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April 2008

Bad Movies

Babymama Can anyone recommend a good movie? I seem to have seen a string of really bad ones lately. Most recently was "Baby Mama" which stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. It purports to be a female "Odd Couple" and the plot line is this: The Tina Fey character is a single, 37-year-old executive at an organic grocery store chain (kinda like Whole Foods). She has developed baby fever, and is longing for a little one. She has some line in the movie like, "While other women were having babies, I was having promotions."

See- in this movie world, you can't have a career and children. It's one or the other, gals.

Fey hires Amy Poehler, who is depicted as the epitome of white trash, to be a surrogate mother. How do you know she's white trash? She eats Pringles and drinks Dr. Pepper and thinks "America's Funniest Home Videos" is really funny. Fey of course, of the gorgeously appointed apartment, drinks organic pea soup, is uptight and can't have fun. Why, she can't even conceive! Poehler, of course, really knows how to live.

Blah, blah. It was the kind of movie where they introduce a new character and you think, "here comes her love interest." You can pretty much figure out how the entire movie will unfold early on. No surprises, stupid stereotypes and a troubling mean-spiritedness throughout, which includes merciless mocking of older Mothers. (Not Fey, but Sigourney Weaver,playing the surrogacy broker.)

Could we have just one smart movie, that doesn't reduce and demean women from every vantage point?



Staying Fit/Landing in the ER

Emergency As I was lying on a gurney in the Emergency Room yesterday morning, one of the nurses asked me if I had ever been there before as a patient. I thought back, and the answer was yes - I had arrived in an ambulance some years back, directly from the gym, where I had been working out. I had landed in a jump squat and couldn't stand up.

This time, I had also come from the gym. I was doing a vigorous kick boxing class and developed really scary chest pain. As I lay there for hours, hooked07exerciseclass4_2 up to various cardiac monitors, I had to wonder whether all my efforts to stay healthy and fit were going to be the end of me.

Anyway, I'm just fine. My heart seems to be in good shape. I think I pulled a muscle in my chest.

The ER is quite a scene. In the curtained cubicle to the right of me was a four year old girl who couldn't stop throwing up. To my left was a poor guy who had a kidney stone. Then, parked right in front of me, was a fellow who had been working on a construction site and fell through the roof. (Diagnosis - fracture of the lumbar.)

As I left the hospital, I couldn't help but notice a gaggle of overweight nurses, smoking their cigarettes outside of the ER door. Given that the rare times that I go to the doctor seem to be exercise related, I couldn't help but wonder if they were on to something.

In any event, maybe I should at least start acting my age.


Newspaper Obit

Rolledupnewspaper I've been asked to speak at my alma mater about the future of print journalism. Obviously I have been living the demise of this medium - witnessing the shrinking paper, my shrinking paycheck, the latest rounds of buy-outs and an anticipated round of layoffs.

But researching the subject is just as bad. Here are a few fun facts: Independent, publicly traded American newspapers have lost 42% of their market value in the last three years. In 2007, combined print and on line revenue fell about 7 percent; at the NYT last quarter the figure was more than 10%. Circulation revenue has declined steadily since 2003.

So basically, newspapers are hemorrhaging readers, ads and market value. It's all gone online, of course, a medium which readers expect to be free. The more successful the free newspaper website, the more it hurts the print version. The online ads can't compensate for what was in the print version.  The classified business has nearly completely dried up - gone to Craig's List.

I am going to have to think of some upbeat way to finish my talk but I can't for the life of me think of one right now.



Local Officials Again Raise The Idea of Sharing Services

By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: April 27, 2008
Cortlandt Manor

Consolidation190
Linda D. Puglisi, supervisor of Cortlandt Town, which relies on the county and state police after disbanding the local force.

WESTCHESTER is a crazy quilt of 6 cities, 17 towns, 22 villages and dozens of hamlets, with a patchwork of overlapping school, police and fire districts. These 45 municipalities are home to 46 school districts and 42 police departments — 43, if you count the county police.

If Westchester were a private corporation, management consultants would have long since been called in to address what critics say is the duplication of services and inefficiency that all these entities have spawned. Reorganization, proponents say, would provide relief to Westchester residents, who pay some of the highest property taxes in the country.

In fact, the idea of streamlining local government has been kicking around for more than 20 years. A public-private commission that studied the issue wrote a report in 1985 called “Westchester 2000.” The idea was that by the beginning of the millennium, the recommendations to consolidate services and abolish some local fiefs would already be in place.

Instead, the report was shelved, said Alfred B. DelBello, former county executive and current president of the Westchester County Association, a business group that was a sponsor of that study. “It was an excellent report, but it didn’t deal with implementation, and none of it was realized,” he said.

But with today’s weakened economy and soaring local taxes — total property taxes in Westchester grew by 67 percent from 1995 to 2005 — the idea of breaking down local boundaries and sharing services to save money is again beginning to gain currency.

Earlier this month, Sandra Galef, a state assemblywoman who represents parts of Northern Westchester and Putnam County, was host to a forum on this topic at Cortlandt Town Hall here. The meeting drew about 100 town officials, school board members and representatives of county and state governments.

Mr. DelBello, who serves on the State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness, was one of the panelists. The commission’s final report is expected soon.

“These ideas have been around for a long time, but people had a sense you couldn’t do anything,” he said. “But with the downturn in the economy and the tax burden, there is a surge to get government to act differently. In politics, everything is timing.”

According to the Westchester County Association, Westchester has 23 city and town taxing entities, 21 village taxing entities, 46 school taxing entities and 339 special districts for services like fire, sewer, water and life support. Such structures are costly to maintain and are also inefficient, Mr. DelBello said. He said it would be far more efficient to have one central computer coordinating tax collection.

Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state comptroller, agreed that the time was right to explore consolidation and shared services. The obstacles in the past have not been legal, but political, he said.

“There is already broad authority for doing many of these initiatives,” he said. “The biggest impediment is historical. There’s always a past dispute. For many of our suburban communities, it is an issue of identity. We have a sense of our small-town communities. That’s real, but there are ways to get around that.”

Mr. DiNapoli said the new state budget includes $29.4 million for local grants that encourage consolidation and shared services.

Linda D. Puglisi, the Cortlandt town supervisor, said municipalities need the support. She said that when she proposed disbanding the local police force in 1999 to save money, it was hugely controversial, but the Town Board voted to do so. Today, the town relies on county and state law enforcement, a move Ms. Puglisi says saves taxpayers $1 million a year.

“To gain community support for such initiatives, you need to run it almost like a campaign,” she said.

Ms. Puglisi has also joined with neighboring towns to help pay for unfinanced mandates. Six municipalities joined forces to create one transfer center to meet a federal Environmental Protection Agency mandate on recycling. Cortlandt Town met another mandate — on water filtration — by joining with Yorktown and Somers on upgrading a water-treatment plant. Cortlandt also shares advanced life-support paramedics with Peekskill and Buchanan.

Schools are another matter. The Board of Cooperative Educational Services exists to provide shared services among school districts. But getting the districts even to share snow-plowing equipment can be a challenge.

“It’s not easy to get two school districts to work with each other,” said James T. Langlois, district superintendent of Putnam/Northern Westchester Boces. “It’s not easy to get municipalities with completely different histories and cultures to work together either. There’s a grand conversation that needs to begin and needs to continue.”

Dr. Langlois said schools could maintain their individual academic cultures while sharing back-office functions and equipment, coordinating bus routes for out-of-district students and more.

“If someone gets a great price for rock salt, there’s no reason everyone shouldn’t get in on that too,” he said.

Mr. DelBello suggested that Boces could be strengthened and take on roles in labor negotiations with teachers unions. “Instead of being represented by your local district lawyer, Boces could use a professional labor negotiator,” he said. “If school boards, employers and parents were ever to get as organized as the N.E.A., things would change very quickly.”

In his 11th State of the County message this month, County Executive Andrew J. Spano also proposed several shared service initiatives to save money, including a purchasing cooperative between the county and local municipalities to help buy goods more cheaply and a joint investment fund to help schools and governments make more money.

Mr. Spano’s speech often sounded like a defense of county government itself, as he reviewed the many services the county provides. Recently, Paul J. Feiner, the Greenburgh town supervisor, and Joan Gronowski, a Yonkers city councilwoman, announced the formation of a citizens task force to explore the pros and cons of doing away with county government completely. This idea, too, has come and gone over the decades.

Mr. DelBello said he hoped for a groundswell from taxpayer groups, business associations, PTA’s and others to demand less provincialism and more change for the greater good.

Ms. Galef agreed.

“If everyone says ‘no, we don’t want to change,’ then they can’t complain about their high taxes,” she said.


Lemon Dill Orzo

Lemon_dill_orzo This makes a nice change as a side dish, and it couldn't be easier. Prepare orzo  (the rice-shaped pasta) according to package directions. When it is cooked, drain and put into a bowl. Toss it in some olive oil - enough to moisten through.

I made half the box of orzo, and then added the graded rind of one lemon, and then all the juice of the lemon. I threw in some chopped dill, added salt and pepper to taste, and voila! If you are making the whole box, just add more olive oil, and use two lemons - rinds and juice and probably a whole bunch of dill. Chicken_orzo_asparague

I served this with grilled chicken and asparagus, but you know how I am about grilled chicken and aspargus.


Veal with creamy mustard sauce and tomatoes

Veal Pay no mind to this weird, orange-y photo. This veal  looks pretty and tastes good. This recipe was adapted from the Silver Palate cookbook. Basically, you melt some butter (somewhere between 1 and 2 tablespoons) with some olive oil (ditto on the quantities). Chop up a shallot and a scallion, and saute them for a few minutes, then add the veal scallops. (Before you cook them, grind some fresh pepper on each side. I also lightly salt them.) I had one package that had four scallops.

Brown the meat but don't overcook it - just a few minutes on each side. Take the veal out of the pan and set it aside. Then add some white wine to the pan (about a 1/4 cup) and scape up the browned bits of shallots. Let the wine boil down a bit, and then whisk in about a two tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and about 1/4 cup of either heavy cream or whole milk, depending on your guilt factor. Cook for a minute or two, stirring in any juice that has accumulated on the plate where you rested the veal.

Add the veal back to the sauce, and then sprinkle with fresh chopped tomatoes. I served this with brown rice and a green salad.


OMG - Grammar Disappears

0511070904013307 This is no LOL matter. A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that nearly 2/3s of students surveyed say they sometimes let e-communication style creep into their school work.

This makes me feel :(   

Because the way kids communicate by text and email has less and less to do with what I know as the English language. Half of the 700 students interviewed say they sometimes omitted proper punctuation and capitalization in their school work. A quarter reported using "emoticons" - like the silly sad face I typed above.

If civilization were holding the line, that would be one thing. But Tamar Lewin's report in today's NYT quotes a professor from the University of California Berkley as saying, "I think in the future, capitalization will disappear." The professor said that when his teenage son asked him what the presence of the capital letter added to the period at the end of the sentence, he had no answer.

Well, I'll give him an answer. The period signifies the end of the sentence. The capitol letter signifies the beginning of the next one. If it were a subordinate clause, for instance, it wouldn't need a capital.

I know this is a losing battle. Most kids today don't know their "their" from their "there." But capital punishment is too much.


My Beautiful Mommy

Mommycover Lord, I wish I were making this up. There is a new book out called "My Beautiful Mommy," and the target audience is 4-7 year olds whose Mommys are having plastic surgery.

Why did Mommy go to the doctor looking absolutely healthy and come home with black eyes, a broken nose and her breasts strapped into her chest? And what happened to Mommy's face? Is that my Mommy?

Of course it is, Sweetie. She just has a smaller nose, flatter tummy and perkier, bigger breasts - though they probably won't be too soft or cuddly anymore. Sadly, the book is not a joke. It is written - of course - by a plastic surgeon who noticed that children were not being given much explanation for Mommy's scary transformation. In the book, the Mommy reassures  her daughter that Mommy won't look "different," just "prettier."

Oh where to start? I'll let you draw your own conclusions. FIrst, credit where credit is due - I found this appalling news on salon.com, who got it from Newsweek. And second, the ONLY silver lining in this story, is that the doctor had to publish the book himself. No reputable publishing house bought the manuscript, which feels like the only sliver of hope I have left for this society.


Don't Worry. Be Happy

Happyface_happyface_smiley_2400x240 He is known at Harvard as "Dr. Happiness." His real name is Daniel Gilbert and he studies the nature of human happiness.

Yesterday, the NYT carried an interview with Dr. Gilbert, in which he explained that human beings are really more resilient than they imagine. But what really caught my eye was his answer to the reporter's query about what advice he'd give people on how to achieve happiness. Here are two quotes from his response:

"We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends. We know that it's significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That's what the data shows."

And this:

"Another thing we know from studies is that people tend to take more pleasure in experiences than in things. So if you have "x" amount of dollars to spend on vacation or a good meal or movies, it will get you more happiness than a durable good or an object."

Got that, people? Now get out there, reach out to someone you love and go do something fun. Doctor's orders.


Holy Cats!

Catpopehat Pope Benedict XVI is a cat person. Apparently his holiness is known for his kindness to the stray cats in Rome. Back when he was Cardinal, he tended to the kitties that visited the Vatican's garden. Not only that, there is a children's book  recently published called "Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat," written by Chico with "the aid" of a local journalist.

Well, I'm not Catholic, but I say any cat lover is in a far better position to lead than one who does not appreciate the wonder of felines. You know the saying - "God created dog to love man, and cat to teach him humility."

All of our presidential candidates can use a little humility, so I did a quick check to assess their pet situation. It was troubling. Barack Obama has no pets. None. I don't like that. Hillary Clinton has a lab, Seamus. But, as with many things Clinton, this is misleading. The Clintons used to have a cat, Socks, whom they left in Washington with Bill's secretary when they left the White House. This tells you something about the Clinton's fecklessness. As for John McCain, he claims to have  2 dogs, one cat, two turtles, a ferret, three parakeets and 13 saltwater fish. I find 22 pets excessive, even if more than half of them are fish.

Hey - this is not to say that I'm not worried about the candidates' positions on Iraq or the economy or global warming or any other important issues. But I do wish Barack had a cat.


A Perfect Day

Friday_april_18


















 

Yesterday was just a great day. First of all, the "popcorn tree" in our back yard - actually a weeping cherry - fully popped. As you can see it is incredibly beautiful in full bloom. The morning was spent doing errands, which included finding a really pretty spring skirt that was marked down by 50 percent.

The Weatherman, the Boy (who is home from college) and I had a lovely lunch outside, because the weather was so gorgeous. After lunch The Boy and I decided to go for a bike ride. The Weatherman cleaned off the bikes and pumped up the tires, and then rigged the bike rack onto the car.

The Boy and I drove to Millwood (a neighboring town), parked and then set off on the bike path. We biked all the way to Yorktown, roughly a 12 mile round trip. It was sunny, but with a nice breeze. Because it's early spring, the trees weren't fully filled out, so the sunshine came in and dappled the  path with gorgeous afternoon light. At one point the trail leads to a bridge overlooking the Croton Reservoir, and The Boy and I got off our bikes and watched the water sparkling beneath us.

We had a very exciting drive home (it looked like the bikes were going to fall off the rack at any minute and they very nearly did). And no sooner had we put our gear away, than the Weatherman drove up with our daughter. She had come to spend the rest of the weekend.

The whole family had a nice, leisurely dinner (grilled chicken in a curry sauce, rice and a stir fry of snow peas and snap peas and ginger) and then the Weatherman built a little fire in his outdoor fire pit. We sat around the fire as it grew dark, laughing and talking. Oh yeah, The Boy at some point had baked brownies, so we also ate really delicious, gooey warm brownies in front of the fire.

Later we watched a movie together at home. All in all, a perfect day.


The Blogosphere

Dogblog I read in this morning's NYT that one out of every 10 people who use the Internet have a blog. The story went on to talk about people who air all the dirty laundry about their divorces in blogs - using the forum to bad-mouth their exes and share humiliating stories. This is on top of the people who chronicle their sex lives in blogs. Are these people nuts? What price are you willing to pay for attention?

I was reminded of the risks you take when you put anything on the web this morning. Like many people, I have an alert programmed so that anytime my name comes up in a blog, I get a link. Often, people discuss or include articles I have written for the NYT.

This morning I saw that the article I recently published about The Weatherman's career change showed up on a national weather blog. Someone has posted the story and written some benign comment like, "check out this great story."

Then the comments started popping up. A few complimentary. Then some along the lines of, "Yeah, well, the guy must have made a ton of money being a CFO, no wonder he could change jobs..." and my favorite, "Yeah, that made me want to barf."

The Weatherman thought about posting a response about where they could shove a certain weather instrument into a certain body part, but he rose above it and stayed mute.

But it does make me wonder how people could tolerate nasty comments on the most intimate parts of their lives.


Pope My Ride

Popemobile_3 Here's a heads-up for local drivers. Do NOT plan on driving on the Cross County Parkway on Saturday. Most of the road will be closed in both directions when Pope Benedict XVI visits St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers.  Closings begin at 8 a.m. and the road won't reopen until 8 p.m. Expect problems from spillovers on other roads as well.

But will all this stop me from wanting to get a glimpse of the PopeMobile? His Holiness has a pretty amazing ride. There have been several incarnations of the vehicle. Various versions of Fords, Mercedes Benz and FCS Stars (that's a Polish make) have been modified to create the PopeMobile. The current model is a Mercedes, with bullet proof glass on all four sides.

You may be able to make Pope Benedict's license plate out in this picture. It reads "SCV." Bonus points are available for anyone who knows what these initials stand for. Oh never mind, I'll just give it to you - State City of Vatican.


The Joys of Aging

Annetteb Someone in this household seems to on the AARP mailing list.Curtisjamieleephotojamieleecurtis_2 It is certainly not me. But I have to admit, they put out a pretty good magazine, and I am always intrigued to see who's featured in the world of "retired people." This week, a sexy Jamie Lee Curtis is on the cover, and the following Baby Boomers are featured for May birthdays: Ron Reagan, 50  (that's junior, folks), Stevie Nicks, 60 (Fleetwood Mac) Phylicia Rashad, 60 (remember her portrayal of Bill Cosby's wife on the Cosby show?) and Stevie_nicks Annette Bening, 50 (who has the dubious honor of finally making Warren Beatty the marrying kind.)Phylicia1

ANYWAY, there is an article in the magazine about coping with acne and wrinkles at the same time. For all the indignities of aging, this one really ranks up there. Are they saying that you get to be adolescent and menopausal at the same time? This is so wrong.Anyway, the featured women sure have great skin.


More Breaking News

Dancing_chicken OK, you all know I have a thing for the local police briefs, and I try not to bring them to you too often. But how could I resist these, all from the Bedford Record Review:

Thursday, March 27, 2:50 p.m. "Salem Road resident reports loose chickens in the roadway. The chickens had left the area prior to police arrival."
Sneaky little devils.

Friday, March 28, 9:10 a.m. "A customer at ShopRite states the previous evening while at the store a 100 ounce plastic bottle of 'All' had fallen off the shelf, striking a customer in the head, causing an injury."
Clocked by a detergent bottle? That's just humiliating.

Saturday, March 29, 12:45 a.m. "Buxton Road resident contacts police stating unknown person had rung the doorbell and left prior to his answering the door."
I suspect the chickens. Either that or some poor guy made deranged by a blow to the head by some very aggressive laundry detergent.


In The Wrong Business

50cent_300x298_4 If I'm really in the mood to torment myself, I try to compute how much I actually make per hour. If you add up the time that it takes to write a newspaper article - particularly a complicated news story - and then divide the paycheck I get for writing that piece by the time put in....well, you know the rapper called "50 cent"? That sounds like about the right figure.

And speaking of 50 cent, he's makes a lot more than hisMarykate_olsen name. Fifty (we're on a first name basis) made $33 million last year, according to Parade Magazine. Then there's the waifish Mary-Kate Olsen. I know she was a child actress, and then an NYU student, but I have no idea what she does now, other than get photographed at various clubs. I do know it's lucrative -she raked in $17 million last year.Maltese_wb_2

Of course the ultimate insult was the fact that the late Leona Helmsley's dog, Trouble, inherited $12 million last year. Maybe little  Trouble could put his paws up to this keyboard, and start pounding out a 1000 word story about  Westchester County's efforts to share services in an effort to save money. And I could find a gig to sit around looking really cute and get handsomely paid for it.


A Midlife Crisis Doesn’t Have to Be One

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By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: April 13, 2008
WE all know the stereotypes about male midlife crises. Men run out and buy red Porsches, get hair plugs and trade in their wives for younger girlfriends.

My husband, Michael, took a different route. He became a weatherman. Or at least, he will be one when he graduates from his meteorology program this spring. Let me explain.

Michael had been in corporate finance for his entire working life. When I met him 27 years ago he was crunching numbers and preparing financial forecasts for a public television station. He rose through the ranks at various media and sports companies, jobs that always sounded glamorous, because of the high profile of the places where he worked. In reality, though, little of the charm of association rubbed off on the spreadsheets and budget projections, even if the product was a professional basketball team or a hot TV show.

His last job was as chief financial officer of a television production company. When that company did a big reorganization, Michael did some soul searching. His discontent had been building. A few years earlier, he had been on a business trip on 9/11 — a 9 a.m. American Airlines flight from Kennedy International Airport to Los Angeles. His plane never left the tarmac. But, like so many others that day, he began evaluating how he wanted to spend the rest of his life.

So when he came to a crossroads for his next professional move, he didn’t follow the usual path of talking to headhunters, networking within the industry and finding another corporate finance position. Instead, he started thinking about the weather.

This was nothing new for Michael. He isn’t one of those people who watch the Weather Channel simply to catch the local forecast. He has always been the kind of viewer who cares about the barometric pressure in faraway places. He monitors the rainfall levels in tropical climes. And in the Northeast, absolutely nothing gets him going like a good storm, particularly a snowstorm.

Every time we are in the middle of a near blizzard, Michael will look up at the yellowish swirling sky and say, in a deflated voice, “It’s letting up.” The storm in question may or may not be letting up, but Michael needs to prepare himself emotionally for the tempest’s eventual end. As much as he wants to believe those 18 to 24 inches may fall, he needs to temper his expectations.

His obsession with weather has been lifelong. As a child he built crude weather instruments. He constructed a hygrometer, which measures humidity, out of an old milk carton and strands of human hair. (His patient mother had to pluck a few strands to get the right length.) He put together an anemometer, which clocks wind speeds, out of a bicycle wheel frame, some funnels and a speedometer.

Over the years, he maintained his love. He subscribed to publications like “Windswept” (published by the Mount Washington Observatory) and “Weatherwise.” Just as some households receive mail-order catalogs that advertise gardening tools or kitchen gadgets, we receive titles like “Wind and Weather” that sell barometers and rain gauges.

Still, Michael had always viewed the weather as an avocation, not a vocation. He is facile with numbers, and after graduating from college and then business school, still saddled with student loans, he went directly into the corporate world and didn’t look back.

Until the day he finally did. Maybe it was a delayed reaction to 9/11. Maybe it was just one too many corporate reorganizations and the cutthroat politics that accompany them. But Michael maintains that far from having a crisis of midlife or any variety, he simply decided to become the person he always wanted to be.

Going back to school after 30 years is no easy thing. The closest meteorology program was at a state university in Connecticut. To apply, he had to dig up his original college transcript, which included 35-year-old SAT scores. When he was accepted, he had to produce his immunization records.

Michael called his mother, who after a pause informed him that his pediatrician was long dead and that she had no idea where his old medical charts were. After further research my husband discovered that he had actually already had the diseases today’s students are immunized for — like measles and mumps. His very age proved his immunity, and the university health department gave him a pass.

Attending school was another challenge. Our children told their father that he had inadvertently bought a girl’s backpack. (“But it’s blue,” he said. “Sky blue,” our daughter told him, as if that explained everything.) When Michael slung the backpack over both shoulders, our son demonstrated the one shoulder backpack slouch.

Then there were the academics. Things had changed considerably since his Ivy League days, particularly the computer technology. Just reactivating the brain cells to do advanced physics was challenging. The professors were his age or younger. His fellow students were our children’s ages or younger. His wife (that would be me) alternated between offering support and nagging about lost income.

He persevered. He studied climate and forecasting, not to mention physics, oceanography, thermodynamics, calculus and more. He did radio and Internet weather reporting. He had an internship with a meteorologist at a TV station. He volunteered at the weather observatory on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. This spring, he will get his degree and continue to pursue his dream.

We live in a competitive town, where one-upmanship is common. Yet time and again, people — usually men — pull Michael aside and say: “Man, you’re my hero. I wish I could do what you did. I always wanted to be a ...” Fill in the blank here — landscaper, sculptor, teacher, whatever.

“You still can,” Michael says.

But he is one of the few who did. I’m not sure what the future will bring. The uncertainty makes me anxious. In any case, my husband tells me that anything beyond a seven-day forecast is speculation.


Report on Children Shows a Diverse County

WESTON REED, 10, had come from his fifth-grade classroom to a clinic in the basement at the Edison Elementary School here. Perched on an examining table, he eyed Alison G. Oesterle, a nurse practitioner, warily.

“Please don’t tell me I’m going to get a shot,” Weston said.

Once assured that his checkup did not include any procedures with a needle (Weston was up to date on his immunizations), he chatted happily with Ms. Oesterle. They talked about how many fruits and vegetables he ate each day, what he did for exercise, how often he ate fast food and how well he was sleeping.

Around the corner, behind a small screen, Kacy Ortega, 9, was having her teeth cleaned and sealants applied. Kacy and Weston were part of a stream of children visiting the in-school clinic, run by Open Door Family Medical Centers, which provides health and dental care for a population of children who are frequently uninsured and underserved.

The two children are among the county’s estimated 235,000 children under 18 who are counted in a new analysis of government data that has been put together by the Westchester Children’s Association, an advocacy group based in White Plains.

The study, “Westchester Children: By the Numbers,” collected statistics from mostly government sources about local children in the areas of economic security, health, child care, education, child welfare and juvenile justice.

Individually, each set of numbers does not add up to much. But looked at collectively, the comprehensive statistical presentation begins to paint a picture of the county’s children and their lives. What emerges is a portrait that underscores a diverse and divided county. Most children in the county live comfortably and are well educated. But there are pockets of children living in poverty, lacking easy access to medical care and attending underperforming schools.

According to the 2006 American Community Survey, 8.2 percent (19,636) of all Westchester children were living in poverty. The rate for children of a minority race or ethnicity was more than double that.

The numbers don’t tell the entire story because poverty guidelines are set nationally. To qualify as poor, a family of four would be living on less than $21,200 a year. With Westchester’s high cost of living, those dollars are stretched even tighter, the study shows.

At the other end, the 2006 American Community Survey also ranked Westchester as having the 13th-highest median family income of any county in the country.

“The upper income is growing, but the poverty rate is still there,” said Cora Greenberg, executive director of the Children’s Association. “There are certainly lots of middle-income people all over Westchester County. What’s surprising is how extreme the ends are.”

Take children in Port Chester, where Weston and Kacy live. Drawing on data from the 2000 census and the State Department of Education, the report notes that 16 percent of children who live in the village are in families with incomes below the poverty line. Some 14 percent speak English “not well” or “not at all.” The median family income is $51,025, and 57 percent are Latino. In 2005, 61 percent of high school students graduated in four years.

Across the county, the statistics gathered for the study tell a different story for Chappaqua, in the Town of New Castle. This is where parents recently gathered at the Robert E. Bell Middle School for a presentation by Suniya Luthar, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Her talk was titled “Privileged but Pressured: The Risks of Raising Children in Affluent Communities.” Parents heard about how affluent children suffer from high rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

“Material wealth does not imply superior family function,” Dr. Luthar told the audience of more than 300 parents crowded into the auditorium. “Our kids don’t see us as being any more present or nurturing or kind or accessible than kids in the inner city.”

Here are the numbers for Chappaqua: 5 percent live below the poverty line. Six percent struggle with English. The median family income is $174,579, and 91 percent are white. The four-year graduation rate in Chappaqua was 97 percent in 2005.

In Mount Vernon, the numbers tell a different story. This is where Lisamarie Albanese, a social worker at the Hamilton Elementary School, was visiting a bilingual class of third graders to play a board game called Friendship Island, as part of an anti-bullying program.

“True or false?” she asked the class. “Joining a person when he or she is calling someone mean names shows that you’re a good friend.”

The children clambered to explain why name-calling was bad. The program, part of the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative and financed by federal grants, is designed to reduce violence in the school.

The numbers in Mount Vernon show that 19 percent live below the poverty line. Ten percent struggle with English. The median family income is $49,573, and 68 percent are African-American. Mount Vernon’s four-year graduation rate was 55 percent in 2005.

The data is drawn from county, state and federal government statistics, as well as several nonpublic sources; the association did not create any data itself. Some statistics are broken down by municipalities.

“Countywide statistics tend to be misleading because Scarsdale isn’t Yonkers,” Ms. Greenberg said. “People don’t relate to Westchester as the place they live. They relate to their communities and school districts. We wanted to look at that diversity.”

Among the findings in the data book about children’s health: 53 percent of Latino children and 28 percent of African-American children in Westchester receive Medicaid, according to the Westchester County Department of Social Services. For children ages 1 through 12, the top reason for hospitalizations — 23 percent — is respiratory system disease, usually asthma. Roughly 34 percent of elementary school students are overweight or at risk of becoming so, county health numbers show.

On education, Yonkers and Mount Vernon, which together account for more than 24 percent of school enrollment in the county, share the lowest graduation rates — 55 percent in four years. Briarcliff Manor, Bronxville and Scarsdale have the highest, at 99 percent. There is a marked discrepancy on graduation depending on race: countywide, 92 percent of white students graduate from high school in four years, but only 61 percent of African-American or Latino students do.

The association will release its 213-page data book on April 24; a searchable online version will be available in the fall. Ms. Greenberg said she hoped the book would begin a conversation about the most pressing needs for children in the county.

“Children need certain building blocks to develop, to grow in a healthy way,” she said. “Whether they live in Chappaqua or they live in Mount Vernon, kids need the same things. If a family or community can provide those things for you, good for you. But if not, you still need them. We have a ways to go to make sure that every kid has what he needs in Westchester.”


Sons, Fathers, Brothers, Husbands

  Ten more deaths this week of American servicemen, bringing the total to 4020 who have died since the start of the Iraq war. Here's who was lost:

Rmy_hc_09_graves_on_the_left_7













-Jeffrey Hartley, 25, Hempstead, Texas
-Jeremiah Hughes, 26, Jacksonville, Florida
-Jason Kazarick, 30, Oakmont, PA
-Michael Lilly, 23, Boise, Idaho
-Jeremiah McNeal, 23, Norfolk, Virginia
-Mark Rosenberg, 32, Miami Lakes, Florida
-Stephen Scott, 54, New Market, Alabama
-Timothy Smith, 25, South Lake Tahoe, California
-Richard Vaugh, 22, San Diego, California
-Stuart Wolfer, 36, Coral Springs, Florida

Yesterday, George W. Bush spoke triumphantly about his decision last year to send an additional 30,000 additional troops to Iraq. "Fifteen months ago, Americans were worried about the prospect of failure in Iraq," he said. "Today, thanks to the surge, we've renewed and revived the prospect of success."


Foiled Again

Dscn9024 I know, I know. My cat Lawson is overweight. In his defense, I would like to say that he showed up at our door in the middle of a huge snowstorm as a starving kitten. He was tiny and terrified of all humans. Over the years, he has come to trust me and, as you can see, to take great comfort in his food dish.

The vet believes he had been abused and subsequently, Lawson is very, very wary of sudden movements, loud noises, and anything that leads him to believe that he might be put in his cat carrier. He is already long-overdue for his annual check-up. It's just so hard to catch him. My sweet tempered big boy begins to fight for his life when he catches sight of the carrier.

The Weatherman and I had been working on our plan for several days. All you need to know is that it involved a pillow case and a garbage can. How Pet_carrier_cayman1_4 did it work? Let me just say this - for an overweight cat, he certainly50281282 has enormous strength and body flexibility. Right now, he is resting comfortably inside our mattress, where he has made a little (ok, not so little) escape hatch for himself. Once he's in there, there is no way to get him out.

We are rescheduled for the vet for tomorrow. Look at the size of the carrier and the size of the cat. Our odds? Fat chance.


A Really Bad Idea

287iny150 Yesterday, I was driving across the county on I-287.10479285_3 This road, under the best of conditions, can put fear in your heart. And given the on-going construction project, complete with rock blasting, it is currently death-defying. Lanes disappear without warning. Barriers suddenly appear to split lanes. Shoulders disappear. It's like an amusement park ride, without the amusement.

And that's not to say that I-287 is an easy ride when there isn't construction. It is usually clogged with traffic, there are numerous accidents and if it weren't one of the few ways to travel the east/west corridor of Westchester, I would avoid it at all costs.

That's why I was astonished to read in yesterday's local paper that a bike trail is being studied for I-287. Are these people nuts?! With all the beautiful places to ride in and around the county, why would anyone want to take their life in their hands (forget all the 18-wheelers on that road, the fumes alone would kill you) and ride a bike on this road?



Random Musings

Lock_3 First, I have come to the conclusion that middle-aged people should hang it up and stop going to the gym. Exhibit A - me, going to a spinning class yesterday evening. Actually, it wasn't the class that did me in, it was the locker room. When I went to retrieve my purse and jacket from the locker, I realized that I was too blind to make out the numbers on my combination lock. Everything was sort of a blur. My glasses, of course, were in my purse, which was in my locker.

Finally, a nice young woman who had watched me struggling offered to help.  She also struggled with the lock. But the problem wasn't her eyes. It was my mind. I had also forgotten the combination. Don't you think God is telling me to stop working out?

In other news, I am re-writing my book proposal. It is daunting work and wasn't helped when I picked up this morning's Times and read the first few words of Michiko Kakutani's review of a new book by Martin Amis. It read, "In one of these chuckleheaded essays..." Ouch! It's not easy to put yourself out there.

And finally, speaking of the NYT, Times blogger John Tierney has been running a Worst Bad Name Contest. He has a winner: Iona Knipl. This poor woman could not count the number of times that people, upon meeting her, responded, "I own two."


Finals and Playoffs - It's Too Much

4218850559_2 This is not The Boy, but it's quite similar to a photo that The Boy sent me last night of himself studying for finals. (Despite my constant exploitation of my family in the press, I actually do try to protect their privacy from time to time by not posting family photos. Except for the cats...)

ANYWAY, it's not enough that yesterday The Boy had to finish a Spanish paper and study for four finals. (His college has an odd schedule known as 4-4-1, where he takes 4 classes for two semesters, takes finals, and then returns to campus for a one-month single course.)

Compounding the exam stress is that franchise known as the New York Rangers. They had already clinched a spot in the Playoffs. And we knew they'd be playing the Devils. But who would have the home ice advantage? Alas, as of yesterday the Devils secured this privilege. Which wouldn't be too big a deal, except The Weatherman had already bought tickets for the first round of the playoffs. Which means The Boy has to hurry home from Maine to be able to get to the Meadowlands for the17rangers1_600x360_2 game.

This makes me annoyed, because I would prefer that The Boy stay focused on his exams, and not on his beloved hockey team. I have written before about how in this family - especially during football and hockey season, which covers quite a stretch of the year - regular life is worked around sports instead of the other way around.

I can't fight it. But couldn't  Hendrick Lundqvist (the Rangers goalie) have stopped that last puck during the shootout? If only he knew how much he complicates my life....


Teriyaki Chicken With Weird Clean-Out-The-Refrigertor Salad

Chicken_tereyaki I just read that George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin dined on red caviar and veal loin. We did not. Tonight I made chicken teriyaki, brown rice and an odd clean-out-the-refrigerator salad.

OK, it's worse than you think. I used a McCormick seasoning packet of ginger teriyaki sauce. It was good. It really was. You mix the packet with some water and oil and then marinate the chicken in the sauce for at least 30 minutes. I marinated mine - thighs and legs - for about an hour and a half, then baked it at 350 for an hour. The rice was the rice.

For the salad, I had red leaf lettuce and then a bunch of stuff from theSalad_2 refrigerator - snow peas, half of a Granny Smith apple (which I chopped), an avocado, some chopped cilantro and some Vidalia onion. I mixed it all together and just used a vinaigrette dressing. It was good - I can't describe the flavor - I guess it was vaguely Asian. Anyway, it was no State dinner, but it was tasty and healthy.


No Signs of Intelligent Life

Maddy_on_lap_2 See this kitty? Now look deeply into her eyes. Do you see any signs of intelligent life there? Anything?

This photo was taken by my computer (I have a MacBook Pro with photo booth.) I was trying to work but Maddy (formally "Madeline") kept jumping up onto my lap. When I tried to type anyway, she would get excited and start nipping at my moving fingers.

Anyhow, this morning it is pouring rain and chilly. Nonetheless, Maddy is convinced she wants to go outside. She cries. She howls. She stands by the door insistently. Needless to say, she will not listen to reason. I keep telling her the weather is bad. But her howling drives me around the bend, so I let her out. Now, fast forward approximately one minute. She is outside, crying to be let back in. She doesn't like it out there in the rain.

So I let her back in. Fine. Except approximately two minutes later she is back at the door, howling to go out. Repeat above paragraph. This can go on all morning. Why can't her little pea-brain remember from one minute to the next that it's raining?

PS Before I get angry emails from my kids, I will state for the record that Maddy is a very sweet girl. I just don't think she's too s-m-a-r-t.


Deadline Approaches: Tornado Hits Office

Desk I'm working on a complicated story involving a statistical profile of children in the County. I thought it was due on Monday, but my editor informed me yesterday that it is due today.

Under any circumstances, my office is not what anyone would describe as neat. But when I am frazzled with a sudden deadline, my office becomes a complete disaster, as these photos of my desk (left) and the table that holds the overflowing papers (right) will illustrate.Table_2

Please note the pathos of my glasses, perched upon the report. See the little piece of scotch tape holding them together? The glasses fell apart while they were on my head. Really, they just imploded. So now I am going to set to work with some cheap drug store reading glasses perched on my nose, in this sea of papers.

Once I am done, I plan to turn on my iTunes and do a thorough cleaning in here. I promise. And Mom, I know these images take you back to my childhood days. And Kids - do as I say, not as I do.


A Dreamy Blog

Dreaming_2 I'm not in the habit of directing people off my blog. But please click on this link to check out this fabulous site called metaphysicalpoll.

The woman who runs it is collecting dreams about the presidential candidates. You are directed to an "I Dream Of..." page with photos of a young Barack, Hillary and John McCain. Click on anyone of their photos, and you get to read the dreams of hundreds of strangers.

Why would you want to do such a thing? Because it's fascinating, that's why! I'm amazed at people's imagination and at the quirky, compelling imagery in the dreams. Here are just a few samples: Young_hillary

From a young male lawyer:
I'm in a college classroom and we're having a discussion about current economic troubles. Hillary is teaching the class, and she is using the Socratic method, asking students questions and trying to elicit the correct response. No one is getting her point, so I raise my hand and she called on me. I say, The problem is liquidity! She agrees, Exactly. I feel so proud.

Mccain40 From a novelist in Toronto:
I was at a dinner and John McCain was gladhanding. I left the room to avoid meeting him. Once outside, I started flipping through a brochure that was all about my best friend's aspirations in politics. (He has no political aspirations in real life.)

Then I noticed that McCain was standing beside me.

He pointed to something in the brochure and said, That's not really accurate, is it?


From A Woman Who Is On the Fence between Barack and Hillary:Young_barack

There was a shootout in my home. It was like the wild west, with the women upstairs hiding and the men downstairs shooting. I don't know who was fighting whom, or why. Barack Obama was there. He sat next to me on the couch but sat on my glasses so I could not see.

There is so much more and I only hope that I dream about one of the candidates so that I can post too.

Dreaming


It's All Relative

22492389 About 100 years ago, I was a copy girl at The New York Times. We scrambled around getting copy paper (told you it was a century ago - there were reporters still working on typewriters), coffee and, if we were really lucky, writing un-bylined stories that no one else would cover.

Thus I found myself on 107th street, covering one of those "Times Neediest Case Fund" stories. They tended to read along the lines of "Mary H. won't have a turkey this year. But thanks to the generosity of ...."blah blah blah.

Anyway, I've long since forgotten what Mary H.'s problems were, but I do clearly remember two things about that story. One, the "neediest case" I was writing about lived on my block, which until that time had seemed like a halfway decent neighborhood. And two, the photographer who worked with me that day was Dith Pran.

Some of you might have seen Dith Pran's obituary in yesterday's paper. He had survived the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, worked with Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg as a translator, photographer and protector, once saving his life.

Pran was not impressed by our neediest case, who lived in an apartment with heat, had plenty of food and a tv set. I'm not saying the poor woman didn't have her troubles. But to someone like him, who had witnessed the Cambodian genocide, survived by eating insects and endured forced labor, her life didn't seem so bad.

Schanberg wrote a story about Pran in the Times Magazine, which was later made into the movie "The Killing Fields."

Though Pran wasn't particularly moved by the plight of our neediest case that day, he was unfailingly professional, polite and extremely kind to a very nervous young woman who was just starting out as a reporter.

An amazing life. An amazing man.