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July 2009

Goodbye and Hello

Goodbye1 This morning - an incredibly rainy one - we said goodbye to "K" and "I." The Weatherman made his homemade waffles and even I managed to be somewhat awake and present for the goodbyes. We will actually see them on Sunday for graduation. "K" is graduating after 3 years in the program. This was "I"'s first year; she'll be back next year, hopefully staying with us.


Last night we also said "hello" or more like "welcome" to My Sister's new husband, TheHello  Engineer. He is a lovely man and I am very pleased to have him as a brother-in-law. He makes my sister very, very happy and that makes him a good man in my book!

Book? Did someone say "book"? Everywhere I go these days, people kindly ask me how the book is going. My response at present: "Slow. But it's getting there." 

So hello and goodbye- I'm off to write.

I'm Stylin'

Talbotsmichelleandmom I was talking to "K' and "I" about what I should wear for the dinner to celebrate my sister's wedding. My Sis got married last weekend out in California. It was very small - a second wedding for both her and her new husband. The happy couple are flying to New York today and her East Coast family are celebrating the marriage at a small party tonight.

"K" and "I" told me to stop focusing on my nails and start worrying about what I was wearing. Which is a long way around of saying that I bought a new dress for the occasion. And guess what? I found out afterwards that Michelle Obama owns this very same outfit!

Let me say right off the bat that I bought this dress off the rack at Talbots, and it was a full 50 percent off. Still - I can't believe I picked out the same thing as the First Lady. Now she's got it going on with the cardigan and the belt, and I don't think I could ever pull off such a look. But I'm still proud we share something in our wardrobe.

This morning I am going to watch "K" and "I" perform scenes from "Much Ado About Nothing." Then onto serving at the Food Pantry. And then - hey, here's a concept - I'm going to continue to work on Chapter One of The Book, at least until party time.

The Queen and Me

Queen_latifah_01 The Queen has been updating me on what she's been doing this month. Just a few nights ago she was out with some friends. She also let me know when she was "gettin' something to eat then going to take a shower."


Imagine my excitement when I first read, "What's happening Twitterland. The Diva is here." Yes, Queen Latifah is now on Twitter, and I feel closer to her than ever. After all, we're already Facebook friends. OK, maybe not technically friends, but I am her fan on Facebook.

Last night I caught a movie that featured The Queen called "The Cook Out" that I had never seen before. It was pretty silly. But The Queen, as ever, reigned. Here's her bio on Twitter: rapper/model/advocate/singer/actress/cover girl. What a woman! Long live The Queen.

Chez Kate

Woman-cooking The NYT reported this morning that the senators who are trying to hammer out the new health care system have been munching on snacks like Doritos, Oreos, beef jerky and - something I never knew existed - "chippers," which are chocolate-covered potato chips. (Please, Lord, never allow any chippers within 5 miles of me.)

Of course there's the obvious irony of the senators eating such unhealthy snacks while they figure out ways to improve the nation's health. But it just got me thinking about re-stocking the pantry. I haven't been to the grocery store since....gee, yesterday.

Honestly, I had forgotten how much teenagers eat. "K" and "I" are both slim girls, which adds to my astonishment about their capacity for nourishment. Last night "K" wanted to try tacos. She had never eaten them before. "I" had been to Taco Bell, but had never had home-made tacos. 

Tacos are not hard - I made chicken tacos - but they are labor-intensive, what with all the chopping of tomatoes, scallions, avocados, shredding of cheese, etc. The recipe should have served 10-12. There were four of us eating. It's not that there were no left-overs. It's that there was enough to make maybe one taco.

These girls have made me feel good about my cooking - they devoured my baked chicken, gave me high marks for the spaghetti with meat sauce, liked the baked salmon, gobbled up the traditional hamburger and hot dog cook out, along with the corn, potato salad, etc. (The only misfire was green beans with mustard sauce, and only "K" was not a fan.) On the rare occasions that we do have leftovers, they pack them for lunch the next day.

 It is a little like having The Boy home, but times two. As you can probably tell, I'm totally enjoying having these girls in our home. It's especially nice having girls - yesterday they gave me good advice about toe nail polish colors, and I love checking out their outfits every morning. Every day I learn a little more about their home lives and schools. Tonight they are going to see an outdoor production of Shakespeare. 

Needless to say, I have to pack a picnic.

Death Without Tenure

61oS-lt1QsL._SL500_AA240_ Sounds like the title of a really good mystery, right? Well, it is. My wonderful friend Joanne Dobson has another book coming out, the next installment in part of her Karen Pelletier mysteries. Karen, the protagonist, is a college professor who uses literary sleuthing to solve crimes. In this book - I got to read an early draft - Karen is up for tenure and it looks like she's a shoe-in, when suddenly .... wait! I was about to give up the plot! You better read it yourself.

I love Joanne's books. Karen is a very likable heroine, the descriptions of college English Department infighting are dead-on (pardon the expression), and the mysteries are always page-turners. 

 I'll have you know that I was a fan before I was a friend, let alone before Joanne talked me off the ledge last week and made me start writing chapter one of my own book.

Anyway, I happen to know Joanne is still proof-reading the galley's of "Death Without Tenure" but you can pre-order the book on Amazon. 

And that ends our commercial segment for today!

Friday

Tired Sorry to be posting so late, but the bus that was supposed to pick up K and I this morning didn't show up, so I had to drive them to the next town, where they are taking a film class.

You know how I posted yesterday about how wiped out they were from their busy schedules? Well, much to my surprise they hopped off the bus yesterday afternoon full of energy. The ice skating had gone well and the day was "one of the best ever," according to K. Far from collapsing into naps, they gobbled up the cookies I had baked, and then I (not me, but "I" the girl staying with us) wanted to go for a bike ride. After that, she tried the scooter. 

The Weatherman cooked out burgers and hot dogs in the pouring rain and we had a fun and relaxing evening. In fact, the girls outlasted us, and we ended up going to bed before they did. 

Which makes me realize that while we have LOVED having K and I at our house and look forward to next week, The Weatherman and I are awfully old to have teenagers!

Tired

SuperStock_1612R-5911 Yesterday evening when I went upstairs to tell K and I, our visiting scholarship students, that dinner was ready, I found both of them sound asleep. Wiped out. Exhausted. Waking them up was no easy thing - I sleeps curled up with an ipod playing in her ear, and even gentle shaking was not doing it.


The girls rallied for dinner - and even for a trip to go see the new "Harry Potter" movie, but tonight's plans are to do absolutely nothing. We talked about a family game night - Scrabble, probably- but I think we'll even play that by ear.

The idea of this program, as I posted a few days ago, is to provide academic and cultural enrichment to these kids. And all the kids are getting plenty. Today, after studying Shakespeare, taking a writing class and a robotics class, they will all climb on the bus and be taken to an ice skating rink for skating lessons.

K was particularly dreading this event. She and I, we have discovered, are frightened of a lot of the same things, and she is very worried about falling. I, meanwhile, was nursing some sore ribs which may have been a result of her swimming lesson yesterday.

These girls are amazing. They are just kids, they are plunged into a jarringly different environment, living with people they've never met, and challenged intellectually and physically every day. And there they were this morning, up at 6:30 a.m., having set their own alarm, made their own breakfast (packed their own lunches the night before), made their beds, and walking down to the bus stop at the end of our street. 

There are certainly kids who grew up in this privileged town who could learn a lesson or two from these visitors. 

Humbled

Writers Block Sign Life has a funny way of humbling you, over and over again.

Take what I used to say about "Writer's Block." I use to mock the very concept. Writer's Block? I thought that was for self-indulgent, creative types who didn't have to produce something for the newspaper every week. Whenever anyone would ask me if I suffered from this malady, I would say something along the lines of, "There's nothing like a deadline to cure Writer's Block."

Arrogant, Arrogant, Arrogant. I'm not going to regale you with the myriad things I do everyday to avoid putting words up on this computer screen. They are endless. Just a few examples -  I need to check my survey results. And my email. And clean my office. And make a few calls. And get a snack, etc. etc.

Yesterday I met with my friend Joanne, a talented and prolific writer who has published many books. She got to the root of my problem immediately. "You're scared to death, aren't you?" Um...yup. I may have written nearly 800 articles for the NYT, but this book is daunting. DAUNTING. Who do I think I am to be able to do this?

Anyway, I've decided I need my own version of the Nike slogan - Just Do It. Mine, I guess, is "Just Write It." I suppose I could spend some time this morning coming up with a better slogan. Or I could go work on Chapter One....

Visitors

Cartoon-house The two girls who are staying with us for the next two weeks are really more than visitors. The two, who I will simply call  "I" and "K" are participating in a summer scholarship program. They are part of a group of kids from the Bronx who show academic promise. They come up to Chappaqua, take classes at the local high school and also do all sorts of activities like swimming and tennis and attending a Shakespeare production - all with an eye towards enriching and expanding their worlds. 

Of course I need to protect their privacy on the Internet, but I wish you could see these beautiful girls. "K," who is 15, has got a fabulous sense of style, speaks 4 languages, has an amazing smile and is friendly and talkative. "I" is 14; she plays soccer and loves Social Studies, and is game to try anything new. They are both  mature and together for young teenagers. The Weatherman and I feel lucky to be able to host them.

Last night, after homework and dinner, we watched "Madea Goes To Jail," a movie I would not have picked out myself. It was hilarious. I'm really looking forward to getting to know these girls better. It's  nice to have kids in the house again.

Where Were You?

Jb_modern_subj_e On this date, 40 years ago, I was at Camp Wyonegonic, the oldest girls camp in the United States. It was a rustic place - just a string of wooden cabins along a lake in Maine. There was electricity only in the main building, which we called "The Wiggy."

 It was an idyllic summer for a young girl. We were pretty much isolated. There were no phone calls allowed. We were decades away from computers and cell phones. We wrote to our parents once a week - I favored pieces of birch bark for my stationery. Our days passed with swimming and canoeing in the lake, singing camp songs and activities like archery and wood working.

But on July 20, 1969, something extraordinary happened. I'm not sure which was more shocking to us campers - that a man walked on the moon or that for one night a television set was brought in to Camp Wyonegonic. But there it was - a small black and white set with a flickering image. The whole camp was allowed to stay up  past the usual taps - and we gathered around the little screen to watch Neil Armstrong descend from the Eagle and take those lumbering steps onto the lunar surface.

I remember walking back to our cabin afterwards. It was pitch black and you had to watch your steps along the roots of the pine trees. We girls kept looking up through the trees at the moon and trying to make sense of the whole thing. When we woke up in the morning, it all seemed like a dream.

Girls Night Out

MotherDaughterIatras-1 One of the funny things about writing a book on mothers and sons is that people often presume I must be very close to my son, but not to my daughter. This couldn't be further from the truth. (In fact it's just one of the many fallacies surrounding the topic.)

I ADORE My Daughter and am lucky enough to have her living nearby. Still, I feel we don't get enough time together. Last night we did a girls night out - just dinner and lots of talk and a brief walk in midtown Manhattan until I hopped on a train back home. Heaven on earth. There is something especially wonderful about adult daughters. THAT phenomenon has been well-documented, and I'm fortunate enough to be living it and enjoying it every day. 

Sad day today - The Weatherman and I are heading to the memorial service this morning for a woman whose first husband was killed in the Trade Center on 9/11. She died of cancer last week. Now her three sons are orphaned. They were young kids when their Dad was killed and are now in high school and college. So sad.

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

Fuzzy fat Lawson Sorry for the fuzzy photo, but I was trying to capture my cat Lawson's girth. About two months ago, the vet put Lawson on a diet. We have been strictly monitoring his intake - limiting the frequency and portion of his feedings.

The problem is Lawson is bigger than ever - his stomach is scraping bottom. Let me stop here to say that no one loves Lawson more than I do, and I think he is a very handsome cat. He arrived at our door six years ago as a starving kitten and after we took him in, he has repaid the favor in unlimited affection, and he is a Very Good Boy. But I worry about his long-term health, which is why we tried to follow the vet's advice.

So why is he still gaining weight? Lawson is clearly snacking between meals. Not on anything in the house. The cat is a champion mouser. And now that the days are long and the nights warm, I can barely get him to come inside. Last night he spent the entire evening out. Tell tale sign - he wasn't hungry when he came in, but there was a lot of paw licking and cleaning.

Well, I guess he's just doing what comes naturally. Maybe he'll slim down in the winter.


The Supreme Court Hearings

Sonia-sodomeyer-2 I have a lot of empathy for Sonia Sotomayor. Of course, according to some Republicans, "empathy" is now a negative trait, synonymous with "bias" or "bleeding heart." But hey - what do you expect from a Wise, White, German/English/Polish/Irish/Scottish/Russian Woman like myself?

Even though I know that the confirmation hearings are political theater, they are still making me crazy. How dare the Republicans rail against "judicial activism." The decisions that have been rendered by the Justices nominated by Republican presidents have reached farther into the personal lives of Americans than I could have ever imagined. 

As a longtime journalist, I know how preposterous it is to suggest that people don't bring their life experiences to their work. All the white men in the Senate and on the Court do, Thurgood Marshall did, Clarence Thomas does (though in a pretty twisted way) and so, thank God, do the women who have served on the Court. The only thing that saved Roe v. Wade was Sandra Day O'Connor's objection to part of a Pennsylvania law that would have forced married women to inform their husbands before getting an abortion.(She famously asked why women lost their constitutional protections when they married.)  And Ruth Ginsberg noted that she may have a bit more understanding than her male colleagues about why is was particularly humiliating for a 13-year-old girl to be strip searched in her public school.

Grrrrrr. I know Sotomayor will likely be confirmed. But Grrrrr........

Moms and Sons

Mother and Son Po_gl_Ceceliae02.JPG Yesterday I transcribed my notes from my discussion with the moms up in Maine. Here are a few quotes to give you a flavor of how mothers talk about their relationships with their sons:

"On my son's first day of school, I was working. His Dad was working at home. I called and asked, "How was his first day of school?" My husband said, "Fine." When I got home, I cuddled with my son and asked him how school was. All of the sudden his face changed and he opened up about things that upset him. He just tells me things."

"It's all fine and good to suggest that men become the models of emotional intelligence. But if that's Mom's department, why isn't it more celebrated?

"Why do all the mothers die in movies?"

"I worry that [the physical affection] is too much, especially with my 10-year-old. I feel like I need to pull back from that relationship. When I lay down and rub his back, he responds like he's an infant. My husband doesn't do this with my kids."

"My oldest son is 13. I adore him. We're so close. He's gives me clear advice. He'll lie down with me. Even when I talk to my closest friends about how close I am to my son, they say, 'don't you think you should stop?'"

"My mother has to some degree lost my brother. My sister-in-law calls the shots about how much time they spend with the family. I have friends who feel they've lost their boys to their wives. The relationship just gets thinner."

Lots of themes, lots of food for thought....

Maine, The Book and The Boy

Dscn0331

I'm home, after 1300 + miles in the car in 5 days. On our trip from Maine to New York this weekend, I managed to talk to My Sis on the cell phone through 3 states - Maine into New Hampshire into Massachusetts. (You'd think we would have covered everything on our Sister Trip, but evidently not...) As icing on the cake, I caught up with My Daughter from Massachusetts into Connecticut. Gotta love those unlimited calling plans.


Anyway, Maine was great. The women from Boys to Men were very helpful - we had a particularly interesting discussion about the role of Moms and the violence that is so prevalent in our sons' lives.  If it sounds abstract, it was anything but - real world stories about how insecure we are in helping our sons navigate bullying on the playground (is this Dad territory? Should we stay out of it and let Dad teach him how to fight? Why is it that when things turn physical, we feel so out of our league as mothers?) Then there were the gender issues. So what if our young son wants to wear pink shoes? We don't really believe there are "boy colors" and "girl colors." But do we feel so strongly about it that we'll keep quiet and let our sons take a beating on the playground?

It was a great cross section of Moms - some the mothers of toddlers, some with grown children. There were lawyers and teachers and therapists and all in all a lot of insightful women who were very helpful.

The next day The Weatherman and I went to visit The Boy, who I found to be a bit beleaguered. Camp counseling sounds like a breeze, but this year the camp is short-staffed (the economy), it has rained nearly every day,  The Boy has had a cold the entire camp season, and this was only his second day off since June. 

Next week he will probably chaperone some of the half-season boys home and then escort the second season boys back to camp. He will do so with a disposable temperature gage. The camp is so worried about Swine Flu that no campers are allowed in if they have a fever. 

But Maine is Maine. Portland is a very cool city and Bridgton, where The Boy's camp is, was beautiful the day we were there - a rare sunny, dry day. The photo today was taken by The Boy from his tent. You can see the classic Maine weather - beautiful sunset, with impending storm clouds on the right.

On The Road Again....

Maine-turnpike No sense in unpacking my toiletry bag. My Sis and I returned to New York from our annual sister trip yesterday afternoon. But this morning The Weatherman and I are heading up to Maine. 

The trip is a combination of business and pleasure. Late this afternoon I am meeting with a group of women from an organization based in Portland called Boys To Men. I love the sentence under their logo: "Exploring how to get there in one piece."

The mission of the group is to reduce violence among boys. They're trying to support the healthy adolescent development of boys as well as to increase community awareness about the specific needs of boys.

I'm meeting with the mother's advisory group for the organization, and needless to say I am very interested to hear their thoughts about the mother-son relationship. The organization deals with a lot of the issues I plan to address in my book, including how traditional media and cultural representations inform our views of masculinity.(Naturally, I think these images also heavily influence the lens through which we view mother-son relationships.)

They are also planning a mother-son conference, so you can imagine how grateful I am that they are willing to share their time and thoughts with me.

As icing on the cake, tomorrow I will be visiting my own son, a.k.a. The Boy, who is working as a camp counselor in Maine this summer. It's all good. 

Sis Trip Continues....

1_WCP_Children Boy, the Berkshires are beautiful. It's not like I didn't go to college here for four years, but when you return as a tourist and on a perfect summer day, it's a very different experience.

We arrived in Williamstown yesterday in time to take a long walk around campus. We felt just like stuffy old foggies as we expressed our disapproval for all the changes that had been made, i.e. ugly modern buildings next to the brick, ivy-covered edifices we were more used to. 

We barely dodged getting drenched by a brief but violent thunderstorm. Then we went to the Clark Art Institute. There was a show exploring the influence of the artist Arthur Dove on Georgia O'Keefe. Honest to God, we are not SUCH old foggies, but we preferred the permanent collection, particularly the impressionists.

Last night we saw a production of "The Children" at the Williamstown Theater Festival (which goes by its initials WTF which cracks me up). It turns out the playwright, A.R. Gurney, is a Williams alum. The drama is suggested by the John Cheever story, "Goodbye, My Brother," and it takes place on the terrace of a summer house on an island off the New England coast.

There's nothing like watching a dysfunctional family drama with your sis to spark some great conversation, particularly when we had differing perspectives on the ne'er-do-well brother.

I haven't mentioned our meals, but they have been plentiful. A sister trip in which you visit a place from both of your pasts while you rake over your own family history could be a play in itself. But I've already written enough this morning....

The Sis Trip Continues

Here is the Inn where My Sis and I are staying. I wanted to feature our room's fire escape - a coiled rope in the corner of the room next to the window. But instead of packing the little wire that allows me to download my photos, I packed the one that let's me update my ipod. Ah well - please enjoy this stock photo of the pretty Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Ma. 


1125442540_2732 We had a nice drive up, the highlight being a good hour of listening and singing along to a cd with all of our old summer camp songs. Next we had a truly inedible lunch. Still hungry, we asked the waitress if there was an ice cream shop in town. She said there was nothing in Stockbridge, we had to drive to the next town. I was willing, but My Sis had some self control. No matter, we walked around the corner and discovered three ice cream places, making us regret the generous tip we'd given the waitress. (At the time, we figured it wasn't her fault that the food was so bad. But misleading us on ice cream opportunities if pretty unforgivable...)

The ice cream cheered us up considerably. Then we took a pretty hike along a river bank. The Inn has a beautiful porch out front, and last night before dinner we had a nice, leisurely glass of wine while doing some great people watching, not to mention raking up all sorts of incidents of our childhood. 

Today we are heading over to Williamstown. We both went to college there and are planning a nostalgic walk around campus, plus a trip to the Clark Art Institute, and we have tickets tonight for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Time to hit the road....

Lay Over

Suitcase Just got back from the Adirondacks last night. Lots of rain, lots of food, lots of family. I'm home long enough to take a nice long shower, do two loads of laundry and repack. This morning I'm heading up to the Berkshires to spend a few days with my sister. My Sis lives in California and she and I always try to carve out some time alone together each year. 


So far we have bought tickets for the wrong night of a dance festival (for the evening after we've left Massachusetts) and have switched hotels once. And we haven't left yet. Stay tuned...

Off Line

Beautiful catamount view

This gorgeous picture was taken last year when I was in the Adirondacks for July 4 with my extended family.

We're heading up there again, but it might not be quite this pretty. The Weatherman has predicted showers for most of the long weekend. I've packed plenty of books along with my hiking boots.

In any event, there is no Internet, cell phone reception or many of the other trappings of modern life up there, so I won't be posting until Monday.

Hope you have a wonderful 4th!

The Appalachian Trail

Sanford-mark Really, really, I was going to refrain from blogging about Gov. Mark Sanford and his indiscretions. I am not big on following the personal peccadilloes of politicians and do believe there is such a thing as privacy, even for someone in political life.

But this guy just won't shut up. His confessional complex and his need to trot out more and more details about his "tragic love story" is ridiculous - it's like the guy is still in junior high school. 

Yesterday he told the A.P. that he believed his Argentine lover was his soul mate, and that though he would go to his grave with that knowledge, he was trying to fall back in love with his wife.

What a prize. As a wife myself, I'd say thanks but no thanks to this charming offer. The Weatherman and I love to hike, but if he ever takes that particular Appalachian Trail there will be hell to pay.