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September 2009

Bad Mothers

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After doing more research for my book, I have come to the conclusion that mothers of sons should come with a warning label: "WARNING: The Love Of This Woman Could Be Hazardous To Your Health!"

I don't really believe this, of course. It's just that there is so much literature out there bashing the mother-son relationship. According to one book I just finished, one-in-ten men are "enmeshed" with their mothers. Among other things, this has led these men to be commitment phobic, to suffer from addictions (not just drugs and alcohol, but cyber-sex too!), to shop lift, to have low self-esteem and all sorts of other problems. Some are people pleasers. But some only want to please themselves. Basically you name a dysfunction in a man, and the guy who wrote this book can lay it at the foot of his mother.

I am getting a little tired of all this mother-blame. As one friend of mine says, "A mother's place is in the wrong."

A Sign?

Money in hand

For the last week, my right palm has been itching like crazy. It's the weirdest thing. What could it mean? That I am turning into a werewolf or something? (The Weatherman says that if that were the case, I would more likely grow hair on the back of my hands and be itchy there.)

Anyway, I had lunch with two longtime girlfriends yesterday, and when I told them about this symptom, they immediately said the same thing, in unison no less: "You're coming into money!"

This was good news indeed. I believe in signs. I'll keep you posted if anything comes of this one.

Into the Belly of the Beast

Swine-flu1

Every week or so, we get an update from The Boy's college about H1N1, or swine flu. We hear about what school health officials are doing to isolate students with symptoms, what they plan to do if they run out of beds for isolation (which, oddly, is to send sick kids back to their dorm rooms and have their still-healthy roommates go find somewhere else to sleep) and that kind of thing.

I've read all this with passing interest, hoping The Boy doesn't get sick. The college has asked parents who live within 300 miles of campus to pick up their sick kids; we live 320 miles away but wouldn't want our son languishing in his dorm.

Anyway, we are heading up to Parents Weekend on Friday. And it occurs to me that parents all over the country are heading to Parents Weekends to campuses all over the country, most of them rife with HINI. Presumably, parents will then bring the virus back to our hometowns. If you were drawing a little epidemic map, this would make for some nice arrows.

The Boy called last night, and we talked about this. He said the college's isolation plan makes no sense anyway. He is taking a course on infectious disease, and they have learned a lot about the virus. He says people with HINI are most infectious in the three day period before they exhibit symptoms, in other words during the time they are still in the dorms, class rooms and cafeterias, but not reporting to the health center.

Ah well, lots of hand washing and maybe a few less hugs for his friends. But no less hugs, of course, for The Boy. 



Intrusive, Destructive Moms

Mom:son books

Today I'm having lunch with my agent to go over her thoughts on Chapter One. We've already had a brief email exchange about it, and she told me she likes this version much better than the first one. That said, it still needs some work. In what is sort of good news, she thinks I have two chapters in there instead of one, which means I'm farther along than I think.

In the meantime I have been plowing along on future chapters, and am up to the point where I am writing about the multiple messages we get as mothers telling us that it is bad, bad, bad to be close to our sons. There is no healthy way to do it, you see. We're either enmeshed or controlling or dominating or inappropriate. There don't seem to be any scenarios in which a mother and son can be close, but at the same time maintain healthy boundaries and mutual respect.

Today's reading, as you can see from the illustrations, are more dire warnings about dangerous mother love. Beware the devouring Mom - she's everywhere. (That was supposed to be a sarcastic comment, folks.)

There Goes the Neighborhood

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Over the last few days I've been getting these odd press releases from our County Executive saying that he was really upset about  Moammar Gadhafi, but there wasn't a thing he could do about it.

"What is he on about now?" I thought. "What has the Libyan leader got to do with Westchester?"  Well, it turns out that he-who-supports-state-sponsored-terrorism (I'm talking about Gadhafi, not our County Executive) has had his people pitching a Bedouin-style tent on the grounds of Donald Trump's estate in Bedford.

You can not make this stuff up. Gadhafi is in New York for the UN General Assembly. A spokesman for Trump said The Donald had rented the place to some partners in the Middle East, not directly to Gadhafi. To add to the absurdity of a crazy terrorist camping out on the grounds of one of America's most well-known capitalist's, enter the Bedford Town building inspector.

You see,  President Gadhafi had violated a Bedford Town ordinance. The guy didn't have a permit to erect a tent. But evidently the building inspector had trouble issuing a stop work order, because the fellows putting up the tent didn't speak English. My guess is that their boss isn't overly intimidated by Bedford town zoning regulations anyway. Let's just say he's flouted bigger authorities.

Unbelievable. And right in my back yard. Well, not literally. I wouldn't have let him set up camp  on my property. 

Are Manners Dead?

Serena-Williams-001

Rude, rude, rude. Everywhere you look, it seems like civility has broken down. There is the tenor of the health care debates, and Joe Wilson's outburst of "You Lie!" in Congress. There was Serena Williams unfortunate screaming at the lines woman at the US Open. There was Kanye West grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift at the video music awards, ranting because he didn't think she should have won.

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Folks, where were your Mamas when you were growing up? (OK, that's not fair, I was just writing about how everyone blames mothers for everything under the sun. These people are grown ups and are responsible for their own behavior.)

Anyway, I'm here to report that there is hope for the future. Recently, we had some friends over for dinner. They brought their 8-year-old twins. I'll admit, I was not thrilled by the prospect of the kids - I was thinking grown-up dinner and children can be pretty disruptive.

Not these two. They were a complete pleasure. Why? They thanked us for including them. They were charming at dinner and 

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when finished, asked politely if they might be excused. When it was time to go, they picked up all the Legos they had been playing with and put them in a big basket. They thanked us for having them. 

It may not sound like a big deal, but I can't tell you how delightful it was to see elementary school aged kids with excellent manners. We have some big problems to tackle in this country - you know, two wars, health care, unemployment and more. But can we throw in "bring back civility" as one more national priority? It really makes the world a better place to live.

I Can Still Feel Her in My Arms

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Yesterday, the strangest thing happened. I was going about my business and I was bowled over by the strongest, most visceral memory. I could literally feel the weight of my baby girl in my arms.

My baby girl, it must be said, is now 24 years old. But there she was, like a shimmering ghost with substance. I remembered exactly what it felt like to hold her when she was a few months old. I could feel where her head rested, where her diaper-covered bottom was in the crook of my arm, how her little weight would settle, and even - for one blissful second - the delicate and indescribable scent of new baby.

I was bowled over by this. Don't know where it came from. Of course I had to pick up the phone to hear my daughter's voice. I told her about the experience - she was very sweet about it - and then we talked about everything, from childbirth (she has two girlfriends in the medical profession who just delivered babies) to her work, her boyfriend, her never-ending dental work (poor child inherited my bad teeth) and whatever.

Where did this baby/daughter longing come from?  And even though I no longer have her in infant form, how lucky am I to have her this close?

Mad Men in Westchester

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There's not much I watch on television, but boy do I make an exception for Mad Men, the show set in an advertising agency in the early 1960s. A lot of it is also set in Westchester County, making it extra fun to watch. The Drapers live in Ossining and there are all sorts of references to the area. Recently, while Betty Draper is giving birth in the hospital, Don shares the waiting room with a prison guard from  Sing Sing, famously located in the town. Betty earlier told the kids they were going shopping for antiques in Tarrytown. The daughter, Sally, attends Brookside Elementary.  

True, most of the action unfolds in the Manhattan office of Sterling Cooper, but Don Draper commutes just like all the other beleaguered suburban fathers. No mothers on the train back then. The wives were home in their kitchens, becoming their own version of Mad Women.

There's a Saint for Everyone

761 I just found out there is a patron saint for writers and journalists! That would be St. Francis de Sales, bless his heart!


He was beatified in 1661 and canonized in 1665 for his part in combating the development of Calvinism in Europe. Evidently his contribution to the Roman Catholic's theological literature prompted Pius XI to declare him the patron saint of us scribes - writers and journalists alike. There's actually a feast that celebrates him, but it's on January 24, and the chances of my remembering this four months from now are pretty slim. (I suppose I could write it down to honor him.)

Well, I'm not Catholic, but I definitely need all the help I can get. I'm going to see if I can find a little icon of St. Francis de Sales, and put him on top of my laptop. 

PS. The Weatherman, who was brought up in the Catholic faith, just told me that if St. Francis de Sales doesn't work, I can use Saint Jude as a safety net. Evidently he is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. I really hope it doesn't come to that.

T.M.I. Twitter-style

Mm_twitter Like most people, I'm inclined to think that Twitter is a complete waste of time, filled with useless bits of minutia. But here's a case of Twitter providing too much information. It seems that hospitals are beginning to use it to give families updates on what's going on with their loved ones in operating rooms.

Here are some examples from some of the 300 tweets that came from a 70-year-old woman's surgery in Iowa.

-"Drs. making next four incisions right now, less than a 1/2 inch incisions. So far three of the five have been made."

-"We have 2 instruments in the patient. One is a scissors and the other is for cauterizing."

"We're are getting ready to secure the uterine muscles and then will do the hysterectomy."

"Now the drs. are looking in her bladder to make sure there are no holes."

Yuck, yuck and double yuck. If this were my Mom on the table, I would not want this kind of detail. And ditto if it were me on the table - I wouldn't want my husband and kids envisioning this stuff. Yet again, I'm turning into an old curmudgeon, longing for the good old days when families hung out in waiting rooms and the white-coated doctor came out after it was all over and said, "The operation went well and the patient is resting comfortably."

George Was A Good Boy


Mobile_200603A50_01 My wonderful friend Joanne - former literature professor and current novelist - leant me some of the earliest parenting books written. She thought it might help me in my research for my book. 

This morning I began "Mother At Home - The Principles of Maternal Duty," written by Rev. John S.C. Abbott in 1833. Rev. Abbot quotes George Washington's mother as having said, "A good boy generally makes a good man. George was a good boy." The author goes on to observe:

"The mother of Washington is entitled to a nation's gratitude. She taught her boy the principles of obedience, and moral courage and virtue. She, in a great measure, formed the character of the hero, and the statesman. It was by her own fireside that she taught the playful boy to govern himself...We are indebted to God for the gift of Washington; but we are no less indebted to him for the gift of his inestimable mother."

Hear! Hear!


Books, Books, Books

Key_art_nbc_today_show My friend Carin was on the Today Show yesterday morning promoting her book. Her publisher had provided her with a media consultant who worked with her on how to do her best on television. It wasn't even her first time - Carin had been on the Today Show and Oprah years ago to promote a different book. Anyway, she kept her legs crossed, wore a pretty blue suit, kept a smile on her face and tossed out statistics and little sound bites with apparent ease.


I could vomit just thinking about doing this. Not that I need to worry just yet. First of all, I'm still writing chapter two. Second, I'd be incredibly lucky to get as far as promoting my book on TV. I told Carin I was in awe of her, since I was still slogging away at writing. She said that writing was the easy part; promoting the book was the hard part. Well, Holy #$%^, I thought selling the book proposal to a publisher was the hard part. I ran into another writer friend yesterday, who had just been informed by his publisher that they would not be coming out with a paperback version of his book. (Which means sales have not been good.)

So basically, from what I can tell, the whole thing is the hard part - coming up with the idea, writing the book proposal, (and in my case re-writing it six times until my agent was happy), selling the book proposal, writing the book, rewriting the book, editing the book, and then doing the publicity for the book. Then praying to God that someone will actually buy the book. Holy Cow. So much for that romanticized version of writing a book.

One step at a time. Back to chapter two. Right now.

Roasted Eggplant Spread

Eggplant dip Tasty, healthy and easy - my kind of recipe. I served it with pita bread for dipping. The recipe comes from the Barefoot Contessa Cook Book.


Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant, pealed
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
2 garlic gloves inced
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplant, bell pepper and onion into 1 inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking. Cool slightly. 

Place the vegetables in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the tomato paste and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Taste for salt and pepper. 

Sweet Corn and Basmati Rice Salad

Basmati rice salad Served this along side of grilled sword fish and a salad of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. The rice salad is labor intensive but very tasty. The thing that almost did me in was taking the stems off the watercress. You might want to substitute parsley - I bet it would be just as good. 


Recipe originally appeared in Bon Appetit in June of 2000. Serves 8.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 large ears yellow corn, husked
1 cup chopped green onions

2 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped toasted pecans
3 bunches watercress, stems discarded

Preparation

Whisk red wine vinegar and mustard in bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup oil. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper. 

Cut corn kernels from cobs. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add green onions, saute 30 seconds. Add corn; saute until corn is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Vinaigrette and corn mixture can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover separately; chill. Re-warm corn mixture and re-whisk vinaigrette before using.)

Bring 2 and 1/4 cups water to boil in saucepan. Rinse rice in strainer. Add rice and salt to boiling water. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 20 minutes Remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork.

Mix rice, corn mixture and pecans in large bowl. Mix in vinaigrette and watercress. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Internet Free Zone

Beautiful lake The Weatherman and I were up in the Adirondacks in upstate NY again this weekend. It was heaven on earth - just a touch of fall colors, great friends, wonderful hiking, boating and fishing, and evenings cool enough for a big fire in the fireplace.

What they don't have where we go in the mountains is Internet access. I always go through a brief withdrawal when I arrive - I'm so used to being plugged in 24/7. After a day or so, the urge to check in on everything passes. We do get a newspaper, sort of late in the day. But here's the funny thing - after another day or so, I start to lose interest in that too - settlers in the West Bank, health care proposal battles, a murder at Yale University - it all seems so far away.
View from Azure great

In my real life, I spend my days on the computer and have spent most of my professional life in journalism. As soon as I get home I face a mountain of unread material and dutifully plow through it. But I do wonder how different my life would be and how quickly my priorities would shift if I lived up in the mountains full time.

But for now, it's back to my very plugged in reality.



Don't Make Me Laugh

Laughing1 Here's another one for the Press Release Hall of Fame: "Laughing for the Soul & Laughter Training"

Yes, that's right, "laughter training." And for only $99 a person!  The doctor (an actual MD) who is offering this seminar included a "Spreading the Joy Discount." She usually charges $135 a person. Honest to God, I marvel about what lands in my inbox sometimes.

Anyway, this doctor has come up with the starling observation that laughter improves well-being. She says she has created a "Socially acceptable and safe place for laughter." Not only that - "it's fun!"

Those who attend her workshop can also get training on how to run a laughter club (yes, I said a laughter club), complete with a training manual, training DVD and official certificate.

I'm pretty sure she's not kidding. 

My No. 1 Editor

Woman_reading_block1 Yesterday I finished the re-write of chapter one of the book. (For those of you who have never written a book, you probably can't believe I'm still at it. For those of you who have, you know that chapter one - laying out your argument, establishing your voice, engaging the reader so that he or she will want to keep turning the pages - is a daunting business.)

Anyway, who do you think is the person who I want to take the first look at the revised work? My agent? One of my writer friends who has already published extensively? The Weatherman?

No, no and no. I sent it to my daughter. Yes, there is a beautiful irony to this. I'm writing about the closeness between mothers and sons, and the person who I trust the most to check out months of work when I'm feeling my most vulnerable is my daughter.

She happens to be a first rate editor - she can just zero in on exactly what's working and what's weak. She's also a terrific writer. She's also incredibly sensitive about how to handle giving me feedback. Also she's my daughter.

Geez, if there weren't already a kazillion books on the mother-daughter relationship, I'd write one myself. 

Old School/New School

Read-the-newspaper Much to my surprise I got a call out of the blue last week from an editor I used to work for at the NYT. Her boss had suggested me for an assignment. I hope it works out - added income is always a happy thing - though this piece is less journalism and more ... puffery, basically coming up with a tour of restaurants and stores in a small town. But they can use all sorts of interactive media to promote this kind of piece and it's really easy to illustrate. In fact it's more photos than copy. We used to do real local reporting but those days are increasingly gone.

Here is an excerpt from a column by Dean Starkman that appeared in August's Columbia Journalism Review  that I think really captures what's going on with journalism. He is referring to the push to get reporters to produce more and to produce it more quickly, while incorporating social media stuff like blogging and video.

"I’m not sure if this has penetrated the consciousness of news executives around the country, but let me spell it out for you: In journalism, as in many things, there are trade-offs. At a certain point, as the quantity of copy increases, the quality goes down. You can practically graph it. The medium doesn’t really matter. The more time you spend blogging, Facetwittering, or, for that matter, rewriting press releases, the less time you spend reporting—talking to people, chasing leads, reading documents, and putting it in some kind of sensible order. It is kind of like physics. In fact, it’s exactly like physics. It is freaking physics.

Local newspapers have one main competitive advantage over every other medium: the ability to gather compelling local news that no one else has and present it before readers in a coherent way. Once they get it, there is nothing wrong with trying to amplify the impact via social media or blogs. (Updating: I should mention that of course it’s fine and valuable to use new media for news gathering and interacting with and learning from readers.)

But the key is to find compelling stories to tell. Random information is not going to cut it."

Amen, brother.





What Next?

Barack-obama-presidential-portrait2 Oh for God's sake. Today's headline: "Obama's Plan for School Talk Ignites Revolt."

It seems that groups of conservative parents  are completely riled up - they are especially worked up in Texas. What is the problem? The President of the United States plans to deliver a speech to students urging them to work hard and stay in school. 

Holy Cow! This sounds pretty dangerous to me. What kind of crazy message is that to give our children? Work hard and stay in school?! Downright revolutionary.  But parents, urged on by the usual cadre of reactionary  right-wing talk radio, tv and website folks, have decided they don't want their children indoctrinated. As one parent put it, "I don't want our schools turned over to some socialist movement."
Photoshop-upsidedown

Well, where to start? That the president's message is completely benign? That you might want to teach your kids some respect for the Commander-in-Chief of our country? That even if you disagree with the President - perhaps you think your children should slack off and drop out, and hey, it's a free country, go ahead and let them - how about the concept that you should occasionally listen to other people, even if they don't share your exact world view?

But no, these parents are opting to pull their kids out of school instead of listening to the president's speech. Well, they're certainly giving their kids one kind of education. 

Good Performance, Bad Behavior

Eli_manning_abby_mcgrew_wedding I have often frustrated the guys in my family by my taste in athletesChris-brown-jv25  and musicians. Love Eli Manning. Why? Because he is close to his Mama and he married his childhood sweetheart. Tom Brady? Hah! Leaves his pregnant girlfriend for a supermodel. I don't care what that man does with a football.

I could go on - Robin Williams (who by the way appears in this photo to be dying his hair an odd red color) lost me years ago, when he left his wife for his nanny. (Though he and the ex-nanny-turned-producer are now also divorced.) Recently I was particularly bummed because IRobin_williams  really like Chris Brown's song "Forever" but he beat up his girlfriend Rihanna, so I have to reassess my opinion.

Is this a "girl thing"? It's a big enough topic that they are addressing it on WNYC today on Soundcheck. I won't be near a radio when it comes on at 2 p.m., but I will definitely listen to it later on line. The very fact that it's being discussed means I'm not alone.


Important New Vocabulary For Our Times

These new vocabulary words are brought to you by Recession Wire.

Dictionary

Slasher | A person with more than one profession, such as a banker-slash-entrepreneur, or an accountant-slash-yoga instructor.

Pre-Fired | Being dismissed from a new position before you even start. Usually because the company folds between the offer and your start date.

Prayoff | A layoff you’re desperately hoping and praying for, so that you can get that severance check and be done with a job you can’t stand.

Canniversary | A year from the date when you got canned from your job.

Outshipped | When your company lets you keep your job, but ships you to a developing country.