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November 2009


Emptynest  Does anyone ever get use to the empty nest? My Sister called me yesterday from California feeling deeply blue. Her daughter, who is 28, married and lives on the East Coast, had just left with her husband after their Thanksgiving visit. I was of no help, because I still had pink eyes from saying goodbye to The Boy, who drove back to college on Sunday morning. The water works started all over again when My Daughter left. She doesn't even live very far away - she's in Manhattan and we're in a suburb - but I still went to pieces when The Weatherman drove her to the train station.

I know this is a recurring theme in this blog. But I love, love, love having them home. And when they leave, it hurts, every single time.

Party Crashers

Alg_sahadis_arrive  Yesterday, we were sitting around the dining room table, plates piled shamefully high with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce, when I  I looked over at two of our guests and thought - hey, wait a minute, did we invite these people?

There were Michaele and Tareq Salahi, chatting it up with The Boy, posing for pictures with My Daughter, and trying their hardest to get next to the Weatherman. The next thing you know, photos of our entire family Thanksgiving celebration were all over Facebook.

Well, I'm going to get to the bottom of this and find out where the security break down occurred. This was the social event of the year, invitations were extremely exclusive, not to mention the  risk involved. 

I can only be thankful that they left before we went for a neighborhood "waddle" (that's a post-Thanksgiving walk) and a high stakes game of Trivial Pursuit later in the evening. This calls for a Congressional investigation.

What's Cooking At The White House

Image5351422  Well, yesterday I made the cranberry/orange relish and today I'm making the pumpkin pie and the sweet potato casserole. 

But at the White House last night, at Obama's first state dinner, the menu was not exactly traditional. They were hosting the prime minister of India and his wife, and the food was meant to be a combination of American and Indian flavors.

They began with a potato and eggplant salad, which doesn't sound too tasty to me, even with the addition of White House arugula and onion seed vinaigrette. Then there was red lentil soup with cheese, again - yuch.  Then there were roast potatoes with tomato chutney - still nothing whetting my appetite there. There were two selections for main course - a vegetarian dish of chick peas and okra (yikes!) or - and this is the first thing that sounded tasty - green curry prawns with smoked collard greens and aged coconut basmati rice. Dessert was pear tatin and pumpkin pie tarts.

I voted for Obama. I support the president. He faces daunting tasks with the two wars he didn't start, the economy that he didn't destroy, the health plan that he's trying to get through, etc. etc. But finally, he and I will have to agree to disagree. That menu? Nope. Just too weird. 

Home for the Holidays...And Then Some

Norman-Rockwell-Thanksgiving-thanksgiving-2927689-375-479 One down, one to go. That is, The Boy is home from college, happily ensconced in his childhood bedroom. He's right where I want him, and nothing makes me happier than to see his long frame stretching out on the family room couch, as he simultaneously watches ESPN, texts, is on his laptop and hangs out with me.

My Daughter will come home tomorrow after work. She works in Harlem, so she will catch a train at 125th street and head up to Westchester, duffle bag in hand to stay for the long, long weekend. Happy. Happy. Happy.

 Today's NYT reports that the economy is forcing young adults back home in record numbers. According to the Pew Research Center, 10% of adults younger than 35 have moved back home. I know it's because of financial hardship, but Jeez, it sounds pretty good to me. I'd love to have my kids back home. I miss them like crazy.

I know, I know. Be careful what you wish for. They would probably be making me crazy if they lived here permanently, and Lord knows I would drive them around the bend. My Daughter has a good job, a roommate who is a great friend,  a tiny apartment with no closet but in a great neighborhood, and all and all is well established in adult life. The Boy is heading to Spain in January to study there and will be living in an apartment in Seville. I am thrilled -and thankful - that they are independent and doing so well.

But I still wish the Thanksgiving holiday could last straight through Christmas.

Where's The Beef?

WheresThebeef No, I'm not talking about the Thanksgiving menu plan. Most people of a certain age will remember the commercial for Wendy's, where an outraged woman looks at a huge bun with a tiny speck of meat, and asks, "Where's the beef?!" Over the years, the term has come to mean "where's the substance?" around an idea.

"Where's The Beef?" is my new writing theme for revisions of chapters one, two and three in the book. I feel pretty good about my ideas, and I have plenty of quotes from mothers across the country to back them up. The beef, in this case, is the scientific literature that backs up this more anecdotal material. 

I have been plowing through all sorts of psychological, psychiatric and "gender studies" literature. I put "gender studies" in quotes, because that is not an academic discipline that existed when I was a young 'un. Academic writing is not for the faint-hearted. Here's a little taste, and this is an abstract, which should be more readable:

"The purpose of this qualitative, descriptive study was to conduct an in-depth exploration of male gender identity as it  unfolds within the early-mother-son matrix. The dialectical relationship between separation and attachment provided the guiding paradigm."

You get the idea. This beef is not always easy to digest. But I think it will add the needed protein to the book and give it in the intellectual heft it needs. 

The Dream Is Over So Oprah is ending her TV show - the last broadcast is September 9, 2011. I can assure you that there is not a snowball's chance in you-know-where that my book will be written, published and promoted on a national television show by then.(If ever.) Please note the incredible conceit that if Oprah were not ending her show, I'd have a shot of ever being on it. Hey, a girl can dream. But  the dream is over.

Now what?

Mammography My mother survived breast cancer. My grandmother survived breast cancer. My mother-in-law survived breast cancer. Just among my small book group, my friends Melanie, Inara and Elyse survived breast cancer. All their cancers were found on a mammogram. Then there was my friend Gwen, another survivor, who found a lump by doing a self-exam.

Two very dear friends were not as lucky. Betsy and Sherry both died of the disease and both were in their forties. Neither one had any "risk factors" so according to the new recommended guidelines, would not have started screening before their deaths.

Because of my family history, I had my first mammogram at age 35, and have gone through this unpleasant but I assumed very necessary screening annually. Now I don't know what to do. Medical recommendations that seem unquestionable are turned on their heads. 

Next up: if you have a history of heart disease and see the people you love dropping dead from heart attacks and strokes, no worries about eating lots of fat, smoking like a chimney and leading a completely sedentary life style.

Lamb Empadillas

Lamb empadillas

God knows what possessed me to buy ground lamb. I didn't want to make moussaka. I didn't want a Sheppard's pie. So what was I thinking? In desperation I googled "ground lamb recipes" and came up with this. They were really quite good and if I hadn't been rushing, I could have probably made them pretty too.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/3 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 pound ground lamb

1/2 cup chopped pimento-stuffed Spanish olives

1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed

3/4 teaspoon pepper

5 dashes red pepper sauce

1 eegg

1 tablespoon water

2 recipes pastry for double crust pie, rolled 1/16th of an inch thick (confession - I used Pillsbury Already Pie Crust. It was fine.)

The original recipe called for a teaspoon of salt, but I don't think it needs it.

In a large frying pan, heat oil. Cook onion, garlic and pine nuts for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add lamb, finely crumble and cook until lamb is no longer pink. Drain well. Add olives, cumin, oregano, salt pepper and red pepper sauce; set aside.

Preheat oven to 375. In small bowl, make egg wash by beating together egg and water; set aside. Using cookie cutter (I used an upside-down glass), cut 4-inch rounds out of pastry. Top each round with a tablespoon of filling. Fold over to make half moon; crimp edges to seal. Cut three 1-inch slits in top of pastry. Brush with egg wash. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

Boob Tube

Tv_0 I just read that Americans in my age group watch an average of 5:52 hours of television a day. I can barely wrap my mind around this. How do they do it? Do you come home from work, flip on the TV, and just watch until bed time? When do you eat dinner? When do you converse with your family? When do you exercise? When do you read?

All this begs the bigger question - what do you watch?

I know I'm very naive on this subject, as I am not a big fan of television. I watch two programs - "Mad Man" which is now finished for the season, and ...ok, I'm not proud of this..."Grey's Anatomy." I tape them both, and watch when I get around to it, and fast forward the commercials. That translates into viewing under two hours of TV a week, which leaves me wondering about the remaining 36 free hours a week that I have that others my age don't. 

Come to think of it, what am I doing with all that time? Reading, of course. Cooking. OH YEAH! It just came to me - playing countless word games online. Damn - any brief moment of righteousness has just evaporated. My boob tube is just a lap top, and my activities are as mindless as the next guys. Never mind.


Books1 I have a little critic that lives in my head. Every time I craft a paragraph for the book, the little critic whispers everything that might be wrong with it: "That's just anecdotal - where's the science behind it?" "How does that quote illustrate your point?" "What kind of convoluted sentence structure is that?!" "Who cares?"

You get the idea. This week, when I read the NYT Book Review, I could only imagine when the little critic inside my head might someday be replaced by the professionally paid critics that review books. (Assuming I'm ever lucky enough to get my book reviewed.) In just a few pages, critics managed to eviscerate best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell ("The reasoning in 'Outliers,' which consists of cherry-picked anecdotes, post-hoc sophistry and false dichotomies, had me gnawing on my Kindle."), Pultizer and National Book Award Winner Philip Roth ("A lazy work, 'The Humbling' lacks its author's genius - all that would help us, as it has so many times before, to forgive him his prejudices and blind spots") and Vladimir Nabokav ("Although 'The Original of Laura' has at long last, been properly published - assuming it was proper to publish it at all - there's not enough of it to be properly reviewed, as Nabokov himself would surely understand. 'Not quite finished' with the manuscript? That was a sad understatement, for public consumption.")

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. 

The Messenger

ArticleLarge I'm slowly on the mend and last night I went to see a preview of the movie  "The Messenger." The movie stars Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, who play soldiers assigned to "bereavement notification." That is, they are the angels of death, the duo that deliver the knock on the door that every military family dreads.

This film has no explosions, no blood and no combat scenes, but it conveys the horror of war in an especially affecting way. One of the young soldiers, Will, is an Iraq veteran, quiet and self-contained, suffering from his own wounds, both physical and psychic. The other, Tony is a volatile, recovering alcoholic, ambivalent about his own service in the Persian Gulf War. Every time they knock on a door, you don't know what to expect, because the grief they deliver is met by a variety of responses. 

The movie was directed by Oren Moverman, who served in the Israeli army for four years. He was present at the screening last night, and someone asked him if he meant to make an anti-war statement with the movie. Moverman explained that many veterans had seen the movie, and one Viet Nam vet had told him that there were three views of war: anti-war, pro-war and in-war. "The Messenger," Moverman said, had an "in-war" point of view, that is, this is what it's like now.

Even if you have shied away from other Iraq movies (as much of the movie-going audience in this county has) please go see this one. 

Cats and Flu

Big Lawson Between the oral surgery and the flu, I have had a rough week. I logged a lot of time in bed feeling pretty miserable. But I've been well taken care of by my loved ones. The Weatherman delivered soup and plenty of liquids, and My Daughter and The Boy checked in on me daily.

And then there was Dr. Cat. Lawson, my older and - it must be said - larger cat was in constant attendance. He always knows when I'm down, and he curls up next to me to provide comfort. He is a very skittish kitty (he was a stray and we think he had a very traumatic kittenhood), so he did sometimes startle and bolt at loud coughs or sneezes. But he returned faithfully to my side each time and saw me through my illness.

This morning I was awoken by a peculiar noise. It was Lawson, and he had let out a cat sneeze, which sounds remarkably like a human sneeze, only more high pitched. And now I have just come to find out that a cat in Iowa was diagnosed with HINI virus. I didn't have swine flu, but I will feel terrible if I got my kitty sick with what was ailing me. 

If I did infect him though, I will return the favor and hang out with him until he feels better too.


Broken-heart Amidst all the horror of what happened at Fort Hood, I keep wondering about the soldiers who went to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan for counseling after they returned from war. What could he have told them? How could he have offered them any sort of counsel or help? Did he make them feel even worse about what they had done?

The difficulties of returning from the horrors of war have been documented since the time of Odysseus. The suffering and dislocation from which soldiers suffer has had a lot of names. Currently we call it PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder. It has also been called "battle fatigue" and "shell shock." But I think the most poignant description is the one they used after the Civil War:  "Irritable Heart."


Writer You know how people casually ask, "How are you?" and they don't really mean that they want a full accounting of your physical and mental state?

There is a corollary for "How's the book coming?" The polite response is "Fine, thank you." The one I usually give is, "'s coming along slowly." But even that doesn't begin to describe that mess that is my office, my head and my manuscript. 

The most daunting thing about writing a book - at least to me - is not the writing, or the research or the self-discipline involved. It is the complete lack of feedback. I am used to writing for a newspaper, where every paragraph you write is immediately read by an editor, who sends it back with questions and comments and generally guides you to where you need to go next with your work. 

In this world, I write for months on end, without having the slightest idea if what I'm doing is any good or not. OK - that's a slight exaggeration - my agent is reading the first few chapters and says that when they are in decent shape (which evidently they are not yet), she will send them to my editor at the publishing house. And then if I'm really lucky, she can secure me an extension, which I will no doubt need.

Oh, sorry. Did you ask how the book was going? "Fine, thanks."

Local Politics

Tjndc5-5mpta5mg99j1j3q7jdzt_layout The rest of the country may be mulling over the significance of the Virginia and New Jersey governorships going from Democrat to Republican.

 But here in little old Westchester County, we are reeling from the surprising defeat of three-term County Executive Andy Spano. I covered Westchester for 18 years for the NYT, and for 12 of them, Andy was in power. And he was "Andy" to me - after all those years of hanging out at the same events (he was speaking and I was scribbling down what he said on paper) we were on a first-name basis. 

Westchester is solidly Democratic (home to Bill and Hill, after all).  That Andy got ousted by a young, relatively inexperienced Republican is big news around here.

Andy's been around a long time and he'll be fine.  But I am thinking of all the people I know on his staff, especially all the folks in the press office, who will soon be joining the swelling ranks of the unemployed. 

PS On another note, thanks for the calls about yesterday's oral surgery. It was very unpleasant. I did not know it was possible to have a hammer used inside your mouth. It can be done. Repeatedly. Ouch.

Back In the Dental Chair

Oms More oral surgery today. Another implant. Today they are putting another titanium screw in my jaw. It takes several hours. I have my "mellow at the dentist" playlist ready on my ipod.

Really, honestly, I take good care of my teeth and floss daily. It's in the genes.

Looking forward to a few days of pudding and soup.

And I'm accepting all sympathy.

The Long Haul

Liberty_3cent_stamp-751332 We celebrated an amazing occasion this weekend - my parent's 60thB_p_SouthPacific  wedding anniversary. My mom and dad's marriage is a real love story - all these years later, they remain devoted and get a huge bang out of each other. Just to show you how much they have lived through together, here are some highlights from what the world was like when they exchanged vows in 1949:

-The average cost of a new house was $7,450 (which sounds amazing until you realize that average wages per year were $2950).

-A gallon of gas cost 17 cents.

-The cost of a first class stamp was 3 cents.

-The Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb.1949-VW-Beetle-Karmann-Cabriolet

-The New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. (Not such a dramatic change!)

-RCA perfected a system for broadcasting color television.

-The first Volkswagon Beetle was sold in the U.S.

-George Orwell's classic, "1984" was published. (By the time the real 1984 rolled around, my parents would be celebrating their 35th anniversary.)1984_6

-South Pacific debuted on Broadway. (My parents saw it together then, and again 58 years later as a revival.)

Congratulations to two amazing people with one inspiring marriage!