Yesterday I went to the conference on Motherhood and Madness. The keynote speaker, Dr. Paula Caplan talked about competing myths about mothers, and how they are enough to drive a sane Mom nuts.
This morning I'm attending a conference in Manhattan called "Mothers Gone Mad." It is put on by The Association for Research on Mothering, a feminist research group based at York University in Canada.
So I'm minding everyone else's business on Facebook yesterday afternoon when I see a post from my former editor announcing that she has been named the Times first-ever "Social Media Editor." Immediately I sent her a congratulatory note. And then the calls, emails and instant messages began to fly between myself and all my former colleagues.
This weekend, the Weatherman and I did some serious spring cleaning. Well, maybe "cleaning out" is the correct term. We rummaged through closets, sorted through drawers, scoured the book shelves, all in an effort to get rid of things that have been sitting around for years and that we never use. (During the closet clean-out, there was also the, "Let's face it, I will never fit into this size again, and on the off-chance that it ever happens, I will deserve new clothes," method of weeding.)
This is about the last time of year I want to hear from former VP Dick Cheney. But there he was, weighing in after Obama's speech on dealing with terror detainees after the closing of the prison in Guantanamo Bay.
As part of my research for my book on mothers and sons, I'm learning a lot about gender studies, a field that barely existed in my student days. Scholars have various methods for trying to figure out what is by nature male or female and what has been socialized into boys and girls.
Yesterday was voting day in our town - time to cast our ballots for the local school budget and choose among candidates for the Board of Education and the Library Board. Every year, the League of Women Voters sends out a Voter's Guide that provides basic information on the issues and the background of the candidates.
As I read about this year's candidates, it was a real reflection of life in a well-to-do hamlet in this economy. Here, with names redacted, is the employment status of those running:
K.E.: Occupation - Retired Banker, Investment Advisor. (Translation - unemployed.)
W.R.: Occupation - Journalist and author. Former senior Public Affairs professional at Exxon Corp. (Translation - unemployed.)
L.S.: Occupation - Lawyer. (No firm listed. Translation - unemployed.)
D.S.: Occupation - Independent computer software consultant. Notes that he worked at IBM until last year. (Translation - unemployed.)
I am in NO WAY making fun of these people; unemployment is well-known in our household. And good for them to take their time and considerable expertise and use it towards helping out their own community. I'm just saying that it certainly is one more sign of the times.
I spend hours each week on an elliptical exercise machine at my gym. Many a time I feel bad about it - not burning up the calories or keeping my heart and lungs healthy, but at the waste of electricity. The big machines, standing in a row under the fluorescent lights of my low-rent gym, are all plugged into the floor. I watch their electronic read-outs of my heart rate and speed. Each machine has a little tv attached to it which I don't watch, but then again, I'm listening to my battery-powered ipod while I work out.
So I was delighted to read that at The University of Oregon in Eugene, they have rigged up their elipitical machines so that the person doing the exercise is actually generating power. The power from each elliptical goes through a converter that turns DC into AC and then allows it to flow into the grid.
What a great concept! Mind you, it's not a huge amount of power. The school estimates that 3000 peple a day on 20 machines would generate 6000 kilowatt hours a year, enough to power one small energy-efficient house. Looked at a different way, a typical 30-minute workout on one machine generates enough electricity to run a laptop for an hour, or a compact fluorescent light bulb for 2 1/2 hours.
Evidently there are about 30,000 health clubs in this country. If every gym in America could figure out how to retrofit their exercise machines, it would at least make a dent in energy consumption. And I wouldn't feel quite so much like I was going nowhere every time I climb onto one of these babies.
David Carr, who covers the media for the NY Times, is one of my favorite reporters. Today he has an article on his own place of employment.
In the last year, I have frequently been asked "What's going to happen to the New York Times?" I could answer for the regional coverage - sure saw that one coming, and certainly I understand the bigger picture on all the pressures facing the print newspaper industry. But I lack the expertise to wrap my head around the Times' economic situation specifically.
Carr recaps much of what I've read in the business pages - the Times has $1 billion in debt and declining revenue. It posted a loss of $74.5 million in the first quarter. And it's not just print advertising that is plummeting - the first quarter reports also show an 8 percent decline in digital advertising.
On the (relatively) positive side, Carr also notes that company is within its existing debt covenants, and that two recent transactions - the sale-leaseback of the fancy new building pictured here, and a $250 million loan from a Mexican industrialist -"probably have given it the wherewithal to operate into 2011."
Wait- it can probably limp along for another two years? Of course he goes on to look at different models for charging for online content, how to get readers to pay without alienating advertisers, and in the end notes cautiously that the NY Times has a long history and will use all of its many assets to navigate this very difficult period.
What's so frightening to me is that this is no longer a discussion of whether the print edition of the paper will survive. This is about the company itself, or as the headline on the jump reads, "The New York Times And I's Uncertain Future."
Well, if I have any extra time today, I am going to move a whole bunch of files containing articles for the NYT I've written into storage, to make room for files of interviews for the book. Very bittersweet.
Yeah, right. As faithful readers know, the story of my teeth is a long and painful saga. This morning I am returning to the dentist to have two old crowns removed, so she can see what's going on under there. Here's a fun fact: you can already have had a root canal and still need to have more work on the tooth, up to and quite possibly its removal.
I'll spare you further details (at least for now) but share with you instead how I try to mentally wrap my head around the idea that there will be even more money spent, more pain endured and more time lost to my teeth.
Reaction One - %$&%*^%&((^(*&!
Reaction Two - Keep things in perspective. This is not cancer. This is not incurable. This is something that can be fixed. Not so long ago, you just would have been one of those ladies who kept her false teeth in a glass of water by the bed. Aren't you lucky they've come so far in dentistry? (And note today's illustration for further proof of this bromide.)
Reaction Three - Take in the bigger picture. Do you live in Afghanistan? Did you lose your children to an air strike? Do you live in Sri Lanka, and watch your children die, one by one, on a raft as you tried to escape the blood shed? For God's sake, stop whining about your teeth.
Reaction Four - %^*&%*&^)&*^#$#!!!!!!!!
See this well-lit bar populated by all these happy attractive people? That is NOT what last night's gathering to say goodbye to the NYT Regional section looked like. There was a bar - needless to say the room that had been rented was in a dark basement - but the atmosphere was a combination of forlorn and anxious. It was hot, noisy and unpleasant, and the sadness of the occasion was certainly not leavened by the final editor of the section addressing the group to tell us how proud we should be of the work we had done.
I was talking to one reporter from the Jersey section and she likened this whole process to a long, painful messy divorce. Can we just sign the final papers and be done with this already? It was nice to see some of the former editors I worked with, it was nice to meet some of the newer writers for the Westchester section who I knew by byline only, and it was certainly nice not only to talk about the book I am writing but also to have people react with genuine interest and begin to tell me stories about their own sons, brothers, whatever.
But still, I found myself wide awake at 4 a.m. this morning, with images of this get-together in my head, and memories of better times at the paper. Certainly this is the end of an era for me, but a marker too of the continuing decline of print journalism.
Boy, I'm going to miss the print version of the New York Times. This morning for instance, I picked up my paper and there was this huge photo of Specialist Zachery Boyd in a trench wearing his pink boxers. The photo caption identifies the soldier and then explains that he had to scramble out of bed to help his platoon defend an attack by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
You know, you sacrifice enough being a soldier. This man puts his life on the line everyday. The military culture in not for the fainthearted or sensitive. What was the Times thinking by humiliating this soldier in such a public way?
When I went to look for the electronic version of this photo on the website, it was nowhere to be found. (It may be in there somewhere, but they sure aren't making it easy.) I'm assuming that after they ran the photo, they realized it was an error in judgment.
Normally, I'd say, geez, heads are going to roll for that decision. But at the NYT these days, that's nothing new. Tomorrow evening I'm heading into the Times for what is essentially a wake for the Regional sections. Writers and editors will gather for drinks (a cash bar, of course, Times are tough) and reminisce about the old days, when the suburbs were covered. I doubt any photographers will be there, but if so, it's not an occasion you'd want commemorated anyway.
We had a weekend full of happy family occasions - most significantly the celebration on Saturday of my Dad's 85th birthday. The Boy drove down from Maine for this occasion, and My Daughter came up from the city. Their cousins were also present, as were my brother and sister and all in all it was a lovely event, spearheaded and organized by my Mom.
This morning, as Lawson (the cat - see yesterday's post) sat innocently on my lap, purring and looking lovingly into my face, I tried to explain it to him. "It's for your own good," I told him. He needs a check up, a rabies shot, and other well-kitty care. But when, as he snuggled into me trustingly, I picked him up and carried him to the kitchen to begin the process of getting him into his carrier, I felt terrible.
He realized in a millisecond what was going on, and to describe his cries as pitiful is a horrible understatement. They were cries from the underworld. I am not going to describe the process we resort to in order to get Lawson from my outstretched arms into the carrier. Let's just say it involves a pillow case, workman's gloves and other household items.
I asked the Weatherman to take him to the vet a bit early, because I couldn't stand to listen to him howling in that carrier. I feel terrible. Just terrible. I betrayed him with a morning cuddle.
I know, I know. It's for his own good. Is it too early for a drink?
Anna Quindlen recently wrote her last column for Newsweek, and much of its theme was about moving on, making way for the next generation.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves pressed
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 Teaspoons ground cumin
1 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups chicken broth
1 4 1/2 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed (I just used thighs and legs)
1/2 cup green olives
Cut 1 lemon into 8 wedges. Squeeze enough juice from second lemon to measure 2 tablespoons; set wedges and juice aside. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper; saute until golden brown. Add next 5 ingredients; stir 1 minute. Add broth; bring to boil. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper; add to skillet. Add lemon wedges. Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until chicken i cooked through, turning occasionally, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter. Add olives and two tablespoons lemon juice to skillet. Increase heat to high; boil uncovered to thicken slightly, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over chicken.
Say what you will about the French - they are number one in eating and sleeping. In a study of leisure in 18 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it was revealed that the French spend nearly 9 hours a night sleeping, and more than 2 hours a day eating and drinking. The institute that conducted the study, by the way, is based in Paris, so Lord knows how long it took to complete.
The country where people relax the most is Norway - they spent over a quarter of their day in leisure time. Mexicans are having the least fun (and this was before the Swine flu) - spending just 16% of their day in leisure activities. Americans are no slouches - or wait, maybe this makes them slouches - in the sleep department, netting an average of 8.5 hours a day in bed. And Americans may race through their meals - in about an hour and a quarter per day - but they claim the highest obesity rates in the 30-member OECD.
More fun facts: Koreans don't get much sleep, the Japanese watch a lot of television and guess who are the most sociable people? The Turks - who spend more than 35 percent of their time entertaining. Who knew?
At first I was charmed when I read about David Souter's retirement plan. The Supreme Court Justice didn't want to become a creature of Washington. He wanted to return to New Hampshire where he could hike and spend time outdoors. Right on, Justice Souter - I am with you on your priorities. Life is short, DC is a bubble and even though you are known for your eccentricities (eating one yogurt and one apple, including the core, everyday for lunch), go for your broader, real-world experience.
And then I read something that stopped me cold. Souter, who was a Rhodes scholar, returned home from Oxford and never again left the United States. According to the NYT, he often told his friends, "Who needs Paris if you had Boston?"
Uh...comparing the history, culture and beauty, not to mention the cuisine of Paris unfavorably to that of Boston? Holy Cow! No wonder he was seen as a wild card on the bench.