Friday, December 19, 2008

things that make me tear up

It may be the season, but I feel a little weepy these days. And since it seems to be the pervasive, I'm going to try to list these as they occur to me.

So here goes:
A Christmas Carol - at Civic Theater - but in a good way.

1. The music that plays in the background of Civic Theater's Christmas Carol. I don't know why but I actually tear up every single time that show begins. There's something quietly gorgeous about that single piano and harpsichord (?) - I guessing. I think it's a harpsichord. The songs are familiar but the arrangements bring a different, sophisticated and understated beauty to them

2. The waltz in Act 2 - the palpable sadness of what might have been touches something inside me as Ebenezer Scrooge and his long lost fiance Belle take one step then another together, in his heart and mind if no where else. Who doesn't live with a "what might have been" in their own life? The music is haunting and the dance steps are perfect but it's not what the actors are doing that brings on the tears. I have a feeling it's my own regrets about what I've chosen not to do or not to act on - without quite knowing if I've made the right choices. Trouble is, I don't get a chance - like Ebenezer - to have anyone point out the folly of at least some of my decisions.

3. And because I tend to bookend things in my life, I tear up at the end of the show, too. I simply can't watch the narrator - AKA Tiny Tim - walk up that aisle without getting overcome with emotion. It's a lovely little surprise, courtesy of the talented professionals at Civic who stage this production each year.

There's also -
Josh Groban hitting the high note at the end of Oh Holy Night. I'm not joking. I've heard it dozens of times and I still really do tear up when he hits it. One note. And my eyes fill.

The voiceover by Boris Karloff in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. When he explains, as the Grinch stood puzzling and puzzling, that "It came just the same. It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags!" I'm on my way and then he closes the deal with "the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day."

There's more. I take after my Dad that way. My sister and I would constantly marvel at how he could cry at almost anything at almost anytime and never understood it. Turns our sentiment is a gene you pass along to your children, or at least to one of your children.

I'll add to these from time to time but tonight it's all about Christmas. And what I need to do and how "far behind" I am on the tasks that "need" to be done for the holiday. Maybe I need to listen a little more closely to the stories that bring out so much emotion in me.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Why almost nothing makes sense to me.

I can't understand how something I read seems to explain the ways of the world in a way that is so sensible, so inherently true, so logical and reasonable...and then, just when I'm settling into my comfort zone of my new-found wisdom, I witness the exact opposite thing happening.

Case in point: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, my favorite journalist on the planet. I can't begin to explain the entire book here but will summarize by saying he takes a surprising look at "success" and what makes people successful, and in his typical way, gives his readers plenty to think over and ponder along the way.

One of his more provocative passages discusses the sheer energy and amount of time truly successful people invest in learning their skills or their art to become experts at what they do. He discusses the idea of "10,000 hours" as the amount of time that continually comes up in discussions of how people became experts: they've invested that much time into bettering their skills and consistently improving, working, dedicating themselves to getting it right.

Outliers has much more than this to it and I'd recommend it highly - pick it up if you want to read something more inspiring than the headlines about the next major collapse of a giant in business or the media.

But here's where nothing makes sense. Just as I finished Outliers, I read a profile of National Book Award winner, Annette Gordon-Reed. Ms. Gordon-Reed won her award in November for her book, The Hemingses of Monticello. In it, she discusses the Hemings family tree, and the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson.

In the short profile I read, I found exactly the sort of person of 'success' that Gladwell profiles in his book, plus a lot more. When discussing her work, Gordon-Reed reveals that in addition to the years she spent writing about Jefferson, she spent 10 or 11 hours a day, 7 days a week, for about 8 years researching and writing her award-winning book.

Think about that investment in time and effort. Even on the low end, she spent 70 hours a week 52 weeks a year, for about 8 years. In other words: more than 29,000 hours went into this book. That is commitment and dedication and single-minded purpose. This is a woman with a message she feels absolutely compelled to share, in the most perfect way she can.

Then, just when I think Gladwell and Gordon-Reed are the success model come-to-life, I read a story about author Alec Greven. He has written a new advice book, titled How to Talk to Girls. In it, he gives the male species terrific, succinct bits of wisdom, that he claims he picked up by watching his friends interact with girls. One of the more straightforward suggestions include 'comb your hair and don't wear sweats.' What could be wrong with that? He gets a little more interpretive when he cautions that 'pretty girls are like cars that need a lot of oil.'

I'm not sure how much time Alec put into pursuing his publishing dream. But given that he's only been on the planet for about 79,000 hours total, and I'm guessing that for about 35,000 of those he was illiterate, he's going to have to convince he me spent 10,000 hours becoming a writer, one who is excellent enough to have landed a publishing deal. (Alec is nine years old.)

See how this doesn't make sense? I know - people may say, "But he's not a national book award winner!! He's charming, quirky, here-today-gone-tomorrow gimmicky author. You can't compare him to someone like Annette Gordon-Reed."

To which I say: you're right. I can't. But it feels like I can (on my bad days) and it doesn't feel good.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

We are doomed. Well, our kids are anyway.

Think we've learned fiscal discipline? Think we've had our collectively irresponsible bottoms slapped and that we're through with the "buy now, pay never" mentality? That we've pledged to do much better in the years ahead?

You're wrong. And I didn't come to this conclusion after reading the latest pronouncements form economists, futurists, lawmakers and financial gurus. I figured it out by watching a commercial on television. A commercial for the latest edition of Monopoly. The "no cash needed" version of the game.

Remember Monopoly? I have vivid memories of playing the game during my childhood, where we would start a game of Monopoly on a small table in our dining room on a Monday morning and by the next Wednesday, we still weren't quite finished with it. We just kept winnowing each other out, and watch whoever bought Park Place and Boardwalk, plus the green and orange properties, wipe up the rest of us who bought the purple, violet and two railroads instead.

It's also interesting to recall the money we would count out and watch over so carefully as we could until we passed Go and collected another paycheck.

Well, all of that angst and strategizing may be something of a 20th century anachronism. The newest version of the game is a 'No Cash' needed edition. Here is some of the language from the copy on the website: "Wheel and deal your way to a fortune even faster using debit cards instead of cash! All it takes is a card swipe for money to change hands. Now you can collect rent, buy properties and pay fines - with the touch of a button." I can barely stand to think about it.

Maybe they have some new tokens that represent banks who go around the board reclaiming properties that have fallen into foreclosure. Maybe there are loan documents that replace the money the banks used to hand out. Maybe instead of Chance cards there are decks of overdue notices and credit cards.

Here's the thing. I realize plenty of people who played the old-fashioned Monopoly are the very same people who are losing homes, cars and any hope of reasonable credit because of poor financial choices they've made. Or because the people who pushed various financial instruments on them (who also played the old game)made some unscrupulous decisions that benefited themselves and their companies.

But do we have any hope of anyone who is prime Monopoly-playing age recognizing the dangers of buying without money in the bank, or spending beyond your means if its modeled for them in a venerable board game?

Sure, it's not Finance 101 but Monopoly was the closest any of us ever came to a course in money management. Whether or not it mattered in terms of our behavior in the long run is debatable. And it should take about twenty years or so to see if the latest version means anything in the real world or not.

Monday, December 01, 2008

And another thing...

This week's column in The Morning Call discussed an annoying little development in the world of women's lingerie - the fact that someone, somewhere has now figured out how to insert a GPS device into a bra or panties. The result of this breakthrough is that a women's location could be tracked and documented by a man who is inordinately interested in knowing it.

I won't belabor my incredulity about this technology that seems to have found a soft, satin home, but something else is troubling me. Without mincing words, I'll simply ask the following: Is this all we can say for ourselves? Is this really what some will recognize as achievement in the early 21st century? Aren't we better than this?

I read about the Christmas shopping tragedy in Valley Stream, NY and somehow these two things (GPS bras and killer crowds) co-exist in my mind. How could we expect more moderate, semi-civilized behavior from a unruly bargain-hunting mob when we live in a world that celebrates the wonders of GPS technology by placing it in women's underwear?

I know. It's a stretch. And for many people, there is no connection. I respect that.

It's just that events like this remind me of the sentiments expressed by the late Michael Crighton in his novel, Jurassic Park. He was talking about recreating an extinct species but the formula feels true to me in this circumstance as well. It feels like we tend to do things because we can - (we insert a GPS chip inside a bra; we stampede a department store at dawn and literally kill a man in the process ) - not because we should.

This is starting to feel like it will deteriorate into a "In my day..." rant and maybe it will. But if so, I'd have to pose the following: what's so wrong with people being trustworthy when it comes to their life partners and not feeling the need to track someone's every move to insure her faithfulness? What's wrong with holding the door for the shopper behind you and sharing some Christmas spirit, not elbowing them out of the your way as you race toward the electronics aisle?

Okay, we don't live in Bedford Falls and not one of us can go to the Building and Loan for some cash. The Santa working at Penney's is not likely to send a shopper to Macy's to buy just the right gift. Who could believe in that kind of world? No, instead we have to believe in this one. Some of us have literally killed someone who had the unfortunate timing of working at a store one morning and opening the door. Some men want to make sure their wife or girlfriend keeps her panties on all day.

Gives me a warm fuzzy feeling all over.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

All the right moves don't always feel alright.

For more than ten years, our boys were “the babies” of the family. But that ended a while ago: our extended family includes nine children, ages three months to seven years, and they’re truly a gift to all of us.

Last week, one of my nieces emailed everyone a video clip of her nine-month-old baby and somewhere between listening to Ryan’s laughter and noticing the look on Heather’s face; something became crystal clear to me. The video showed him pushing a ‘learn-to-walk’ toy in front of him as he practiced his very first independent steps. It also showed his mother watching him closely, in case he stumbled. As he struck out on his own, the look on his face and his cheerful cooing noises told me he had figured out that this walking thing was kind of fun. And that it promised to bring him a lifetime of adventure.

I watched the video in a kind of bittersweet fog. It’s been many years since I positioned one of my boys behind the little “learn to walk” truck each of them used for balance as he learned to stand on his own and then take a step. Many years since I watched and worried about unsteady toddlers trying out their new found freedom. And although I remember watching each of them get ready and then take off, so proud, so excited, now so long ago, I don’t remember noticing the direction every one of them took.

It wasn’t realizing how many years had passed since my boys were toddlers that made my niece’s video so poignant. No, watching Ryan cross the room reminded me of something I’d heard or read somewhere not too long ago: the first steps our children take are away from us. That simple and profound truth startled me.

Think about the strolls you took with your own children as they learned to walk. You leaned over to hold their hands, probably above their heads, and walked behind them and they stepped out in front of you. Think about babies like my niece’s son, who grab hold of a toy to steady themselves as they push it along. In the very first stages of walking, children travel toward independence, into a place they want to claim as their own, not back toward mommy or daddy.

The video was an affecting reminder that children choose to walk away; even as very young children they make that choice. It also reminded me of another profound truth, and maybe the only bit of comfort I could take away from this: they can’t come back unless they walk away.

It’s only after children have practiced those first steps, after they’ve learned to toddle with some confidence, that parents position themselves in the “come to Mommy” or “come to Daddy” pose, asking their little boy or girl to return. We wait with open arms, and although we may celebrate this milestone on some level, we don’t quite relax until they’re safe and secure with us.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving. This year, my two youngest boys are high school seniors, and my oldest will be “coming home” from college for the holiday. This year, those two seniors are now only months away from taking thousands of steps away from me. My oldest will be on a break from his new life and walk back toward my (figuratively and literally) open arms.

I conjure up my own video, that begins with a toddler ambling across a room and then fades into a boy racing down the street or across a field, and before you know it, he’s on a bike or a skateboard or a scooter or rollerblades and he continues along, right out the door. Then, just when you think he can’t go much further, he walks out the door one night, swinging the car keys, to spend the evening with friends.

I’ve quietly watched all of this unfold – maybe hundreds of times by now. I remind myself: moving away seems like every child’s destiny; coming back feels like a choice. And unless I watch them leave, I won’t be able to welcome them home.

If you wire it, will they buy??

I guess that's the question being posed by a coffee house in Amsterdam, called The Coffee Company.

In order to attract the students that surround their university neighborhood location, they've added Wi-Fi to their store. Predictably, the Internet access did attract students but unfortunately, it didn't attract much in the way of actual cash-register ringing purchases(assuming anyone remembers what a ringing cash register sounds like). The good news is that the students come to The Coffee Company to go online. The bad news is they just don't seem to buy a cup of coffee or a snack while they do.

The Coffee Company decided to use the Wi-Fi to their fiscal and marketing advantage. They added their food and drink menu to the Wi-Fi menu that opens on a user's screen. So in addition to the regular links students found once they were online, students can find the menu of the restaurant they were sitting in right that moment.

In another stroke of genius, The Coffee Company decided to change the wireless network name from time to time, and were rather playful about it. Students would regularly have to check with the staff to discover the wireless network name. Give the Coffee Company credit for creativity. Some of the names they used were: "ByCoffeeForCuteGirlOverThere," "BuyAnotherCupYouCheapskate," "HaveYouTriedTheCarrotCake," "OrderAnotherCoffeeAlready" and "BuyALargeLatteGetBrownieForFree."

I'm not sure if it's working - the article I read didn't talk much about the results of their marketing efforts toward the students. Personally, it would work for me. If I had to type BuyALargeLatteGetBrownieForFree to logon, especially every day for a week whenever I visited the coffee shop, I'd buy a large latte.

Maybe some of the more magnanimous Wi-Fi spots around the country could try this technique too, with a more subliminal but uplifting result in mind. They could change the name of their networks regularly in an effort to engender kindness or generosity. Suggestions: "SayHelloToAStrangerToday," "WaitToHoldTheDoorToday," "LetSomeoneMergeOnto22Today," "ListenMoreThanYouTalkToday." The resulting behavior could astonish us all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

There is something seriously wrong with me...

I have some kind of extra sentimental gene or something.

Which, in some ways, is completely antithetical to how I behave on a daily basis. I am not a gushy, excitable, over-the-top emotional kind of person. I sometimes see people - women especially - who seem to wear their emotions on their sleeves and they seem pretty emotionally healthy to me. At the very least, they're being emotionally genuine.

I'm too reserved to behave the same way. I just don't know when was the last time I displayed exuberance over anything. Is there something wrong with that? Shouldn't we all feel amazing and astonished and excited beyond belief at least every once in a while? The question is: Is "even" the best way to live your life?

Before this gets too maudlin, my life is filled with people I love, including an amazing husband and children I adore. And we don't live a life of austerity and glass-half-empty attitudes. It's just that I always feel a little 'controlled' about the people and events around me.

I have a Roz Chast cartoon in our refrigerator that mostly sums up my world view: "Rational Exuberance." It's hilarious. The people depicted are excited about mostly mundane things because that's about all the excitement they'll allow themselves. Feels very true to me.

So here I am, living my rationally exuberant, semi-guarded and safe existence, watching my reactions and appearance and speech. Remaining steady, reliable, dependable. Except for this: along comes the animated Christmas show, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" on television. (Yes, I know its early for Christmas specials to be scheduled on TV by almost anyone's standards, except mine. Christmas is too wonderful a feeling to be relegated to three weeks a year as far as I'm concerned.)

And what happens? I watch what had to be the final 8 minutes of the show and tear up when the Grinch "stood puzzling and puzzling" about the meaning of Christmas. Then - forget it - when the dawn breaks, the Whos down in Whoville gather and start singing the Christmas song, I'm over. I'm a wreck. Is this normal?

I'm teary. I am overcome with the feeling that humanity isn't doomed. Enormously grateful for people like Ted Giesel and Chuck Jones who created this television classic and shared their own exuberance for this message with the rest of us. Thankful for the notion that even the most unlovable among us have some good inside.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

a near obsession - explained

I am not sure why this happens to me but every once in a while, I'll come across a movie that I simply cannot stop watching. The latest in this list of always watchable films: The Holiday. My husband and my boys make fun of me for this but then again, they will almost always stop on Gladiator and watch that movie whenever its on cable so I think we're even.

In case you don't know the movie, you probably don't need to know much more than this: Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, Kate Winslet, Jude Law. Two broken hearts, Cameron and Kate, find each other online, trade houses for Christmas, and travel across the world to spend time alone, get out of their typical surroundings, and heal themselves. Cameron finds herself in Surrey, England while Kate gets dropped off in front of Cameron's amazing home in what has to Beverly Hills.

Surprise! They each find a new (true) love waiting in that whole new world. (Okay. Yes, a chick flick for lack of a better term, although I think that sells movies like this short. I'm sure men like at least a few of them, too, but are reluctant to admit it for fear of a sensitivity or 'soft side' alarm going off.)

So why the obsession? As I said, I haven't quite figured this out but here's my theory: there is something extremely attractive and sort of seductive about the concept of abandoning your own semi-troubled life, taking up somewhere new, and trying on a whole new person in the process. Not forever and not in a scary kind of place. Someplace where you can settle in fairly easily but be open to new experiences. Not one of us can really do this - not really, not matter how often women's magazines tell us to reinvent our lives - but it feels almost like you can trade your life for another when you watch this movie. I can't spend Christmas in Surrey but I can watch Cameron's character do it and pretend her experiences are my own.

For me, this movie holds another magic moment beyond the actual 'escape from your life' scenario: Kate's cottage in the lovely, winter-kissed countryside, complete with gate that opens onto the walkway, that leads into a living room complete with a cracking fireplace, overstuffed furniture and a comfy looking bed.

I must have spent time in England in another life because I'm a sucker for almost anything having to do with English charm. And Kate's cottage oozes quaint, cozy charm. It's adorable and it certainly doesn't hurt that Jude Law shows up at the door in the middle of the night.

But honestly, there is almost nothing all that surprising in this movie so how can it continue to draw me in time after time? (And by the way, not just me. I know at least two other women who feel the same way about this movie.)

It has to be the vicarious mood this picture creates, that feeling it creates within viewers like me that even if I'm only just watching someone on an adventure like this, it's almost like having it yourself. This idea basically builds on a previous post of mine, where I discussed the oft-mentioned "luxury" wish most women have about spending time on their own, away from their everyday lives. In this case, they get away, they reinvent themselves a tiny little bit, and happen to also find the men of their dreams along the way.

For me, meeting another man isn't part of the "getting away from it all" fantasy. But being somewhere unfamiliar but comfortable, spending time alone, finding some days or weeks just be and do and think and dream and wonder - that would be a dream come true.

Friday, November 07, 2008

worst moment of motherhood

I read an article this week that educated me about something: the worst moment of anyone's parenthood experience is relative. Relative to your own experience, how yo lived and what you learned while growing up with your own parents, your daily life experience as an adult and a young parent, your understanding of what makes an acceptable choice and what makes an unacceptable choice, and your own unique view of the world at large and your place in it.

The story I read described what I hope is, in fact, the worst moment in the mother's life, and her daughter's for that matter. (But somehow, I don't think either one of them is thinking about it quite like that.) The daughter and one of her school mates (another teenage girl) were arguing at Allen High School and decided to shelve the disagreement until after school hours and settle it with a fight in West Park.

Somehow, the mother of one of the girls heard of the plans to fight, and met her daughter after school. Thank God. Except she didn't take her home, which would have been the acceptable choice. Instead, she accompanied her, and a large group of students, to West Park to meet the other girl for the fight.

Got that? The mom heard about the fight, met up with her daughter, and instead of intervening and stopping it before it started, she walked her to the fight. Just like some moms walk their children to the school bus, or the library, or the park - (the one without the fight going on.)

Once they were at the park, the adult - the mother - told her to "hurry up and hit her." And then, once the fight was underway, the mother herself joined in and punched the other girl in the face and kicked her at least twice.

People watching the fight pulled the mother away; both girls sustained injuries, and the mother was sent to Lehigh County prison under $10,000 bail.

I don't know quite what to make of all this. I keep coming back to the idea that all the choices we make are relative. I don't understand any of the choices that went into how this story unfolded. Not one of them. Relative to my own life experience, it's completely foreign.

But regardless, can we agree that any mother who encourages a fight, then jumps in to "help" while the fists are flying isn't raising her daughter to be a compassionate mother? My instinct is yes but maybe I'm wrong - at least from her point of view. Maybe she thinks she was being compassionate. And helping her daughter solve a problem. Maybe I have no idea what it's like to raise a daughter who fights other girls.

And that's really what's on my mind I guess. If this is seen as "normal" and "expected" and "understood" by any part of our community, and written off as just the way things are done, I fear for that mother, her child and her grandchildren to come. And honestly, for the rest of us who will never understand it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I'll take my comfort wherever I can get it....

...which basically means, I'm not picky about where I find some sort of validation for my life.

As the mother of an eighteen-year-old and two seventeen-year-old boys, I take almost daily comfort in a comic strip titled Zits. A few of them have decorated our refrigerator from time to time. (I've also accused my boys of secretly drawing the comic - the stories are that familiar.)

The situations in the strip are nearly always exactly on target, but last week, the Sunday comic helped me more than normal, in my daily search for confirmation that I'm not quite losing my mind or about to fall over the edge. I've often suspected that I must be the only mother of nearly grown boys that asks questions as mundane - possibly even embarrassingly so - as this: brush your teeth? Use deodorant? Homework? Backpack? Lunch? ipod? Cell phone? I mean, how clueless can teenagers be? Isn't all of this automatic by now?

[Here's a real life example: The boys once spent months going to classes and then a day or two in rehearsals for their Confirmation ceremony, and were well aware that we were planning a lovely dinner for family and friends to celebrate this milestone. One the appointed day, the boys arrived home from school, and found my mother waiting for them, plus my husband and I getting ready, dressed in fairly formal clothing...and I asked them to head upstairs to change into their new suits because we would be leaving shortly....and they asked - honestly, they asked me - "Leaving for what??" I'm not making that up. ]

Turns out, almost nothing is automatic with teenagers, except perhaps text messaging and changing a profile description on Facebook. The mom in the strip asked every single one of these inane questions of her son, Jeremy. In an increasingly exasperated way only teenagers can master, he answers yes to every question. Then he steps out of the car at school and realizes he isn't wearing shoes. To his mom's credit, she zooms away in the car, leaving him in his socks.

The best part is that Jeremy complains to his friend, Pierce, about his mother's forgetfulness. Pierce, who happens to not be wearing any pants that day, agrees.

Thank you Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. You and your cartoon family furnish much of the validation I need to keep trying, day after day, to enjoy the ride, take a breath, and enjoy every single moment with my children. Exasperation aside, they are amazing. Yes, they appear to be unconscious about many, many things. But at this point, once I get past the frustrations of living with boys who seem to have the short term memories of fireflies, I remind myself that it's all too fleeting.

And that like fireflies, they're brightening my life, if only for a relatively short time, before the seasons change and they move on.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

So why don't I feel bad???

He wasn't my candidate but he is my president.

I watched the election returns until after 11 pm Tuesday night. I didn't listen to concession speeches or victory speeches. I went to sleep, well aware of the fact that the morning would bring headline after headline about President-elect Barack Obama.

And I wasn't quite sure how I felt about that.

Obama's politics, as closely as I can tell, appear far too liberal for me. I don't know if that's absolutely true but throughout the campaign, based on everything I read and heard, it felt true to me. I didn't vote for him for that reason.

But my guy lost. John McCain was the inevitable victim of our current president's abysmal reputation and non-popularity. He was the fall guy for a tanking economy, despite the fact that this financial crisis is a bi-partisan travesty. No matter - those two strikes counted for three and he was out.

But here's the thing. Tuesday night, before I went to sleep, I discussed with my teenage sons that the election was heading very strongly toward the democratic ticket and our nation was about to greet President Obama in the morning. Somewhere very deep inside, I felt a sense of - I'm not sure what - anticipation, comfort, resolution - for them and people in their generation. Maybe in their lifetimes, this historic election would become a footnote, and many years from tonight, they would tell their grandchildren how unusual this was; how much of big deal this was when the first black guy was elected president.

I had a moment late that night, and even more strongly in the morning, where I felt if not comfortable, then at least anticipatory about what was to come with an Obama presidency. Political inclinations aside, here's what I think I know about Obama: he's intelligent, appears to be someone who wants to be around other smart people, particularly if they challenge him, and he knows how to communicate, especially when he's addressing a crowd to deliver a message.

For me, the election ended in a heartbeat and all of the partisan politics felt like yesterday's news. It's time for our nation to support this man, about to take on an always challenging job in an extremely challenging time. Is he going to do an amazing job? A horrifying one? It's unanswerable. To Obama and the people who serve the country alongside him I say good luck and God bless.

He wasn't my candidate, but he is my president.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

NOT politics - sort of.

I just spent a weekend mostly on my own - husband away and two teenagers occupied each night with friends. Between loads of laundry on Saturday - including two exploding pillows that basically disintegrated in the washer and/or dryer and resulted in thousands of little cotton puffs that were either stuck in our drain or in the lint trap in our dryer - I watched WAY TOO MUCH HGTV. I know - the excitement nearly killed me as well.

I've written about HGTV before and the rather incredible way they present home improvements. My perspective - then and now - was mostly one of harmless wonder, knowing that little if any of the designer magic I witnessed on the network could truly be replicated in my home, no matter how many hours I logged watching "Design on a Dime."

But on the edge of an election, and in light of the home despair news around the country, I started thinking about HGTV in a different way. (That's almost all the politics I'll inject into this, I promise.) This isn't as out there as it sounds. Think about it: lots of disparate elements contribute to ill-advised buying decisions like a spending too much on a skirt that turns out to be just a little too tight around your hips but was the perfect color and the perfect length with the perfect pleats you wanted, or paying more than a few bucks for a shade of lipstick that will fade off your lips after just one cup of coffee, not hours later, no matter what the commercials tell you. But it's unlikely either of those decisions, or similar ones, will lead to your fiscal doom.

Because the truth is, lots of things contribute to when and how people buy a house, and many of them may convince you that you can afford a home WAY out of your price range. (These include unethical agents, lenders or other real estate predators but the list is much longer and more personal that those obvious factors.) In a way, I blame HGTV.

We all tend to believe what we see on TV. We see homes that go from drab to divine in just 30 minutes and believe it can happen. We watch color on walls transform ordinary to glamorous and never doubt that we can achieve the same effect. Thousands of dollars later, we see landscaping turn a home from an eyesore to a showplace, and treat this as some kind of miracle. Rarely do we see the price tags attached to these transformations and even when we do,they never seem to include labor costs or the timing and the expertise of the staff involved.

Why are we mystified about how many people made poor choices about buying a home? We've all been fed this "you can do it" mantra for years now from shows on HGTV and other similar programs. We've gone way beyond thinking about painting walls to buying them with money we don't have. Unfortunately, we're buying too many walls that are too big for our wallets.

In many ways, fantasy has become the new reality. Fantasy life, looks, homes, vacations, food, parenting skills, marriages. That's how you can explain any number of programs on television these days.

But reality is still reality, no matter how it's presented by producers and experts.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Poignant? Twice in one article? Poignant?

I looked at a thesaurus to find synonyms for the word "poignant." I found these:


Please keep those in mind as you read the following, excerpted from Publisher's Weekly magazine:

Skyhorse Publishing announced today that it plans to publish Letters to President Obama: Americans Share Our Hopes and Dreams with the First African-American President in April 2009. The initial printing will be 50,000 copies in hardcover.

Skyhorse is encouraging Americans to submit letters for consideration by visiting Asked if they were afraid of a "wingnut reaction," associate publisher Bill Wolfsthal replied that "The highly qualified editors of the book—all professors at University of Michigan and Cornell—will edit the collection to create a thought-provoking and poignant collection."
Asked what would happen if Obama did not prevail on Election Day, Wolfsthal said, "We’ll deal with that if it happens. The book might still be a poignant piece of history if Obama should lose."

"I know this book will make a unique statement about who we are as American in 2009," added Wolfsthal, "and will provide an opportunity for citizens to share their feelings with one another—both by writing letters and reading the finished book."

"......." I'm mostly speechless.

I have to believe that in the first use of poignant, "..a thought-provoking and poignant collection," the publisher was thinking of the first group of synonyms: moving, emotional, touching, affecting and tender.

With the second use, "..might still be a poignant piece of history if Obama should lose," the others descriptors fit the context better:
sad, heartrending, distressing, heartbreaking, upsetting and agonizing.

Believe it or not, John McCain still has a few (million) supporters. Not one of them will be heartbroken or distressed should Senator Obama come up short in the election.

Can someone please explain to me what on earth Americans will have to say in letters to President Obama, after he's been in office for approximately sixty-five days? Our hopes and dreams? That's what we'll write him? Really?

Whatever. What if the unthinkable happens, and Obama is not our next President? The publishers have considered that horrifying thought. Remember, the book will "make a statement about who we are and might still make a poignant piece of history."

But the editors are prepared for an onslaught from people less than honorable about the intentions who misunderstand the spirit of the book. Is that what he means by "wingnut" reaction? Are "wingnuts" the people who choose to vote for someone other than Barack Obama? Why does that make them less than reasonable? Are these Americans not allowed to contribute letters to President Obama, and share their hopes and dreams with the first African-American President? Agenda anyone???

May I pose a hypothetical here? It's possible that some voters will be thrilled and delighted if Senator Obama were to be defeated. I know - there aren't really any of those people in existence if you take the world view espoused by publishers from coast to coast - but let's suppose there are. Where is there room for them in this statement about who they are as Americans in April 2009? Are they a poignant piece of history, too?

Doubt it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

More things I don't understand....

The list is varied and long. But here's the latest:

I don't understand the commercial for I've seen several versions of it and I'm still confused.

Whatever the variation, this online dating service shows an attractive person posing for some video tape, laughing, smiling, and generally looking amiable and approachable, which I suppose represents the kind of members one might find on as you look through the dating prospects. Great, right? The people on are exactly the kind of people you're looking for to meet, date, and then possibly partner with for the rest of your life.

Except for this: their offer. I'm paraphrasing but the commercial contains a guarantee of sorts: if you don't find someone within the first six months of membership, they'll give you another six months for free.

So in other words, we may not be able to meet your needs in six months but hey, stick around for another six for free. Maybe things will work out.

This makes no sense to me! I get the FREE offer and all - I suppose that's the least they could do after six months of no significant relationship budding - but isn't that kind of like saying "Thanks for supporting our service. We know it didn't work out very well which is why we're not going to try to re-sell it to you. But we also don't want you to try another one instead. So stay here - and keep looking. Maybe someone will turn up."

Seems to me that the largest efforts in online businesses like this must be the sign-up factor. Once you're in, and have paid your dues, they don't want you to leave, even if they let you stay for free. After all, the number of hits, number of members, and page views sell ads and web banners. So losing members is not a good business plan.

I'd feel better about the offer if it gave a money-back guarantee. Sign up and look for your partner or six months! If at the end of your membership, you find yourself alone, we'll give you your money back. The extra six months are positioned as a free thing - and they are, I guess - but what is the value? The value should be finding friendship and romantic partnership.

Caveat: I've never used one of these services and I have friends that have - and continue to do so. Maybe the extra six months for free are extremely valuable to members who want to keep up their profiles and meet new members regularly. To me, as an observer, it just feels like a hollow offer to me. "We didn't work for you, just give us a little longer; we might not work then either but at least we didn't work for free." Quite compelling, I must say.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

flying story 2

Here we go: my flying story number 2. This is the one that unfortunately gets and less surprising as the years pass and the frequent flier miles pile up.

I love the aisle. I always request the aisle and I almost always get the aisle. And I'm not a tall person so it's not as if I need the aisle. Maybe it's a touch of claustrophobia if it's even possible to have a touch of that.

Also, I don't hate flying but I don't exactly love it. Maybe I don't really want to gaze out the window contemplating the wonders of 30,000 feet and the fact that it makes almost no sense that airplanes do actually leave the ground and get airborne than almost unbelievably land again somewhere else, somewhere they plan to land in fact.

So, that said, I settled into the aisle seat, and amazingly the middle seat remained unoccupied for a very long time. Then a young mother and her daughter - maybe 18 months old or so - walked down the aisle and stopped at my row. The two of them were going to share the middle seat.

In a moment of magnanimity, I offered up my aisle seat, imagining it might be more comfortable for the mom in terms of space and elbow room. "Did you want this seat?" I asked. "It might be easier for you..."

She answered "Yes," and stored her three or four bags then took the aisle seat. Please note, she didn't say, 'yes, thanks very much,' or even 'yes, thanks.' Just yes. Maybe she was tired. I was about 7 am after all.

I usually hate the notion of flying near children. I've had too many annoying experiences with them. But the thing is, it's almost never the kids themselves that annoy me. It's their parents, or the other adults around them. This was no exception.

The point of this story is that we had a 2 hours+ flight in front of us and the mom had not one toy or book or game or snack for her little girl. Not one. Nothing except one tiny stuffed animal that the little girl never put down. How could that be? How could this woman board a plane with several carry-on bags, including what looked like a diaper bag, and not have anything to amuse or feed her daughter?

Maybe she's having difficulties. Maybe she's preoccupied by some very bad news...maybe she's flying somewhere for a funeral for god's sake. She didn't strike me as a very warm or open person but what did I know? My few attempts to converse with her went nowhere. But who am I to be so judgmental?

None of that changed the situation. So here's me, sitting next to the adorable little girl, and her clueless, semi-stoic mother, with nothing but the Skymall to amuse the child. She and I paged through the magazine, trying to find the puppies and kittens. (If you know Skymall, you know there are perhaps a total of six pages of pet supplies, so this little activity got old fairly quickly.) Luckily, the little girl had a very sweet disposition and if she was really bored, she never let on.

As we began our landing, the girl started to whimper and cry, probably because her ears were popping and she felt uncomfortable. You won't be surprised to hear that the mother kept saying things like this to her: " quiet. Okay now, quiet down."

I pulled out the water bottle I carried and offered to pour some of it into the sippy cup the little girl was holding. I offered it with a lame, "Maybe it's her know. Something to drink will help..."

I filled the cup and the little girl took a drink, then settled down. Weird that I filled it, not her Mom, no?

Last little bit: as we prepared to depart, the young mother stood up in the aisle and began gathering her belongings. The little girl stood on the seat, and I couldn't help but hold out my arm to kind of protect her from falling or mis-stepping as she stood there. Once the mom had everything, she turned for her daughter.

Unfortunately, the little girl reached her arms out to me instead. "Oh no, honey! Go to Mommy! Go on!! Bye bye sweetie..."

What the heck? I read her a Skymall and gave her some water and she's reaching out to me? Good Lord. I watched the Mom walk her daughter through the airport - I can only hope she was heading home to some family support or to her husband who would give that little girl a hug.

Just a bad morning I told myself. Just a bad morning.
I hope.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two new flying stories

One is sort of familiar; one is surprising.

I just flew home from a business trip and encountered one very surprising element on my trip down; and one not so surprising (unfortunately) event on the way home.

On the outbound flight, everything was going along just beautifully for about 2 hours. As we began our descent, it was pandemonium - sort of. A few rows in front of me, the flight attendant grabbed the microphone and in a rather frantic, loud voice, announced the following: "If there is a doctor on the plane, I need you to come to Row 9 RIGHT NOW."

A few people walked up the aisle toward Row 9 and encountered...God knows what. By this time, the attendants - maybe as many as three of them - were hovering over someone in Row 9, seated by the window. One of them was screaming "Sir! Sir! Sir! I need you to sit down....Sir!!" Clearly, he wasn't responding.

Reminder that the plane is, in fact, getting closer and closer to the ground, and at this point we have several attendants leaning over Row 9, a few people who are medical types also hovering or kneeling near the passenger in distress, and at least one person seated in Row 9 standing in or near the aisle.

While this medical attention of some kind is being given to the passenger, the attendant came back on the intercom and asked everyone on the plane the following:

"Does anyone have a Xanax?"

A Xanax? For whom? For her? For the rest of us to split? For the passenger having a problem? For the pilot?

The pilot then announced that everyone must keep their seats after we land and allow the paramedics to board the plane and remove the passenger with the emergency. I kept thinking: so what's going on? Are we going to land with about six or seven people - including passengers - just standing there?

Yes, the answer is yes. The plane landed with two passengers from Row 9 standing; plus two or three medical people kneeling or standing, and two attendants also on their feet.

I'm not normally a difficult flier but I have to tell you: it's going to be very, very difficult to obey that "raise your tray table and put your seat up" directive the next time we're heading into an airport to land. It will be very, very difficult to not respond with something like the following: "My tray table is staying down and my seat is staying reclined! I was on a plane with people STANDING throughout the landing for God's sake! And not airline people, seemingly trained for just such events. Passengers like me who just happened to be in Row 9."

I won't say it of course. I'll raise my tray and bring my seat up. But I'll want to.

The story of the sadly familiar story on the return flight incident next time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Okay, I won't send it. Fine by me.

Let me understand this.

Ringo Starr, one of the two remaining Beatles on the planet, and arguably the most endearing but possibly also the least musically versatile among them, has issued a statement to his worldwide fans that he is calling a moratorium to his fan mail.

He hasn't been sitting idly by, reliving past glory and brooding about how it all changed. Over the past twenty years or so, he's assembled interesting and talented musicians from time to time, and toured the world with his music. Quite successfully I might add. His 31-city North American summer tour just ended.

So let's take a look at his video statement, shall we? In reference to his fan mail, he had this to say: "It's going to be tossed. ... I'm warning you with peace and love, I have too much to do. So no more fan mail. Thank you, thank you. And no objects to be signed. Nothing. Anyway, peace and love, peace and love."

Well, isn't that interesting. I hopped onto Ringo's official site and saw his notice about "no more signing" prominently displayed. So there it is: he will give his fans exactly nothing in terms of autographs or responses to their letters, cards, emails, etc.

I suppose, after more than forty years in or near the world's celebrity spotlight, he can certainly choose to do that. What I don't understand is his notion that he has "too much to do." Like what? Honestly, like what? His fans have a lot to do, too - more than he has on most days I would guess - more than he's had to do since 1970 I would imagine. And yet, they find time to write.

Besides, I don't think you can issue a peaceful and loving warning. Can you? Does that really work as a concept? A peaceful warning? A loving one? It's softer than saying "I'm warning you with unrest and hatred..." but at least that sounds more honest.

Here's what's ironic to me. Directly beneath his video message telling fans to stop contacting him, the website contains the details of a photo contest, asking fans to submit their favorite Ringo and the All Starr band photos from the tour this summer.
Here's the language they use in the promotion:

Have you been coveting your picture of Ringo and his All-Star Starr band
captured from the recent All-Star tour?
Ringo wants YOU, his loyal fans, to submit photos taken from his 2008 All-Star tour.
Ringo will hand pick his favorite photo to be featured on his official website,
The lucky winner will also go home with a Ringo Starr Autographed Drum head!
Winner to be notified via email in early December.

I think that's nerve. in other words, here's the message from Ringo, or at least from his webmasters: "I don't want you to write a personal letter, expressing your thanks or admiration or whatever for my career. In fact, I'll toss anything that comes my way. But I will take your photos - and not pay you for them - to populate my website. And by the way, I'll send you an autographed drum head if I really like the photo."

Ummm - here's a thought: hire a photographer! What - your fans are supposed to supply you with photos for free? So they can get a photo credit on your website? Please.

Maybe some fans will send in photos of themselves writing letters to Ringo, sending him some memorabilia to sign, and then putting them in the mail. Maybe they'll send photos of themselves checking their mailboxes for autographed photos of Ringo that never come. I'd love to see those on his website.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Maybe we're pretty easy to figure out after all

I love it when I read articles or studies that tell us how women are complex, complicated creatures. With all due respect to the researchers who conduct the surveys, hold those focus groups and collate all that information, I need to weigh in with the following conclusion: no, we're not.

Don't get me wrong. I think some of the women I've met along the way are among the most interesting, most provocative thinkers in the world. It's just that deep down, regardless of our life circumstances, our educations, or our various life situations, we seem to crave the same things.

Example - I just spent a few days out of town on business. Along with my laptop, I packed a away a few movies, just in case I wanted to entertain myself in my room. (This trip's entertainment had a distinctly Jane Austen flair: Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth version.)

You shouldn't be surprised to hear the following: every woman accompanying me on the trip (there were five of us) semi-seriously asked if we could blow off our "work" agendas for the evenings, our client dinners, our "drinks before dinner" with vendors and meet in my room, order room service, and watch a movie. Tempting, I can tell you.

I know what you're thinking: but if you were all away on a trip together, you are sort of the same breed of professional women. This had to be the reason why this pajama party with an English accent was so appealing to us. Maybe. Maybe not.

I read a women's message board online recently where women answered this question: "How do you pamper yourself? What are the little luxuries you indulge in?" The uniformity of the answers was not surprising, given my premise about women not being all that complicated or all that different. In a mini-homage to Marlena Dietrich, women mostly answered that they want to be left alone. Here's a brief summary of the kind of answers they gave:

quiet time
an uninterrupted nap
a hotel suite by myself where I can bathe or shower uninterrupted
a couple of hours alone with a book
a movie by myself
bubble bath
drink a cup of tea and listen to music by myself
spent travel points at a nice hotel by myself - bubble bath TV, room service, nap
bargain shopping by myself

Are you seeing a pattern here? Honestly, there were pages and pages of these tips and almost all of them contained some measure of alone-ness. Many incorporated water, books, music and TV / movies.

I have to do some thinking about this but it seems to me, women feel somewhat fragmented, and unable to carve out time for ourselves in our personal lives. (I'd love to read how men would answer this question. Somehow I doubt being alone would top their lists.)

More to come - anyone with some wisdom to share on this is more than welcome.

Monday, October 06, 2008

just when you think you've had about as much as you can stand.... of your kids comes through for you and helps you remember that life isn't entirely made up of one scandal, one tragedy, one misguided notion after the next. And I thank God for my kids every day.

The latest reminder of all things fun and wonderful and surprising about life comes courtesy of my youngest (by eleven minutes) son, Cameron. He was talking about some friends of his and I thought about one of the summer evenings they spent together. During one of those last August evenings, when we had a week of the first cool nights that were inevitably coming our way, Cameron and some of his friends took in a double feature at one of the area drive-ins.

The evening started out comfortably enough but by the time the intermission began, the temperature had dropped at least ten or fifteen degrees, and the air had a legitimate chill in it for the first time in months. Cameron and his friends were headed to the refreshment stand and unfortunately, Cam was the only one without a hoodie or even long sleeves. The idea of sitting through the second movie as he grew increasingly colder wasn't pleasant.

Friends to the rescue. Luckily, the boy who drove to the movie always carries a gorilla costume in his trunk. Yes, a complete gorilla suit, including a headpiece and gorilla face. That's being resourceful and creative at the same time. Cameron quickly suited up and everyone walked to the refreshment stand in relative comfort.

The best part of the story is not that Cameron felt perfectly at ease putting on a gorilla suit at a drive in. Not that he walked by dozens of people who stepped aside for a gorilla. Not that this could be called slightly unconventional by almost everyone. No, the best part was that the people working in the snack bar gave him a fried banana and his friend Pat took a picture of him eating it.

I love this story. I love it because truthfully, only Cameron could casually and with no affectation at all put on a gorilla suit and wear it around a drive-in movie. I love it because it's exactly the kind of story you think about when you think of kids and funny things they do precisely because they are kids. I love it because sometimes, maybe when Cameron may be driving me crazy about school or college applications or something else that is quite earth-shattering and possibly life-altering (in my mind, not in reality) I can remind myself that he once wore a gorilla suit to get warm and buy a bucket of popcorn at a movie.

I may not ever remember his high school trig grades, which may turn out to be blessing anyway, but I'll never forget about the night he wore the gorilla suit at the drive in.

Monday, September 29, 2008

"I complained about having no shoes..."

In honor of my grandmother, Antoinette Perruso, I give you my quote of the day: "I complained about having no shoes, until I saw the man with no feet."

The truth is, I'm not exactly sure my grandmother ever said that but it feels like something she would have said. She was a pragmatic woman who lived a life ahead of her time. In the 1930's and 40's, she worked a supervisor at a factory that manufactured slacks and other clothing. Her sister-in-law, Mary, who literally shared her house and her life, stayed home and helped raise her own children, as well as my grandmother's children (my mother, aunt and late uncle.) To this day, the now well into their senior years cousins are as close as siblings.

Until their large, two-family home burned to the ground, and they each moved into their own separate homes, the two brothers and their wives (including my grandparents)and their children shared a home together. The good old days without question.

One of the great losses we've suffered as our society has evolved is the loss of our family life. I spoke to my sister today, for about 15 minutes, and it was the first time we had spoken in weeks. I think that's sad. I don't think my mother goes more than a day without speaking to her sister - maybe even more than once a day.

When I was growing up, we had dinner every Sunday with my grandparents. A Sunday afternoon dinner that served as the main meal of the day. My aunts and uncles attened each week as well, and it was time to reconnect, relax, and enjoy each other as a new week began. When I hear about families that carry on that tradition, I envy them. There is something quietly beautiful about that kind of commitment to each other and the family you have created.

When I consider things in my life that need changing, I think about the time I don't spend with family and friends. I miss them very much. I tell myself I'm way too busy to make the call, spend the time, try to get together. I mean, aren't we all so busy, busy, busy?

Yes, we are. So what? If we don't have the time now, we never will. instead of relaxing over dinner or coffee or a drink together with the people we love, we'll have accomplished whatever critically important next big thing on our list is. Congratulations. Enjoy it. Call someone who cares. If you can remember their numbers.

I think it's time we all stop feeling so sorry for ourselves and our hectic frantic, manic lives; where we tell ourselves daily that we're simply too busy for friends or family. Or at the very least, it's time for me to stop the pity party and thinking such a ridiculous thing. It's perhaps the dumbest thought I've had in a lifetime of dumb thoughts. Who is too busy to be with people you love?

If not them, who? If not now, when?

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm quitting. But it will be difficult.

In order to save my own sanity, I'm going to quit reading political blogs. They make me confused and angry.

I have no problem with the idea of people supporting the candidate of his or her choice. But I do have a huge problem with what I call "The Jane Craig Effect." Never heard of it? Allow me to explain.

Remember that movie from 1987, Broadcast News? In it, Holly Hunter plays a brillant but professionally (not personally) arrogant producer who simply cannot abide anyone's approach to the job at hand that varies in the slightest from what she believes is the best tactic.

Case in point: when the news team is called on unexpectedly to cover a breaking story, she strongly disagrees with the on air anchor tapped by the Paul Moore, a network executive, to head up the broadcast. She states her case emphatically to Paul, who listens and the politely but vehemently disagrees. He is surprised at her reluctance to back off her stance, her refusal to "agree to disagree." Here's his approach to her stubborn insistence at being correct:

Paul Moore: It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you're the smartest person in the room.
Jane Craig: No. It's awful.

That's how I feel about Obama fans. When you read blogs that contain commentary about both candidates, it feels like people supporting Obama must always be the smartest people in the room. It's not enough that they support their candidate, which I can fully respect and understand. The most vocal of them, and let's face it, those are the ones we hear from most often, are not quite satisfied until anyone who doesn't agree with them are made to feel like an illiterate morons.

This is The Jane Craig Effect is full force.

I don't understand why people need to be so arrogant in their support. I really don't.

Here's my take on The Jane Craig Effect: Belittling us, the people who simply choose to believe differently than you do, trying to make us feel less worthy, makes us wonder why you're so insecure.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

what did she do to you?

I just read about Oprah Winfrey choosing not to interview Sarah Palin. There’s certainly no law that says she has to but I thought she was in the business of ratings. And maybe there’s some kind of ‘equal time for all candidates opportunity’ here she doesn’t want to address. Maybe it would feel awkward since she endorsed Barack Obama months ago. Then again, maybe she doesn’t feel like devoting one hour of her show to the most hated woman in America.

One of Oprah’s recent guests was actress Gwyneth Paltrow, a woman who named her daughter ‘Apple’ by the way, who spoke about the tug of motherhood and how it has changed her viewpoint in terms of working away from home. I get it – I do. And I have no ax to grind with Ms. Paltrow. She’s choosing to work less frequently and spend more time with her children.

This kind of revelation about life choices by people like her are pointless. Quite honestly, I don't know why no one gets this: the "choice" women face has NOTHING to do with gender and everything to do with money. Otherwise, Oprah would be talking to dewey-eyed toll-collectors or secretaries or bartenders or waitresses who decide they simply must ‘take less work’ in order to not lose any of those precious Hallmark moments with their children. One problem: a lot of women want to spend more time with their children but they have to work that annoying 40-hour work week.

Back to Palin. I’m so tired of hearing about how selfish she is and how unconscionable it is that she has young children – including a newborn with Down’s Syndrome and a teenage daughter having a baby in a few months – and is still seeking the office of vice-president. Make no mistake: the number one reason people in the media and around the country are denigrating her and worse (making comic figurines and creating demeaning nicknames for her) is that she’s a woman. A woman who doesn’t meet the standards of “modern,” “enlightened,” or “politically correct” according to everyone in this country who is simply too smart for the rest of us.

This is why people don't go all weak in the knees, worrying about Obama, and judging him harshly about all the precious moments he's already missed (since his presidential campaign has been going on for two years,) and will continue to miss in his daughters’ lives, should his political career reach the stratosphere. They never said it about Bill Clinton, either, and his daughter was twelve years old when he took office. (Chelsea was three years old when he began serving his term as governor of Arkansas.)

Because until about forty years ago, men made the money; women raised the kids. But Gloria and Bela and their ilk told us we could do more. Like gullible idiots, women in this country bought into this. And now where are we? Mocking Sarah Palin for having the "audacity" to have children and ambition as well.

Shame on Governor Palin. She's got a helluva lot of nerve.

So do millions of women who chose both motherhood and a career. Yes, believe it or not, it’s possible. It's not exactly a joy-filled ride from start to finish and I have spent countless hours torturing myself, wondering how it all went so awry, beleive me. (The trouble with the women's movement is that we forgot to tell the guys about it. And I think it's fair to say that none of it quite worked out the way Gloria thought it would. That's another blog entry for another day.)

But think about it: the open-mindedness of the Sarah-haters boggles, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The unbelieveable viciousness is simply vicious.

I am not really a political junkie.

Yes, I vote and I follow campaigns, but not with the furor or enthusiasm of so many people I hear about in the news. And even if you never follow politics, you can't get away from it this year, at least in terms of the coverage the presidential campaign has been given over the past few weeks.

Sara Palin has divided this country like no politician I can remember in my lifetime. I get that - you either like her politics and views or you don't. And I also understand that as major party candidate in a very close race, she could be history-making if John McCain is elected president. But even given all that, what I don't understand is the viciousness of the attacks made upon her, the mockery made of her and her beliefs, the outrageous furor at the "audacity of hope" (to coin a phrase) she has adopted to even imagine she could serve in the office of vice president.

Let's leave her politics out of this particular discussion. If the rejection and dismay we were reading about and hearing about in the news were simply about her politics, the stories would have faded out of the headlines about two weeks ago. It's not about her politics. Some people simply hate the fact that she's in the race.

But it's not because she's a woman. People are not reacting to her being a woman; they are reacting with venom because she's not the right woman.

She's pro-life! She's conservative! Sure, she's a governor but jeez, it's Alaska for god's sake! What's so hard about governing Alaska? Who ever even thinks about Alaska? Does NOW like her? Does the ACLU like her? Does Barbra like her? What rock star is planning to throw a fundraiser in her honor?

And by the way, who gets to decide who is the right woman? Is it okay is if she's married? Can she be a mother? Must her children have achieved a certain age before she can hold a major office? Must her husband have a high-powered job? Must she have an Ivy League degree? Must she be an attorney? Hillary Clinton met all these "requirements" and look where that got her.

It kills me that women who claim to be liberal and free-thinking are horrified at her candidacy. "How can she be thinking of running for vice-president when she has a special-needs newborn?" "How can she be thinking of this when her teenage daughter turns up pregnant and not married?" "How can she imagine for one second that she is remotely qualified to hold this job and perform it well?" "How can she be pro-life? Doesn't that mean she wants women to be repressed?" "Why did she name her kids such odd names?"

Here's my take on all these questions: I have no idea. You know why? I'm not Sara Palin. Hey, I wouldn't ever have considered such a high-powered job when my kids were babies; I wouldn't consider it now. But who cares what I would or wouldn't do? I'm not Sara. And I don't make judgements about what is the right choice for her.

The truth is, the "women's movement" - whatever that was - has proven to been ultimately pointless. If any of it really mattered, all of the questions being asked about Palin's "parent vs. candidate holding a very high-level office" would be posed to Barack Obama as well. But they're not. No one is concerned with how he will raise his children for the next four to eight years should he win this election and the next.

Oh, I get it. Because he's a dad. And only moms are important when it comes to raising their children. Dads don't matter. As long as they have their mothers, children will be just fine. And when women choose to "abandon" them - whether that's because they drop them at daycare or drop them in to the arms of the Secret Service - there is something deeply troubling about that woman. Clearly, she is not what a woman should be.

I'm so sick of this, I really am. Is that why women marched? So that in 2008, we could enthusiastically reconfirm the idea of Mom reigning supreme at the hearth while dad takes on the world?

Hey, if you hate Sara Palin's politics, don't vote for her. But please, please - can we stop the endless, useless debate about her looks, her accent, her hobbies, her home life, her childrens' names, her husband's activities, her parents, and her education? If this is how we decide an election, we're pathetic.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The (mis)Giving Tree

Shel Silverstein's children's classic, The Giving Tree, came to mind as we worked our way through the move to college. It's also mentioned in the book, Between Mothers and Sonsby Evelyn Bassoff, which I mentioned in the previous post. The idea that the familiar, protective, generous tree was always there for the boy - whenever he needed her - appealed to me as I helped my oldest move away.

I loved reading that book to the boys when they were younger. It tells the story of a boy who grows up literally under the shade and protection of a fruit tree that just keeps on giving. The generous tree gives everything from her leaves to her fruit to her trunk to the boy over the years, to help him achieve his dreams and deal with whatever he faced in life. At the end of the story, when the tree is nothing but a stump and the boy is an old man who has very little energy or interest in any new pursuits, they resume their mutually satisfying relationship, when the boy sits down to rest on the stump, and the tree is once again providing something for the boy.

It's a lovely story, and according to the flap notes, it's a "moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and the serene acceptance of another's capacity to love in return."

That it is. But if you also accept Evelyn Bassoff's interpretation, it's a little troubling. The tree literally sacrifices its abilities (like its leaves, fruit, branches and trunk) and its very life to benefit the growth of the boy she loves so much. The boy loves the tree, too, but seems to have little conflict with his decisions to continue to take from her throughout his life.

I don't quite know how I feel about this. Supporting a child's dreams is something that most parents embrace without objection. The challenge, I guess, is figuring out when you've moved past that embrace into a stranglehold. Or how you separate that support from literally sacrificing yourself for the cause.

Over the past year or so, I've talked with parents - mothers mostly - who seemed very far down that "sacrifice all" road for the sake of their child. If I think as objectively as I can about my "career" as a mother, I think I'm pretty far from the Giving Tree model. In fact, I remember telling Trevor that I couldn't be the mom who was always there, always pitching in, always the first to volunteer and become a fixture at the school. I promised to do what I could but I had other interests and obligations that required my time.

He was fine with that.

The present-day equivalent of The Giving Tree is the helicopter parent who hovers just above the child, and maneuvers just close enough to manage every move that child makes. They sacrifice just as much as the tree, but somehow have lost that sense of generosity and humility that endears the tree to readers. They're replaced it with smugness and hubris.

I've enjoyed the various bits of success each of my children have experienced over the years because they were just that: their own success, not mine.

I hope they know they can always turn to me - or return to me as the case may be - for the support and love and hugs and nurturing they may need from time to time. But I also hope they know that sometimes I'll be the one who needs exactly the same from them. We can be a whole little grove of giving trees, thriving right beside each other.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The transition continues...

In her wonderful book, Between Mothers and Sons, psychologist Evelyn S. Bassoff, Ph.D., discusses the many and varied relationships that exist between women and their sons, from the functional and healthy to the truly debilitating.

While full of interesting and thoughtful insights into the inner workings of mothers and sons, I wanted to write the author a thank you note after reading the last chapter of the book, titled The Tranformation of Mother Love. The chapter is focused on the idea of mothers letting go of their sons, and the fact that western cultures have no ritual that signifies the separation of mother and child. Indeed, the woman who seemingly holds onto her children, full of support and unending comfort, is somewhat revered in our culture. As Bassoff writes, "In our culture, mothers who remain always available to their children, always the "essential" ones, are deified as the 'good mother,' while the mothers who discourage their children's dependence may be labeled 'cold' or 'unmotherly.' "

Truth be told, over the years as my children grew, I found myself feeling more like the "unmotherly" kind of mom, not the "essential" one. Make no mistake: I love them more than life. I can't imagine life without them and can't begin to express the joy and pure love they have ignited in me. But even given all that, I have always reserved a bit of myself along the way; I never spent much time wondering why, or even thinking about it objectively.

She goes on to talk about the fact that "letting go" is not a one-step procedure; it's a process that takes many years and many mini-steps to complete. Unfortunately, it's a process many women are not willing to endure.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand, the recent departure of my oldest child - my oldest son - for college. I find myself comtemplating the space that has left in my - in our family - in our home - and wonder if it will ever feel like it did. I wonder if it can. Or even, given Bassoff's analysis, if it should.

Turns out, this idea of separateness as a mother is a good one. In her research, Bassoff learned that the men who remain closest to and connected with their mothers as adults are men who were always aware - even on an unconscious level - that their mothers had lives apart from them.

I'm going to spend some time with this - think about how my own selfhood did or didn't have any impact on my own relationships with all three of my boys. I know I've spent countless hours torturing myself over what I always believed were incontrovertible mistakes in terms of raising my sons and having a career and interests beyond them. Maybe it wasn't quite the tragedy I've recreated in my memory.

More to come, on this, and how Shel Silverstein's book, The Giving Tree, may revealing more about one kind of motherhood than we ever thought possible.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Trying to make a transition - and so far, it ain't working


So it's been 48 hours since we left our oldest son on his college campus and I hugged him (tightly) good-bye. I'm writing a column about this so I don't want to go too deeply into things here except to say this feels very, very weird.

He's been away before - but the short term nature of that absence made it feel much different. The truth is, this fall could be the beginning of his permanent move away. I know - we have summers coming up and time together on school breaks but he may in fact never really live her again. That just feels too strange to even contemplate.

I've said this before but I have to echo it here - I'm not ready for this. Could it really be time for this? Clearly, the calendar tells me it is. My heart tells me something different.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not like me. Not one bit.

What I don't understand about the viewers and voters who go wild with joy during convention speeches - coming from candidates on either side of the aisle - is this cold, stark reality that not one of them ever seems to contemplate: there is not one person on that stage who shares the middle class, lower middle class, or upper middle class lives that the viewers are living. Not one.
I'm not talking about someone's "humble beginnings." Yes, we've had some leaders that emerged from rather austere childhoods but let's face it. Once you've had a career in politics that was successful enough to land you in the national spotlight, I'm pretty sure you've left the habits of those humble beginnings pretty far behind. The last president I remember showing any vestiges of simple living was Jimmy Carter and he was criticized for taking the glamour away from the White House. (The glamour?) Rosalind Carter's book, First Lady from Plains, told quite a "fish out of water" story about their early days in Washington.
But getting back to the conventions and the candidates, I don't care how long and hard the speakers deliver their "I'm just like you" messages. Just isn't so. Every single candidate is wealthy, and privileged, and nothing like you and me.
So why do we buy it? Why do we feel like we have to connect on a supremely personal level with the politicians who want to sit at the top of the government's flow chart? Why can't we elect them without feeling the love?
The truth is, I don't care how much the president is "just like me." In fact, I hope the president is smarter, shrewder, and more collaborative than I. I want discerning, open-minded, experienced leadership in that office. I hope the president hires a staff (based on nothing but their ability, experience and character) who can execute the tasks at hand and knows when to stop micromanaging to let them do the work. I hope he or she has a track record of measurable, demonstrable, obvious success in something in this life beyond tireless campaigning and delivering rousing stump speeches.
How can a lifelong politician know anything about working in the private sector?? How does a senator who lives and works in Washington, DC, whose family lives housands of miles away, relate to the day-in, day-out challenge of raising children? (Spare me the long-distance connections and email and any other thing in defense of being involved with your children from a distance. Yes, you can be; it's certainly possible and lots of people do it.) But long-distance parenting - or even long-distance marriage - as a result of a political career by itself makes most politicians not like any of us.
Whatever happened to the idea that you don't have to like "the boss," as long as he or she does the job at hand - and then some - and treats you fairly? No one said you had to be best friends. No one said you had to simpatico to respect someone's leadership and talents.
I guess their deeper message of politicians who are "just like me" is more along the lines of this: I stand before you as the absolute embodiment of the best Americans can be. Sure, I used to be like you - but I've realized the dream. Through hard work and determination and gumption and guts and feistiness. You can, too.
Umm, no I can't. I can be the star of my own life, I guess, but other than that, I'm not going to be the next junior senator from Pennsylvania who becomes a presidential contender in 8 years.
As one of my sons put it, we can't all be the star. If we were who would sit in the audience and clap??

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Who let what happen?

I read the update of the sentence handed down to Timothy Gearhart this week, who was convicted of third-degree murder and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, after attacking and killing Kutztown University sophomore Kyle Quinn last fall.

Speaking to the court, Gearhart apologized to Kyle Quinn's family and to his own, saying a night of ''overindulgence'' was partly to blame for his actions. He'd spent the eveing with friends in a bar.

According to the news report, the court learned the following from Gearhart: ''I didn't mean to hurt so many people. I do not know why God allowed this to happen. For the past year, I have thought of your son every day and will for the rest of my life.''

Why God allowed this to happen? Why God did? I'm pretty sure the God familiar to many people of faith, regardless of their individual beliefs, had no part in what took place at about 2:30 in the morning on Main Street in Kutztown. God wasn't dangling the puppet strings that night, watching Timothy and his two drunken friends, brothers Kenneth and Terry Kline, execute some macabre dance steps that ended in violence and death.

I believe Tim Gearhart will think of Kyle Quinn everyday for the rest of his life. That horrifying moment on Main Street that happened after last call last year cast a long, unending shadow over the lives of many, many people. Most of them will live out their lives thinking of Kyle everyday as well, never quite understanding why or how this happened. Tim says he will, too, and even though he has a minimum of twenty years to contemplate his answer, I don't think he'll come up with one for Kyle's family and friends.

But I hope he gets to the point where he recognizes that God - in whatever form God takes for him - was clearly absent from the actions he chose to take on Main Street in Kutztown last year.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Curlers? Really?

I drove through some kind of time warp on the way home from work. For reasons I won't go into, I'' stuck scrolling thorugh radio stations these days to hear some music these days, and rarely pause on a station that's not broadcasting a song.

But, for some reason, I did stick on a station long enough to listen to a GEICO commerical today. One of the selling points was that anyone can, in fact, meet with a GEICO representative face-to-face should you desire to do so. Their business is not entirely online or over the phone. That is, unless you want it to be.

On the other hand, the friendly announcer let me know that if face-to-face won't work - because maybe I'm in curlers or something like that - the phone works just fine.

Curlers? I can't make an appointment with GEICO because I'm wearing curlers? He may be confusing me with Lucy Ricardo or Laura Petrie. Who on god's green earth wears curlers these days - especially long enough to be held captive in her house while her curlers take effect? Are you kidding me?

I'm sort of serious. If there is a woman out there who is taken out of the mainstream regularly and has to arrange her schedule around her curler-wearing habits, I want to meet her. I really do. And I want to take a really close look at your hair. If you're devoting curler time to it, it'd better be gorgeous.

GEICO is losing their clever edge if this is what passes for amusing these days.

the elephant in the room

I've read several news stories and updates over the past few weeks, updating the allegations and charges against three Shenandoah teens. According to the lastest story, Judge Anthony Kilker confirmed that there was sufficient evidence against Colin Walsh, 17, and Brandon Piekarsky, 16, to try them on counts of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation. Because there is no longer first- and second-degree murder charges against them, these young men will not face possible life in prison sentences if convicted.

The judge also ruled that Derrick Donchak, 18, was ordered to stand trial on aggravated assault.

These young men were involved in an attack that resulted in the death of Luis Ramirez, age 25.

This crime is tragic. And sickening. And clearly a case of young people who acted irratonally and outrageously in the face of an incendiary situation. For reasons only swaggering young men can understand, they overpowered and attacked another young man whom they encountered in a park, in the compnay of a youhng woman. Throw in a racial slur and a "hate crime" component and you have a situation that exploded into violence and murder.

Here's the elephant in the room.

Whatever happened to Joseph P. McTiernan? McTierman, 23, of Mahanoy City, furnished alcohol to these underage men gave alcohol to Donchak, Walsh, and Piekarsky, as well as two other underage men.

I simply can't understand why he is getting away with this. I'm inclined to believe a case could be made on behalf of the young men, including the one who dealt Ramirez his final blow, that absent the alcohol, their swagger and intimidation would have been dialed down quite a few notches that fateful night. They may have called out insults; they may have evn done a little "in your face" shouting...but murder? Literally kicking a man while he was down?

That's beer guts. Or in this case, malt liquor guts. They deserve to be heard in court but if the eyewitnesses are telling the truth, I also believe they deserve to punished according to the law. But so does McTiernan. He broke the law that initiated this horrible event.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Once again, Olympic confusion

I'm not one of those people who goes Olympic crazy everytime the Olympics come to life and take over everyone's entire existence for about three weeks before fading away for a few years. So as a result of my only very casual interest, I don't have tons of Olympic facts at hand, like those people who are superfans and know every statistic, every athlete, every backstory, every nuance of competition.

With all that said, I have a question or two. I've watched very little television coverage but a few puzzling thoughts immediately occured to me:

Synchronized diving? Isn't it enough that someone can execute these amazing dives as an individual? Why do two divers have to match? Who said doing this side by side is worth judging? Is there a reason synchronization is connected to water competition? Why not synchronized pole vaulting? Synchronized archery? Synchronized curling in the Winter Olympics?

More pressing is this: why are the male swimmers wearing more fabric on their bodies than the female beach volleyball players? I know. Something about slickness and cutting through the water with very little drag that results in faster times and new world records. But what could the volleyball "uniforms" - and I use that term in the same way someone could call lingerie "pajamas" - possibly be contributing to their performace as athletes? The female volleyball players are wearing bras and bikini pants. Is there a reason wearing shorts and tops would have a negative impact on their games?

Hey - that sand isn't all that soft. In fact, I'm guessing it can be pretty abrasive so wouldn't the players welcome bike shorts and tank tops? The male volleyball players wear shorts and tank tops.

Well, I'm not some enormous volleyball fan and maybe there is some compelling reason the women are on display in fairly revealing "uniforms," but if you're going to outfit the women in tight, tiny underwear, I say the men should play in their skins -no shirts. I've never seen men play volleyball wearing clothing on the top half of their bodies. In fact, the Olympics is probably the only venue on the planet where men do wear shirts to play volleyball.

I'm sure I'll have more puzzling thoughts about the Olympics in the weeks to come. If I get a chance to post them, I will. And welcome your thoughts as well!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What is it they say about statistics, again?

A few weeks ago, on April 29 to be exact, The NYT ran a troubling article that recapped the torturous last days of college admission being endured by anxious high school seniors across the country.

According to the article, by Tara Parker Pope, this year's class of applicants faced some pretty tough competition and it's only going to get worse. One of the numbers cited is that 90% of the applicants to Harvard and Yale were rejected.

Unfortunately for many seniors, the arrival of that fat acceptance letter is their ticket to legitimacy. It proves that they are successful. In cases where the envelopes are slim and the news is not so good, students are suffering severely. The article quotes doctors and teachers who report sleeplessness, stomach pain and headaches among seniors who are facing rejection from a favored school.

The most troubling part of the story was this quote, from Denise Pope of Standford University: "...some of these kids have had college on the brain since sixth or seventh grade or even earlier. [emphasis mine] When you have that kind of stress over that kind of time, that's where it starts to worry us."

I'm sorry but if there is even one child out there who begins stressing about college acceptance at the age of 9, we are really doing something wrong.

One story recounted the perfect SAT scores of a student, a young man who rowed crew, played golf, performed in the school musical and thanked third in his class. Good kid, right? Nice catch for any school, right? He was rejected by both Stanford and Princeton.

Luckily, he was pragmatic about the news. As he put it, "I realize I didn't found a company or discover a new insect. I feel like it's coming to a point where you have to do something like that to get into schools like Princeton or Stanford."

That may be true; it seems like he would have been an asset to any number of schools, including those two.

But according to another story I read, we shouldn't be surprised by his news. Another Times article, this one from April 1, reported that "Elite Colleges Reporting Record Lows in Admission." Interesting, I thought. I wonder why?

I read the article to find out. Turns out, elite colleges are not admitting fewer students. It's just that more students are applying than in the past so the numbers look lower. The percentage of students being admitted is nearly the same as it's always been. Here are the numbers:

Yale College accepted 8.3% of its 22,813 applicants. Wow - seems very tough indeed.
In order to prove the point about record lows in admission, they compared this figure to the numbers Yale reported ten years ago. At that time, "slightly fewer than 12,000 students applied to Yale, but the admittance rate was nearly 18%."

Ummmm - calling all Math 101 professors. 8.3% of 22,813 applicants is 1,893. 17.8% (nearly 18%) of 11,850 (slightly fewer than 12,000) is 2,109. (Both those percentages and totals are my estimates based on the information at hand.) So let me understand this: a difference of 216 students is the basis for these "record low" admissions?

I think the article took the wrong approach to this information. For me, the question is this: In 2008, why did some 10,000 more students applying to college believe they were Yale material? Are they that much smarter than they were in 1998? If you watch the SAT reports each year, the answer is no - the numbers are going down.

So what is it? Can you spell entitlement? Somehow, I think that applies here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

is anyone measuring this footprint?

To promote her new autobiography, Audition, celebrity newswoman Barbara Walters is doing what almost every author on the planet can only dream about: she's taking her story on the road and visiting 25 cities to promote her book. As I write this, the book is # 1 on the Amazon bestseller list.

This tour intrigues me for a number of reasons. First off, the number one thing publishers want to know about anyone who submits a book proposal is not what your story is, not what your goals are, not the wisdom you have to share with book buyers around the world nor the poetic voice in which you will deliver that message. Not one of those things matters to publishers. What matters most is that you have a "platform," a built-in audience who will not only welcome the news that you've written a book, they'll rush out to buy a copy or two or three as well. Having a platform means that the publishers can P/L your book with some measure of comfort about the number of books that will sell right off the bat; it means they can count on your audience to support their investment in you. It also means they won't have to engage a publicist to promote you or your book. They won't have to spend much on advertising or marketing. In other words, you've done their job for them.

But in the case of writers who may need a boost, whose platform may be lacking a bit in scope or reach, those writers who could benefit from some face time with a crowd to build momentum for their book, publishers create the "book tour" and put authors on the road. Authors visit bookstores and sell and sign books to their anxious public - or not. I've attended some book signings where the store is so empty your voice echoes. Yes, a tour can work but it's expensive and risky - for everyone.

So - at the risk of sounding jealous and petty, let me pose the following questions. Why is Barbara Walters on a 25-city book tour? Doesn't she have a national platform large enough to engender some good will with her publisher? Isn't it enough that she produces a daily talk show, commands network attention anytime she wants it to conduct her celebrity interviews and is arguably the most well-known female television journalist in the world? Is it possible her book will NOT sell because no one will have heard of her or heard of it? Particularly since she leaked the intriguing tidbit about her affair with a married politician some forty years ago?

But all that aside, here's what's really bothering me. According to a report in Publisher's Weekly, Ms. Walters is using private jet to travel to her tour cities. A private jet. Why isn't someone from the green police writing a scathing OP Ed about the wretched excess of Ms. Walters and condemning this wasteful carbon footprint from the sake of promoting a soon-to-be-bestseller book?

If a journalist from the FOX network or another conservative-leaning organization were doing the same thing to promote their own book, you can bet the media would be screaming for their decidedly not-green head.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

hydration schmydration

I haven't seen this story hit the front page yet but I was amused and bemused to read the latest health update in the NYT earlier this week. The short item was titled Perceptions: Go Ahead, Put the Water Bottle Down.

Turns out, according to Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers, there is not now, nor has there ever been, scientific evidence that proves the health benefits of drinking eight glasses of water every day. Even that mostly benign little claim is unsubstantiated according to the men who searched for the facts.

I don't know about you, but I have spent my entire life listening to everyone from dietitians to exercise gurus to my mother opine about the benefits of drinking water - lots of it. And now according to Dr. Goldfarb and his colleagues, none of the claims that are made about the curative and restorative benefits of drinking water - like relief from headaches, removing "toxins," keeping various organs of ours in top shape and reducing the risk of conditions like hypertension - have even been scientifically proven.

Could drinking water possibly help people control their weight and decrease appetite? Yes. Well - possibly, yes. More study and research is necessary before the evidence points to one answer or another.

And the truth is, it's doubtful that water is literally harmful to us so in that sense, it's a good beverage. I'd rather fill up on water than empty calories (spoken like a woman who has been dieting since the age of 17.)

I love the conclusion Dr. Goldfarb offers us in the Times article. Since, under normal conditions - not during a grueling trek through the Sahara, not during a bout of excessive dry mouth after surgery, not with the onset of a diabetic condition, not even after one awakens from a beer-soaked frat party the previous night not that I've even experienced that - he and his colleagues doubt any real health benefit from drinking massive quantities of water. "I want to relieve people of schlepping around a water bottle all day long."

I love that!

Carrying around water bottles has become something of a label these days. It's like listening to NPR or voting for Ralph Nader. You're somehow more enlightened and feel smarter than everyone else if you carry your own water - to every meeting, on every walk, in every moment of your life you have access to ready hydration. I've even seen people pull out a bottle of water and drink it in church, for god's sake. (Well, for their own sake, actually.) Unless there is some kind of unique medical condition here, can you really not live for sixty minutes without a drink of water?

Please. Enjoy your water. Drink up. Just stop making it into a political / superior statement about how smart you are since - according to the research - it provides no measurable health benefit.