Archive for May, 2009

Another Hiatus

May 27, 2009

My computer is going into the hospital tomorrow, and I’m typing on a keyboard that’s so small the quote marks won’t fit on the normal line, so I’m hitting an enter with each apostrophe! And I’m hitting two keys at a time. It doesn’t have my word processing program. Nor does it have a CD drive, yet it came with three installation CDs. What’s up with that?

When I return, I’ll have a full appreciation for Ellen D’Oench, who touched so many lives in so many ways.


Choose Your Poison

May 22, 2009

Amy Stewart is a woman after my own heart. She’s the author of Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. The book even looks ominous with its green cover and vines curling about the pages.

Stewart describes a host of plants that will lay low humans and animals. Even though they are scarily lethal, she grows them in her “poison garden” where she pairs them with symbols for the various folks who ate them, such as a small tombstone for Socrates next to the hemlock.

Stewart has added a great deal the oeuvre by putting the collected wisdom in one place. Most people know about the risks of mushrooms. (See the discussion of Death Cap in “Fungus Among Us”) People who grew up in the country also know not to let their kids eat deadly nightshade, otherwise known as belladonna. Once I found out that it was the plant made witches feel as though they were flying, I really wanted to try it but chickened out. Somewhere along the line I did learn that the nightshade family includes the benign tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. But at one point my dad stopped eating them because he thought they aggravated his arthritis. Wonder if he knew that the mandrake that put Juliet to sleep was also a member of the family?

One of my neighbors dug up datura, which is also on Stewart’s list, when he visited his grandmother in Arizona. I don’t know if he ever tried it, but as far as I know he’s still alive.

My mother spread the myth that the highbush cranberry that divided our property from the place next door was lethal. The little neighbor girl ate it with abandon, and I know she’s still alive. I conclude that 1) Mother had the plant wrong, or 2) the child was immune.

One that I learned about was hydrangea, which blooms all over the Northeast in late summer. Who knew those pretty pink and blue flowers contained cyanide?

Stewart opens Wicked Plants with my favorite, monkshood, also known as aconite. It’s also the title of a terrific story by Ellis Peters, featuring Brother Cadfael, the mystery solving monk of twelfth century Britain/Wales. Monk’s Hood concerns the poisoning of a benefactor of Brother Cadfael’s monastery. One of the great things about this weed is its alternative name, wolfbane, which certainly communicates the dire consequences of ingestion.

BTW, ol’ Abe’s momma died of milk sickness or milk fever, contracted in the days before pasteurization from a cow that had eaten snakeroot. Yummy!

Smart Marketing

May 22, 2009

Turning to page 9 of the NYTimes Style section, I saw of the Top Three sexiest men on the planet (not counting my husband). The other two are Denzel and Jimmy Smits. This one is Sean Connery. It was first a great relief not to see Keith Richards on the Louis Vuitton ad. After all it’s hard to distinguish between Keith’s face and the leather on the baggage.

So I’m gazing at Sean for a while and then look to the right and see the “Shaken and Stirred” column, which runs every other week. What a coincidence, right? Well probably slick marketing because the featured drink is Scotland Yard. It’s a Rusty Nail with Scotch (yuck) and Drambuie (double yuck) plus some herbal fluff that does not in the least enhance its appeal.

Now the marketing is obvious: we have the man who defined the law enforcer James Bond, who liked his martinis “shaken, not stirred,” next to a drink named for the law enforcement agency from Connery’s home country that includes two of the ingredients for which the country is famous.

That marketing is almost as slick as some I saw years ago in an edition of the NYTimes Mag story on paintings of bare feet with shoe ads running down outside columns.

The New Newsweek

May 20, 2009

The “reinvented” (their word) Newsweek arrived yesterday, and I’m not sure what to think. The lettering on the cover looks retro, resembling the Life masthead from back in the day. The inside looks like one big ad with little insets and charts. And the type face seems to change from section to section, with Garamond for the early pages, a très retro look.  But Fareed Zakaria’s column is in the old traditional Times Roman. Some of that type is bold, some not. And most annoying of all, there are places where they’ve run type over the photos so that neither is clean.

Commentary on the content will have to wait, because I’ve only had time to skim here and there. One promise appears to have been broken already, though, and that was to cut the People-style gossip. So there on page 11 is Miss California with an index covering her bikini top and a quote from The Donald. If that’s not celebrity gossip, I don’t know what is.

Big Time!

May 20, 2009

Several years ago my friend Thelma and I used to have a Friday martini and light supper at the Inn at Middletown. It was a tradition that lasted over a few years until our paths diverged with family obligations and whatnot.

One of the great joys of dining and drinking at the Inn was our bartender, David Brogan. We felt so comfortable that we started referring to the bar as David’s living room. He created the most wonderful varieties of martinis, often color coordinated with our outfits. I remember one glorious day when Thelma wore peach and I wore turquoise. With our drinks we looked like the flag of a small third world nation, but the flavors were sublime. He also made the only Cosmo that didn’t send me into sugar shock. David served up a taste of each season as well – pumpkin for Halloween, something green for St. Patty’s Day, etc. etc. At Christmas the members of his fan club gave David treats. We brought him cookies, lots and lots of cookies.

Thelma and I were devastated when David left – and I for one haven’t been back since.

So it is with great joy that Thelma told me about SignatureDavid. And there he was! Then I discover he’s still calling me Louise (spelled Louse – should I take it personally?) on his blog.

Hope he’s back behind the bar at a watering hole near us in the very near future.

Back in Town

May 19, 2009

Short entry because I spent the weekend in Massachusetts and am now scrambling to do the Saturday and Sunday chores. We held a memorial service for my cousin Anna’s partner and buried his ashes in the family plot. It was good to see her and to meet his family, but the drive up and back was another story. My car had two near collisions within minutes in the parking lot at the Natick rest stop. No one signals their turns (someone said Mass. drivers don’t want to alert the enemy.) And people were driving as fast through the parking lot at the hotel as they were on the four-lane road on the other side of the divider where the speed limit was 55! The hotel’s van driver nearly got clipped by a woman chatting on her cell phone in another parking lot. I don’t think Mass. folks have ever heard of hands free. In general they seem to want to commit suicide by motor vehicle. They’re running a close second to New Jersey for incompetence on the road.

After the rest of the family had gone home, Anna and I got a brief tour of the Reebok center in Canton, which was all decked out for the breast cancer walk. We met two of the women who had finished 26 miles on Saturday and were getting ready to walk 14 on Sunday. Bless ’em.

We did something far more decadent by having dinner at Legal Sea Foods. I had three fabulous, fat oysters and lemon caper grey sole for dinner (why do they spell “grey” the Brit way?). Anna had her namesake, Anna’s Baked Boston Scrod. Yummy!

On Sunday Anna headed to the airport and I hit the road, discovering that gas was cheaper on the Mass. Pike than in town. Also had an idiot driver who couldn’t decide whether he wanted to get on the Pike or stay on I-95 and swerved in front of me at the last second. Was really glad when I reached the Conn. state line and even happier to return home, even if gas costs about 15 cents more a gallon here than in Taxachusetts.

The Children’s Bible

May 16, 2009

My friend Flora sent this and I have to share.

A child was asked to write a book report on the entire Bible.

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, ‘The Lord thy God is one,’ but I think He must be a lot older than that.

Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did.

Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.

One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.

After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast.  Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.

Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of  Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh’s people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable.

God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments.

These include: don’t lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor’s stuff.

Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.

One of Moses’ best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.

After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines.  My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn’t sound very wise to me.

After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets.

One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore. There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don’t have to worry about them.

After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of The New. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, ‘Close the door! Were you born in a barn?’ It would be nice to say, ‘As a matter of fact, I was.’)

During his life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Democrats.

Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.

Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.

But the Democrats and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn’t stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead.

Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again.

He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.

Liz’s Coda: Say ‘Amen’ to the one-year old God, the Israel Lights, the porcupines, the battle of Geritol, the Democrats, and the opposums!

XX, Double X

May 15, 2009

This entry was supposed to be about the NYT Week in Review, but other more interesting stuff came along. The most recent publication should have been called “Week in Review: The ‘Star Trek’ Edition.” The page two article was “The Two Sides of ‘Star Trek.’ “ Maureen Dowd had a column with a Photoshopped image Obama as Mr. Spock, tricked out with pointy ears and upswept eyebrows. On the same page Columbia journalism professor David Hajdu analyzed the original TV series in “Exploring the Universe, One B-Movie at a Time.” Kind of gives one a hint that most of the folks putting the section together are on the other side of 40.

One other quick note. It took me three hours and four reboots to get the printer to play nice with the computer. Don’t know why they suddenly stopped talking, but they seem to be getting along again.

Now on to Double X. Some of its headlines sound more like The Onion than a diverse and challenging site for all things female.

Here are the Double X headlines: “When banks become funeral homes, churches, and strip clubs.” “Wife Goes on Sex Strike, Man Sues.” Actually the latter sounds like a summary of Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata, about the women who go on a sex strike to halt the war between Sparta and Greece.

Here’s The Onion: “Area Man First In His Family To Coast Through College.”

Double X still lives where it started on Slate as the XX Factor. But now it has its own web site. Much of the content has value. “Get Your Kid off Your Facebook Page” urges women to expand their world beyond their children. The thread for “Bully for Bullies” with a commentary on the Times story on workplace bullying and a reply, “Say No to Mean Girls – and Women,” raises important issues about workplace behavior. On the question of “Who did you want to be when you grew up?” I liked “I wanted to be Blondie. Now I Write for Colbert.” The entry from Brown University President Ruth Simmons said the most about an influence that translated into real worth. She wanted to be her first teacher, who was “as a rock star.”

Like all the hip sites, Double X links to all the other hip places – besides its parent Slate, it goes to the other WaPo owned sites: The Root, Washington Post and Newsweek. Plus it trails into Huffington Post, Daily Beast and so forth.

But – and here’s my big complaint, two days after the launch. Who decided to devote more than 1,000 words to telling Michelle Obama to put on some pantyhose? Really! Even if you agree with the position (I don’t), no one needs to read all that print about how pantyhose can substitute for shaving and waxing (really?), tanning products, varicose vein removal, and firming creams and lotions. As to the question who wouldn’t wear pantyhose in February in D.C., one answer would be me. It can be insufferably humid, even in February. Unbreathable nylon pantyhose are as unpleasant as polyester shirts. Michelle does not need to fill her life with discomfort. Pantyhose are fine when it’s below 70 and dry, but otherwise, wear knee highs and long skirts!

Glad to see Double X on the scene. Please stick to subjects of some weight – Katha Pollitt’s “Still the Second Sex” and “The Parsons Table School of Design,” a paean to that ubiquitous, practical and elegant piece of furniture. Skip the commentary on hair and clothes. That stuff’s available everywhere.

Frugal Living: Delayed Gratification

May 14, 2009

The New Yorker this week revisits a forty-year old experiment involving children and treats to examine the long-term effect of delaying gratification.

The experiment placed four-year olds, one at a time, in a room that was bare except for a chair, a desk, and a tray with some treats. Professor Walter Mischel, the researcher, offered each child a choice of marshmallows, cookies or pretzel sticks. After they made the choice, he told them that they could have one of the item right now. He said he was going to leave the room, and if they waited till he came back, they could have two of their chosen treat. While he was gone, he said, if they decided they just couldn’t wait, they were to ring a bell and they could eat the treat, but they wouldn’t get a second one.

Over the course of several years he tested more than 650 youngsters. About two-thirds of the children couldn’t hold out. A few ate the treat immediately. A few more waited an excruciating few seconds and then ate the treat without ringing the bell. A couple of little boys ransacked the place looking for more treats and toys. But about a third of all the children were able to wait the full 15 minutes so they could have two treats.

Mischel made some crucial observations over the course of the next several years, when he asked his own children about their friends who had been in the experiments. He began to realize that the “high delayers” were more successful in school, had SAT scores that outpaced the “low delayers” others by more than 200 points. The latter group had more behavior problems, more trouble maintaining friendships over the years, and other indicia that our society disapproves. As adults they also have had more trouble holding jobs and tended to use drugs more than the high delayers.

Forty years later, a group of researchers is bringing back as many of the subjects as they can locate for brain scans to see what is to be learned about the differences between these two groups.

It seems to me that part of successfully delaying gratification rests in the ability to live in the moment, something that Westerners, especially Americans, aren’t good at. A person who is living in the moment –  experiencing what is here, what is now – is less likely to be jonesing for that marshmallow or that cookie or that cigarette or that hit of coke or whatever. Of course four year olds are not likely to call it living in the moment, but what the high delayers did was to distract themselves by directing their attention away from the treat. Jonah Lehrer, author of the New Yorker article, calls the video of the children poignant as they struggle to avoid eating the marshmallow by turning their backs, playing with their hair, kicking the furniture, and so forth.

It’s no surprise that many more low delayers are found in poor neighborhoods, where the mentality is “better grab it now because there may not be any more, later.” That philosophy holds true for children who have been deprived, even when the researchers have promised that there will be more, later.

I’m not sure how our collective ability to delay gratification as a nation is going to be affected by the financial collapse of the markets, the massive numbers of foreclosures and the huge waves of unemployment. The promise of more later doesn’t exist any more, so those folks who have delayed gratification by saving could well feel cheated now that their savings have been wiped out. Is this economy bad enough to force them to change their behavior? If it is, the change could pose a serious problem for our country in years to come.

Note: The link to the New Yorker article will no long work after next week, so if you want to preserve a copy of the story, download it now.


May 12, 2009

Quick hit today. I’ll be at the hospital early learning how to train new Reiki volunteers. I’ll focus on the important stuff, like where coffee and snacks are available. Then I spend the later part of the afternoon at a track meet. Should be interesting since the weather forecast says thunderstorms are possible, with a chance of hail. So here are two links that I click on every day. This one came first and helps animals. Then someone sent me a link to a site for people. I love these because it’s an easy free way to help out.

Click away!