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October 2008

Sweet and Savory Kale

DSCN9444 Kale - it's good for you. But I still wouldn't have bought it at the store. Kale has always intimidated me. But we keep getting it from our farm co-op and I had to figure out how to prepare it. My first effort - simply cooked in olive oil and garlic, was not a great success. Kale is pretty bitter. I fared better with this recipe, which I found online.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 cups stemmed, torn and rinsed kale
1/4 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large pan over medium heat. Stir in onion and galic, cook and stir until the onion softens and turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard, sugar, vinegar and chicken stock, and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the kale, cover, and cook 5 minutes until wilted.

Stir in the dried cranberries (I used Crasins, which I think are the same thing) and continue boiling, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced by about half and the cranberries have softened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. The original recipe calls for sprinkling this with 1/4 cup sliced almonds before serving, but I didn't have any, and it tasted fine without them.

Dazed and Confused

Confused  The Weatherman swears he saw this on CNN. They were doing exit polling for the early voting, and 6 percent of people claimed that they weren't sure who they voted for. Understand - this is not people who are undecided before the election. These are folks who have already pulled the lever, or touched the screen or whatever they had to do to cast their votes. And they Still. Don't. Know.

There are only a few possible explanations for this. One, they do know who they voted for, but they don't want to share that information with a pollster. Instead of saying, "None of your business," they plead ignorance. Two, someone is sending bus loads of senile voters into the polling place, and they genuinely are confused and do not know who they voted for. Three, this country is even in worse shape than I imagined.

All The News That Fits Won't Print

Su256-newspaper400 In June, I gave a talk at Williams College about the dismal future of print journalism. As bad as things looked in the late Spring, the view was positively rosy compared to how things look now.

Newspaper circulation has been falling about 2 percent annually for years, but over the spring and summer that number accelerated to nearly 5 percent. And at papers like the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Detroit News, circulation fell 10 percent or more.

Gannett just announced it was laying off 10 percent of its workforce - that's about 3000 people. (I'm having lunch today with a Gannett editor. With every round of layoffs she survives, she ends up doing the work of three more people in addition to her own job. And that's the good news after she's avoided the hatchet.)

The Christian Science Monitor, a century old, well-respected paper, just announced it would stop its week-day print edition, though the paper will appear online. And Time Inc., which publishes  Time, Fortune, People and Sports Illustrated, is cutting 600 jobs.

But hey, we print journalists who are pedaling books are in great shape, right? Well, David Carr, in his media column in today's Times writes, "Print publishers are madly cutting, in part because the fourth quarter, post-financial crisis, is going to be a miserable one."


Moroccan Lamb Stew

Lamb curry The Weatherman's brother (we could call him "The Stage Manager" but I prefer "Uncle Frank") came up for dinner last night. It was just cold enough that I thought I could get away with serving this lamb stew. It comes from "The Loaves and Fishes Cookbook" and will make your kitchen smell like heaven. I served it over whole-grain couscous.

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 1/2 pounds lamb from leg, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes. (Ask the grocery store butcher to cut it for you if you can't find it on the shelves.)
4 cups peeled, finely chopped onion
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
3 cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes or one 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander or 1/2 teaspoon dried
One 3-inch stick cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup golden raisins

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees
    Heat the oil and butter in a large saute pan, and brown the lamb on all sides over medium-high heat. Do this in two batches. Transfer the lam to an oven-proof casserole.

     Place the onion and garlic in the same pan and saute until they turn light brown, 4 or 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir it in, then add the tomatoes and the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Scrape all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the head and add the rest of the ingredients. Stir to mix.

    Pour the sauce over  the lamb. Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for 2 hours.

    Serves 6.

T Minus One Week

46g. November 1960 -- JFK And Family And Aides Watch The Election Returns The questions is - do we want to hunker down alone in our family room on Election Night and watch the results unfold? Just the Weatherman and me, and the CNN crew? No, that would be too intense and insular. But I wouldn't want to be in a big crowd either. This isn't a party, after all. The stakes are too high.

So we have decided that we are going to watch with two other couples. A pot luck dinner and then let the vigil begin. The early big news will come in after the polls in North Carolina and Virgina close. Will it be an early night or a long one? Or God forbid, a weeks-long ordeal in which the Supreme Court ultimately picks the president again. (Very unlikely.)

I have a few friends who are completely obsessed with the election. They track the polls every few hours and report that they have been unable to get any work done and don't foresee regaining their attention span for any other issue until after November 4. I'm not that crazed, but I have developed a kind of low-grade stomach ache every time I think about the election. OK, that might indicate that I'm a little worked up.

Kiku at The Botanical Garden

My friend Helen took me to The New York Botanical Garden last week. It was a crisp, clear fall day and the grounds were gorgeous. There was also a special exhibition - Kiku, The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum.  Instead of trying to describe this amazing show, I'm going to let the pictures tell the story. The show is open through November 16, and as you will see, well worth the trip.
Cascading mums 
And here are some Bonsai trees. Amazing.

In Westchester, Economy Is The Number One Concern, But Agreement Stops There

Published: October 24, 2008
DECIDED Howard Chung with his son, Marcus, at the Galleria Mall food court in White Plains, said he would vote for Senator Barack Obama.

“I thought the last debate would help me make up my mind, but I turned it off about three-quarters of the way through because there was too much bickering,” said Ms. Trumpbour, 42, who lives in Bedford and writes for her own beauty Web Site.

Ms. Trumpbour, a registered independent, remains undecided, which was unusual among about three dozen people who were interviewed recently in Mount Kisco and White Plains. Most of those interviewed said they were supporting the Democratic ticket headed by Mr. Obama. That’s not surprising in a county where 44 percent of registered voters are Democrats, 27 percent are registered Republicans and 29 percent are registered independents, unaffiliated or registered with minor parties.

But Ms. Trumpbour’s ambivalence about the candidates was typical, even among those who said they were committed to a candidate.

Ms. Trumpbour, working on her laptop at a Starbucks in Mount Kisco, said that she worried that Mr. McCain was “an extension of Bush in many ways” but that “there is something I don’t trust about Obama.” She is concerned about Mr. McCain’s age (he is 72) and believes that while Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska “sets a wonderful example, especially for girls, I really don’t think she is ready to be the vice president or to govern.”

She said she would decide after immersing herself in Time magazine and other publications. Ms. Trumpbour said she would probably have regrets, whomever she pulled the lever for.

Some voters were confident with their decision.

“Why am I voting for Obama? Have you got an hour and a half?” asked John Rodner, a retired math teacher who lives in Yorktown Heights. “It could be the foreign policy. It could be education. It could be the economy. It could be Sarah Palin. They all stand out.”

Suyapa Olivo, 38, who lives in Yonkers and is a patient caseworker for a New York City hospital, is a longtime supporter of Mr. Obama. She said she believed he would help middle-class voters like herself by cutting taxes and giving students tax breaks. Though Ms. Olivo has health insurance through her employer, she said she was concerned for those who are unemployed.

“It feels like the middle class won’t benefit from McCain,” she said. “And $5,000 towards health care is just not enough.”

Anne Miller, 73, cited concern about the direction of the Supreme Court as the main reason she is voting for Mr. Obama. Ms. Miller, a White Plains resident and retired preschool teacher, said she also worries about health insurance. She has coverage, but her grown daughter does not.

“Roe versus Wade and the whole shift of the court, health care, the economy, global warming — you name it,” Ms. Miller said, taking a break from shopping at Sears. “McCain comes across as a cranky old guy who doesn’t speak to the issues and raises phony issues like Joe the Plumber and William Ayers. I used to like him, too. He used to seem to have integrity.”

Doug Geddes, a real estate consultant and registered Conservative, is a strong McCain supporter. Mr. Geddes, 46, of Lewisboro, said he believed that McCain’s policies reflected his own views of fiscal and social conservatism.

“I’m worried we’re on a path to an extreme movement to socialism,” said Mr. Geddes, who was reading The Wall Street Journal at Starbucks. “Barack Obama thinks I’m rich and I’m not rich. I live in a condominium. I drive a Honda Accord.”

He said his taxes were already far too high and he worries that they will climb even higher if Democrats control the White House and Congress. “Pelosi, Reid and Obama — it’s just going to be a disaster,” he said. “What are they going to ask — another $20,000 from me in taxes? I don’t have it to give.”

Others expressed ambivalence about their choice. Khamar Maitland, 24, was shopping at the Galleria Mall with his mother and younger brother. Mr. Maitland, who works at Morgan Stanley in Purchase, recently decided to vote for Mr. Obama, but not without giving Mr. McCain’s candidacy serious thought.

“There were some things that McCain was saying that made sense,” Mr. Maitland said. “I’m pro-business, and for us to raise taxes on business, that would diminish the creation of jobs. But I’m against the war, and the middle class definitely needs tax breaks.”

Nearly every voter cited the economy as a major concern.

“I’m definitely not voting for McCain and trying to talk myself into voting for Obama,” he said. “It’s more likely that I’ll write in Barry Goldwater. I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

Mr. Walker said he was very angry about the Iraq war and was shocked that it took the economy to shake people up.

“It’s like, you can kill our sons in Iraq, but don’t mess with our 401(k)’s,” he said. “Honestly, I can’t believe that people don’t seem to hold the Republican Party responsible for the current situation. If the election is close, I’ll vote for Obama.”

Many voters said they were concerned about Mr. McCain’s age, and others objected to his choice of running mate.

“I’m voting against Palin,” said Nancy Torrellas, 45, a lawyer from Ardsley. “I was originally going to vote for McCain because I think he’s very pro-Israel, until he picked Palin as his running mate.”

Ms. Torrellas said she would vote for Mr. Obama, but wasn’t happy about it. She said she was worried about his affiliation with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but believed Mr. Obama had “the smarter ideology and understanding with respect to my family’s needs.”

Her friend Deborah Notis, with whom she was having a cup of coffee, has decided not to vote at all. Ms. Notis, 38, of Chappaqua, called Mr. McCain “an American hero,” but she also objected to Ms. Palin.

“If you could guarantee me he’d live for four years, I’d probably vote for him,” she said of Mr. McCain. “But Sarah Palin is too extreme, and she doesn’t come across as someone who has any capacity of leading this country.”

Ms. Notis, who is not registered with either party, also refuses to pull the lever for Mr. Obama, who she says is not strong enough on terrorism. She said she was living in Battery Park in downtown Manhattan on 9/11; her husband was on the ground floor of one of the towers but escaped.

“Israel and terrorism are my biggest concerns,” she said. “It’s my perspective that he is not pro-Israel enough. I also think that as much as everyone in Westchester County wants to vote for him, after their taxes go up after $250,000, people are not going to be happy. But the most important thing to me is that whoever gets into office keeps this country safe.”

Howard Chung, 36, said, “If I voted with my wallet it would definitely be for McCain, but without the Democrats I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Mr. Chung, a stay-at-home dad who was sharing some fries with his son Marcus at the Galleria food court, said he would vote for Mr. Obama. Mr. Chung said he grew up on welfare and was grateful for the opportunities it provided him. He recently sold his shares in a restaurant business; before that he worked in finance. His wife is an investment banker on Wall Street.

“We have benefited from the boom for the last nine years or so,” Mr. Chung said. “But at this point I am really concerned. I’m a huge believer that the existence of a middle class is absolutely critical for the United States. From a pure tax situation, I would think that most Westchester residents would benefit from McCain, but are we going to worry about short-term tax breaks or about the bigger picture?”

Many voters said they did not see any quick relief from their worries, no matter who is elected. Linda Serkin, 62, a registered Democrat who lives in Katonah, said she was voting for Obama but not enthusiastically.

“I don’t see a clear person who can lead this country out of trouble,” she said. “I’m worried about taxes. I’m about retirement age. I can’t give away my house, let alone sell it. I don’t see either one of these guys getting us out of this mess.”

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Oscar-wao This is the story of a nerdy, overweight Dominican-American guy who is searching for love. Oscar lives in New Jersey and he loves science fiction, comic books and - in a painfully unrequited way - women. Early on the narrator informs us that Oscar's family is haunted by "fuku," a curse which haunts generation after generation. We follow the family history back to the Domincan Republic where we learn about his mother's painful past, as well as about the series of disasters that befell his grandparents.

All along the way, our narrator charts the course of Domincan history during the period when Rafael Trujillo, a brutal dictator, ran the country and persecuted the bourgeoisie, and just about anyone else who got in his way. (That includes those who wouldn't quickly turn over their daughters to him for his sexual pleasure.)

 There's a lot going on in this book - it jumps around in point of view, in location, in time and in structure. Most of the family's story is told in the main narrative; the political nightmare that was Trujillo is mostly told in footnotes. The story also mixes up languages - it is written in English, but there's a great deal of Spanish slang as well. (I could have used a Spanish/English dictionary, but I was too lazy.)

I'm not sure if this duality (narrative/footnotes, English/Spanish, family/country) structurally reflects the immigrant experience, or if it is more illustrative of a younger author. Junot Diaz was in his 30s when he wrote the book, and  in my experience, younger people tend to present things in a less linear way.

In any event, the book was intense and haunting. It was also funny in places. The book group was pretty positive on balance. And evidently so was the committee that awarded Diaz with the Pulitizer Prize, which may carry just a little bit more weight as a recommendation.

And Melanie, our host, made a paella. If you don't think what we ate is relevant, then you don't know my Book Group.

Apple Crisp

Apple crisp This differs a little from a traditional apple crisp, because it omits oatmeal. But I got no complaints with the results.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready an unbuttered 2-inch deep, 2 quart baking dish. Peel and cut into chunks or slices:

8 medium apples (about 2 1/2 pounds)

Spread them evenly in the baking dish. Then combine in a bowl:
3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg.

Add 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces. One of these days, I'm going to buy a pastry blender. If you have one, now is the time to use it. Otherwise take two knives and cut the butter into the dry ingredients above, until the pieces of butter are a bit smaller than individual peas.  You could also use a food processor, but personally, I don't think it's worth the clean-up involved.

Spread the topping evenly over the fruit. Bake until the topping is golden brown and the juices are bubbling - about 50 to 55 minutes. I don't have to tell you that this is even better when served with vanilla ice cream.

Kids and Domestic Violence

Girl - Domestic Violence Yesterday I moderated a panel at a fund raiser for an agency that fights domestic violence. Standing at a podium with a microphone in front of 250 people is not my favorite thing to do, but this agency does such important work that I was glad to help.

I've written about domestic violence (by the way the more up-to-date term seems to be "intimate partner abuse") dozens of times for the NYT. In fact, as I told the audience, when I did an archive search matching my byline to the word "violence" I got well over 100 hits.

But facts and figures and descriptions of shelter programs are one thing. The actual voices of those affected are another. And that's how this afternoon was presented. Three people (a state senator, a community leader and the president of a college) each read the words of a young person. There was a first-person story from a high school student whose boyfriend was menacing her, from a college student whose boyfriend was beating her, and - the most poignant - the story of a seven-year-old-boy who had witnessed the brutalization of his mother, describing her as bleeding and "not talking," when he found her in a small heap at the bottom of the stairs. Just for good measure, the Dad had also broken the family cat's legs. The little boy described sharing his teddy bear with his Mom when he visited her in the hospital.

It was very powerful material and everyone left the event pretty shaken, but enlightened too.

Spa Vacation in Tough Times

Oprah-winfrey Let's face it. A fabulous getaway to some exotic locale where I will be polished and pampered is not in the cards, schedule or family budget.

So here's my recipe for a mini-spa vacation: Fill one bathtub to the top with really hot water. Put in a few drops of luxurious bath oil. (Hey - I can go big on the fancy Channel 5 bath oil - think of the money I just saved in airfare!) Slowly lower yourself in the tub. Have reading glasses within arm's reach. Have the latest issue of Oprah's Magazine within reach. Now relax.

This month's issue looked particularly intriguing, because it offered "22 simple, surprising rules to live by" and featured prominent people talking about what they "know for sure." Since I am less and less sure about what I know every day, this promised to be helpful.

There was some inspiring stuff. Rachel Maddow believes that "we are willing to follow leaders, but only to the extent that we believe they call on our best, not our worst."

Eleni Gabre-Madhin an economist who is working to establish a Commodity Exchange in her native Ethiopia, recalled being an undergraduate at Cornell University. "At dinner one night, other students starting throwing food. And suddenly - shocking myself - I got up on a chair and I screamed, 'Stop doing this! In my country people are starving.' In that moment, I knew that I owed my country something." 

And  Amanda Ripley, the author of "The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why" writes, "People think that if you're in a plane crash you're doomed, but between 1983 and 2000, 56 percent of passengers in serious crashes lived. Those who have an aisle seat and read the air safety cards are the most likely to survive."

Feeling relaxed now? Well, I still have more bath oil and I haven't read "Great Buys Under $100," "Style Injections," and "Tiny But Powerful Life Tweaks That Will Make You Happier and Healthier."

D.W.I. x 2

Copy of DWI I've heard of some weak performances in my day, but how about this one? A guy drives into the State Police headquarters near here to ask for directions. The problem is, this man is completely, staggeringly drunk. Or as the cops put it politely: "visibly intoxicated."

Of course the man promptly gets arrested for drunk driving. But in an effort to help him (and presumably all the other drivers out there that he might have killed), the cops called a taxi, with instructions to bring the man to a nearby motel, where he can sleep it off.

OK, he was drunk enough that he chose police headquarters to ask for directions. But it gets better. Now the guy asks the cab to pull over, allegedly so that he can stop at an ATM machine to get money. But when he gets out of the cab, he runs back to police headquarters, jumps in his SUV and heads North on the Taconic State Parkway. Needless to say, he is chased and promptly arrested for the second time.

The driver (note to The Boy - he was from Massachusetts) is now in jail, awaiting his court date. I would not want to be this man's attorney.

The Perfect Weekend

Fall leaves Everyone home under one roof! Perfection! The weekend started Friday night in Manhattan, where The Weatherman and I, along with The Boy, My Daughter and The Grandparents met for a belated birthday dinner (for both me and The Weatherman) at an elegant NYC restaurant. We all ordered souffles for dessert - yum!

Then My Daughter came home with us to the suburbs where we hunkered down for most of the weekend. Saturday everyone spent the morning lounging around, reading the paper and relaxing. The Weatherman made his home made waffles. In the afternoon the four of us went to the Rockefeller Preserve for a gorgeous fall walk.

After we got home, the Weatherman made a fire in the fireplace. I made spaghetti and meat sauce (family comfort food favorite) and if that wasn't enough, an apple crisp out of some really good apples from the farm-co-op. We also played a few rounds of Sequence, the board game we were introduced to in Vermont. We have discovered that the only family team dynamic that works is the parents versus the kids. Every other pairing is problematic, for reasons that will be explained in another blog. Let's just say that there are some people in our family who are bad losers and worse winners. (And you know who you are.)

Sunday morning passed quickly and if you hear any reports of me crying like a baby when The Boy left to go back to college, they are surely exaggerated.

Things quieted down after The Boy left. My Daughter (I guess I should stop being so possessive and call her "Our  Daughter") took the Weatherman out to lunch and to a show and lecture on climate change at a nearby museum - another belated birthday gift. They seemed to have had a ball. Meanwhile I was at the Galleria Mall in White Plains, interviewing people on who they were going to vote for and why. Let's just say that if the election were held tomorrow at the Galleria, Obama can relax right now, but White Plains, New York is not the rest of the country, so we'll see.

They Can Be Funny!

Large_obamaMccain It turns out that both Obama and McCain can both be pretty funny. For those of you who missed the excerpts from last night's Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner, a charity roast where both candidates made a stop, here is some of their humor:

McCain said he had fired his whole team of senior advisers: "All of their positions will now be held by a man named Joe the Plumber."

Obama, on the bad company he kept in the past: "There was a point in my life when I started palling around with a pretty ugly crowd, I've got to be honest. These guys were lowlifes; they were unrepentant no-good punks. That's right: I've been a member of the United States Senate."

McCain on Joe The Plumber's real income: "What they don't know is that Joe The Plumber recently signed a very lucrative contracct with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all 7 of their homes."

And McCain again on calling Obama "that one": "He doesn't mind at all. In fact, he even has a pet name for me: George Bush."

Obama then said his first name was actualy Swahili for "that one."  Mocking his own reputation for arrogance, he asked: "Can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns I requested?"

I don't know about you, but I'm grateful that even the candidates  can find a little humor in this election.

Joe The Plumber

Chicago-plumber02 Who among those of us who watched last night's third and final presidential debate is not jealous of "Joe The Plumber?" The man, who had an encounter with Obama on a rope line about taxes and small business, was  referenced no less than 22 times, sometimes being directly addressed by both candidates.

Well. I don't know about you, but Kate The Writer is feeling a little left out. First, they leave my tooth ache out of the debate, and now they make a big fuss over Joe The Plumber, and not me. Well, life goes on. I have to go see Yale the Oral Surgeon this morning, then meet with Nancy the Non-Profit Development Director. (I am moderating a panel next week at a fund raiser for a domestic violence agency, and we need to go over the agenda.)

I hope to be home in time to have lunch with Paul The Boy (though last night he indicated he would prefer "Paul The Student"), before spending the afternoon working some things out with Phil The Editor and Sydelle the Agent. Then I need to start reporting a story about Everyman The Voter for some local election coverage.

I certainly hope I have time to make Dinner The Beef Stew.


Perfect-proposal-cover I'm drowning in my book proposal. It's long, repetitive and all over the place. I am having a horrible time wrestling it down to size, and making it a clear, cogent and persuasive piece of work. Also I am sick of it. Also I have to spend the day covering a Latino Business Symposium, not taking another shot at this massive document.

But I'm sure there are other things that woke me up with a start at 3 a.m. this morning and left me staring at the ceiling.

Now -the good news. The Boy is home safely. Hmmm....maybe I should have led with that. No, maybe it should be in a middle paragraph. Maybe this isn't really a related topic, or maybe it should be a separate chapter...ARGH!

When Taking the Keys Turns Real

Published: October 10, 2008
White Plains

Susan Farley for The New York Times
CHECKING THE REAR VIEW In the Car Fit program, Herbert Zelman, 80, checks his mirror to see how many fingers a volunteer holds up.

EVERYBODY had a story to tell about trying to take the keys from an elderly driver. Paul K. Schwarz, a retired Scarsdale Middle School teacher, described meeting with angry resistance from his father, Herbert, every time he brought up the subject of driving.

“My dad was born in 1907 in White Plains,” Mr. Schwarz said. “He would have been 101 and he might have made it, because he took really good care of himself, but his one real blind spot literally was the car.”

There were small accidents, tickets and excuses — the senior Mr. Schwarz once claimed that a police officer must have been colorblind to ticket him for running a red light. Another time he blamed a faulty brake pedal for an accident. After he exited his driveway in reverse and crashed into a tree, Mr. Schwarz lost his insurance. Undaunted, he looked in the Yellow Pages and got reinsured.

Paul Schwarz and his brother tried unsuccessfully to get their father’s doctor to intervene. They even talked about disabling their father’s car but ran out of time. His last accident, on the Hutchinson River Parkway, landed him for eight weeks in the intensive care unit, where he died in 1997 at the age of 90.

“It was an awful two months,” said Mr. Schwarz, who is involved with several nonprofit groups that work with the elderly. He was speaking at a recent conference here for Westchester police commissioners and chiefs, part of an effort to address the issue of older drivers in the county.

Ken Donato, the police chief in Ossining, recalled reporting a 90-year-old military veteran who worked in his building to the Department of Motor Vehicles, but not until after the elderly man had had three accidents in three weeks, one of which totaled Chief Donato’s car.

Even County Executive Andrew J. Spano shared the story of his father, who called to see if his politically connected son could arrange for the Department of Motor Vehicles to cut him some slack on his eye examination. Mr. Spano refused and then asked his father how he was managing to drive if he had trouble seeing.

“And he says, ‘Your mother tells me what the sign says,’ ” Mr. Spano said. “I went to the house, and I took the keys away. He didn’t speak to me for two months.”

These experiences have a familiar ring to adult children of elderly drivers. They were shared at the conference, developed by the Older Driver Family Assistance Network, which is part of the county’s Department of Senior Programs and Services.

“Westchester County is among the three leading counties in New York State that provide a good and practical action plan for dealing with older drivers,” said Tamar Freund, manager for the State Department of Motor Vehicles’ newly created Office of the Older Driver.

More than 20 percent of Westchester’s population is older than 60, and the fastest growing segment comprises people older than 85. Statewide, one in seven drivers is 65 or older.

Elderly drivers are not inherently unsafe but have a wide range of abilities, Ms. Freund said.

Dr. Cathryn Devons, director of geriatrics at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, said that aging can affect response time, depth perception, tolerance for alcohol, and, in cases of dementia, judgment. Medications can compound such issues.

A chart distributed at the conference that graphs the driver fatality rate is shaped like a U, with 16-year-olds at one peak and drivers 85 and older at the other. (Elderly drivers are frailer, compounding the mortality rate.)

Police officers described elderly drivers who appeared confused and lost or could not negotiate curves in the road and drove onto lawns or did not notice an officer’s flashing lights for more than a mile or appeared to be drunken drivers, but after being pulled over were found to be simply disoriented.

In a survey of 21 Westchester police officers conducted in 2007 by the Older Driver Network, all of them said they had observed older drivers in their community who they believed were at risk of an accident. More than 90 percent said they had seen accidents caused by older drivers who were unaware of traffic surrounding them, and 76 percent said they had encountered older drivers who could not see signs.

With such obvious risks to themselves and public safety, moving elderly drivers off the road would seem to be an obvious solution. But even police officers can be hesitant to act, particularly if the driver reminds the officer of his or her own grandparent.

“How am I going to tell a guy who fought for this country and has two Purple Hearts that I am going to take away his license and take away his freedom?” one police chief asked at the conference.

New York State does not mandate that elderly drivers be retested. An older driver may be subject to license review, but only after a written report from a police officer, medical professional or concerned citizen. Most requests for reviews come from police officers, said Frank Vega, a license examiner in the Yonkers District Office of the State Department of Motor Vehicles.

Not only do families hesitate to report their loved ones, but doctors and occupational therapists are also torn between their ethical responsibility to protect public safety and their duty to protect patient confidentiality. In short, they worry about liability. “If I make a report to the D.M.V., I’m not protected,” said Kathleen Golisz, an associate professor of occupational therapy at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry. “What I do instead is say, ‘It’s in your medical chart, and it could be summoned in a court of law.’ ”

At the conference for police chiefs, cue cards were distributed to be given to officers throughout the county. They included a checklist on identifying at-risk older drivers, procedures for documenting the encounter and local resources to help elderly drivers.

The county’s Family Caregiver Support Program can help families begin a conversation with older drivers about their abilities and can make referrals to driver evaluation programs. The group also offers transportation to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores and other destinations, said Mary Edgar-Herrera, the program administrator. She noted that in the suburbs, where public transportation is limited, there was a risk of elderly people becoming isolated when they lose access to their cars.

Westchester has also initiated a “Car Fit” program, where experts evaluate whether an elderly driver’s car is properly adjusted and recommend changes and adaptations. For instance, with some couples, the husband may have been the sole driver for 40 years. His wife may then take over the driving, but never readjust the seat or mirrors.

The Older Driver network also plans a series of talks this fall at several senior centers and libraries.

The issue is not an easy one to address, the advocates said.

“Based on voting records, people would rather drive than vote,” said Ms. Freund, of the Motor Vehicle Department. “Driving in America is so much tied up with personal identity. We will take action with elderly drivers, but we would rather all these matters be voluntary.”

The Shrine

Paul's bed The Boy's room at home has often been described as a "shrine" - a tribute to the New York Rangers. But to me, it's a shrine of a different sort - kind of a sacred tribute to the little boy who grew up in that room.

He is coming home tonight - he has a fall break from college. This morning I was in there putting clean sheets on The Boy's bed.  The sheet are decorated with hockey pucks; the bedspread has Ranger's jerseys and skates. He can barely fit his lanky six foot frame in the rickety twin bed anymore, and the bedspread has seen better days - one of the cats has been scratching it and some of the stuffing is coming out.

But it all remains unchanged - the posters on the wall, the piles of papers, the big cardboard  cut-out of Wayne Gretzky, the framed photosMore Paul's room of 4th grade soccer teams, the whole thing. Yesterday I was speaking to my friend Libbie. Her son, a few years older than my Boy, has graduated from college and moved to an apartment. Over the weekend they moved his childhood bed to that apartment. His father was feeling particularly blue over this turn of events; it was as if it marked the real sign that his son would never really live at home again.

Well, my daughter's room also remains unchanged, and she is about to move into her third apartment since her college graduation. Poke your head into her childhood room, and there is still a dainty canopy bed, complete with the Laura Ashley bedspread and matching curtains. I have to admit though, it no longer has that "lived in" look that her brother's still does.

I know someday I'll have to acknowledge the reality that they are not coming back. But not yet. It's not like I want a sewing room, and though times are tough, we don't need to take in borders yet.

Here's the thing - we brought The Boy home to this room. The crib and the changing table were in there. He spent 18 years there, morphing from newborn to the young man he is now.

OK - enough feeling maudlin.  Both my son and my daughter will be  home this weekend. The four of us will be under one roof again. And all will be right with the world.

Vermont, McCain, and Obama

THILicense2 I really, really tried not to blog about the campaign again. I was going to write instead about our weekend in Vermont, where we were visiting dear friends who just purchased a gorgeous old farmhouse. They entertained us to perfection - lovely walks, a farmer's market, introduction to a great new game, delicious meals, and hands down the most spectacular kayaking I have ever done. Crystal clear lake with the brilliant foliage creating a mirror image on the water.

I barely thought about the campaign, except for seeing some McCain signs on lawns and some folks in Obama t-shirts and hats.

But I'm back and am immediately hooked back in. This morning I was reading William Kristol, one of NYT's  conservative columnists. He  says it's time for McCain to "fire his campaign." He writes: "He has nothing to lose. His campaign is totally overmatched by Obama's. The Obama team  is well organized, flush with resources, and the candidate and the campaign are in sync. The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional. Its combination of stategic inchoerence and operational incompetence has become toxic."

Well, yeah, you betcha. And this was written by a McCain supporter who goes on to advise McCain on how to right the ship. But never does he raise this question: If McCain can't control or run his own campaign, what does that say about his potential to run the country?

Take Overs

USTreasuryI'm getting really nervous. The federal government wants to take overImages the banks now? And these are the Republicans? We just gave the Treasury Secretary unprecedented powers. Now bank ownership?

And who are these folks? Well, we all know that Henry Paulson, the Treasury Secretary, was the chairman of Goldman Sachs. We know that there are only a few investment banking firms left standing after this financial debacle. The strongest - Goldman Sachs. Now who has been tapped to oversee the government's $700 billion bailout program? Someone few people have heard of - Neel Kashkari. The guy is 35 years old. Where does he come from? You guessed it - he was a former Goldman Sachs investment banker.

Look, I hope the man is a genius, but doesn't anyone else smell a rat here? Follow the fortunes of Goldman Sachs. They are taking over the country.


460-mccain-obama-de_999789c I don't know how much more I can take. Yes, I know, no one held a gun up to my head and made me watch last night's debate, or the CNN analysis afterwards.

I didn't hear one thing I haven't heard before, it all seemed like a cut and paste from various stump speeches and prepared answers from other campaign events. Both candidates just shaped their soundbites to match the questions. I don't know what the answer is - whatever the format, it all seems canned at this point.

And neither candidate addressed the issue that is most pressing to me. Of course I'm worried about the economy and health care (I did mention, didn't I, that I have no dental insurance to pay for the recent oral surgery?), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other pressing national issues. But imagine my disappointment when neither Obama nor McCain answered the question that literally keeps me up nights: when is my tooth going to stop hurting? (It's true that McCain has a sympathetic swollen jaw, just like mine. Does this mean he feels my pain?)

See? This is what happens with campaigns begin too early and seem to go on forever.

Parenting By The Book

ParentingBooks As part of researching my own book, I have been reading a lot of other books. Many of them are parenting guides. My book will not be a parenting book, but it does involve the mother/son relationship. Thus I find myself knee-deep in titles like "Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys," "Strong Mothers, Strong Sons," and - this one is a work out - Gender, Emotion and the Family."

It occurs to me that in all the time I raised my kids, I rarely consulted a parenting book. I did own a copy of Dr. Spock, and consulted it about medical matters. And when my daughter was in middle school I purchased a title called, "Get Out of My Life, but first would you take Cheryl and me to the mall," or something like that. Before I even had a chance to  read it, my daughter read it, and then would say things to me like, "Mom, my behavior is just a normal part of separation."

Now that I've read about what I was supposed to have been doing, it's too late. Like any parent, I made mistakes and would like a few do-overs. But overall, I don't have huge regrets, even if I didn't parent by the book.

Tooth Fairy

Toothfairy You won't believe this, but the tooth fairy did come after my oral surgery. She must have taken it on faith that the tooth was extracted, because I couldn't exactly leave it under my pillow. Nonetheless, when I awoke in a mercifully drug-induced haze on Saturday morning, there was a $5 bill under my pillow. (The tooth fairy has obviously adjusted for inflation, because the last time she came - roughly 45 years ago - she left a nickel.)

I asked The Weatherman how he thought she might have gotten in the house, and he speculated that it might have been the same route that Santa took - through the chimney. However she got here, it was the one bright spot in an otherwise quite gruesome experience that I will spare my readers. Today I am choosing between a clear head (no pain killers) or no pain (drugs, baby, drugs). So far, the clear head is winning, but the day is young.

The Whole Tooth

Ist2_1819458-tooth-cartoon This afternoon, I have to have a tooth extracted. I'm pretty anxious. But I have decided to take a lesson from national debate politics and temper my expectations - lowering the bar for the dentist's performance.  If the oral surgeon does not screw up badly, does not under-medicate me, does not damage the adjacent teeth, and does not take out the wrong tooth, then I'm way ahead of the game. If the guy does a barely adequate job - even if he just memorized a few procedures -  he's a hero.

So here's what I'm asking him for- just take out the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth, so help you God.

P.S. I wonder if the tooth fairy will come tonight?

Just Following Orders

Bilde Remember when you were a kid, and your Mom was trying to teach you about the dangers of peer pressure, and said, "If your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it?" (Maybe this was a regional saying, and other bridges were featured in other parts of the country.)

ANYWAY, for the second time in a year, a train plowed into a car on the tracks, because both drivers were following their GPS systems. The disembodied voice told them to turn right, and they did. Right onto the train tracks. (At this particular spot, a few miles North from where we live, you have to cross the tracks and then make a right onto the highway.)

Of course the most important thing is that no one was hurt in either case - both men abandoned their cars when they realized their dilemma. But still, there is something about abandoning your personal judgment for automated instructions that gives me the creeps.

That said, I now have to go listen to that voice in my head, that says, "Go. To. Work."

It's Debatable

Palin_art_160_20080902124853 We are having some people over to watch tomorrow's vice presidential debate. I rarely entertain on a Thursday, but I knew everyone would be viewing and thought it would be more fun watching in a group.

Last night, my daughter came up from the city to have dinner withJoe_Biden,_official_photo_portrait_2 us. I asked her if she and her boyfriend were free to join us for a debate dinner. Alas, she had already turned down one invitation for a debate party, because she had accepted a third one with friends. And this morning, when I opened my email there was an evite from some friends in Manhattan inviting the Weatherman and me to yet another debate get together.

Someone, somewhere will run a post-debate story on how the ratings for this vice-presidential debate compare with the ratings of any from the past. I sure can't remember any commensurate buzz for any political debate - presidential or vice presidential. I do wonder if as many as those who support the Republican ticket are planning get-togethers and are anticipating tomorrow night with quite such relish.

Well, relish is the wrong word. The stakes are way too high for the debate - with whatever missteps and gaffes it brings - to be truly enjoyable.