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December 2008

Cabin Fever

Snow_shovel2 I woke up this morning and thought - phew, the snow hasn't started! The Weatherman had predicted up to 5 inches, with heavy winds. And I really wanted to get out this morning. I have spared readers the saga of my hip, but suffice it to say I'm in physical therapy, and the ONLY thing I can do for exercise is use a recumbent bike or an elliptical machine. I'm not even allowed to take walks, because that involves impact and stresses the hip. (Oh, sorry, I was going to spare you.)

Anyhow, I've only been up a half an hour and now it's already snowing heavily and will do so much of the day. To head out or not to head out? Am I being foolish to drive to the gym, which is in the next town? Or will I stew all day if I just stay put? And feel even more guilty when I dig into the baked Alaska that my friend Amy is making for New Year's Eve....yikes. I better go put my sneakers on.

Caroline Kennedy and The Press

Caroline-kennedy- I had to crack up when I read yesterday's interview in the NYT with Caroline Kennedy. The team of political reporters describe the New York Senate wannabe as "elusive." But I got a bang out of this exchange:

"With several weeks to go before Mr. Paterson makes his decision, she is doling out glimpses of her political beliefs and private life. But when asked Saturday morning to describe the moment she decided to seek the Senate seat, Ms. Kennedy seemed irritated by the question and said she couldn’t recall.

'Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?' she asked the reporters. 'I thought you were the crack political team.'

What got me about this was, as a reporter, I knew just what the two political correspondents were looking for - their lead into the story. You (and they) could just imagine the set up - "Caroline Kennedy was sitting in a large, overstuffed wing chair in her living room, overlooking the broad expanse of Central Park, when her eyes rested on man, shuffling down the sidewalk, obviously struggling. At that moment, the breadth of her family's political legacy swept through her mind and she realized, 'I could make a difference in this man's life...'"

OK, it wouldn't have been that bad. But I know the kind of questions you ask when you're looking for that cheesy anecdote or quote that can open your story. And evidently, so does Caroline Kennedy.

My 45 Cent Skirt

Skirt I do feel sorry for retailers. I really do. But not to the extent that I'm willing to pay full price for anything. This purchase, though, set a new standard for a sale price.

The skirt pictured was originally $118. Two days after Christmas, I went to Lord & Taylor. I had received a Christmas gift from that store that was lovely, but, well, too small. (See the Christmas Eve post for an explanation of what might be accounting for this fact.) I returned this item (can't be more specific, as I don't want to hurt the giver's feelings) and got a gift card for store credit of roughly $40. Then I went to the register. It would seem that the skirt I wanted was significantly marked down for the after-Christmas sale. Then a woman next to me asked if I wanted to borrow her discount coupon. By the time the sales clerk was done ringing up my new skirt, I owed her all of 45 cents for the skirt. This made me inordinately happy for myself, though of course, worried about the fate of retail businesses. I figure for my next purchase, they'll pay me to take the clothes.

Here are a few scenes from Christmas. Someone got a little over-excited about her stocking. Let's just say that Catnip must be restricted to a once-a-year-treat.
Maddy interested in stockings Maddy worn out at Xmas

Volunteer at Sing Sing Makes A Difference For Visitors

HELPFUL Marion Farrell, who runs the Ossining Prison Ministry.


Published: December 23, 2008

THE trailer where visitors are processed at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility can be a bleak and forbidding place. Family members who come to visit inmates wait on long wooden benches that line the peeling linoleum floors. Large metal signs on the walls warn visitors that an electronic drug detection system may be in use; others caution that those wearing inappropriate clothing will be turned away. Prison guards stand behind a large barrier, checking forms and deciding whether visitors may proceed to the next security screening.

In the midst of all this dreariness is a tiny island of pleasantness. Marion Farrell, who has been volunteering at Sing Sing for more than 25 years, stands beside a small table covered with a blue tablecloth decorated with a design of daisies. On the table is some basic breakfast food — coffee, tea, hot chocolate, juice, cereal and muffins. A sign in both English and Spanish announces that breakfast is free, courtesy of the Ossining Prison Ministry.

To understand why something as simple as a free breakfast is a big deal under these circumstances, you need to think about what the visitors have probably gone through to get this far, said Ms. Farrell, the executive director of the prison ministry.

Many inmates come from some of the poorest communities in New York City. To visit them, their families often must walk to a bus stop, take a bus to a subway stop, the subway to the train station, the train to Ossining and then a taxi to the prison. Many mothers are lugging babies, toddlers and packages. They might leave their apartments at dawn and still be going through processing hours later.

“It’s a hard, frustrating time,” Ms. Farrell said. “People try to get there by 8 a.m. — that’s when they open the processing trailer — and they can only visit until 2:30 p.m.”

Once visitors finally get their turn at the processing desk, guards check first to see if the inmate is still at the prison. Ms. Farrell has witnessed women who made the trek only to discover that their husbands or fathers had been transferred to another prison. Children’s birth certificates are checked, adults must present identification, and all metal objects — rings, watches, keys — must be put in a small box.

If a guard decides that an outfit is too revealing — mostly a problem in the summer — the visitor will be denied entrance. Spaghetti straps, low necklines, exposed midriffs, shorts, short skirts, and skirts with slits are all against the rules. Here again, Ms. Farrell saw a need and stepped in to meet it. Next to the cabinet where she stores the breakfast food, Ms. Farrell keeps several boxes of clothing. Sweatshirts, long skirts and baggy pants in various sizes are available to be worn into the prison.

Not everyone is thrilled with the selection. Many women have made an effort to look as attractive as they can for the visit, and when shown the shapeless items to wear over their own clothes, some can be rude. Ms. Farrell said she had learned to “roll with it.”

“To be told, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come in,’ some are reduced to tears,” Ms. Farrell said. “Some find it more than they can handle. They’re already frustrated and nervous, especially if it’s the first time and they don’t know what to expect. It helps just to have somebody friendly there.”

Ms. Farrell may not seem like someone who has logged countless hours inside the maximum-security prison and who counts several inmates among her good friends. White-haired, and clad in black sweat pants and a sweatshirt, at 74 she gives off the air of a kindly but no-nonsense, highly competent grandmother. She began volunteering in the prison in 1982, through the First Presbyterian Church in Ossining as the church began a Bible study with the inmates. Over time, the men in the group were asked if there was anything else that the church volunteers might to do help. The inmates’ answer: help our families.

The breakfast program and the clothing distribution grew from that suggestion. In 1992, the Ossining Prison Ministry became incorporated as an ecumenical nonprofit group.

Ms. Farrell runs another program as well. Once inside the visiting room, family members, including small children, must sit at tables with the inmate. The prison ministry keeps three large chests containing toys, games and puzzles there. Children may choose something and take it to the table to play with their father.

Ms. Farrell is sometimes asked why she volunteers in a maximum-security prison, a place that houses violent criminals, when there are so many other opportunities among “more deserving” people. On this subject, she has strong feelings.

“First of all, there are a lot of innocent people in there,” Ms. Farrell said. “And second, why would we penalize the families of anybody — innocent or guilty? The families should not be punished, and they should not be treated in any shape or form as something less than regular citizens.”

Christmas Chocolate Cake

Christmas cake
Of course you can make this any time of year, but I always serve it for Christmas dinner dessert. It's so easy and can be made a day or two ahead, as long as you keep it wrapped in cellophane.

-Cream one stick of butter with one cup of sugar
-Add 1 large can Hershey's chocolate syrup
-Add 4 eggs
-Add 2 melted squares of semi-sweet chocolate

In a separate bowl, sift together:
-I cup flour
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-pinch salt

Mix wet and dry ingredients. My original recipe says to cook this in a tube pan, but I don't own one. Instead, I bake it in a regular cake pan. Whatever you use, butter and flour the pan. Cook at 375 degrees until done, about 45 minutes.

After the cake cools, you can decorate it with powdered sugar. I like to serve it with fresh whipped cream.

Creamed Spinach

Christmas morning was a little hectic, so I forgot to take a picture of the creamed spinach. But it was as pretty as it was tasty. This is adapted from Laurie Colwin's recipe in "Home Cooking." She adds jalapeno peppers but I omit them.

-Cook two packages of chopped, frozen spinach. Drain, reserving one cup of liquid.
-Melt four tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and add two tablespoons of flour. Blend and cook a little, do not brown.
-Add two tablespoons of chopped onion and one clove of minced garlic and cook for a bit.
-Add one cup of reserved spinach liquid slowly, then add 1/2 cup of evaporated milk, some fresh pepper, 1 teaspoon of celery salt and six ounces of Monterey Jack cheese, cut into cubes. After the cheese is melted, add the spinach. Cook until all is blended.
-Turn into a buttered casserole and bake for about 45 minutes at 300 degrees. Serves eight.

Christmas Eve in the Kitchen

Woman-cooking Ho! Ho! Ho! It's time to crank up my iPod in the kitchen and get to it. Actually, I'm not making a very complicated Christmas dinner, but it does require some prep work. There will be eight of us for the meal - The Weatherman, The Boy, My Daughter, Me, my Mom, my Dad, The Weatherman's Brother ("The Stage Manager") and The Stage Manager's Partner ("The Actor" but also an incredible dancer - I've actually seen him dance upside down across a ceiling - in a harness of course - on Broadway.)

Here's the menu plan: My Mom is bringing hors d'ouevres - her ever-popular cheese dip, along with assorted seafood. Main course is roast leg of lamb (My Mom will help me with the gravy, as she does every year), mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach. Dessert is a special Christmas cake I make annually, and we will also have on hand peppermint ice cream with hot fudge sauce, which is a family tradition.

Yes, yes, I belong to a gym and I will repent in January. Check back in a few days under "Food and Drink" for some of the recipes.

In the mean time, Merry Christmas!

9-Year-Old "Relationship Expert" Lands Book Deal

Alecgreven Joe The Plumber was bad enough. But now a 9-year-old boy, who purports to give relationship advice, has been published by HarperCollins.

As most of you know, I've been a professional writer for more than 20 years, and have been developing my book proposal for the better part of a year. (Update - my agents are sending it out to publishers  in early January.) The publishing business is only in marginally better shape than the print newspaper business, so I am anxious about what might happen with my proposal.

And then this kid gets published by offering the following kind of wisdom: "Pretty girls are like cars that need a lot of oil."  And, "Girls win most of the arguments and have most of the power. If you know that now, things might be easier."9780061709999

Where to start? The sexist stereotypes coming from such a cute little boy? The fact that that voice sounds a lot more like one of an adult trying to sound like a cute 9-year-old than an actual child? The fact of my deep resentment that the kid published with HarperCollins and has already been on national television to promote his book?

Bah Humbug. Time to go try to get into the holiday spirit.

Hearty Winter Borscht

OK, this picture makes this soup (which is a meal in itself) look scary - it's really not a hot orange color, more of a deep red. I think it was the flash. In any case, I had a lot of winter root vegetables (especially beets and cabbage), and it was freezing out and I decided to attempt a Russian borscht. The recipe is from Joy of Cooking. It's not difficult, but it does call for a lot of chopping and takes a lot oftime. My daughter and I liked this more than the Weatherman, but he had his share. We girls liked it with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Scrub 3 to 4 medium beets (12 ounces). Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast on baking sheet until they are tender, about 1 hour. While the beets are roasting, lightly dredge:

1 pound boneless beef chuck cubed in all-purpose flour.
Heat in a soup pot over medium-high heat:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Add the meat, and brown on all sides. Add:
4 1/2 cups beef stock
One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
, drained and chopped

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, partially covered, until the meat is almost tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in:
2 cups shredded green or red cabbage
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste

Simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables and meat are tender, about 30 minutes. Peel the beets, then slice and cut into thin strips. Stir the beets into the soup, along with:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves minced
salt and black pepper
1 and 1/2 teaspoons sugar

Simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Thin the soup with water if necessary. Garnish with:
sour cream


Dreams I think dreams are the human equivalent of a computer de-fragging. You work out the bits and pieces of your subconscious in your sleep, so that they don't clog your mind during the day, freeing you to carry on with whatever needs doing.

Anyway, I hope so, because if I didn't shake the dust from last night's nocturnal mind wanderings, I would be paralyzed today. Here's a medley of scenes: The Weatherman had sold our house, but had forgotten to hire movers. We had only a few hours to pack up and clear everything out of our home by the afternoon when the new buyers arrived. On top of that, a hostile, repressive regime had taken over our government and the U.S. was under attack. Loud speakers announced that we must report to the bomb shelters. But I couldn't, you see, because I was trapped in a bathroom stall, which I might add was filthy with you-know-what. Which would have been bad enough, but on top of that I was pregnant! At my age! The last thing I remember was turning to The Weatherman and asking if we still had a car seat.

It's clear to me that I am not worried about a thing - no stress whatsoever. Oddly enough, though, I woke up completely refreshed and feeling much better. Go figure. I had been de-fragged.

Word Crack

TextTwist1-main_Full How could The Boy do this to me? He knows my weaknesses. Surely he knows how vulnerable I would be to the introduction of this game, and how quickly it would derail my life.

Friends, I'm talking about Text Twist. Long-time readers know that I have long-time addiction to online Boggle, a word game on which I have wasted countless hours. Well, now the boy has turned me onto a new online pursuit. Basically Text Twist is like the old-fashioned "Word Jumble" that they used to have in the newspaper. Except. Except it's competitive, because you play online, against a clock, against other people, and you get different points for different length words you can unscramble and just typing this makes me want to sign on right now and play a few rounds.

I already have all the signs of a bad addiction, i.e. "I'm just going to play three rounds and quit." "Well, four." "Well, I qualified for the next round, so I at least get to play a fifth." Then I find myself on the couch with my laptop and an hour and a half has passed.

Anyway, I have to go. To work on an article. Yeah, that's article....

Media RIP

Rest-in-peace You know how every few days I blog about some other disaster in the world of media, with a special focus on print journalism?

Well now I have subscribed to a kind of short-hand version of the latest industry deaths. Literally called "The Media Is Dying" this Twitter feed lets you know on a daily basis what company has been down-sized, who's been fired and when the next round of lay-offs are anticipated - all in short, tight format. Here are some recent highlights:

"10 people have been let go at Scientific America - Macmillan Publishing has eliminated 64 jobs."

"KHNL/KFVE-TV is announcing big cuts/merged positions"

"20% of staff to be cut from THE DEAL. CEO addressing taff at 2:30. Good luck to all."

What's really scary is that there is enough material for multiple updates every day.

Student/Professor Greatest Hits

42-17673405 The Chronicle of Education, a publication that covers higher ed, has a forum for professors called "'Favorite' Student Emails." Here are some examples of emails that have driven professors around the bend:

"hi, this is ____ and I'm in your ____ class but have been golfing in [sunny vacation destination]for the past couple weeks so i have missed the first few classes. just wondering if there is anything important that i have missed...please let me know what i should do."

Here's another great one:

"Dear Professor, I saw that I lost points on the lab for questions I left blank. I thought they were rehtorical questions. Can I answer them now and get back the points?"

And for sheer pathos:

"Dear Dr. _____, I worked my butt off on the paper, and I will honestly do ANYTHING it takes to get a C in class. I don't think you understand how desperate I am for a C. I don't know where I went wrong on the final either...I thought I did so well??? I'll cook you breakfast, lunch and dinner and serve it to you. I mean....I'm pretty freaking desperate obviously. Please let me do something. You name it...."

I feel for these professors. I really do. But sometimes professors can be pretty harsh in response. The Chronicle didn't list their answers, but back when I was in college, we students held a contest for who had received the meanest comments on a paper from a professor. I was a two-time winner, for the following comments written by the same political science professor:

Scribbled next to a passage on a paper about Hegel,the professor wrote: "Why not bring up Snow White here? Equally relevant."

And the all time cruel, still-holds-the-title comment, scribbled atop the first page: "The only thing that holds this paper together is a staple."


The Sing Sing Blues

473597734_24cae6ae66  I've spent a fair amount of time inside Sing Sing. No, not as an inmate, but as a reporter. I've covered a lot of stories inside the walls. It never ceases to fascinate, even though it is a sad, gloomy and unnerving place.

On Saturday I headed up to the maximum security prison again. This was actually a nice story - a profile of a woman who volunteers each weekend. What does she do? It's simple but a real service. She sets up a little table in the "visitor processing trailer" and gives out a free breakfast to families who are visiting their loved ones.

You have to understand the significance of this. The inmates come mainly from some of the poorest communities in New York City. Families usually have to take a bus, then a subway, then a train and then a taxi to get to the prison. It takes hours. Once they are there, they face waits of more than an hour as they go through security. Many have babies and toddlers in tow, and are also carrying packages. They might leave home at dawn, and it can be a difficult, frustrating time. The guards can be capricious and unfeeling. The processing room is not exactly warm and fuzzy - wooden benches, peeling linoleum floors, florescent lights.

So imagine that you are going through all this in order to see the person you love, who is likely locked up for many years, and someone offers you a cup of coffee, or your kids some hot chocolate and some muffins. Not to mention a smile and a kind word. That's what this lady does, weekend after weekend.

She also goes into the visiting room and provides toys and games for the children that are visiting. I was hoping to watch her in action, but some nasty, officious guard wouldn't let me past the processing trailer, despite the fact that I had prior approval from all the Dept. of Corrections' powers that be in Albany.

It was really frustrating, and it drove home how much harder if would be if you were not a fairly confident reporter from the NYT, but instead an inmate's family, completely at the mercy of arbitrary decisions.

Here's a fun fact about getting through security at Sing Sing if you're a woman: no under-wire bras allowed. I suppose they could be used as weapons. I'll let you start your week by chewing on that one...

Long Day

FCCMLOGO By the time I got home last night, I felt (and acted) like an over-tired, cranky toddler. I was already operating on just a few hours of sleep, because a meeting the night before had gone on until 11:30 p.m. (Budget meetings for non-profits these days are pretty trying events.)

Then, I had to be up early to open our local food pantry. Even though I got there an hour before we were supposed to open our doors, there were already people waiting, hoping to be at the head of the line. They were right too, because once we did open, we soon ran out of eggs, powdered milk and frozen fish.

I'll spare you the rest of the details of the day, but by the time evening rolled around, I was already exhausted. There was a cold rain pouring down and I wanted nothing more than to eat an early dinner and crawl into bed. But it was not to be - The Weatherman and I had bought tickets months ago for a concert which featured Loudon Wainwright (whom the Weatherman likes) and the Roches, whom I adore.Roches1

The Roches were fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. I love those women. I could have done without the group of ladies sitting behind us though, who felt the need to sing along with all the songs they know. I wanted to turn around and say, "Hey, I didn't dish out dollars to hear your voices tonight." I contented myself with dirty looks, but I think they were too high to notice.

And speaking of altered states, Loudon Wainwright appeared to be performing drunk last night. He'd forget which verse he was on, he took awhile to get it together to start each song, and basically he was pretty silly up on stage. It might have been my fatigue, but I would have happily let the Roches serenade me to sleep (they came on first) and called it a night.

I'm not going to tell you how late I slept this morning. That is one of the privileges of working at home.

Powered Up for Savings

MacBookPro The Weatherman says frugality is the new chic. I say it's the new reality. In any case, as usual I've been back and forth with my friends at Apple Care tech support, this time over a battery problem. My wonderful lap top - really I love it - was giving up the ghost when it came to operating off of the power cord.

Twice I was told I had to replace the battery, for $129 plus shipping. The warranty was only good for a year, and the puppy on which I type this is two years old. Those were the rules and that was that.

Still, I just couldn't accept it. In this economy of mark-downs and two-for-one deals, I just didn't feel like paying full price for this replacement battery.

Finally, I got to speak to a third gentleman, clearly speaking from India. He confirmed I needed a new battery but when I asked if there were any conditions under which Apple would replace a two-year-old battery, he let on that there actually was one way it might be done. He walked  me through a series of links on my hard drive  to show me a number  that measured the battery's capacity for recharging. If I could get that number below 3000, he told me, I'd qualify for a free replacement. How to get that number down? Just keep letting your computer run on it's limited battery strength.

Eureka! The number soon trickled to a mere three digits, I called Apple support a fourth time with this new dire information, and I am now the proud possessor of a free, spanking-new Apple battery.

I know it doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was to me. And it just goes to show you that there is always room for negotiation.

Newspaper Bailout

07-10-17b_LA_Times I really don't know the right thing to do about bailing out the auto industry. But as someone who works in another industry that is imploding - print media - I do have to wonder about the relative priorities of what does and doesn't get saved.

Yesterday, the Tribune Company, which publishes The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, filed for bankruptcy. The New York Times just announced it would borrow against its new building, but that's only a small reflection of its plummeting fortunes, not to mention stock prices. Scripps announced a few days ago that it is looking for a buyer for the Rocky Mountain News, a Denver-based daily.

Gm-logo And that's just skimming the headlines (while we still have them) of a few media stories. Newspapers are in trouble for a number of reasons, and bad management is not on the top of the list. Advertising has plummeted, and dollars and readers have flocked to the Internet. But, as I have pointed out here before, much of the news content on the Internet is simply picked up from the newspapers. They aggregate the news, but they don't pay to produce it.

The question is, when the newspapers are gone, who will pay for the journalism? Who will be around to  keeps tabs on the government and business and health and every other important topic that affects our lives? I know I get worked up about this, but Democracy is based on an informed public. No journalists/no info.

So, yeah, I feel for the auto workers. And I also feel for all my fired colleagues and for the fact that I'll get paid less than half of what I did two years ago for the story I'm working on today. Where are the Congressional Hearings on the demise of my industry?

Let's Hear It For The Boys

First, thanks to The Boy for reminding me that it was time to give the blog a theme update, in deference to the season. I hope you all like the new look. The Boy inspired me with his own blog design which you can check out here.

And in other news about the male members of the household, the Weatherman recently cooked! The Weatherman is very good around the house - he is basically much neater and certainly a better cleaner than I. But he rarely cooks. Recently, though, he prepared a tasty dish - check it out here. I'm hoping this may be the beginning of a trend.

And in other encouraging developments, he has also taken on the role of sous-chef for a very labor intensive borcht that is simmering as I type this. Lots and lots of chopping, which he actually did during the fourth quarter of a football game. (It goes without saying that it was not a Redskins game.) Anyway, check back in the food category later, and you can see how it turned out.

Celeriac, Onion and Potato Casserole

 The Weatherman was reading the newsletter that comes from our co-op farm membership, and he came across this recipe. "This sounds good," he said. "Do you think we should make it?" I gave it a quick once-over and said, "We Kemo Sabe?" And the Weatherman said, "I'll try it." And he did! And it was good! Perfect for a cold, winter's day.

3 medium potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 large celeriac (also known as "celery root") peeled, cut into quarters and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 15 ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped, juices reserved
1 cup dry white wine or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add potatoes and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove potatoes to a bowl, then add celery root to boiling water and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove celery root and add to bowl with potatoes. Reserve cooking liquid.

In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, celery and basil and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add wine or broth, increse heat and cook to reduce liquid until about half, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Add tomatoes and their juices plus 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a two quart baking dish. Ladle half of the tomato mixture in bottom of prepared pan. Make a layer of alternating potato and celery root slices, season with pepper.Top with some of tomato mixture. Then repeat, using remaining potato and celery root slices. Cover with remaining tomato mixture.

Cover and bake until potatoes and celery root are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Not So Ancient History

MILK_l Last night, the Weatherman and I went to see the movie, "Milk," based on the life of Harvey Milk, the gay activist who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, and murdered, along with Mayor George Moscone, in 1978. 

If you're like me, you may remember the headlines about this event, but not much more. The movie is great and puts the whole thing in historical and cultural context. Sean Penn, who plays Milk, puts in an incredible performance.

But what struck me the most - as you see police raid gay bars and beat patrons, as you see Anita Bryant spout all her homophobia, and film clips where politicians routinely equate homosexuality with child molestation - is how relatively recently all this took place. Debates about whether gay people should be allowed to be teachers, even about whether people who support gay people should be teachers were not so long ago.

And then you remember that Proposition 8 in California, changing the state constitution to restrict the definition of marriage, passed LAST month. So you partly think, boy, we've made incredible progress since those unenlightened days. But then you realize, boy we still have a long way to go. 

Make Up

6s68b39 Awhile back, I was interviewing a then-prominent District Attorney. She was in the middle of prosecuting some high-profile murder case and at the same time her own husband had just been indicted for some financial shenanigans. Yet just that month, People Magazine had named her as one of its 100 Most Beautiful People. I asked her how she managed to look so good.

She looked me straight in the eye and said two words: "Under-eye concealer."

OK, maybe that's three words. But I've been thinking about make up in these stressful times. Last night, I was at yet another board meeting for a non-profit, and after looking at our gaping budget deficit, someone announced that we had to repave the cracked and crumbling driveway, at considerable expense.

Geez, someone asked, given our financial problems, do we have to repave the whole thing? Can't we just seal it and get by? Well, the guy replied, that would just be like putting mascara on it. Immediately the women on the board chimed in with their thoughts on mascara - as in, what's wrong with the mascara solution? Throw it on - it's cheap, it's great, and it buys you some time until things look better.

We didn't come to a resolution about the repairs, but this morning when I was washing my face, I saw that I had some mascara residue under my eyes. Or so I thought. But my eye make-up remover just wasn't getting it off. And then I realized that what I was scrubbing was simply the dark circles under my eyes, which is actually the residue of sleepless nights, worrying about finances.

Which of course, brings me full circle back to the under-eye concealer. At $2.49 a tube, it's a bargain.

Everywhere You Look...

Dow-jones-world-stock-index I met with my agents yesterday, and we made good progress on the proposal. But the backdrop of the meeting was their reaction to the news that the publisher of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had resigned a few hours earlier. This, evidently, was in advance of a widely anticipated wave of layoffs at the company. Houghton Mifflin had already announced last week that it would temporarily stop acquiring new books.

You can well imagine, this was not great news for my agents, who have several books in the works at the publishing company, and many friends who work there as editors. And when we were hammering out chapter titles and the structure of the book, we were all lamenting the market. It's a new world, my agents tell me.

When I got home, I got a call from my daughter, who was shaken by the news that two of her colleagues had been laid off that morning. She works for a small company and knew these two people well.  When I was my daughter's age in the early 1980s, no one got fired, unless there was really an episode of gross malfeasance or incompetence.

Then last night, I was at a board meeting for our local food pantry. Numbers of clients needing help to feed their families are way up; donations are down.

It's a new world alright...


Zumba_dance As usual, I'm late to catch on to what is being billed as "the latest fitness craze." But here I am - I'm the one on the right - in my Zumba class.

OK, that's not me. But I was Zumba-ing yesterday at the gym. The class combines Latin music with fairly easy-to-follow moves. For an hour I was happily integrating salsa moves with rumba moves with mambo moves with heaven knows what else to incredibly catchy, upbeat music. And the beauty of it is, because I had to keep my eye on the instructor at all times so I could follow her moves, I never once was able to glance into the mirror and catch my reflection. This allowed me to maintain the delusion that I was  looking just as great as she was.

This class was so much more fun then your basic cardio-fitness, that I was totally hooked. I know it was a good workout too, because my face was bright pink by the end, and my heart beat was really elevated.

Today  I'm meeting with my agents to hammer out the table of contents for the book proposal. Yesterday we had a long talk about the state of the publishing business. Trust me, that's enough to keep your heart racing even when you are not in Zumba class.

Come Back!

Thanksgiving-by-rockwell I should be used to this by now. The kids come home for the holiday and the Weatherman and I are beside ourselves with excitement. I cook up a storm. I moon around The Boy and My Daughter, gazing at them with a dreamy, contented look on my face.

Then after a day or so, reality sinks in. The mess is everywhere - stray bits of clothing, enormous sneakers belonging to The Boy, papers, books, half-finished glasses of something or other that leave rings on the table - the stuff creeps and spreads each day that they are in residence. Then there's the worry. They both would go out with friends at night and I'd toss and turn until they were safely home, knowing full well that normally when they are out and about until the wee hours, I sleep like a baby without a clue as to their whereabouts.

After this period of adjustment, I sink back into relative relaxation, and simply enjoy having them around, talking to them, getting  their take on things and having them fill our home with all that energy and fun. It was only Saturday night that I was standing in our family room and listening to them both laugh at something or other. I was exhausted but had difficulty dragging myself to bed, because it felt like my time with them was so precious.

So that's how it goes -  the initial thrill of their return, the adjustment to the reality, and then the deep  contentment of having a full house.

Except now they're gone again. And I have to adjust all over again.