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June 2008

Libbie's Blueberry Pie

Libbie's blueberry pie
Topping:
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter (not melted)
1/4 cup oats

Filling:
4 cups fresh blueberries
2/3 cup sugar
2 2/3 tablespoons Minute tapioca
1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare one pie crust and line 9-inch pie plate. Wash and drain berries well. Sprinkle sugar, tapioca and lemon juice over berries, and mix gently. Let stand while preparing topping.

For topping, cut together flour, brown sugar and butter. Mix with pastry blender, or two knivs, until butter pieces are the size of small peas. Stir in oats.

Pour berry mixture into pie crust. Sprinkle topping over berries. Bate at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35 to 40 minutes, until topping and crust are nicely browned.


Friends, Food and Politics

Barbecue-grill-486 The Weatherman and I had a busy weekend, with lots of get-togethers with friends. Inevitably the talk at each of these social events turns to the presidential election. And it occurs to me that even though I live within the shadow of New York City, one of the major metropolitan areas of the globe, mine is a provincial world.

Let me explain. Friday night - met friends on the upper West Side of Manhattan - had dinner on 120th off Broadway. Talk turns to politics. They had supported Hillary in the primary - they now support Obama.

Saturday night - had friends over for dinner. (Check the "Food and Drink" section for Libbie's blueberry pie recipe.) They supported Obama in the primary, continue to support him in the general election.

Sunday lunch cook-out at friends' home. About 12 people there. Everyone was a Democrat. All support Obama.

Sunday dinner at friend's house in neighboring town. Six people. All support Obama.

Who-is-barack-obama So here's the problem - this is my world view. I don't know anyone who isWho-is-john-mccain voting for John McCain. That includes my 84-year-old father, a life-long Republican, who now supports Obama. But then I have to remember. I live in New York. I read the New York Times. I listen to NPR. Everyone around me tends to think like me.

I remember my complete shock when George W. Bush was re-elected. How could this be, when no one was supporting him? That is, no one I knew. So the view from this New York suburb is that Obama already has it wrapped up. But history has taught me that that is a pretty provincial view.


The Joy of Graduating

Published: June 29, 2008

DANIELLE GORMAN was musing about what it takes to secure the No. 1 spot at her highly ranked, competitive high school.

In the Region

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Janet Durrans for The New York Times

Ridgefield High graduates at their commencement at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.

“Valedictorians are the type of people who take on too much and are unwilling to fail,” she said.

She should know. Danielle is this year’s valedictorian at Moorestown High School, in Moorestown, N.J. She often studied until 2 in the morning.

Danielle, 18, took one Advanced Placement class in her sophomore year, five her junior year and four senior year. Why not five? Because her math class, “Multivariable Calculus and Differential Equations,” covered material beyond what the A.P. tests measure.

On top of her studies, there was mock trial, model congress and the debate team, along with four years on the track team. Oh yes, and there were those relaxing summers, like the one after her sophomore year, when she took a course on international law at Harvard Summer School, while at the same time completing a 50-hour internship with a law firm.

Danielle, who will attend M.I.T. this fall, said she chose challenging courses and pushed herself because she wasn’t sure what she ultimately wanted to do. She wasn’t shocked to find out she had been named valedictorian — she knew she was one of the three top students — but tried to keep herself from wanting the honor too intensely.

“I really conditioned myself to not want it or expect it,” Danielle said. “I take things pretty stoically. It didn’t set in for a while, and then I was really happy.”

Another valedictorian season has come to a close, with students throughout the region having proudly stepped up to the podium to deliver their graduation speeches and receive the accolades that come from being the highest academic performer in their school.

But as the path to that honor has intensified over recent years, some administrators are beginning to question the valedictorian tradition. Several factors — including the increase in the number of high school students, grade inflation, intense competition for college acceptances and a savvier student body — have changed the game.

Some students strategize to win, taking on a heavy load of A.P. courses, which are weighted when grade point averages are calculated. Some avoid more creative courses, like art or photography, where grading can be subjective, and a B could ruin their shot at the top spot. There have been conflicts about how to measure the transcripts of transfer students who come from schools with different grading systems. In a handful of cases, the zeal for valedictorian honors has led to lawsuits.

Take Danielle’s high school in Moorestown, which landed in the national spotlight five years ago, when a high school senior sued the district in an effort to be named valedictorian. Blair L. Hornstine was awarded $60,000 by the Moorestown School District to settle a federal lawsuit that she filed after the district tried to name a student with a lower grade point average as co-valedictorian.

Ms. Hornstine had been home-schooled, and her lawyer said she suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. Critics claimed she manipulated the system, and her lawsuit caused an uproar in the community. Ms. Hornstine was so vilified — there was even a Web site that chronicled her case called the “Blair Hornstine Project,” a play on the film “The Blair Witch Project” — that she skipped her graduation.

Later that summer, Ms. Hornstine’s acceptance to Harvard was withdrawn, after accusations that articles she had written for the local newspaper were plagiarized. She ended up going to St. Andrews University in Scotland, where she graduated in 2006 with a degree in classics.

Danielle remembers the controversy and has some sympathy for her predecessor.

“I felt really bad for her,” Danielle said. “She ended up being valedictorian but losing a lot of other things. I remember everyone said she shouldn’t care so much because it ended up hurting her.”

This year at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, N.Y., Susannah Rudel and Brett Rosenberg are co-valedictorians, and share the honor with apparent grace. Though no one would speak for the record, the stories circulated about contested grade point averages and smothered resentment, yet Susannah and Brett presented a united front, describing how delighted they were that as best “study buddies” they would both be honored.


“I would have felt terrible if it was just me,” Susannah, 17, said in an interview that included her co-valedictorian at the school. “I genuinely don’t believe I would have succeeded as much without Brett. I spend hours on the phone going over math problems with her.”

Phil Marino for The New York Times

Graduates from Division Avenue High in Levittown.

In the Region

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Brett, 17, said that if she alone had been named, “it definitely would have been empty in a way, and it wouldn’t have been fair because it was such a collaborative relationship.”

Those words are balm to high school administrators, who had to calculate the top grade point averages to the third decimal point to determine the girls were tied. Nineteen students at Horace Greeley High had perfect 4.0 grade point averages or higher; Susannah and Brett each had a 4.1.

Each girl took seven A.P.s in high school. Susannah was captain of the varsity swim team, placed in the state championships, earned her Gold Award from the Girl Scouts and plays the flute. Brett was captain of the cross-country team, captain of the nationally ranked academic challenge team, and plays the bass clarinet. Susannah will attend Amherst College this fall; Brett will go to Harvard.

“The two of them had an exact numerical tie,” said Andrew Selesnick, the high school principal. “It’s pretty remarkable. You just want to be sure, you don’t want to make a mistake.”

The high school has reason to be cautious. Five years ago, the valedictorian and the salutatorian were named at a cum laude ceremony in the fall. But a week later, the students were called to the principal’s office and told a mistake had been made in calculating the grade point averages. A teacher, who traditionally changed final class grades based on students’ performance on the A.P. test, had delayed reporting an upgrade. The new grade — a fraction of a point — changed the equation for several students in the tight competition at the top of the class. The students were told, based on recalculations, that there would be two valedictorians and two salutatorians. All four students gave speeches.

“I remember thinking it was a little odd,” said Dan Adler, the originally named valedictorian. “But I clearly appreciated it when I was given the honor, so for someone else who deserved it not be granted it was a little absurd.”

When the differences between the top student and the 10th come down to hundredths of a point, some administrators are questioning how meaningful the valedictorian distinction is.

“We have had valedictorians and salutatorians when it’s less than a hundredth of a point apart,” said Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre.

South Side, like many schools in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, has eliminated class ranking on transcripts, because administrators believe a rank reduces students to a number and prefer that colleges take a close look at student transcripts and consider the broader student. Still, they maintain the grade point averages to determine the No. 1 and No. 2 spots. “Our community has been happy with eliminating ranking, but naming the valedictorian is a strong tradition,” Dr. Burris said. “If you’re going to have student speakers, it really is an honor and you have to have some objective way of choosing them.”

Given all the drama over the honor, how do valedictorians fare in the long term? Karen D. Arnold, an associate professor of higher education at Boston College, spent more than 15 years studying valedictorians who graduated in 1981 from high schools across Illinois. Dr. Arnold found that high school valedictorians consistently did well in college and were generally well-rounded, successful people. They were not a group, however, who were particularly creative or who would achieve great distinction in life.

“They’re kind of like wonderful organizational achievers,” Dr. Arnold said. “They’re hard workers. They’re not going to remold your organization, but they might lead it.”

Dr. Arnold said she was familiar with the arguments in favor of eliminating valedictorians but believed the tradition should be maintained. “There aren’t many academic honors, and it is one of those labels that follows you through life, like the Heisman Trophy or Rhodes scholar,” she said. “To get rid of the one meaningful designation for what school is really all about seems like something we should do only with great caution.”

Mr. Adler, Horace Greeley’s 2003 co-valedictorian, works in management consulting. He graduated last year from Yale, where he found himself in the company of hundreds of other valedictorians. (“I think I dated at least two of them,” he said.)

“I’m still extremely proud of the honor, but if I were to give someone advice about how to think about it in the right way, it’s that you have to think about this as a validation of what you’re capable of and keep it in the back of your mind as a motivation,” he said. “But you can’t be haughty about it, because there are so many people who you are going to meet who are just as smart as you.”



Confronting my Inner-Sexist

TechnicalSupport No one likes to think of themselves as sexist or racist or homophobic. So I was shocked at myself yesterday when I discovered my inner-sexism.

 After we had spent another long day together, my normally reliable MacBook Pro was acting up. First, while working in a Word document, it wouldn't let me highlight text. Then it didn't want to let me exit Word. The MacBook then really put fear into my heart when it wouldn't let me open its hard drive. When, as a last ditch effort at trouble-shooting, I tried to reboot the computer, it went into a safe mode, which usually spells big trouble.

In mounting anxiety (wondering when I had last backed-up my work), I called tech support. And here is where the sexism comes in - a woman technician answered and I felt my heart sink. I immediately assumed it was going to take forever, and that ultimately I'd have to be bumped up to her supervisor.

Can you believe that? As a woman this was my initial thought! Needless to say, she helped me sort out my computer problems quickly. (It involved trashing the cache file.) Not only did she quickly get to the root of the issue and help me fix it, she also added what is so often lacking in male technicians - empathy. When I started the call in a panic that the computer had gone into safe mode, she reassured me that the computer was taking care of itself. She said she would be really frightened too if she couldn't access her hard drive, but not to worry, we would sort it all out together.

Now I know I am just sinking into another gender stereotype here - women are empathetic; men are not. But the point is, I was ashamed of myself for my initial reaction. So here's hats off to "Ginny" at Apple Care Tech support. Thanks for teaching me a lesson. You Go Girl!


The Vegetable Life

Vegetables You should have seen our dinner plates last night. There was a mound of sauteed zucchini. There was a stir-fry of bok choy. There were turnips with parsley and bread crumbs. (I served all this with couscous, because I felt that it would somehow unify the plate.)

 The Weatherman and I are not vegetarians but we are rookie members of the farm co-op we joined this year. Every Wednesday we pick up the produce. We never know what we are going to get, which makes it a little like Christmas morning. And, just like the holiday, you  receive some things that delight you and others that you hold up and think, "what on earth am I going to do with this?"

 That's sort of how I felt about the turnips, a vegetable I had never prepared before. Epicurious.com has quickly become my new best friend. I type in "turnips" under recipe search and it gives me all sorts of options.  I suspect this friendship will continue for most of the summer. My refrigerator is currently loaded with more turnips, and cabbage and garlic scapes and lettuce (both salad and "braising" lettuce) along with some very nice looking parsley , cilantro and scallions. Oh, and because we signed up for the "fruit option" lots and lots of apples, which must be from last season.

 Check out the "Food and Drink" section of the blog over the summer - many more vegetable recipes are to come.


Stir-Fried Bok Choy With Garlic

Bokchoy Ingredients

1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1/4 cup thinly slice garlic (about 8 cloves)
2 lbs bok choy
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

(The recipe I found on Epicurious.com called for baby bok choy, but that is not what the farm delivered. So I just cut up the bigger bok choy they had, and it seemed fine. Also I don't own a wok, just used a pan with rounded sides)

Stir together broth, soy sauce and cornstarch until cornstarch has dissolved. (Original recipe also adds a 1/2 teaspoon of salt here, but I found it plenty salty without adding more.) Coat pan with peanut oil. Add garlic and stir-fry until pale golden. Add half of bok choy and stir-fry until leaves wilt, about 2 minutes, then add remaining bok choy and stir-fry until all leaves are bright green and limp, 2 to 3 minutes total. Stir broth mixture, then pour into wok and stir-fry 15 seconds. Cover lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in sesame oil, then transfer to serving dish.


Turnips With Bread Crumbs and Parsley

Turnips Turnips are turnips. That is, they have a strong taste. I wanted a kind of light side dish, and I can't say this completely qualified. The lemon zest gave it a somewhat summer-y touch, but they were still, well, turnips. The Weatherman ate them, but not with great relish.

Ingredients:

4 small turnips (about 3/4 pound), peeled
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
2 teaspoons minced parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

In a large saucepan of salted boiling water cook turnips 15 minutes and drain. When turnips are cool enough to handle, cut each into 8 wedges.

In a large skillet cook turnips in butter over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until almost tender and golden on edges, about 10 minutes. Stir in bread crumbs, parsley, zest and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Serves 2.

Recipe from Epicurious.com


Cyber Stalking

8vc9vheb Even though I've been an empty nester for more than a year, I still miss my kids terribly. Luckily, my daughter lives nearby in Manhattan. She's easily reachable on her office phone, her cell phone and via email. And if I start going through really major withdrawal, I can either induce her to come home for a delicious meal or can hop a train - as I plan to do next week - and meet her in the city for a play date.

It's not so easy with my son. This summer, he has returned to work at his beloved summer camp. The camp last year celebrated its 100th anniversary, and I'm notJr-tent quite sure how much they've updated it since 1907. The boys (and counselors) sleep in platform tents. They do a lot of hiking and camping. The Boy (that is, my boy) is the soccer counselor, but the soccer field is pretty bumpy and often covered with pine needles.

As for communication - he can sometimes get one bar of cell service at the end of the old wooden dock that extends over Moose Pond. There is electricity in the kitchen and administrative building, and in one new "Wiggy" (a place where the campers gather) there is internet service. (The only reason there's a new Wiggy is that the old one was struck by lightening and burned down.)

Anyway, thank goodness The Boy has a job writing a blog for the Admissions department for his college. They have asked him to keep it going during the summer. Now, though I haven't spoken to The Boy since he left for Maine 10 days ago, I can at least keep posted on his life through his blog. I envision it as the 21st century version of smoke signals. Not a lot of details, but I get the general picture.


Baby's First Leopard Satin Print Stilettos

Story If only I were making this up. Someone is now marketing high heels for infants. Yes, a little baby girl can still be in the crib, and get a pair of tiny high heels - they come in sizes 0 to six months - in her choice (in reality her demented mother's choice) of leopard satin, hot pink patent, black satin, zebra satin, black patent or hot pink satin.

The heels "collapse" if weight is put on them and are not meant for walking, say designers. According to The New York Post, these little high heels are selling like hot cakes, which just goes to show you that it is never too early to sexualize your daughter.

Oh. My. God.


Texas - Day Two

The Weatherman and I are home now, and the bumpy ride into Newark during thunderstorms bears no retelling here. But boy, did we have a great last day in Texas.Admiral Chester Nimitz

After a day of exploring San Antonio (including a fabulous steak dinner on the Riverwalk) we decided to spend our second day in the Texas Hill Country. We rented a car for the day and drove about 70 miles out to Fredericksburg. I had a particular reason for choosing this town. My grandmother was born and raised there. And there's more family history too - it was also the birthplace of Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet during World War II and my grandmother's uncle.

As we made our way out to the country side, the buildings and shopping centers gave way to rolling hills and green shrubbery, dotted with cattle. Our first stop was the National Museum of the Pacific War. The Weatherman and I both love a good historical museum, and spent hours here. It was fascinating - I had no idea how hard fought that area was, island by malaria-infested island. Needless to say my great, great Uncle Nimitz was heavily featured.

Soon enough it was lunch time and I asked the young girl (she looked to be in high school) taking the tickets where we might get some good BBQ. Without missing a beat, she said, "Cranky 

Cranky frank's bbq sign Frank's." Honey, wherever you are, you have my eternal gratitude. 

We knew we were in good shape when we got to Cranky Frank's and found the parking lot full of pick-up trucks. The line was snaking out the door. Cowboys with long pony tails, kids with their Little League jerseys on, motorcycle guys, grandmas... you name it, they were getting their BBQ there. There wasn't much on the menu but still the choice was tough. A one-meat plate with brisket? A two-meat plate with pork ribs and chicken? 


Suffice it to say, it was the BEST BBQ I have ever eaten. Hands down. Fall off your fork tender, smoky, incredible.

Next, we traveled to the Admiral Nimitz Museum, which is dedicated to the man himself. This was particularly fascinating for me, because there were my ancestors right in front of me. Admiral Nimitz's parents - those would be my great, great grandparents. Admiral Nimitz's grand dad. That would be my great, great, great grandfather! I kept staring into the faces to see familiar traits. It was pretty amazing.

Admiral Nimitz's parents  Admiral Nimitz and grandfather
We then visited the old cemetery in town, where my grandmother's family is buried. Talk about "old as the hills." The sign is in German as our many of the grave markers - "Mutter" and "Vater." (Her family, like many others in Fredericksburg, immigrated from Germany.)


You'd think the BBQ would have held us, but Fredericksburg is also known for it's peaches, and it was hot and all, so we had a hankering for some homemade peach ice cream. Again, we asked a local, who directed us to a peach orchard on the outskirts of town. I tried to take a photo of their peach ice cream, but I was obviously tooHomemade peach icecream sign excited by what I was tasting, because my hand was shaking and it got blurred. But picture the ice cream flecked throughout with tiny pieces of fresh, ripe peaches. We'll have to make do with the sign.

After this incredible eating extravaganza, I'm too embarrassed to write about our very late dinner back on the Riverwalk. Suffice it to say that for the next  week or so, it will have to be a salad and water diet. But I don't regret a thing - we had a fabulous time, steeped in history, local culture and great eats!

Sliwa_cp_9580414 PS -One weird note. Guess who was on our return flight? Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels. He is still running around in his red beret and red silk jacket, which looks extremely odd on a 53 year old man.


San Antonio!

The Weatherman and I are visiting San Antonio for a few days to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Keep scrolling down for the photos. Here are some highlights so far:
The hotel we are staying at is right on San Antonio's Riverwalk. Here's the view from the sidewalk:
Our hotel Isn't that pretty? It was taken from the river.

Here's another picture of the Riverwalk:

Pretty riverwalk

This morning we went to the Alamo. You didn't think we'd forget, did you?

Alamo By the way, this is TEXAS. It is hot! And I've got the cactus shots to prove it!

Cactus


More cactus




Still, the inside courtyard was pretty and shady.

Alamo garden

OK, time to go eat some more yummy Tex/Mex food....



Oil Wars

The-Bayji- Well, well, well. What an interesting headline in today's NYT:  "Deals With Iraq Are Set To Bring Oil Giants Back - Rare No-Bid Contracts."
It seems that Exxon, Mobil, Shell, Total, BP and Chevron are talking with Iraq's Oil Ministry about serving the country's largest fields. Here's a direct quote from the story: "The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations."

It's hard not to think about the Administration's rationale for war and the thousands of dead American soldiers,along with the tens of thousands of dead Iraqi citizens when you read stuff like this. What are we doing in Iraq? Go back and read that headline.

PS - Speaking of oil, The Weatherman and I are traveling to Texas today. No, we are not in the oil business. We are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary with a long weekend in San Antonio. Stay tuned for pix and highlights from the Lone Star State.


Crop Damage

Hail-Concord-Damage This year, The Weatherman and I became members of Roxbury Farm. It's essentially a co-op. We invested a certain amount of money for the year, and then from June to November, we pick up our produce - whatever it is that the farm is producing that week. I am very excited about this - it's great to support a local farm, and to get good, fresh produce.

Now we are being introduced to the realities of farming. Today is our pick up day. We have a note from the farm crew that a severe storm, producing 2.5 inches of rain and golf-ball sized hail, damaged a lot of the crops. We are warned that many of the vegetables and fruits we receive in the coming weeks will have hail holes in the leaves. The peas were completely washed out. And the salad mix is water-logged and needs extra washing and drying.

It was such a reminder of how disconnected we usually are from the produce we buy in the grocery store, and how just a few minutes of severe weather can destroy months of carefully tended plants. The Roxbury Farm crew said they consider themselves lucky - farms not far to the north were far more devastated.

All of this presents new and interesting culinary challenges, too. Check out the Food and Drink section on the right to see the pretty coleslaw I made from last week's farm pick up of cabbage and radishes. (It's in the same blog as the Father's Day Brownies, but before the sweets there were lots of healthy veggies.)


Trouble For Trouble

Trouble_art_257_20080616123524 Poor little Trouble. That's the late Leona Helmsley's dog, the one who inherited $12 million from the infamous Queen of Mean. Why poor? Because the dog is now going to have to get by on $2 million. The New York Post reported yesterday that a Manhattan judge reduced Trouble's inheritance. The remaining $10 million will go to charity.

It goes without saying that some of Helmsley's human descendants - including two grandchildren who she had completely disinherited - had argued in court that she was not in her right mind when she drew up her will. They will now get a piece of the pie, because there were several other alterations in the will.

Anyway, what I really want to say is hats off to the Post, not only for breaking this important story, but for it's amazing way with headlines. Their headline on this story:  "SCREW THE POOCH."


Father's Day Brownies

Brownies The Weatherman got well treated on Father's Day. For lunch he was served grilled chicken, homemade cole slaw and brown rice salad with sugar snap peas, dill and scallions. This was all so healthy that for dinner he got his real favorite - spaghetti with meat sauce, along with homemade garlic bread and salad. In the midst of preparing all this stuff, I casually threw the question, "Would you like brownies for dessert?" his way. The answer: Yes. Here's the recipe. I'm also throwing in some photos of other parts of the meal.

Home Made Brownies

-melt two 1 ounce squares of Baker's unsweetened chocolate. Let cool.
-cream one stick of softened butter with one cup of sugar.
-add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and two eggs to sugar and butter, mix thoroughly.
-add cooled melted chocolate to mixture.
-sift and stir in 1/2 cup flour and a pinch of salt.

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or so.
Spaghetti sauce Coleslaw Garlic bread



Arrivals and Departures

Paul note It's seems like yesterday that I posted about The Boy's stuff from college being all over the back hall, with a note perched on top reading, "Will deal with this in morning."

But here we are today, and all his gear for his 8 week summer job as a camp counselor in Maine is all over the front hall, with a note that says, "Not as bad as it seems."

In the evolution of motherhood, I passed this disorganized pile of clothes and soccer cleats and who knows what all yesterday evening with barely a thought. It's not only that I've become immune to the mess of arrivals and departures. I simply no longer worry about my kids' stuff. Does he have what he needs to live for 8 weeks in a platform tent? Probably. He made a list. He has various piles. And if he forgets something - eh. He'll live. He's an almost-adult. (Chronologically 19, but not yet fully independent.)

I spent years helping my kids pack for summer camp and various trips. They've either got it by now or not. (I did just notice that the  cat is in the picture, and I hope she doesn't go in the trunk  by mistake!)Pauls stuff

The thing I am having far more trouble with, of course, is letting the kids themselves go. I can't seem to get used to it.  Yesterday our daughter came up from the city to surprise her father for Father's Day. She lives in Manhattan - not terribly far away. Still, I found myself blinking back the tears when she left to catch her train. And when The Boy heads off later this morning - The Weatherman can safely predict major weeping.

Anyway, in other news, I am happy to report that I beat The Boy in Boggle yesterday. We played best-of-seven games, and the final score was 4-2. Each game was pretty close and I was a little nervous for awhile there. We still haven't figured out the third event. Hmmm...we both write blogs. Possible blog-off?
Whatever it is, it will have to wait for that happy window between when his summer job ends and before he heads back to college, when there will be another big pile of stuff on the floor and I will have him home again.


Triathlon With The Boy

Tennis_img My entire family can be competitive, but The Boy and I are the worst. Sometimes we start trash-talking with each other, and recently one of these conversations led to a challenge: let's compete against each other in a triathlon.

The key, of course, was the events. Here's the problem - The Boy is 19 years old, about 6' 1" and very athletic. I'm....uh...middle aged if I plan to live to 100, in pretty good shape for that age, and reasonably coordinated.

Then again, there was no reason why every competition should be athletic. So we were able to agree on two events that we thought would be fair. The first was tennis. The boy has never taken a tennis lesson and I actually went to tennis camp for two years. I don't play much, but I had a pretty good game back in the day.

We decided to play the best out of three sets. The match took place yesterday at 3 p.m. And I knew after he hit his first ball that it was all over but the crying. It wasn't enough that he could get just about every shot back. The Boy, unbeknownst to me, can play ambidextrously. He would literally switch his racket into the other hand during the middle of the point. There wasn't one inch of the court he couldn't cover. I'll just cut to the chase. He beat me 6-0, 6-1.Boggle2

But the competition is NOT OVER. Tomorrow comes my real strength - Boggle. I've written many times about my Boggle addiction. It is a word game, where you get a grid of letters and have a limited amount of time to form words out of them. I have repeatedly beaten The Boy in this endeavor, though in fairness, in our last few rounds, he has been getting closer and closer.

We still haven't chosen the third event. (Though The Boy has continued his trash talking - saying we won't need a third event, since he will sweep me in the first two.) He suggested soccer. (Yeah, right. He played Varsity soccer in high school and is teaching soccer this summer at a camp.) I countered with a cook-off, because if I do say so myself, I'm a fine cook. He didn't go for this idea. He suggested hockey. Forget about it.

Stay tuned. Perhaps you think it's weird that a mother and son like to compete, but we have a great time with it. I even enjoyed the tennis. That's the great bonus of this thing - you can be as happy for your kid's victory as for your own. Except in Boggle of course. In that, I must reign supreme.


Spending Time With The Boy

Trunk22 Last night I came home from a meeting that ran until almost 11 p.m. When I drove in the driveway, I was upset to see the car that The Boy drives parked there.

Don't get me wrong - I wasn't upset that The Boy was home. Quite the contrary. It's just that I couldn't believe I had missed one of the rare evenings that he was present.

You see, The Boy has just a few weeks between when he got home from college and when he returns to Maine for his summer job as a camp counselor. And while he is unfailingly pleasant and helpful (he's a Good Boy) he is also very social. Translation: he is mostly hanging out with his friends, which is pretty normal behavior for a 19-year-old. Example: the night before last, he came home around 1:30 a.m., and came into our bedroom to tell me not to be alarmed if the kitchen was full of kids the next morning. Sure enough, the next day there were boys and girls (Ok - young men and women) cooking eggs and bacon, and also making sandwiches and packing coolers for their day at Jones Beach. It's all day, every day, and I'm happy that he's so happy.Pet_carrier_cayman1

But part of me is doing the countdown until he leaves (on Monday) and savoring every small moment I get to have alone with him.

Now to explain the illustrations on this post. Last night, when I was out, The Weatherman and The Boy dragged his camp trunk up from the basement to make sure it could fit in the car trunk for the ride up to Maine. It's a pretty big trunk, and they figured that they might as well leave it upstairs, since The Boy has to pack in a few days anyway.

But they both know me well, and they knew that I would get upset every time I passed it. In fact, they reasoned, it's kind of like our cat and his carrier. He just sees that thing, and goes into a decline. So they put the trunk back in hiding in the basement.

Anyway, the boy, sensing my growing despair at his departure, has volunteered to accompany me on my grocery store trip and errands today. I'd tell you how happy I am about this, but it's too pitiful.


Prison Fashion

190_tass I wonder how correctional facilities choose what their inmates will wear? Yesterday I spent the morning at the Westchester County Jail, and the prison uniforms were bright orange, one-piece jumpsuits with the letters "WDOC" stenciled on the back. (That's Westchester Department of Corrections.) They also wear white t-shirts under the uniform and sneakers.

This is an outfit that would definitely stand out in a crowd, and if you saw a man walking - or more likely running - down Main Street, you would probably know that he wasn't where he was suppose to be. 

During the event yesterday (a demonstration of a new program to deal with violent inmates) one of the presenters turned to me and in a really patronizing voice said, "How does it feel to be inside a real life prison, young lady?" I suppose he thought this was a frightening thrill for me, but I told him I'd been in the jail many times (as a reporter, mind you) and that I had also covered multiple stories at both Sing Sing and the Bedford Hills Correctional Facilities.

You'd think that the uniforms at these two maximum security prisons would be distinctive, but that is not so. The men at Sing Sing and the women at Bedford Hills wear surprisingy similar, drab uniforms of gray pants and forest green shirts. These uniforms are so unremarkable that the firstNy_ossining01 time I went inside Sing Sing (Ok - I was a little nervous the first time they locked those gates behind me) I wore gray slacks and a forest green sweater myself. Rookie mistake - I'll never do that again.

As for prison stripes, I've never seen them at any New York State prison. I think they were originally designed both to humiliate prisoners and to stand out in case of escape.

And now you know what I think about in the middle of the night when it's too hot to sleep.


Reunion P.S.

Private-jet-kids-camp-6-8-07 One more thing about my college reunion. At this point, people are well beyond the bragging and name dropping and self-promotion that was a staple of earlier reunions. Life has happened to most of us - whether it was illness, divorce, downsizing, kid problems, whatever. So in general, my former classmates were just happy to reconnect and catch up, without waving resumes and bank statements around.

Except, that is, for the guy seated across from me at dinner. He was actually the date of a classmate - he hadn't gone to our college. He informed me (and later I found out he told a lot of random people) that he had turned down the CEO job at Google in 1992. I squinted at his name tag and asked, "Geez, Dave, why did you turn it down? Sounds like a pretty good position." And he said - I'm not kidding - "Well, at a certain point, how much money do you really need? I mean, really, how big an airplane do you need? Know what I mean?"

Uh, no, Dave. I am not familiar with that particular dilemma.


Reunions

 

Williams geer Look at all this great gear I got at my college reunion. I can use my tote bag for groceries (see how green I am?) and the hat to ward off today's oppressive sun. Of course, given that my class year is printed all over this stuff means I might as well just be wearing a t-shirt that tells you exactly how old I am, but I'll live with it.

The reunion was fun, though tiring. My speech seemed to go over well. It was certainly well attended - a packed auditorium and people were very nice in their response. They videotaped it, so when I'm able, I'll put in a link. The Q and A threw me a bit. My talk was on the future of print journalism, but I made it quite clear that I was simply a regional reporter, not an expert on the industry. None the less, people threw me such queries as how did I think the emerging media markets in Asia and the Middle East would impact US newspapers, and what I thought about the future of Barron's Magazine. There were of course, those people who just wanted to hear themselves talk, and after they were done, I had to politely say, "I'm not sure I really understood your question."

After it was all over I could relax with my former classmates, catch up on the news in everyone's life -  health, kids, jobs, etc. Williamstown was hot but beautiful, and it was nice to have the change of scene.

Now it's time to get back to real life. Someone from the County government just called to pitch me a story about a program to reduce violence in the County jail. I'm invited to go into the prison tomorrow to watch it work. What do you think the chances are that the jail is air conditioned?


Newspaper Obit

Newspaper I'm not referring to an obituary in the newspaper. This blog post title refers to an obit for newspapers. This morning I'm heading up to Williamstown, Massachusetts, to deliver my talk (speech just sounds too scary) on the future of print journalism.

I'm nervous, because I don't like public speaking, but I am pretty confident about the content of what I'm saying. Let's just say that the words I used to describe the newspaper business include "gloomy," "grim" and "gone."

This morning's NYT has a brief story about the Tribune Company and the sharp cutbacks that owner Sam Zell plans to make. The company owns The Los Angeles TImes and The Chicago Tribune. The basic plan - print fewer papers, make them smaller, and fire journalists.

Here's a quote from ousted LA Times editor James O'Shea: "The problem is that the papers aren't producing ad revenue, and diminishing journalism isn't going to solve that."

Or as the late columnist Molly Ivans said, let's solve the newspaper crisis by making our product smaller, less interesting and less informative.

OK - that's the least of my problems. I'm still not sure what I'm wearing, and my hair looks mysteriously flat this morning. Time to start packing....


Quote of The Day

CharlesRangel  So Hillary is going to announce that she is finally calling it quits on Saturday. Frankly, I'm glad I'll be out of town. Tomorrow I'll be up in Massachusetts, delivering a speech on the future of print journalism. (Today I plan on rehearsing in front of my cat, who is the only remaining mammal in the house who isn't sick of it. But then again, he hasn't given me a lot of feedback.)

Anyway, the rest of today's blog is lifted from the NY Times, because I think it is the best quote of the day.

"We pledged to support her to the end," Representative Charles B. Rangel, a New York Democrat who has been a patron of Mrs. Clinton since she first ran for the Senate, said in an interview. "Our problem is not being able to determine when the hell the end is."

Refreshing candor for a pol.


Hillary Watch

1139583 Ever so often I get a call from either the Metro or National desks at the NYT asking me to do "leg work." That means you are reporting to provide some background, quotes or "color" for a story, without writing the article yourself.

Generally, I decline this stuff, because I'm getting a little old to be running around doing the bidding of other reporters, not to mention you get paid by the hour, at a rate that is barely worthwhile.

But when the National desk called yesterday and asked me to go over to Old House Road, in Chappaqua, where Bill, Hillary and Chelsea were hunkered down, I did feel like it would be a part of covering history. Even though the political editors were confident that she wouldn't resign last night (and they were certainly correct), you never know. So I was on "Hillary Watch."

Mercifully, it was a pretty day and I live nearby. At mid-day there were about two dozen of us, standing behind police barricades, laughing, joking and taking copious notes (or video in the case of the networks) of such monumental moments as a flower delivery for the Clintons, a shift change in the Secret Service staff, and the constant parade of black Suburban SUVs with tinted windows, going in and out of the white gates that protect the house.Who-is-hillary-clinton

After hanging a few hours, I went home, wrote up my observations (such as they were) and worked on a different story - one which will have my own byline. But at 5 p.m., the desk called again, asking me to return to the house. Clinton was scheduled to speak at 7 in Manhattan, and they wanted me back on the street.

I'm not sure what they were expecting. As I said to the deputy political editor when I called her from across Clinton's driveway, "I really don't think she is going to jump out of her SUV on her way to the event, and tell us, 'Hey, you guys have been waiting here all day, so I want you to be the first to know that I'm folding my tents.'"

By then the press corps had dwindled down to about 12. One NY Post reporter saw a chipmunk and said, "Look, the Clintons have rats in their yard."  A New York One reporter kept yelling to every secret service agent, "Is she coming out?" to which they would reply by shrugging  their shoulders.

I hung it up at 7:40 p.m. I know she left eventually, because I saw her speak on TV. I hope it doesn't take her as long to leave the race as it did for her to leave the house.


Spell Check Run Amok

46958673.PSJrHighYrbookPage_withNames_600 My high school yearbook picture is a sorry-looking thing, but at least they got my name right. Consider the plight of students at a high school in Middletown, Pa., where the yearbook publisher's  spell checker did overtime duty and "corrected" a number of students' names. Poor Kathy Carbaugh was dubbed Kathy "Airbag." And then there was Alessandra Ippolito who was renamed "Alexandria Impolite." (That's just rude.) The Givier children, William and Elizabth, were given a philanthropic twist when they were recast as the "Giver"s.

But my favorite so-called correction came to Max Zupanovic. Max was probably always the last one called, the last one in the yearbook, the last to graduate, etc., because his last name began with "Z." But never mind all that ancient history - now Max has his chance to soar. He has been re-christianed Max "Supernova." Cool.

PS. Re - yesterday's blog. I saw "Sex And The City" last night. And as if in answer to my ruminations, Carrie Bradshaw admits she uses her stove for sweater storage. Ahah!

Districts Look To Hire Chinese Teachers

By KATE STONE LOMBARDI
Published: June 1, 2008
MOUNT VERNON


THE second graders were playing patty-cake while chanting in a singsong: “I love reading. You love writing. I am going to help you. You are going to help me. You are my friend. We are very happy!”

If that sounds pretty simplistic for a group of 8-year-olds, bear this in mind — the class was speaking in Chinese. Every one of the 549 students who attend the Grimes Elementary School here began learning Mandarin this year, after the school received a three-year grant to begin the program.

The district’s Mandarin curriculum is one of the newest in Westchester public schools, but it won’t be for long. Horace Greeley High School, in Chappaqua, plans to introduce the language next school year. And the Scarsdale School District will embark on an ambitious Mandarin language program in the 2009-10 academic year, beginning in the sixth grade and continuing through high school.

Several districts already teach Mandarin, including Croton-Harmon and Briarcliff. Mamaroneck has the oldest Mandarin program in the county; the district has offered it since 1988. Other districts, including Hastings, Rye and Blind Brook, are exploring adding Chinese to the curriculum.

What is happening in Westchester reflects a national trend. The number of Chinese programs in prekindergarten through 12th grade in the United States has grown by almost 200 percent since 2004, according to the Asia Society, a nonprofit group that promotes education about the continent.

“This has just exploded all over the country,” said Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association.

The burgeoning interest in Mandarin reflects the recognition of China’s emergence as an economic and political power, administrators say. About 1.3 billion people worldwide speak all dialects of Chinese. The proliferation of programs has also been stimulated by the availability of federal grant money to encourage Chinese language instruction.

But starting a Chinese language program is not as easy as simply winning school board approval. First, there is a gap between interest in Mandarin instruction and the availability of certified instructors.

“With more and more programs springing up, there is a dearth of certified teachers right now, especially compared to the demand,” said Robin Harvey, coordinator of the Developing Chinese Language Teachers project at New York University.

To become accredited, it is not enough for teachers to be fluent in the language. They also need a total of 30 college credits in the language they will teach, Ms. Harvey said. Many natives of Taiwan and mainland China lack such credits.

At N.Y.U.’s education school, about 20 people will be certified this spring to teach Chinese. Pace University, in White Plains, also has a Chinese language certification program. Only two people are being certified this year, but Pace is working on a new program, which it plans to introduce in January, to fast-track native Chinese speakers for certification. Administrators are exploring ways to document language competency in ways that would count toward college credits.

Ms. Harvey, who worked as a consultant to the Scarsdale School District, said that districts contemplating new Mandarin programs also express concern about how much children will be able to master.

“Because we are so culturally distant from China, it seems that Chinese will be insurmountable to learn,” she said. “In fact, the first three or four months, when you’re looking at characters, they do seem totally alien, but all of the sudden, a switch will flip. It doesn’t take longer to learn to speak or listen than other languages, but it does take longer to read and write.”

In a recent 11th-grade Chinese language class at Mamaroneck High School, teenagers play-acted a dialogue of a doctor’s examination under the direction of their teacher, Rong Rong Le. Looking down at the rows of Chinese characters, Alexandra Rudansky, 17, and Kate Rainey, 17, took turns as doctor and patient as they conversed in Mandarin about temperatures, blood tests and X-rays.

BOTH girls have studied the language since the seventh grade and can now converse and understand native Chinese speakers. On a recent class trip to Chinatown, they bargained over prices of store goods and ordered meals in Chinese. Both tutor eighth graders in Mandarin and plan to continue Chinese study in college.

The Mamaroneck program has grown in popularity. Jordan Gratch, 17, began studying Chinese in seventh grade and is one of 28 people in his grade to study the language. His younger sister is in the eighth grade, which has 100 children taking Mandarin.

Croton-on-Hudson and Briarcliff offer Mandarin instruction as part of a continuing exchange with Chinese high schools. Last summer, 45 foreign students lived with families in Croton, and last month a group of seniors from Croton and Briarcliff traveled to Shanghai, Beijing and Xian, visiting schools and staying in homes and dormitories.

“The community has really embraced this,” said Joel Adelberg, the principal at Croton High School and one of the leaders of the trip. “For a small town, we are doing some exciting work.”

In Chappaqua, a history teacher and a Chinese teacher will jointly teach the new high school course. It will include not only Mandarin instruction, but will also examine the historical and cultural foundations of modern Chinese society.

“We thought it might be better to start with this course that contains both contemporary culture and a language, because that might generate an interest,” said Lyn McKay, deputy superintendent of curriculum in Chappaqua.

In Scarsdale, parents pushed for Mandarin to be included in the curriculum, and the district formed a committee to study the issue last fall. After considering several languages, including Arabic, the group recommended Mandarin, citing China’s strategic importance, community interest and the sustainability as a program.

Michael V. McGill, the superintendent of Scarsdale schools, said: “To me, the broader goal really has to do with sensitizing students to cultures that are different than their own. Learning the language is important, but understanding how language and culture and politics and personal behavior all interact is also very important.”

Frances Lightsy, the principal at Grimes Elementary School, agrees. She said most of the children in her school, which is 98 percent African-American and African-Caribbean, had never seen a Chinese person, except perhaps in a restaurant. When Chun Li, a native of China, arrived to teach a special education class a few years ago, some of the children mocked her.

“We really needed to expand their horizons to accept someone different,” Ms. Lightsy said.

Ms. Li volunteered to teach an after-school program to expose the children to Chinese culture. Now, she teaches Mandarin full time at the school. As she entered Tanya Douglas’s second-grade classroom, the students called out “Good morning, teacher” in Mandarin. For 30 minutes, she kept the children engaged — writing Chinese characters on the board, having the children speak, gesture and dance.

“This is an exciting thing for me to do,” Ms. Li said. “We started from scratch. And now they are beginning to communicate.”


Food In The Suburbs

Large_sexandthecity  Sure, we've seen Carrie Bradshaw - in fact we've seen all the Sex In The City gals - in bed. In fact, we've seen them doing quite a few things in those beds. But I can't remember one scene of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha or Charlotte cooking. They eat at restaurants, but do any of them own a stove?

It's all part of the fantasy, I guess, and not as big a reach as the lifestyle Carrie has on a freelance writer's salary. But as I anticipate seeing the movie tonight (I don't care what the reviewers say, I'm going) I can't help but reflect on my last 48 hours in the kitchen.

My in-laws were visiting - Mom and Dad, and my sister-in-law. And last night my brother-in-law and his partner also joined us. The Boy is home from college and my daughter also came up to visit her grandparents for the day. Then there's The Weatherman and me. That's a lot of people and a lot of meals. Woman-cooking

Here were just a few things that came out of the kitchen this weekend: swordfish with tomato, basil and caper sauce. noodles. green beans. (that's fresh green beans, folks, topped and tailed.) hamburgers. potato salad. corn on the cob. eggs. sausage. toast. chicken kabobs. rice with cilantro and scallions. salad. cake. (homemade, belated birthday celebration for my daughter.) waffles.

So far this morning all I've had is two cups of coffee. It's time for me to continue working on an article due later this week. 

Well, I bet Carrie never had leftovers either.