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July 2008

Wedding Eve

Photo_wedding T minus One Day until the nuptials of Emily and Peter. Tonight is the rehearsal dinner. Here is the current state of affairs:

-The bride's brother has arrived from California and he is sick. Coughing, sneezing and sick at his stomach.  His attendance at all wedding-related events, except the ceremony, are in play.

-The groom's rental tuxedo was a huge disappointment. They delivered the wrong shirt. The jacket looks tired. At last reports, the groom was requesting a different shirt and a better jacket.

-The Mother of the Bride has crossed over into near-hysteria.

-The bride, I am happy to report, remains incredibly serene, and determined not to let any last minute snafus, illnesses or anything else spoil her big day. She is clearly grown-up enough to marry.

-Aunt Katy (that would be me) just got teary-eyed writing the last sentence. I am very proud of Emily, and extremely happy for her and Peter.

T-2 days to the Big Event

Bridal bouquet bright Wow! The day after tomorrow my niece will be a married woman. And it's great to be the aunt, because I am getting a front row seat to see what goes into planning a wedding.

Yesterday, when I went with my sister and Emily to a final meeting with the wedding consultant, I was blown away. Every single detail has been thought out. What will seem like a seamless evening is in fact planned within 15 minute intervals.

Every contingency is anticipated.  Weather? The wedding planner monitors the radar on her computer. A guest who is partying a little too heavily? First, the drinks are watered down. Then service stops. Management quietly makes certain that guest is put in a shuttle to his hotel and not driving his own car. Toasts, the salad course, the dance with the father of the bride - it's all under control.

I told the wedding consultant that she should have planned the invasion of Normandy. Without batting an eye, she replied, "It would have gone better."

Wedding Countdown

Rose-gardens-wedding-cake T minus 3 days until my niece Emily's wedding. Isn't this cake fabulous? I think it would make a fantastic hat.

I'm expecting my sister (that's Amy - mother of the bride) shortly. We will then drive down to the site of the wedding to deliver place cards. This morning the Weatherman was running around working on more preparations for the post-wedding brunch we are hosting. He planted some flowers so the backyard would look pretty, got orange juice for the mimosas, picked up the dry cleaning (my dress for the rehearsal dinner is in there) etc., etc.

Good grief - we aren't even giving the wedding! It's all very exciting, though somewhat nerve-wracking. My daughter emailed to ask if you can wear black to an evening wedding. A last minute invitation to the brunch must be sent out. Oh, and I need to write a 900 word story on an historic firehouse in Peekskill, due the Monday after the wedding.

This is my mantra (repeat in a slow monotone): It will all get done; it always gets done. It will all get done; it always gets done. It will all get done; it always gets done.

Man Shoots Lawn Mower

Lawn mower man Look, we all get annoyed with our appliances from time to time. I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with this Macbook Pro I'm working on. (This morning, for mysterious reasons, the computer decided to stop communicating with the printer.) Still, I try to keep my frustration to verbal abuse.

Not so, one Keith Walendowski of Milwaukee. He got so angry when his lawn mower wouldn't start this weekend that he plugged it - unclear from initial reports whether it was with a short-barreled shotgun or a rifle. The guy was arrested for misdemeanor disorderly contact and possession of the weapons. In his defense, he said: "It's my lawn mower and my yard and I can shoot it if I want to."

Not surprisingly Mr. Walendowski was reported to be intoxicated.

I have written this blog while on hold with tech support. Again. Luckily I don't keep weapons in the house. And it's pretty early in the morning for cocktails. Still, it would be pretty easy to drop this puppy out of my office window...

A Drive Back in Time

Published: July 27, 2008
South Salem

Scott Mullin for The New York Times
IN THE SAME SPOT Chuck Tator in Tator’s Dodge, a dealership he inherited.

THERE’S no fancy showroom. High-pressure sales people will not swoop down to push the latest models loaded with options. You’d be hard pressed to find a glossy brochure.

In fact, Tator’s Dodge, an automobile dealership on a country road in the northern reaches of the county, is housed in an old barn. A small cupola sits on the roof, topped by a weathervane. The car bays were once horse stalls. And Chuck Tator, who owns the franchise, is the sole member of the sales force. Like his father before him, he closes a deal on a handshake.

Mr. Tator, 51, described his business plainly, “My place is like stepping back in time.”

Indeed, the car dealership has a long history behind it. It was one of the original 25 franchises awarded by the Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company. The other 24 have since either closed or been sold, but Tator’s Dodge not only stayed on the same spot as it was when it was founded 94 years ago, but it also stayed in the family.

Mr. Tator’s grandfather, George T. Tator, bought the franchise in 1914. At the time his capital consisted of $800 and a horse. He sold the horse to raise the extra money he needed to become a dealer, and he became the third person to sign an agreement with John and Horace Dodge.

Today, Tator’s Dodge is an anachronism, a small, family-owned franchise in an era in which consolidation in the retail auto business has created huge dealerships with corporate, not individual, ownership. On a hot summer afternoon, Mr. Tator walked around the service area, pointing out where his grandfather had expanded the shop. A breeze from the meadow that abuts the shop blew in through the windows. An old belt-driven machine shop, once used to mend parts and fix farm equipment, is tucked in a back room.

“Today everything is replaced, but back then, if a part was broken, we’d fix it,” Mr. Tator said.

He not only works on contemporary Dodge cars and trucks, but also services antique cars and motorcycles, which he classifies as anything built in 1970 or before. He often has the antique parts and the antique tools needed for repairs.

Once, the owner of a 1937 Dodge truck came in looking for a part, he said. Sure enough, it was listed on one of the thousands of index cards Mr. Tator keeps in rows of cardboard boxes. Another time, someone needed a seal for a 1932 Packard’s brake system. It, too, was on the shelf.

The first Dodge Brothers car was the Model 30, introduced to compete with Ford’s popular Model T. George T. Tator sold seven cars his first year in business. By 1921, sales reached 50 cars, and by 1928, he sold 250 cars, according to an article about the dealership that ran in a 1931 edition of Motor magazine.

George T. Tator died in 1952, and the business went to his twin sons, Charles and George Jr. George Jr. died of pneumonia in 1953, and Charles took over. He developed a reputation for closing a deal on good will, not proof of a down payment. Charles Tator died in May, after battling cancer.

Chuck Tator began working for his father in the shop when he was 12, sweeping, carrying car parts and helping the older mechanics with small tasks like tightening bolts. “I was weaned on grease,” he said.

While he keeps samples of each basic model on the lot, Mr. Tator’s business for the most part is in repairs, not sales. He has developed a niche market that has garnered him the nickname the Viper Wizard. He has an international reputation for servicing Vipers, sports cars that Dodge began making in 1992.

Viper owners from the Mid-Atlantic states up to Canada regularly send their cars to Mr. Tator. He services 200 of the sleek, sporty Vipers annually, but far more Viper owners come for parts, advice and special service.

Last week, a Viper with Texas plates was on the lot. Another Viper was on a hydraulic lift; Mr. Tator was assessing its value for a potential buyer in Switzerland. He regularly travels to England to hold seminars for the United Kingdom Viper Club. Calls for advice and parts have come from Japan, Kuwait and New Zealand.

Mr. Tator doesn’t advertise. He has an 80-hour workweek. He has a staff of three: a father-and-son mechanic team, Rob Hoellman Sr. and Jr., and Roseann Stenz, who runs the office.

Despite hanging on for nearly a century, Tator’s Dodge was recently threatened with closing. The dealership has among the smallest sales volumes in the country, 40 to 50 a year. Last December, when Mr. Tator routinely checked his orders in the computer, he found they had all been canceled. He said that when he contacted the parent company, Chrysler L.L.C., he was told he had to have a minimum working capital of $250,000 “or they were going to take my inventory.”

He hired a lawyer, but the fight turned into more of a public relations battle than a legal one. Once the international Viper community got wind of Mr. Tator’s troubles, they rallied on his behalf. Petitions were circulated, “Save Tator’s Dodge” T-shirts were sold, and Chrysler was inundated with letters supporting the franchise. Not only did Chrysler relent, but it also offered to take Mr. Tator out to dinner, he said. He declined the meal but invited corporate leadership to his shop.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you guys come by and visit the last original Dodge dealer and find out who I am and what I do?’ ” Mr. Tator said. “Trying to get rid of one of the original dealerships is like throwing your grandmother down the stairs.”

Here Comes The (Botoxed) Bride

Wedding My niece is getting married exactly one week from today. And she is certainly not the botoxed bride I refer to in the headline. Emily, 27, is as  fresh-faced as they come, and she doesn't need to be injected with toxins to smooth out that pretty face.

Her old Aunt Katy no longer has quite the same radiance. But even so, I was appalled to see an article in yesterday's NYT Style Section, saying that some brides were bringing their bridal party to these so-called "Med-spas" for botox, restalyne and other cosmetic procedures, so they could all look nice and smooth and taut at the wedding. (One bridesmaid is quoted as saying her friend the bride wanted her entire wedding party to get breast enhancements. The bridesmaid demurred, settling for a push-up bra.)

When I come across stories like this, I always wonder. Did the reporter find the handful of bizarre out-lyers who represent some fringe, or is this actually reflective of our society? I'm really rooting for the fringe option.

Anyway, I'm really excited about next week. We've been having a wonderful time talking about dresses and flowers and seating and all the more traditional things that go into planning a wedding. Fortunately, hypodermic needles are not on the "to do" list.

My Mom is More Funny

More-mag-cover As I have noted before, my family is a competitive one. We can also be pretty funny and there has been some talk about who is the funniest. My sister is hilarious, but then again, The Boy can always crack me up. Still, I had lunch with my Mom this week and she made a comment that really busted me up.

We were talking about the magazines we subscribe to, and I mentioned More Magazine. She wasn't familiar with it, and I told her it was a magazine targeted for women over the age of 40. She paused for a second, and then suggested a publication for women over 80, which would be called "Much More."

It made my day.

Fox News Chair Expands Empire

416615359_24e3f94437 It's not uncommon for people who buy country houses to also buy the local paper. It's just that usually, they buy a copy of the paper, not the entire business.

But Roger Ailes, chairman of the Fox News, just bought the Putnam County News and Recorder. In a press release, Mr. Ailes noted, "We recently built a home in the Cold Spring/Garrison area and we always enjoy reading the local paper."

I guess. I like my local paper too, but am not exactly in a position to purchase the whole thing. Anyway, woe be it to the current management, whose future is unclear, to say the least. The new publisher will be Mr. Ailes' wife, Elizabeth. The new general manager has yet to be named.

You know, The Weatherman has gotten me a lot of lovely gifts over the years we've been together. But geez,  I still haven't gotten my own media property yet.

Storied Team Faces School Budget Knife

Published: July 20, 2008
Mount Vernon

20budgetwe_190 WHEN members of the Mount Vernon High School varsity basketball team attend a press conference, it’s usually after securing another championship. The Knights have won 8 New York State championships, 4 New York State Federation Class AA championships and 25 Section 1 titles.

But the student athletes who came to City Hall to hear community officials speak on a recent morning had an agenda even more urgent than clinching the top spot. They wanted to know whether their team — or any other team in the Mount Vernon City School District — would have a season at all.

In the spring, Mount Vernon residents twice voted down the school budget. By state law, the district must now operate on a contingency budget. Nearly $5 million has been slashed from the $192.3 million budget originally proposed; it now stands at $187.4 million. Along with some teaching and administrative staff members, the entire interscholastic sports program was cut.

“I honestly couldn’t believe it,” said Mark Cole, 17, a shooting guard for the Knights who will be a senior. “I’ve been playing basketball all my life in Mount Vernon. If they get rid of it, I don’t know what I’d do. I want the chance to get a scholarship and go to college.”

Another senior, Odayne Clarke, 18, a power forward for the team, described basketball as “a one-way ticket to college.”

While the students coped with their shock, Mayor Clinton Young announced the formation of Save Our Sports, a group to raise private funds to pay for school sports. Mr. Young, the Mount Vernon Board of Education, the PTA Council, the Mount Vernon Educational Foundation and others have united to rally residents, high school alumni, foundations and anyone willing to help restore athletics to the city’s school district.

The district spent $1.1 million on athletic programs last year, but the group hopes to raise $950,000 to finance the entire sports program for the coming school year, including seventh- and eighth-grade teams, and boys’ and girls’ modified, freshman, junior varsity and varsity high school teams. More immediately, the district needs $300,000 by Aug. 10 to finance fall sports, including football.

Mount Vernon is known for its standout athletics. Seven of the high school’s athletes have gone on to play in the National Basketball Association, most recently Ben Gordon of the Chicago Bulls. Mr. Gordon is helping to raise money for Save Our Sports.

But the high school is also plagued by low graduation rates — 55 percent of students graduate in four years. Nineteen percent of students live below the poverty level. The community has a high-need population but insufficient resources, said W. L. Sawyer, Mount Vernon’s school superintendent. He said he recently discovered social studies books being used by seventh to 12th graders that listed Jimmy Carter as president.

Dr. Sawyer said he understood the benefits of the sports program but had to put academic needs first. By cutting sports, he said, the district could retain a prekindergarten program that was critically needed for at-risk children.

“You should never be in a situation where you have to decide between throwing out into the water your mom or your brother,” Dr. Sawyer said. “But the reality is that when it comes to children and their capacity for learning, logic dictates that you try to make those decisions that keep you far away from harming the instructional classroom.”

Charles Stern, president of the Board of Education, said that eliminating interscholastic sports had been a difficult decision. The board, he said, was “deeply aware” of the implications of the cuts, noting that children who participate in sports tend to perform better academically and that children who have structured activities between 3 and 6 p.m. tend to stay out of trouble.

Several coaches at the high school stressed the far-ranging benefits of organized athletics.

“People need to realize that athletics is a great motivator,” said Patrice Moore, coach of the girls’ basketball team. “When I look at the basketball players that participated with me at Mount Vernon High School, we are some successful women doing successful things.”

Ms. Moore said that for many children, coaches acted as surrogate parents and had the opportunity to positively influence students’ lives. She noted that none of her players had ever gotten pregnant.

Ric Wright, the boys’ varsity football coach, said that even before the current budget problems, athletics had been underfinanced at Mount Vernon, pointing out that the school had no lacrosse, hockey or field hockey teams.

“Every coach understands we’re dealing with student athletes, and the student comes first,” he said. “But in this particular community, kids need extra help. Everyone knows that sports are the heart and soul of Mount Vernon.”

Mayor Young, who ran track as a student at Mount Vernon High, said that the issue was not a debate between athletics and academics. He emphasized that sports were critical to the vast majority of young people who would not play professionally, but who would gain leadership skills, learn teamwork and develop self-esteem through their participation. Mr. Young said half his staff at City Hall are former varsity athletes.

Dr. Sawyer said the challenge to the Mount Vernon schools was far bigger than sports financing.

“Other schools are looking at whether they can afford new scoreboards, while I’m looking at textbooks,” he said. “Urban school districts face specific challenges, and the needs of our children by far outweigh the allocations.”

Indeed, the only other school district in Westchester to defeat a school budget twice this year is Bedford, one of the county’s wealthier districts. (In that case, voters were disgruntled over the decision to give Debra Jackson, the outgoing superintendent, a $650,000 separation agreement and health care coverage for life.) Among the cuts in Bedford’s contingency budget: delays in buying new desks, equipment and buses, and delays in financing capital projects, including a refurbished high school track and an expanded play area at an elementary school.

In Mount Vernon’s case, budgets in the last few years were passed by increasingly thin margins. This year, school board officials said, the economy and gas prices heavily influenced beleaguered taxpayers.

Mr. Stern, the board’s president, said that while the board was committed to helping to raise private funds to restore interscholastic sports, the more pressing issue was why Mount Vernon needed charitable fund-raisers to provide programs that other students in Westchester receive routinely.

“The underlying issue is an inherently unfair funding formula for public education,” he said. “Historically, Mount Vernon schools have suffered under an antiquated system of funding from the state and federal level. It is pitting children against property owners, and right now, both are suffering.”

Restrooms in the News

17toilet_02_650 Bathrooms have been in the news a lot lately. One piece ran on how Seattle, after spending $5 million on five automated toilets, was closing them down. As the NYT put it: "In the end, the restrooms, installed in early 2004, had become so filthy, so overrun with drug abusers and prostitutes, that although use was free of charge, even some of the city's most destitute people refused to step inside them."

This doesn't address how it costs $1 million to built one toilet, but let's let that go for now. Another article recently described how the waiting room restrooms in Grand Central Station were recently renovated, and made for women only. (If the men need to go, they have facilities elsewhere in the terminal.) As any woman who has stood in line at the theater during intermission while the lights began blinking, knowing she has to choose between relief and the seeing the second act knows, this is an idea whose time is long overdue.

Anyway, for years I have had the idea to publish a public restroom guide. I have discussed this concept with both my mother and my friend Helen. There would be a rating system based on ease of access, cleanliness, amenities, etc. But I was always discouraged by the idea of doing the research, and all the unfortunate places you would end up seeing (and smelling) in order to find those worthy of visiting.

Obviously I wasn't the only one who thought this would be a useful guide, because now there are loads of websites that do this very thing. And it's better than a book because it can be constantly updated. A few places to check out: (which gives awards to best bathrooms and a few years ago actually honored one in "Flushing" Michigan.) There is also and known as "the bathroom blog."

There are more, but I am writing this after two large cups of coffee and I have know....go.

The Staycation Begins

A-Cup-of-Tea-in-Holland This morning, the Weatherman and I should be headed to Kennedy Airport for our hiking vacation in Nova Scotia. But instead, we are on Staycation. We canceled our trip. Like many others, we decided that now was not the time to be spending extra money on travel. It's the economy, of course, and between the Weatherman attempting to transition into the next phase of his professional life, and me trying to balance the NYT and the book proposal, it just didn't make sense.

That said, while we are both busy with our respective pursuits by day, we are trying to build some local fun into these summer days. To wit - tonight, we are going to the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers to take in a new exhibit by the impressionist painter Anna Richards Brewster (1870-1952). Then we are going to a free show at the Planetarium attached to theNursery museum to check out the July night sky. After that, we're meeting friends for a late dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Hudson River. (The planetarium has free shows every Friday night at 7 p.m. This is something we've talked about checking out for years.)

Tomorrow night, we are packing a picnic with friends and going to Lasdon Park in Somers (Northern Westchester) where the Ridgefield Orchestra will be playing. Again, for free.

The added benefit of the Staycation is that Westchester is a gorgeous place to be in the summer, and - since so many others are away - the roads, grocery stores and events - are mercifully uncrowded.

Squash Casserole

Squash souffle
So much squash. So little inspiration. The co-op farm we joined is producing a lot of squash. This recipe called just for yellow squash, but I combined yellow squash with zucchini. Let's face it, we have to throw the zucchini into anything we can during the summer. Anyway, it was pretty tasty, except you have to be careful about one thing. The recipe calls for you to drain the vegetables after you cook them. But I would advise you to drain them a second time, after you have mashed them. My casserole was just a bit watery, and I think a second draining would have helped.

2 pounds sliced summer squash
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons flour
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
seasoned salt and pepper

Combine squash, onion and salt in a large saucepan; cover with water and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and mash well. Stir in milk, eggs, melted butter, flour and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. (At least imagine the taste - with those raw eggs in there, it's not like your going to stick your finger in.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake in buttered casserole for about 40 minutes.

Planes, Pains and Automobiles...

1175613399z4N9YZ Here's what I've concluded. You just can't get there from here. The Weatherman and I have been traveling a lot lately. The weekend before last, we were in the Adirondacks, more than 300 miles north of where we live. We drove. When the trip goes perfectly, it's about a five hour drive. When there's traffic, and when you misjudge how far the gas station is off the parkway, and when the airconditioner starts to malfunction (all of these things happened on the way home), it's closer to a six hour drive. And when you are middle aged and cramped in the car, and your hips and your knees start to feel it, and instead of simply opening the car door and getting out, you slowly hoist yourself while emitting slow groans, you start to question the wisdom of long car rides. And I haven't even brought up the price of gas yet._40976812_plane203

So this weekend, when we went to visit The Boy in Maine - I balked at another long drive. The trip to the camp where The Boy is teaching soccer and baseball and reminding those in his care to take the occasional shower, is closer to a 6 and a half hour drive, when all goes well. The Weatherman agreed to fly instead. You know how long it takes to fly to Portland, Maine? Just 49 minutes in the air. What a no-brainer that was. Especially when you are using your frequent flyer miles to make the trip.

Except. Except you have to drive to Kennedy airport, an hour from our house. You have to park at Kennedy airport. ($90 for two days.) You have to get there more than an hour ahead of flight time, because of security. And in our case, more like an hour and a half early, because we didn't have our seat selection. True, the flight was under an hour. Easy. Then we had to rent a car. Of course, they didn't have the car we reserved, so we were given an embarrassing, gas-guzzling SUV to drive. Then it was another hour and a half drive to The Boy's camp. Altogether - about a 5 hour trip. Oh yeah, and those free miles - there was a $184 transfer fee on the miles. I'll spare you the one hour delay flying into Kennedy on the way home, because all those people who were missing their connecting flights had it far worse than we did.

So, in conclusion, there is no good, cheap, fast way to travel. It's time for a nice "staycation." A.k.a., I'm not going anywhere else for awhile.

Your Call Is Very Important To Me...

In-the-heights-749162 So please, stay on the line, and I'll be with you shortly. Well, actually, I won't be with you today, as I am in Maine, visiting The Boy. Instead, I direct you to a set of mother/daughter bloggers, TivoLady and Riogringa.

 Carin, aka, TivoLady, writes about Boomer Entertainment. For about a year, Rachel, a.k.a., Riogringa has been writing about her life as an American girl living in Brazil. Right now she is in New York for the summer and she's writing about that. On Friday, Carin, Rachel, my daughter and I went to see "In the Heights" on Broadway. (Thanks, Uncle Frank, for securing the amazing seats.) The show was wonderful.

I'd tell you about this fabulous production myself, but I have to go pack, and I'm confident that both Carin and Rachel will write separate accounts of the experience. So I'm letting them sub for me today, and I hope you enjoy their different voices and take on the show.

PS Rachel is very prolific, so you may have to scroll down a bit to read about "In the Heights."

The World Is a Scary Place

10bronx_600  My family likes to make fun of my irrational fears. What am I afraid of? You don't want to get me started. But just as a sampler - airplanes (yes, I know it's more likely I'll be killed in a car, I'm scared of that too), escalators, elevators, ski lifts, and any kind of merging traffic. Once I was covering a story for the NYT on a phobia clinic. Far from being helpful in addressing my neurosis, this story, in fact, opened up a new world of possibilities. Until I interviewed one patient, it hadn't occurred to me to view crossing a sea of traffic on the highway as dodging on-coming missiles. But the woman had a point. (By the way, the director of the phobia clinic told me that they had a lot of writers as patients, and that any time a journalist covered the place, he or she ended up confessing their own phobias. It's the imagination, I guess.)

Anyway, as a crazy person, I take great delight in pointing out to my family disaster stories in the newspapers. See? A woman's scarf got caught in an escalator, and she ended up being pulled down and strangled! What did I tell you about how dangerous those contraptions are?

So I was validated again this week when a gondola malfunctioned at the Bronx Zoo, trapping 37 visitors in little 4 feet by 5 feet cars, a hundred feet above the ground. Below them were various wild animals.

Please - no one needs to explain to me that the ride has operated successfully thousands of times before. This is not relevant to me.

I'm boarding a small plane tomorrow to go visit The Boy in Maine. Which just shows you that only love conquers all.

All Hail The Queen

Queen-latifah1  I have a girl crush on Queen Latifah. It's not that I want to be with her in a romantic way. It's that I want to be her - sexy and cool and smart. I love her in just about everything she does. I'm not too proud to say that I loved "Beauty Shop."

But I am ashamed to say I watched her in "Mad Money" last night. Your highness, what gives? How could you take on the role of a single black mother (there's a novel concept) who is a sassy-but-salt-of-the-earth type (another startling new character), who is manipulated to become a partner in crime with Diane Keaton, who incredibly, plays the brains behind theMad_money operation. As to Katie Holmes' performance, let's just say that she is definitely on the wrong meds, and needs immediate intervention for her eating disorder. So sad - this actress was great in "Pieces of April" and is now barely recognizable, both physically and professionally. I blame Scientology.

Getting back to the Queen - I love you, you're fabulous, but either get a new agent or use a little discretion on accepting your next part. I don't know how much "Mad Money" they paid you, but it was not a good investment in your career.

From the "What Were They Thinking" Department...

20080625-lighthouses02  I try to keep this blog family-friendly. But does anyone notice the shape of these Gummi Bears? The package says they are shaped like lighthouses, but they sure call something else to mind. You know -  something anatomical, to be found only on the male species?

I suppose there is a job description out there called "candy designer." Either this candy designer was clueless or he/she had one heck of a sense of humor. If I could find these candies in a store, I would promptly buy a whole bunch of them and send them to my friend Sally with an acoompanying note that could not be posted here . It was Sally, of course, who first pointed these misshapen Gummies out to me. She spotted them on the website Serious Eats, where another blogger had noticed the unfortunate design.

All this led me to do a little Gummi Research. Gummi Bears were first introduced in Germany in 1922. There, they go by the name "Gummibar" (rubber bear) or Gummibarchen (little rubber bear). They are made from sugar, glucose syrup, starch, flavoring, food coloring, citric acid and gelatin. There are also Gummis in the shapes of  worms, sharks, lobsters, frogs and more.

But to my mind, these represent a real first - lighthouses. There's something to chew on.

Program Aims to Curb Violence in Inmates

Published: July 6, 2008

CLARENCE LOVELACE was describing a moment he called “fatal peril.” It is that crossroads, he said, when a man can go into a violent rage or when he can instead hold up his hands — palms open — and back away from the situation that provokes him.

Mr. Lovelace, 49, knows something about violence. An inmate at the Westchester County Jail here, he has a 34-year criminal record, including three felony convictions and 25 misdemeanors, most of them stemming from his years as a drug dealer in Mount Vernon. He is back in jail for parole violations after convictions on assault and drug charges.

“I’ve been stabbed, cut and shot,” Mr. Lovelace said. “I didn’t know how to process my emotions properly, so I would violate back. The only thing I knew was violence.”

Mr. Lovelace, a strongly built man clad in the standard orange jail jumpsuit, was speaking about a new program at the jail to help violent inmates better deal with their aggression.

Currently 44 men — all with a history of violent behavior — are enrolled in the four-month program, called Resolve to Stop the Violence. Some have volunteered, while others have been mandated at sentencing to participate. They are housed together — an unusual approach at the jail.

The program’s approach is peer-based. The idea is that men will help other men understand their violent behavior and help them curb it. Ultimately, jail administrators hope that released inmates will take their training back to their communities.

On a recent visit inside the prison, a group of 16 inmates in the program sat in a semicircle on plastic chairs in a meeting area in the unit where they live, facing a white board. A leader was diagramming an incident that had sent one of the men into a violent rage. The inmate, who was not identified, had walked into his apartment and found it crowded with people he wasn’t expecting. His girlfriend also gave him a look he didn’t like.

“If I’m going to pay the bills, when I come home, I want my meals done and my laundry done,” the inmate told the group. “You understand, that’s part of my violence.”

The men in the group talked about the event and the feelings leading to it. They discussed the inmate’s image of himself as a man and the notion that he had to protect it. They asked if he could remember feeling anything before becoming angry.

“I was hurt,” the inmate said. “And that went to anger. Hurt people want to hurt people.”

The body language in the group revealed the mixed reactions of those participating. Some men were animated, leaning forward and eager to join in the conversation. Others leaned far back in their chairs, arms crossed over their chests, legs stuck straight out in front of them.

But even those who have resisted the program are starting to respond, said Eddie Concepcion, senior counselor at Resolve to Stop the Violence.

One inmate said he didn’t understand why he had to participate, because “all I did was smack my wife.”

Mr. Concepcion described a 20-year-old inmate who was so violent that he had developed a reputation for trouble inside the jail.

“This young man has been in every gang, and all he knows is violence,” Mr. Concepcion said. “You tell him he’s going to lose 30 days, and he doesn’t care. The second week in the program, he felt so violent, he’s holding himself in, and his face is wet. Tears are running down his face, and he goes, ‘I’m not crying.’ It’s hard, but he’s learning.”

Resolve to Stop the Violence is based on a program in San Francisco. Of the men who participated in that program, Westchester officials said, 87 percent did not resort to violence during a three-year period.

As it is developed, the Westchester program’s curriculum will also include visits from victims of violent crime, who will come into the jail and describe in detail to inmates how that crime affected their lives. A theater component will also be introduced.

In Westchester, the program, which began in mid-May, cost $336,564 for the first nine months and is projected to cost $448,768 for the next year. It is financed by the inmate commissary.

The county has contracted with St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers to oversee the project. The hospital also runs a drug rehabilitation program inside the jail.

“Violence and drugs are really the two things that bring people through our doors,” said Rocco Pozzi, commissioner of the Westchester Department of Corrections.

Andrew J. Spano, the county executive, said the county offered many rehabilitative programs in the jail, to help inmates turn around their lives and to protect the public. “This is a correctional facility, not a prison,” he said.

Mr. Lovelace acknowledged that over the years, he had participated in many such programs. He was asked how this one might be different.

“I’m 49 years old,” he said. “It’s time for a change. This program — it just took a hold of me.”

Climbing in the Adirondacks

 This is Catamount Mountain. It is in upstate New York. Perhaps this doesn't look like much of a climb from a distance. But I think of it as "the-bear-went-over-the-mountain-mountain," because once you finish the incredibly steep climb to the first peak, you look up and see the second peak rising above you.
Far shot of Catamount We had arranged to meet a group of friends at the foot of the trail. All incredibly nice people. And all, it turns out, amazing athletes. The two women my age were each accomplished runners. The various 20-somethings that accompanied us (children and their boyfriends/spouses) had all run track in college. And then there was The Weatherman, my daughter and me. The hike was CHALLENGING. Very steep, with lot of rock scrambling. (You should see my left knee - a charming collage of bruises and scrapes. It only hurts when I take a step.)

But, then there was the pay off. Check out these views from the top:
Better of lakes on catamount Beautiful catamount view
Here was the view from our picnic spot:
Top of catamount And here we are, a triumphant group. I love hiking, even though they seem to keep readjusting the slope of each mountain, making them all slightly steeper with every passing year.
Group on top of Catamount

Off Line

DSCN8631 I wouldn't say I'm addicted to the Internet. It's more like I get uneasy if I haven't checked my email in 20 minutes. But, hey, I can quit any time I want.

In fact, today I am on my way up to the northern reaches of the Adirondacks in upstate New York. (I took this photo there last fall.) Our destination - a tiny town north of Black Brook - is pretty remote. Forget cell service. And, of course, forget Internet access.

The first few hours will be hard. (Especially since I have a story coming in Sunday's paper, and I usually go through copy editing on Thursday, and though I have repeatedly told my editors that I will be leaving for the long weekend today at 7:30 a.m., they still haven't contacted me with questions, a worrisome sign.)

But the further north we get, and the more sparse the buildings become, and the deeper we get into the woods, the less real the cyber world will feel. After a day or two, the pull will dissipate. After four days, I'll forget what seemed so important in the first place.

Anyway, obviously, Kate Chronicles will be on hiatus until Monday. In the meantime, here's wishing all of you a Happy 4th of July!

Quit Following Me!

07gottispan.1 I think Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, followed me home to Westchester. Recently I blogged about how we spotted the 54-year-old citizen/policeman of the streets on our flight home to New York from San Antonio.

Little did I know that he would show up in my home county the next week. But sure enough, there he was in Yonkers on Monday, announcing that his group would be chasing drug dealers off the street. The Guardian Angels, which started in New York City almost 30 years ago, is now a national organization of volunteers who patrol dangerous areas. They don't carry weapons, but they do make citizen's arrests.

Yonkers cops are some of the toughest around (just ask the federal authorities who are currently investigating multiple complaints of police brutality). How do they feel about the Angel's presence on their turf, implying that they can have a bigger impact than the city police? They're not commenting.

But I'll say this - if I see Curtis in the Adirondacks this weekend where I will be hiking over the 4th, I will know I have a stalker on my hands.


MammogramV8 Once I fainted in the middle of a mammogram. I'm talking about while I was standing up, with a part of myself still held on the tray in the machine. It's probably as well that the memory is blacked out pretty much as I did - I just remember the room swimming, big black dots in my field of vision, and waking up in a chair in the corner of the room, with a worried-looking technician offering me orange juice.

Well, it's that time of year again and this afternoon I'm heading for my annual screening. My friend Missy believes that mammograms cause cancer - that the compression of the breast tissue combined with the minor radiation will bring it on. My friend Missy believes a lot of things. I believe that my mother's life was saved by a mammogram. Her breast cancer was caught early and treated, and 23 years later she is still cancer-free.

That said, like millions of other women, I can't say I relish the experience. And I hope I can stay conscious. I faint easily anyway - I have very low blood pressure - and medical situations also make me anxious. (When I faint, the embarrassment is always compounded when people around me inevitably ask, "Did you eat anything today?" These of course, are people who don't know me. I always eat. Every day. Frequently.)

Anyway, once the mammogram is over I have something to look forward to - dinner in Manhattan with my daughter, my sister and my niece. My niece is getting married one month from today and we have been showing each other dresses, talking about the flowers, the guest list, etc. So today in the doctor's office, when I'm counting to three and holding my breath, I'll remind myself of the joys of sisterhood, which are many.