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March 2008

Quick - Call The Local Authorities!

Gardengnomepipe9r_2 One of my secret pleasures is the ultimate in local news - the police reports. Sure, we all need to know what's going on internationally, nationally and regionally. But ah - the hyper-local! I subscribe to several town newspapers and here are two highlights from last week:

From the Bedford Record-Review:
Gnome Gone - The Bedford police are investigating a reported larceny of a garden gnome on Sunday, March 23, at 7:20 p.m., from a residence on Harris Road in Katonah. The resident states the gnome, 24 inches tall, red, green and gray, was last seen on the front lawn on the late evening of Saturday, March 22.

Wow! It behooves all of us to keep an eye out for the little fellow. And if the gnome-snatcher is caught, may justice prevail!

From the Scarsdale Inquirer:Tenpinbowling_2
Domestic Problems - Police located a daughter who did not return home from school March 7. Her mother told police the daughter was grounded because of poor grades, but she suspected that the daughter went to see friends. After calling some friends, police learned the girl was bowling in Greenburgh and sent Greenburgh police to get her. They brought her to their headquarters where her mother picked her up.

Holy Cow! Her Mom called the police on her for bowling?! I certainly hope she is spared any further punishment. Get it? Bowling? Spare?  Sorry.  Anyway, some cracker-jack investigating on behalf of the police to locate this clearly depraved miscreant.

The Joy of Still Cooking

Published: March 30, 2008

“YOU still cook dinner every night?” a friend asked incredulously one day recently. We were talking on the phone, and she could hear me rummaging around in the kitchen.

“Sure,” I replied. “Why wouldn’t I?”30rhome190_3

The answer, she told me, is that in many households, the pots and pans are all but retired with the emptying of the nest. The phrase “cutting the apron strings” turns out to have literal meaning. As soon as your children are out the door, you get rid of the apron.

No more countless supermarket runs — just the occasional small shopping trip. No more nightly grind of turning out balanced meals with protein, vegetables and a starch. No more scrubbing pots and pans. You trade all that for freedom.

And that’s the part that baffles me. Freedom from what? Eating tasty, home-cooked meals?

I love to cook and also enjoy pretty much everything that surrounds food preparation. First, there’s the reading — scanning new recipes in newspapers and magazines, visiting food Web sites. Gourmet magazine is my equivalent of Playboy; I pretend to be reading the articles, but I’m really just salivating over the photographs.

Then there’s the shopping. O.K., there’s no great joy in lugging home staples from the grocery store, but I love browsing the aisles to see what looks particularly good that day. There’s also a social aspect; my supermarket has an experienced, friendly butcher who is happy to talk me through the best way to grill a butterflied leg of lamb or share his recipe for marinated flank steak.

Shopping can be an aesthetic pleasure. Nothing signifies spring like the appearance of tender asparagus and new strawberries in the market (as opposed to the thick, woody asparagus stalks that look as if they’ve been sitting in an airport warehouse for weeks, and those huge red strawberries that appear to be on steroids, with their fleshy, tasteless white insides).

I particularly enjoy buying local produce in season. My son still tells the story of accompanying me to the store when he was about 9. When he wandered over to the fruits, he swears I snapped at him, “Didn’t I raise you better than to buy peaches in February?”

Best is the actual cooking. If I am entertaining, making something fancy that will require hours of prep time, I crank up the iTunes in the kitchen. I have put together several playlists with titles like “Music to Cook By IV.” These are almost all upbeat songs, and I live in fear that someone will peer through my window as I belt out the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” at the top of my lungs, using my spatula as a microphone while sautéing onions.

There are two schools of thought about cooking and creativity. One is that cooking is formulaic. After all, you follow a recipe. Nothing could be less imaginative than “add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper.” Follow the recipe for a risotto and you’ll produce a risotto.

But there is also a lot of room for artistry in cooking, especially when it comes to dealing with leftovers. Every Sunday night in our home we have Clean Out the Refrigerator Dinner, which inevitably calls for culinary inspiration. Where is the challenge in having on hand all the ingredients you need to prepare a dish? On Sunday nights, I proceed backward: Let’s see, I have two cooked chicken thighs, a couple of steamed spears of broccoli, some garlic that’s going to turn pretty soon...

This lends itself to a lot of pastas and soups. Only occasionally does my husband poke at an ingredient and ask suspiciously, “When did we first have this?”

As to cleanup, my husband, Michael, handles that. The kids pitched in when they lived at home, but now my husband has completely taken over. Naturally this adds to the pleasure I get from cooking for him.

I equate feeding my family with love, which is why I cannot imagine stopping now. What would that say to my husband? What would it say to me? I have a friend who opens the freezer every night and selects a Lean Cuisine to microwave for herself and her husband. They seem very happily married, which remains a complete mystery to me.

Of course there have been adjustments to cooking for two. On our first night back home after dropping our youngest at college, I found myself serving pork tenderloin in a sesame seed glaze. The meal had symbolic significance. Both my kids are adventurous eaters, but they have their limits. My daughter refuses to eat pork. My son has a severe allergy to nuts. So right out of the gate, dinner ventured into formerly forbidden territory.

Slowly, once-shunned ingredients — couscous, lima beans — made their way back to the menu plan. I am also more likely to buy exotic — and expensive — foods now that I’m cooking for only two.

I still tend to overbuy and cook too much, adjusting from the appetites of ravenous teenagers to those of middle-aged people trying to maintain healthy weights. In this phase I am also expanding my cooking horizons. For instance, the local churches and synagogues in our area have joined forces to feed and house local homeless people during the winter season. (There are no nearby shelters.) Last month, I prepared my grandmother’s sour cream enchiladas, a recipe I still have written in her own hand, for 15 men and one woman, along with green salad on the side and coffee cake for dessert. Next week I’m going to try a new dish of chicken, green olives and yellow rice.

There is still plenty to dish out on the home front, too. My husband and I dine each night by candlelight, even on Clean Out the Refrigerator Sunday. We also have a new tradition: the welcome home dinner. Each child has a favorite meal they know I’ll make when they visit. (For my daughter, it’s marinated salmon, basmati rice and lemon broccoli; for my son, steak, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.) And that, of course, is my favorite cooking of all.

Working At Home

Painter See this picture? It was taken from my home office, approximately 10 feet from my desk. The gentleman you see is not painting, though ultimately that's the plan. The gentleman you see is sandblasting.

Our house is in desperate need of a paint job - I'm not just talking aesthetics, but also rotting wood, peeling shakes, that kind of thing. It must be done. And - at great expense - it is being done.

Now, as most of you know, I work at home as a writer. And when I'm writing, I need quiet. There's a little voice that works through my head as I am writing, and when there is very loud machinery being used close by, it is a tad disruptive.

The irony of my current situation is that I have an article due on living next door to construction noise. For two and a half years, workers were blasting stones across the street to create the hideous Tudor-style McCastle that now looms there.  The damn thing is finally finished. (The house that is, not the article.) But of course I can't concentrate because of all the noise around here.

Two thoughts: One - why would anyone refer to the peace and quiet of the suburbs? Between construction and leaf blowers alone, it's enough to drive you around the bend. Two - I secretly hope the noise of the sandblasting is carrying across the street to my new neighbors.

Final Exam Dream

22195537 We've all had it. That dream where it's time for the final exam, and you realize that you've never cracked the text book or even attended the class. Last night I dreamed it was an Advanced Placement Environmental Science  exam. I was panicked - trying to memorize names of different kinds of rocks, frantically attempting to come up with acronyms to remember the classifications. Worse, since I had never been to class, at the last minute I found it was held in a building so far away that you need a bicycle to get there. But I didn't have any shoes on and.... you get the idea.

The final exam dream is such a common anxiety dream that I thought I'd google it to see what the experts say. Here is one interpretation by Dr. Richard J. Corelli, a Stanford University professor of psychiatry.

"The setting of the dream or the exposition often states the 'problem' or situation facing the dreamer."

Hmmm.....Environmental Science. Am I trying to understand the world around me? The rocks are interesting, since my maiden name is "Stone." An AP exam - always the achiever. No shoes? Never feeling prepared. Plus, once (in real life) as a second grader, I came home from school having lost my shoes. My Mom asked me where they had gone, and I had no idea. Acronyms? I love to play with words.

"The final exam. The last judgement. Life is over sooner than we realize. We never know when we suddenly will have to face the 'final exam' - death."

Well, I've certainly been wrestling with aging, my parents aging, my children growing up, and in general losing the people I love.

"These dreams may be suggesting that we pay attention to the things that have been neglected."

I have definitely been thinking a lot lately about my priorities, and how I should be spending my time and energy. The thing is, this stuff is so vague. And everyone I know has the final exam dream. Anxiety, feeling unprepared, this is pretty standard stuff. Anyone else out there have any more specific thoughts?

Pasta With Prosciutto and Asparagus

Pasta_with_proscutto_and_asparagus I have written before about an easy short cut of Cibo Natural Brand pesto sauces. This made last night's dinner extra-easy.

I cooked up a pound of gemelli pasta. (I wanted left overs.) I tossed it in a full jar of Cibo Artichoke Lemon Pesto Sauce,Cibo_naturasl which is available at the A & P, and I'm sure plenty of other grocery stores. I also added a about a quarter cup of boiling water that I scooped out of the pot jut before draining the pasta.

Salad_with_pears I had leftover asparagus from the night before, which I cut into bite size pieces. I then tore into pieces 1/4 pound of prosciutto. I used the cheap, domestic deli kind (yup, the A & P again) but the dish would probably be even better if you went with high end prosciutto. That's it - tossed together the pasta, pesto, hot water, asparagus and prosciutto. Yum Yum. I served this with a salad of soft butter lettuce and sliced pears. Happy Spring!

Cooking For A Crowd And Too Much Chicken

Chicken_and_rice_and_greenbeans I cook for The Weatherman and myself almost every night, but cooking for a crowd can be different. In Northern Westchester, where I live, a group of churches and synagogues  have joined together to provide dinner and shelter for homeless men and women during the winter and early spring months. There are no shelters nearby and most of these folks are illegal immigrants who get by on landscaping and construction work in the warm months, and make little to no money in the winter. They fall behind in their rent, and some are left with no place to live.

Each place of worship hosts the group (which varies a bit nightly) for two weeks. Volunteers make dinner, sleep over and put together bag lunches for the next day. On Monday I made chicken with yellow rice, green beans and peanut butter cookies. As always, I worried there wasn't enough, so after making dinner for 15, I somehow then ended up making pork chops for The Weatherman and Me. Porkchops

When I delivered the meal I found out from the woman who coordinates the whole thing that every single cook had planned a chicken dish for the week. After my chicken and rice was coming chicken stew, chicken in lime juice, chicken chili and some other chicken meal that now escapes me.

I feel really badly about this - I could have easily prepared something else - and I hope these poor guys don't start sprouting pin feathers by the end of the week. I'm told my meal was finished off, but then again, that was Chicken Day One.


Coffeespillkeyboard I am not in Iraq or Afghanistan or Darfur or Chad or Pakistan or any other dangerous place, nor is anyone that I love.

My family is healthy and safe.

My children are happy.

I don't have cancer.

Life is good.

So spilling my breakfast cereal all over my lap top is not the end of the world. It simply means I ought to stop eating at my desk.


A Little One-on-One During March Madness

There's NCAA Basketball everywhere you turn these days, but in our family, the one-on-one match-up was of the parent/child kind.

Daddyboyblond This past weekend, The Weatherman went up to Maine to visit The Boy. It was a father/son trip for a number of reasons. The Weatherman was on Spring break so he had some extra time. The two planned to go skiing, a sport that no longer holds much allure for this middle-aged Mom. I think a little father/son bonding is always a good thing.  So, as much as I miss The Boy, the weekend was an all-guy event.

At least up in Maine it was. Down here in New York, I did what any motherMommygirlbrunette facing a long weekend alone would do. I called my daughter. I tried to lure her with what to me sounded like a fabulous evening - a sushi dinner and a take-out movie of the schmaltziest kind. Perhaps I went too far when I emailed photos of sushi to her Manhattan office first thing in the morning.  (Not the most appetizing image, she later told me.)

But she is a lovely young woman, and not only did she come out to visit her Mom on Friday, but stayed the whole weekend. We did a lot of hanging out. She had brought some work with her, and I also had 3348661 work to do over the weekend, so we worked side by side. And we ate. And we talked. And we cried shamelessly over "Stella Dallas" - a classic mother/daughter melodrama starring Barbara Stanwyck.

Meanwhile the guys were hitting the slopes, watching NCAA basketball and touring the campus. The Weatherman also took The BoyMichael_skiing_1 and some of his friends out to dinner. This made such a profound impression on The Boy that he blogged about it

Now the kids are back to their own lives, and it's just The Weatherman and me again. It sure was lovely to play a little one-on-one. But next, I want the full team together.

A Walk Amongst The Dead

Fromnorth I was in a foul temper this morning. Let's just say that things haven't been going particularly well at work and leave it at that.

I had already arranged to meet two friends to go for a walk this morning at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, an historic spot in Westchester. It was an especially clear, sunny morning with a brisk wind stirring up the tree tops. The cemetery has a gorgeous, historic Dutch church and is set on an absolutely stunning 90 acres.

Naturally, as we walked, I vented my frustrations and my friends listened sympathetically and offered advice, which made me feel better. But there was also something else that was particularly restorative about that walk.

Many legendary people buried is this graveyard - from Washington Irving to Harry Helmsley. There are a lot of folks interred that you've never heard of either. But you know what? Whatever they were dealing with - Vincent Astor's fortune or Samuel Gomper's labor problems - it's all over now. None of it matters a wit. The stuff that's got me worked up now won't mean a thing in 40 years. Make that 10, alive or dead.

In fact, make that right now. There's nothing like a walk among the dead to give your every day problems a little perspective. Me - I'm just going to enjoy the rest of this pretty day.

TV - It Shouldn't Be This Complicated

Broken_tv My television set died. It looked just like one of those patients hooked up to a heart monitor on a medical drama - one minute I had a picture and then it just flat-lined - all I had was a thin horizontal line running across the screen.

Diagnosis - worn out picture tube on a heavy old set. Prescription - get a new T.V. And while we're at it, let's upgrade to one of those fancy high definition models.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, the T.V. gave up the ghost right after the Superbowl and I am still dealing with this. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, you can't just unplug your old regular T.V. and plug in a new one. Oh no. You need a new satellite receiver to get high definition. But that also requires a new box. But somehow that disconnects the cable. Which then shuts it down for the rest of the house. Which...oh wait, I said I'd spare you the details.

This drama stars Best Buy, Direct TV and Halstead Communications, a subcontractor for the satellite service. Oh, and me, as in, "Well, Mrs. L, are you going to be home on the 18th between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.?" Evidently so.

Let's just say the saga continues. Maybe it could become a long running series. I just wish that we'd get to the final episode, already.

The Economy - I Don't Get It

One Quick - what's a C.D.O.? If you didn't respond quickly with, "Why, a collateralized debt obligation, Silly," maybe you're in the same boat as I am.

I don't understand the current economic crisis. Why are my tax dollars bailing out Bear Stearns, an investment banking firm whose partners salted away multi-millions? And why is that a priority instead of the people who lost their homes because of predatory lending practices? And how are those things connected?

Well, don't look to me to explain all this, but I do want to point out an extremely helpful article in today's Times. With the very comforting headline, "Can't Grasp Credit Crisis? Join the Club," business reporter David Leonhardt walks readers through the whole mess - how the subprime mortgages froze the credit markets, destabilized the stock market and caused the collapse of Bear Sterns. It also addresses why, distasteful as it may seem, the feds need to bail them out.

I'm not saying I get it. But after reading this piece, I get a little more of it.

A Little Getaway

2240301750099937912iwsvvv_fs Well, here I am, in a photo taken while I was on vacation. Anyone who has ever seen me in a bathing suit knows this is a perfect likeness.

Here's what was great about this particular getaway - it was a reunion of a vacation. How's that? Well, last year, my friend Sally celebrated a significant birthday by inviting her closest friends to accompany her to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. (No, I will not introduce you. She's my friend and I'm not sharing her anymore than I have to.)

Sally has an amazing gift for both friendship and adventure, so the crew she assembled came from all different stages of her life - starting in grammar school, through college, graduate school and onto various professional commitments. Before the big trip, few of us had met each other. We came from New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, Vermont, Boston, Texas and California. After 10 days in tropical paradise, we were a pretty tight group.

Could the magic be re-created? And could it be done 15 months later, in a beach house share in Northern Florida for a long weekend? You Bet and And How. Yet again, I laughed until I cried with these people. Plans are already afoot for a reunion of the reunion of the vacation.

The older I get, the more I appreciate friendships - both the old and the new.

A Hearing on Indian Point That Struggles To Be Heard


Indian Point nuclear power plant.

Published: March 16, 2008
White Plains

THE fight over whether to close the Indian Point nuclear power plant has been a passionate one in the region, where opponents slap bumper stickers on their cars that read, “Nowhere to Run” and “Not If ... But When.” Critics emphasize Indian Point’s potential as a target for terrorists. Concerns have been raised about everything from the emergency evacuation plan to leaking storage pools for spent fuel. Critics say the repeated failures of the plant’s new siren system are a symbol of poor management.

But the biggest drama at last week’s hearings on relicensing Indian Point’s two reactors in Buchanan concerned the acoustics of the courtroom. As Westchester County and the state began to make their arguments Monday to the three-judge panel appointed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, spectators strained to hear the testimony. When Michael B. Kaplowitz, the vice chairman of the Westchester Board of Legislators, complained that a hearing couldn’t be considered public if the public couldn’t hear it, the panel chairman, Lawrence G. McDade, warned that the next person who spoke out would be removed from the courtroom.

By that afternoon, microphones had been scattered at the three tables of lawyers representing relicensing opponents, the commission staff members and Entergy Nuclear, the plant’s owner. And as the hearing became more audible, it became clear it would not be a forum for a general safety review of the reactors, let alone a referendum on nuclear power.

The N.R.C. considers two major factors in whether to extend the licenses: Entergy’s plans for managing the aging parts, and the environmental impact of keeping the plants open, said Neil Sheehan, an agency spokesman. The hearings are part of a multiyear process to determine whether the reactors should be given a 20-year extension of the licenses, allowing Indian Point 2 to operate until 2033 and Indian Point 3 to operate until 2035.

New York, which is the first state to oppose the relicensing of a nuclear power plant, submitted arguments concerning terrorism, emergency evacuation, accidental releases of radioactivity, population density and the danger of earthquakes, among other issues. The commission says those issues are already covered by its regulations and are not particular to license extension.

But the state says they are reasons to let the license lapse.

“The continued operation of Indian Point is untenable: the risks are simply too great,” Mylan L. Denerstein, executive deputy attorney general for social justice, said in her opening statement.

But unless the plant’s opponents, who include environmental groups and municipalities, can persuade the judges to reverse commission precedent, many of these arguments will not be considered.

“There are two tracks — the safety track, which looks at the company’s aging management plan for the plant, and the environmental track,” Mr. Sheehan said. “There have been a number of contentions that fall outside the two tracks and those areas, and they’ve been rejected in the past. These contentions — sirens would be an example, spent nuclear fuel, and emergency planning in general — do not fall under the umbrella.”

Those safety issues are part of the commission’s continuing oversight, he said. During the hearing, lawyers for Entergy repeatedly objected to the state’s arguments as outside the scope of relicensing guidelines.

Roughly 15 municipalities and environmental groups had petitioned the commission to be participants in the hearings, filing 150 motions. The oral arguments heard last week were essentially a weeding-out process. Next the judges will decide who can directly make their cases for or against extending Indian Point’s operation and which arguments will be given a hearing.

Andrew J. Spano, the Westchester County executive, has repeatedly called for Indian Point to be closed. At the hearings, the county petitioned the judges to allow the county to adopt the state’s arguments. Westchester did not submit any of its own, so it is essentially piggybacking on the state’s efforts.

“The plant is old, they’ve had constant problems and it’s far too dangerous to have in the heart of a thriving suburb with the population we have here,” Mr. Spano said in an interview. “I’ve been working with them 10 years, and they still can’t get the hot line to work properly.”

Officials from Entergy say they are confident the licenses will be renewed. Entergy had a chance to review all the arguments raised by the opposition groups and respond to the N.R.C.

“We haven’t seen any contentions that demonstrate or suggest that these plants can’t operate safely through an additional 20-year period,” said Jim Steets, an Entergy spokesman. “We’re confident because these plants are maintained really well.”

Depending on seasonal demand, the 2,000 megawatts produced by Indian Point supply 18 percent to 38 percent of the region’s electricity, he said.

Much of what was discussed at the hearings was technical, and there were references to an alphabet soup of names — the C.L.B. (Current Licensing Basis), the U.f.s.a.r. (Updated Final Safety Analysis Report) and the G.D.C. (the General Design Criteria). Judges asked questions intermittently to clarify the arguments put forward.

ON Tuesday, New York’s two United States senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, as well as Representatives Nita M. Lowey, John J. Hall, Maurice D. Hinchey and Eliot L. Engel, demanded an extra day of hearings to make up for Monday’s inaudible proceedings. Mr. Sheehan, the N.R. C. spokesman, said the commission would consider the request.

Before the hearings, the administrative judges as well as the commission staff had reviewed the arguments. The commission staff had made recommendations on which petitions should be admissible and said that Westchester, the Town of Cortlandt, Connecticut Residents Opposing the Relicensing of Indian Point and the environmental group Clearwater should all be excluded, because they failed to file at least one admissible contention.

The staff supported allowing some, but not all, contentions from New York State, the State of Connecticut and Riverkeeper, an environmental group that has been in the forefront of the movement to close Indian Point. Because of a scheduling conflict, a consortium of grass-roots organizations represented by Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky was given a hearing date in April at the N.R.C. headquarters in Rockville, Md. The staff recommendations have some weight but are not decisive — the agency staff is considered another party in the proceedings.

The N.R.C. , which has never rejected a license renewal, is currently reviewing 11 applications for 20-year extensions of the original 40-year operating licenses for some of the country’s oldest reactors.

“We are fairly pessimistic,” said Phillip Musegaas, a Riverkeeper staff lawyer. “When you look at the challenges that have been raised to other plants in the past, the N.R.C. is an agency that is very resistant to taking a strong position. In environmental law we use the term ‘captive agency,’ as one that tends to support the industry.”

Riverkeeper submitted arguments challenging Entergy’s plan for managing metal fatigue; corrosion in the cooling system; the impact of the cooling system on aquatic life; leaks of spent pool water, which have leaked radioactive strontium-90 and tritium into groundwater; and potential accidents that could cause a significant radiation release.

The judges will decide who will be a direct participant in the hearings within the next two months. After that, appeals would be made to the commission itself, which has five seats (but at the moment, only three members). A further appeal for reconsideration would have to be made in federal courts.

Blog Break

Relaxingonthebeach_3 The Kate Chronicles is taking a brief break. This blogger hopes to be sitting on a beach as you read this. It's just a long weekend - a big group of friends renting a house together in Florida. I bet not one of them has even heard of Indian Point, bless their hearts.

And - this is tough, folks - I am leaving the computer behind. I feel like my laptop and I are attached at the hip, and it will be tough saying goodbye. But  let's face it - sand and a keyboard are just not natural companions.

Until Tuesday....

The Political Wife

Large_clothes1 I go to an exercise class on Wednesday evenings with the same group of ladies, week after week. We warm up, do 20 minutes of step, and then do weights and abs for another 30 minutes. The best part is the second half, because we can chat as we pump our iron.

Needless to say, yesterday's discussion was all about the Spitzers. After speculating about what we could possibly do to earn $5000 an hour, the talked turned toward Silda Wald Spitzer. Everyone wanted to know why she stood by his side as he apologized to New York for spending big dough on his Ho Habit.

I couldn't help but notice that in the first press conference, her head was down the entire time; by yesterday she was looking straight at the camera, almost in defiance. But her face was shattered; she barely resembles the woman in the photos of a week or two ago. (By the way, I have a press release in my inbox inviting me to go hear her speak tonight at an organization that fights domestic violence. I believe she was going to speak about sexual trafficking. No word yet on whose covering for her.)

The women in my class talked about Hillary and about Dina Matos McGreevey and about whether we would stand by our men if they humiliated and endangered themselves, ourselves and our families.

I feel nothing but sympathy for Silda Wall Spitzer, and she did what she thought was right.

But here's one thought-reverse the genders. Have some well-known woman get up and apologize to the nation about her hugely expensive habit with male prostitutes. Now picture her husband standing loyally by her side. I don't think so.


Kicking_donkey_1 For all the professional analysis of the Democratic primary, can't they come up with another term than "do-over"?

I am referring, of course, to the idea of Michigan and Florida attempting some kind of....well, do-over election for the Democratic primary. It's not that I object to the concept of letting people in those states have their votes count. My problem is with the third-grade terminology. I remember being a small child and  shouting, "Do-over!" when ever I perceived something to have been done unfairly.

Speaking of which, no sooner had I finished writing  my very complicated story on Indian Point, than I found out that our local Congressional delegation is calling for a "do-over" on part of yesterday's hearings. The acoustics in the court room were bad, and at the beginning of the testimony, there were only a few microphones, and a lot of people couldn't hear. Those hearings went on for hours, with lots of lawyers and lots of testimony. (Believe me, I know. I was there.) Now they want a do-over.

Worse for me, this latest news means my article needs a you-know-what. Do-over.

Getting the News While Covering the News

Eliot_spitzerthumbnail_2 So yesterday I am sitting in a White Plains court house, knee deep in covering the relicensing hearings for the Indian Point power plant. It's mid-afternoon, and the proceedings are not only highly technical and often tedious, but also hard to hear, because the acoustics in the room are bad.

As we're sitting along the press bench, the AP reporter passes a note to the Journal News reporter who reads it and passes it to me. I read it and chortle and say to the guys, "Come on, I know these hearings can be a little dry, but this joke is ridiculous." I mean - Eliot Spitzer and a prostitution ring? Mr. Clean? Give me something I can work with.

But as more and more Blackberrys started buzzing, it became clear it was true. It was hard enough for the reporters to stay on task for the rest of the afternoon, but I can't imagine how the plethora of lawyers representing New York State at the hearings remained focused.

Human beings. They never cease to amaze you.06_indianpoint_lg

P.S. During the hearings, the administrative judge raised a question that has confounded reporters and copy editors alike. There are two working reactors  on the site - Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3. (Indian Point 1 has been decommissioned.) So do you call it the power "plants" or the power "plant?" Entergy, the owner, said it was "plant." The NRC staff maintained it was "plants." Back to the drawing board.

A Model Flight

Model1_2 My friend David was flying back from a businessSeynhaeve2_4 trip yesterday and found himself sitting next to a supermodel.

David is a scientist and - though he registered that the whole plane started buzzing when this gorgeous woman boarded the flight - didn't know who she was. Honestly, I don't recognize her name either - Ingrid Seynhaeve. But there was no mistaking her beauty. The take-off was actually delayed so the pilot could pose for a picture with her.

In his scientific observation, David found Ingrid to be not only beautiful but also a delightful young woman. They chatted during the flight and then he got even luckier. As they came in for their landing at LaGuardia, there was a huge wind gust and the pilot had to abort the landing. What's lucky about that? The model was terrified and ended up gripping  his hand for the rest of the flight, until they landed safely.

Let's just say that David has two envious college-age sons and one very understanding wife. These pix are really Ingrid!

Bathrooms 101

Toilet Boy, did I go to the wrong college. If I had attended NYU I could have signed up for "The Urban Toilet," an honest-to-God class offered at the University. Here is some of the required reading for the course:

-"A World of Unmentionable Suffering: Women's Public Conveniences in Victorian London."
-"When You Gotta Go," from "Sidewalk" by Mitchell Duneier.
-"Men's Room," from Stud, Architectures of Masculinity.
-"The History of Sh-t," published, incredibly by the M.I.T. press. The omission of the "i" is mine - family blog, and all.

All this was covered in the March 3 issue of The New Yorker. And the truth is, I am intrigued by this course of study. Bathrooms are endlessly fascinating, and I can get pretty worked up on the subject, especially when it comes to urinals.

The professor of the class discusses a design for a unisex bathroom, which I find to be an appalling idea.  It probably dates back to my own college days. My school  had only recently begun accepting women when I attended, and all the bathrooms had urinals and group showers. As for urinals - just for starters - why would anyone mount a toilet on the wall? Why don't boys and men flush properly? Why must their hairs...oh, never mind. You get the idea.

The group showers presented their own problems, and Sally, if you are reading this, I will just say two things - Betsy and the song, "I'm going to make you love me."

OK - You can see I get pretty riled up on bathrooms. And that's just American bathrooms. Travel abroad and things are even more dramatic, with all sorts of cultural implications. I wonder if you can major in this subject?

Do The Math

Blackboard_math Gee, this race between Obama and Clinton is tight. Let's look at the number of delegates. The NY Times reports on today's front page that Obama has 1,299 delegates, compared with 1,180 for Clinton.

Got it? Good. Now turn to page A27, where The Times reports that Obama has 1,465.5 total delegates, to Mrs. Clinton's 1,370. (If anyone would like to tell me how you get a .5 delegate, I'd love to know.)

Confused? It gets worse. Go to page A 26, and the paper of record will inform you that Obama has 1,567 delegates and Clinton has 1,462.

Look, reporters can't do math. In general, print journalists tended to excel in English and struggle with the numbers. And to that point, it wasn't me who noticed this discrepancy, but The Weatherman.

But this is pathetic. Where is the editing here? And what the hell is the actual delegate count?

Taking Aim at School Shootings

0550962800 Here's a smart idea - a state lawmaker in Illinois who is upset about school shootings has decided the best way to address the problem is to arm more people with guns.

Karen S. Johnson, a state senator, proposed a bill that would allow people at colleges and universities to have concealed weapons. She believes that the recent shootings at Northern Illinois University could have been stopped if students and professors also had guns. Presumably one of them could have whipped out their own weapon and fired on the gun man.

Oh, where to start? How about with the fact that her original proposal was to cover all public schools from kindergarten up. She is quoted as saying, "I feel like our kindergartners are sitting there like sitting ducks."

Sen. Johnson has some neat stickers in her office, like the ones that read, "Gun Control is Using Both Hands" and "Keep Honking. I'm Reloading."

Sigh. It's a good thing I don't believe in shooting the messenger.

Cyber Stalking

Cartoonhelicopter There's been an awful lot written about so-called "Helicopter Parents" - the Moms and Dads who hover over their kids and swoop down at the first sign of distress. Colleges, in particular, deal with intrusive parents who call professors and deans directly to argue about grades, interfere in roommate squabbles and otherwise maintain a daily (and inappropriate) presence and control in their offspring's lives.

I have made a conscious effort not to be one of these parents and as a rule my kids are pretty independent. Except I have one guilty secret. (Nothing like sharing a secret on the Internet to maintain ultimate confidentiality.)

I am a cyber-stalker.

Now that The Boy writes a blog for his college admissions website, I get to visit with him every day, without him even knowing. It's heaven. There are several bloggers for his school and I read all of them because it makes me feel like I'm getting an insider's view of life on campus.

This is delusional of course - they are paid by the Admissions Department, so there will never be references to partying or anything of an intimate nature. Which is just as well, because I don't really want to know that stuff. Still, it's fun to maintain this limited access. And, of course,  I'm proud that he's a chip off the old blog. 

My Girl

Mommygirlbrunette Sunday evenings often make me feel blue - specifically I get a longing for my children, who are off leading their own lives. So I was especially happy last night when the phone rang and it was my daughter checking in.

We spoke for quite awhile and she filled me in on what was going on in her life. At work, she is learning how to handle different bosses and their shifting priorities. At home - she shares an apartment with three other girls - one is moving out and they are close to subletting her room.  My daughter's boyfriend's parents are coming to visit. She'll join a birthday celebration dinner for his mother, and we chatted about what might be a nice birthday gift.

I filled her in on what was going on in our neck of the woods - my issues at work, the latest with her Dad and brother and of course an update on our two crazy cats.

Tomorrow I have a meeting in NYC, and then I'm going to meet her at her office at the end of the day and  we'll go out to dinner. Of the many unanticipated pleasures of having children, I can't imagine what could beat having a grown-up daughter as a friend.

In Curbing Walking Sprees, a Mall Sets Off Protests

Published: March 2, 2008
Yorktown Heights
IT was nine degrees outside, and, as usual, the three friends met at 8 o’clock for their morning rounds at the Jefferson Valley Mall. They were not there to shop; it was two hours before most of the stores would open. Instead, the women had come into the warmth of the mall to exercise. They are dedicated mall walkers.

For years, Ann Schiminski, 61, of Yorktown Heights, Vicki Christensen, 58, of Yorktown Heights, and Linda Tipa, 61, of Garrison, have done laps around these corridors. They try to walk at least 45 minutes each day. They keep up a clipped pace, looping past Victoria’s Secret, speed-walking past Whitehall Jewelers and turning the corner at the Sprint\Nextel cellphone store. But on this day, the women’s minds were not on their cardiovascular health.

Instead, they were angry with mall management for making changes that affected their morning routine. First, the manager, Patrick Moyers, moved the time the mall opens its doors to walkers to 8 a.m. from 7 a.m. Then he closed off the second floor to the dozens of walkers until 9 a.m., a policy he reversed a few weeks later.

The mall walkers were incensed by the changes. They circulated a petition signed by more than 200 people, which they sent to the mall owner, the Simon Property Group. A local newspaper, The North County News, ran a cartoon with the caption “The Cane Mutiny,” which depicted sneaker-clad elderly citizens waving canes threateningly at a man holding a sign displaying the new policy. When newspaper reporters and a cable television station went to the mall to cover the story, they were ordered off the premises.

The conflict illustrates a paradox of life in suburbia, where much of the commerce has moved into big shopping centers. Many people think of local malls as they would town squares — or at least as the once-thriving downtowns many malls have replaced. People consider malls public space, where they have the same rights and privileges as they would on a public street.

But malls, in fact, are private property, as various court rulings have spelled out, and their owners have a legal right to restrict not only entry to the premises, but also the First Amendment rights of those inside. Malls are within their legal rights to toss out mall walkers and journalists alike if they choose to.

“The Supreme Court has stated that malls are private property, and while they cannot discriminate against a protected class — like race or religion — with regard to free speech they are allowed to do it,” said Ralph M. Stein, a professor of constitutional law at Pace Law School. “There is no right whatsoever to access to the mall before it opens up. This whole business of mall walking in the United States is an accommodation for good will.”

That good will has been severely tested in Yorktown Heights.

In January the manager, Mr. Moyers, made the change to open the mall two hours before the stores do rather than three. When he also restricted mall walkers to the ground-floor level, it halved the walking space and cut off easy access to the restrooms, which are on the second floor.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Sam Ferranto, 73, a retired construction worker who lives in Mahopac and walks the mall regularly. “They watch to see if you’re really going up to the bathroom and not pulling one over on them.”

Many walkers also complained that because the ground floor is concrete, it is tough on aging backs and knees.

Mr. Moyers reversed his position on access to the second floor last month, but has held steady about the hours. Another mall, The Westchester in White Plains, also opens to walkers at 8 a.m., but the Galleria in White Plains opens at 7; stores at both malls open at 10.

In a statement released through Jefferson Valley Mall’s public relations firm, Mr. Moyers said: “For many years, Jefferson Valley Mall has been pleased to offer the community a place to promote individual fitness goals through mall walking. The time adjustment from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. was made to allow the facility’s cleaning staff to provide proper upkeep in the morning hours prior to the mall’s opening and ensure a clean and safe environment for all to enjoy.”

If all this seems like much ado about nothing, consider that mall controversies have been batted around in court for decades. In a series of early cases, courts ruled that shopping centers were the modern equivalent of main streets, where constitutional rights, including that of free speech, were protected. But in 1980, the Supreme Court ruled in PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins that the Constitution affords no general right to free speech in privately owned shopping centers, but that individual states may provide greater protection.

In a high-profile case five years ago at a suburban mall in Albany, a man was ejected from a mall for wearing a peace-themed T-shirt and then arrested for trespassing. (A security guard had demanded that he remove the shirt, because the mall had a regulation barring political speech inside. When the man refused, the guard called the police.) The man had bought the shirt at the very mall where his arrest took place.

“The irony is that the earliest builders of big malls, in the 1950s, actually conceived malls as the new public space for suburban communities, because there was a recognition that new suburbs didn’t have natural civic centers,” said Emil Pocock, a professor of history and American studies at Eastern Connecticut State University, who maintains an academic Web site on shopping malls.

Dr. Pocock said that early malls included assembly halls, theaters and benches to recreate small town centers. But when it became clear that malls were highly trafficked and that any space not being used for commercial purposes was not producing revenue, those “community” spaces began to disappear.

Over the years, malls have banned political and religious speech and have also controlled groups like teenagers; some posted signs limiting the numbers of teenagers who could enter malls as well as their hours.

All of this seems a world away to people like Maryann Mankowski, of Somers, who used to arrive at the Jefferson Valley Mall at 7 a.m. for her four-mile workout. It took her roughly an hour — she does a 15-minute mile carrying weights — leaving her enough time to go home, shower and be at her desk at work at 9 a.m.

Ms. Mankowski, 63, began working out after a doctor warned her about high blood pressure. After five years of mall walking, her weight is down and she feels great. At least she did until the hours changed, preventing her early-morning workout. Now she is exercising her rights.

“I did a lot of shopping at that mall,” Ms. Mankowski said. “I spent over $2,000 at Christmas, but I’m not going to buy one thing at this mall until they fix the hours.”