Sunday, September 28, 2008

Yesterday was gratifying in more than one way

I've bitched, here and elsewhere, about the ups and downs of participating in my neighborhood association. I decided as far back as April or May that I am not doing this again next year. Specifically, no elected posts. No way, no how.

I let them vote me in this year because last year they sent me on an all-expenses paid trip out of town, put me up in a nice hotel and just generally let me have fun and get to know my neighbors better. Before I even got on the bus, I figured, okay, they've been hinting that I should let myself get nominated for something, so what the hell, it's only for a year, etc. All of that came to pass. But the follow-up thought, this is going to be a pain in the ass, was not long in coming.

There are significant underlying problems with the whole infrastructure of this thing.

First, we're under the guidance of a non-profit foundation. And that is wonderful, to be sure, but there's a vast difference between the people who run the foundation (mostly upper middle class and college-educated) and those who will be running it once the partnership agreement (and the funding) move on. The NPF folks can lecture and preach to us until their heads fall off about how WE have to take the reins and assume responsibility ... but what we've got is:

People who have received an inadequate education and understand very little about nearly our little 36-block slice of the city, I'd conservatively estimate that 65 percent of the residents would fit that description. A subset would be those who have dealt chronically with drug abuse and time spent behind bars.

People who have spent their lives feeling powerless and downtrodden and can't be moved out of that mindset for love or money...50 percent.

People who have already lived their lives, raised kids, grandkids and sometimes great-grandkids and would be DYNAMOS if they were only, oh, 40 years younger, but they're not...again, 65 percent.

People who have a slightly broader worldview about what needs to be done, but they also have demanding full-time jobs and other real-life commitments that sap their time and energy, leaving little for this endeavor...25% This figure will be slightly higher in some of the other neighboring communities.

I have deep affection for the old folks. They are always the first on the scene, the ones who never forget a meeting, and often the ones who ask the provocative questions at meetings. The priceless gems among that group are the ones who have GAINED energy and insight from all their life trials, rather than letting themselves get beaten down by them.

We've also got a precious crop of kids in our midst -- the aforementioned grandchildren, mostly. I love their smiley little faces. Some of them are older and have already put on that mask of indifference, but we keep trying to keep them interested and involved. I think this has worked better than we had hoped. Last year at the leadership retreat, we did a role-play, in which the adults had to pretend they were addressing a roomful of teens about getting them to put on a Christmas party. One of our ladies said (and I am not making this up):

Okay, you youth. Pull up those pants! Now, listen here. We want you to plan a Christmas party. You give us some ideas, tell us what you want, and then we will decide what you can and cannot do....

It was hilarious to watch, but a little scary, because the lady who said this was completely serious. I've seen her in action; she will do that. Just walk up to you with a smile and say "All right now, we want you to do this, that and the other..." giving you very little say in the matter. The NPF folks saw this right away and worked on explaining why that approach is doomed to failure. We've had several youth events this year and they seem to be gaining momentum.

So that's good, but even among those of us grownups who could be considered "willing and able" to lead this, there are vast differences that make it difficult to inspire confidence. Mainly, it's the "I-don't-know-what-we-should-do-let's-ask-somebody-else-and-see-what-they-say" position. Every last one of us is guilty of that. The reason we do that is, we don't want to step on anyone's toes. I'm one of the worst offenders, but I feel justified because I moved here only 2 years ago and everyone else has been here for a minimum of 2 decades. In many cases, it's more like 7. I also feel justified because I'm really, truly, not a leader. I have serious mental difficulty making broad decisions about anything and I absolutely SUCK at asking anybody for anything. If a project requires 100 tasks, I would sooner do every last one of them myself than ask one person to help with one task. And since that's impossible for me, I'd rather someone else be in charge, and then get assigned to one minute, specific task, preferably far behind the scenes.

All of the above feeds into the goings-on that led up to yesterday's fall festival. It was combined with a gospel showcase (lots of churches in our area, and other local neighborhoods have jazz and blues concerts, so we did our thing) and a voter-registration drive.

On paper, perhaps, the festival wasn't that big a success. We had solicited all these little local churches to send their choirs to this event, and as far as I'm aware, none of them did. Instead, we got small groups and individuals. So what we envisioned at the beginning did not come to pass. Clearly, we got started too late with that aspect.

But -- a casual observer, who didn't witness the planning and preparations, would have declared the festival a great success. Why? We had music, food, good weather, lots of little kids running and playing and getting their faces painted, and 5 generations of neighbors socializing and hearing (for the umpteenth time) about our association and how we need people to get involved, come to meetings, etc. etc.

And, hence the title of this post, our leader from the NPF called me last night and told me this. IT WENT OFF WELL. There were no disasters. We had a cotton-candy machine that quit long before we wanted it to, and forgot to give out some t-shirts, but everything was in place and there were no complaints.

It was gratifying to me personally because the NPF lady had started my day off on a negative note by scolding me about some things that she thought hadn't gotten done, due to what she perceived as my lack of follow-through. As it turned out, all of those tasks had been done. There was really nothing for her to complain about. Subtext here: We're not as dumb as we look. When I called her back mid-day to inform her that her fears were unfounded, I believe she got the message that the way to motivate people is NOT to criticize them for things you think they haven't done.

It was gratifying to me, also, because it showed that my instincts were better than hers. I wasn't expecting doom or gloom and turned out to be right.

So we all lived happily ever after. And I'm STILL not serving on any permanent committees next year. Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debate - I

Hoping this one will end up published rather than saved as a draft...

I took my time and watched the debate videos on CNN, armed with a pad to keep score and jot notes. By my reckoning, Obama came out ahead, and this is how my reckoning worked:

I gave points in a candidate's favor if they answered the question directly. In many cases, neither one did, or it took awhile to steer them that way. The most difficult question was the one that asked which program expense they might be willing to sacrifice in the wake of the massive Wall Street bailout. Jim Lehrer had to ask that one at least three times before either candidate managed to come close to addressing it. Obama was the first to do so.

McCain spent a great deal of time reminiscing. He talked about World War II, Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan, and it was clear, at least to me, that he felt these Republicans of the past had all the answers. That was McCain's biggest problem, though not the only one.

Many observations have been made that McCain, known as a hot-head, was much cooler under fire than Obama this time around, and I agree. Obama got irritated, and he stammered more than a little. However, he did a good job of countering many of the specious claims and statistics with which McCain arrived well-armed. McCain cut Obama off in mid-sentence many more times than Obama cut McCain off, but Obama used this well one time when McCain seemed to be getting up a head of steam with percentages. That was very appropriate -- had Obama just stood silently and taken this, it would have made him look unnecessarily weak.

McCain knows more about Iraq and Russia than Obama. Obama knows more about Afghanistan and Pakistan than McCain.

Obama approached his statements from more of a technical POV than McCain, who went more for a folksy, populist approach -- no surprise there.

There were plenty of verbal gaffes. Obama started off saying "if the economy recovers," but caught himself immediately afterward and amended this to "if and when." McCain talked about an economic recovery package, intermixing "has" with "has to have."

McCain went more for slogans and sound bites, such as "this ... is not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning," and "We came to change government but government changed us."

Obama seemed to stumble on names such as "Jim" when he was clearly addressing John. I think he threw a "Tom" in there at one point. Another example of his tendency to get flustered during this debate, which I hope he'll have more under control the next time. However, he did a much better job at pronouncing "Ahmedinijad" than McCain.

Then Obama used some really unfortunate phraseology. He expressed a desire for the average American to have more money, and one of the things he wanted to make more affordable was for them to "fill up on this gas that is killing them." Um... I think he meant that the price is killing us, not the gas itself. Everybody knows what he meant, but that never stopped people who make a living twisting someone's words.

I gave a candidate points if they vocalized what I was thinking at the moment. McCain claimed he'd veto every spending bill. My thought was, "Really? Throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Obama countered (though not immediately, as he should have) that McCain was proposing to cut the Federal budget with a hatchet, when a scalpel would be more appropriate.

McCain's general focus was on national defense. Obama's was much more on the economy, with a particular emphasis on health care. He used the word "crushed" three different times to refer to the effect that the economy is having on average Americans. McCain once again went back to the military when he got specific about economic reforms, vowing to eliminate cost-plus contracts.

McCain again showed a bit of geographical fuzziness, including Afghanistan in "the region," when referring to Iraq.

McCain put forth an odd idea, which I would expect Obama to go after the next time they meet. Finding fault with the United Nations, he seemed to be saying that the traditional Allied nations (US, Great Britain, France) should form something that sounds like a mini-UN to put economic pressure on Iran, North Korea and other such "rogue states," thereby doing an end run around Russia and China. The idea may have some merit, but proposing it at this early point seems unwise.

This is by no means a neutral, unbiased critique -- I've been an Obama supporter since the beginning. But back in 1980, as Carter faced off against Reagan, I had to give Reagan the points in the debate, even though the thought of a Reagan presidency was (and still is) my worst nightmare. Reagan communicated more clearly and was easier to follow. This time, McCain probably did better in "form," but Obama walked away with substance.

I'll still be glad when all of this is over, but it's still fun to follow. Click Here to Read More..

Friday, September 26, 2008


I've been very blocked for over a week now. It's worse than being unable to "think of something to write about." What happens is, a topic comes to mind, with a few salient points, and then, about halfway into the post, I either lose track of what I was trying to say, or, I think the topic overall isn't something anyone would want to read, or I figure my statements won't hold up, or I figure someone else has already addressed the topic and done a better job than I. Sometimes I feel just mentally exhausted to the point that I can't craft sentences that go beyond a 5th-grade level. So then I highlight everything I've written so far, or hit CTRL-A and delete it, or simply save it as a draft where possible (like here). And then, as in a failed romantic encounter, I go on with the feeling that it started out pretty good, but then "something went wrong," and it didn't come to its desired conclusion.

During the past month, the topics I've left in limbo on this blog include:

George Lakoff's analysis of the "strict father morality" that has characterized the right wing for the past 35 years or so;
My thoughts while hiding out in the office while my husband watched McCain's acceptance speech in the living room;
Some personal reflections on the 7th anniversary of 9/11;
Why I feel hopeful about the outcome of this election;
Why God isn't all-knowing, all-powerful or all-loving;
My thoughts after attending a funeral service at a small African-American church;
A description of an annoying two-word phrase used by someone I work with;
What "sexual harassment" is all about.

This is not me fishing for encouragement to expand on these topics; it's just an example of the type of stuff that has drifted through my mind but somehow gotten stalled before arriving complete in written form.

I post frequently on a local message forum where I live, and the same thing has happened -- with the difference that once the posts are deleted, they're gone forever, unless I can dredge 'em back up from memory. That doesn't happen. 99% of the time I just abandon them.

Not sure why this is happening now, what I can do about it, or how long it will persist. But it seemed like a topic others might relate to, so here 'tis.

7:20pm -- Adding: this also frequently happens when I start to post a comment on someone else's blog. So if you've gotten the vague sense that someone is trying to tell you something, maybe it was me. :) Click Here to Read More..

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Half a Life Ago

Sometimes it's startling to think about things that happened "some years" ago and to realize just how many years it was.

Today I'm thinking about a college classmate named Ellen, who will turn 50 tomorrow, about 3 weeks ahead of me.

A few years after graduating, we were both in the work force. I had gotten married. She'd been engaged but then broke it off.

Ellen was quite observantly Jewish, and in our four years of college I'd been endeavoring to learn enough about Judaism to make a successful conversion. I abandoned that quest not long before graduation, but Ellen and I remained friends.

Ellen made me slightly uncomfortable, though I had trouble defining the reason at the time. She was simply brought up better. Her parents were sober, middle-class, elegant in a way that my parents were not. In short, I felt inferior. So between Ellen's rather persistent religiosity and the class difference, there was something of a widening gulf.

Doug and I liked to throw big parties and when we did, people would wander through the apartment and end up in the bedroom. We had a waterbed, which was something of a novelty. Despite the immediate impression this may have made, no overt sexual behavior took place at our parties. No one took off their clothes -- it was largely innocent. The worst that ever happened was someone would massage someone's back while everyone else sat around squealing at the "waves."

So in October of 1983, we threw a bash, since Doug and I had birthdays 6 days apart. We lived in Queens, NY; Ellen came across Long Island Sound from Connecticut, where she still lived with her parents. She brought a friend; I now forget who that was, or if I'd ever met her.

The first thing that went wrong was Ellen couldn't find anything to eat. She was quite observantly kosher and most likely there wasn't much of anything being served that would have been "safe." This was certainly a breach of etiquette on my part -- it wasn't like Ellen just dropped in. She'd been invited and I should have been more proactive about serving something appropriate.

Ellen left pretty early, after making a pointed remark about the "goings-on" in the bedroom, and how parties in her home (her parents' home, that is) didn't deteriorate to the level that mine apparently had.

Because she'd brought a gift, I sent her a thank-you note the next day, mentioning that all my friends meant a great deal to me. I hoped this would help her to understand that I didn't appreciate her judging my other friends as degenerates.

I never heard from Ellen again.

I sometimes wonder what she is up to these days. I'd like to apologize for the lack of edible food, and find out what she found so objectionable -- was it just men and women sitting close together, touching? That may have been enough. It would be interesting to see if she's as religious as she was back then.

Twenty-five years ago. Four presidential administrations ago...

Nostalgia is a strange thing. Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Energized, Uplifted, Uninspired, Sad.

All of the above are the feelings I came away with this evening, after a friend invited me to a gospel singing show at her church. An absolute wall of sound - incredible harmonies, voices that soared to the 20-foot ceiling and beyond, joy, celebration, ecstasy, heartfelt entreaties to the audience, folks in their 80s cavorting like high schoolers ... it was great on one level, but when I thought of how much mental and emotional energy is channeled toward what I'm sure is a non-existent entity, it was all I could do not to shake my head.

One group, though impressively talented, was different from the snazzily dressed throng on the stage - they were younger, a mixed group in street clothes, and they gave the clear impression that they'd spent a LOT of time in rehab, or perhaps behind bars. I understand that this is a kind of self-hypnosis for people who are down and out -- they focus on God, on Jesus, and it crowds out the craving for drugs, or the despair that leads to self-destructive and criminal behavior. All well and good, but when that spell breaks, so many people just slip right back to where they were. The flaw, as I see it, is that they're encouraged to acknowledge that they are "completely helpless and powerless" against their addiction or weakness. Wouldn't it make more sense for them to be coached about how, as humans, they have more choices, more personal power, more brain power, than any other creature, and that their potential is virtually unlimited, if they don't let themselves settle for the dregs of existence? To me, that might have the same effect as encouraging delusional thinking -- except the results might be permanent and more practical.

As I said...I just don't get it.

That's why I'd rather go broke buying tickets to Dylan... Click Here to Read More..

Friday, September 19, 2008

Checking in with a Quick & Shallow Update

After being advised a week or two ago that I'm pre-diabetic, I've stepped up my weight-loss efforts. The result is a loss of 3 lbs, which normally would make me say "So what?" since usually the first 3 lbs is just water ... but it's really the first time my weight has gone down AT ALL in a couple of years. As a corollary, there's the money situation, which is actually helping in an odd sort of way. We haven't the money to stock up food-wise; we tend to buy enough for a day or two. So Carl buys his all-important meat; I head for the produce and dairy aisles and keep myself supplied with salads and yogurt. Also those Carl Buddig 90-calorie one-sandwich-at-a-time packets that sell for less than a dollar. I'd swear my hair has more red in it lately, with all the carrots I've been eating...

This weekend promises to be absolutely jam-packed, especially with neighborhood activities -- fall festival next Saturday. Next Thursday, a vacation day. Already overbooked.

Wally's birthday is coming up and I'm hoping to be able to send him something. Looking forward to the start of the year, since the company will be offering flexible spending accounts and I found that very helpful a few years back.

My bff hasn't called or e-mailed lately; I assume she's paralyzed with shock. She frequently sends me her latest Obama-is-a-muslim-we're-all-doomed 2nd-hand screed. I just skim through the stupidity and delete with no comment. Lately, though, there have been some great essays on some of the hypocrisy that surrounds the Obama-vs-Palin brouhaha and I gave in to the temptation to share one with her. She'd BETTER not take offense at one pro-Obama e-mail after all the stuff she and others have flooded me with over the years.

I'm looking forward to the presidential debates (I think), but am especially looking forward to November 4th just getting here, already. Click Here to Read More..

Monday, September 15, 2008

How Silly - - Letting FACTS Get in the Way

As I begin writing, it is 7:54 pm.

At 7:52, I Googled "Saddam Hussein Came to Power."

The entry was one ahead of Wiki, so I took the snippet below from there.

Saddam was BORN in 1937, but cannot be said to have assumed any sort of power or fame until about 1968 at the very earliest.

He became president of Iraq 11 years after that. It wasn't until the early 1980s that the general public (that is, the ones who really paid any attention to international news) ever heard his name. For the average American, this didn't happen until the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

I think we can all agree on the above.

So WHY are so many induhviduals convinced that Barack Hussein Obama (born in 1961) was named after a Muslim dictator?

Can we get some reality here?

The time is now...
All of that is by way of demonstrating that it took 2 minutes to FIND the information and 4 minutes to POST it. And a few more minutes to find all my typos and fix 'em, but still!

FACTUAL INFORMATION is just as easy to find as bullshit.

Better for you, too.

Saddam Hussein
Iraqi political leader
Born: 4/28/1937
Birthplace: Tikrit, Iraq

Hussein was raised in the farming village of Tikrit by his widowed mother. He joined the Ba'ath Socialist party in 1957 and was soon involved in an assassination attempt against the prime minister. The attempt failed but Hussein escaped. Sentenced to death, he fled to Egypt where he continued his education and his political involvement, entering law school in Cairo in 1962.

In 1963, after the Ba'ath party came to power, he returned to Baghdad where he continued his law studies and increased his involvement in the party's activities. The Ba'ath regime was short-lived and without its protection Hussein went into hiding, though he was eventually tracked down and imprisoned for several years.

He escaped from prison and continued his underground activities, playing a significant role in the 1968 revolution that brought the Ba'ath party in to lasting power. As vice president, Hussein wielded considerable power in the government noted for political repression and human rights violations. He also led efforts to modernize the country and develop its weak economy and oil resources. When President Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr resigned in 1979, citing poor health, Hussein became president. Within a month, rivals in the Ba'ath party, accused of plotting a coup, were executed. Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sept. 14th - My "Tipping Point" Day

I found myself on the Internet all day today, watching the video series Why People Laugh at Creationists - 25 installments and growing, and Here Be Dragons.

Anyone who looked at this blog way back in February when I started blogging in earnest may remember that one of the sites on my blogroll was related to astrology. I took it off a month or two later, in part because I rarely ever clicked on it, but mainly because of my growing self-identity as a skeptic.

Watching these two videos has made me alarmingly aware of my own vulnerability to pseudoscience and superstition. I was into astrology in varying degrees, starting with my teen years and continuing into my 20's, 30's and 40's. My willingness to believe its tenets shrank steadily, however. On one level I absolutely knew that the planets don't influence events on earth and there's no more reliability in horoscope profiles than there is in tea leaves or Tarot cards. I had rejected every other such field completely, except astrology. My acceptance of astrology had most recently boiled down to just using the 12 houses as shorthand ways to take stock of things going on in my life -- 4th house for home, 6th house for work, etc. It had become a remnant of something that I had finally rejected without feeling any sense of loss. But in truth, it took longer to put astrology aside than it took to do so with religion.

Here Be Dragons also takes some good whacks at alternative and complementary medicine (ACM). My use of such practices has been reined in by the healthy streak of skepticism I've always had, as well as a reluctance to shell out the money for them, and my opinion of the people who endorse them. For example, a high school pal of mine was a devoted follower of all things ACM, and she was alarmingly dysfunctional, so much so that I finally cut off contact with her.

There are one or two herbal supplements that have seemed to have a reasonable degree of effectiveness for me, but I try always to keep in mind the fact that they are not FDA approved, and that the placebo effect is better documented.

So, I feel satisfied that I've succeeded in slaying a couple of major dragons...but it occurred to me, while watching Why People Laugh... that for me, there will always be a danger, unless I'm constantly vigilant. The danger lies in the fact that my understanding of science, and more importantly, math, is very poor. My sub-par ability to grasp those subjects is what prevented me from finishing my Bachelor's degree in business, and it led me dangerously close to becoming just another gullible victim of the Christian snake-oil hucksters. It struck me that without the well-presented counter-arguments to such assertions as "Water is not found anywhere else in our solar system," I would not have a problem accepting that. Any argument that starts out with probability would no doubt have me at hello because I failed that subject 3 times in college. I even dozed off in front of the computer for a minute while the narrator was explaining the fallaciousness of the argument versus the more complex behaviors of chemicals in creating life forms. I am a skeptic, and considered reasonably intelligent by most, but if I'm susceptible, by my own knowledge deficits, to phony-baloney "science," then I shudder to think of how many other people have it so much worse than I. People who have lived their entire lives in the Bobble Belt, whose entire families and communities preach the evils of science, evolution, learning and skeptical inquiry. The ones who preach that ignorance is next to godliness.

Anyway, today was indeed a tipping point. The videos have made it that much easier to discern fact from fiction, and more confident of my ability to do so going forward. Click Here to Read More..

Friday, September 12, 2008

Funny? Sad?

I spend more time hunting around for sites to add to my blogroll than I do blogging. I spend an equal amount of time commenting on other people's blogs.

Well, perhaps there's hope. After all, the weekend is coming, when I usually am sufficiently bored and idle to summon up some creativity of my own. Click Here to Read More..

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Even Soap Operas Occasionally Take a Hiatus

Well actually, they don't, but I'm happy to report that mine is. Doug and I are once again on the same page with regard to Wally. The youngster has been posting all kinds of worrisome crap on Facebook and not explaining it. His stepmother (who I haven't gotten around to naming yet...let's call her Judith) finally called me directly because she's not getting any useful information from Doug, and Doug's not getting anything useful (and little that's truthful) from Wally. I'm hoping that Wally will understand that the TYPICAL college freshman has parents who check up on him. This may be the most stable home he's had since early 2006. The notion that his parents have stopped taking pot shots at each other seems to appeal to him, so maybe he in turn will relax his defensive stance and start acting more his age (meaning a little more naive and innocent, less like a 35-year-old). Click Here to Read More..

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Thank you Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: What is a polite way to let someone know that reading a book in your company, when you have been invited to visit, is offensive? -- NOT A BOOKWORM

DEAR NOT: Picking up a book and reading in the face of a guest is a not very subtle hint that you have overstayed your welcome. And the appropriate response should be, "Well, I'll get going now," followed by a hasty exit.

Oh, how I wish I could clip this and jump into a time machine back to my early teen years and hand it to ONE PARTICULAR INDIVIDUAL who needed to see it. If anyone's confused as to who's who, I was the bookworm. She wasn't.

But she never got the hint. Ever. Click Here to Read More..

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Who to Avoid

Just wanted to give a heads-up on something I came across while looking for more atheist sites.

This is just for the purpose of helping people avoid having their time wasted. The average atheist is smart enough to figure it out in a minute or less.

A guy named Ray Comfort has a blog out called "Atheism Central." I will not bother to provide the URL here.

This guy is the theistic equivalent of "Jews For Jesus." Suck 'em in under false pretenses and hope that they won't figure out that what you're trying to sell is the polar opposite of what they're looking for.

Shame on you, Ray,
knowing deep down that it won't sell on its own merits. Click Here to Read More..

A handful of random one-liners

Just not organized enough to stick to one topic today, so here's where I dump the lint-catcher that resides between my ears...

Didn't want to to go church today, but glad I did.
A lot of people there have suffered losses in just the last week or so.
The choir has some good new people in it.
I waited too long to see the doctor about my foot, but we're working on getting it taken care of now.
Life could be better.
Why does the mutt next door always stop making noise as soon as I put on music to drown it out?
If Wally loses much more weight, he will disappear.
Seriously thinking about changing the theme for this blog, but worried I'll make a hash of it.
The days go by too damn fast.
Talked to my bff last night; it was good to catch up.
She hates weddings as much as I do.
I'd rather go to a funeral than a wedding.
At least with a funeral you can leave early and people assume you're grief-stricken and not just bored silly.
Funerals are way cheaper, too -- no gifts expected.
I'm feeling glimmers of optimism for this presidential election.
I just hope no one I'm pulling for does anything monumentally stupid to screw it up before Nov. 4.
Interesting how the tide seems to have shifted just recently.
Took long enough.
Michael Clayton was such a boring, pointless movie, I sent it back to Netflix after sticking with it for 30 minutes.
I like listening to Chris Isaak and have no idea why.
Coffee's ready; be right back.
Coffee pot needs cleaning.
Bookcases need reorganizing.
We surely do need rain.
The kitchen counter is a mess.
We really need a new refrigerator.
Facebook is addictive.
The husband of a friend of mine has been diagnosed with squamous-cell carcinoma.
Christmas will be here before we know it.
Anticipation of a bad outcome often keeps me from taking decisive action.
There sure are a lot of people in the news media who get paid beaucoups bucks and still haven't a clue about spelling, grammar or usage.
Ahh -- Warren Zevon.
Die Hard is still a great movie.
The first one.
Samsung makes better cell phones than Nokia.
I need to call Pete and wish him a happy 61st.
Slim Fast is a better idea than a milkshake from Arby's today.
They're closing Coney Island's Astroland.
Putting up more yuppie condos, no doubt.
I just hate what they're doing to New York City.
I'm so, so glad that Thomas Kinkeade is out of Carl's price range.
It's amazing how things can change in ten years.
Another hopeful sign: Michael Dowd
I don't even want to think about a fall wardrobe.
Comedians annoy me when they toss out what made them famous in the first place and go out of their way to create a "serious" public image.
Chicken parmigiana sounds like a good plan for dinner tonight.
I haven't owned a swimsuit since 2005.
Being an only child isn't such a terrible thing.
With an older sibling I'd have been an insufferable brat.
With a younger sibling I'd have been an overbearing bully.
The guy next door finally emptied out the crap from the bed of his old pickup.
There was someone sleeping in there yesterday.
Why do all ice cream trucks use the same music?
And what does "Turkey in the Straw" have to do with ice cream?
If I had my way, all existing recordings from Evanescence would be destroyed, and the lead singer would be sentenced to sing nothing but polkas for the rest of her life.
Three vacation days left.
One is scheduled already.
Sitting here doing this is not the best use of my time. Click Here to Read More..

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Lisa Earle McLeod - The Triangle of Truth

This lady spoke at my church this summer. She is often characterized as a 21st-century Erma Bombeck, but while Erma was beloved because she approached global issues from behind a domestic screen, Lisa is less homespun and more direct.

Here she talks about refining the art of compromise, taking it (IMO) a giant step farther than Steven Covey did, and in far fewer words:

The reality is sex and talking both create intimacy, Western and Eastern medicine aren't necessarily in conflict, and financial controls needn't stymie aggressive marketing.

So I've come up with a new model - The Triangle of Truth©

Here's how it works: when faced with an issue, instead of taking a straight-line approach, think of it like a triangle.

The line at the bottom represents the problem, where you are today. The two potential solutions are the right and left corners. Instead of wasting time moving back and forth along the bottom, trying to convince people that your side is the real truth; look for the ultimate solution at the top of the triangle, the pinnacle, the part that's supported by both sides.

Lisa's HuffPost Blog Click Here to Read More..

Friday, September 05, 2008

Food and Money

Carl's hours have been cut -- now it's something like 3-4 days a week, 4 hours a day. A couple of days ago we went food shopping and I ended up having to bail him out with a dollar - he underestimated the $26 total.

We've been together 11 years now; our food philosophies are so very different, but it really only becomes apparent when the money gets tight like this.

-He's extremely underweight; has virtually no body fat. Since getting dentures last year and discovering that they don't fit properly, he's eating even less. He also smokes about a pack a day, maybe more. And yet, he's as strong as an ox. When we moved to NYC for a year, he moved most of our furniture up 3 flights of stairs to our ancient apartment, most of the time with a Marlboro clenched in his teeth.

And, he eats Little Debbies like they're going out of style.

-I, on the other hand, continue to pack on the pounds, mainly due to lack of exercise, since I'm not a big eater. I think I have a condition called myoadenylate deaminase deficiency, but have never taken the time to have it diagnosed or to invest in a supplement. That's for another day. Honest!

-Carl was raised in a household with six siblings and one working mom. They often went to school with their shoes duct-taped together. I don't think any of the kids finished high school. So we're not talking about a worldly bunch. Very salt-of-the-earth, very meat and potatoes. The type of mentality that says "Well, we're not officially poor because we can still afford to put meat on the table."

Carl is completely entrenched in that mindset. Any time I sit down to a meal that does not include meat (such as a spinach omelet or a cheese sandwich, or baked squash...) he'll look at my plate and say "No meat?" In our 11 years together, the one and ONLY area in which I've had the tiniest influence on him is in the area of flavorings. I can't count the number of times I will reach for the sage, or rosemary, or vinegar, only to have him say "Momma never put that stuff on anything...she worked 10 hours a day and raised six kids; she didn't have the time or the money for anything more than salt and pepper." But he doesn't complain about it anymore, even when I reach for the garlic. He still finds it odd that I use more than one pan and one spoon when making anything; he complains that I "mess up" his kitchen when I experiment, so most of the time I stay out of the kitchen (and on the computer) and he takes care of meals.

I was raised differently. My parents weren't rich or worldly by any stretch, and Dad was also a high school dropout, but they had lived together in NYC for a number of years before I came along, and made it their business to learn about various types of cuisine. Back in the 1960s, I stood out among my classmates because I knew the difference between Moo Goo Gai Pan and Baked Clams Oreganato. We went out to eat fairly often. Once my parents got into a loud argument with an obnoxious waitress in a diner we liked, who insisted that a seven-year-old (meaning me) would not eat brook trout and should order from the kids' menu. I not only got my fish, I ate it right down to the bone. She grudgingly gave me a lollipop (a green, broken one) and grumbled something about me being "spoiled." In my teens I subscribed to Gourmet magazine and liked to peruse cookbooks. I didn't cook much; just found food to be an interesting subject.

I like a steak as much as anyone, but could be a vegetarian if I needed to. I am not the least bit fussy about any food. Store brands, for the most part, are just as good as national -- another area where Carl and I differ. He thinks most vegetables are alien invaders from another planet, mushrooms in particular, and the ones he likes, he prefers southern style: boiled to oblivion with some sort of pork flavoring. One of the few instances where I will say "yuk." In fact, I've learned that when Carl mentions "vegetables," he exclusively means the kind you need a can opener to get to. If I'm talking about fresh veggies (the healthier type), I always have to say "produce."

Carl believes in a full, sit-down meal, with a beginning, a middle and an end. I will randomly graze -- heat up a can of green beans, throw a pat of butter on it, and call it a meal...then an hour or so later decide I'd like an egg. To me, food is food. I eat because I have to; try to make semi-healthy decisions, and then get back to the computer. That's why, when he says "There's nothing to eat in the house," I'm silently thinking, Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis? There's pasta [which he hates, more on that later], rice, canned soup, plenty of canned veggies, frozen stuff that's open [another taboo with Carl: once it's been opened, he won't touch it a second time. It falls to me to make all-gone with it].

So, when we got to the grocery store the other night, his first stop was the frozen food aisle. Stouffer's, Marie Callenders, Swanson Hungry Man. And here we are with $25 to spare. I made a snap decision: I told him to get whatever he wanted and not to worry about me, then picked out one large potato, a few cans of store-brand soup, and my one indulgence: a can of Underwood turkey spread, which is apparently a new product. Carl ended up having a bowl of cereal for dinner and the turkey spread the night after that.

It irks me that veggies are now so damn expensive. My mom used to give me a bowl of green peppers, carrots & celery to eat while I read in bed at night. She cut and peeled the carrots herself, by the way -- they didn't have the pre-packaged stuff back then.

In the two years between divorcing Doug and meeting Carl, I fell into the classic single-mom eating pattern: Pasta, ramen noodles and processed stuff. I didn't even think about what I was feeding Wally. As long as he had something to eat, I figured everything was fine. We both liked pasta. So a couple of weeks after Carl and I started keeping steady company he came over for dinner and asked what we were having. As soon as I said "pasta," his eyes rolled, and I suddenly realized that yes, I was serving pasta in some form or another nearly every night. I didn't mind him pointing this out to me. But now, it seems the shoe is on the other foot, because if we're not having meat loaf, it's hamburger helper, or quarter pounders from Mickey-D's, or his favorite rice & hamburger concoction...he says he doesn't like chicken very much; he no longer cares much for pork. It all seems to have narrowed down to hamburger at least 3x a week. Seafood occasionally -- not fish, God forbid, unless it's beer-battered, and shrimp almost anytime.

Side note: To Carl, "pasta" does not include spaghetti. Spaghetti is fine; he just doesn't like ziti, rigatoni, spirals, bowties or other shapes. Go figure. If I ever suggested "couscous," he'd probably either burst out laughing or call 911.

So I guess the point of this rambling monologue is, I'm trying to figure out a workable strategy to eat healthy and save money. With the huge differences between Carl's eating habits and mine, it isn't going to be easy.

~I've edited this thing at least a dozen times since starting it Friday morning. New thoughts keep popping in. Click Here to Read More..

A Real-life Wisconsin Soap Opera

If you find yourself drawn to switched-at-birth stories and the like, here's one that popped up on Google Reader.

In brief, two families in the 1950s -- the women gave birth on the same day. Apparently, a nurse left one infant unattended; another picked her up and handed her to the wrong mother. This story encompasses so many fascinating issues -- families, the mindset of the 1950s, how people rationalize, the aftermath, etc.

It's long, but worth the listen. Click Here to Read More..

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ann Landers, 6 years later

Ann Landers was a major part of my growing-up - she had a column in Newsday for many years before the paper added Dear Abby. I started reading it at about age 8 and came to know a great deal about the human condition and issues that people told me I'd understand when I was older.

Though Ann Landers (Esther Friedman Lederer) and Dear Abby (Pauline Friedman Phillips) were identical twins, it was always very easy for me to see them as individual writers - their sensibilities were quite different. Ann always seemed a bit sharper to me, while Abby took a softer approach.

Now their daughters have their own columns. Abby (Jeanne Phillips) publishes daily, while Margo (Margo Howard) comes out twice a week. I like them both. Still, Ann Landers will always be my favorite -- there are times I still can't believe she's really gone.

Esther Lederer died of multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. Her daughter has published a column today, asking for ramped-up public involvement in getting more funding for cancer research, just as Ann Landers did in the early 1970s. As my own small tribute to my favorite advice columnist, I'm reposting the article here, since I had not been aware of the multi-network effort being planned for tomorrow.

Please Support Cancer Research
Thu Sep 4, 2:00 AM ET

This is an unusual column for me to write. Throughout my years as an advice columnist (first as "Dear Prudence," now "Dear Margo"), I have never plugged anything or suggested to my readers that they participate in any event. I do so now to continue a tradition.

Thirty-seven years ago, my mother, Ann Landers, asked her readers to write their legislators to ensure both Houses got behind cancer research in a big way. It was a spectacular success. A million pieces of mail flooded Washington -- more than was received about the Vietnam War. As a result, President Nixon signed into law a bill making $100 million available for cancer research. It was the largest amount of money ever earmarked for any disease. This was in 1971. I was 31, and Mother was 53; now I am 68, and she is gone.

Almost 40 years later, I want to assist the next big push for cancer research, and I ask you to join me. On Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. (both EDT and PDT), there will be an unprecedented simultaneous collaboration between the traditional Big Three networks: ABC, CBS and NBC. For one commercial-free hour there will be a unified effort to raise funds for another accelerated push to foster a new round of groundbreaking cancer research. Cancer is still, regrettably, the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 85. Fortunately, owing to previous advances, 12 million Americans are living quality lives with cancer.

It is hoped that the networks' joint effort, "Stand Up To Cancer," will inspire people to get involved, whether by making a contribution or contacting their legislators. Awareness and participation are every bit as important as the science and technology used to treat cancer.

I hope you will tune in for this special hour on Sept. 5. For me, telling you about "Stand Up To Cancer" has sentimental meaning; for all of us, it will be a life-enhancing 60 minutes. As my mother wrote all those years ago, "No one can do everything, but each of us can do something." Click Here to Read More..

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Why I Do Not Fear Death" by Tim O'Neill

This poem was included in an e-mail from The Brights:

Why I Do Not Fear Death

To me, the dozen billion years
(a time scale we can't comprehend)
that passed before my day of birth
give comfort for the coming end.
To know that not one atom in
my body at the age of five
remains within me still today
changes the meaning of "alive."
And all the billions yet to pass
after my carcass has decayed
are bookends for a single life
so precious, by their vastness, made.

-Tim O'Neill Click Here to Read More..