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July 2010

Food Street

Pickle  Last night, I met a woman who lives in my town whose last name is "Pickle." Hamburger   She told me that the first time she went to vote here, the person who signed her in started to snigger. Mrs. Pickle was used to having people laugh at her name, but it turned out that what was really cracking up the registrar was the fact that Mrs. Pickle's neighbor was in the next voting booth. Her name - I kid you not - was Mrs. Mustard. But that's not all! They have another family on the block named "Hamburg"! And Mrs. Pickle swears that the name of her realtor was "Lasagna." Mustard  

Normally, I would think she was pulling my leg, but Mrs. Pickle is a pretty serious person and she swears to the story. They must have some awesome block parties.

Just Missed Bill Clinton

Clinton  Nooooooo.....! I'm a victim of my own good planning. Yesterday, The Girls (that's Immanie and Astonya) were going to see an outdoor production of "Taming of the Shrew" in the evening. They have been studying Shakespeare all summer, and this is a special treat, hosted by the scholarship program.

The girls were to bring a picnic dinner. I had ordered fried chicken at Langes, a local institution known both for its good chicken and as one of Bill Clinton's favorite local spots. To save time, I made a point of picking up the chicken before I picked up The GIrls after school. 

Imagine my disappointment when we met up with the rest of the kids and host parents about an hour later, and a group of them were excitedly talking about how they had just met Bill Clinton. At Langes. When they were picking up sandwiches for the picnic at the last minute. If only I hadn't planned ahead.

Dang! I have met our former president a few times in town but I would have loved to see him again and of course for The Girls to have met him. But all is not lost. According to Astonya, Clinton told one of the students that he is not moving. You heard it here first....

A Mother's Place

40916-large  I forgot something about teenagers. You need to drive them everywhere. This is our second week hosting Immanie, 16, and Astonya, 15. They are great girls. And they are popular girls. I don't know how many times a day I turn around to face them in the back seat of the car and say, "Buckle up, girls."

Yesterday I picked up Astonya after school. Immanie was staying for math tutoring. After we got home, Astonya was invited to go swimming at a friend's house. I drove her. Then Immanie needed to be picked up at the library. The Boy got her. Then he swung around to get Astonya. Then we had a nice dinner of chicken tacos, during which Immanie reminded me they had been invited to yet another friend's house for a get-together that evening. After they were done with homework, I drove them over. The Boy picked them up two hours later. (Thank Goodness he is home this summer.)

This morning Astonya was dragging and I kept hustling her because I really didn't want them to miss the bus because I didn't want to drive them to school. Which reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers:" If A Mother's Place Is In The Home, Why Am I Always In The Car?"

Moms and Sons

SoldierMomHug  Every time The Boy leaves the house, I always say, "Drive carefully." It's almost like a superstition, that if I just utter those words, it will keep him out of harm's way. 

My son, of course, leads a relatively safe life. I can't help but think about the Moms whose sons (and daughters) are serving in the military. The soldiers, of course, are incredibly brave, but so are the Moms (and Dads) who wake up each morning knowing that their kids face danger every minute. I do not know how they do it.

I've been thinking about this, because as I continue to research the book, I've turned my attention to my online survey for sons.  Numbers of young men in the military have completed it, offering thoughtful comments about their relationships with their Moms. The answer key shows their home states, but it isn't clear where they are all serving. They write "deployed." Of course I wonder if the guys who write about their closeness to their moms are somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan, and what was going on around them when they took the time to fill out the survey. I wonder how they are doing and if it is comforting or painful to think about their mothers. And I wonder how many prayers their moms send up every day, hoping to keep their sons safe. 

Mother-Son Quote of the Week


"There is a Jewish mother joke about a psychiatrist who has been trying over and over without much success to explain the intricacies of the Oedipus complex and its dire consequences to the mother of the mama's boy whose neurosis he is treating. 'Oedipus, Schmedipus,' she replies. 'As long as he loves his mother.'"

-from "Our Mother's Spirits" edited by Bob Blauner

Just Google It

Google  The girls who are staying with me have homework every night. Yesterday evening they were working on a Social Studies assignment. The teacher had asked them to research Iraq in the 1950s, and then draw parallels to the Spanish-American War.

It's been years since my own kids were in high school, and even then I was never involved with their homework. So I was more than a little surprised to see one of the girls type the following into the Google search engine: "How is Iraq in the 1950s like the Spanish-American War?"

I must say that the results were not good. Nothing came up that answered the question. The screen loaded with mostly irrelevant topics from what looked like disreputable sites. Of course she could have phrased the question better, or done separate searches and tried to come up with her own parallels or whatever. But what struck me was the assumption that instead of doing real research and comparative analysis, all she needed to do was find the ready-made answer online.

All this makes me feel old and crotchety. She had been taught that many internet sites were unreliable, but still. 

In other news, poor Astonya woke up with Maddy at the foot of her bed this morning. But she lived to tell....

Cat Stand-Off

Double trouble  It happened again this morning. Astonya hadn't come down for breakfast. I went to check on her. Sure enough, she was shut up in her room, fully dressed and ready to go, but terrified to come out. Lawson was sitting in the hall, staring at the closed door.

Now that I look at them (and the two pictured are my real cats) I can see how they could look really frightening. It happens that  Lawson is the very definition of a scaredy-cat. I know he is keeping vigil at her door because she is someone new in the house, and he wants to make sure she doesn't make any sudden moves. Astonya also wants to make sure Lawson doesn't make any sudden moves. And so they remain in a stand-off.

The thing is, Astonya wrote "no pets" on her application and was placed with us anyway. I feel terrible, because she has enough to adjust to - first time away from home, new school, new town, new classmates, living with a family she just met. Having to be in a home where something scary could creep around a corner any minute is too much. But I still hope she stays. I like this girl and I want her to feel at home.

I keep explaining this to Maddy and Lawson and asking them to keep their distance, but they just won't listen. 


Img137  This week and next, I am hosting two young ladies who are  participating in a summer scholarship program in our town. One of the girls, Immanie, was here last summer too, and it is great to have her back. The other, Astonya, is new to the program, and she is also lovely - bright and friendly. But there is one thing - Astonya is terrified of cats. And we have two cats. 

I am a person who respects phobias. Personally, I am terrified of flying and The Weatherman can talk to me until the cows come home about how being in an airplane is safer than being in a car, and it makes absolutely no difference. A phobia is not a rational fear; otherwise you wouldn't have it. So I completely understand where Astonya is coming from. Though I have told her that the cats will not hurt her, I really feel for her when she flinches when Lawson or Maddy comes into the room.

Yesterday she didn't come down to breakfast and I was worried she would miss her bus. It turned out she was trapped in her room, because Lawson was sitting outside the door. We are trying to work this out - she is trying to tolerate the cats' presence and I am trying to keep them out of her way. Stay tuned....

Collapse of The Fleet

Broken_down_car  Carless in the suburbs. It began with our 1998 Volvo, a generally reliable warhorse of a vehicle. But late last week, it began leaking gasoline out of a tube poking out from the bottom of the car. (The Boy, who drives this car, did not appreciate the new nickname I bestowed on it - "The Deepwater Horizon.") 

Clearly, this car is not safe to drive. But never mind, I still had my new car. OK, it's actually 10 years old and passed the 120,000 mile mark this summer. But that, too, gave up the ghost, on the very same day. Even AAA had trouble getting it started, and it appears to be more than a battery problem.

That car can be salvaged and is at the shop. It's probably time to put the Volvo out to pasture, because at a certain point, you just can't keep pouring money into an old car - diminishing returns.

Thank goodness for my Mom, who leant me her car. That too, is 10 years old. But it does pass one important test: it goes.

Anyway, it is time to break down (ugh - bad choice of words) and get a new car.

So far, in the last month, the following things have broken: the coffee pot, the grill, the oven, the attic fan (which blew the circuit that controlled the upstairs lights) and both cars. Bottom line: it's just stuff, not people. Still, I'm keeping a close eye on this computer...

Black Coffee

Black-coffee  Yuck! How do people drink this stuff? I adore my morning coffee, but it is usually loaded up with sugar and whole milk - kind of like a coffee milk shake. It bears little resemblance to what I'm sipping now - a dark, bitter brew. But I have to drag myself to a medical lab to have some blood work done this morning, and the test calls for six hours of fasting before hand.

 The only time I am fasting is when I am sleeping, so it requires this first-thing-in-the-morning trip. Thank God they allow black coffee at least, so I won't crash the car on the way over.

Then it's down to Southern Westchester to a museum where I am interviewing an artist for the NYT. Did I tell you I am starting to do some arts coverage for the paper? It is fun, but I'd forgotten how much time even the simplest article consumes, and I need to stay focused on the book. 

The Silver Kitty

Cat-on-keyboard  Sometimes, I call my laptop "the silver kitty." This is because the computer often does sit on my lap, much to the disgust of my bigger cat, Lawson. Lawson is a fine fellow, but he bears no resemblance to the adorable kitten pictured here.

Rather, he is an extremely large (we're talkin' his stomach scraping bottom), grey, domestic shorthair. He was once little, when he arrived at our doorstep as a starving stray in the middle of a raging snow storm.

Anyway, Lawson is a very good natured, affectionate cat, but if there is one thing he can't stand, it's when I have "the silver kitty" on my lap. Lawson believes this lap belongs to him, and doesn't like it when a machine is occupying his space. This morning it is pouring rain, so I am reading the paper online instead of retrieving it from the bottom of the driveway. And Lawson keeps head-butting the computer in an attempt to get it to move on, so he can resume his rightful ownership of my lap.

Looks like he's winning the battle....

Off The Grid

Well, I wasn't off the electronic grid but I was off the Internet grid. My parents have a place in the Adirondacks that is very isolated. When I was growing up there was no television set, but sometime in the early 1990s, tradition broke down - I think it was over sports viewing - and a set was installed.

The contemporary version of letting in the real world is the installation of a satellite for Internet service. I admit that I have been pushing for this for that last five years or so. Still hasn't happened. And it's kind of a mixed blessing. I have come back to hundreds of emails (I was up there 4 days) and subsequently, a ton of unattended business and am swamped this morning.

But here's the argument for keeping the place Internet-free, and it's a compelling one. Instead of being on the computer, I was looking at this:

View from ledges
  P fishing

Boys R Us

Huge.90.453081  Last night I met with the MOOBS (Mothers of Only Boyst) and they were an awfully nice group of women. For the first time I spoke about the book without notes and was later told I appeared relaxed, funny and on top of my material. (As opposed to my frequent state of appearing frantic and all over the place.)

I met so many different Moms of sons, including one woman who was a personal laboratory on the nature v. nurture question. She had an adopted son and a set of triplets - two identical, one fraternal. All 4 boys. Some of the women expressed daughter envy, and talked about taking over prom dress shopping for their nieces or excitedly befriending their sons' girlfriends because they were so happy to have another female in their home. (A surprising number reported owning female dogs too.)

But almost all of them said they were close to their sons and the message of the book seemed to resonate with them. And I got to hear those happy words from a lot of people: "I can't wait to read your book!"


GinsPA_450x300  Tonight I am going to address a group who call themselves the MOOBS. No, no, it's not about male breasts! The acronym stands for Mothers Of Only Boys. They are an ad hoc group in Westchester, and I know very little about them. Maybe they spend time talking about being the only female in a house full of testosterone. A friend of mine is a long-time member, and she made the connection between my book and all these Moms. 

Normally, I would not be able to attend this gathering, because I have a daughter. In fact, the hostess of tonight's meeting told me they once had a member  who had 4 sons. When she got pregnant again and delivered a girl, she was booted from the group. Yikes! Tough crowd. Should be fun though.

In other news, the replacement part for my broken oven will take about a week to come in. You know what that means - still off cooking.

God Doesn't Want Me To Cook

K1108 Oven shelf  It's true. Here is my evidence: as I posted yesterday, I was up early to grill flank steaks before it got too hot. But when I went out to flip the meat, my grill had gone cold. It was out of gas. I did have another full tank, ready to go (that's The Weatherman's good planning) but I could not for the life of me detach the empty one. I would like to say in my defense that 3 different men attempted to fix it later, without success.

Although the last thing I wanted to do was use my oven in this weather, I had no choice. I broiled the meat, heating up the entire kitchen, creating multiple dirty pans and filling the house with the smell of roasting steak. Not good. But nothing compared to what happened when I took the meat out. For some reason, the top panel of the oven came off. That's the digital panel, that includes, among other things, the on/off button for the oven. It was hanging by one wire, and sparks were coming off of it.

After much foraging in the basement, I found the proper fuse and shut down the electricity. At this point it was only about 9:15 in the morning and I was already crying.

I did manage to entertain later in the day, and a repair man is coming today "sometime between noon and 6 p.m.," according to the dispatcher. But I'm taking this as a sign. It's cold food all day. Unless the refrigerator breaks.


4th of July Weekend

Family, Friends, Food and Fireworks. That about sums it up for this long weekend. Both The Boy and The Girl are home, which is heaven. We've been to several pot luck dinner picnics, one fabulous concert of classic American music (Gershwin and Company, along with a spirited rendition of the 1812 Overture, complete with cannon fire) and two great fireworks shows.

Today it's my turn to entertain, and even though it's only 8 in the morning, I'm about to go grill some flank steak. It's going to be pushing 100 degrees today, and the meal I'm serving tonight will be all cold and prepared ahead. That includes the steak, which will be served thinly sliced and chilled. I've already baked the pie and made a cold minted pea soup. (By the way, I have been incredibly lax lately about the food section of this blog, but check back tomorrow for pictures and recipes.)

Hope everyone has had a Happy 4th!

Thomas Edison's "to do" List

Thomas_edison  I don't know about you, but my "to do" list today includes such mundane items as a grocery store trip, returning calls, plus the usual combination of work and volunteer commitments. Yesterday, I came across Thomas Edison's "things done and things to be done" list, written on January 3, 1888, and published recently in a special history edition of Time Magazine. 

This is only part of it but boy, is it humbling:

-Cotton Picker

-New Standard Phonograph

-Deaf Apparatus

-Electrical Piano

-Artificial Cable 

-Long distance standard Telephone Transmitter which employs devices of recording phonograph

-Improved Magnetic Bridge for practical work

Ho hum - all in a day's work.