Archive for August, 2010

Spotty Blog

August 31, 2010

Organic Art

Entries may be a bit spotty this week. Anna arrives on Friday and I’m in furious housecleaning mode. Spent today weeding out old financial records. The oldest was my mom’s 1975 IRS audit, but I’m saving that for the archives. Oldest of mine dated to 1999. I burnt out the motor on a shredder recently. Now I have another 30-gallon trash bag full for the next one.

A quick follow from the In Style hair affair (See In Style: The Hair). Here’s what the shower looked like after I combed the avocado- whipped cream-olive oil mixture through my hair. Larry refused to come look at the original, so I took a picture.

Jackson Pollock would be jealous, don’t you think?

New Haven Run

August 28, 2010

Larry took a break from chores, and I took a break from writing to make a quick dash to New Haven Wednesday afternoon. We needed luncheon plates since we always run out before the dishwasher fills up. I wanted to replace my wine glasses and Larry wanted to add to his plant collection. The obvious shopping location was Ikea. We timed it to avoid rush hour and discovered that someone finally saw the light and added a second lane at the merge of I-91 and I-95.

The store is so huge it didn’t seem crowded even though we must have encountered most of the freshman class from every one of the surrounding colleges with their parents. They were accumulating bedding, desks, chairs, curtains, you name it, in overbalanced carts. I’ve never seen so many sofas in one place in my life. We liked some of the kitchens but could not fathom assembling the stuff ourselves. There was one scary display of range hoods suspended over a slanted reflective aluminum surface. We both got dizzy before we figured out what was going on.

We staggered downstairs and found lunch plates for $3 each; a six-pack of wine glasses for $5; and a gorgeous orchid for $13. We bought a planter to make the orchid feel more elegant and picture frame for the Burchfield print (“Coincidences.”)

Then we went in search of pizza. Larry has been in the doldrums ever since he returned to Connecticut because the pie places he knew as a kid have all closed. What is available does not meet his standards. He kept looking for thinner and thinner crust, but nothing satisfied.

One day last year I met my former colleagues from the Hartford Courant at Frank Pepe’s in Manchester. For reasons that escape me I ordered a salad, but when I saw what they were eating, I realized I had most probably found what Larry had been searching for. Each pie had an ultra-thin crust with only the basic toppings. They were all baked in an old-style brick oven. The waitress explained as she took the orders that the traditional preparation would produce a slightly burnt crust. Everyone at the table said OK.

Larry and I saw Pepe’s at the Mohegan Sun, but Harv and Nancy insisted we had to go the original site in New Haven. We were nearby so we  tried calling before we left Ikea,  but I finally concluded they had taken the phone off the hook. Having forgotten the GPS and not being able to get through on the phone, we asked directions at a nearby gas station. The guy didn’t hesitate, Larry said. A left, a right and a right and there we were on Wooster Street, the tiny Little Italy of New Haven.

There was a disorganized line of people waiting outside and another line inside, but we walked right up to the counter and ordered one small pie with mozzarella and pepperoni (Larry), and one fresh tomato pie (summer only) with native fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh garlic & basil (me). We took a walk up the street while we waited, which included a quick step into and out of a pastry shop. I regarded the combination of pizza and Italian pastry as potentially lethal. On the way back we discovered that Pepe’s offers Foxon Park sodas. This place is a few years older than Pepe’s and has unusual soda flavors which it sells in glass. Larry got a large cream soda, and I ordered the gassosa, a lemon flavored Italian variety. I found it a bit too sweet, but Larry promised to drink it if I didn’t.

Thus fortified we headed home, though we got on the highway going the wrong way and had to backtrack. The smell of the pizza threatened to drive me nuts but I survived.

Larry pronounced his pizza salty – the pepperoni and a bit burnt (I forgot to warn him) but exactly what he wanted in a thin crust. Mine was excellent, the only drawback being the bits of carbon that came off on my fingers from the burnt crust. I can’t imagine what a large pie would look like. I ate two slices on Wednesday and still have three slices left as of Friday evening.

With the multitude of pizza joints in town, it’s a shame that we’ll have to drive 70 miles roundtrip for a good pie.

Your Brain On …

August 27, 2010

This is another piece of the Redux series but it deserves an entire entry because the connection between the brain and the electronic forest we inhabit covers much territory.

I was about to update distracted driving (second item in “Good News,” “Oprah Joins the Fray,” “The Fuzzy Dice Stay in the Picture – Maybe” ). Then Terry Gross conducted an interview, “Digital Overload,” with Matt Richtel, who won a Pulitzer for his distracted driving articles for the Times. The interview covered some related territory but I really appreciated his explanation of why driving and talking on a cell phone is dangerous, while talking to a passenger in the car may be helpful.

Richtel is now investigating how smart phones, computers, etc. are rewiring our brains. Results are not yet complete but so far his findings are overwhelmingly scary with bits of positive news here and there.

His initial foray into a place where there was no cell coverage and no internet connection echoed some of what I said in “Out of My Face, Facebook!” At least some of the scientists on the trip to the wilds of Utah agreed that unplugging is good for us. Down time is necessary for the creative process, and incessant use of e-devices can hike stress and may impede long-term memory.

All of this information ties into the research on distracted driving because of the connection to multi-tasking with e.g. emailing, texting or talking on a cell phone, Tweeting, Facebooking, YouTubing. Maybe even turning nouns into verbs.

Talking of brain development in children, Richtel said, “[The frontal lobe] evolves last. It sets priorities. It helps us balance between[,] and make[,] choices. It essentially says, here’s where I’m going to direct my attention at any given time. And it’s kind of long-term thinking, long-term goal-setting.” This part of the brain doesn’t fully develop until late teens or early twenties and the late development may have something to do with the fact that people in their twenties, who grew up with e-devices, don’t really grow up and leave home.

The possibility that computer use affects more than just frontal lobe development comes from China and Japan where AFP newswire reports that young people are having difficulty  remembering how to write the logograms that form their written language. It’s comparable to the situation in nineteenth-century America where many people could read swaths of the Bible but couldn’t write more than their names.

Richtel mentioned another possibility: playing video games and maybe engaging in other e-stuff may contribute to insomnia; on the other hand, playing video games can assist with visual acuity.

The best parts of Terry’s interview involved Richtel’s analogy between modern electronica and food (some kinds are good for us; too much isn’t); her confession of her love-hate relationship with email, followed by his terrific explanation for it; and a heartfelt observation that parents should turn off e-devices – and television – when they are interacting with their children.

Conclusions: (1) I already have one computer-free day per week. Maybe I’ll hike that to two. (2) I now make a concerted effort to work on the tough stuff on the “to do” list and to stay focused on those items for at least an hour and a half before I get to email or reading the headlines.

Redux, Redux IV Chapter 2

August 26, 2010

So glad I delayed part of the redux visit because I received a couple of new pieces of info for further updates.

  • Connecticut’s high school graduation rates need help. See “Unrealistic Expectations” and “Education Gap.”  The first story focused on changes in the way school districts track students: 79 percent, overall, with 66 percent for African Americans and 58 percent for Hispanics. These figures were significantly lower than previously understood. Then along came the report on the second-rate graduation rates for black males, which stands at 60 percent for black males, compared to eighty three percent for white males. I’m not going to try to explain the discrepancies. They probably have to do with the use of different years and the change in accounting that led to the drop in Connecticut’s overall rate.
  • We haven’t convicted any more public officials in the past two months (“And Another One Bites the Dust.”), at least that I know of. Joe Ganim, formerly mayor of Bridgeport, is out from under his prison sentence as of July 19. See the sixth item, below the photo. Ex state Sen. Ernie Newton, also from Bridgeport, still has to serve his halfway house time.
  • I’ve done a second trip to Staples (“Too Hot To Think”) and bought only what I needed, a ream of paper for $4.29 plus tax, for which I will receive a $3.99 rebate. Not bad. A third such trip and I will declare myself in full recovery from my addiction.
  • Also from “Too Hot To Think,” we were laughing today about how we are just finishing the spring chores (Larry putting away winter shirts, me washing the cat’s bed). It will be time to haul them all out again soon.
  • Drew Johnson (“Service to Others“) is now following me on Twitter. I’ll try to tweet more. Wish I were volunteering in Maine along side him and his fellow volunteers.
  • I am about to embark on another hair repair process. (See In Style: The Hair) but have concluded that I won’t be doing it too often. I could never use up an entire container of whipping cream before it went sour and when I whip it for the two tablespoons in the recipe I wind up eating the rest, which is not good for the arteries or for the waistline.

From the last Redux:

  • Global Post still going strong with its regular stories and has added a premium, paid section.
  • Dick Blumenthal is facing World Wrestling Entertainment’s Linda McMahon for Chris Dodd’s Senate seat. (I guess he held it long enough to call it his.) This contest will determine whether elective posts really are up for sale.
  • Weather continues to be a topic. The nor’easter that blew through Sunday night destroyed my gorgeous butterfly bush. I know it’ll grow back, but it’s sad looking at these little brown stalks. It was hiding bloom from the clematis so I can’t complain too much.
  • Public Bar and Grill (“Public Confusion”) closed for good in April. The former owner has announced he is filing suit against the city and the state. The new place that went in, Downtown Bar and Grill, promises local food, local entertainment, etc. Sorry, no web link yet except on Facebook and I don’t like to encourage that sort of thing.

Redux, Redux IV, Chapter 1

August 25, 2010

I started to do this entry as a complete review of the last six months, but the computer locked up and then started an update. Then Adobe crashed a pdf. The update will be arriving in two sections.

Chapter 1:

  • Following on the second undefeated season, UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma is hoping for an early loss to remove the pressure for the rest of the season.
  • Tea Roses (“Tea, Glorious Tea”) is still glorious. I’ve been twice since I wrote the entry and can’t wait to go back.
  • One of the things that I learned from my friend Lucey’s forays into the Hudson River (“Magnificent Great River of the Mountains”) was that we in Connecticut suffer because we have only one shad run per season. The Hudson has two, or used to. I had intended to take a quick trip across the state line this month to get a second dose of the magnificent fish until I learned that New York state had shut down all shad fishing in the river because the species had become severely depleted.

To be continued …

More Market Fare

August 24, 2010

The Open Air Market and Festival at the Wadsworth Mansion again brought all manner of good stuff to Middletown. (See “Market Fare”)

What a difference the weather makes! Where it was hot and sunny and crowded in 2008, it was cool and rainy and nearly deserted this year. Not even all the vendors showed. Larry and I parked his uncle’s house and walked down the mansion’s long driveway.

First observation: a huge number of vendors were selling pasta sauce. I don’t remember this from previous years, and it seemed rather like coals to Newcastle. As none of the sauce purveyors were from Middletown, maybe they don’t know that the city is the unofficial Italian restaurant capital of Connecticut and that just about everyone here, regardless of ethnicity, has their own special version of sauce or “gravy.” Even if I had been otherwise moved to sample, it was still morning, and I’d only had one cup of coffee. Ditto for the dips of olive oil, chocolate sauce, etc.

Our first real stop was the stand operated by Cato Corner Farm. I had bought their raw milk cheese before. It had been a while since I’d had their fabulous raw-milk cheese. My last taste of it came from Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford, but that was back in the spring. This time I sampled and bought Bloomsday, which resembles Gruyère but with somewhat more bite. Cato’s web site says it came about by accident. What a happy accident! And I learned that there are shops all over the area that offer it so I will not have to be deprived of this treat until 2011.

Next stop, and the main purpose of the visit, was the mushroom man. Norm’s Best marinated mushrooms have become a tradition, and I wanted to stock up. The original recipe is perfect for nibbling. This year I bought two jars. Having sampled the new hot spicy version (it’s never too early for spicy food!), I had to buy a jar of that, too. Given the preferences of most of my  family and friends, I suspect I’ll be eating that jar by itself. Heavenly hot!

Larry had been keeping his eyes averted from the pastry counters but assuaged his craving for a snack with a bag of popcorn. I tried it and found it excellent, with just a hint of sweet and the merest touch of salt.

Then we went from farm stand to farm stand, where we bought “6 a.m. corn,” which was still sweet and creamy at 6 p.m. and cooked in half the normal time.

We debated whether to buy eggs, especially in light of the salmonella scare, which hasn’t made its way this far east that I know of. But Larry just bought some, so we decided to wait. Plus we can always buy eggs from the lady down the street whose chickens like to wander around looking for handouts.

After the corn we grabbed some cherry tomatoes, some peaches, and some plums. The latter taste of pure nectar, and the former though not too juicy are sweet, sweet, sweet.

Once again I avoided all booths containing jewelry and pottery. Larry continued to avert his eyes from the pies and other pastries.

With all this stuff, we didn’t relish a walk back down the long driveway. One of the shuttle bus drivers gave us a ride right to the bottom of the driveway. It was the first time I’ve been on a new school bus and was pleased to see it included seat belts.

And we made it home before the afternoon downpours.

These Cats Rocked Thursday Night

August 21, 2010

Larry’s Vietnam veterans group sponsored a fundraiser Thursday for the New Britain Rock Cats game. I haven’t had that much fun in ages. The weather was perfect – hot and a bit sticky when we arrived. Better after the sun set. And the Cats 7-6 win made it all just perfect.

The pre-game festivities included a couple of blasts from musket fire that jolted folks out of their seats. The rifleman led the Moodus Fife and Drum Corps, which played the “Star Spangled Banner.”

The game did not start auspiciously. After the Richmond Flying Squirrels scored three runs in the first inning, I commented to no one in particular that this was going to be a long, long game. It boded to be even longer when the Rock Cats scored an answering three runs off the Squirrels. The second inning came as welcome relief.

A brief aside: Who on this planet names a team after a rodent that gets eaten by, among other things, owls and house cats? I could digress into something about the owl and the pussycat, but will move along. Rock cats are also a bit of a mystery, but at least Rocky looks something like an actual feline.

About the end of the fourth inning the hard plastic seats got to me, and I took a walk to look at the concessions – the food, the Rock Cats memorabilia, the fundraising booths for Yale-New Haven Hospital, for the fight against prostate cancer, and so forth. The place caters to small children, who were much in attendance and seemed to be having almost as much fun as I was.

I got back to the seats just in time to watch the Cats take the lead with a two-run single, which had followed a bases-loaded walk that I missed. We speculated whether Chris Parmelee, who hit the single, was a local boy. The name Parmelee goes back into the eighteenth century around these here parts. But, alas, the first-baseman hails from Long Beach, California.

One sad episode put a damper on the evening. A foul ball hit a little girl. The last we saw the security folks were surrounding her dad, who was carrying her out of the stadium. I didn’t hear sirens, so I assume she was OK.

The prediction for longevity held. It was well after 10 as we were walking out of the the stadium, but the rain gods blessed us. A sprinkling fell as we left the seats, and it started pouring by the time we reached the car.

I’ve never been to New Britain without getting lost, and this time was no exception. We managed to stumble back to the highway, via a detour, as the deluge continued. At home, fifteen miles away, we were still waiting for rain hours later. It never arrived.

Get Out of My Face, Facebook!

August 20, 2010

Dear Facebook,

You intrude into my life enough already, so I do NOT want to add Places to my options. In other words, I do NOT want you and my friends to know where I am at all times.

PC World quotes Mark Zuckerman as saying that this sort of thing will be “fun.” It didn’t look as though irony entered anywhere into the statement. To Mr. Zuckerman, I say my idea of “fun” is not having everyone who has any connection with me knowing where I am at all times. My idea of fun is reading a book, having a conversation with one or two people, drinking a really good cup of coffee or a really good glass of wine, dancing at a party. Having 200 or so of my Facebook friends show up at any of these events would produce anxiety, not fun. Having my cell phone tell people that I’m there would not be fun, either.

Other problems loom. You, Facebook, have issued assurances that only one’s friends have access to the information. The ACLU seems to differ.

Even assuming that privacy “issues” are resolved, I still wouldn’t want the world to know that I was on my way to the library, or at the bookstore, or most especially to Staples or eating dinner at a restaurant. I also don’t want to spend my time posting reviews of every place I go. That’s what this blog is for, on a selective basis.

Your own hype revolted me: “[Chris Cox] envisioned a moment when a person visits San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, and their mobile device begins to glow (apparently mobile devices of the future will do a lot of glowing), and it will tell them that this was the spot where their parents shared their first kiss. It will show them pictures of that kiss, and it will share the things their friends had to say about those pictures.” Some things are better left to the imagination.

If I planned to hike the Appalachian Trail alone (hah!) – I mean that in the real way, not the Mark Sanford way – then I might want to share my whereabouts. But my guess is there aren’t enough things to sell hikers along the way (yet). And I suspect cell phone coverage might be a bit spotty around Clingman’s Dome, in the Berkshires and atop Mount Katahdin. This is not just speculation. The web site for Baxter State Park, home of Katahdin, says “Tom Tom’s a No No” because GPS systems don’t work. Thus the places that one might want to signal one’s location will probably be off limits. May it ever be so.

As I was writing this entry, Forbes raised my hopes, even as the web site was infuriating me for having the most annoying ads

All in all, I’ll keep you on my computer and visit you occasionally. Otherwise you can stick your nose in other people’s business.

Love,

Liz

Education Gap

August 19, 2010

It should come as no surprise that Connecticut still has a huge gap between the rates at which blacks and whites graduate from high school. Eighty-three percent of white males graduate, compared to 60 percent of black males. The report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the Courant’s story focus exclusively on the chasm between males of each race. More about that below.

As I’ve mentioned before (See “Unrealistic Expectations“) the wealthiest state in the country has been trying to overcome inequities in education for years. The Courant’s story omits noting that change is possible, but PRNewswire observes: “The report highlights the success of New Jersey’s Abbott plan, which demonstrates that when equitable resources are available to all students, systemic change at the state level can yield significant results. New Jersey is now the only state with a significant Black population with a greater than 65 percent high school graduation rate for Black male students.” Based on that information, I’m not sure where HuffPo’s Rev. Romal J. Tune gets the idea that success means blaming teachers. He cites no evidence.

The PRN story notes, also, that some states with small populations of black males graduate at a higher rate than their white counterparts. I would love to see an analysis of the reasons for that disparity. Those stats would tend to contradict Rev. Tune as well. Some of the places with dreadful rates for blacks had subpar rates for whites, too. Authorities in Pinellas County, Florida, which ranked last with a twenty percent rate, defended themselves by saying the statistics were outdated. Did anyone bother to ask why only forty-two percent of white males graduate? That figure is below the national average for blacks.

Since the study dealt only with males, someone should do a comparable study for females of each race. For a variety of reasons, girls have higher graduation rates generally, but it would be interesting to see how much they skew the numbers. The study will have to come from somewhere else, though. The Schott Foundation has made it is mission to focus exclusively on males, or as the web site said of its then-president Rosa A. Smith: “Her visionary work around framing the educational vulnerability of young Black males as the litmus test for the No Child Left Behind Act has drawn national attention. Looking at the issue of gender with a racial lens, this new area of Schott’s work has caused school districts across the country to re-examine how they educate and measure the outcomes of their students who are most vulnerable to school failure.” It’s a shame no comparison numbers are available.

In Style: The Hair

August 18, 2010

“The Frizz Tamer” may be a keeper despite various disgusting and hysterical aspects. It has fewer ingredients and takes much less time than the facial and produced better results.

Cleanse.

Saturate hair with equal parts mouthwash and witch hazel.

Condition.

Apply a mashed avocado mixed with two Tbsp. each heavy cream, whipped, and olive oil. Comb through from roots to tips. Pin  hair up and cover with a shower cap. Leave for twenty minutes. The instructions say that in the absence of the necessary ingredients one could use Kingsley’s Elasticizer, which costs $38. I decided not to spend the money. I know I had so much more fun with the food products.

Rinse.

Rinse with tepid water.

Shampoo.

Shampoo with a sulfate-free shampoo.

Observations.

I found counterintuitive the idea of applying a combination of two ingredients containing alcohol, the world’s great astringent, under a conditioner.

The twenty minutes under the shower cap was terrific as I got to clean great green gobs of avocado out of the sink, all the while singing that favorite of kids (I hope they still sing it):

Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher’s guts

Mutilated monkey’s meat

Dirty little Myrtie’s feet

Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher’s guts

To eat without a fork.

OK, back to being an adult.

Since I don’t color my hair, I’ve never seen anything other than shampoo, conditioner, and water running down the drain. I’m betting that most colorists and their clients don’t see green cascading from the hair.

Only needed one towel this time, though I did run through a fair number of paper towels for cleaning surfaces.

The most excitement came from a gentle “plop” of avocado falling out from under the shower cap and down inside my shirt as I was sitting at the computer. I realized on the second application that I had neglected the comb-through part. I had to start with tips and go back to roots because of the massive tangles.

As soon as I took off the shower cap (which still smelled like mouthwash) I knew my hair had undergone a transformation.

There’s also something counterintuitive about applying conditioner before the shampoo. But in this case it works.

I had not realized that sulfates in shampoo were a problem till I started digging around on the web. Then it occurred to me that I’d have a major hassle finding sulfate-free stuff at the grocery where I was going to buy the avocado and the heavy cream. The one brand name that I recognized in the lists that I found was L’Oréal. I thought the company only made hair dyes. Oh, was I wrong! After stumbling down the aisle I found a wall of L’Oreal and right there, just above eye level, was the sulfate free stuff.

Cost comparison.

This one is much closer and much lower cost on both counts.

In Style: food products, $4.06; Elasticizer, $38; shampoo $7.41 = $49.47 .

Me: mouthwash, $3.99; food products $4.06, shampoo, $7.41 = $15.46

Next project

“Medi-Pedi”