a little Dijon mustard and fresh chopped garlic. I also had some fresh rosemary in the 'fridge, so I sprinkled that on as well. Broiled them for seven minutes a side.

With this, I made regular Uncle Ben's rice, to which I added a can of stewed tomatoes.  (I added the stewed tomatoes to the water, brought it to a boil, and then added the rice.) Once the rice/tomato mixture was cooked -after 20 minutes - I grated some cheddar cheese into it. Added a dash of hot sauce and a little celery salt. The Weatherman and the Boy both had seconds.


Corrections

Marileejones I hate it when a correction has to be made on a story I have written for the NewMit York Times. I have had very  few during the 20 years I have been contributing to the newspaper. But I did have one recently - there was a spelling mistake in a story I wrote that was published earlier this month. I misspelled the name of Marilee Jones, the director of admissions at MIT in a story I wrote about college admissions angst. (I pegged her as "Merilee.") Several readers pointed out my mistake, and I had to call my editor, who was not happy, and the requisite correction appeared in the following week's Westchester section.

There's always a little temptation to disregard it when a reader points out a boo-boo. No one wants to look sloppy in front of their boss. But truth will out, so I made the call and dealt with the reprimand.

If only Marilee Jones had done the same. Yesterday word got out that Ms. Jones, who has become a rock star in the college admissions world, had faked her resume. I must say, she did it in style, giving herself degrees from Union, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Albany Medical College. I'm particularly taken with the last claim. Twenty seven years ago, she was applying for a job as a secretary and she gives herself a medical degree? And this didn't raise eyebrows?

I have to say I was completely charmed by this woman. She has a background as a torch singer, so she knows how to perform. She was disarming, funny and she complimented me on my admittedly very pretty azure blue cashmere sweater. But the point is, her message was a good one - college admissions is out of control. Calm down, stay healthy and be true to yourself. If only she could have listened to her own message.

One more thing - I'd like to know who turned her in. The fact that MIT got the tip about her faked resume right after the end of the admissions cycle - that is, right after MIT sent out its rejection letters, does make me wonder about a disgruntled parent who may have been moved to check out Ms. Jones background.


Regular ol' chicken

Chickendinner I haven't posted any food entries in awhile, but it's not because I haven't been feeding my family. It's just that I haven't served anything really inspirational lately. When you cook pretty much every night, not every meal will be blog-worthy. But least you think that the Weatherman and the Boy have been going hungry, tonight's dinner was typical - plain but tasty.

We had baked chicken thighs, roast potatoes and salad. Everyone knows how to make these things, but I'll just say about the chicken that I splurged on organic chicken thighs, which were very tasty. Given that the quality of the poultry was so good, I didn't want to bury it in sauce. I just put a little butter, pepper, tarragon, and a couple of shakes of the white kind of Worcester sauce. (It's made for fish and chicken, as oppose to the dark kind, which favors beef.) The boys cleaned their plates.

And while this has no relevance whatsoever to cooking, it is hockey playoff time, so GO RANGERS!


Transition

Mommynewborn It's been quite awhile since I've been in Lamaze class, but as I recall, the last stage of labor was something called "transition." It sounded like it hurt like hell, and the advice was to pant with rapid breaths to get through it. (I ended up with two C-sections and never did get to use all those breathing techniques.)

Anyway, I've been thinking about the term "transition" lately. There are so many of them going on in my life these days. My daughter is graduating from college and beginning the transition into independent, adult life. My son is graduating from high school and will be making the transition to college. (I almost typed "my baby" there, but my sister tells me that there is something distasteful in describing a 6-foot-tall, 18- year-old as a baby.)

Everything these days is tinged with the theme of "last." The last soccer game, the last school play, theCapanddiploma_2 last PTA meeting. All the fun stuff - senior beach day, the prom, even graduation, is tinged with bitter-sweetness. There are days now when I gaze at my son, think about him leaving home, think about a childless household,  and it hurts so much I catch my breath. So I'm coming full circle. I'm going to resurrect my Lamaze breathing and pant my way through the transition.  Because eventually, there's probably something wonderful coming out of this.


Iced?

Carvel_2 People who grew up around here probably remember one of the worst, and yet most strangely compelling television commercials ever. I am referring to Tom Carvel, asking in his gravely, mumbling voice, "Have you tried my Fudgie the Whale Cake?" It was aggressively low-tech, but oddly memorable.

Tom Carvel, the story goes, sold ice cream from a truck. In 1934 on Memorial Day weekend, he was driving down Central Avenue in Hartsdale and got a flat tire. The ice cream started to melt, so he offered passer bys a two-for-one deal. He discovered that his customers loved the softer ice cream. Two years later he opened his first Carvel shop on the spot the truck broke down.

Fudgiethewhale_2 He died in 1990, after selling the company to an investment bank for $80 million. That's a lot of Fudgie the Whale cakes. The Carvels didn't have any kids, but they did establish a foundation, the Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation, which supports children's programs. They also have a niece, Pamela. When Agnes died in 1998, things got ugly with the money almost immediately . Evidently one will left the family fortune to the foundation. But Pamela filed a new will which left the money to her. A court-appointed guardian accused Pamela Carvel of manipulating Agnes out of millions of dollars.

The case is ongoing, but today the Journal News reports that there's a new twist. Pamela has demanded Tomcarvel the exhumation of the body of poor (I mean that in the beleaguered sense, not financial) Tom Carvel. Pamela Carvel now claims that her uncle died just before he was planning to fire two employees who he suspected of stealing millions of the company. She suspects foul play.

To my taste, there is nothing better than a Carvel bonnet cone -  the soft swirl ice cream that's then dipped in chocolate sauce which instantly hardens to make a crunchy shell. But hearing all this sordid stuff about the family kind of takes a little bit of the sweetness out of each bite.


My Hot New Laptop

Macbookpro_4 The very first post I ever made on this blog was about the sad demise of my old computer. I feared I would never love again, but in fact over the last month and a half, I have developed a very affectionate relationship with my spiffy new lap top.

Love, as we know, must be based on trust, and after having been so betrayed by my old machine, it was hard for me to fully relax and accept that this slim and swanky MacBook Pro would not suddenly abandon me, taking all of our shared memories with it.

Everything has been going really well between us until today. It was so gorgeous out, I reasoned that there was no point in having a laptop if you can't carry it out to Sunhat_4 your backyard and get a little work done in the sunshine. Sure, there was a glare on the screen, but it was definitely doable.

But after a few minutes in the afternoon sun, my lap top started breathing heavily.Sunglasses It was not showing signs of desire, believe me - it sounded more like a dehydrated dog, with a repeated heaving, breathy rhythm. This was very scary. The computer was also quite hot to the touch, so I brought it inside into the shade, let it cool down, and then for good measure, turned it off for a few hours.

Does anyone know about this phenomenon?  What did it want? A tall glass of ice tea and a sun hat? The laptop is behaving again this evening, but I realize that we still have a lot to learn about each other.


Should It Be So Hard to Tally Votes Fairly?

Should It Be So Hard to Tally Votes Fairly?
Wecol190

By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: April 22, 2007
WITH the 2008 presidential campaign already making headlines, the question is how Westchester is going to vote. I mean that literally — not whether the county will vote Democratic or Republican, but actually how will those votes be cast, on what kind of machinery?

Federal law mandates that the old lever-style machines be replaced. It’s up to our two county election commissioners, both political appointees, to choose the new electronic equipment on which Westchester residents will cast their ballots. But what we’re getting, and when we’re getting it, is completely up in the air, dependent on forces well beyond local control.

One thing election officials agree on — forget 2007 for the new machines; it’s not going to happen. And if the new equipment is ready for 2008, some people are wondering if it should be used. Is a presidential election really the right time to be asking citizens to acquire new voting skills?

The seeds of the current impasse were planted just after the contested 2000 presidential election (think butterfly ballots and hanging chads). In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which required that punch-card and lever machines be replaced and set new standards for running elections. It sounds straightforward enough. But putting the new law in place in New York has been problematic, to say the least.

“I’ve heard it referred to as the ‘Hinder America Vote Act,’ because it’s raised more problems than it solved,” said Marion S. Sinek, a former president of the League of Women Voters of New York State and now an adviser to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Ms. Sinek recently addressed the League of Women Voters of New Castle to talk about the conversion to electronic voting, the pros and cons of different types of machines and the political morass surrounding the issue.

Each state had to comply with the 2002 federal voting law, Ms. Sinek said. New York’s legislature, never known for acting with dispatch, finally passed the Election Reform and Modernization Act in 2005. The state law is considered one of the most stringent in the country. It has tough auditing standards, requires what is called a voter-verified paper trail and mandates that voting machine vendors put the software codes of their machines into escrow to help detect hacking.

The law also specifies that election commissioners in each county select their own voting machines, so voters in Westchester may be voting on equipment different from that used in Putnam. Nor are all electronic voting machines created equal.

It’s easy to get lost in the alphabet soup of acronyms of the different models. You’ve got D.R.E.’s and P.B.O.S.’s The first are direct-recording electronic machines; a voter touches a screen, and the vote is recorded. P.B.O.S.’s are precinct-based optical scanners; a voter marks a paper ballot, which is then scanned by an electronic machine.

The League of Women Voters favors the optical scanners, because they say it is easier to recount and verify votes and the machines are less prone to security flaws. But proponents of the direct-recording devices argue that they are easier to use, particularly for the disabled.

Which way will Westchester election commissioners go? Right now, they can’t go anywhere. State law requires that counties choose their machines from a state-approved list. But the state hasn’t approved any machines yet. Why? Because New York suspended its $3 million contract with Ciber Inc., the laboratory that was testing the new models, after federal officials found deficiencies in its practices.

Lee K. Daghlian, a spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections, said the board would soon put out a request for proposals for a new testing company. In the meantime, the Justice Department has sued the state for failing to comply with earlier deadlines in the federal voting act. The new machines were supposed to be certified by May 7, with the counties making their choices and reporting back to the state by May 11. Mr. Daghlian said he hoped to be able to provide counties with a list of certified machines “some time in the fall.”

Carolee C. Sunderland, the county’s Republican election commissioner, said she was frustrated with the current state of affairs.

“Westchester won’t be in compliance, but it’s not because of anything the county, the board or the people have done,” Ms. Sunderland said. “The state has been so far behind. We’re going to have to look at what’s best for the voters. And we know in the computer world, what’s new now is old by the time you get it a month from now.”

While Westchester waits, reports of malfunctioning machines and more contested elections are coming in from states that have already converted to electronic voting. “So much has happened to erode people’s confidence,” Ms. Sinek said, “people need to know that their votes will be counted.”

E-mail: westweek@nytimes.com


Garden & Gun

Pggardenandgun Recently, the premiere issue of a new magazine arrived in my mailbox. The title of this new publication - "Garden & Gun." I am not making this up.  A brief perusal of the contents shows a picture of a woman shooting a bow and arrow, a couple of profiles and sure enough - articles on hunting and articles on gardens.

Needless to say, I didn't order this magazine, so I am left to wonder how they imagined I would fit into their demographic.The "concept" behind "Garden & Gun" according to their website, is that "in the 21st century American South, there is a breed of modern men and women whose mindset is at once old world and new. They thrive on immersing themselves in the places and events that have always been a part of their lives. Yet they seek innovation - the ideas, places and people who are making things happen in the new South."

How any of that translates into a joint interest in gardens and guns is a mystery to me. However, since niche marketing is all the rage, I am thinking about refining this magazine category even more. Here are a few title suggestions: "Roses and Rifles." "Gardenias and Glock 7s." "Azaleas and Assault Weapons." "Snapdragons and Shotguns." And, just to be provocative and give this a news hook - "Camellias and Campus Slaughter."


Just checking In

Betterphone Normally, I talk to my daughter about once a week. One of us usually phones the other on Sunday evening and we catch up. That was until Monday. Not a day has gone by since the Virginia Tech shootings that I haven't needed to hear her voice. Where I use to have the vague outlines of her life - a paper due this week, a visit from the boyfriend next weekend - now I've got the details. From our daily talks I know about the graduation dress she has her eye on, a nice white eyelet cotton, and that it was briefly on sale, but before she knew it, the price had shot back up by $40.  I know about  how the visit with the boyfriend went (well,not all of it, but at least in more detail than usual), about what she had for dinner last night  and  how one of her best friends is now considering moving to N.Y. City  with her after graduation.

In turn, she has heard about the meatloaf I made last night (what a thrill), the column I'm writing for this week, all about my visit with my sister, her brother's rehearsals for his high school senior class musical and even what the cats have been up to.

Normally, she might not have much patience with this much contact - after all, my nickname when she was in high school was "Psycho Mom." But I sense she wants to hear my voice as much as I need to hear hers these days. She is devouring the news of family life at home as much as I am eagerly parsing through her days at college.

I can't stop thinking about all those parents who have lost this simple, amazing treasure. I imagine them dialing and redialing their children's cell phone numbers, just to hear the voices saying "Hey. I'm not here right now. But leave a message and I'll call you back." And then knowing that they will never, ever get that call.


Mental Health on Campus

Virginiatech In just a few weeks,  I will attend my daughter's college graduation on a quiet, leafy green campus in the Midwest. A few months after that I will bring my son up for freshman orientation at another bucolic spread, this one tucked amongst the mountains and pine trees in Maine. I've always considered these schools to be safe havens, intimate oases where they will develop their minds, their bodies and their souls.

I don't think there is a parent of a college student anywhere in  this country who didn't feel the residual blast from the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech. Each one of us imagines what it would have been like to get that phone call. Each one of us picked up the phone to hear our child's voice.  We pray for the victims' families - mothers and fathers, grandparents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, boyfriends and girlfriends - the shock waves that emanate like a bomb blast from every one of those murders.

Vthat There's a lot of talk about blame right now - did the administration react quickly and carefully enough? Was enough attention paid to the warning signs of a troubled young man? What about the easy access to guns?

All that is legitimate query, but there's a trickier question that also needs to be addressed in the aftermath of this tragedy. The mental health of college students is deteriorating. This isn't just conjecture on my part. Campus mental-health centers are overwhelmed. A report recently released by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America says that demands for mental health services has surged to an all-time high. On some campuses, students need to wait weeks - even months - for appointments.

There are a lot of reasons that this is the case. Increasing numbers of kids with a history of mental illnesses are arriving on campus. In many cases these are kids who in generations past could never have attended college.  But with the advent of psychiatric medications that can help control mania, depression, anxiety, hallucinations and other disorders, these kids can and do go to college.

The American College Health Association's National College Health Assessment last spring, which coveredAnxietydisasoc_3 95,000 students on 117 campuses found that 16 percent of students reported that on at least five occasions during the preceding academic year, they had "felt so depressed it was difficult to function." More than 9 percent had seriously considered suicide, and one in every 100 had attempted suicide in the previous year. That is an amazing statistic.

Sadgirl_2 Colleges are in a double bind on this - they face liability when a student does kill himself and they face law suits if they dismiss a kid who is having mental health issues, including suicidal behavior. Interestingly, Virginia recently became the first state to pass legislation that bars public colleges and universities from punishing or expelling students "solely for attempting to commit suicide, or seeking mental health treatment for suicidal thoughts or behaviors."

Then, to add to the complexity, are privacy laws which prohibit colleges from contacting parents about their child's health. When my daughter was a college sophomore, she ran a fever for three weeks, lost 12 pounds, couldn't get out of bed and told me her nail beds were disintegrating. When I tried repeatedly to speak to the doctor, even with my daughter's permission, he would not speak to me about her condition. (I flew her home and brought her to a physician here.) What if she had been depressed? Suicidal? Bipolar? Would she have told me? And  if she had tried to get help on campus, would she have faced long waits for an appointment?

Gunhand_3 There are no easy answers to this, but it's time to start asking the questions. There are a lot of troubled kids on campuses throughout the country. Obviously, most students  who struggle with mental illness are not mass murderers, and kids who struggle with a host of disorders can and should be able to go to college. But as all the blame is spread around, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the trigger was pulled by a distraught, suicidal and deeply disturbed person who needed help -before he slaughtered 33 people.


At a Liberal Arts College, She'd Like a Bigger Tent

15we_people600 By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: April 15, 2007
New York Times

Yonkers

LET’S start by addressing the obvious. There was no nepotism involved when Karen Lawrence was named the 10th president of Sarah Lawrence College. Despite what she describes as “the karma and coincidence” of sharing a name with the school, the match was professional, not personal.

Dr. Lawrence, 58, who will assume her post in August, comes to Sarah Lawrence from the University of California, Irvine, where she began serving as dean of humanities in 1998. Even within that large research institute, Dr. Lawrence said, she tried to create the kind of intimacy and dialogue in which liberal arts colleges specialize.

Sarah Lawrence, with its Bronxville post office and its 45-acre Yonkers campus, is nationally known for its strength in the humanities, fine arts and creative writing. The college has 1,200 undergraduates and attracts creative, high-achieving students. The 2007 Fiske College Guide describes Sarah Lawrence as “the free-spirited sister of the East Coast alternative institutions.”

On a recent visit to the campus here, Dr. Lawrence met with faculty and students in an attempt to better know the 79-year-old college she is to lead. The college has a six-to-one faculty-student ratio and prides itself on its don system, modeled after Oxford University’s tutorials, in which a faculty adviser meets weekly with freshmen and remains involved throughout their college careers. Students are encouraged to design their own course of studies; there are no department syllabuses, and grades are available only on request.

“Sarah Lawrence has a unique pedagogical philosophy, based on John Dewey, that a student is responsible for his or her own education,” Dr. Lawrence said. “But with our faculty involvement with students, you’ve got a lot of independence and yet a lot of collaboration.”

She is a fervent advocate for the value of a liberal arts education, arguing that strong writing ability, analytical thinking and cultural literacy are critical skills for a fast-changing world.

With tuition and fees topping $50,000 and a relatively small endowment, Dr. Lawrence said she saw her role at Sarah Lawrence as protecting and advancing its distinctive academic style, while “creating a bigger tent, welcoming students who would not otherwise be able to afford this incredible place.” Priorities will include building the endowment and offering more scholarships.

She also hopes to improve the college’s relationship with both Bronxville and Yonkers. The Princeton Review’s 2007 edition of “The Best 361 Colleges” ranked Sarah Lawrence as having the second worst town-gown relationship in the country. (Trinity College, in Hartford, was first.) In 2004, Sarah Lawrence students were harassed in a string of incidents; young men in passing cars hurled everything from water balloons to antigay slurs at them. Dr. Lawrence has been in touch with the mayors of both Bronxville and Yonkers and hopes the college will become more of a community destination.

“It’s exciting to be living in a place with a college close by,” she said. “I don’t know if we’ve exploited that as well as we might.”

Dr. Lawrence also said she believes faculty and students would like to see an increase in the number of male students. The college, which began admitting men in 1968, is now roughly 27 percent male. Attracting more men, she said, would involve “telling the story of the college” better, emphasizing its lesser-known strengths in the sciences and its athletic facilities.

Dr. Lawrence, who grew up in New Jersey, attended Smith College but transferred to Yale, and was in the first graduating class of women there, in 1971.

“The male-female ratio was nine to one, and you were always asked for the woman’s point of view,” she said. “I felt the burden of having to represent 50 percent of the population.”

She went on to receive her master’s degree from Tufts University and her doctorate from Columbia University. She and her husband, Dr. Peter Lawrence, a vascular surgeon, both found jobs at the University of Utah, where they lived for 18 years and raised two sons. The family then moved to California.

At Irvine, Dr. Lawrence helped develop two centers — one for writing and translation and the other for Persian studies. She also helped raise money for endowed chairs and fellowships. A professor of English and comparative literature, Dr. Lawrence has interests that include 20th-century fiction, travel writing and women’s fiction. She is particularly passionate about Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, and was president of the International James Joyce Foundation.

Dr. Lawrence will move into the president’s house in July. She and her husband will have a bicoastal relationship for now. (Her husband directs the Gonda Vascular Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is a professor of surgery at the medical school there.)

When she interviewed for the presidency at Sarah Lawrence, Dr. Lawrence told the committee she hoped she would be able to continue teaching. She was gently discouraged. (They laughed at the idea, she admitted, given the time commitment faculty members make to students.) She hopes to give guest seminars.

She also admitted to having done a brief genealogy Google search on the family name. So far, no Sarahs.


Unreal University

Beautifulstanford You know how I thought the Whole Foods in California was more like a foodArchedbuilding museum than a real grocery store? Well, I'm pretty sure that Stanford University is actually a movie set. There is no way this is a real college. Again, I have to let the photos speak for themselves. My sister works at this institution and she testifies that the students are scary smart. And no wonder.

Check out their latest admissions statistics. This year,Palmtreeandtower 23,956 kids applied. Of those, 1715 were accepted regular decision; 750 got in early decision. California accounts for the largest group offered admission, with 958 students getting those happy fat envelopes. You know how many kids got in from the entire state of New York? 107. That's 107. Out of all the public and private schools in the state.

Bikesaplenty_2 Now of those kids who applied, 90 percent were in the top 10 percent of their class. More than 75 percent of kids who got in had a 4.0 or higher. Oh, and the kids from this country who got in - 52 percent are African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, American Indians and Native Hawaiians.Gorgeousarch

Housing What do they get when they get here? An indescribably beautiful campus, complete with palm trees and Spanish-style buildings. Nobel prize winning professors. Cafeterias with stir fry stations and fresh carrot Carrot_juicer juice. (Hey, it's California.) And when it's pouring and gray in New York, they've got sunshine, sunshine, sunshine. Is it too late to retake my SATs?




Wholely Unfair

Wfentrance I'll admit it. I have California grocery envy.  I'm out here on the West CoastSushibarwf visiting my sister, and it's not enough that they have gorgeous sunny weather while New York is getting punished by a nasty storm. You should see the food situation out here! The first time I saw Whole Foods, I thought it was a food museum. There was no way that these luscious displays could actually be for sale.

Dscn1855 Now Westchester does have a Whole Foods, in White Plains, which is certainly nicer than the average grocery store in New York, not to mention considerably more expensive. But the one out here is an entirely different animal. Where to start? The five different kinds of fish chowder for sale? The fact that the sushi bar that has more choices than my local sushi restaurant? The stir fry station? The produce section that looks like a Cezanne painting?Producewf_3

Did I mention the free samples? Six different kinds of apples, three different kinds of mango, various cheeses, and the least said about our time spent in the bakery department the better.

Fishwfs I'm just going to sprinkle this entry with the photos I took until the manager came over to ask me to please stop - something about competition and proprietary rights.  He was pretty sympathetic when I explained that I was just a food tourist and wanted to show my friends in New York how Californians get to shop. Oh and one more thing - when we checked out and paid for the food, the guy who packed the food (yes, they pack it for you here) said, "Have a fun day! Enjoy!" Wfstrawberrysalad_7

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Wfolives


New Feature!

Shoppingbag

The Kate Chronicles is introducing a new feature - Shopping! Perhaps you think I love shopping.Wrong. I can't stand it. But if I find something great, I can share it with the world. And if instead my quest was a real, time-wasting disappointment, I'd like to save my friends the pain of shopping that I went through. If you happen to be shopping this week for a pair of jeans that actually fits, check out "It's In the Jeans."


It's In the Jeans

Nydjeans

I had such high hopes for the new "Not Your Daughter's Jeans" brand. Like many women of a certain age, I was frustrated with low rising jeans, which in my opinion aren't terribly attractive on anyone, and certainly not on me. I don't want to share my backside with the world and I suspect the world doesn't want to see it. There'd been a lot of press about these "Not Your Daughter's Jeans."  They were touted as well-cut, flattering, slimming and promised to actually fit. I even went to two different stores to find them.

What a let down. First, the ones that Nordstroms had were really ugly - a dark denim with gold stitching. But worse of all, they had something called a "tummy tuck panel." This is the blue jean equivalent of control top pantyhose and it is wrong, wrong, wrong! Jeans are for comfort, not for show. Not that the show was good. The tummy panel simply pushed the tummy up and out. And the jeans did ride high - they were almost Urkel style. To add the ultimate insult, they were charging $98 for these puppies.

Dejected, I went to the regular women's department (the NYDJ jeans were in a little boutique section) and asked a nice young woman to help me. She pointed out some DKNY jeans which were cut about an inch and a half  higher than my actual daughter's jeans, had nice tailoring and were only $48.

Tummy tuck panels? The last time I had a panel on my stomach it was in maternity jeans and that one expanded. These new things certainly weren't my daughter's jeans, or mine or my mother's for that matter. Yuck!


Listening In

Harrisonford On the subject of manners again, have you noticed that people are not only eavesdropping more, but don't seem to have any sense that they are doing anything rude? Last night I was out with my friend Carin and we were discussing movies. As usual, I was trying to remember somebody's name, in this case a famous actor. I said, "Who is that guy - you know the one I use to think was really hot, but who got old and craggy?" Before Carin could say a word, our server -who I hadn't noticed hovering - said, "Harrison Ford?" Sheesh. (He was right, too.)

On another recent outing with my family, my daughter was telling my husband and me that she had not been feeling well, and began to describe her symptoms. Suddenly from the next table, a woman started braying loudly - "It's her thyroid. I'm sure of it. Tell the doctor to check her thyroid."

We had a saying back in second grade which I think needs to be resurrected: "Mind your own beeswax!"


Minding Your Blog Manners

Missmanners The headline on the front page of today's New York Times reads, "A Call for Manners in the World of Nasty Blogs." (That's Miss Manners, by the way, in the corner. It's not easy illustrating a story on blogs.) Well, I got kind of nervous when I saw this. My blog has so far taken shots at Andy Spano, Jim Steets and several at Martha Stewart. Am I a rude blogger?

Upon further delving into the story, though, it seems that the bad manners they are talking about constitute nasty anonymous commentary on blogs, death threats to bloggers, stealing and posting photos of bloggers' children on other blogs, and cutting and pasting bloggers' photos onto pornographic pictures. Then there's your garden variety mocking of bloggers, which is the only thing on this list that I think is fair game.

Though I know the Internet can be a wild and woolly place, I had no idea that this kind of nastiness abounds. So while only the teeniest, tiniest part of me thought, "well, at least they have readers" the rest of me is grateful that those readers I do have are a very polite and genteel groups. Thanks, guys.


Lamb Curry - fast and slow

Lamb_curry I had bought a pretty big leg of lamb for Easter dinner, so I had leftovers. Lamb leftovers are a treasure. Tonight I made fast lamb curry, because it was Monday night, and I had one article due today and a column due Thursday and no one in the house had clean underwear and...well, you get the picture.

Fast Lamb Curry

Take leftover lamb and cut it into bite size pieces. I think I had about 2 cups of cooked lamb left, maybe a little less. I put this is a pan with one jar of Patak's Original Rich Tomato and Onion Cooking Sauce. (It will probably not surprise you to know that I get this at my trusty A & P.) After dumping the sauce onto the chopped lamb, I refilled the jar about a third of the way with some red wine, shook it up - to dislodge any remainders of the sauce - and added that to the pan too. Then I shook some curry powder and some cumin on top (probably just under a teaspoon each) and let the whole thing simmer for about half an hour.

Served it over Balsamic rice, with fresh chopped cilantro. I added sweetened coconut flakes to mine, but the Weatherman and the Boy took a pass on that addition.

Slow Lamb Curry

If it wasn't a Monday or if I was entertaining, here's the other way I'd make curry using left over lamb. This comes from a strange cookbook called "With a Jug of Wine" by Morrison Wood, which was first published in 1949. It takes forever to make, but it is so good!

2 apples                                        1 cup consomme
1 green pepper                          1/2 cup dry red wine
2 onions                                        1 lemon, juice and grated rind
1 crushed clove of garlic          1/2 cup seedless raisins
2 tablespoons olive oil               2 whole cloves
2 tablespoons flour                        2 cups diced cold lamb (cooked)
1 teaspoon curry powder            1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon salt                        1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon thyme

Core pare and slice the apples, chop up a green pepper and slice two peeled onions. Saute these, together with the garlic, in 2 tablespoons olive oil, until onions are limp. Then sprinkle over the contents of the skillet 2 level tablespoons of flour, 1 level tablespoon of curry powder, and 1/2 teaspoon each of the salt, marjoram and thyme. Mix the contents of the skillet well, stirring constantly, and cook 5 minutes. Then add 1 cup of consomme, 1/2 cup of red wine, the lemon juice and the rind, 1/2 cup of raisins, and 2 cloves. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Now add the lamb and the coconut. Let this head for 15 minutes and just before serving add the sour cream, mixing it well into the rest.

I love the way Mr. Wood describes serving this meal: "On your buffet table have a large wooden bowl of hot, flaky rice. Next to it place your bowl of curry. And that's all there is to it. Of course, if you want to be swanky (and who doesn't) you should have small dishes of condiments, with a small spoon in each containing chutney, chopped sweet pickles, chopped hard-boiled eggs, chopped mild (or little green) onions, chopped nuts, shredded pineapple and finally chopped orange peel. Turn your guests loose, telling them first to make a mound of rice on their plates, then cover it with curry, and finally to sprinkle a little of each condiment over the whole. Next day they'll probably start a movement to make you...well, at least vice president."


Easter Dinner

Lamb_3

Yikes! I was so busy preparing and serving Easter dinner that I forgot to photograph it. And yes, I know that it's kind of tacky to feature a cute little picture of a lamb when that was main course. That said, here is a really good recipe for leg of lamb, courtesy of Julia Childs.


6 lbs. (1/2 leg) of lamb

Mix together:
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 clove chopped garlic
1 teaspoon rosemary (less if fresh)
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Coat the meat with mixture. Roast 1 to 1 1/4 hour at 350. (If you like, you can turn up the over to 400 for the first 10 minutes, then lower to 350 for the remainder.)

I served this with roasted potatoes and asparagus vinaigrette. For dessert we had strawberries and brownies. This was about 4 hours ago, and The Boy just asked me what I was planning to cook for dinner.


Jim Steets' Bad Week

Indianpoint_2 My friend Carin (hi Carin) and I once discussed writing an article on the worst jobs in Westchester. For all I know, with my swiss cheese memory, one of us actually wrote it. But this week, I say Jim Steets has the worst job in the county. Jim is the spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, owners of the Indian Point Power Plant.

Jim's week started going badly as early as Monday, when testing revealed that 123 of the 150 new emergencyEntergy sirens were malfunctioning. As Mr. Steets put it in a dry understatement, the tests "indicated a need for additional work." On Tuesday, a water-pump control device developed problems that  shut down Indian Point 3 for a day. Jim's comment: "There were no safety implications or margins diminished in any way." Then the poor pr man had only two full days to rest his silver tongue. By Friday an explosion and fire that sent black smoke spewing from a huge electrical transformer shut the reactor down again. Any cause for worry? Not according to our Mr. Steets: "There was not even a momentary threat to the reactor in any way," he told reporters.

This man must be exhausted. Every few days he has to explain away something else going wrong at the plant. And on top of that, how does he sleep at night?


College Admissions Angst

Collegenyt_2




Merilee Jones, admissions dean at M.I.T., speaking to guidance counselors.

By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: April 8, 2007

NEW YORK TIMES

White Plains

A HIGH school senior was fighting back tears in her guidance counselor’s office. Despite her 92 average, the girl had been rejected by her top three college choices. Another senior, already clad in a new Northwestern T-shirt, interrupted to give his counselor a thumbs-up. He was in.

And so it has gone over the last few weeks, as colleges send their decisions and counselors console, cheer up and otherwise try to help this year’s seniors navigate the end of the admissions process.

“It’s a bittersweet time,” said Susan Buchman, a counselor at Byram Hills High School in Armonk. “You get some kids who are ecstatic because they got into their first choice school, and then there are disappointments. And you get parents who are very upset. They were hoping their kid was going to get into a certain school so that they could put the sticker on the car.”

Ms. Buchman tries to explain to families that the second- or third-choice college is also a wonderful place, that the child will make friends, get a good education and life will go on. In six months, that first choice will be a vague memory.

But given all the angst surrounding college admissions, it can be a difficult message to sell. Emotions run high this season, and the anxiety level is testament to a process that many educators believe has spiraled out of control.

The frenzy over college admissions is well known. Stories abound about overstressed students who race from Japanese calligraphy classes to hockey practice to SAT tutors. Anecdotes about out-of-control parents — who write college essays, monopolize questions at college information sessions and hound their children to make every moment a résumé-building one — are plentiful.

Those aren’t even the really crazy ones. One Westchester guidance counselor described a student who was applying to a college that required a graded high school paper. The child brought in an “A” essay with many enthusiastic teacher comments. The counselor took a closer look and asked why the teacher had written comments in two different inks. It turned out that the student’s mother had added a few thoughts of her own.

It’s easy to criticize parents for the current state of affairs, but you can also point to other culprits — the infamous college rankings, ambitious high schools, colleges that brag about all the students with perfect SAT scores whom they reject, colleges that market themselves aggressively and then proudly declare low admission rates, and a culture that values performance over character.

However you allocate the culpability, though, there is a growing sense that it’s time to return some sanity to the process. Merilee Jones, dean of admissions at M.I.T., has made this her mission. Recently, she addressed 160 school counselors at a meeting of the Westchester Putnam Rockland Counseling Association in White Plains. When Bob Sweeney, a counselor at Mamaroneck High School, introduced her, he said, “You just flew into the Bermuda Triangle of stressed-out guidance counselors, overstressed kids and unrealistic parents with high expectations.”

Ms. Jones laughed, but she was serious about her message to the counselors (and, at a later meeting, to parents at Byram Hills High School): she is worried about the toll the application madness takes on today’s children, whom she describes as “the most anxious, sleep-deprived, steeped-in-stress, judged, tested, poorly nourished generation.”

These teenagers, she said, are being raised to please adults and held to impossible standards. They are loaded down with A.P. classes and expected to participate in multiple extracurricular activities, demonstrate leadership, garner high SAT scores and, on top of that, have a “passion,” a buzzword in college admissions. “It’s ridiculous to expect that of them,” Ms. Jones said. “Most teenagers have no passions at all, except sex.”

The pressure is literally making children sick, Ms. Jones said, citing increases in everything from eating disorders to depression. Her call to arms: reel in the pressure and start changing the culture. Parents need to back off. Children need downtime. High schools need to lower the pressure. Colleges need to be straight with teenagers.

Most counselors embraced the message. Mr. Sweeney described Ms. Jones as “the voice of reason and sanity in the middle of all this craziness.”

But the culture isn’t going to be easy to crack. Barbara Leifer-Sarullo, director of counseling at Scarsdale High School, said that in the college competition, parents were victims as much as children.

“A few years ago, I had a parent who was outraged because I didn’t tell him his kid needed a math tutor,” she said. “He told me, ‘Here my kid is climbing Mount Everest himself, and everyone else has a Sherpa.’ He felt like he was a bad parent.”

E-mail: westweek@nytimes.com


Banana Bread

Bananabreadonplate_2


Those two overripe bananas were just sitting in the fruit bowl, accusingly. I can't throw them away, because overripe bananas (and I mean the skin has gone totally black and the insides are mushy) make the best banana bread.

I got this recipe from my friend Stephanie, one of the most amazing cooks I know. She got it from her grandmother, who was known to all as "Miss Opal."


Miss Opal's Banana BreadPauleatsbannanabread

Mix together:
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large over-ripe mashed bananas.

In a separate bowl, whisk together:
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
(optional - add I cup chopped pecans. I would never do this, because the boy is allergic to nuts.)

Mix dry ingredients into wet. Bake in a bread pan at 325 degrees until done, about an hour. Believe me, there is no need to butter the pan - note first ingredient.


April Pause

Fireplace It is April 6, and the family is sitting in front of a roaring fire. The thermometer reads 35 degrees, and there were scattered snow flurries throughout the day. I was complaining to the Weatherman, because I often hold him personally accountable for inclement conditions.

The Weatherman has just informed me of a meteorologic phenomenon called "AprilSnowbunny_2 Pause." Kind of the spring cousin to the "January Thaw," the April Pause is a period of below average temperatures at the beginning of this month - a kind of upsetting but predictable delay in the onset of Spring. On average they last about 10 days. Call me crazy, but I feel better knowing there's some kind of explanation for this. Still, I hope the Easter Bunny doesn't need to borrow Santa's coat, hat and boots on Sunday.


Gas Pump Blues

Gaspump This was a first for me - filling up my gas tank to the tune of $51. That's 15.9 gallons of "special" (the one between regular and premium) at $3.199 a gallon. I thought that was a shocking figure until both Weatherman and the boy were decidedly unimpressed and told me they've spent that much at the pump.

Since I was ragging on Westchester County yesterday, I will today point out a niftyWestgovcom government service. If you visit www.westchestergov.com, go to the link (it's on the right hand side of the page) for "find best prices oil, gas drugs." Then click on the link "latest gas survey." They have a little tool where you can plug in your address, how far you are willing to drive to get gas - it ranges from  .5 miles  to 10 miles - and it will come up with the three gas stations that have the lowest prices. It lists the prices for all grades of gas. I was willing to drive 2 miles, and it turns out that if I'd gone to my local Shell station the "special" would have been $3.059, and filling up my tank would have only cost $48.64. I know that I would have only saved $2.40, but that still would have been a pretty good down payment on my next gallon of gas.


Pet Personals

March 11, 2007 Sunday
Late Edition - Final
Lonely Female Seeks Companion. I Won't Bite.

BYLINE: By KATE STONE LOMBARDI.
E-mail: westweek@nytimes.com

SECTION: Section 14WC; Column 3; Westchester Weekly Desk; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 758 words

Maddyqueen PERSONAL ads can be compelling. Take the one for Jack, who is described as ''onePhoto_32_2 gorgeous hunk.'' He loves a good bath, doesn't like to party and doesn't want to be fawned over. He will, however, make a wonderful, loyal companion. Then there's Charlie. He's a nice, medium-size guy who enjoys jogging. And Alivia describes herself as athletic and playful, but ''needs someone who will let me snuggle.''
Before you try to set up dates, be forewarned. Jack is a chow chow whose idea of playing ball is to catch it and slobber over it until he gets tired of trotting around with a ball in his mouth. Charlie, an adult husky, has been homeless twice. And Alivia, a shepherd mix, whose ad runs in the first person, says: ''They tell me I have some fear aggression, don't really know what that means, but maybe you can be the one to help me with this. I'm really a very nice girl.''
This is the world of pet personal ads, which are really just clever and compelling ways for animal shelters to showcase their clients for adoption. The ads, which run in local papers and on Web sites, are usually accompanied by photos, in which even the fiercest-looking dogs appear to be smiling and the homeliest cats look cuddly.
Just like their human equivalents, the pets need to make a good impression in just a few dozen words. Since they can't describe their most persuasive charms themselves, it falls to staff members at the shelter and volunteers to do so in ways they hope will be irresistible. The job calls for finesse and the occasional euphemism.
A ''spirited dog,'' for instance -- also called ''high energy'' -- might be the pooch who will land two large, muddy paws on your shoulders in his enthusiasm. He is not going to sit quietly at your feet, demanding only an occasional head scratch. The cat described as ''a little shy'' may cower under furniture at the slightest noise and eschew all human contact. And there is the classic ''would do best in an adult household,'' which may translate into ''a history of nipping at small children.''
The people who write these ads are sincere and, not surprisingly, love animals. Chris Cialini, who works at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Westchester, said the key to writing compelling adoption ads was to spend time with the animals, know them well and then be honest about their good points and bad. While ads must be truthful, descriptions can be soft-pedaled.
''Instead of saying 'dog aggressive,' we put 'would like to be the only pet in your home,' '' she said.
Last week she was writing a description of two ''high-energy'' shepherd mixes.
''They're very sweet boys, but they need a special home with someone who understands that they love to play and run,'' Ms. Cialini said. ''They're in their teen years and can't be sitting on a couch all day.''
Leslie McCauley, a volunteer for the Yonkers animal shelter, writes descriptions and takes photographs for petfinder.com, a kind of Match.com for the animal adoption world. A visitor to the site can enter the type, breed and age of the animal being sought, along with a ZIP code. The site then lists available animals at local shelters that match the desired characteristics.
Ms. McCauley sometimes takes 20 pictures before she finds one that pleases her. Some 90 percent of dogs at the Yonkers shelter are pit-bull mixes, a breed that frightens many potential adoptive families.
''I try to get a picture with their ears standing up, so they don't look ferocious,'' Ms. McCauley said. ''I want to show that they're nice dogs.''
Michelle DeMaio works at the Elmsford Animal Shelter, which houses about 800 cats and 500 dogs, along with a handful of guinea pigs and rabbits. Choosing animals to be showcased for adoption is not easy.
''Sometimes a new animal will be really adoptable; another week it will be a special-needs case,'' she said. ''Sometimes it's a really good story about how the animal got here. We try to vary it, but it's really hard to choose.''
The ads do work, shelter workers say, but there are always more animals than there are adoptive families. Be careful: they are difficult to resist. Here's a description of my two strays:
''Madeline still has the personality of a kitten.'' (This cat has no learning curve whatsoever, and continues to scratch the furniture to shreds.) ''Lawson is a shy but loving boy.'' (No one believes I even have a second cat, but when we're alone, he loves to cuddle.)
I certainly don't need a third kitty. But it does look as if ''Smokey'' needs a loving home.


Spano Takes on Fifth Graders

Andyspano I get a lot of amusing press releases from Westchester County.  Some are outstanding for their  breathless announcement of the obvious, like "Holiday Shopping Tips," which included such insightful advice as "Compare prices. Find out all you can about an item before you buy it." Also in this category falls: "Tattoos and Body Piercings - Risky Art," which began  with the startling news that "while everyone has a right to self-expression, people should be aware of the dangers that may lurk in some tattoo and body-piercing parlors."

There are the who-thought-this-one-up types, like "County to Hold Annual Water Tasting Contest." My all-time favorite remains, "It's Show Time for Bee Line Drivers at Bus 'Roadeo'" which announced that local bus drivers would "pit their skills against diverse obstacles." Alrighty. It's always good to see our tax dollars at work.

Children_running The one that came in yesterday looked pretty boring at first - something about a Community Health Challenge. But upon close inspection it was announcing that County Executive Andy Spano, along with some local mayors, were challenging 10 year olds to compete in an obstacle course. What's more, the fitness race was to take place, not at a County Park, but in The Westchester mall, specifically, the release tells us, at "retail level 2(near the horse fountain)."Mall

I would have absolutely loved to cover Andy Spano and assorted mayors giving fifth graders the what-for, leaping over benches or sprinting down the shopping corridors. Unfortunately, this press release landed in my in box about 20 minutes before the event was to take place. Do you think they sent it out so late because they had an inkling that the photo opp might be tad embarrassing?


Bent Out of Shape

Yoga_2 See that woman to the left? That is not me. Before I tell you about my first yoga class - some background. I think I have followed the typical baby boomer work-out trajectory. In the late 80s and the early 1990s, I did aerobics. This was before it was revealed that Jane Fonda's body was the result of massive plastic surgeries; back when we believed that enough jumping up and down on hard floors while wearing odd outfits of leotards and high socks would get us looking like her. Janefonda

After the aerobics phase, I moved into kick boxing. I loved kick boxing, though to this day I am uncertain whether it calmed me down, by getting my yah-yahs out, or stimulated my aggression. In any event, it was a great work out, until that day that I was carried out of the gym and onto an ambulance. (I'm not kidding, but it turned out that the reason I could no longer walk was nothing more than a severe back spasm.)

Kickboxing_2 That humbled me into strength training and low-impact cardio. But now, at what we call a certain age, I find myself ridiculously stiff and inflexible. After about 100 people suggested I try yoga, I finally answered the clarion call and went to my first class this weekend. I'd say it was laughable, but that would imply enjoyment. I couldn't even begin to approximate what these people were doing. It was impossible, it hurt, and to cap it all off, it was pretty humiliating. Of course the teacher was one of those touchy-feely-soft spoken mellow types who kept telling me in soothing tones that I was doing just fine and to relax. Yeah, yeah, I know, I have to keep at it. But boy, I miss kick boxing.


Pasta with Red Pepper Pesto, Chicken and Broccoli

Pastawithchickenandbroc This is the kind of dish I always see on restaurant menus and would never order, because it's so easy to make at home. That is, of course, because I cheat on the red pepper pesto.

Remember that Cibo natural brand lemon-artichoke pesto I've talked about? Well, it has a sister, and it's Cibo brand red pepper pesto sauce. Also available at the A & P, and also tasty.

-If you have left-over chicken in the house, cut it into bite-size pieces. Or you can cook some for this dish. I had three boneless chicken breasts, and the Weatherman grilled them for me.

-Cook pasta according to package directors. I had farfalle in the house, but just about any shape pasta will do. Set aside about a quarter cup of boiling water.

-While the pasta is boiling, take a head of broccoli, cut into florets, and steam.

-Toss the pasta, the container of red pepper pesto sauce, and the hot water together. Add the cooked chicken and the broccoli. Season with salt, pepper and parmigiana cheese.


Spicy Pork Chops with Orange Flavor

Porkchop This was a weary Wednesday dinner.

Take pork chops - they can either be on the bone or boneless.

Pour some Stubbs Pork Marinade over them. Stubb's, a Texas-based company, makes several marinades, along with bar-b-que sauce, all of them good. The pork marinade is a blend of lemon grass, ginger, soy and something spicy.

Then add a dash of orange juice over the chops. Slice some purple onions thin, and sprinkle them over the chops. I poured a little red wine in the bottom of the pan, but only because I had some on hand.

Bake at 350 for about an hour. I served this with Annie's organic gemelli with cheese and garlic (the non-disgusting version of instant mac n' cheese) and snow peas.


Party 911

Ambulance Kids are so darn clever. You know those teenagers who volunteer for the local ambulance corps? For most of these adolescents of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with burnishing their college applications, but is driven instead by their love of mankind. Anyway, word on the street is that these teens, at least a handful of them, are providing enhanced assistance and back-up.

Since the ambulances are equipped with police scanners, the kids who ride them get a heads-up when the police are about to bust an under-age drinking party. The volunteer teens then call or text their friends at said parties, and get them out of harm's way, or at least out of the way of the local police. Talk about community service!