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June 2009

Aging

Aging07 According to a new Pew Research Center poll, aging is not so bad. Then again, it's not so good. Here are a few key findings:


-Old age begins at 68. That's what the average person thinks. But people over 65 said the average person becomes old at 74, while people under the age of 30 believe old age begins at 60.

-You're as old as you feel. About 7 in 10 adults ages 65 or older say they don't feel old. And among those ages 65 to 74, about a third said they feel 10 to 19 years younger, and another 1 in 6 feel at least 20 years younger.

-It's better than you thought. Only a tiny share of adults ages 65 or older say their life turned out worse than expected. Nearly half say it turned out better and the rest say it turned out about as they expected.

-Who's happy and why? Older adults are about as happy as everyone else, and the main predictors of happiness are the same as those in younger adults: good health, good friends and financial security.

Unfortunately from what I can tell about those happiness predictors, there's little you can actually control. 

Shakespeare on The Hudson

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What a perfect Saturday night! The Weatherman and I joined a group of friends for a picnic at the Boscobel house and then watched a production of "Much Ado About Nothing" in the outdoor theater on the grounds.


For the last 22 years, The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has been held on the grounds of Boscobel, which is in Garrison, New York. As you can see, the grounds overlook the Hudson River. The fact that it was the first night in what seems like forever not to have rained made the evening that much more delicious.

The coolest part about the outdoor theater here is that the performers can make their entrance to the stage from behind the rolling hills.  Imagine the sun setting, the strains of bagpipes playing, and then watching actors appear out of the mist, to announce the imminent arrival of Don Pedro.

The performance was light hearted and hilarious. The only unfortunate by-product was my tendency to speak in very, very bad Shakespeare-ease for the next 24 hours, i.e. "Me thinks the foul and feral feline hath again pursued her wanton ways."  Translation: the damn cat is scratching the furniture again.
Boscobel

Chicken and Vegetables with Couscous

Moroccan chicken stew I have GOT to get a new camera. All the food pix keep coming out in these lurid colors. Believe me, this was actually quite pretty in real life. I served it recently at a dinner party - it's pretty soupy. You should plan on serving it in bowls. But it was tasty. All the men had seconds. It comes from The New Basics Cookbook.


Ingredients:

2 chickens (2 and 1/2 -3 lbs. each, cut into pieces.) I just used 6 lbs of thighs and legs.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, cut into 1/4 inch dice
6 gloves garlic, chopped
8 cups chicken stock or broth
3 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 large white turnip, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 large red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch dice
5 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 cups pitted prunes, halved
1 cup golden raisins
4 cups steamed couscous
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

-Rinse the chicken pieces and remove the skin. Pat dry.

-Heat the oil in a large dutch oven. Cook the chicken in small batches until opaque and slightly golden on both sides. Using a lotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a dish and set aside.

-Add the onions and garlic to the dutch over and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Then add the stock, cinnamon sticks, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, pepper and salt. Bring slowly to a boil, then continue boiling for 5 minutes.

-Reduce heat to a simmer, than add chicken, carrots ,zucchini, turnip and bell pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes. Then add tomatoes, prunes and raisons, and simmer an additional 10 minutes.

-Remove the cinnamon sticks and serve the stew in deep bowls over the steamed couscous. Give everyone plenty of broth. Garnish with parsley.

I made this the day before which gave the flavors more time to gel, and I also cooked it longer than the recipe recommended, all, I think, to good effect.

Over-connected and Frazzled

Linkedin_070927_ms This is getting ridiculous. 


Every morning (and  all day) I check my email. I have two email accounts - one for the book and one for pretty much everything else. So I monitor both accounts.

Every morning (or at least every week day morning) I write my blog. And check my blog stats.Facebook_pic

Every morning I check my Facebook account, inbox, postings, etc.

Twitter Every morning I check my Linked In account, inbox, etc.

Every morning, I check the administrative pages of the book website (that's www.mothersonbond.com folks, please check it out) to see how many new people have filled out the surveys. (Over 200 Moms already - thanks to all that have taken the time to do it!)MSBlogoandname

And every day - I can't do everything in the morning - I check Twitter, where I follow others, and evidently many follow me, though I don't tweet much.

I am not mentioning here the answering machine, the voice mail, the home line, the work line and the cell phone. IS IT ANY WONDER that I feel like I never get any actual work done? I'm incredibly in touch, but at what cost in productivity?

The Writing Begins!

ComputerWriting1 As of yesterday, I officially started writing the book.

Wait, you may ask - haven't you been working on this thing forever? Well, yes, there has already been months and months of research, interviews, etc., all of which is ongoing, along with a 50 + page book proposal. 

But all of a sudden I felt that if I didn't get something down on paper (ok - some text up on the screen) I would go nuts. I simply had to start writing. The writing is the piece of this project I love best. (Feel free to check back on this claim later, on a day when I am staring at a blank screen, completely uninspired, with panic rising in my throat.) 

Mind you all this is big talk, since all I've actually done is write 927 words of a draft introduction that will probably be revised multiple times. But hey - it's a start.

Not My Publisher

Dick-cheney-heart-ailment So Dick Cheney has reportedly signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to write his memoirs. His advance is said to be $2 million. According to his daughter, who is working with her father on the book, "He wants to make sure that his story is told, and told in a way that his grandchildren will be able to understand and appreciate even 20 or 30 years from now."

Un huh. Cheney will not only be writing about his tenure in the Nixon, Ford and two Bush administrations, but also about his role as chief executive of the Halliburton Company.

 The same imprint, Threshold Editions, headed up by the charming Mary Matalin, is also publishing the memoirs of other G.W. Bush alums, including the ex-prez himself, Condoeezza Rice, Donald Rumsfield and Karl Rove. As a group, I have to admit, it will be intriguing to read their competing versions of just what they were thinking when they were in power. But I am not reserving my copy of Cheney's book just yet.

Water, Water Everywhere

Rain

One of the good things about being married to The Weatherman is that when you make an idle comment about the weather - like, "Geez, it sure seems to have been a wet June," - you get statistics in return.

So for all of you in the New York area who can't remember when the sun last shone, according to The Weatherman:

-So far, it has rained for 18 of the first 22 days of this month of June.

-8.35 inches of rain has already fallen.

-The amount of rain we've had already is the 6th highest total for the month of June in the last 140 years. We are only 2 inches away from the rainiest June of all time, or at least since they began keeping records.

And don't forget, we still have 8 more days of the month left. And guess what the forecast is for the next week? You got it - chance of rain.

My Brush (and Floss) With Fame

Bilde I PROMISE I am not writing about my teeth again, despite the fact that dental themes do seem to dominate my life.

Get this - I am reading the local paper and I see a photo of a smiling woman and I think, "Gee, that looks just like that nice Irish woman who cleans my teeth." I then look at the headline - "Yonkers couple hit $41 million Lotto." And guess what - that new multi, multi, multi millionaire is, indeed, my dental hygienist! I guess I should say she was my dental hygienist. I have a feeling she will no longer be spending her time scraping tartar off people's teeth.

Anyway, she is a lovely young woman and I am very happy for her. Though I still can't get my head around the fact that the person who always gently reminded me to floss those back molars carefully is now the wealthiest person I know. 

Goodbye To All That

J0399350 So I decided it was time to clean my office. And no, it never really looked like this.  But files for my book project were starting to stack up on the table, while my file drawers in my desk were packed with NYT stuff.

It was easy enough to deal with copies of articles I've published. I have a whole storage system for them, and metal cabinets in which sit copies of the more than 700 articles that I've published in the paper. (I know, I know - it's all online. But I'm old school and I still like a hard copy.)

It was the other stuff I had trouble with. Like the thick file overflowing with clippings and phone messages and hand scrawled notes, which was labeled "Story ideas." And another similar looking one labeled "Column ideas." And still another called "Profile possibilities." And then there was "Westchester/Politics/Background" and "Clintons in Chappaqua." And much more.

It felt a little bit sad and a little bit liberating putting all this into recycling. The file drawers were soon refilled with folders labeled "Mom Interviews," "Polls," "Survey Results." And much more. Out with the old. In with the new. Movin' on.

The White House Buzz

BlackGarbageFlyAdult "I got the sucker!"


No, that's not George W. Bush on Saddam Hussein. That's President Obama on dispatching a fly in the White House. Evidently Obama's whack on the insect is a big hit on YouTube which does show you that this nation has too much time on its hands.

But what caught my attention is that there is absolutely nothing a sitting president can do that will not draw criticism from some corner. To wit - the animal rights organization PETA came down on Obama for his cruelty to animals. A quote from one of their members: "I guess it can't be said that President Obama wouldn't hurt a fly."

Look, the president has a few things on his plate - like the budget deficit, the recession, the overhaul of health care, the situation in Iran, two wars, etc. etc. People worked up about his fly swatting should get a life and buzz off.  

Elsie, Elly May and Me

3008a Yesterday, after the tooth extraction, I also had a bone graft. In order to grow new bone, they use bovine material, aka stuff from cows. After he brought me home from the oral surgeon, The Weatherman went to the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions for antibiotics and pain killers, and then went to the grocery store to buy things like yoghurt and pudding that would be easy on the mouth.Elly-May

He asked me if I wanted anything else, and I told him I had a sudden urging to chew on some grass. He told me that there was no need to put it on the list; I could just graze in the back yard.

Hah. Hah. So this morning I have a new gaping hole in my mouth, and if I can just keep my smile tight enough, you can't see the full hillbilly look. (Thus today's illustration of Elly May Clampett.) Meanwhile let's hope the cow cells are doing their thing. 

Compounding my unhappiness is the fact that The Boy is leaving today for his 8 week summer job in Maine. I'm going to miss him even more than my molar.


A Blatant Plea for Sympathy

Oms Oh poor, poor me! As you are reading this, I am likely at the oral surgeon's office. Faithful readers know this is not my first visit with the tooth surgeon. And this is a situation with a whole new tooth. I will spare you all of the details except for this one:

When I went to have this tooth evaluated, the oral surgeon said, "Well, let's talk about best case scenario and worst case scenario. Best case scenario, we're looking at a root amputation..."

I'm sorry - what? That's the best case scenario?! A root amputation? And for all of you dental virgins out there, a root amputation is not a root canal. The tooth in question had a root canal years ago. This...oh, never mind. I said I would spare you the details.

Just FYI - I am accepting any and all sympathy anyone wants to throw my way. I know it could be worse. But there sure could be more pleasant ways of spending a Tuesday.

Celebrities

Latifah8 Sure, I could be blogging about something important, like the elections in Iran. But I'm going to start the week as a light weight. (That is only intellectually speaking, of course.)

Three celebrities that mystify me. Why is anyone interested in:

1. Madonna and whether or not she adopts another baby?
2. Jon and Kate - who are these people, and why should we care about their marriage?
3. Miley Cyprus - Really?

Three celebrities I love:

1. Queen Latifah. I love her. I want to be her. I am even a member of her Facebook fan club.
2. Denzel Washington. Handsome. Talented. And he grew up right here in Westchester County.
3. Henrik Lundqvist - The New York Rangers goalie. Because he's the man.  

I'm not proud. I'm just sayin'.....

An Historic Day

Lincoln5 No, yesterday wasn't that momentous. But The Boy and I did make a trip to the New York Historical Society in Manhattan. This has become a favorite destination for us. The Boy is a self-proclaimed history nerd and this small museum always has interesting exhibits, plus it's totally manageable in size.Lincoln7


We saw three different shows covering three completely different time periods. First, we visited "Abraham Lincoln in His Own Words." There were Lincoln's own papers, including a draft of the famed "House Divided" speech, a telegram Lincoln sent praising Ulysses Grant during the Civil War and a copy of the Thirteenth Amendment with Lincoln's signature on it. This was The Boy's favorite. 

Next, we raced forward about a century and caught a movie (at the Society) called "1968." It was a documentary narrated by Tom Brokaw about that year, and highlighted its many tumultuous events.

The last show we visited was my favorite. It was a photography exhibit featuring the work of Camilo Jose Vergara, a contemporary artist who has been documenting almost 40 years of change in Harlem. The photographs, taken between 1970-2009,  are beautiful and political and really compelling.

All in all, a great way to spend a rainy afternoon and bond with The Boy, who will be leaving for his summer job next week. 
Vergara12
Vergara17

A Perfect Storm

Clown1 Yesterday, The New York Post sent a clown up to Albany. It was their commentary on the dysfunction that has become our state government. A political coup earlier this week had two representatives switching from the Democratic to the Republican party, thus shifting the majority in the State Senate.


One of Dem defectors, Hiram Monserrate, was indicted in March on a domestic violence charge - he threatened his companion with a broken glass. The other, Pedro Espada Jr., is being investigated for misappropriation of funds for a non-profit he founded, i.e. syphoning off money that was suppose to feed the hungry.

These two jokers have been frantically courted by both parties. Meanwhile the antics unfolding in Albany are ludicrous - the Dems have locked the chamber, and at one point they shut the lights off to confuse people. Yesterday our Governor - God help us - implored the legislators to at least "think of the lobbyists" who have worked so hard to influence the votes.

I titled this post "A Perfect Storm" for a reason. New York State is legendary for its spectacularly dysfunctional state government. But this latest fiasco comes at a time that the newspaper industry is in deep crisis. Many papers have withdrawn their correspondents from the State Capital to save money. At the same time, as  a result of 8 years of a Republican national administration, a lot of power did shift from the federal to the state level. What are you left with? This group of Bozos running the state, and hardly anyone left to cover their increasingly troubling antics. 

Harsh Words

070523a When I was in college, we held an annual "Meanest Professor Comments Ever" contest. Students submitted their papers with the harshest critiques to a jury of peers, and the winner was treated to a pitcher of beer.


I am proud to report that one year, I won both first and third prize. Both comments were from the same professor and the same class - Professor "T" and Political Philosophy.

Third Prize winner: The prof had highlighted some text and written next to it, "Why not bring up Snow White? Equally relevant."

First Prize winner: Scrawled along the top of a paper analyzing Hegel's dialectic theory - "The only thing that holds this paper together is a staple!"

The fact that I went on to become a professional writer shows either great fortitude or major self-delusion. In any case, I thought of old Professor T. the other day, when a friend who works for a magazine I once wrote for circulated some comments by her boss. These were a few choice comments by said editor on submissions she had received:

-"This simply doesn't work." "We either tell them simple ways to cheat death or we kill this." "Who cares? Kill this." "No one wants to read this many words on how to organize a closet. I certainly don't." "Can't this be said in four sentences? Give the cat something to scratch."

OUCH! Writing - it's not for the faint-hearted. 

A 300 Page Sentence

11736630679ria7c Here's a headline from today's NY Times that took me by surprise: "Judge Orders Former Bristol-Myers Executive To Write Book".


Huh? Well, it seems that the executive had pleaded guilty to lying to the feds about the company's efforts to resolve a patent dispute over the blood thinner Plavix. It's not a legal case that would have particularly interested me, but I was struck by the judge's sentence. The defendant is supposed to write about his experience in the case. Evidently the judge has ordered written penance before. About 10 years ago he sentenced a lobbyist who had made illegal corporate campaign contributions to write a monograph describing the very laws he had violated.

Look, I'm the first one to recognize that writing a book is not an easy thing. Every day I struggle with making the transition from journalistic writing to a book form, which differs in approach, tone, length and more. But punishment? Jeez, I had kind of been enjoying myself.

Books Again - Move 'em In, Move 'em Out

Book-sale For about 5 days there my book shelves looked lovely. Their usual state was to be absolutely jammed to the max. If you pulled a book off a shelf, you would discover a second row of books lined up behind it. And then there were books lying horizontally on top of the vertically stacked books.

What can I say? Our family is a bunch of readers; I'm a hoarder, and the combination is often not pretty. 

So when this year's annual library book sale rolled around, The Weatherman and I spent hours combing the shelves. (At first we did this as individuals, but we ended up creating piles of each other's books to donate, and realized it had to be a joint effort.) It wasn't easy.  "Come on - are you really ever going to read this again?" "But it's a classic!" But in the end we were ruthless.  Multiple boxes of books were driven to the library. 

Then The Boy got home from college and heard about the book sale. He attended on day one; when hardbacks were priced at $2 and paperbacks were going for $1. He came home with a small pile of books; fortunately none that we had just donated. Yesterday he asked me to accompany him to the closing day. "Mom, they are GIVING the books away."

I will go pretty much anywhere with The Boy and I vowed that I was just along for the ride and would not bring any more books in the house. Except. THEY WERE GIVING THEM AWAY. And there was that Ethan Canin novel I have never read. And some intriguing-looking cookbooks. The Boy, meanwhile, could barely be dragged away from the history section.

Well, fortunately the library sale is an annual event. We'll clean out again next year. 

Mother-Son Bond Website Is Up!

MSBlogoandname
It's finally up and running - www.mothersonbond.com


This is the website that I've been developing to help me research my book on the mother-son relationship. It has two surveys - one for moms and one for sons. 

Please check it out. Moms, I want to hear from you. Sons, if you fill out the survey, you'll be eligible for an Itunes gift certificate. Your answers will be confidential and your privacy protected.

I want this book to take an honest look at today's moms and sons. Are all the myths and assumptions about this relationship true? What is the real nature of how moms and their sons relate to each other? Do Moms need to let their sons go after a certain age? Can a Mom maintain a healthy, close relationship with her son? And why do we feel so shy talking about this topic? 

I'd love to have your input, so please visit the site. And feel free to pass the link along to anyone you think might be interested in this topic. Thanks!

I Can See Clearly Now

Fuzzy20tv20screen20 About a year ago, the Weatherman and I bought a high definition TV. He got a little frustrated with me because I just couldn't see why HD was such a big deal. Everyone was raving about the clarity of the images, the amazing resolution, etc., etc. But it seemed to me that we had just shelled out a lot of money (not to mention having to schedule three different appointments with the cable company for the new installation) for a picture that was barely improved.Football-tv-screen


Then about a week ago I went to the optometrist, and for the first time I got distance glasses. Now I get it. That TV picture is startlingly clear. And the leaves on the trees turn out to be even prettier as individual shapes than they were as vague green blurs.

West Side Story

West-side Last night we splurged. The whole family went to see the new Broadway production of West Side Story. This is kind of weird, but there were times during the show that I wanted to close my eyes - not because what was unfolding on stage was anything but wonderful, but because the voices of the two leads were so amazing that I just wanted to savor the purity of them.

Josefina Scaglione, the actress who plays Maria, is a 21-year-old opera singer from Argentina, and she is just lovely. I had seen the actress who plays Anita, Karen Olivio, as the lead in "In the Heights," another great Broadway production. She was riveting every moment that she was on stage.

It was funny to see a musical where you knew every single line of every single song. But there were still surprises. The show is bi-lingual, so the Sharks sing in Spanish and some of the dialogue between the Latino characters is also in Spanish. My kids could understand it, but even though I never studied Spanish, the show was so familiar that you knew what was going on. There was a fresh take on many of the dance numbers. All in all, I was up on my feet giving a standing ovation as soon as the cast came in for their first bows. Some things are worth just worth a splurge.
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The Best Laid Plans....

Still Alice final Disgraceful! Disgraceful! I was going to post regularly about all the books my book group was reading, and what I was reading on the side. And I see it has been months since I fulfilled this plan. Okay, I have been a bit busy, what with ending one job and starting a new one, but still - this is ridiculous.


Here is a quick encapsulation of what I can remember that I've read.

Speaking of memory, our book group is currently reading "Still Alice," a novel by Lisa Genova, which is about a Harvard psychologist and linguistics specialist who has early onset Alzheimer's disease. The slow unraveling of her mind is as believable as it is relentless. I found the book fascinating, frightening and incredibly sad. 

Since I thought I deserved a little present after that, I picked up a copy of "Bad Girls Go Everywhere," which is a biography of former Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown. The author, Jennifer Scanlon, argues thatImages  Brown - with her early support of single girls, sexual freedom and self-reliance - was actually a pre-first wave feminist, who has been vastly misconstrued. Her early life - she was poor, hardworking, supported her family - was not easy, and reading about her moving through her career with pure grit is kind of inspiring. 

The rest of the books I'm going to list, with a minimum of comment, in the interests of space and as a reflection of my own limited memory.

John Adams by David McCullough - I'll admit it. Couldn't get through it. Simply didn't have 700 pages of interest in the subject. 

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - Loved it. A novel set in modern day India, with the quintessential unreliable narrator. He's been a servant, entrepreneur and a murderer, and in the course of seven nights, tells the story of his life to that date. I really enjoyed this book and it opened a window into a world I knew nothing about. 

Oliver Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. The book is a series of linked short stories, all featuring a Maine woman in her sixties. She's cranky, she's judgmental, and terribly hard on the people she loves. She is also unflinchingly honest (at least to the extent she can be with her limited self-knowledge) and you end up feeling for her as she crashes through her life and family. Strout won the Pultizer Prize for it. 

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Diaz - Engrossing. The hero is a nerdy, science-fiction addicted overweight Dominican-American young man, suffering from a family curse, trying to find his place in the world. This ambitious novel manages to be both gritty and lyrical, hopping back and forth between generations, politics, the D.R. and New Jersey. Forget my weak plot summary - the book also won the Pulitzer, and rightly so. 

Laws of the Jungle

Sleepin on the couch I don't know if you can tell from this photo, but one of our cats, Lawson, is almost twice the size of the other, Maddy.

Maddy is a trim 8 pound female, and we often make fun of the little one, because she was not exactly graced with brain power. She hasn't even learned her name yet.

Lawson, who last logged in at the vet at 15 pounds (and who was promptly put on a diet) is a big, very strong tom cat. He is pretty smart and he is quite powerful.

So why is it that at the first sign of danger, Big Lawson makes a truly pitiful keening sound, his tail fluffs up to twice its normal size and he starts cowering? By way of contrast, Little Maddy is ready for action. Friendly, out going and always up for a challenge, Maddy doesn't hesitate to start mixing it up with her much bigger, stronger older brother.

This morning a big, mangy black stray cat appeared in our back yard. I was alerted to his arrival by Lawson whining in the kitchen and trying to hide behind the wall. Suddenly there was little Maddy, who had already been playing outside, giving chase. She ran that black cat off the property and was gone for quite a while. I was worried (she really is a diminutive little thing) but after awhile she came trotting around the corner, lay down in front of the door in a kind of Queen-of-Sheba pose, and gave herself a nice, long, luxurious cleaning. Lawson watched the whole thing from inside and his tail is only just now returning to its normal size.

The Boy is Back

Spring Let's see - a doctor has been murdered in Kansas (while ushering at his church, no less), GM is filing for bankruptcy, the fighting goes on and on in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now, instead of anxiously tracking the demise of the newspaper industry, I have begun watching the public hand-wringing of  book publishing executives.


It's all discouraging, except - it's a gorgeous spring day, all the flowering trees in my neighborhood are in bloom, and, most important, The Boy is Home. He arrived home from college on Saturday and will be home for just over two weeks until he leaves again for his summer job up in Maine.

He is ridiculously tall, has arrived with a car-full of clothes, bedding, books,etc., and it is absolutely wonderful to have him back. Yesterday he accompanied me to the grocery store to stock up on the foods he likes. It's not just that I like having him around to lug the heavy bags; it's the company - the discussion of everything from what snack foods would be best for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to what we think about the nomination of Judge Sotomayer. 

After dinner, The Boy got up to do the dishes (unasked), noting that his father had grilled the steaks and I had prepared the rest. Did I mention how great it is to have him home? And how -when he makes reference to leaving again for the summer - I have vivid fantasies of somehow rounding him up by throwing a lasso around him and keeping him here.