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August 2009

Newspaper Death Watch

Newspaper There was a time I blogged obsessively about the demise of newspapers. I guess since I'm no longer personally living with an axe hanging over my head (that axe fell months ago when they closed the section of the NYT I used to write for), it no longer consumes me on a day to day basis.

But the free fall in the industry continues. Today's NYT business section highlights the Tribune Company's bankruptcy, the expected bankruptcy of Freedom Communications (which owns the Orange County Register as well as 30 other daily newspapers), and the recent blood letting at the Journal News, our local paper, which covers Westchester, Putnam and Rockland Counties. It's owned by Gannett.

My friend "Meg" works at The Journal News. Pardon the "Dear Abby" fake-name-in-quotes business, but I don't want to do anything that would threaten her job further. Meg is pretty high up at the paper. She is a very talented journalist. Recently she was made to reapply for her own job. Technically, Gannett told all 288 news and advertising employees at the paper that their jobs were  being redefined. So if they wanted to remain employed, they had to apply for these "new" jobs. Interesting spin. Once the process was over, 70 people would be laid off.

Meg kept her job, though she has longer hours and more responsibilities at the same pay. She says she knows she should be grateful that she still has a job. But none of the survivors in that newsroom - wait, they don't call it a newsroom anymore, it's an "information center" - are exactly kicking up their heels to celebrate.

Don't Forget to Pack The Flu Kit

Swine flu 3 We just got an email from the dean of students at The Boy's college, explaining how they were preparing for the anticipated swine flu epidemic. Actually, the email says "H1N1 (previously called 'swine')" which reminds me of the artist previously called "Prince", but whatever. They want the returning college students to bring a flu kit with tissues, hand sanitizer, digital thermometer, throat lozenges and Tylenol.

As a mother, I read this as, "they're on their own." As a reporter, I once wrote an article about the demise of the college infirmary. Schools just don't want to deal with the costs and liability, so slowly but surely colleges and universities across the country have eliminated infirmary beds. There's a health center, but kids either go back to their dorms,  go to the hospital or go home. There's little middle ground for treating an illness like the flu.

I learned this the hard way when My Daughter had mono when she was in college. They didn't exactly have a crack medical staff there, and they had trouble diagnosing her. (Gee, a college student who is exhausted, can't swallow, swollen glands, low grade fever for weeks - who would think of mono?) 

Anyway, I ended up flying her home and we took care of her here. The letter from The Boy's college says they expect parents who live within 300 miles of the school to pick up their kids too if they get the flu. The Weatherman says we live about 320 miles from the college. If necessary, I'm betting we'll make the trip anyway.


Jury summons

Which of the statements below rings more true? 

"There is no more valuable public service that a citizen can provide than the good faith performance of jury duty. We hope you find your jury service to be an interesting and rewarding experience, and we thank you for your time."


"Failure to obey this jury summons may be punishable by fine and/or imprisonment."


But He Just Got Here

Paul's stuff Last night I was in my room reading, when The Boy called down the hall, "Hey, Ma. How do you spell 'heroin'?" At least, that's what I thought he said. There was a fan blowing in the bedroom, a slight snore coming from The Weatherman, and Lawson, my big cat, was sitting on my chest purring into my ear, so I couldn't hear that well.

Later, I asked him why he needed the correct spelling for "heroin." He said he needed it for his blog. (The Boy writes a blog for the admissions department of his college.) Why, I wondered, would he be writing about heroin? It turns out he was checking the spelling of the word "harrowing."

"Harrowing" was how he described last minute packing for college. He has decided to get a jump on it this year and is gradually amassing piles of stuff to bring to school. I should be happy that he is so organized, but the truth is, I just get sad every time I walk by the ever-growing mound of stuff. He just got here. He was home only a few days from his summer job in Maine before he left for California to visit his girlfriend. Now he's back for what seems like just a few days (ok, fine, it's two weeks, but it's FLYING by) before he goes back to college.

There are days -especially when I have the treat of also having My Daughter home - when I fantasize about putting this house on lock down. Secure the perimeters.  But I promise conditions inside are very pleasant.


Drawing-board Remember how I ended my last post by saying I was going to meet with my agent, who was going to give me feedback on chapter one of the book?

Well, I didn't pick this cartoon of a guy going back to the drawing board for nothing. My agent was very nice about it. She told me she has great faith in me as a writer. She thinks the idea is fabulous. She has no worries about the book. But I have to start over again. She was NOT taken with chapter one. (Thank God she hasn't seen chapter two.) 

I'm told this is very common - very few writers - particularly those on their first book - get it just right the first time. But !@#$%U^&. To say that I'm overwhelmed is an understatement. I've even had two dreams in a row that I was back writing for the NYT. You know, the place where I once knew what I was doing?

Enough whining. Time for re-writing.

Hazy Days of Summer

Lifeguards setting up

This picture was taken yesterday morning, just as the life guards were setting up for the day. The fog burned off about an hour later, but by then, The Weatherman and I were on the Long Island Expressway, heading back to real life.

This morning I'm going to tackle D.H.Lawrence (How could I write a book on mothers and sons without examining "Sons And Lovers"?) and then have lunch with my agent, who will have read Chapter One and will give me her feedback. Yikes.

The Beach and Chapter Two

Somerset-maugham Another great day on the beach yesterday. Wait - you say that illustration doesn't look much like East Hampton? You are right - it's English playwright and novelist Somerset Maugham. I spent part of yesterday afternoon writing about him. Chapter Two talks about some of the many ways our attitudes towards mothers and sons are reflected in literature. Here is a quote from Maugham: 

"Few misfortunes can befall a boy which brings worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother."

Really, Somerset? I will point out that Maugham's own mother died when he was five years old and he reportedly never got over it. He kept her picture by his bedside until his own death at the age of 91. I'm just sayin'.

The Weatherman and I are heading home later this morning after one last visit to the beach.


The Weatherman Explains Sea Breezes

Better still The Weatherman, as you may well imagine, loves to talk about the weather. I am privy to explanations about all sorts of meteorological events. I try to pay attention to these lessons - I really do.

Today, an incredibly still and hot day in much of the NYC area, was absolutely lovely here at the shore of the ocean. Why, I wondered, was there such a nice, cool breeze coming off the ocean on such a hot day? Ah, well I should ask. Here is The Weatherman's explanation:

"There is what's called a 'sea breeze' due to the different rates at which the ocean and the land heat up during the day. Land heats up much more rapidly, and the warm air rises. Rising air has less weight, it expands and has lower pressure. The air over the ocean is cooler, denser and heavier, and in the atmosphere the wind always blows from higher pressure to lower pressure, so therefore the wind blows from the ocean on to the shore. Further more, because the ocean is a lot cooler than the land, that breeze feels a lot cooler. And that's why people go to the beach went it's hot."

Got that? In other beach news, yesterday The Weatherman and I were looking somewhat enviously at the line of beach umbrellas (as seen above) lining the shore. There may be a sea breeze, but the sun is intense. A lady nearby us told us they were on sale at CVS for $16. It's impossible to keep up with the Jones here in East Hampton on any large scale, but we are now the proud owner of our own new umbrella. It's bright blue and you may be able to spot The Weatherman under it in the picture.  


2350462608_78e0d321d7_o A lot of people ask me how my son feels about my writing a book on mothers and sons. Fair question, but what is just as important to me is how my daughter feels about my writing a book on mothers and sons. 

Obviously this is a sensitive subject and I'm sure both my kids have feelings about the book they haven't expressed to me. But outwardly, The Boy and my daughter have been supportive of this project and have even encouraged their friends to fill out my survey. (That's, folks, and it's not too late to weigh in with your thoughts.)

Yesterday my daughter helped me out in a much more direct way. She is a strong writer and an excellent editor. She was home for a visit and took the time to read the first draft of chapter one and give me her thoughts. Her feedback was right on target - she was able to zero in on what parts needed strengthening and what was working well.

As she told me, she's not my target audience, given that she's a single, 24 year old woman. But she is a perceptive reader, not to mention a sweet and supportive daughter. There have been hundreds of books written on mothers and daughters. But I don't need to read any of them to know how lucky I am to have her.

My Little Guy

Medium_NORMAN-ROCKWELL-doctors-office About 10 years ago I was with my son at the pediatrician's office when the doctor brought up the subject of growth hormones. At the time, The Boy was quite small for his age. You know those growth charts, where they track which percentile of height and weight your child falls on? Well, The Boy wasn't even on the chart, though through the years he sometimes made it to the 5th percentile.

Nonetheless, I balked at the idea of the growth hormones. First of all, The Boy was in good physical health - there was nothing wrong with him. And second, I knew that the boys in my family and in The Weatherman's family grew slowly. But in the end they grew.

The doctor made me feel guilty - he asked if I understood the social pressures on boys. But I stuck to my guns.

So last night, The Boy, who is now 20,  came home from his summer in Maine. Has he grown? Well, he'd been shooting up in height since his last year in high school. The last time we measured him he was 6' 1". He looks even taller now, but now he's also gotten wide.  I don't mean fat - he is pretty lean. But his shoulders are broad, his chest is wide - my little guy is a actually a big man. (I bet he'd like it if I called him The Man in this blog, but I'm his mom, and he'll always be My Boy.)

There is a part of me that would love to bring him back to the pediatrician and say, "Geez, doctor, I'm glad we decided to forego those hormones." But even I will admit that the Boy is a bit old to have his Mommy take him to the doctor. 

The Boy To Return Tonight

Prodigal_son_4 Perhaps the illustration of the Prodigal Son is a bit much. But I'm pretty excited that The Boy is coming home this evening.

He left for his summer job in Maine in mid-June and has not been home since.  He has been living in a platform tent and had extremely limited cell service, so I've barely even talked to him all summer. 

Needless to say, I am heading to the grocery store to stock up today. Can't wait to see him!

And speaking of mothers and sons, I am happy to announce that I finished my first draft of chapter one of the book, and am now plowing into chapter two. That may not seem like much, but I had already written the introduction, which really is an overview of the book, and chapter one, all my writer friends tell me, is the hardest. Progress!

Born To Age

Borntorun I first saw Bruce Springsteen in concert in 1975. He was playing the Palladium in NYC, a not huge former concert hall. My boyfriend at the time was a huge Bruce fan and already owned bootlegged tapes of far earlier performances.

"Born To Run" had just been released but it wasn't a huge hit yet. At the door, they were selling t-shirts with the new album cover image. (I really miss that shirt. Mine was a tangerine color, with Bruce's silhouette in black. No idea where it went.) The concert was fantastic - intimate, rollicking. Clarence went to town on his sax for "10th Avenue Freeze Out." 

Over the years, I saw many more Bruce concerts - mostly in huge venues, since he rocketed to stardom. They were all great, but nothing could repeat that experience of seeing him live for the first time.

I thought of this yesterday, because my friend Sally sent me a link to win concert tickets for a Bruce concert. The contest was being run by...the AARP. They had done a cover story on Bruce on the occasion of his 60th birthday. It doesn't make me sad. But it does make me pause.


American-idol-judges When we hosted two teenagers from the Bronx this summer, it was meant to be for more than an academic scholarship program. It is also supposed to expose students to a wider world and a broader culture.

But "I" and"K" were the ones who thought I was clueless, at least about contemporary culture. They were appalled that I had never seen "American Idol." But, they asked, you have at least watched "Dancing With The Stars"? Nope. "America's Got Talent"? Uh, no. "Survivor"? No. 

I've never seen a "reality" tv show and don't watch that much else on television either, with the exception of movies and a few HBO series. It's kind of funny, because as a kid, TV is what I did. I came home from school, grabbed a bag of Oreos, a glass of milk, and turned on the set. There was "The Edge of Night" and "Gomer Pyle USMC" and "Petticoat Junction" and all sorts of junk. It's scary how many television theme songs I know by heart, including the entire second verse of "The Patty Duke Show. " ("But Patty's only seen the sites a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights....")

Maybe I got it out of my system in the 1960s. I don't miss TV, but I sure miss the days when I could sit down and eat half a bag of Oreos and not pay a price for it. 

The Adirondacks

Right before we left for a long weekend in the Adirondacks, I had to call the Weatherman to help me close my bag. I think you can see the problem. We did not bring along Maddy because we're not sure how she would do in the woods and in the mountains. 

Maddy asleep in suitcase
Please enjoy these scenes from beautiful upstate New York. Note - on Saturday we climbed a mountain we had never visited before - Azur Mountain. The dirt road into the trailhead was a little daunting, but the end result of the climb was well worth it!
View from Azure great
Beautiful lake
Lake reflectons
View from Azur Mountain

Julie and Julia

Kamp2.184 I know, I know. The amount of hype over the new Julie and Julia movie is over the top. I just wanted to weigh in on the two books that inspired it.

I read Julie Powell's book first, which chronicled her one year project of cooking all of the recipes from Julia Child's "Mastering The Art of French Cooking" and blogging about it. Her dream came true - she landed a book contract, got a movie deal (starring Meryl Streep, no less) and was able to quit her secretarial job and become a full time writer.Julia-child-meryl-streep1218729171

Julia Child's memoir, "My Life in France," is a very different animal. She chronicles her discovering of French cooking and her deep love, not only of the cuisine, but also of the country and most of all her husband Paul.

The theme that links these two books is that of a woman who discovers herself through cooking.

 Let me get down to brass tacks here: I really disliked Julie Powell's book, basically because I couldn't stand her. She was whiney, angry, profane and put upon. She complained about everything - her miserable apartment, her miserable job, her misery over the chore of cooking (who asked her to take on this project?) and her husband who would want sex when she was exhausted and covered with duck fat. She refers to her blog readers as "bleaders" - a clever combination term, yet one which also manages to convey her contempt for everyone around her.

Then there was Mrs. Child, who seemed to adore just about everything in her life. The way she just delights in her surroundings and her sensuality - about the food, about the country and about her husband - is in startling contrast to Julie Powell's cynicism.

 I was talking to Nora Ephron recently (did that catch your attention?) - ok, it was a film screening of the new movie and there was a Q & A with the director afterward - and I asked her if she had made a conscious effort to make the Julie Powell character more likable than she was on the page. 

Short answer: yes. First, Ephron said she wanted to avoid an "R" rating so could not use the "f" word with abandon as Julie Powell does. But she also had to tone down the rest of Powell too, because she wanted audiences to like her. Good thing Ephron is one of the most talented writers and directors around, because making Julie Powell likable is one tall order. 

Procrastination 101

Computer cleaning There are so many, many ways not to write a book. All the obvious ones of course - Facebook, the Internet in general, the errand that simply must get done this minute, cleaning the desk, etc.

But I must say I feel quite proud of this one: did you know that you can pop each key off your computer keyboard and clean underneath? It's true. 

The other day The Weatherman found me bent over my (wireless) key board. Letters were scattered across the couch, and beside me was a bottle of Windex and a pile of Q-Tips. I was intently working on extracting a tiny, tiny dust ball from behind the "Y." This photo of a woman doing some simple dusting doesn't begin to capture the kind of detail work I was doing. 

Yup. It's all clean now. Good to go. Clean as a whistle.Uh huh. Nothin' stopping me now. Geez, I wonder when I last gave my printer a good cleaning?

Thanks NPR!

Npr_generic_image_300 When the Weatherman and I take long car trips, we usually listen to podcasts downloaded from NPR. Terry Gross manages to keep us entertained for many a mile, and we often learn something along the way.

So last month, when we were driving home from the Adirondacks, we listened to Terry interview a dermatologist who was an expert in skin cancer. At the time, we remarked on his nickname for tanning beds, which he called "tanning coffins." But there was also something this doctor said that stuck deep into the recesses of my mind. He talked about symptoms of skin cancer - stuff I already knew, like irregularly shaped moles. But he also mentioned that sometimes something that looks like a small pimple but that just won't go away can be a problem.

I had such a situation on the bridge of my nose - it was nothing really. But the thing had been there awhile and just never got better. Normally I wouldn't have paid attention since it was barely noticeable, but weeks later, that doctor's voice was still playing in my head.

So feeling foolish - it was a zit for Heaven's Sake - I went to dermatologist, reluctantly forked over my $50 co-pay, and started to apologize for wasting his time. But he was busy preparing the liquid nitroglycerin, or whatever nasty stuff it is that they use to burn things off your face. Sure enough, it was a pre-cancerous growth.

So thanks Terry Gross and NPR. I do have a nasty scar on the bridge of my nose now, but it will fade.
And it certainly beats the alternative.


Green graduation Yesterday, The Weatherman and I went to "K"'s graduation from the summer scholarship program. Faithful readers know that we have hosted two students from the program, which takes academically promising kids from the Bronx and brings them up to Westchester for academic and cultural enrichment- a combination of writing, math, science and Shakespeare classes, as well as all sorts of after-school activities.

 "I" was just in her first year, but we were "K"'s last host family - she was completing her third year. As usual, the resplendent "K" was dressed to the nines for the occasion, in a floor length gown that matched the purplish rinse on her hair extensions. I was nervous when she  first got up to speak (I was her host Mom, after all), but she did beautifully, as did the other graduates.

Most impressive were some of the alumni of the program who came back for the occasion. The main speaker, who graduated from the summer program 6 years ago, went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Middlebury College. She not only won the college's Religion Award (and she wasn't a Religion major) but also ran the writing tutoring center. She's now in graduate school at Columbia.

Other kids who graduated last year were in the audience. One has a full scholarship to Brandeis. One is headed this fall to Dartmouth. One is studying mechanical engineering at Stony Brook.

I am in awe of these kids.  Many of them spoke about how scary it was the first time they got off the train and fully realized they were going to go live with strangers in a place that looked as alien to them as the moon. 

It was hard saying goodbye to "I" and "K" but I know I will see them again. "I" has promised to visit this fall, and we have already requested that she return to us for her second year in the program. As for "K," I can't wait to see what she does next. Not to mention what she will  be wearing.