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January 2010

i - nough already!

Logan_lape  Forget the State of the Union address, the ongoing misery in Haiti or any other pressing concerns. My inbox yesterday was filled yesterday with dozens upon dozens of emails about the new Apple tablet.

Most of these missives came off of a Columbia Journalism School listserve that I'm on, so much of the debate was about the press coverage of the new product's launch. There was hand wringing over self-interest (most media companies have a big stake in how content is delivered and what can be charged for it), quality of the product, and then there was some basic e-drooling over the thing and what it can do.

As you know, I've been a little gadget-crazed lately, and I started to get sucked in. It is a bad, bad sign of greediness (not to mention the effectiveness of market hype) that I started to get ipad envy, when I had only recently indulged my Kindle envy. 

I'm not buying anything for awhile. I'm thrilled with Skyping (free) and yesterday The Weatherman showed me The Boy's apartment and street in Sevilla using Google Earth. And that was while I was g-chatting with My Daughter on the side. 

Communication is changing so fast it can make your head spin.


Sculpt and Strength

2006092101770101  So I walk in to my usual 5 p.m. class at the gym yesterday, and I'm startled to see guys there. This class usually attracts women only.

What happened? Same instructor. Exact same class with the exact same workout using the exact same weights. Here's the difference: they changed the name of the class. It used to be called "Body Sculpt." Now it's called "Strength." I guess it's all about the marketing.

In other news, that was me you heard yesterday yelping with happiness in the grocery store aisle yesterday. I came acrossLtd_pr_150_ginger-snap   two cartons of my long lost beloved Ginger Snap ice cream. Perhaps the happy dance in the frozen food aisle was a bit much. But I was so excited! And hey - I did go to the gym.


Skype

Imgname--skype_releases_crosszone_scripting_fix_for_windows---50226711--skype2-videocall  

This has been my season for new technology. It started with the Blackberry. (I know, I know - everyone else had one 5 years ago.) Then the Kindle. But as of yesterday, I started using Skype.  

Skype, as far as I can tell, is a free Internet telephone/video service. I can use my computer to call The Boy in Spain, or he can call me. We can just text back and forth in live time, or - if we so desire - we can add the video and voice component so we can see and speak to each other.

So yesterday afternoon, he was sitting in his room in Sevilla, I was in my office in New York, and we chatted back and forth. It was great to see his smiling face, plus he held the computer up and swung it around, so I could see his room. Then he held up a map, so he could show me where he is staying, where the University is, etc. It was great  to see him and hear his voice, and even get a little bit of a sense of where he was.

I have no idea how this company makes its money. I'm worried that it's like nytimes.com - they're giving the service away, and at some point they'll realize it's a really bad business model. But for now it's an amazing, free way to keep in touch overseas. Hooray!


Malfunctions!

Blackout  Keeping it brief today as I'm running on battery power. So far this morning, the furnace has broken down and then the power went off. (The whole neighborhood lost electricity - it's pretty stormy out.) It's dark, it's cold - and oh yes, The Weatherman has a very nasty stomach bug. I'll spare you the details.

Not complaining - I know the power will soon be restored, the furnace guy will come and the Weatherman will soon be well. I'm thinking instead of the people in Haiti who lost everything and for whom relief is still not in sight.


Donation Dollars

Good article in the NYT today about how the best way to help Haiti is to send money to Leogane-haiti-pic-dm-ian-vogler-745564000  reputable organizations. Sounds obvious, right?

But the writer points to natural disasters in the past where well-meaning people have sent useless aid - piles of clothing and blankets, soaked and unusable after Katrina, infant formula after the Tsunami, when there were no clean water available to mix it with and the best hope for baby would be food for the mother. The point is that organizations on the ground know best what's needed, and it's generally not your stuff.

This is a subject close to my heart, because at the Food Pantry where I work I am always amazed that some people's concept of donation is to clean out their pantries of expired food, and pass on their outdated cans of clams, one dented can of peas, or my personal favorite...expired pre-packaged South Beach diet kits.

Money, folks. That's what's needed.


Missing You...

Ltd_pr_150_ginger-snap  No, I'm not talking about The Boy, who has arrived safely in Spain for his semester abroad. I'm talking about another love of my life. This relationship began unexpectedly and immediately turned intense. Every day we'd get together. I tried to control myself, but there was never enough. And now, suddenly, it's over.

Yes, I'm talking about Turkey Hill brand limited edition Ginger Snap Ice Cream. It was amazing.Ltd_pr_150_ginger-snap   Ginger flavored ice cream flecked with chunks of ginger snap cookies. But please note the words "limited edition." It was introduced in November for the holidays and now it's gone, gone, gone. That was me at the A & P, gazing forlornly in the freezer case at all the other, lesser ice creams, emitted a long, sad, "nooooo....."

Ltd_pr_150_ginger-snap  Here's how bad it is: I actually wrote an email to the Turkey Hill Company asking when I might see my beloved Ginger Snap Ice Cream again. I received a compassionate response from customer relations, saying they would  pass along my suggestion that this be made a year-round flavor. But alas, they can not promise that this will be the case.

I suppose it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have tasted Ginger Snap Ice Cream. But I still think about it ever day....


Thanks Moms!

MSBlogoandname  Wow - It's official. I am now over the 1000 mark of mothers who have answered my survey about their relationships with their sons. I've heard from thoughtful women from all over the country. I'm thrilled with their diverse backgrounds - farm workers in Alabama, teachers in Missouri, doctors in California, factory workers in Illinois, small business owners in Colorado, and on and on. Almost all of them report being very close to their sons and have thought carefully about how they relate to their boys, what values they have taught them, how in tune they are with them emotionally, and much more.

I am so grateful to these women (all 1042 of them at this morning's count) for taking the time to think and write about this. Especially today - for two reasons. One, my own son is somewhere in the air right now, between London and Madrid, and I can't relax until I know he is safely at his destination. (One more plane transfer after he arrives in Spain.) So the mother-son connection is very much on my mind. Two, I am starting today on phase two of the book - transforming all this feedback and my own research into a compelling narrative about the real story between today's mothers and sons.

So thanks to all - and keep 'em coming!


D-Day

Passport-mexico  By D-Day I mean Departure Day. This is the day that The Boy leaves for five months in Spain. He'll fly over night and after two connections will arrive in Seville on Tuesday. There he'll begin his semester abroad - a two day orientation, followed by a 2 week intensive language course (he's taken Spanish since he was 11, but attending University classes and living with a family requires a new level of proficiency) and then he'll start classes at Universidad de Sevilla. Duffle Bag  

He fully appreciates this amazing opportunity and I'm very proud of him.

That said, I'm trying not to be too big a basket case about his departure. As everyone who knows me knows, the prognosis on this is not good...


Play Dates With The Kids

6a00d8341c91bb53ef01287629d707970c-320wi  I'm taking a week off from the book. I got the extension, but moreover I need to step back, get some perspective, and figure out where I'm going with it.

Subsequently I have some free time, and yesterday I had play091124-when-everything-changed   dates with both of my children. In the afternoon, The Boy and I went to one of our favorite hangouts - The New York Historical Society. Faithful readers know that The Boy is a history nerd. The museum currently has an exhibit about Lincoln in New York. It traces his presidential campaign, the New York press power brokers and their influence on the race,  the draft riots during the Civil War and more. We also visited our favorite Hudson River paintings in the Society's permanent collection.

The two of us went out for dinner at a French Bistro. (My Daughter, later told of this, snorted "how romantic!" But the truth is I find spending time alone with each kid a very different 20060935ho_ephron_230  experience than when we are all together in the larger family dynamic.) And by the way, they are not technically "kids" at ages 24 and 21.

From there, The Boy got on a subway to get to Grand Central to go home, while I proceeded to the 92nd St Y to meet my daughter for our date. We had tickets to a lecture/conversation with Nora Ephron and Gail Collins. Collins has just written a book about women in history and Ephron is coming off producing "Julie and Julia." Boy, these ladies are smart and funny. And remembering how far women have come in a relatively short time is mind-blowing. It was only in the early 1960s that women had to have their husbands' permission to apply for a credit card. (What did single women do?) Ephron told a hilarious story about being an intern in the Kennedy White House, giving her then-fiance a tour, and his reaction being, "No wife of mine is going to work in a place like this!"

Altogether an extremely enjoyable way to spend time with my not-so-little ones.


Addictions

Screenshot2_scramble_2  Some one is going to have to stage an intervention. I have all the signs. I insist I can quit any time I want. It is interfering with my work and family life. I can never get enough. Even when I'm exhausted - my eyes are dry and my fingers are sore - I want more.

Yes, folks, I'm talking about those pernicious online word games. I've long been addicted to WordTwist, a Facebook game with more than a passing resemblance to Boggle. But the thing that keeps that addiction in check is that you need an opponent, and evidently other people actually tire of this game. Then there's Pathwords which you can play alone and has eaten up hours of my life.

Last night I happened upon "Scramble" - another connect-the-letters-to-form-a-word type pass time. Did I say "pass time"? As in how did two hours go by?

You can play Scramble against others or by yourself. So far, I'm a solo player. Still, I couldn't help but notice when I signed on to the game that the other players on Facebook were all those familiar folks who I run into on the WordTwist and Pathwords boards.

Maybe we all need a 12-step program.


Book Update

So....since I last posted, the book group has read:Let-the-great-world-spin-0809-lg  

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lamperdusa

The Nine by Jeffery Toobin

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

At our next meeting we will be discussing "Let The Great World Spin" by Colum McCann.

 The book, which won the National Book Award this year, weaves together the stories of a group of disparate New Yorkers - two brothers originally from Ireland, a prostitute and her mother, a Guatemalan nurse, a Park Avenue matron and a handful of others. It is set in the 1970s, during the time aerial artist Philip Petit walked across a wire between the two Trade Center Towers. The walk comes to symbolize different things, and the book is both haunting and deeply humane. It kind of sneaks up on you too - when I first started reading it I thought it was just depressing, but it sucked me in, took me for a a ride, and left me feeling much richer for having read it. 


Never Say Never

Kindle2  "I love the feel of a book in my hands, the heft of it." "I love the smell of books." "I can't imagine staring at a little screen." "As a writer, I object to electronic readers." And blah, blah, blah - I had strong feelings about why I would never, ever want a Kindle.

That is, until the day I suddenly did. It happened when I was on a Jane Austen tear, and had just finished "Mansfield Park." I was longing for "Pride and Prejudice" which I didn't own. I realized that if I had a Kindle, I could start reading the novel in a minute, without ever having to get out of bed. (You download the books wirelessly.)

So it was kind of supreme laziness, along with a desire for instant gratification, mixed with a love of 19th century literature (though technically Austen began writing the novel in the 18th century), combined with the lust for  new technology - and voila! I am now the proud owner of a new Kindle.

Last night I started my first book on it - "Open," Andre Agassi's memoir. Perhaps not great literature, but a very compelling read. You could even describe it as a real page turner. Er....make that "page clicker.


The Boy Abroad

Map-of-spain2  In 10 days, The Boy will board a series of planes that will take him first to London, then to Madrid, and finally to Seville, where he will be living for the next 5 months.

Like thousands of other college students, he will be taking a semester of his junior year abroad. All this has been dancing benignly in the back of my mind for some time - ah, what a great opportunity for him, he'll surely achieve fluency in Spanish, he will be immersed in another culture, etc. etc.

Except now it is hitting me - my Boy is moving to Spain for awhile. He will be living with another family. He will be taking classes in Spanish alongside of Spaniards at the Universdad de Sevilla.  There will be a rather large ocean between us. 

I'm not especially worried about him - I know he's perfectly competent and capable of handling the situation. But I better warn my readers right now - you know how I am when he's just up in Maine?  Having him on another continent -  Yikes!


Extension!

Deadline112607  Bless my agent! She may be the Queen of Rewrites, but she has secured me a nice, big extension on the book. Which reminds me of a quote I saw the other day, which really spoke to me:

 "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

-Douglas Adams



Thank You Note

Thank-you  I've received some charming thank you notes in my day, but a hands down winner arrived yesterday from my brother-in-law, heretofore known as The Engineer. The Engineer is one of those Silicon Valley geniuses who specializes in nanotechnology. Never let it be said that these science types lack a sense of humor. To wit:

"Thank you for the Amazon gift certificate which I immediately put to good use by ordering a book I had wanted for a long time: Theory of Cortical Plasticity by Cooper, Intrator, Blais and Showal. I know what you're all thinking: 'Are you nuts?!! How could you have held off for so long in buying the classic exposition of BCM theory? Especially since it includes Matlab simulation code that correlated their theoretical predictions with laboratory experimental results!' Too true - that is very perceptive of you. And now, thanks to you, I have it. It is a real page-turner. Thanks again."

And that is just one of the many reasons I love my brother-in-law The Engineer.


It's Complicated

Its_complicated_merylstreep_alecbaldwin1-500x261  So much hype. Such a disappointment. Can someone please explain to me why  "It's Complicated" is billed as a "woman's movie," other than the fact that the director is a woman?

Is it supposed to be some kind of feminist break-through that a middle aged man (Alec Baldwin) actually finds a woman of his own age (the ever-gorgeous Meryl Streep) to be sexually attractive? Wait, wait - there's more. There are two men who want to sleep with her! And Baldwin, who plays her chubby ex-husband, even prefers her to his younger wife with the washboard abs. (Well, technically he's sleeping with both of them at the same time, but no matter, that's just because his voracious young wife is forcing him into fertility treatments.) 

And what is so irresistible about his ex-wife, other than the fact that she is hot in bed? (Hotter, actually than she used to be, because as he explains to her she always used to be so tired from raising the kids and working and now she is more relaxed.) Why - she could take wonderful care of him. Unlike his selfish young wife, his ex can roast an amazing chicken, bake a fabulous chocolate cake, and at the same time snatches away the butter out of his hands when she suddenly worries about his health. On top of that, she is a wonderful mother, surrounded by their  adorable grown-up children. (The young wife, who we are told has "a big job," has an obnoxious, badly behaved 5-year-old.)

Then there's the fantasy after her date with the other guy (played by a completely flat Steve Martin) - she bakes him chocolate croissants from scratch - merrily laughing all the way, because it is SUCH fun. What a nurturer!

Yuch! Sorry to sound like such a curmudgeon. There were definitely moments I laughed during this movie. But when I left I felt like I'd eaten a lot of junk food. The movie -wrapped in a guise of women's empowerment - was just a lot of very pretty sexist claptrap.