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January 2008

Old Wounds - Sexual Harassment

Sexual_harass Recently I had an article published in the NY Times about my generation of women helping out our daughters in the workplace. The basic idea was that when we were beginning our careers, there were few role models or mentors, but now there's - for want of a better description - "an old girls network" in place to help and guide young women.

In the story, I made a casual reference to the sexual harassment that I experienced in the 1970s (and 1980s for that matter). Boy, did I touch a nerve!

I've gotten a great deal of feedback from the article from a number of places. Among other things, my wonderful friend Sally (excellent publicist as well as friend) sent the article out to some of her friends. Here's just a sampling of the responses  women shared about their own experiences:

"I was reminded of an H.R. director who once tried to give me a pep talk. In his effort to pump me up he pointed out that among other things I had to be proud of, 'I had a body other women would kill for.' "

"One boss made me write a paper for him for his graduate program. When I refused the next time, he threatened me. Another came on to me on several business trips. Another screamed in the office that I was a 'f___g b____h' because I asked for sales numbers and he knew what I was going to find."

"I was working as a health planning consultant and was helping a VT hospital with some long term project.When the project was completed and the hospital got through the regulatory hurdles that I helped them with, the VP of the hospital and I went out for a drink. He gave me a half hearted thanks for a job well done and then told me that he had a suggestion for me. He told me that I had really nice legs and shouldn't be hiding them in white pantyhose. I should be showing them off!"

"Years ago I spent some time in Montana and worked outdoors for the Bureau of Land Mgt. One Friday after work the whole crew of us went out for pizzaOuch_pinch02 and beer and to shoot some pool. While I was eating (yes, while I was chewing on my bite of pizza) my boss (a friendly and rather portly guy) came over and kissed me full on the mouth (and yes, I am sorry to say, there was tongue too!) Needless to say I was shocked and completely grossed out...but what was a girl to do back then other than to pretend that it was all in good fun. This was the same guy who one day at work came up behind me and pinched my inner thigh. Not only was that incredibly rude but it hurt like hell and I automatically whirled around and punched him. He was a big guy and I was little so my  punch didn't do much, but at least he got the message I was pissed. The things we women have to put up with!"

There were many more, but YOUNG WOMEN especially, don't forget those who came before you!


Quotable

Billclintonraped What makes a great journalist? Is it tenacity? Strong writing skills? A nose for news? Yes, yes, and yes, but an oft-overlooked skill is the ability to get a great quote. Good quotes make a story sing. They can crystallize the key point of the article. They often take the starch out of straight news reporting.

So hats off to the Times reporters who secured these quotes about the presidential primary this week.

From an article by Patrick Healy in Monday's paper, here's Linda L. Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth, on how Bill Clinton's attacks on Obama had hurt Hillary:

“Voters don’t like the idea of a co-presidency, and he became so high profile that he made people begin to see this as a possible co-presidency,” Ms. Fowler said. “It’s even more problematic because she’s a woman. It looks like she either needs him to fight the big battles for her, or she can’t keep the big dog on the porch.”

Ooo! What a quote. And from today's NY Times, in an article co-authored by 4guiliani_2 Michael Powell and Michael Cooper, here are two quotes from Nelson Warfield, a Republican consultant, on Rudolph Guiliani.

"Rudy didn't even care enough about conservatives to lie to us."

And later in the story, noting that Guiliani didn't completely repudiate his former support for abortion rights, gun control and gay rights: "Give him credit - he sort of stuck to his positions. It made him a man of principle, but it won't make him the Republican nominee."

This is the kind of stuff that makes it fun to read the paper.



Empty Nest Silver Lining

Ist2_1165827_business_woman_on_a__2 My friend Amy is on a last minute business trip to Tampa. My friend Libbie is at a four day conference in Chicago. I worked all weekend to finish my two articles due for next Sunday's paper, and today I have to crunch to make revisions on a magazine piece that needs to be on the editor's desk (or in her email inbox) by tomorrow.

We're all busy, but no one is frantic. Why? We're empty nesters. We are not worried about the household falling to pieces in our literal or mental absence.

Do not get me wrong - not a day goes by when I don't miss my kids. I have to control myself from calling too often and barraging them with emails. Specific moments set off specific longings for each child.

But one thing I absolutely do not miss is the guilt associated with working. For once, I can do what I have to do without feeling like I'm shortchanging my family. The Weatherman is a big boy - and a busy one himself - and completely understands the demands of work. Actually, the kids always understood too - it was me who felt badly if a home-cooked meal wasn't on the table, if I was distracted during the "how-was-your-day?" response, if I couldn't get to a soccer game.

Now I can focus on my own obligations and it's a relief. Of course, being a Mom, I can now feel guilty about this new feeling. Some things never change.


Politics

Barackobama When people find out I write for the NY Times, they usually respond with, "Wow! What do you cover?" I then explain that I am as local as I can be, covering my own backyard, Westchester County, and that's as low on the totem pole as it gets.

But this week - yipee! I got to cover the Presidential race. OK - it's Westchester's take on the Democratic primary. Fine, it's the hamlet of Chappaqua's take on the Democratic primary. Senatorclinton2

But I still got to cover Hillary and Barack. OK, fine, I covered someone who is campaigning for Hillary. And I covered a group of women in Westchester who are supporting Obama. (See the news hook here? In the heart of Hillary territory, we've got liberal Democratic women supporting Obama?)

Maybe it is small potatoes. But at least it's part of the bigger farm. And with horrible mixed metaphors like that, you needn't wonder why I'm not on the National Desk.


Tuna Steaks and Spinach Salad

Dscn8939 For some reason I decided to microwave the tuna steaks, and they weren't bad. I marinaded them in a teriyaki glaze for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator.Then I covered the glass pan with plastic wrap and microwaved the two steaks on high for 8 minutes. They came out pretty moist and tasty.

I served them with roast potatoes. But the real triumph was the spinach salad. I usually make it with some sliced Vidalia onion (you know, the sweet, mild onions) and orange slices. Today I Salad used clementines, because I had them. But I added one more ingredient that I had never included before - some fresh, finely chopped ginger. Yum, yum, yum. The whole meal had a slight, Asian taste to it, and seemed fairly healthy too.

Or would have been, if the Weatherman and I hadn't gotten into the Caramel, slow-churned ice cream afterwards. Now who brought that home from the grocery store?!


Does That Trans-Fat Ban Grease A Slippery Slope?

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By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: January 27, 2008
WESTCHESTER COUNTY government works hard to protect us, issuing warnings for every season of our lives. If it’s not how to use space heaters safely in the winter, it’s about potentially dangerous birdbaths in the summer. (The stagnant water may attract mosquitoes, which might breed West Nile disease.)

It’s easy to make fun of these dispatches, but then again, neither electrical fires (frayed or cracked cords) nor debilitating illnesses (those bugs) are laughing matters. The question is, how much is too much? At what point is the county reasonably promoting our health and safety, and when does it turn into a “nanny state,” treating adults like children and interfering with our rights to live our lives as stupidly as we choose?

The latest salvo in the battle is the county’s recent ban on the use of cooking oils containing trans fat. On Jan. 15, Health Department inspectors began checking food service establishments for the now-illegal oils. After a 90-day grace period, restaurants — as well as cafeterias, nursing homes, even food carts, if they are licensed by the county — will be subject to fines if they break the new law.

No one can rationally argue that trans fats are desirable. This is the stuff created by partial hydrogenation, which turns liquid oil into a solid fat. Trans fats are used as a substitute for saturated fats in baked goods, because they can add creaminess and shelf life to commercial products. They are also used in fried foods, salad dressing, margarine and other foods.

Trans fats are directly linked to heart disease; they raise levels of a particularly unhealthy form of cholesterol. The county health commissioner, Dr. Joshua Lipsman, likens what trans fat does to the body to what bacon grease does to a kitchen sink. The stiffer and harder the fats become, the more they clog the arteries. Dr. Lipsman estimates that once the ban is in effect, there will be 50 to 100 fewer deaths in Westchester each year.

Local chefs are not standing up to defend this artery-clogging fat. But what some of them are worried about, they say, is the slippery slope of government regulation of their business. The county Board of Legislators is considering a bill that would require chain restaurants to post the calorie content of menu items prominently. Both the trans-fat ban and the proposed calorie count law are based on New York City regulations.

“We saw it happen in New York City, and we knew it was just a matter of time before it was going to come here,” said Jonathan Pratt, the owner of Peter Pratt’s Inn in Yorktown Heights. He has a worried eye on California, where the health department awards restaurants a letter grade, which they require to be prominently posted. “Imagine — your restaurant has a big ‘C’ in front of it,” Mr. Pratt said. “That will sure bring people in.”

Rich Stytzer, president of the Westchester/Rockland Chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, said his group had been working with the Health Department on a voluntary switch to non-trans-fat oils. He said about 750 of the county’s roughly 3,000 food service establishments had voluntarily made the switch. But Mr. Stytzer, who runs Antun’s of Westchester, a catering hall in Elmsford, would have preferred to keep the program voluntary.

“When do you stop with the legislation?” he asked. “It’s hard enough to stay in business in Westchester County now. Every mandate and every penny is a hardship on a restaurant. The restaurants change to their customers’ needs and wants, and we don’t need the government coming in and telling us what to do.”

Jay Lippin, the chef at Mighty Joe Young’s, in Hartsdale, made the switch to trans-fat-free oil before he was required to do so. Of course, that doesn’t mean customers should feel virtuous if they order Mr. Lippin’s 28-ounce T-bone steak served with garlic mashed potatoes or 12-ounce filet mignon served with fried calamari. The chef notes that he also has fish and salads on the menu, and that “like everything, it’s all about moderation.”

Mr. Lippin now uses an oil called Elitra, which he said costs twice as much as the oil he had been using, but because it is more stable, it lasts longer, so it is not as expensive as it seems. Mr. Pratt said the price of non-trans-fat oils had risen sharply. In the last six months, the price of a 35-pound cube of fryer oil rose from $13 to $22.

Dr. Lipsman, who also supports the calorie-posting proposal, scoffed at the “slippery slope” concept and denied that the health department would ultimately go after cheeseburgers, fries or foie gras.

“When chefs say, ‘Oh, what’s next?’ they are missing the concept of reasonableness,” he said. “We are enforcing laws that protect public health, and this doesn’t take away from people’s choices. Trans fat is like lead in gasoline or lead in paint. It’s something that doesn’t need to be there and no one will miss.”



A Near Cat-Astrophe

Advicehumangus The first thing that Rob Carter, of Fort Worth, Texas, noticed when he got home from a trip and opened his suitcase was that the clothes weren't his. The second thing was a small kitten, who jumped out of the bag and ran under the bed.

"I screamed like a little girl," he told the Dallas Morning News.

Mr. Carter, of course, had picked up the wrong suitcase but the real mystery was how the kitten got there in the first place. It seems that the kitten, Gracie Mae, had sneaked into her owner's suitcase as he was packing.

Gracie Mae is now happily reunited with her owners. What got me about this story was that I was telling it this morning to my sister, who is visiting, and she then told me that she had found my cat, Madeline, nestled in her own bag.

Yikes! Of course what I really want to know is how the suitcase containing Gracie Mae made it through the x-ray machine without anyone noticing a live animal in there. Doesn't inspire confidence in the TSA.


Chip Off the Old Blog

College I'm so proud. The Boy has begun blogging. And he'sTypepad_langs_old_2 getting paid to do it, which is more than we can say for his old Mom.

The Boy, who was planning to look for an on-campus job at college after his Christmas vacation, didn't even get a chance to begin his job search. Instead, he was approached by his school's admissions office. They were asking a handful of students to post a few blogs a week on the college admission website about life on campus. I guess the idea is to give prospective students an insider's view of what it's like to go there - a more intimate and real time perspective than what a high school student could glean from typical printed admissions handouts.

We're not quite sure how he was chosen. He does write for the school newspaper and he had volunteered to work in the admissions office. Anyway, he has already written his first blog - it's about playing "pond hockey" on his New England campus.

I am only a tiny bit jealous (that he is getting paid for his efforts) but mostly  excited for him. That's my Boy.


Ooo la la! L'Education est cher!

Sorbonne Two new books recently published in France have highlighted the phenomenon of young women financing their university educations by working as prostitutes.

The story, published in The Guardian, a British newspaper, describes one as the memoir of a 19-year-old modern languages major who writes about  becoming a prostitute to pay for school. The other is a book by a sociologist at the University of Toulouse, who wrote "La Prostitution edudiante" (Student prostitution) about how the Internet has made certain kinds of prostitution - like escort work - easier, and how students find that more palatable than street walking.

Apparently other studies have highlighted this problem too. The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a piece yesterday on the books, and almost immediately, two comments were posted in reaction:

1. "OK, maybe this is how we convince lawmakers that Pell Grants and student loans should be increased...
 
2. "OK,maybe this is how we convince lawmakers that prostitution needs to be legal."


Mon Dieu!


Do You Know What This Photo is?

Belt1 What is this a picture of? No, not just a seat belt. Read on.

I have been debating posting this blog. As readers know, the Weatherman and I were on vacation in Mexico last week. The resort at which we stayed was all-inclusive. I mention this, because I wondered if it had to do with the amount of really obese people staying there.

Now I don't want to rag on fat people. First of all, I am constantly watching my own weight, and I know how tough it is to struggle with an errant 5 to 7 pounds, so I can only imagine how daunting it would be if you had to deal with an extra 50 -70 lbs, or even more.


Second, they say that discrimination against obese people is the only societal prejudice that is still acceptable. People who wouldn't dream of making racist or ethnic slurs don't think twice about mocking overweight folks. They face discrimination in the workplace and contempt all around.

But with all those disclaimers, I have to say that what I saw was pretty shocking. Maybe New York is a rarified area, so you just don't see that many really large people around here. But an alarming number of the folks - Americans, of course - staying at this place were from all over the USA  were really, really big. I mean unhealthy, trouble walking, special clothes big. And to see them pile their plates high with all sorts of fried foods and then head to the bar for more pina colatas was troubling.

Maybe it's because I'm writing a column about trans fat this week that I can't shake these images. Or maybe it was because on the plane ride home, the guy across the aisle had to request a "seat belt extender", because the regular seat belt couldn't close around his waist. And that, my friends, is what is pictured in this blog.


Vacation Re-Entry

Suitcasesi You know how it is when you get back from a vacation. There's a pile of mail, loads of laundry, hundreds of emails (ok - just under 200) and in my case, two sulky cats."

Because I am a reporter and compulsive, I also feel the need to leaf through all the newspapers I missed, with particular attention to the local news. In short order, I came across the following headlines: First we have, "Westchester rated among most intelligent." Evidently some outfit called "The Intelligent Community Forum," a nonprofit group which studies how communities use broadband services to promote growth and economic development, included my home county in its list of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year.

Well, let's not get big heads about how brilliant we are around here just yet.Ny_doc_singsing_cf Because no sooner do I turn the page, then we get the headline, "Burglar Flees to Sing Sing." Yes, some dope who had robbed a minimart in Ossining decided to elude police by running onto the grounds of the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. Needless to say, this brain trust was quickly apprehended by a corrections officer.

And in another example of the native intelligence of some of the folks we have around here,we have yet another headline: Marijuanaleaf "Pot listed on Craigslist." Yes, a New Rochelle  man thought it would be a smart idea to sell marijuana on Craigslist.  He proceeded to sell it to an undercover cop.

I gotta admit, it's good to be home.


The New 'Old Boys'?

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By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: January 20, 2008
BACK in the late 1970s, when I was looking for my first job, there was a lot of talk about “the old boys’ network.” Recently, I have been thinking about the “new girls’ network.” Let me explain.

The old theory was that men helped other men — and their sons — in their careers through a series of connections made over the years at their schools and country clubs.

Networking became a buzzword for women, and in the next decade there would be networking meetings and conferences so that women could start to form the kind of personal and professional bonds that would help them up the career ladder too.

At the time, I was young and inexperienced. It was a transitional period, and sexism was still rampant in the workplace. I had just graduated with a major in political science from a prestigious liberal arts college (which itself had only recently accepted women). I had my heart set on working on Capitol Hill. Instead, when I proudly arrived at Congressional offices with my “cum laude” degree, I was promptly sent to the basement for a typing test. Meanwhile, some of the young men I had graduated with were quickly hired as legislative aides.

In another vestige of sexism, my high school had required girls to take typing and boys to take shop. (The boys had to build birdhouses, which turned out to be a far less useful career skill.) I could type well, and just when I despaired over landing any job I was hired as a secretary in a senator’s office.

There began a long and not always straightforward career path. Over time I began drafting form letters to constituents. It became clear I could write as well as type. The lawyer I worked for let me draft a few articles for The Congressional Record and later, some speeches. Eventually, I went to graduate school to get a journalism degree.

I didn’t have much guidance. I remember being frustrated a good deal of the time. All of my bosses were male. Several of them made advances, but “sexual harassment” was not yet in the public lexicon, at least not on Capitol Hill. Instead, you ducked away gracefully, taking care not to antagonize the man to whom you still had to report.

There were some women working as lawyers and lobbyists in the Senate (and one senator, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, of Kansas), but professional women were in the vast minority. In any case, they didn’t mix with young, lower-level women in support positions. They weren’t too secure in their perches either.

All of this came back in a rush as I watched my newly minted liberal arts college graduate daughter, Jeanie, look for her first job. In some ways, Jeanie reminds me of myself at 22. She is blond, a little shy, and she likes to write. But what a different world she’s entered!

First, of course, were her assumptions. She knew she was qualified only for an entry-level job, but she also assumed she’d be on a professional track. Second, she’s had strong guidance, though little of it has been from me.

My friend Amy, who has seen hundreds of résumés in her career in human resources, first offered to help Jeanie polish her C.V. Then she invited my daughter into her Manhattan office, where they discussed her ambitions. Amy had Jeanie comb the Internet for jobs that looked interesting and for which she might be qualified.

When my daughter wrote cover letters to apply for those positions, Amy helped her strengthen them. And when one of those cover letters secured my daughter an interview, her new mentor helped guide her on how to prepare. Jeanie spent hours researching her potential employer, anticipating questions and preparing responses, and thinking about the potential strengths she could bring to the job.

Then there was the delicate matter of dress. It wasn’t until my daughter visited Amy’s Manhattan office that it became clear that her shoe options were limited to flip flops or stilettos. It was a good dry run to prepare for a real interview. Amy was also in a position to tell Jeanie about the many job candidates she had interviewed, and which outfits made a good impression — and which ones didn’t. (This was a conversation that would have been fraught with tension had I initiated it.)

When — after two interviews and the submission of a writing sample — my daughter was offered that position, I think Amy was as thrilled as Jeanie and I were. I don’t mean to take away from my daughter’s own accomplishments. It was her own drive, her own résumé with its relevant past work and internship experience, her own writing skills and her own references that got her the job. But Amy’s guidance and support were invaluable.

By now, you may be thinking: “Why don’t I have an Amy to help my kid? And is she in the business?” Believe me, I know how lucky Jeanie was to benefit from Amy’s business expertise and how lucky I am to have her as a friend. But you know what this is about? Networking.

Women have now been firmly entrenched in the workplace for a full generation. It has been long enough that as our daughters are starting their careers, our female friends — the working mothers of our children’s friends, the colleagues from our own workplace — have decades of professional experience behind them. Amy didn’t help my daughter with “connections,” but she brought that career experience and also served as a great role model.

There are a lot of Amys out there now. I know I’ve counseled several young women — and young men, too — who are interested in journalism careers. Meanwhile my daughter loves her new job. Her two bosses — both women — are training her daily. She’s gotten positive feedback and is gaining confidence and skills. I like to think of Jeanie a few years from now, helping out even younger women as they come into the workplace. One thing is for sure though — we have to come up with a better description than “the old girls’ network.”


Punta Sur, Cozumel

Remember that old commercial of a gorgeous model saying, 'Don't hate me because I'm beautiful?' Well, to paraphrase, 'Don't hate me because I got to spend the day on this beach in the middle of January.'

Punta Sur is the southern most point on the island of Cozumel - which by the way, is an island off Cancun, Mexico. One half of the island is very developed, with side by side resorts. The other side is almost entirely wild, dotted with white sand beaches. Punta Sur is actually a national park. There is one spot where you can see wild crocodiles and another where sea turtles nest. Then there is a long white beach, where a row of hammocks are available.

Today the Weatherman and I are going on a snorkel trip to three different reefs. This is a sacrifice by the Weatherman, who prefers his water frozen, but is indulging in my love of all things tropical.

Back to reality tomorrow, some must make the most of today.


Cozumel

Yesterday the Weatherman and I rented a small car to begin to explore the island. I'm sorry I ever doubted the Weatherman's ability to drive a standard shift. He was magnificent.

We did visit the Mayan ruins on the island, which were beautiful in a haunting and ancient way. I can't download my own photos on the hotel computer, so I will have to add them later. What I am using does come from the areas we visited though.

After the ruins we continued to tootle around the island - my friend Carin's suggestion. There are only two main roads, and one loops around the exterior all along the ocean. We had an amazing seafood lunch on the beach and then just hung out there all afternoon. I was not disposed to move after the marguerita anyway.Yes, all it takes is one to throw me for a loop, but they are pretty generous with the tequilla down here.

Today we are going to take that little car - it was a 2-day rental- and go to a nature park that promises fantastic birds, snorkeling and great beaches. I was FINALLY able to check my email and discovered that our local schools had a 2-hour delay earlier this week because of snow and sleet. Please don't hate me for simply saying, heh heh heh.


I'm Away From My Desk

And I'm away from my phone, my laptop and even my email. This is very disorienting, to say the least.

The Weatherman and I are down in Mexico, where the phones and the Internet work only occasionally. I am trying hard to unplug from all the technology but I feel very adrift. I used to mock people with their blackberries on the top of some mountain, pecking away at their little keypad instead of enjoying the view. I'm referring to the machine blackberry, not the fruit.

Holy Cow! I can't even figure out this Mexican keyboard. Does anyone know what bloq or mayus means? And by the way, if I could find the quotation marks, I'd use them.

Anyway, I am going to try to unplug here. It's a bit rainy and we are going to go see some Mayan ruins. I'll try to post photos later if I can.


Knock It Off, You Big Oaf!

Boyscout_handbook_2 In the "that's rich" department, the new 2008 Boy Scouts of America Handbook requires boy scouts to learn about handling bullies. Here are some of the helpful hints:

-If a bully shakes you down for lunch money, tell the bully how it hurts.
Hello? Bullies like inflicting pain and humiliation. That's the point. Are they expecting a response like, "Oh Gosh, I am so sorry. I thought you liked my taking your money"?

-If someone calls you "crater face," the book recommends this snappy comeback: "So what if I have a face full of zits. What's it to you?"
Whoa! Taken down by the Big Man. And by the way, if you have zits, what are you still doing in your boy scout uniform?

All this wouldn't get me going, except for the fact that the Boy Scouts of America defend their right to exclude gays from their organization. Which is an extreme form of bullying, to say the least.


A Train, A Blizzard, A Memory

Train600
WHEN Jim Morgia, then 19, climbed aboard the train to start work that winter morning, it was snowing “pretty good,” he recalls. But this was years before the Weather Channel or long-range forecasts, so he and two fellow crew members had no way of knowing that they were riding smack into the middle of the blizzard of 1947, which struck the Northeast the day after Christmas, leaving more than two feet of snow in New York City and even more here in northern Westchester.

Coalguy190 Mr. Morgia’s job was to shovel coal into the steam engine, and he continued to do so even when the locomotive became stuck for 20 hours in snowdrifts that were nearly 12 feet high. Sixty years to the day the storm ended, Mr. Morgia, now 79, told the story of that stormy day and night at the Yorktown museum here, not far from where the old engine — No. 823 — was stranded.

Mr. Morgia, who has lived in Croton Falls all his life, had begun the run in Brewster. The trains were running on a holiday schedule, and he was excited because he was being paid overtime. Hired as a fireman to keep the engine’s coal fire going, he made $9.08 for a 16-hour day.

“When you’re working a steam engine, that’s about six or seven shovels every 45 minutes or so,” he recalled. He also watched the engine’s water gauge.

Mr. Morgia, soft-spoken and somewhat reticent, received help recounting events from Joe Shiavone, a retired teacher and railroad buff, who wore an engineer’s hat and an “Old Put” T-shirt for the occasion. Mr. Shiavone is the author of “The Old Put” (Merit Printing, 2007), a book about the Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad. Mr. Morgia was working on the Putnam line — which ran for 56 miles between Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx and Brewster — when the blizzard — which set a record that stood for half a century — struck.

From the beginning of the trip, the snow was heavy and visibility was poor. The crew members were particularly worried about the crossings, which back then did not all have barriers. The train’s steam whistle was not powerful and could easily be muffled by the storm’s howling winds. They turned on the train’s headlight and intermittently blew the whistle. Mr. Morgia recalled that the engineer, John Rooney, had said: “I’m running completely blind here.”

The train made it to the Bronx terminal, where the engine was loaded with more coal and water. The trip back through the Bronx and to Westchester proved more treacherous. Mr. Morgia said that Van Cortlandt Park looked like Antarctica, and there were no cars at all on the Saw Mill Parkway.

A few passengers boarded in Yonkers, and a few got off in Eastview. The train had a cow catcher, which helped push some of the snow off the tracks. The crew members encountered their first big problem in Briarcliff Manor, when the train became stuck about 50 feet from the station. Mr. Rooney was able to back the train up and then plow forward, breaking through the snow.

By now, the train was running almost two hours late. When it made it to Yorktown, the stationmaster had already turned out the lights and locked the station doors. The last three passengers disembarked there.

“They probably stayed at a local hotel,” Mr. Shiavone said.

It was after the train pulled out of Yorktown station that it really got stuck. The engineer thought he had hit a car, but it turned out to be a 12-foot snowdrift. When he tried to back the train up, he hit another snowdrift. There was nothing to do but stay put, with Mr. Morgia feeding the steam engine coal all night.

“It was a long, cold night,” Mr. Morgia recalled. They were hungry, too, and had no idea how long they would be stranded. But by the next day, there was a startlingly blue sky. At about 11 a.m., Mr. Morgia spotted a wisp of smoke coming from the north. It was a rescue train, which for hours had been making its way from Brewster.

Mr. Morgia, who had joined the railroad only seven months before, went on to a 50-year career. The Putnam Division, which had been built in the 1870s, stopped carrying passengers in 1958. Four years later, it stopped carrying freight, but by then, Mr. Morgia had taken a job with the Harlem Division, where he eventually became an engineer.

In 1996, there was another blizzard, Mr. Morgia said, but by this time they had heated switches and two-way radios. He retired in 1997. He doesn’t miss work, he said, but he does miss “the fellas.” (Several of Mr. Morgia’s former colleagues came to hear him speak, and he and other retired railroad workers still get together each month in Poughkeepsie.)

Was he scared that night, in the middle of that howling storm?

“I wasn’t worried, because when you’re 19 years old, you don’t worry,” Mr. Morgia said. “But the engineer was a nervous wreck.”

E-mail:Westweek@nytimes.com


Celebrity Shocker!

Britneyspears A lot of people have really confessional blogs, in which they reveal all sorts of intimate and embarrassing things. I am not one of them. But I will admit to something appalling that I flirted with.

The other day I was on the TMZ website. (That's not even the bad thing.) I was reading about the latest disaster in Britney Spear's life. (Even that's not the shameful thing.)

Then I got to a link that read, "click here to see photos of Britney in the ambulance." The shocking thing is  that my finger hovered for just a few seconds over the link until I got a grip and exited the site altogether.

In yesterday's NY Times, Alessandra Stanley writes about "substance-abuse abusers - those incorrigible souls who cannot stop bingeing on the weaknesses of the rich and semi-famous." She went on to describe a horrible  TV show called "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" which tracks some pitiful people - an actor, a porn star, two wrestlers and a former American idol contestant - through rehab.

That's it. I'm cured. This is the rock-bottom phase of of sick fascination with the misfortunes of others. It's kind of like staring at the scene of a gruesome accident.  You can't look away. Except from here on out, I'm going to.


Word Play

Everyone has their own technique for stalling when it's time to get down toWeboggle2sm_2 work. For me, it's engaging in some kind of word play - kind of a bus man's holiday, since I'm a writer.

I have blogged before about my hopeless addiction to online Boggler. (Sorry to the readers who tell me they got hooked on the game after that post.) If you  play, I'm the one who is always in 5th place as "Bloggermom."

Freericelogo Anyway - here are a few more word-y ways to wile away the time when you should be working. First, there is the  also-addictive  www.freerice.com
This is an on-going vocabulary quiz, and every time you get a word right, you donate rice to the United Nations World Food Program. Just to add to the addictive quality of this pass time, a correct answer is only worth 20 grains of rice, so you are compelled to go on. That, and a little graphic of an empty  bowl starts filling up with rice as you succeed.

Wod_header_2 If you just want to be distracted by words, you can subscribe to Merriam-Webster's online "Word of the Day." Every day your mailbox will be filled with a new vocabulary word. It will not only define the word, but also tell you of its origin, and you can click on an icon to hear the correct pronunciation.

Today's word of the day is "anathematize" \uh-NATH-uh-muh-tyze. Please do not anathematize  (curse, denounce) me for introducing you to yet another way of avoiding work.




Hillary Cheers Up

Hillary_clinton Let me be the 12th billion blogger to weigh in on Hillary choking up when it looked as if she might lose the New Hampshire primary. This is not a rant against Hillary. It is merely a question - why do people need to see Hillary down in order to like her?

In general, voters can't seem to abide Hillary when she is on top, dominating in the polls and full of confidence. But when do we warm to her? When she is publicly humiliated. First, there was Genifer Flowers, and the Billhillaryclinton_2 outpouring support for a wife wronged. Next was Monica, and the first lady who was derided for her efforts at health care was again embraced with sympathy. Now, she chokes up over the idea that she may not win a primary that she seemed to think was her inevitable right - and she is "human" once again.

Now change genders. It is a male candidate whose wife publicly and repeatedly cheats on and humiliates. Does he rise in our estimation? I don't think so. Then the guy  gets tears in his eyes when the polls look bad? That's our man?

This is not a reflection on Hillary. It really tells us much more about ourselves as voters. And I think it's scary.

PS I'm just including this old pic of Bill and Hill because it is fun to remember that we were all once young.

PS 2. For those of you who voted in the other New Hampshire primary, the winner was Marty, with 53 percent of the vote. Wilson came in 2nd, with 26 percent of the vote, and Sarah, the only female candidate, was last with only 21 percent.


Broccoli, Mushroom and Olive Pasta

Vegetable_pasta I've been feeling like we've eaten too much meat lately. So I came up with this vegetable pasta sauce.

I sauteed some chopped onions and garlic in olive oil. Meanwhile, I was cooking some sliced mushrooms  - also in olive oil - separately. (I don't like that nasty liquid that the mushrooms release, so I wanted to drain that off before I mixed the mushrooms back in with the rest of the veggies.)

I also broke up a head of broccoli into florets and steamed them. As everything else was cooking, I sliced some black olives. Then everything went into the pan (the one with the onions and garlic) and I added marinara sauce. OK - it was from a jar, but it was Rao's, and it was tasty.

Served it over linguine. The Weatherman usually likes his meat, but he was very happy with this dish.


The Other New Hampshire Primary

Catpicsarah All eyes will be on New Hampshire today for the primary. No, not that primary. I'm talking about the balloting that will take place to choose the next mascot for the Mt. Washington Observatory.

The observatory, perched on the usually frigid summit of Mt. Washington, has long had a mascot. The current one, Nin, a black and white house cat, has held the job for the last 12 years.

But this country is ready for a change! That, and Nin is about 17 or 18 (he's a stray, so no one knows for sure) and is ready to retire. The poor cat recently lost the last of his teeth, and though his job only calls for him to cuddle the staff and occasional visitor, it's time for him to come down from the mountain. He'll be moving into a private home, where he'll be close to his veterinarian.Catpicwilson

But who will take his place? Well, it's primary day, and the Observatory is holding an election. There are three candidates.

Sarah (above left)  is described as a curious high-energy 1-year-old. But she does get cold easily, a bit of a problem on a mountain top that boasts the worst weather in the world.

Wilson (on the right) only recently said goodbye to his brother, who got adopted without him. No stranger to hardship, he is said to be well liked by his peers in the Catpicmarty shelter. But Wilson, too, has been an indoor only cat.

Finally, there's Marty (on the left), who is athletic and a people lover. He is described cryptically as "knowing what it's like to face adversity and emerge a stronger two-year old." No word on his tolerance for the cold, but he does like to have his tummy rubbed.

You can actually vote for one of these cats today at: http://www.mountwashington.org/events/topcat/

May the best feline win. Oh, and it will be interesting to see what happens in that other primary too.


Empty Nest Dinner

Empty_nest Last night I served pork chops, along with couscous with pine nuts for dinner. (There was a vegetable, but that's not relevant.) This was a non-kid dinner. My daughter does not eat pork; the Boy is highly allergic to nuts, so it was a meal neither of them could have tolerated.

It was a subconscious menu plan; something must have been cooking in my brain. On Saturday, my daughter had come up from Manhattan, where she now lives, to spend some time with her brother, before he left on Sunday to return to college after his winter break. So I had a gloriously full household and a nice family dinner on Saturday night. Then it was over. The Boy met his ride back up to Maine at 12:45; my daughter took a 1:47 train back to the city.

It was mighty quiet around here and both The Weatherman and I felt bereft. Later in the evening, the Weatherman wandered into the family room where he found me watching a silly movie. He asked me what the title was, and I drew a blank. Then it came to me - "Failure to Launch."

My children have not failed to launch. I'm proud of both of them. But I sure love it when they come back and visit their old Mom and Dad. And neither pork nor nuts is much compensation for their absence.


Rice and Vegetable Salad

Ricesalad I made this dish over the holidays. It is pretty labor intensive - lots of chopping - but it looks festive and tastes delicious. The recipe comes from the Silver Palate Cookbook. Here is what they say, but I warn you - it's way too onion-y if you follow their recipe exactly. I would cut by a third what they call for in purple onions, green onions and shallots.Here's the original though:

8 cups hot cooked rice
1 1/2  to 2 cups Vinaigrette (recipe follows below)
1 sweet red pepper, stemmed, cored and cut into thin julienne
1 green pepper, stemmed, cored and cut into thin juilienne
1 medium-sized purple onion, peeled and diced
6 scallions (green onions), cleaned and finely diced
1 cup dried currants
2 shallots, peeled and finely diced
1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas, thawed and blanched in boiling, salted water for 3 minutes
1/2 cup pitted olives, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

1. Transfer rice to mixing bowl and pour 1 1/2 cups vinaigrette into rice. Toss thoroughly. Cool to room temperature.
2. Add remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly Taste, correct seasoning, and add additional vinaigrette if you like.
3. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate. Return to room temperature before serving.

Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon granulate sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
minced parsley and/or fresh chives to taste
1/2 cup olive oil

1. Measure mustard into a bowl. Whisk in vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and herbs to taste.
2. Continue to whisk mixture while slowly dribbling in olive oil until the mixture thickens. Adjust seasoning to taste. Cover until ready to use. If necessary, whisk again before serving.


Mustard Chicken

Mustard_chicken Last night was The Boy's final evening home before returning to college. His sister came up from the city to say goodbye. I wanted a dinner that was a little more festive than usual, but homey and comfort food too. Which is why I went with mustard chicken.

The recipe is from Laurie Colwin's book "Home Cooking." This is the recipe as she writes it: "The chicken is cut up and coated with mustard into which some garlic has been grated, along with a little thyme, black pepper and a pinch of cinnamon. It is rolled in fine bread crumbs, dusted with paprika, dotted with butter and cooked at 350 degrees for about two hours. It can be served hot or at room temperature and it will never let you down."

I used chicken thighs and legs, and I have never grated garlic in my life, so just chopped up 3 cloves finely. (I like stuff very garlicky though, so adjust accordingly.) Also I think 2 hours of cooking is excessive - I baked the chicken for 1 and half hours and that was plenty.

I served it with creamed spinach and thin egg noodles. Yum. Yum.


In His Defense - It was Just DWI

190_shoot_2 I have no idea whether or not Carlos Perez-Olivo killed his wife. He is accused of pulling over on the side of a road in Millwood, a small hamlet in Northern Westchester, and shooting her in the head. Mr. Perez-Olivo said he and his wife were attacked by strangers; the district attorney said it was Perez-Olivo, a disbarred attorney with money troubles, who pulled the trigger.Ketelone_cosmo

Whatever the outcome of the case -which is incredibly sad, given the couple's three children - I was struck by what the accused 59-year-old man said in his defense in an interview he gave from his jail cell to a reporter at The Journal News. A weepy Perez-Olivo told the reporter that he and his wife had enjoyed a great evening in the city, going to a movie and then out for a French dinner, where they consumed "about half a dozen cosmopolitans a piece."

Six Cosmos each?  Perez-Olivo went on to  recount his activities that night, explaining he drove slowly because "if I was stopped, I would have been DWI."

Maybe it's a mercy that only one person was killed that night, and maybe it was a blessing that Peggy Perez-Olivo was drunk when she was brutally murdered, whoever did it.

But as part of a "let me tell you why I didn't do it" defense, it doesn't inspire confidence in the guy's general judgment, integrity or respect for the lives of other people.



Food Police Visit Pre-Schoolers

12food1184_3 Everyday, my inbox is full of press releases from eager publicists. Today I have one that breathlessly announces that a nutritionist will visit preschool students to talk about healthy eating. This woman will be arriving with carrots, broccoli, and other vegetables, and will be warning the squirming toddlers about the evils of sugary and greasy foods. As a reporter, I am invited to tag along with this woman - I can even bring a photographer.

Well, as much as childhood obesity is a breaking story (not) I think I'll take a pass. Unless I could rudely ask the obvious question - why in the name of God is this woman talking to pre-schoolers? Are they making the buying decisions at the grocery store? Do they choose what they will be eating for their breakfasts, lunches and dinners?

And if not, are we to assume that these little ones will turn to their parents and say, "Gee, Mommy, that Happy Meal looks good, but are you aware of its fat and sodium content? Could you just give me some whole wheat bread sticks, low fat cheese and carrot sticks instead?" The parents of course, woud respond with, "Oh thank you, darling. I wasn't thinking about the nutritional content, let alone the epidemic of childhood obesity. Let me prepare you a healthy alternative right away!"

Puh-leeze.





Reality TV Induces Boredom Coma

Couch_potato First - a disclaimer. I have never actually watched a reality TV program.I've read about them - people voting each other off islands, eating disgusting stuff, obese people weighing themselves publicly to see who is "the biggest loser." (Do they mean that in both senses of the word?)

But this new one I just read about - you've got to be kidding me. ESPN (a channel that is turned on in this household for more hours than I care to admit) launched a show yesterday called "The ESPN Zone Ultimate Couch Potato Competition."

Contestants - you guessed it - sit around in recliners and watch sports on a big screen TV. They can order unlimited food and drinks, but can't sleep or leave their recliners except for bathroom breaks every 8 hours. (That would sure limit my drink orders.)

They are trying to break the Guiness World Record for watching televised sports, which now stands at 69 hours and 48 minutes straight.

OK - first of all, who would watch people watching TV? Personally, I'd be tempted to change to the "Watching The Paint Dry" channel. Evidently the producers of this show aren't familiar with Ann Lander's pronouncement on sports viewing: Any man who has watched three consecutive football games on TV can be declared legally dead.


Happy New Year

Newyearsbaby Last night we welcomed in the New Year at home with a long, leisurely meal with good friends. Check out the menu - it was delicious.

Like most of America, we turned on the television at a few minutes before midnight to watch the ball drop. Why we all find this a compelling activity is a mystery, but hey - we watched the thing descend, exchanged kisses, and then sat back and talked some more  while marveling at how much we had eaten.Jayleno_2

In a few minutes Jay Leno came on TV and began his monologue. I was curious to see how he was faring during the writer's strike - how funny was this guy on his own? He wasn't bad at all, though his references were a little dated. Then he commented on the Cotton Bowl, and curiously he had gotten the teams' names wrong. And it dawned on us that we were watching a rerun. It was  a broadcast from New Year's Eve 2006.

Now this is just pitiful. Didn't these night time hosts start off as comics? Don't their networks trust them to banter on their own for 10 minutes without a staff of writers behind them? Maybe Jay Leno can't go live because he doesn't want to alienate his writers during the strike, for fear that he will never be funny again. But I thought this was an incredibly weak performance.

By the way, one of my New Year's resolutions is to stop being so critical. How's that workin' out so far?