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March 2010

Dept. of What Was I Thinking

How do I get into these things? Today at around noon, a TV producer and her camera crew are11_41_9---TV-Camera_web   arriving at my home to interview me about my Kindle. The producer is in my book group and last week sent out an email asking if anyone loved their electronic reader. I sent her back a friendly note saying that I didn't love it, but on balance liked it, and before I knew it, had agreed to go on television to discuss it.

I happen to know this woman doesn't like Kindles at all - she's already gone on in book group about the joys of the heft and feel of paper - so I already feel defensive.

Kindle2  Here's the thing: I love to read. Books, newspapers, magazines, you name it. I don't feel strongly about how the content is delivered. I read regular hardcovers. I read paper backs. I read electronic books. I listen to books on tape and on cds. To me, the point is the book, not the vehicle of delivery. Different modes work best at different times.

Downsides of the Kindle: you can't loan your books to others once you've finished them. You have to remember to charge it ever so often. It's harder - though not impossible - to peak ahead and find out what's coming.

Upside of the Kindle: I am definitely buying more books, some impulsively. I love the "preview" feature, where I can get a free segment - usually the introduction - to get an idea of whether or not I want it. New hardcovers are $9.99. It's small and if I'm going on a long trip, everything is on it. I can even download the NYT if I don't want to be toting multiple print sections around. 

Those are my thoughts. And I figured I was done with preparing, until My Daughter called last night and asked what I was wearing and what I was doing with hair and make-up. Well, I washed my hair. I told her I was going to wear jeans and a hoodie. She tells me this is unacceptable. So I don't know what I'm wearing. And if you think I look disheveled (trust me, I do) you should see the house.

What was I thinking?

Traveling Books

2.-Frankly-my-dear-I-don-t-give-a-damn._imagelarge  I've been doing a lot of traveling lately. This past weekend it was a 475 mile round trip up to the Adirondack Mountains. Next weekend it's up to Maine to deliver my speech. (More on that in the days to come.) The weekend after that it's down to Maryland for my in-laws 60th wedding anniversary.

All this driving would get a little tedious if it weren't for books on tape. I am a bit of a skittish driver (I can just hear those who have been in my passenger seat snort, "a bit?!") and listening to a story soothes me. It can't be just any book. Anything too technical and I can't follow it while driving. Anything too frightening and I'm likely to miss my turn. But a good solid yarn that spins out over time gets those miles to fly by.

Lately, I have been immersed in "Gone With The Wind" - a book I know well, but having it read to you while your barreling up or down the interstate is an entirely different experience. And that book will carry you a long way. Let's put it this way - I added this up: I have listened to the book for more than 700 miles on two separate trips, and the Yankees STILL haven't gotten into Atlanta. 

The Off Season

Blue mountain lake march
The Weatherman and I spent the weekend in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, which is smack in the middle of the Adirondack Park. It may be spring where you are, but in BML, it was a brisk three degrees when we woke up on Saturday. 

It's off-season in this region of mountains and lakes, which  - despite the cold - does have a charm of its own. For instance, when we walked into a restaurant in neighboring Long Lake at 7 p.m. on Saturday night, they looked kind of surprised to see us. We could pick any table, but had to order off the pub menu because the dining room was closed. It was open mike night, and a local band was warming up with some Led Zepplin. They weren't bad, nor were the chicken wings we ate. Everyone was friendly and we ate while watching the darkness come over the frozen lake. The moon was nearly full and with no street lights around, the light was almost other-worldly.

Most motels and a good chunk of the businesses are boarded up for the season, but you can get a newspaper and other essentials at Stewarts, a convenience chain store in those parts. Oh, and Stewarts sells its own brand of ice cream, and I  discovered a flavor called "Crumbs Along The Mohawk." This, it turns out, is graham cracker flavored ice cream with graham cracker crumbs mixed in. It is the first serious competition to Turkey Hill Ginger Snap ice cream I have come across, and I came home with a stash.

My Secret Life As A Dancer

Zumba  It's true. When I'm not plowing through studies, re-working my outline and engaging in various other book-related pursuits, I am swiveling my hips and doing the mamba or salsa-ing across the floor. I have fallen for Latin dance, and get my fix a few times a week in Zumba class.

I have been working out for a long time, as my aging hips will testify. I'm old enough to have gone through the Jane Fonda phase (though I didn't own leg warmers) and also sorts of aerobics, step class, slide class, a long period of kick boxing, and - often while recovering between injuries - long slogs on the ellipitcal machine. 

But nothing has quite unleashed my inner diva as Zumba class. It is so much fun. As I follow the instructor's moves I can almost imagine that I am a coordinated, sexy Latin dancer, and not an aging, clumsy American writer. For one sweaty hour I get to be someone else. And then I can come back to my computer, keep plugging and convince myself that I really do deserve some ice cream.

The Long View

11  I had always intended to include a historical chapter on mothers and sons in my book. Originally I was thinking of something that would highlight the Great Mama's Boys of History - talking about men like FDR or Gen. MacArthur, military leaders who were coddled by their intrusive mothers and went on to defy the stereotypes of effeminate men.

But lately I'm taking a broader view. On Monday I interviewed a Columbia University American history professor who has written about the history of parenthood in general, and who argues that we must look at motherhood (and fatherhood for that matter) as social, cultural and ideological constructs, not as some fixed ideal. 

In other words, moms in colonial times had very different roles than moms did in the post-Industrial era, and it inevitably affected the relationship with their children. 

Over the last 300 years, our notions of marriage, of childhood, and of who was seen as the primary parent have changed dramatically. Or as he put it, "a historical perspective is especially helpful in reminding us that contemporary expert discourse on motherhood and fatherhood do not necessarily reveal timeless truths, but rather reflect current social and cultural circumstances."

Part of what I'm arguing in the book is that the "truth" we're told about today about the mother/son relationship  is itself a remnant of another era, and no longer fits our contemporary lives.

I am really grateful to all the people, like this professor, who have freely given of their own time and expertise, simply to help me out. I'm also kind of excited that so many people say, "What a great project!" Let's hope so... 

Lost Sons

I once wrote an article for the NYT about The Boy's room, which I referred to as "a shrine to the New York Rangers." So I was taken aback by the headline of a photo essay in the NYT Magazine this week titled "The Shrine Down The Hall."

What followed were portraits of the rooms of fallen soldiers. They were the unremarkable rooms of boys, young men, my own son's age - 21 - a few younger, a few older, and a daughter too. They have been kept as they were when their occupants were alive. 

These rooms were hauntingly familiar, with their sports posters and trophies and stuffed animals and carefully spread quilts. A football helmet. A poster of Tyra Banks. Team photos. Childhood photos. I can't imagine how these soldier's moms can bear to go into these rooms. But I can't imagine how they can stay out either.

These photos, by Ashley Gilbertson, make me cry.   

Mahogany Chicken Wings

Mahogny chicken wings
Recently, my book group decided that instead of our traditional pot luck dinner, we would all just bring appetizers instead. I wasn't very enthusiastic about this plan. When I eat a meal of appetizers I tend to eat way too much (after all, they're just appetizers) or I end up vaguely dissatisfied. With this in mind, I decided I would prepare a hardy offering and made these chicken wings. They are a bit messy but tasty. The only hard part of splitting the chicken wings, but you have to do it. Sorry. Also, the ingredient amounts seem odd, but that's because I increased the recipe to feed a crowd. 


4 and 1/4 lbs chicken wings, split and tips discarded

2/3 cup and teaspoons soy sauce

2/3 cup and 2 teaspoons honey

1/3 cup and 1 teaspoon molasses

2 tablespoons and 2 and 1/2 teaspoons chile sauce

1 and 1//2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 and 3/4 cloves garlic, finely chopped


-Place chicken in shallow medium dish.

-In a medium bowl, mix soy sauce, honey, molasses, chile sauce, ground ginger and garlic. Pour the mixture over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate about an hour, turning occasionally.

-Preheat over to 375.

-In a large baking dish, arrange chicken in single layer. Bake about 50 minutes, brushing with remaning mixture and turning often. I served these room temperature. 

Hey Guys - Talking May Be Good For You

Boys-baseball-talking-photo-240x240-j-4581800  One of the themes of my book is that mothers spend a great deal of time helping their sons learn to talk. I'm not talking about teaching words to babies; I mean mothers who try to work through the boy code of silence or grunts and help their sons articulate their thoughts and feelings. Many of these Moms take considerable heat for this - they're told to "leave the kid alone,"  "stop bothering him" and not to make him "into a girl."

So I was pleased to read a study coming out of the University of Arizona, which suggests that people who spend more of their time in deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk ("How 'bout those Yankees?") seem to be happier. The author of the study, Dr. Matthias Mehl said, "By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world." 

So sorry, Bobby McFerrin (he sang "Don't Worry, Be Happy") - it seems like some meaningful discussion might better do the trick.

Oh, Please! NYT Restaurant Review

Restaurant_review-5-stars  Lord how I miss Ruth Reichl! Yes, of course I miss Gourmet Magazine, which she edited until its recent demise. But I really miss her as the NYT Restaurant Reviewer. She hasn't been at the TImes since 1999, and I haven't liked one of their reviewers since.

But the latest one, Sam Sifton, is truly insufferable. In today's review of a restaurant called "Colicchio & Sons" he urges readers to order the tasting menu at $125. He adds, "Expensive, yes, but still cheaper than orchestra seats for 'The Nose,' or a facial at Bliss." Um, huh? Yes, that really puts it in perspective for all of us, and in order to spring for the meal, I guess I'll cut back on my weekly facials.

Then there's his horrible over-writing, as in "a lobster bordelaise so deeply flavored as to recall both veal stock and opium smoke," and a curry powder used in the preparation of squab that "tastes of funky sophistication, illicit rides in late-night clubs." All in all, he writes, "this is low-whistle-and-chuckles food."

Give me a break.

Life With The Kitties

Dogs have great press - they are known as loyal companions with distinct personalities. CatsBig Lawson   have a reputation as aloof and selfish. You know that saying - "Dogs have masters; cats have staff."

I have absolutely nothing against dogs, but today I'm putting in a plug for my kitties. They are great company. They have incredibly different personalities. Sipping my morning coffee while having one of them curled up in my lap purring Maddy on my desk  is unbelievably soothing.

True, the little one woke me up early this morning, meowing because the food bowl was empty. True, the big one took ages to settle down in my lap - he seems to have to circle it dozens of times to get just the right spot, all the while his tail and backside is either in my face or batting against the newspaper. And true, the little one will soon be up in my office, padding across the keyboard and settling down onto the mouse pad. (How appropriate!)

But overall their presence is a delight, and I can't remember how I ever lived without them.

The Tree Guy

It's not looking good that the tree guy is coming today. We still have trees down all over the property. Of course, that was from the last storm. We're not counting the storm this past weekend. We are lucky - no trees on the house, and full electricity. Others around the region were not spared, and Westchester will probably qualify as a federal disaster area. Here are some pix from around the county, courtesy of the Journal News.

Bilde Small-fb031410storm12   

Small-bennewstorm22 Small-fb031410storm45   

Weatherman On The Weather

Storm_crushed_car_fairfield_2003[1] This past weekend, our county of Westchester was hit with the second major storm in two weeks. The first dropped two feet of heavy wet snow, bringing down trees, branches, closing roads and doing all sorts of other damage. Now we've been hit again with heavy rain, sustained tropical-force winds and yet more tree toppling, car crushings, road closings and even storm-related deaths.

The Weatherman is a very careful and deliberate man. So he is not saying that the wild weather we have been having is caused by global climate change. He says that an Individual weather event can never be attributed to climate change.

"However, certain aspect of climate change modeling do call for more severe storms, with higher winds and higher precipitation," says The Weatherman. So if the kind of storms we've had in the past few weeks become common overr the next several years, then it is likely they are due to climate change.

Whether these are freakish storms or may be part of a worrying pattern, I am getting more and more anxious for spring to arrive.

Book Update

Speech  Many, many months ago I agreed to give a speech. A keynote speech no less. At a conference. Now the time is drawing near and I'm having that reaction I always have when I am getting ready to address a big group of people: what the hell was I thinking?!

Well, I'll tell you. The topic of the speech is the mother/son relationship, and I am writing a book on the subject. When I agreed to speak I thought I would be publicizing my book. But since I got the extension and the book is nowhere near done, the speech is playing a different, though valuable role. It has forced me to really crystalize my thoughts and think about how to present them in a way that makes for an cogent, compelling narrative. Almost like a mini-outline of the whole project.

Simple, right? Are you kidding? I'm already really nervous. And, I might add, the speech isn't exactly finished....


Image  When I was working as a reporter, I would get inundated with  press releases pronouncing it to be a special day or week for some disease. "But it's National Arteriosclerosis Awareness Week," some publicist would implore earnestly in a follow up call, and I can arrange for you to interview Dr. Whoever, who is an expert in the disease."

Trust me, there is a day or week to command attention for every disease under the sun, and other days or weeks for social movements,  and  products too - you too, can celebrate National Raisin Week.

 Needless to say, despite the best efforts of publicists, these manufactured occasions were rarely considered actual news and they did not generate articles.

So yesterday, I got an email from a girlfriend announcing it was not only "National Girlfriends Day" but also "Girlfriends and Sisters Week." It had all sorts of adorable pictures of girls, and sentimental little homilies about friendship, and quotes like, "I'm only as strong as the chocolate I eat, the hairspray I use, and the friends I have."

So did I promptly toss this into the electronic trash, cynic that I am? Of course not. I got all emotional about how much I love my girlfriends, thought particularly about the ones that came to my rescue when I was sick (taking me to the doctor, going to the grocery store and pharmacy for me, etc.) and was awash in warm feelings. Then I forwarded it to a bunch of friends I care about deeply.

What publicists never really knew about me: give me the right subject, and I go all mushy.

What About The Girl?

2831~Mother-and-Daughter-Posters  A reader (yea! I have some!) recently commented about the way I refer to my daughter in this blog. Which, simply is as:  "my daughter." 

The Weatherman, you'll note, gets capital letters. The Boy gets the same. I would never call my daughter "The Girl" because it just doesn't fit her personality. But why isn't she "My Daughter"? Or, for that matter, "Our Daughter"?

Let me answer the second one first. You know how when you are really irritated at a kid, you might turn to your husband and say, "You know what YOUR son did today?" And when you're proud and pleased you are more likely to take full ownership? That's why she is generally referred to as "my" daughter because I'm awfully proud of her. (The Weatherman is too, but this is my blog.)

Now the first question - why doesn't she get caps? There was no reason. It was an oversight. She will heretofore be referred to as My Daughter.

It is also true that My Daughter is not discussed nearly as much in this blog as The Boy. Here are the reasons. One, this blog is in part about the book I am writing, which concerns sons. Two, My Daughter is very private. She would kill me if I wrote anything personal about her life - and that includes her job and it certainly includes her social life. She is still mad at me over some columns I wrote in The Times.

In fact, My Daughter has an extremely interesting life, and there's a fair amount of drama in it. But I will say no more for now. Except that her presence in this blog has no relation to her presence in my head or heart. 

Pleasure Doing Business With You

Money in hand  When I was regularly contributing to the New York Times, the ethics rules couldn't have been more clear. You were not allowed to accept gifts from any sources or potential sources that had a value of more than $25. Once I received an expensive gift in the mail from someone I had written about, and dutifully boxed it up and sent it back with a note explaining The Times' policy. Expensive meals, trips - all that stuff was absolutely off limits. It wasn't complicated. You simply couldn't accept anything  for the obvious reasons that it would influence you and compromise your objectivity. 

This reasoning is  evidently lost on New York State politicians. Congressman Charlie Rangel just gave up his post as Chairman of House Ways and Means because -  Charlie, you are not allowed to take corporate sponsored trips to the Caribbean. Also, you have to pay your taxes. Governor Patterson - who is already in very hot water for personally interfering in a domestic violence case,  is now trying to explain why he solicited 5 free tickets to a Yankees World Series game (face value $450 each), at a time when the Yankees had business in front of the state concerning their new stadium.

I know it's tempting. I sure could use a free trip to the Caribbean about now. But guys, you simply can't do it.

Storm Aftermath

What's left of cherry tre  Yesterday I drove for the first time both since the winter storm that walloped us last week. (The lack of driving had more to do with being sick then the storm - the driveway was cleared of the trees on Saturday evening.) 

Holy Cow! The landscape in my little town has been transformed. Trees down everywhere. Wires down everywhere. Roads closed. You come around a curve and suddenly the road is one lane, because branches and snow are blocking one direction. Most of the vehicles on the road are tree pruners - men in hard hats are up in buckets all over the place,  most  getting heavy limbs off power lines. Power has mostly been restored now - just a few pockets still out. Schools reopened yesterday, though two were without telephone service. 

It makes me think of what it must be like to live in a place with huge natural disasters - this was an imperceptible blip compared to Haiti or Chile of course. Folks I know whose homes were damaged just moved in with friends or checked into the local Holiday Inn. 

NO MORE WHINING! (As if I've ever made good on that promise.)

This photo is what's left of one of the pretty, flowering pink cherry trees that used to line the driveway.

Turkey Hill and Me

Turkey hill calendar  Ever since I wrote a fan letter to the Turkey Hill Company - ok, maybe it was more of a plea letter, begging them not to take Ginger Snap Ice Cream off the market - they have become faithful correspondents.

First, they sent me an email, explaining the "Limited Edition" program. Later, in the snail mail, a whole bunch of coupons arrived. Most recently, I have received a Turkey Hill Calendar. I was pretty excited about this, because I assumed it would feature a picture of a different ice cream every month. Hey - we all have our own idea of porn - and this was my idea of a very exciting calendar. 

Alas - the calendar features a quilt motif - different patterns each month. But all is not lost - towards the end of the calendar they get back to business. They describe the "Limited Edition" ice creams coming up for 2010. First things first: Ginger Snap will be back, though not until November. Meanwhile I can look forward to something called "Fried Ice Cream" in April, described as "Cinnamon ice cream swirled with cinnamon sopapilla and sweet tostada pieces." Very promising. The Boy will be happy to hear about a new flavor coming in August: "York Peppermint Pattie," white mint ice cream with mini York Peppermint Patties and chocolate mint swirl.

Did I mention that I'm feeling a little better and my appetite has returned?

Digging Out

What a week! Someone close to me was threatening to call the "Wahnbulance" (it's siren wails "Wahnnnnn, Wahnnnnnn" in one long whine) because I was so full of woe. Just to recap: The Weatherman was away. I was alone and sick as a dog and on meds making me feel even sicker. A storm of incredible proportions hit Thursday, felling trees which blocked my exit from the house. I will try to say no more about this dismal period, but will show you some pix of what it looked like around here on Friday morning.

Here was the view from my garage door looking out: